Smith, James (1605-1667) (DNB00)

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SMITH, JAMES (1605–1667), divine and poet, born at Marston-Morteyne, Bedfordshire, in 1605, was son of Thomas Smith, rector of Marston. He matriculated from Christ Church, Oxford, on 7 March 1622–3, aged 18, but soon migrated to Lincoln College. After graduating, he took holy orders and accompanied Henry Rich, earl of Holland, as chaplain, when the earl was sent with a fleet and army to reinforce Buckingham at the Isle of Rhé. He subsequently acted as chaplain to Thomas Wentworth, earl of Cleveland, who was also engaged in the expedition to France. Smith was apparently a genial companion, and from an early period attempted the lighter forms of poetry. He corresponded in verse with Sir John Mennes [q. v.] He came to know Philip Massinger, who, in verses addressed to Smith, called him his son. On the execution of John Felton (1595?–1628) [q. v.], he penned an epitaph in verse (Ashmole MS. 36, f. 31; cf. Musarum Deliciæ).

Smith proceeded B.D. in 1633, and next year became rector of Wainfleet All Saints, Lincolnshire. In 1639 he removed to King's Nympton, Devonshire, and in the same year resumed his former post of chaplain to the Earl of Holland when the latter went north in command of the cavalry engaged in the first war with the Scots. During the civil wars and under the Commonwealth Smith managed to remain at King's Nympton unmolested. But his sympathies were always with the royalists, and at the Restoration he was not forgotten. He was made archdeacon of Barnstaple in 1660 and canon of Exeter in 1661, proceeding D.D. at Oxford in the same year. In 1662 he was also appointed precentor of Exeter Cathedral, and turned his literary capacity to account by writing words for anthems, which others set to music. Before the year ended he resigned all other preferments on being instituted to the rectory of Alphington. In 1664 he also became rector of Exminster. He died at Alphington on 22 June 1667, and was buried in the chancel of King's Nympton.

Smith's verse, the sportive tone of which contrasted oddly with his profession, was widely circulated in manuscript. Many specimens of it were incorporated, apparently without his permission, in a series of anthologies of contemporary poetry. These volumes owed their vogue to the licentious pieces included by the publishers; but although in some cases it was stated that most of their contents came from the pen of Smith and Mennes, very few of the poems are signed, and there is no evidence that Smith was responsible for the more blatantly coarse contributions. The earliest of these publications, in which work by Smith and Mennes appeared, was ‘Wits' Recreations, selected from the finest Fancies of Moderne Muses,’ 1640; other editions, with slightly different title-pages, bear the dates 1641, 1654, and 1663. There followed a second anthology, entitled ‘Musarum Deliciæ, or the Muses's Recreation; containing several pieces of Sportive Wit by Sr J. M. and Ja. S.’ (28 Aug. 1655; new edit. 1656). The publisher, Henry Herringman, informed the reader in a prefatory advertisement that, in order to regale ‘the curious palates of these times,’ he had collected on his own responsibility ‘Sir John Mennis and Dr. Smith's drolish intercourses.’ A third anthology, of like character, was ‘Wit Restored, or several select Poems not formerly publisht,’ London, 1658. This opens with a series of poetical letters avowedly addressed by Smith to his friend Mennes, ‘then commanding a troop of horse against the Scots.’ Another piece was inscribed to Mennes ‘on the Surrender of Conway Castle.’ A separate title-page introduces Smith's longest extant production, ‘The Innovation of Penelope and Ulysses. A Mock Poem by J. S.’ It is prefaced by commendatory poems by Massinger, Jasper Mayne, and other friends, and by poems addressed by the author to himself. The volume concludes with the ‘Rebell Scott,’ by John Cleveland. These three anthologies were printed together by Thomas Park in 1817, and again by James Camden Hotten in 1874, under the general title of ‘Musarum Deliciæ.’

Smith's and Mennes's names were less justifiably associated with a fourth collection, ‘Wit and Drollery: Jovial Poems never before printed by Sir J[ohn] M[ennes], J[ames] S[mith], Sir W[illiam] D[avenant], J. D[onne], and other admirable Wits,’ London (for Nathaniel Brook, 18 Jan. 1655–6; another edit. 1661). ‘These poems (according to the publisher's advertisement), never before printed, are a collection from the best wits of what above fifteen years since were begun to be preserved for mirth and friends.’ Probably very few of the pieces are by Smith, and in the direct production of the compilation he was as little concerned as Donne. It seems to have been edited by John Phillips (1631–1706) [q. v.], Milton's nephew. ‘Choyce Drollery’ (1656; reprinted by the Rev. J. W. Ebsworth in 1876), a somewhat similar effort, was, with the rare ‘Sportive Wit,’ another of Phillips's ventures, suppressed by order of the council of state in 1656. (Copies of ‘Sportive Wit’ are at Britwell and in the Bodleian). It is possible that Smith was involuntarily represented to a small extent in both volumes.

[Wood's Athenæ, iii. 776; Foster's Alumni; Masson's Milton, v. 260–2; see art. Mennes, Sir John.]

S. L.