Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smalridge, George
SMALRIDGE, GEORGE (1663–1719), bishop of Bristol, the son of Thomas Smalridge, a citizen and dyer of Lichfield, who was sheriff of that city in 1674, was born in Sandford Street, Lichfield, in 1663. He was first sent to Lichfield grammar school, where he had as a contemporary Joseph Addison, and where his ability was discerned by the antiquary, Elias Ashmole [q. v.] The latter paid the expenses of his being sent to Westminster. In like manner Smalridge himself subsequently benefited Bishop Thomas Newton [q. v.] In 1680, two years after his admission at Westminster, presumably out of compliment to Ashmole, he wrote elegies in Latin and English upon the famous astrologer William Lilly, now preserved among the Bodleian MSS. He was elected to Christ Church, Oxford, in 1682, matriculating on 18 Dec. and graduating B.A. in 1686, whereupon he became a college tutor. In conjunction with Aldrich and Atterbury (a warm friend at Westminster and through life), whose opinions he had adopted, he published in 1687 ‘Animadversions on the Eight Theses laid down [by Obadiah Walker and Abraham Woodhead] in a discourse entitled “Church Government, Part V,” lately printed at Oxford,’ in which the Anglican position is vindicated with some vigour. In 1689 he published ‘Auctio Davisiana’ (Oxford, 4to), a description, in Latin verse of exceptional merit, of the sale of the library of the Oxford bookseller, Richard Davis; it was reprinted in ‘Musæ Anglicanæ.’ In the same year he graduated M.A. and took orders. Within three years from ordination he was appointed by the dean and chapter of Westminster to Tothill Fields chapel, and in June 1693 he was collated to the prebend of Flixton in Lichfield Cathedral. He was selected to speak the oration in praise of Sir Thomas Bodley in 1694, and in 1698 had the most important share, after Atterbury, in discharging the flimsy ordnance of the Oxford wits against the erudition of Bentley on ‘Dr. Bentley's Dissertations … examined.’ Smalridge is credited with the designedly humorous part of the performance, attempting to prove that the ‘Dissertation on the Phalaris Letters’ was not written by Bentley (Quarterly Review, xlvi. 134 seq.). The attempt (which led indirectly to Swift's ‘Battle of the Books’) was responsible for the supposition of Sacheverell, some years later, that Smalridge was the real author of the ‘Tale of a Tub,’ an imputation which Smalridge denied with much grief and bitterness.
In 1698 Smalridge was appointed minister of the new chapel (Broadway), Westminster, and at the same time graduated B.D., proceeding D.D. on 28 May 1701. On 14 Feb. 1702 he was chosen a Busby trustee. From 1700 with short intervals until 1707 he acted as deputy regius professor of divinity for Dr. William Jane [q. v.] Among those whom he presented for an honorary degree was Dr. Grabe, in conjunction with whom, together with Archbishop Sharp, Bishop Robinson, and Jablonski, he subsequently took a keen interest in the restoration of episcopacy in Prussia and the approximation of the Lutheran and Anglican forms of ritual. Upon Jane's death in February 1707, Smalridge was strongly recommended for the professorship, of which he had performed the duties for six years, but his avowed Jacobitism and the influence of Marlborough caused Dr. John Potter, much against the queen's personal inclination, to be preferred (cf. Hearne, Collect. ed. Doble, ii. 88). Next January, however, Smalridge, who had the reputation in London of being an excellent preacher, was chosen lecturer of St. Dunstan's-in-the-West. Upon the tory reaction in 1710 he was made one of the queen's chaplains, and, in the same year, in a Latin oration, presented Atterbury as prolocutor to the upper house of convocation. His speech was subsequently printed, together with two speeches in the Sheldonian and a poem on the death of Queen Anne, in Latin and English, as ‘Miscellanies by Dr. Smalridge’ (2nd ed. London, 1714). In September 1711 he was made a canon of Christ Church at the same time that Atterbury was made dean. ‘The House,’ wrote Swift, ‘would have rather had it the other way about.’ When, however, Atterbury became a bishop, Smalridge obtained the deanery, 11 July 1713, and thereupon resigned the deanery of Carlisle, to which he had been admitted (likewise in succession to Atterbury) on 3 Nov. 1711. ‘Atterbury goes before,’ wrote the new dean, ‘and sets everything on fire. I come after him with a bucket of water.’
In succession to Robinson (translated to London), Smalridge was consecrated bishop of Bristol on 4 April 1714 (Stubbs, Episcopal Succession in England, p. 133), and held the deanery in commendam with the see, the emoluments of which were at that time very small. His promotion to Bristol was highly popular, and shortly afterwards he was appointed lord almoner, but was removed from this post in the following year. His views had in no way altered since, in 1701, he declared in a sermon before the House of Commons that ‘whosoever did not abhor the execution of Charles I was so ill a man that no good man could converse with him;’ and, together with Atterbury, he refused to sign the declaration against the Pretender on 3 Nov. following the insurrection of 1715. Their ‘Reasons for not signing the Declaration’ were published in quarto in 1715, and were reprinted in Somers' ‘Tracts,’ vol. xii. Similarly, in 1717, he resisted the attempt to procure a loyal address from Oxford to George I on his return from Hanover, and opposed the repeal of the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts; and in the following year he delivered his sentiments freely in ‘a very animated speech’ in the House of Lords in support of the Test and Corporation Acts. But, although he was removed from the almonership, he was highly esteemed by the princess (afterwards Queen Caroline) and her circle, his reputation as a scholar (though he did little to justify it) being almost as high as that as a preacher. He died suddenly of apoplexy on 27 Sept. 1719, and was buried in the north aisle of Christ Church Cathedral, where there was until 1870 a monument with an inscription by his old schoolfellow and brother-in-law, Dr. Robert Freind (the inscription was printed after the title-page of the Oxford edition of Smalridge's ‘Sermons’). His will was proved at Oxford on 10 Oct. 1719. He married, about 1697, Mary, daughter of Dr. Samuel de l'Angle, who was left in poor circumstances at his death, but was granted a pension of 300l. by the princess until her death on 7 June 1729. By her he left issue, with two daughters, a son Philip, who was also educated at Westminster and Christ Church, Oxford, graduating M.A. in 1723 and D.D. in 1742, was rector of Christleton, Cheshire (1727), and chancellor of the diocese of Worcester from 1742 until his death on 23 Oct. 1751 (Gent. Mag. 1751, p. 477; Welch, Alumni Westmon. p. 270).
Smalridge, ‘the famous Dr. Smalridge’ as Swift called him, was a well-known figure in London in Queen Anne's day. Bishop Newton speaks of the veneration which his appearance inspired at the Westminster school elections. Subsequently Addison wrote to Swift that he was the most candid and agreeable of the bishops. In the ‘Tatler’ (Nos. 73 and 114) Steele spoke of him [‘Favonius’] as ‘abounding in that sort of virtue and knowledge which makes religion beautiful,’ and the frequent references to his winning manner in the letters and periodicals of the day may well justify Macaulay's epithets of ‘humane and accomplished.’ He was much beloved by Robert Nelson, whose epitaph he wrote for St. George's-in-the-Fields; and Nelson, with whom he was associated in many works of benevolence, left him a ‘Madonna’ by Correggio. Whiston acknowledged Smalridge to be one of the most learned and excellent persons in the kingdom, and said that if any one could have convinced him that he was in error, it would be he. Whiston rather flattered himself that he had convinced the bishop of some ‘emendanda’ in the Athanasian creed; but of any tendency to the ‘damnable heresy’ of Arianism Smalridge satisfactorily cleared himself in a letter to Bishop Trelawny dated from Christ Church but four days before his death. Smalridge's mind, cultured though it was, was not really of a speculative turn, and once when Whiston had fairly puzzled him, he said, ‘with great earnestness, that even if it were as his companion had said, he had no wish to examine it and to find that the church had been in error for so many hundred years.’
Many single sermons and charges were published during Smalridge's lifetime, and seven years after his death his widow collected and put forth ‘Sixty Sermons, preached on several occasions, published from the originals’ (London, 1726, folio, 2nd ed. 1727; Oxford, 1824, folio, with fine engraved portrait after Kneller; 1832, 2 vols. 8vo; 1853, 8vo; London, 1862; a detailed list is given in Darling's Cycl. Bibl.) His sermons were placed by Dr. Johnson in the first class of those preached by English divines. In 1728 John Oldmixon brought against Smalridge, in conjunction with Aldrich and Atterbury, the charge of having interpolated certain passages and epithets into the original manuscript of Clarendon's ‘History of the Rebellion’ in the interests of the party views which they entertained. The charge was an utterly random one, made against two deceased persons and an exile, and it was fully rebutted by Atterbury's ‘Vindication,’ issued at Paris and reprinted in London in 1731. Dr. Grabe bequeathed his ‘Adversaria’ in eighteen bulky volumes to Smalridge, from whose hands they passed into the Bodleian. Extracts from a number of letters from Smalridge to Dr. Charlett, Walter Gough, and others, are given in Nichols's ‘Literary Illustrations’ (iii. 241–283), where is also printed Freind's epitaph.
A fine portrait of Smalridge by Kneller is in Christ Church hall. This was engraved by Vertue in 1724 (Bromley, Engraved Portraits, p. 220).[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iv. 667; Wood's Life and Times, iii. 302, 314, 349, 472; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Welch's Alumni Westmon. pp. 195–6; Le Neve's Fasti; Harwood's Hist. of Lichfield, pp. 230, 445, 447; Boyer's Hist. of Queen Anne, pp. 427, 490, 492, 665, 682; Luttrell's Brief Hist. Narration, v. 128, 137, 608; Kennett's Wisdom of Looking Backwards, pp. 68, 76, 91, 104, 115, 141, 257, 323; Whiston's Memoirs, and Life of Clarke, pp. 30 sq.; Atterbury's Correspondence, ed. Nichols; Lady Cowper's Diary; Wentworth Papers, p. 383; Swift's Works, passim; Nicolson's Letters, p. 438; Skelton's Works, v. 542; Newcourt's Repertorium, i. 923; Willis's Survey of Cathedrals, i. 304, 442, 784, iii. 444–9; Newton's Life and Works, i. 12; Secretan's Life of Nelson, pp. 116, 275; Reliquiæ Hearnianæ, ii. 169; Hearne's Collections, ed. Doble, passim; Ballard's Collections (Bodleian), vols. vii. and viii. passim; Boswell's Johnson, ed. Hill, iii. 248; Johnson's Lives, ed. Cunningham, iii. 165; Monk's Life of Bentley, i. 88, 104; Barker's Memorial Life of Busby; Macray's Annals of the Bodleian Library; Nichols's Lit. Illustr. iii. 225–232 (with portrait engraved by P. Audinet after Kneller, and facsimile autograph); Rapin's Hist. of England, iii. 516, 580; Tatler, Nos. 72, 114; Noble's Contin. of Granger, iii. 83; Wyon's Hist. of Queen Anne, ii. 170, 465; Abbey's English Church in Eighteenth Century, ii. 26 sq.; Craik's Life of Swift, pp. 69, 113; Biographia Britannica; Chalmers's Biogr. Dict.; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Simms's Biblioth. Staffordiensis; Macaulay's Life of Atterbury; Brit. Mus. Cat.]