During the dark, cold days of winter it’s all too easy to feel down in the dumps – but a letter from the writer and clergyman Sydney Smith (1771-1845) to Lady Georgiana Morpeth (1783-1858) dated February 16th, 1820 has plenty of advice for raising ‘low spirits’. To be precise, Smith has a 20 point plan to happiness to rival anything a modern-day self help book or life coach could possibly have to offer:
Dear Lady Georgiana,– Nobody has suffered more from low spirits than I have done — so I feel for you. 1st. Live as well as you dare. 2nd. Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold, 75° or 80°. 3rd. Amusing books. 4th. Short views of human life — not further than dinner or tea. 5th. Be as busy as you can. 6th. See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you. 7th. And of those acquaintances who amuse you. 8th. Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely — they are always worse for dignified concealment. 9th. Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you. 10th. Compare your lot with that of other people. 11th. Don’t expect too much from human life — a sorry business at the best. 12th. Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion, not ending in active benevolence. 13th. Do good, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree. 14th. Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue. 15th. Make the room where you commonly sit, gay and pleasant. 16th. Struggle by little and little against idleness. 17th.Don’t be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice. 18th. Keep good blazing fires. 19th. Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion. 20th. Believe me, dear Lady Georgiana,
Very truly yours,
Georgiana, affectionately known as Little G amongst her family, was the eldest child of the 5th Duke of Devonshire and his much celebrated wife Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. In 1801 Little G married Viscount Morpeth, heir to the 5th Earl of Carlisle, and their happy marriage produced no less than 12 children. We don’t know precisely why Little G was feeling particularly low at this time, but it’s letters like this that really bring the past to life, showing the very real human emotions and motivations behind historical figures. The best part of 200 years may have passed, but we can all feel like Little G from time to time. Now, I have to say that a cold bath is not something I’d want to endure, but there’s definitely something to be said for the benefits of a cup of tea and a good book! Of course, as Smith emphasises only certain types of books possess the power to cheer one up. Unlike her brother (the 6th Duke of Devonshire), Little G did not appreciate the harsh social realities depicted by Charles Dickens, writing in 1838: ‘I know there are such unfortunate beings as pickpockets and streetwalkers. I am very sorry for it and am very much shocked at their mode of life, but I own I do not much wish to hear what they say to one another.’ Following Smith’s advice, Georgiana evidently retained a taste for books that merely amused, avoiding anything that could stir up melancholy emotion.