A Frosty Morning JMW Turner

A Frosty Morning JMW Turner
A Frosty Morning is one of my favourite Turners. With thanks to Tate Britain

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

William and Australia

In the early 1850s William's eldest son, William Frank (known as Frank), emigrated to New South Wales with some guidance from Elizabeth Gaskell then a friend of Charlotte Bronte. He married in Sydney in 1855 and he and his wife Ellen had a son and a daughter. There is reason to believe that Frank died before his father (1875).

Norman Penty, who did so much research into William's family tree, traced Frank's progeny to Mark Wasson and Stephen and Kent Warner who live in Sydney. I anyone knows them, I would love to make contact.

The only other Australian connection I have come across is that William read Catherine Spence's Clara Morison but declined it with a letter similar to that he sent to Charlotte Bronte on reading The Professor.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

William and Kentish Town

William moved from Paddington to Harmood Road in Kentish Town at about the time of the Great Reform Act of 1832.

They lived first at 25 and then at 31. I visited there on Saturday, only to find that those numbers now attached to modern town houses. I had hoped to see number 31 a step up in the world for the Williams family. Happily over the road the original late Georgian houses remain and are wonderful.
I mentioned the Great Reform Act because it extended the franchise to included those owning houses worth more than £10 per annum. Did the Harmood Road properties cross the qualification threshold? I haven't yet traced William to the electoral register, but I will keep looking.

He would have been very much in favour of the Act and would have been looking forward to further reforms in the coming decade.

He was at the time working for the pioneering lithographer, Charles Hulmandell, but also in touch with influential periodicals such as the Examiner, Athenaeum and Spectator. In due course he would become a contributor of articles on art, theatre and literature.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

John Ruskin and WSW

Did John Ruskin play as big a role in William's life as did Charlotte Bronte?

The University of Lancaster is home to a wonderful archive of John Ruskin's work. I spent a day there looking at his diaries and some of the other manuscripts he left.

To me of greatest interest was the 1861 first edition of Selections from the writing of John Ruskin edited by William Smith Williams. It is an alladin's cave. It shows the breadth of his interest, from fine art, through architecture to political economy.

Quite when William first met Ruskin remains unclear, however there is every reason to believe that William read the first volume of his first book Modern Painters very soon after publication in 1843/44.

William was certainly in 1843 a regular contributor to the Athenaeum Periodical. I have found some eight art and theatre reviews which he wrote that year. On 3 February 1844 a lengthy review of Modern Painters by a Graduate of Oxford appeared in the Athenaeum. It was scathing. Who was this young pup saying such modern nonesense. It is clear that William thought otherwise. He shared with Ruskin a love of Turner, especially early Turner landscapes which they both felt followed the path set  out by watercolourist, Samuel Prout.

William would later send copies of Modern Painters to Charlotte Bronte to assist with the broadening of her mind.

The Smith Elder archive at the National Library of Scotland contains some fascinating further material.

In the 1860s Ruskin turned his attention to political economy and wrote a series of articles together under the title Unto the Last for the Cornhill Magazine, published by Smith and Elder. He then wrote further lectures which came together in a number of books. In the archive there are personal letters from Ruskin to William concerning the publication of these.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Who was this man whom they say discovered the Brontes?

Charlotte Bronte described him as pale, mild, stooping man of about fifty.

We know, or can infer, that his schooling brought him into contact with boys who would go on to careers as significant thinkers and writers. We know that his social group included or was close to some of the most exciting thinking of his time. He grew up close to theatre land and both had a great love of theatre and a deep knowledge of it. He had a love of painting, Turner in particular; he wrote on the place of Art in Design. He worked for many years for a ground breaking Lithographer; he wrote on the techniques of Lithography. Yet, his emergence into the public view was from a position as a book keeper, and it would seem not a very good book keeper.

But who really was William Smith Williams?

The book I am researching sets out to trace whence he came and whither he went to find the characteristics that enabled him, among many far more eminent, to recognise a groundbreaking shift in the English novel.

Friday, 1 April 2016

William's love of books

At some point William must have fallen under the spell of books for at the age of 25, newly married, he was running his own bookshop. We might pause and try to imagine what that shop might have been like. Books were expensive items. How well could a young man of modest means stock his shop? What titles might he carry? What customers may he have had? We can reach for our edition of Oliver Twist and the scene where the old gentleman is in the bookshop. Might William’s have been like that? Can we fast forward nearly two centuries to the book shop in Notting Hill run by another William in the film of that name?

Yet his father had been a Wax and Tallow Chandler and his family dealers in hides. Where might the love have come from?

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

William Smith Williams

William Smith Williams, my great great uncle, discovered Charlotte Bronte and was a rock of encouragement to her.

William and his wife Mary had eight children, among whom and whose progeny there were a number of fascinating and significant people.

Anna Williams was a celebrated singer and was Professor of Singing at the Royal College of Music in the late 19th century. Sir Arthur Dickinson was one of the founders of Price Waterhouse in the USA. Goldie Dickinson was a fellow of King's College Cambridge, mentor of EM Forster, and who worked on the formation of the League of Nations.

I am currently researching with a view to writing the story of this intriguing family and placing my research on pages on this blog.