William Smyth (1765-1849)

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Life
b. Liverpool, son of successful merchant and mayor from Anglo-Irish stock; ed. Eton; became a fellow of Peterhouse [St. Peter’s College], initially in Maths; appt. Professor of History 1807-48; issued English Lyricks (Liverpool 1797), and a later edition of same in Dublin (1806), with dedicatory poem by William Parnell addressing Mrs. Tighe in which he speaks of ‘the destruction of the business of printing’ in Ireland by the Act of Union and calls ‘the present work […]a small effort towards restoring the Irish press to some degree of consequence’ (Liverpool 1797).

[ top ]

Works
Poetry

[anon.,] English Lyricks (Liverpool: printed by J. McCreery, for Cadell and Davies, London, and Crane and Jones, Liverpool, 1797), 62pp., 8°; Do., by W. Smyth, Fellow Of St. Peter’s College, Cambridge [2nd edn.] (Liverpool: 1798); Do. [another edn.] (Dublin: printed by Hugh Fitzpatrick 1806), 79pp. [see details]; and Do. [ 5th edn.] 1850), with a ‘Autobiographical Sketch’;

 
Prose works
  • Lectures on Modern History, 2 vols. (1840);
  • Lectures on the French Revolution (1840);
  • Evidences of Christianity (1845);
  • Memoir of Mr Sheridan (1840);
  • ‘Lady Morgan’s Lecture’ (1840);
  • A List of Books recommended … on Modern History (Cambridge 1815), and Do. (1823) - a copy of which is held with interleaved notes in papers of William Roscoe at Picton Lib. Liverpool.
[ top ]

Bibliographical details
English Lyricks [by William Smyth] (Dublin: printed by Hugh Fitzpatrick 1806), [2], iv, [2], 79pp., [1]p., 1 plate, 8° [17.8cm]; engraved frontispiece by Shea after W. Parnell [Parnell-Hayes]. Contents incl. a dedicatory poem to the author by William Parnell. Dedication to Mrs Mary Tighe by Parnell speaks of ‘the destruction of the business of printing’ in Ireland by the Act of Union and that ‘the present work is a small effort towards restoring the Irish press to some degree of consequence’. [COPAC; see digital copy of 2nd edn. (1798) at Gale Publ. via Athens [online].

[ top ]

Criticism
See Hedva Ben-Israel, ‘William Smyth, Historian of the French Revolution’, in Journal of the History of Ideas, 21, 4 (Oct.-Dec. 1960), pp.571-85 [JSTOR online]; K. T. B. Butler, ‘A “Petty” Professor of Modern History: William Smyth 1765-1849’, in Cambridge Historical Journal, 9 (1947-49), cp.220.

[ top ]

Commentary
Peter Searby, A Hist. of the University of Cambridge - Vol. 3: 1750-1870 (Cambridge UP 1997), Chap. 6: ‘Science and Other studies’: Smyth was the son of a liverpool merchant (and mayor of the city) from Anglo-Irish stock. … went to Eton; matric. Peterhouse; studied mathematics unwillingly in order to qualify as Eight Wrangler in 1787 and soon afterwards became a Jun. Fellow; Stratford Canning wrote that he ‘explained the point of difficulty [in a mathematical problem] in popular terms so clearly that I went to work again with fresh zeal’ (Quoted in K. T. B. Butler, ‘A “Petty” Professor of Modern History: William Smyth 1765-1849’, in Cambridge History Journal, 9, 1947-49, p.220. Professor of Hist., 1807-48; ‘an animated, emotional, highly social man who had many Cambridge friends of both sexes’ [among whom Mary Ann Kelty, dg. of an Irish surgeon, and auther of Reminiscences of Thought and Feeling (London 1852), and a prolific writer of religious works and novels [p.236]. His poems, English Lyrics, first pub. in Liverpool in 1797 with three editions in his lifetime; among the very few Cambridge products Byron felt able to praise in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1808): ‘… So lost in dulness and so lost so shame / That Smythe and Hodgson scarce redeem thy Fame’. (Searby, op. cit., p.237.) His close friend Kelty writes about him in Visiting My Relations and Its Results: A Series of Small Episodes in the Life of a Recluse (London 1851), pp.332-34. [here p.238.] Further: ‘Smyth was a Whiggish historian, for whom the human chronicle is a march towards liberty with many wrong turnings led by bigots. Christianity was good, but Mahomet was a force for evil because he did not advance “the civil liberty of his followers.” (Smyth, Lectures on History, Vol. 1, pp.71, and p.247-48.) The central them of English history from the Middle Ages onwards is the advance of parliament, while the Reformationi gave an opening to “criminal” tendencies - “the inherent intolerance of the human heart … Pagan or Christian, Protestant or Roman Catholic.” […] He failed to appreciate the circumstances that made men what they were, and he always seems to be pleading a cause, liberty, that was rarely being given voice at all at the time when he was writing. Still, his lectures were often lively, and we can see why he was praised as instructive.’ (p.242.)

[ top ]