Jonathan Smedley (16711729)



  • Dean
  • Author
Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900)

SMEDLEY, JONATHAN (fl. 1689–1729), dean of Clogher, son of John Smedley, was born in 1671, and educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he entered on 18 Sept. 1689, graduating B.A. in 1695 and M.A. in 1698. Shortly afterwards he took orders and was presented to the rectory of Ringcurran, co. Cork. He seems to have resided mainly in Dublin, was popular in whig circles, sought acknowledgment as the laureate of his party, and in 1713 distinguished himself by some rasping verses affixed to the portal of St. Patrick's upon the announcement of Swift's appointment as dean. During the next three years he published several partisan sermons, one, in 1715, ‘upon the anniversary of the Irish massacre by papists,’ on the strength of which Steele and some other stewards of the anniversary meeting of Irish protestants in London wrote warmly in Smedley's behalf to Lord Townshend [see Townshend, Charles, second Viscount]. This does not seem to have borne any immediate fruit; but on 6 Sept. 1718, on Townshend's recommendation, Smedley was presented to the deanery of Killala. The secretary's memory may have been jogged by the appearance of Smedley's virulent ‘Rational and Historical Account of the Principles which gave Birth to the late Rebellion and of the present Controversies of the English Clergy’ (London, 1718, 8vo), in which he endeavours incidentally to vindicate the Duchess of Marlborough from the charge of partisanship. Some of his occasional pieces were printed in Matthew Concanen's collection of ‘Miscellaneous Poems by several hands,’ in 1724, in which year Smedley resigned his ill-paid deanery as incommensurate with his merit; he was, however, instituted dean of Clogher a few months later, on 24 June 1724. At his new deanery he seems to have been visited by the future historian and antiquary, Thomas Birch, in co-operation with whom he projected a ‘Universal View of all the eminent Writers on Holy Scripture;’ but of this excellent project only a ‘Specimen’ appeared (London, 1728, folio; cf. Horne's Bibl. Bibl. p. 268). In the meantime Smedley was indefatigable in the employment of his talent for facile complimentary verse, following up his ‘Christmas Invitation to the Lord Carteret’ (Dublin, 1725, 4to) by ‘Dean Smedley's Petition to the Duke of Grafton,’ the lord lieutenant (1726, 4to). Both were frank appeals for ampler preferment. In the latter the writer alluded familiarly to Swift as ‘t'other Jonathan.’ Swift retorted in ‘The Duke's Answer,’ commencing—

Dear Smed, I read Thy brilliant lines.

The unequal contest was continued by Smedley in his ‘The Metamorphosis, a poem, shewing the Change of Scriblerus into Snarlerus, or the Canine Appetite demonstrated in the persons of P—pe and Sw—t’ (London, 1728, folio), in verse, which rivals almost anything of Swift's in coarseness, and, finally, in his rancorous ‘Gulliveriana: or a Fourth Volume of Miscellanies, being a sequel of the three volumes published by Pope and Swift, to which is added Alexanderiana, or a comparison between the ecclesiastical and poetical Popes and many things in verse and prose relating to the latter’ (London, 1728, 8vo, with an insulting frontispiece containing caricatures of Pope and Swift), a curious manifesto of malignity, in which point is sacrificed to repetition. That it did not miss its aim, however, is evidenced by Smedley's being substituted for Eusden as the winner in the diving match in the authoritative version of the ‘Dunciad’ issued in 1729. In the meantime Smedley, who had resigned his impoverished deanery of Clogher in 1727, had determined to try his fortune in Madras. As a preliminary to sailing for Fort St. George in the summer of 1729, after which period nothing further is known of him, he indited a farewell character of himself in Latin, which Swift parodied in his lines on

The Very Reverend Dean Smedley, Of dulness, pride, conceit, a medley.

Though there was but little occasion for their services, a number of obscure poetasters sprang up to vindicate Swift from the insults in ‘Gulliveriana,’ in which the campaign against ‘Wood's brass farthings’ had been stigmatised as a sham. In all of these Smedley was coarsely abused, and the resulting unpopularity may have determined his departure for India, which it is probable that he did not long survive. A mezzotint portrait was executed by Faber, after R. Dellow, in 1723 (Bromley, Engraved Portraits, p. 228).

[Cotton's Fasti Eccles. Hibern. iii. 88, iv. 80; Extract from Matriculation Book, Trinity College, Dublin (by the courtesy of the registrar); Taylor's Dublin University, p. 478; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. v. 282; Noble's Continuation of Granger, iii. 149; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. x. 441–2; O'Donoghue's Poets of Ireland, p. 231; Pope's Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, iv. 68, 334, v. 222, vi. 420, vii. 65; Swift's Works, ed. Scott, i. 374, xiv. 457 sq.; Aitken's Life of Steele; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. S.