Cato's Mirania: A Life of Provost Smith with a General Idea of the College of Mirania

By Jones, Elwood H. | Anglican and Episcopal History, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Cato's Mirania: A Life of Provost Smith with a General Idea of the College of Mirania


Jones, Elwood H., Anglican and Episcopal History


CHARLOTTE GOLDSBOROUGH FLETCHER Cato's Mirania: A Life of Provost Smith with a General Idea of the College of Mirania Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2002. Pp. xiii + 178, index, bibliography. $39.00 (paper).

This slim and curious volume highlights the importance of William Smith, who sometimes wrote with the pseudonym "Cato," and his contributions to education. The author believes historians have underestimated the importance of Smith, who at one point was president of three schools. As well, Smith's proposals for education contained in his 1753 book Mirania were more important than previously believed, and would have been even more important if Benjamin Franklin, who liked Smith's Mirania ideas, had spent more time in Philadelphia, or had not died so soon. The author has been interested in Smith since 1931, and, encouraged by a knowledgeable church historian, began thinking of a book to rescue Smith's seminal role in education in the Delaware Valley, and especially in the founding of St. John's College and Washington College in Maryland and of the Philadelphia Academy.

The book consists mainly of two parts. There is a life of William Smith, digesting the two-volume 1878 biography by Horace W. Smith, except when drawing attention to Smith's contributions in education. The helpful appendices contain Smith's thirty-five page pamphlet, "A General Idea of the College of Mirania," and his "A View of Philosophy," a twopage syllabus for a four-year program in moral and natural philosophy, from the Pennsylvania Gazette, 12 August 1756.

Fletcher's error-ridden summary of the episcopal crisis of the 176Os, and especially its connection with the issues related to the ministry of the Rev. William Macclenachan, for whom St Paul's church, Philadelphia, was founded, underlines the difficulty of establishing context for Smith's ideas and influence. However, she makes it clear that Smith, whom she unhelpfully sees as a Br'er Rabbit figure, was a meddlesome, gossipy, selfserving "scribbler" whose writing was sometimes polemic. Maybe she should see Smith's Mirania the same way.

The evidence of a partnership between Franklin and Smith is apparently very thin. On the basis of Smith's Mirania, Franklin chose him as first provost of the College of Philadelphia. But Franklin did not think Smith's fundraising trip to England in 1764 was necessary and did not support Smith's bid for an Oxford degree. They seem to have ignored each other for several years. …

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