Sydney Smith

One of the wittiest preachers of the Regency era, Sydney Smith appears an unlikely assistant to the serious-minded Daniel Sandford. Yet Charlotte Chapel provided Smith with his first platform for publication, and he baptised Sandford's daughter Sarah which suggests friendly relations. These two Oxford clergymen had more in common than their manners suggest, and Sydney Smith's presence emphasises Charlotte Chapel's status as a chapel of the enlightenment.

Lived
3 June 1771 - 22 February 1845
Origin
Woodford, Essex
Father
Robert Smith (1739-1827), merchant
Mother
Maria Olier (1750-1801), daughter of a French Protestant refugee.
Address
46 George Street
Political views
Whig
Religious views
Smith was a very different theologian to Sandford, with liberal, latitudinarian views, supportive of Catholic Emancipation and distrustful of Methodism and evangelical enthusiasm. Yet they shared an impatience with controversialist theological details, a willingness to consider the merits of an opposing viewpoint, and a passion for teaching young people to think: they were both clergymen of the enlightenment. When Smith was in Edinburgh he was just under 30, Sandford a few years older; Sandford very serious minded, Smith always half-frivolous: it would be fascinating to know how the two young clergymen got on.
      Smith preached regularly in Edinburgh, usually in Charlotte Chapel, and as an aspiring society preacher from a country parish was preoccupied with his reception in the city: 'preaching and dancing are the great subjects of conversation here. Michael is thought to do the steps neatly; the people say it is a great pity that I don't preach as well as he capers,' he wrote in March 1799 (3). He often complained his congregation fell asleep, but Henry Cockburn said they were moved to tears (6). Neither commentator is impartial.
      I will leave it to Smith scholars to assess his Six sermons, preached in Charlotte Chapel (1800) within his own literary legacy: the striking thing about them compared with Sandford's sermons is the lack of biblical references. Sandford's sermons are nailed firmly to the bible, rarely risking more than a sentence or two without a citation. Smith takes his text as inspiration, then takes flight in his own philosophical arguments and beautiful epigrams:
Our sphere of thoughts has hardly any limits, our sphere of action hardly any extent; we may speculate on worlds, we must act in families, in districts, and in kingdoms. (5)
Profession
1796 curate of the village of Netheravon. 1798 travelled to Edinburgh as tutor the eldest son of the squire, Michael Hicks-Beach. 1802 helped found the Edinburgh Review. 1803 moved to London, where he preached and lectured in society chapels. 1806 presented by the brief Whig administration with the living of Foston-le-Clay in Yorkshire, and wrote on Catholic emancipation. 1828 Rector of Combe Florey, near Taunton and prebend of Brisol Cathedral.
Chapel connection
Visiting clergyman. 17 March 1800, baptised Daniel Sandford's daughter Sarah. Six sermons, preached in Charlotte Chapel, Edinburgh (Manners and Miller, Edinburgh 1800) was his first publication.
Married
June 1800
Spouse
Catherine Amelia Pybus
Children
Saba (1802 - 1866, m. Sir Henry Holland), Douglas (d.1829)
Connections
He was piqued when his pupil Michael was invited to dine with the Earl of Clanricarde without him (3 p.56), but he did get to dine with Charles Scott's father the then Duke of Buccleuch, and took a dislike to the Tory Lord: 'we were not very pleased with our day... the Duke seems to be one of those kind of men who baffle all attempts to hate, praise or blame him. (6 p.18). He moved in the circle of young whig advocates, much admired by Henry Cockburn.

Sources

  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. Nowell C Smith, The letters of Sydney Smith (Oxford, Clarendon Press) vol.1 p.24-54
  4. Caledonian Mercury 19 December 1799
  5. Sydney Smith, Six sermons, preached in Charlotte Chapel, Edinburgh (Manners and Miller, Edinburgh, 1800) p.11
  6. A. Bell, Sydney Smith: A Biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980) p.28

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