Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smith, Joseph (1682-1770)

SMITH, JOSEPH (1682–1770), British consul at Venice, born in 1682, took up his residence at Venice at the age of eighteen, and was apparently engaged in commerce there. He made a wide reputation as a collector of books, manuscripts, pictures, coins, and gems. He patronised painters, and among his protégés were the Florentine Zuccarelli and the Venetian Zais. Horace Walpole sneered at him as ‘the merchant of Venice,’ who knew nothing of his books except their title-pages (Walpole, Letters, i. 239–307), but the censure seems undeserved. In 1729 Smith prepared an edition of Boccaccio's ‘Decamerone,’ which was published by Passinello (Ebert, Bibliographical Dictionary, i. 201). It is so nearly an exact reproduction of the rare edition of 1527 that only those who are acquainted with the minute differences can distinguish the copy from the original. Of Smith's edition only three hundred copies were printed, including a few on large paper; these latter are extremely rare, a fire having destroyed a portion of the edition (see Count Gio. Batista Baldelli Boni's Vita di G. Boccaccio, Firenze, 1806, p. 311). About the same time Smith issued a ‘Catalogus Librorum Rarissimorum’ (without date), which was limited to twenty-five copies. The volumes noticed were in Smith's own possession. A second edition, containing the titles of thirty-one additional books, was published in Venice in 1737. Of his general library a catalogue was printed at Venice in 1755, under the title ‘Bibliotheca Smithiana, seu Catalogus Librorum D. Josephi Smithii Angli.’

Meanwhile in 1740 Smith was appointed British consul at Venice, and was thenceforth known familiarly as Consul Smith. He retained the post till 1760. In 1765 George III began to form his library by purchasing Smith's books en bloc for 10,000l., and they now form an important part of the king's library at the British Museum. Smith continued to collect, and at his death the books which he had acquired subsequently to the sale of his library to George III were sold at public auction in London by Baker & Leigh in January and February 1773, the sale occupying thirteen days. His art treasures also were bought by George III for 20,000l. (see Ed. Edwards's Lives of the Founders of the British Museum, 1570–1870, ii. 469). A valuable portion of his manuscripts was purchased for Blenheim Palace by Lord Sunderland, who gave, according to Humphry Wanley's ‘Diary,’ 1,500l. for them (Lansdowne MS. 771, fol. 34). Smith's antique gems were described and illustrated in A. F. Gori's ‘Dactyliotheca Smithiana,’ 2 vols. folio, 1767.

Smith died at Venice on 6 Nov. 1770, aged 88. About 1758 he married a sister of John Murray, resident at Venice, and afterwards ambassador at the Porte (see Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu's Letters and Works, ed. 1893, ii. 319).

[Supplement to Dr. T. F. Dibdin's Bibliomania, ed. 1842, pp. 33–5; Scots Mag. 1770, p. 631; information from the foreign office, and from the British Consulate at Venice.]

G. W. M.