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EDMUND SMITH is one of those lucky writers who have, without much labour, attained high reputation, and who are mentioned with reverence rather for the possession than the exertion of uncommon abilities.
Of his life little is known, and that little claims no praise but what can be given to intellectual excellence seldom employed to any virtuous purpose. His character, as given by Mr. Oldisworth with all the partiality of friendship, which is said by Dr. Burton to shew, “what fine things one man of parts can say of another," and which, however, comprises great part of what can be known of Mr. Smith, it is better to transcibe at once than to take by pieces. I shall subjoin such little memorials as accident has enabled me to collect.
Mr. Edmund Smith was the only son of an eminent merchant, one Mr. Neale, by a daughter of the famous baron Lechmere. Some misfortunes of his father, which were soon followed by his death, were the occasion of the son's being left very young in the hands of a near relation (one who married Mr. Neale's sister) whose name was Smith.
This gentleman and his lady treated him as their own child, and put him to Westminister school under the Vol. II.
care of Dr. Busby; whence, after the loss of his faithful and generous guardian (whose name he assumed and retained) he was removed to Christ-church in Oxford, and there by his aunt handsomely maintained till her death ; after which he continued a member of that learned and ingenious society till within five years of his own; though, some time before his leaving Christchurch, he was sent for by his mother to Worscester, and owned and acknowledged as her legitimate son ; which had not been mentioned, but to wipe off the aspersions that were ignorantly cast by some on his birth. It is to be remembered, for our author's honour, that, when at Westminster election he stood a candidate for one of the universities, he so signally distinguished himself by his conspicuous performances, that there arose no small contention, between the representative electors of Trinity-college in Cambridge and Christchurch in Oxon, which of those two royal societies should adopt him as their own. But the electors of Trinity-college having the preference of choice that year, they resolutely elected him ; who yet, being invited at the same time to Christ-church, chose to accept of a studentship there. Mr Smith's perfections, as well natural as acquired, seem to have been formed upon Horace's plan, who says, in his “ Art of Poetry.”
“_Ego nec studium sine divite vena,
He was endowed by nature with all those excellent and necessary qualifications which are previous to the accomplishment of a great man. His memory was large and tenacious, yet by a curious felicity chiefly suscepti. ble of the finest inpressions it received from the best
· authors he read, which it always preserved in their primitive strength and amiable order.
He had a quickness of appréhension and vivacity of understanding which easily took in and surmounted the most subtile and knotty parts of mathematics and metaphysics. His wit was prompt and flowing, yet solid and piercing ; his taste delicate, his head clear, and his way of expressing his thoughts perspicuous and engaging. I shall say nothing of his person, which yet was so well turned, that no neglect of himself in his dress could render it disagreeable ; insomuch that the fair sex, who observed and esteemed him, at once commended and reproved him by the name of the handsome sloven. An eager but generous and noble emulation grew up with him ; which (as it were a rational sort of instinct) pushed him upon striving to excel in every art and science that could make him a credit to his college, and that college the ornament of the most learned and polite university; and it was his happiness to have several contemporaries and fellow-students who exercised and excited this virtue in themselves and others, thereby becoming so deservedly in favour with this age ; and so good a proof of its nice discernment. His judgment, naturally good, soon ripened into an exquisite fineness and distinguishing sagacity, which, as it was active and busy, so it was vigorous and manly, keeping even paces with a rich and strong imagination, always upon the wing, and never tired with aspiring. Hence it was that, though he writ as young as Cowley, he had no puerilities; and his earliest productions were so far from having any thing in them mean and triling, that, like the junior compositions of Mr. Stepney, they may make grey authors blush. There are many of his first essays in oratory, in epigram, elegy, and epique, still handed about the university in manuscript, which shew a mas
terly hand ; and, though maimed and injured by fre: quent transcribing, make their way into our most celebrated, miscellanies, where they shine with uncommon lustre. Besides those verses in the Oxford books whick he could not help setting his name to, several of his compositions came abroad under other names, which his own singular modesty and faithful silence strove in vain to conceal. The Encænia and public collections of the university upon state subjects were never in such esteem, either for elegy and congratulation, as when he contributed most largely to them; and it was natural for those who knew his peculiar way of writing to turn to his share in the work, as by far the most relishing part of the entertainment. As his parts were extraordinary, so he well knew how to improve them; and, not only to polish the diamond, but enchase it in the most solid and durable metal. Though he was an academic the greatest part of his life, yet he contracted no sourness of temper, no spice of pedantry, no itch of disputation, or obstinate contention for the old or new philosophy, no assuming way of dictating to others, which are faults (though excusable) which some are insensibly led into who are constrained to dwell long within the walls of a private college. His conversation was pleasant and instructive; and what Horace said of Plotius, Varius, and Virgil, might justly be applied to him.
“Nil ego contulerim jucundo sanus Amico.”
Sat. v. 1. 1.
As correct a writer as he was in his most elaborate pieces, he read the works of others with candour, and reserved his greatest severity for his own compositions ; being readier to cherish and advance than damp or depress a rising genius, and as patient of being excelled