My article in Bronte Studies

My article in Bronte Studies
My article

Sunday, 22 May 2022

William's brother - the manufacturer

Richard, William's brother, exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851. He managed the business of Weiss & Son at 62 The Strand, just over the road from where he was born.

Weiss made surgical instruments. Lindsey FitzHarris has written a fascinating book on 19th surgery entitled The Butchering Art, and I draw on this to paint a picture of the world Richard Williams sought to serve. When he started out, surgery was largely a matter of dexterity. There were no anaesthetics, and so speed in operation was of the essence. There were no antiseptics and experience had also taught surgeons that the only operations, where the patient had any real chance of survival, were those as least invasive as possible, and, even then, the patient was more likely to die than live. Richard would have witnessed the opening of the Charing Cross Hospital, not far from Weiss’s premises. He may have witnessed operations, which were often public spectacles with a great deal of blood and gore. He would have been aware of the great strides made in anaesthetics in the 1840s in Edinburgh which saved patients the agony of experiencing the knife. It was a world that was progressing on many fronts and only a few years later antiseptics would begin to be used. 

I have looked through the catalogue of the Great Exhibition to write my latest book, How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World. It is to be published by Pen & Sword in June 2022. 

Bronte lovers will know what Charlotte thought of the Great Exhibition, as she wrote to her father on 31 May 1851:

‘Yesterday we went to the Crystal Palace – the exterior has a strange and elegant but somewhat unsubstantial effect – The interior is like a mighty Vanity Fair  - the brightest colours blaze on all sides – and wares of all kinds – from diamonds to spinning jennies and Printing Presses are there to be seen – It was very fine – gorgeous – animated – bewildering…'



Sunday, 27 February 2022

Charlotte Bronte's Devotee - by chapter

Childhood 

I explore William Smith Williams's family background, which I share, and then what we know of his childhood above his father's business on London's strand

Apprenticeship

William's father and mother had died before his was fourteen, but his father provided for an apprenticeship for him and his brother, my great grandfather. William was apprenticed to a small publishing house who published Keats among others. William was clearly much impressed by Keats for one of the few pieces of his writing is poem in praise of the poet. He made lifelong friends with 

Hullmandel Years

On completing his apprenticeship, William went to work for the pioneering Lithographer, Charles Hullmandel in London's Soho. He clearly gained a deep understanding of the technique but also the artists who used it, for another of his surviving pieces of writing is a remarkable paper he presented to the Society of Arts in 1847. William also wrote on art and theatre for a number of magazines. I quote examples of his writing.

The House of Smith, Elder

William was to move from Hullmandel to another publishing house and I tell of its history. 

The Bronte Years – Jane Eyre

William is best known as the Reader at Smith, Elder who recognised the potential Charlotte Bronte showed in The Professor and then the genius in Jane Eyre.

The Bronte Years - Friendship

William and Charlotte became friends, as is clear from letters she wrote to him and which he kept. Sadly his letters to Charlotte have not been discovered. Much of the correspondence concerns William's concerns about his daughters. I write of William's modern attitude to women. The family lived in Kensington with George Lewis as their neighbour. Lewes would become the lifelong companion of George Eliot.

The Bronte Years – Art and Tragedy

William's passion for art is shared with Charlotte but she suffers the tragedy of the death of her siblings.

The Bronte Years – Cornhill Parcels

Charlotte is conscious that her knowledge of the world falls short of many of her contemporary authors. William seeks to address this by sending parcels of carefully chosen books, in effect a course in humanities.

The Bronte Years - Cooling

Charlotte's books, Shirley and Villette are published but the correspondence between Charlotte and William display a cooling in their relationship which comes to an end with Charlotte's marriage and, of course, then her death.

The Cornhill

A new challenge for William is in support of Thackeray as editor of the Cornhill Magazine, Smith Elder's answer to the periodicals being published by competitors.

The Ruskin Years

William had quite probably met John Ruskin when he worked for Hullmandel. Smith, Elder had published Ruskin's works on art and architecture. William takes up the Ruskin relationship when the latter turned his skills to political economy. I explore these books and William's contributions.

Home Life

William retired months before his death at age 75. I write of his family relationships and his final publishing project for his friend from their early twenties, poet Charles Wells.


You can buy Charlotte Bronte's Devotee in paper back or on Kindle





 

Sunday, 5 December 2021

I’m thrilled that you are finding this blog helpful

 I have been reading some of the comments left on this blog. I am thrilled that people are finding my research of some use. I thoroughly enjoyed discovering the life of my great great uncle. 

You can find more in the article in Brontë Studies and, of course, in the book Charlotte Brontë’s Devotee. 



Friday, 12 March 2021

William Smith Williams, Charlotte Bronte and Kensington

William Smith Williams' family moved to 3 Campden Hill Terrace (now 98 Campden Hill Road), Kensington in 1844. Critic, George Henry Lewes, was their neighbour and a friendship grew between the two families and that of Thornton Hunt, the son of the writer, Leigh Hunt. Lewes would later become the long term partner of George Eliot. The writer, Julia Kavanagh, lodged with the Williams at the house on Campden Hill. I explore more about William's relationships with Lewes, Hunt and Kavanagh in my book.

In July 1848, Charlotte and Anne Bronte visited the Williams family at Campden Hill. Charlotte writes:

[We] then went home with Mr Williams to tea - a saw his comparatively humble but neat residence and his fine family of eight children - his wife was ill. A daughter of Leigh Hunts’ was there - she sung some little Italian airs which she had picked up amongst the peasantry in Tuscany. 





 

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

William’s brother and 19th century surgery

William Smith Williams’s elder brother was my great grandfather, Richard.

As boys they lived on London’s Strand, then a busy road in a crowded new urban area. Very nearly opposite their dwelling, above their father’s wax and tallow chandler business, were the premises of John Weiss, Surgical Instrument Makers.  

One of my treasured possessions is the signed cover of a copy of the catalogue of the Great Exhibition presented to my great-grandfather by the members of the Surgical and Anatomical Committee Class X, ‘as a slight token of the services rendered by him as Secretary’. Richard managed the business of John Weiss & Son, manufacturers of surgical instruments at 62 The Strand, and, I like to think, offered his services for the exhibition.

For the exhibition, John Weiss & Son had produced a most marvellous instrument comprising 1,851 knives. This was clearly a bit of showing off. Yet, behind the scenes, advances were being made in surgery with the work of Lister and others, and the makers of instruments were taking up the challenge to keep pace. Lindsey FitzHarris has written a fascinating book on 19th surgery entitled The Butchering Art, and I draw on this to paint a picture of the world Richard Williams sought to serve. When he started out, surgery was largely a matter of dexterity. There were no anaesthetics, and so speed in operation was of the essence. There were no antiseptics and experience had also taught surgeons that the only operations, where the patient had any real chance of survival, were those as least invasive as possible, and, even then, the patient was more likely to die than live. Richard would have witnessed the opening of the Charing Cross Hospital, not far from Weiss’s premises. He may have witnessed operations, which were often public spectacles with a great deal of blood and gore. He would have been aware of the great strides made in anaesthetics in the 1840s in Edinburgh which saved patients the agony of experiencing the knife. It was a world that was progressing on many fronts and only a few years later antiseptics would begin to be used. Weiss & Son are still in business.  I imagine Richard’s son, Alfred my grandfather at age nineteen, visiting the exhibition and being inspired by all he saw. He would go on to register a number of patents during his varied career including that for a life raft for which he won a number of awards. It was an age of invention.


Richard Williams


Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Charlotte Brontë’s Devotee by his great great nephew Philip Hamlyn Williams - Lincoln Civic Trust

“The mysterious publisher William Smith Williams has always been the unsung hero of the Brontë Story. Not only did he discover Jane Eyre, he was Charlotte Brontë’s friend and supporter. In a fascinating book Smith Williams is at last brought to life thanks to the forensic skills of his great, great nephew.” 

Biographer, Rebecca Fraser, kindly wrote this on reading the draft of the book I had been working on for the last fourteen years and on which I had the pleasure of speak to the open meeting of the Civic Trust on 29 November 2019.

The book tells story of Charlotte Brontë’s relationship with William Smith Williams who, as the Reader at her publisher Smith, Elder & Co, recognised her genius. But, who was he? William was a radical Victorian, friend to many of the giants of 19th century art and literature: Thackeray, Thomas Carlyle, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot and the Rossettis. Through him we gain an insight into the world of publishing, the art and science of lithography and the controversial thinking of John Ruskin on women’s education, politics and economics. He was a family man and, with his wife Margaret, produced a line of remarkable progeny.

Whence had he come and wither did he go? Charles Dickens and George Meredith were also publishers’ Readers and their stories are well known, but what of William Smith Williams?

I found a true Renaissance man as at home with art as with literature, with science as with politics. His childhood had been spent in the crowded courts bordering London’s Strand. He was orphaned at age fourteen and then largely self educated. He was an apprentice publisher and then a lithographer before joining Smith, Elder. He wrote a poem in praise of John Keats and presented a paper to the Society of Arts on Lithography. Following his all too few years of friendship with Charlotte Bronte, he mentored many other writers. One such, Frederick Wicks, wrote this if him:

‘Thrusting back his massive growth of white hair, he would clasp his hands nervously in thought before delivering his opinion, and then would follow in short, pregnant sentences a perfect flood of light upon the matter in hand. He was never content with general commendation and approval, but always gave good, sound reasons and sufficient cause for all he thought. Among the many pregnant phrases that fell to my lot was one of extraordinary value as a check to the exuberance of youth. “You need,” he said, “restraint – not that which checks, but that which guides the literary faculty.”’

He edited the 1861 Selections of the Writings of John Ruskin and then supported Ruskin in the publication of his works on political economy. Of interest to the citizens of Lincoln is a letter John Ruskin wrote to the then Mayor, WT Page, on 22 January 1883 the original of which is in the Lincolnshire Archives. We all know what Ruskin said about Lincoln Cathedral; well, it is in this letter:

‘I have always held (and am prepared against all comers to maintain my holding) that the Cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British islands, and—roughly—worth any two other cathedrals we have got.’

He said rather more which may make us shudder:

‘The town of Lincoln is a lovely old English town, and I hope the Mayor and Common Council men won’t let any of it (not so much as a house corner) be pulled down to build an Institution or a Market—or a Penitentiary or a Gunpowder and Dynamite Mill—or a College—or a Gaol—or a Barracks—or any other modern luxury.’

But also set a challenge:

‘It might possibly make the upper students of the art classes look up a good many things that they would be the better for knowing, if the Town Council were to offer a prize for a design to be painted or frescoed in the Town Hall, of the most pathetic and significant scene in all British history—the first real “Union of Scotland and England”—in the funeral procession of Bishop Hugh—when the King of England (John), barefoot, bore the coffin, with three Archbishops, and the King of Scotland followed, weeping. The prize might be open to all students born between Lincoln and Holy Isle?—or better, perhaps, between Tweed and Trent?’ 

William Smith Williams was buried in Kensal Green cemetery with his wife, one son and two daughters and son in law celebrated portrait painter, Cato Lowes Dickinson under a memorial designed by AC Gill. His daughter, Anna, was a celebrated concert soprano. One grandson, Sir Arthur Lowes Dickinson, was a founding partner of Price Waterhouse in the USA, another, Goldie Lowes Dickinson, was one of the thinkers behind the League of Nations.

Charlotte Brontë’s Devotee may be found at Lindum Books on Bailgate. 

This article is reproduced from the Civic Trust annual report





 

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

A wonderful review of Charlotte Brontë's Devotee in Brontë Studies

I couldn't be more thrilled than to read the review of Charlotte Bronte's Devotee in the autumn edition of Brontë Studies written by its editor, Amber Adams. In her editorial piece, she refers to him as 'that splendid man William Smith Williams'.

Bronte Society Members can access the review through the members area of the website. Otherwise, it is available to read through Taylor and Francis on-line.

Here is the opening paragraph of the review:

You can buy Charlotte Brontë’s Devotee by following this link