Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smith, Henry (1550?-1591)
SMITH, HENRY (1550?–1591), puritan divine, known as ‘silver-tonged Smith,’ eldest son and heir of Erasmus Smith of Somerby and Husbands Bosworth, Leicestershire, by his first wife, widow of one Wye and daughter of one Baiard, was born about 1550 at Withcote, Leicestershire, the seat of his grandfather, John Smith (d. 1546). Erasmus Smith [q. v.] was his nephew. He was admitted a fellow-commoner of Queens' College, Cambridge, on 17 July 1573, but does not appear to have matriculated, and soon left the university (Cooper, Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 103). He continued his studies with Richard Greenham [q. v.], rector of Dry Drayton, Cambridgeshire, who imbued him with puritanic principles. On 15 March 1575–6 he was matriculated at Oxford as a member of Lincoln College, and graduated B.A. on 16 Feb. 1578–9 (Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714, iv. 1372). He cannot be identified with either of two students of the same names of Hart Hall, who proceeded M.A. in 1579 and 1583 respectively. The puritan divine terms himself ‘theologus’ (never M.A.), and is so described by others.
Although he was heir-apparent to a large patrimony, he resolved to enter the ministry, but, owing to conscientious scruples with regard to subscription, he determined not to undertake a pastoral charge and to content himself with a lectureship. Thomas Nash relates that Smith, before entering into the ‘wonderful ways’ of theology, ‘refined, prepared, and purified his wings with sweet poetry’ (Pierce Pennilesse, ed. Collier, p. 40), none of which, however, is now known. For some time he officiated in the church of Husbands Bosworth, but it is uncertain whether he obtained the rectory, which was in his father's patronage. In 1582 he brought to his senses one Robert Dickins of Mansfield, a visionary, who pretended to be the prophet Elias; and on this occasion he preached a sermon, afterwards published under the title of ‘The lost Sheep is found.’ Subsequently he preached in London and its vicinity with great success, and in 1587 he was elected lecturer of St. Clement Danes, without Temple Bar, by the rector and congregation. Smith's father had married, as his second wife, Lord Burghley's sister Margaret, widow of Roger Cave, esq., and Burghley, who resided in the parish of St. Clement Danes, aided his candidature. He soon obtained unbounded popularity, and came to be regarded as the ‘prime preacher of the nation.’ Wood says he was ‘esteemed the miracle and wonder of his age, for his prodigious memory, and for his fluent, eloquent, and practical way of preaching’ (Athenæ Oxon. i. 603); and Fuller states that he was commonly called ‘the silver-tongued Smith, being but one metal in price and purity beneath St. Chrysostom himself’ (Church Hist. bk. ix. cent. xvi. p. 142). Fuller remarks that ‘persons of quality brought their own pues with them—I mean their legs to stand there upon in the allies.’
In 1588 Aylmer, bishop of London, was informed that Smith had spoken in derogation of the Book of Common Prayer, and had not subscribed the articles. Nor did he hold a license from Aylmer, his diocesan. The bishop accordingly suspended him from preaching. Smith addressed a brief vindication to Lord Burghley, in which he stated that the bishop had himself called upon him to preach at St. Paul's Cross, and denied that he had spoken against the prayer-book. He said he yielded his full consent to all the articles ‘of faith and doctrine,’ but he avoided reference to matters of discipline. The parishioners sent a testimonial and supplication on his behalf. Lord Burghley actively interposed in his favour, and he was restored to his ministry (Strype, Life of Aylmer, ed. 1701 pp. 152–6, 1821 pp. 100–3; Lansdowne MS. 61, art. 26; Marsden, Early Puritans, p. 181).
During the last illness of William Harward, rector of St. Clement Danes, and again on his death, strenuous efforts were made by the parishioners to obtain for Smith that benefice, which was in the patronage of Lord Burghley; but Richard Webster, B.D., was instituted on 22 May 1589, probably after Smith had declined the preferment. Owing to ill-health he resigned his lectureship about the end of 1590, and retired to Husbands Bosworth. During his sickness he occupied himself in preparing his works for the press, and in revising his sermons, some of which had been ‘taken by characterie’ and printed, without his consent, from these imperfect shorthand notes (Notes and Queries, 8th ser. x. 189). His collected sermons he dedicated to Lord Burghley, but he died before the collection was published. Smith was buried at Husbands Bosworth on 4 July 1591 (Parish Register). His father survived him many years.
Although puritanically inclined, Smith was in sympathy with the church of England, and regarded the followers of Brown and Barrow as enemies of the church. His sermons are noble examples of English prose and pulpit eloquence. They are free, in an astonishing degree, from the besetting vices of his age—vulgarity and quaintness and affected learning (Marsden).
The bibliography of Smith's works is bewildering. The ‘Collected Sermons’ passed through the following editions: London, 1592, 8vo, 1593, 1594, 1595, 1599, 1604, 1607, 1609, 1612, 1613, 1614, 1617–19, 1620–2, and 1631–2. Another edition of the ‘Sermons,’ including the ‘Prayers’ and other works with a very meagre life of the author by Thomas Fuller, B.D., appeared at London in 1657, and again in 1675, 4to. Both editions are very scarce, especially the former; the latest edition was printed at London in 2 vols. 8vo in 1866.
Among his other works are: 1. ‘A preparative to marriage: The summe whereof was spoken at a contract and enlarged after. Whereunto is annexed a treatise of the Lords Supper, and another of usurie,’ London, 1591, 16mo; Edinburgh, 1595, 8vo. 2. ‘Jurisprudentiæ, Medicinæ et Theologiæ Dialogus dulcis,’ London, 1592, 8vo. In Latin hexameters and pentameters. Published by his kinsman, Brian Cave, who dedicated the work to his uncle, Thomas Cave, esq., of Baggrave, Leicestershire. 3. ‘Vitæ Supplicium: sive de misera Hominis conditione querela,’ London, 1592, 8vo; in Latin sapphics. This is annexed to the ‘Dialogus.’ An English translation appeared under the title of ‘Micro-Cosmo-Graphia; The Little-Worlds Description: or, the Map of Man (From Latin Saphiks of that Famous, late, Preacher in London, Mr. Hen. Smith) translated [into English verse] by Iosvah Sylvester,’ printed with ‘The Parliament of Vertues Royal,’ London , 8vo, and reprinted in ‘Du Bartas his Diuine Weekes and Workes,’ London, 1621, fol. 4. ‘Gods Arrow against Atheists,’ London, 1593, 4to, with his sermons; London, 1614, 1621, 1632, 4to, and 1872, 8vo; translated into Latin, Oppenheim, 1594, 8vo.
His portrait has been engraved by T. Cross, James Basire, and by an unknown engraver.[Life, by Thomas Fuller; Addit. MS. 24490, p. 392; Ames's Typogr. Antiq., ed. Herbert; Bailey's Life of Fuller, pp. 201, 609, 752; Brook's Puritans, ii. 108; Burton's Leicestershire, p. 313; Granger's Biogr. Hist. of England; Harington's Epigrams, iii. 16; Holmes's Descriptive Cat. of Books; Hunter's Illustr. of Shakespeare, ii. 49, 211; Lansdowne MS. 982, art. 111; Nichols's Leicestershire, ii. 185, 389–91, 468, 889, plate lxxi; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. iii. 222, vi. 129, 231, vii. 223, 2nd ser. viii. 152, 254, 330, 501, ix. 55, 285; Retrospective Review, 2nd ser. ii. 11; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.]