Woodson Research Center, Rice University

Guide to the Sydney Smith papers, 1809-1843 MS 242

Collection Summary

Creator Smith, Sydney
Title: Sydney Smith papers
Dates: 1809-1843
Abstract: Correspondence from Sydney Smith to, primarily, Archdeacon Francis Wrangham. Other noted correspondent includes George Lamb. Two portraits of Sydney Smith (engraving and lithograph) are included in the collection.
Identification: MS 242
Quantity: 0.1 Linear Feet(3 folders)
Language: English .
Repository: Woodson Research Center, Rice University, Houston, Texashttps://library.rice.edu/woodson

Biographical / Historical

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.

Scope and Contents

The collection includes correspondence, two portraits of Sydney Smith and a sonnet, Sonnet to a Friend. The letters are handwritten and most are signed. The bulk of the letters are from Sydney Smith to Francis Wrangham, both Church of England clergymen. Subjects covered in their correspondence include comments on sermons, writings and political topics, namely the Catholic Emancipation Bill which eventually passed in 1829, enabling Catholics to sit in the British Parliament. Another noted correspondent is George Lamb (1784-1834), a politician and writer; Smith references the Edinburgh Review in a letter to Lamb (November 15, 1826). Other correspondents include James Tate, Master of Richmond School and a colleague of Smith's at St. Paul's, Christopher Hodgson, also a colleague at St. Paul's and Lady Copley, later Lady Lyndhurst, wife of John Singleton Copley. Some of the correspondents are unknown. Typed transcriptions of Smith's letters to Francis Wrangham are included.

The portraits include a lithograph with facsimile autograph and an engraving with facsimile autograph. The lithograph is attributed to history and portrait painter Daniel Maclise (1806-1870). The engraving includes the following notation, "Engraved by permission from a miniature ivory in the possession of Miss Holland."


Restrictions on Access

This material is open for research.

Conditions Governing Access

Stored onsite at the Woodson Research Center.

Restrictions on Use

Permission to publish from the Sydney Smith papers must be obtained from the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.

Index Terms

Clergy -- England
Catholic emancipation
Clergy -- Political activity
Document Types
Subjects (Persons)
Wrangham, Francis
Smith, Sydney
Subjects (Corporations)
Church of England

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Sydney Smith papers, 1809-1843, MS 242, Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University

Acquisition Information

This collection was purchased in 1967.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series I: Correspondence 1809-1843, undated

General note
Arranged in chronological order.
1 To Francis Wrangham. Thanking him for a present and reporting on the Archbishop's pleasure with Wrangham's sermon September 13, 1809
To Francis Wrangham. Discussion of Mr. Odell. Pleased Wrangham liked his sermon. " Let us agree to like each others discourses – a very advantageous contract for me…" December 18, 1809
To Francis Wrangham. Thanking him for praise and talks of plans to visit June 28, 1810
To Francis Wrangham. Discussion of the merits of public and private schools and plans to visit July 29, 1810
To Francis Wrangham. Thanking Wrangham for a present, praises Wrangham's translation, political talk and discussion of two pamphlets Smith will try to locate June 23, 1812
To Francis Wrangham. Writes of the pleasure to soon meet Mrs. Wrangham July 17, 1813
To Francis Wrangham. Writes of visiting an acquaintance, of building a house and birth of a child. Asks Wrangham, " Why are you an honest man? You might have been a bishop…" September 6, 1813
To Francis Wrangham March 14, 1814
To Francis Wrangham. Thanks for sending a sermon April 30, 1814
To Francis Wrangham. Writes of room in a carriage, "The whole of the Seat and Boot will be at your disposal…" June 17, 1814
To Francis Wrangham June 1814
To Francis Wrangham. Writes of a visit and "200 miles of serene discussion." June 1814
To Francis Wrangham. Requests the name of the school recommended by Mr. Taite and Wrangham. Asks Wrangham to send him a sermon, or "tell me what to preach about…" as Smith is to preach the Archdeacon's sermon June 9, 1816
To Francis Wrangham. Wishing good things for Wrangham and writes of a visit October 10, 1819
To Francis Wrangham. Cannot accept an invitation due to company October 3, 1821
To Francis Wrangham. Asks Wrangham for an explanation as to the disposition of their "petition" – referring to the question of Catholic emancipation April 19, 1823
To Francis Wrangham. Writes again of the petition, Wrangham's explanation, and the presentation at the House of Commons and House of Lords April 26, 1823
To Francis Wrangham. Writes of a bill paid and asks for"your proportion…" ca. 1823
To Francis Wrangham. Regarding "the important question of a hat…" March 6, 1824
To Francis Wrangham. Cannot send a copy of a sermon to a Mr. [Montague] April 24, 1824
To Francis Wrangham. Regarding a meeting of the clergy; more mention of Catholics March 21, 1825
To Francis Wrangham. Writes about Lady Copley and a request she has made concerning Wrangham December 24, 1825
To Lady Copley. Thanks for a present; writes that he has written to Wrangham December 26, 1825
To Francis Wrangham. Writing on politics December 31, 1825
To Francis Wrangham. Regarding a meeting Smith does not agree with,"Nothing but my absence on business in London should have prevented me from opposing (though of course in vain) a meeting I so entirely condemn." ca. 1825
To George Lamb. Regarding Lamb's publication on"Counsel for prisoners in cases of felony." Smith wishes to write a paper in the Edinburgh Review on the publication November 15, 1826
To Dr. John Thomson. Regarding illness of Mrs. Smith, asks for remedies, climate change advice April 10, 1828
To Francis Wrangham. Writing of the possibility of a vacancy at the Cathedral of Bristol July 26, 1828
To Francis Wrangham. Asks for information on the age of Mr. [Butler] of Nottingham August 8, 1828
To Francis Wrangham. Writing to let Wrangham know he has changed his"livings"to Somerset. More talk on the "Catholic [question]" May 9, 1829
To E. Keyms Tynte. Will consider whether to vote for him as candidate for West Somerset June 27, 1832
To James Movier. Writes of dining with Miles of Bristol July 3, 1832
To Rogers. Regarding a dining invitation November 6, 1837
To Mr. Morse (or Neurse?). Sending agreement, giving Lady Grenvill's address July 17, 1839
To James Tate. Will talk to Sellen. On p. 2 is Tate's autographed annotation (1841) regarding Sellen and"our facetious brother as the Dean sometimes calls him"(about Smith's spelling of his name in the Scottish style, Taite) A small portrait of Smith (same as lithograph) is included with the letter.
To Unknown (Dr. Taylor?) Thanks for a pamphlet and political talk April 6, 1840
To C.G. Hodgson. Asks about money matters and about his health August 9, 1841
To Francis Wrangham. "Thanks for your Epigrams…" Hopes Wrangham is in "tolerable health."Ends his letter by writing, "I wish you had been a Bishop." June 17, 1842
To Unknown (Gentlemen). " I beg the favor of your account." August 22, 1842
To Col. Tynte. Declines an invitation, " I am very old 72, low in spirits gaiety and the least thing – or the smallest alteration of habits makes me ill." December 20, 1842
To Mrs. Gaskell. Writing that Mrs. Smith is ill June 1843
To Mrs. Twiss. (sister of Sarah Siddens) Accepts an invitation n.d.
To Francis Wrangham. Writes of admiration for Wrangham n.d.
To Unknown. "Sonnet to a Friend." n.d.
2 Transcriptions of letters to Francis Wrangham, 1809-1842 n.d.

Series II: Sydney Smith portraits circa 1830s

3 Lithograph and engraving of Sydney Smith n.d.