Smith, Sydney, 1771-1845

Alternative names
Birth 1771-06-03
Death 1845-02-22

Biographical notes:

Canon of St. Paul's; essayist and wit.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : [Paris], to Admiral Sir Sidney Smith, [no year]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270663579

Canon of St. Paul's.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : [n.p.], to Archibald Allison, [no year] Jan. 4. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270872261

English divine and author.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : C[ombe], Florey, Taunton, to Mr. Kinglake, solicitor of Taunton, 1829 Sept. 11. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270662391

From the description of Autograph letter signed : [Taunton], to the Lord Advocate [Sir John Archibald Murray], 1838 Aug. 16. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270663781

From the description of Autograph letter signed : C[ombe], Florey, Taunton, to the Bishop of London [Charles Blomfield], 1837 Jan. 31. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270662387

From the description of Autograph letter signed : Royal Hotel [London?], to Mrs. Pennington, 1839 Sept. 29. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270663723

From the description of Autograph letter signed : [London], to Lady Canning, 1836 July 2. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270663282

Priest in the Church of England.

From the description of Sydney Smith papers, 1809-1843. (Rice University). WorldCat record id: 28499321

Sydney Smith was born on June 3, 1771 at Woodford, Essex. His early childhood was an unhappy one due to his tyrannical father, Robert Smith (1739-1827). His mother, Maria Olier (1750-1801), suffered from epilepsy. Smith had three brothers and a sister; his elder brother, Robert Percy Smith (Bobus) was to be a major influence.

Smith entered Winchester College at the age of 11 under the headmaster, Joseph Warton. These were difficult years owing to the school’s state of decline, poor food and bullying. In 1789, Smith entered New College, Oxford, received his bachelor’s degree in 1792 and was ordained a Deacon in 1794. He spent two years as curate of the parish of Netheravon on Salisbury Plain and on his return to Oxford in 1796, took Priest’s orders.

He arrived in Edinburgh while traveling with Michael Hicks-Beach as his private tutor and it was there he met three young Whigs: Henry Brougham, Francis Horner, and Francis Jeffrey. While in their company, the idea of starting a literary review was suggested and the first issue of the Edinburgh Review came out on October 10,1802. The Edinburgh Review was a quarterly magazine and the owners favored the Whigs in Parliament and favored political reform. Smith married Catharine Amelia Pybus (1768-1852) during this period and they had five children. Smith’s eldest son, Douglas, was to die at the age of twenty-four; his daughter, Saba, became the second wife of Henry Holland (1788-1873), physician-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria. Saba Holland’s memoir of her father was published in 1855.

Smith settled in London in 1803 and stayed until 1809. His brother, Bobus, introduced him to Holland House (a center of Whig power and influence) and Smith quickly became known as one of the Holland House wits. He also became a popular preacher and it was during this period that Smith authored ten short pamphlets, published as Peter Plymley’s Letters – on the subject of Catholic emancipation. Although published anonymously, authorship became widely known.

Smith moved to Yorkshire in 1809, acting as magistrate and village doctor. One of the few Yorkshire clergy Smith became familiar with was Francis Wrangham (1769-1842). Like Smith, Wrangham was interested in parochial improvements and was in favor of the Catholic emancipation. Their friendship began with an exchange of printed sermons and soon evolved from these courtesies to more serious discussions of their work.

Smith moved to a parish in Somerset (1829) and was later given a canonry at St. Paul's, London in 1831. His failure to secure a bishopric was a disappointment to him, but life in London proved happy and sociable with Smith meeting many leading literary figures, including Charles Dickens.

By 1843, Smith’s health had declined, gout being a primary ailment. In October, 1844 he suffered a heart attack and later died on February 22, 1845.

Francis Wrangham (1769-1842) was a prolific writer, scholar, and Church of England clergyman. Wrangham was also an early supporter of Catholic emancipation. Educated at Cambridge, he was ordained in 1793. He became Archdeacon of Cleveland (1820) and later Archdeacon of East Riding (1828). He was also known as a collector of a large and important library. Wrangham died on December 27, 1842.


Bell, Alan. Sydney Smith. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.

Smith, Sydney. A Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith. London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1855.

From the guide to the Sydney Smith papers MS 242., 1809-1843, (Woodson Research Center, )

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  • 1839 Sept. 29
  • Catholics--Political activity
  • Edinburgh Review (1802)
  • Catholic emancipation
  • Clergy--England
  • Clergy--Political activity
  • Debts, Public
  • Catholics
  • Oxford movement
  • Authors, English--Archives


  • Clergy--Great Britain


  • Pennsylvania (as recorded)
  • Great Britain (as recorded)