Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smith, William (1711-1787)

SMITH, WILLIAM (1711–1787), translator from the Greek, was born on 30 May 1711 at Worcester, where his father, Richard Smith, was rector of All Saints' Church. He entered Worcester grammar school (Queen Elizabeth's) in 1722, and proceeded in 1728 to New College, Oxford. He was there a contemporary of Robert Lowth [q. v.] (afterwards bishop of London), with whom he contracted a lifelong friendship. He graduated B.A. in 1732, M.A. in 1737, and B.D. and D.D. in 1758. Soon after taking his bachelor's degree, Smith had the good fortune of becoming known to James Stanley, tenth earl of Derby, and he resided with him for three years in the capacity of his reader. In June 1735 he took deacon's orders, and the earl presented him on 11 Sept. to the rectory of Holy Trinity, Chester. His first publication, a translation of ‘Longinus on the Sublime,’ appeared in 1739, and established his reputation as a classical scholar. In 1743 he was appointed chaplain to Lord Derby, the successor of his former patron, and in 1748 headmaster of Brentwood grammar school. The life of a pedagogue proved distasteful, and Smith resigned at the close of a year.

In 1753 he became one of the ministers of St. George's, Liverpool, and in the same year he published his translation of Thucydides. In 1758, mainly through the influence of Lord Derby, he was presented to the deanery of Chester, with which he held other preferments. He resigned St. George's, Liverpool, in 1767, and Holy Trinity, Chester, in 1780, but he was rector of Handley from 1766 to 1787, and of West Kirby from 1780 to 1787. Smith died at Chester on 12 Jan. 1787, and was buried in the south aisle of the cathedral, where a monument was erected to his memory by his widow, Elizabeth, of the Heber family of Essex. He left no children.

Smith spoke Latin fluently, and was an excellent Greek and Hebrew scholar. He is best known by his translations from the Greek: 1. ‘Longinus on the Sublime, with Notes and Life,’ London, 1739, 8vo; the best edition is the fourth, which appeared in 1757; subsequent editions, 1770, 1800, and 1819. This was based upon the Latin edition of Zachary Pearce [q. v.], 1724; though much praised at the time, and read by Edmund Burke among others, Smith's version has been as completely superseded as those of his predecessors, J. Hall (1662) and Leonard Welstead [q. v.], which he censured, the text of Longinus having undergone a complete recension since his day. 2. ‘History of the Peloponnesian War, from the Greek of Thucydides, with Notes,’ 2 vols. 1753, 4to; 1781; 4th edit. 1805; and several American editions. A mediocre effort, in which the ruggedness and conciseness of the original are lost (cf. Gent. Mag. 1860, ii. 213). A rumour was formerly current that Lord Chatham had contributed the ‘Funeral Oration’ in Book ii., ‘but the hand of the great orator is nowhere discernible’ (Jowett, Thucydides, Introd. p. viii). 3. ‘Xenophon's History of Greece, by the Translator of Thucydides,’ 1770, 4to; 1781, and 1812. Smith also published ‘Nine Sermons on the Beatitudes’ (London, 1782, 8vo), and his friend, Thomas Crane, issued after his death ‘The Poetic Works of William Smith, D.D.’ (Chester, 1788, 12mo), including a paraphrase of Downe's ‘Third Satyr’ and other trifles in verse, some of which had already appeared in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine.’ To this was prefixed a brief memoir of the author.

A portrait was prefixed to his translation of Thucydides.

[Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Ormerod's Cheshire, i. 221; Gent. Mag. 1791, ii. 745; Chambers's Worcestershire Biogr. pp. 431–2; Works of the Learned, May 1739; Chalmers's Biogr. Dict.; Allibone's Dict. of English Lit.; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

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