Smith, John

, an English divine of distinguished learning, was descended of an ancient family originally seated at Durham, and was the eldest son of the rev. William Smith, rector of Lowther in Westmoreland, by Elizabeth, his wife, daughter of Giles Wetherali of Stockton near Durham. His grandfather, Matthew Smith, was a barrister, and of much reputation for his skill in the law, and for some valuable annotations which he left in ms. on Littleton’s tenures. He wrote also some poetical pieces and two dramas, for which he is commemorated in Gibber’s “Lives of the Poets.” During the rebellion he took up arms in defence of Charles I. and served under prince Rupert, particularly at the battle of Marston-moor in 1644, for which he and his family were plundered and sequestered.

Our author was born at Lowther, Nov. 10, 1659, and was at first educated by his father with a care which his extraordinary capacity amply repaid, for we are told that he learned the Latin grammar in the fifth year of his age, and the Greek grammar in his ninth. After this he was sent to Bradford in Yorkshire, and placed under Mr. Christopher Nesse, a nonconformist (see Nessje) of considerable learning; but here it is said he forgot almost all his grammar rules. He then appears to have been taught by Mr. William Lancaster, afterwards provost of Queen’s college, Oxford, and next by Mr. Thomas Lawson, a quaker | schoolmaster, under whom he continued his progress in the learned languages. He was also for some time at the school of Appleby, whence he was sent to Cambridge, and admitted of St. John’s college June 11, 1674, about a year before his father’s death. From his first entrance at college, he was much noticed for his exemplary conduct, afcd close application to study, which enabled him to take his degrees in arts with great reputation; that of A. B. in 1677, and of A. M. in 1681. Being intended for the church, he was ordained both deacon and priest, by Dr. Richard Stearn or Stern, archbishop of York; and in 1681 was invited to Durham by Dr. Dennis Granville, who had a great regard for his family, and esteemed him highly for his attainments. In July 1682 he was admitted a minor canon of Durham, and about the same time he was collated to the curacy of Croxdale, and, in July 1684, to the living of Witton-Gilbert. In 1686 he went to Madrid, as chaplain to lord Lansdowne, the English ambassador, and returned soon after the revolution. In 1694 Crew, bishop of Durham, appointed him his domestic chaplain, and had such an opinion of his judgment, that he generally consulted him in all ecclesiastical matters of importance. His lordship also collated him to the rectory and hospital of Gateshead in June 1695, and to a prebend of Durham in September following. In 1696 he was created D. D. at Cambridge, and was made treasurer of Durham in 1699, to which bishop Crew, in July 1704, added the rectory of Bishop-Wearmouth.

Here he not only repaired the chancel in a handsome and substantial manner, but built a very spacious and ele*­gain parsonage-house, entirely at his own expeuce, and laid out considerable sums on his prebendal house, and on other occasions shewed much of a liberal and charitable spirit. But his chief delight was in his studies, to which he applied with an industry which greatly impaired his health, so that he began to decline about two years before his death, which took place July 30, 1715, in the fifty-sixth year of his age. He died at Cambridge, where he had resided for some time in order to complete his edition of the works of the venerable Bede; and was interred in the chapel of St. John’s college, in which a handsome marble monument was erected to him, with a Latin inscription by his learned friend Thomas Baker; the antiquary. His character seems in all respects to have been estimable. He was | learned, generous, and strict in the duties of his profession. He was one of ten brothers, five of whom survived him, and whom he remembered in his will. They were all men of note William, a physician, died at Leeds in 1729; Matthew, a Blackwell-hall factor, died at Newcastle in 1721; George, a clergyman and chaplain general to the army, died in 1725; Joseph, provost of Queen’s-college, Oxford, of whom hereafter; Benjamin, remembered also in his brother’s will, but died before him, a student of the Temple; and Posthumus Smith, an eminent civilian, who died 1725.

Dr. Smith married Mary eldest daughter of William Cooper, of Scarborough, esq. by whom he had a considerable fortune, and five sons. Besides his edition of Bede’s History, he published four occasional sermons, and had made some progress in a History of Durham, for which bishop Nicolson thought him well qualified. He likewise furnished Gibson with the additions to the bishopric of Durham, which he used in his edition of Camden’s “Britannia.” He also assisted Mr. Anderson in his “Historical Essay” to prove that the crown and kingdom of Scotland is imperial and independent. Dr. Smith’s eldest son, George, was born at Durham May 7, 1693, and educated at Westminster-school and at St. John’s-college, Cambridge, but in two years was removed to Queen’s-college, Oxford, where his uncle was provost, and the learned Edward Thwaites his tutor. He afterwards studied law in the Inner Temple, but being a nonjuror, quitted that profession, took orders among the nonjurors, and was made titular bishop of Durham. He died Nov. 4, 1756, at Burnhall in the county of Durham. He is represented as an universal scholar, and particularly an able antiquary. He is said to have written, anonymously, some controversial pieces, one of which was entitled “Britons and Saxons not converted to Popery, in answer to a popish book, bearing the title of ‘ England’s Conversion and Reformation compared’.” He also supplied Carte with some materials for his history; but he is chiefly known for his splendid edition of Bede’s works, which was prepared for the press by his father, and published by this son at Cambridge in 1722, folio, with a life, and some additions to what his father had left. 1


Biog. Brit. Hutchinson’s Durham, vol. I. p. 61, Nicolson’s Letters, vol. I,

p. 224.