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Sydney Smith papers

Identifier: MS 0242
Finding aid note: Stored onsite at the Woodson Research Center.

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.


  • Creation: 1809 - 1843


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.

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.


0.1 Linear Feet (3 folders)

Language of Materials



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.

Acquisition Information

This collection was purchased in 1967.


Guide to the Sydney Smith papers, 1809-1843
Lisa Moellering
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Woodson Research Center, Rice University, Houston, Texas Repository

Fondren Library MS-44, Rice University
6100 Main St.
Houston Texas 77005 USA