Smith, John (d. 1771), presbyterian bookseller, was a native of Ulster. Nothing is known of his parents, but he was probably a kinsman of William Smith (1698–1741), one of his business partners. William was a son of Samuel Smith, a Belfast merchant and an associate of John McBride (qv). John Smith entered Glasgow University in 1716, taking a philosophy course at first. His attempt to study medicine was thwarted by an anatomy professor who found his subject too distasteful to lecture on. To remain at the university, Smith had to attend divinity lectures, which left him disenchanted. He belonged to a student literary club of whiggish tendencies which took its inspiration from Robert Molesworth (qv).
During his time at Glasgow, the exclusion of students from their former role in the government of the university led to a sharp dispute with the authorities. Smith became involved and as a result was expelled on 1 May 1722. He initiated a legal challenge, but apparently did not pursue it. (Ultimately, in 1727, the university rescinded his expulsion, but he was by then established in his career.) He moved to Dublin, where, before October 1722, he put his case against the university in print. James Arbuckle (qv), an associate in the Glasgow dispute, who also settled in Dublin, may have assisted in writing this tract, published anonymously as A short account of the late treatment of the students of the University of G[lasgo]w.
By 1724 John Smith was engaged in the book trade in Dublin with William Smith. William left Ireland in 1725 and John Smith formed a partnership with William Bruce, which continued until 1737; he then remained in business on Blind Quay on his own until 1758. He was unusual among Dublin booksellers in having attended a university, and found his place as ‘bookseller to the Non-subscribing Presbyterian intelligentsia’ (Pollard, Dictionary, 200). The first work bearing his imprint was an Inquiry into . . . ideas of beauty and virtue (1725) by Francis Hutcheson (qv), a cousin of his partner Bruce. Philosophy (including much whig political philosophy), religion, and foreign literature were prominent in the lists of books published, reprinted, or sold by him – authors included George Berkeley (qv), Molesworth, and Harrington (edited by John Toland (qv)) – and he had good connections with London booksellers.
Between 1739 and 1749 he published, in twenty-four volumes, a Collection of the parliamentary debates in England 1668–1744, compiled by him from accounts printed in England. A decline in the market for foreign literature may have contributed to the winding up of his business in 1758. An unprosperous period followed, but he was appointed agent to the Hibernian Silk Warehouse in 1764. He died in Dublin in August 1771. Of his domestic life little is known, but a petition seeking a place, which he addressed around 1764 to Northumberland (qv), the lord lieutenant, referred to his wife and eight children.