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Sydney Smith

Smith, Sydney, 1771–1845, English clergyman, writer, and wit, ordained in the Church of England in 1794. In 1798 he went as a tutor to Edinburgh, where he studied medicine, occasionally preached, and with Jeffrey and others founded (1802) the Edinburgh Review. His brilliant contributions were a strong factor in the periodical's success. Moving to London in 1803, Smith lectured on moral philosophy at the Royal Institution and became a well-known figure in literary society. His "Peter Plymley" letters (published anonymously in 1807–8) in defense of Catholic Emancipation were the first of his many appeals for religious toleration. In 1809 he moved to Yorkshire, where he had been given a living of £500 a year. There he also acted as magistrate and village doctor. He went to a parish in Somerset in 1829; in 1831 he was given a residentiary canonry at St. Paul's. Smith's religion was strong and of a practical nature. A lover of justice and truth, he was a life-long defender of the oppressed. His failure to rise higher in the church is attributed to his wide reputation as a master of wit and satire. He is placed among the premier English wits and has been compared to Swift and to Voltaire.

See his works (4 vol., 1839–40); his letters (ed. by N. Smith, 2 vol., 1953); selections from his writings (ed. by W. H. Auden, 1956); memoir by his daughter, Lady Holland (2 vol., 1855); biographies by G. W. Russell (1905, repr. 1971), H. Pearson (1934, repr. 1971), G. W. Bullett (1951, repr. 1971), and A. Bell (1980).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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