Smith, Sydney

Noted wit and controversialist, whose articles in the Edinburgh Review were scathingly critical of enthusiasm and of Methodism in particular. Educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford, where he was elected to a fellowship in 1791, he was ordained in 1794 and held livings at Foston-le-Clay, near York and at Combe Florey, Som. Under the Whig government of 1835 he was made a canon of St. Paul's.

In the 1808 Review he dismissed 'three classes of fanatics' as 'all in one general conspiracy against common sense and rational orthodox Christianity'. One of his targets was the Baptist missionary reports from India; another, the anecdotes of providential events in the Methodist Magazine. He criticized these under six heads: (1) their 'very erroneous and dangerous notions of the present judgments of God'; (2) 'the doctrine of inward impulse and emotions', i.e. the 'justification by feelings' with which E.B. Pusey later charged WM; (3) their hatred of pleasure and amusements; (4) their neglect of 'practical righteousness'; (5) their desire to make men 'more religious than it is possible, from the constitution of human nature, to make them'; and (6) their intention of gaining power among the poor and ignorant.

The article provoked a reply by John Styles, Strictures on Two Critiques in the Edinburgh Review (1808), to which Smith in turn replied in an article in the 1809 Review, dismissing Styles as 'a sacred and silly gentleman' and Methodists as 'vermin' and accusing the poor of setting themselves up as teachers. On the other hand, in 1811, when the Dissenters were alarmed by Lord Sidmouth's attempt to deprive them of the protection of the Toleration Act, Smith was true to his liberalism and sprang to their defence.

  • Hesketh Pearson, The Smith of Smiths (1934)
  • History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, vol. 4, Documents and Source Material (1988) pp.323-6
  • Oxford DNB
  • Ken Baker, 'Sydney Smith and the Methodists', in Bulletin of the Wesley Historical Society in Ireland, vol. 12 (2006-2007) pp. 68-70