Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely
A letter of advice from Sydney Smith
This beauty of a letter was written on this day in 1820. In 2014, due to its format, it featured in my Lists of Note book, which is now out of print despite it being fantastic. If you’d like a special edition of that (fantastic) book, I’m selling the last remaining copies here.
Sydney Smith was an English clergyman, writer, and celebrated wit who was known for his progressive views and his compassion. In February of 1820, on learning that Lady Georgiana Morpeth—the 13-year-old daughter of a friend—was suffering from a bout of depression, Smith sent her a precious letter filled with sound advice, to be followed in an effort to overcome “low spirits.” Smith presented his wise words in the form of a list.
Feb. 16th, 1820
Nobody has suffered more from low spirits than I have—so I feel for you. Here are my prescriptions.
Live as well as you dare.
Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold.
Short views of human life—not further than dinner or tea.
Be as busy as you can.
See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you.
And of those acquaintances who amuse you.
Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely— they are always worse for dignified concealment.
Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you.
Compare your lot with that of other people.
Don’t expect too much from human life—a sorry business at the best.
Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy sentimental people, and every thing likely to excite feeling or emotion not ending in active benevolence.
Do good, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree.
Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.
Make the room where you commonly sit, gay and pleasant.
Struggle by little and little against idleness.
Don’t be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice.
Keep good blazing fires.
Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion.
Believe me, dear Georgiana, your devoted servant, Sydney Smith
It’s my book, so beware of bias; however, it’s true. I love and am still very proud of that book, and if there were any justice in this relentlessly cruel world it would currently be on its 64th print run.