Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smith, John Pye

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SMITH, JOHN PYE (1774–1851), nonconformist divine, only son of John Smith, bookseller, of Angel Street, Sheffield, by Martha, daughter of Joseph Sheard, and sister-in-law of Matthew Talbot of Leeds [see Baines, Edward, (1774–1848)], was born in Sheffield on 25 May 1774. Without regular school education he picked up a considerable knowledge of the classics, and of English and French literature, by desultory reading in his father's shop. As he evinced no precocious piety, it was not until 21 Nov. 1792 that he was admitted to membership in the congregational church to which his parents belonged. Meanwhile (April 1790) he was apprenticed to his father's business, and in 1796 he served his literary apprenticeship as editor of the ‘Iris’ newspaper during the imprisonment of his friend, James Montgomery [q. v.] He appears also to have had transient relations with Coleridge and William Roscoe [q. v.] On the expiry of his indentures he gave up business, and, after studying for nearly four years under Dr. Edward Williams at the Rotherham Academy, was appointed in September 1800 resident tutor at Homerton College, where, besides the literæ humaniores, he lectured on Hebrew, the Greek Testament, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, and the more modern branches of science. Ordained on 11 April 1804, he was advanced in the summer of 1806 to the theological tutorship, which he held until shortly before his death, on 5 Feb. 1851. He was buried in Abney Park cemetery (15 Feb.). Pye Smith was D.D. of Yale College, LL.D. of Marischal College Aberdeen, F.R.S. and F.G.S.

Pye Smith married twice: first, at Tunbridge, on 20 Aug. 1801, a daughter of Thomas Hodgson of Hackney, who died on 23 Nov. 1832; secondly, at Islington, on 12 Jan. 1843, Catherine Elizabeth, widow of the Rev. William Clayton. By his first wife he had four sons and two daughters; by his second wife no issue.

Without brilliance or metaphysical depth, Pye Smith had no small learning, industry, and versatility. Though ignorant of German until he was past middle life, and though much of his time was frittered away in ephemeral controversies, he made in his ‘Scripture Testimony to the Messiah’ ((London, 1818–21, 2 vols. 8vo, subsequent editions, 1829, 1837, 1847, 3 vols.) a solid contribution to the defence of the Trinitarian doctrine, and in his ‘Relation between the Holy Scriptures and some parts of Geological Science,’ London, 1839, 8vo (5th edit. in Bohn's Scientific Library, 1852), he did more than any other British theologian of his day to bring the exegesis of Genesis into accord with geological fact. This work was warmly commended by Whewell, Herschel, Sedgwick, and Baden Powell.

For nearly half a century he was a frequent contributor to the ‘Eclectic Review.’ Among his minor works were:

  1. ‘Letters to the Rev. Thomas Belsham on some important subjects of Theological Discussion,’ London, 1804, 8vo.
  2. ‘The Reasons of the Protestant Religion,’ London, 1815, 8vo.
  3. ‘Four Discourses on the Sacrifice and Priesthood of Jesus Christ, and on Atonement and Redemption,’ London, 1828, 1842, 1847, 8vo.
  4. ‘On the Principles of Interpretation as applied to the Prophecies of Holy Scripture,’ London, 1829, 8vo.

[Gent. Mag. 1801 ii. 764, 1843 i. 312, 1851 i. 668; Congregational Yearbook, 1851, p. 233; Sketch prefixed to Bohn's edition of ‘The Relation between Holy Scripture and some parts of Geological Science;’ Medway's Memoirs of the Life and Writings of John Pye Smith, 1853.]

J. M. R.