My article in Bronte Studies

My article in Bronte Studies
My article

Saturday, 23 March 2019

William Smith Williams and John Ruskin

William Smith Williams is best known as the reader at Smith, Elder and Company who discovered and mentored Charlotte Brontë.

Less familiar is his relationship with John Ruskin. He edited the 1861 Selections of Ruskin’s Writings and then handled the publishing of Ruskin’s works on political economy until his retirement, after which Ruskin moved his publishing to George Allen.

Ruskin was of course best known for his writing on art; William’s passion for art was perhaps as great as that for literature. He wrote extensively on the subject, including a masterly paper which he, in collaboration with Sir Henry Cole, presented to the Society of Arts, entitled On Lithography.

William and Ruskin possibly first met when the former worked for lithographer, Charles Hulmandell and the latter with his father visited their Marlborough Street premises to collect a subscriber edition of Samuel Prout’s Sketches in Flanders and Germany.

When next they met it not clear. 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 nonsense? William was, certainly in 1843, a regular contributor to the Athenaeum magazine; I have found some eight art and theatre reviews which he wrote that year. It is clear that William certainly would not have agreed with the scathing review. He shared with Ruskin a love of Turner, especially early Turner landscapes which they both felt followed the path set out by water-colourist, Samuel Prout whom they both admired.

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

Once William had joined Smith Elder, I feel sure they would have been in contact as Smith, Elder published Ruskin’s works on art and architecture. They became more closely connected after 1860 when Ruskin fell out with George Smith over the publication of articles on political economy in The Cornhill.

The University of Lancaster is home to a wonderful archive of John Ruskin's work. I spent some time 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 Aladdin's cave. It shows the breadth of his interest, from fine art, through architecture to political economy. William had followed Ruskin from the beginning and so was in the perfect position to make the Selections.

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, 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.

Ruskin wrote to WT Page, Mayor of Lincoln, that "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,1 and—roughly—worth any two other cathedrals we have got."

An article on my research was published in Brontë Studies in April 2019 and shows that William Smith Williams was very much a Renaissance man who attracted both friendship and respect from many of the nineteenth century’s leading writers, artists and thinkers. He knew Carlyle, Thackeray, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, Ford Maddox Brown and the Rossetti’s among many others. He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery with his friend and son in law Cato Lowes Dickinson, under a monument designed by AC Gill. Lowes Dickinson taught with Ruskin at the Working Men’s College.
With thanks to the Ruskin archive

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Bronte Studies

William Smith Williams: Charlotte Brontë’s First Devotee

This is the text of an article I wrote for Bronte Studies. I have since published a book, Charlotte Bronte’s Devotee, telling the whole of what I discovered about this fascinating man. The article is but the bare bones. The book is available from the Bronte Parsonage online.

Philip Hamlyn Williams

This article explores some of what is known of William Smith Williams, the reader at Smith, Elder and Company, who discovered and mentored Charlotte Brontë. It traces his childhood, education and early career. His interest in art was perhaps as great as that in literature and the article explores a number of his writings on the subject. His correspondence with Charlotte Brontë is well known; less familiar is his relationship with John Ruskin on which this article seeks to shed some light. It will show that William Smith Williams was very much a Renaissance man who attracted both friendship and respect from many of the nineteenth century’s leading writers, artists and thinkers.

KEYWORDS Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, Ruskin, Shirley, Villette

A search for the name William Smith Williams (WSW) on the Brontë Studies website reveals no fewer than fifty-three articles; a brief survey of those articles confirms that most of the references are to Charlotte Brontë’s letters to him. These are well known to Brontë followers. The many Brontë biographies tell that WSW was the man who discovered Charlotte Brontë. Margaret Smith’s article in Brontë Studies on George Smith and William Smith Williams offers a brief outline of his life.1 The privately published book, written by Norman Penty in 2006, to which Smith refers in her article, discloses much of WSW’s ancestry and progeny.2 But, who was he?
On the death of WSW in 1875 his brother-in-law, Robert Hill, wrote to relations to announce his passing and he said this: ‘There were complimentary notices of his death in nearly all the papers. Nobody could have been more universally beloved or respected than he was’.3
I read the obituaries and they were indeed full of praise and affection for this quiet man. The Athenaeum, for which he had written over many years, described his career and said:

In reading this announcement many will feel they have lost the most agreeable and valued friend and a real feeling of sorrow will be felt by a wide literary circle; for in the course of his duties Mr Williams was necessarily brought into immediate relations with very many of the literary celebrities of his time, and his well-known gentleman-like and engaging manner and obliging disposition endeared him to all who had dealings with him. His literary taste was excellent, and he had great powers of discernment. His judgement and his opinion regarding works was very highly valued, more especially by young authors.4

The Publishers’ Circular added this, writing of his work at Smith, Elder:

Here his work was found for him, humble and unpretentious it is true, but of immense importance to authors and publishers. The task of reading and selecting, and we may presume that, genial as Mr Williams was - he rejected at least scores of volumes to one he accepted – became so absorbing that he ceased to write himself, and hence became more warmly friendly with many writers whose names are known to all the world and whose friendship and esteem he never lost. Amongst these may be named Leigh and Thornton Hunt, W. M. Thackeray, the Miss Brontës, John Ruskin, Miss Kavanagh, Mrs Parr (Holme Lee), Egerton Webbe, George Henry Lewes and many others including a great number of painters.5

One sentence in the Publishers’ Circular, in particular, caught my attention: ‘The truth is that Mr Williams’s previous education had fitted him to be a judge of good work, and he was singularly fair and unbiased’. I needed to find out more, not least this ‘previous education’.
Margaret Smith’s article on Charlotte Brontë’s correspondence with her publishers begs this question even more forcefully.6 Smith demonstrates that, through the medium of the book boxes WSW sent to Haworth, he was, in effect, offering her a window on the world, a course in liberal arts. Smith goes on to explain the modules on offer. History and Sociology came through Macaulay’s History of England, Charles Kingsley’s Alton Locke and Leigh Hunt’s The Town; International Society and Culture through WSW’s friends Julia Kavanagh’s Madeleine and Women in France and Thackeray’s Paris Sketch Book, and George Borrow’s The Bible in Spain; Women’s Studies through the writings of Mrs Ellis, and more so Thoughts on Self-Culture Addressed to Women by Maria Grey and Emily Shirreff.
In relation to art, Smith suggests that WSW’s own interest in the subject played a good part in the fourth module, The History and Appreciation of Art. She cites John Ruskin’s Modern Painters, Seven Lamps of Architecture, Stones of Venice and his pamphlet on Pre-Raphaelitism, and then WSW’s own writing to which I shall return. Visual Art in the writing of Charlotte Brontë is also highlighted by Emily Petermann in her article on Lucy Snowe’s Art Criticism in Villette.7 She shows, among other things, how Lucy Snowe had a preference for simplicity. I shall show that this echoes ideas explored by Charlotte Brontë and WSW in their correspondence and picks up views that WSW expresses in his own writing on art. Jian Choe, in Towards Modern Aesthetics: Charlotte Brontë and J. M. W. Turner, advances arguments which draw parallels between Charlotte Brontë’s descriptive writing and Turner’s paintings, most particularly his watercolours.8 I shall show how WSW introduced Charlotte Brontë to Turner through John Ruskin’s Modern Painters, and also through his own writing.
So, what of WSW? Norman Penty suggests that he was brought up in London at a house in the Strand above his father’s wax and candle shop where he sold and may have made candles for customers including the Royal Household, by Royal Appointment. The house where he lived, 408 The Strand, is still evident and backs onto the Nell Gwynne Tavern which dates to the sixteenth century. The connection with the Royal Household could be relevant. It was a time of political upheaval and it is surely probable that the ‘below stairs’ gossip would have, at the very least, touched upon this. It would also be entirely possible that WSW’s father may have aired the gossip around the family table and a bright young boy surely would have lapped it up. Jerry White tells that The Strand was then a rough area of London; prostitutes frequented the streets around Covent Garden and pornography was on open sale between the south side of the Strand and the river.9 The two licensed London theatres were close by at Drury Lane and Covent Garden. We know that WSW later wrote theatre reviews; indeed Karen Laird describes him as an ‘experienced theatre critic’.10 Could his love for theatre have been kindled in childhood?
It was not, though, going to be an easy passage through childhood. WSW’s father’s will did not include his wife but made provision for his sons without appointing a guardian. WSW’s uncle and aunt were included as beneficiaries, had the boys predeceased their parents. We can infer from this that WSW’s mother died before his father’s will was written. Tragically his father died soon after making it.  It may be that uncle or aunt acted in loco parentis. We do not know. Many years later Charlotte Brontë mentioned a visit WSW had made to an old-maiden cousin, probably in the family home of Wheatley, near Oxford. The cousin spoke warmly of his parents and so we may perhaps infer that extended family played a part in the boys’ upbringing. 11
There is, however, a hint about WSW’s education to be found in an anecdote of Edmund Gosse. Gosse, brother-in-law to WSW’s son, Robert, was a poet and critic born half way through the nineteenth century and who reputedly kept a diary of the doings of his friends and acquaintances. Some of these Gosse recorded and are known as Gosse’s ‘Candid Snapshots’.12 A number were compiled by academic Paul F. Mattheisen and published in Victorian Studies in 1965. One concerns Richard Hengis Horne. Horne was a poet born in 1803 and is best known for ‘Orion, an Epic Poem’, published in 1843 and republished a number of times before his death in 1884. Horne was the first author to be published by the young George Smith of Smith, Elder. Gosse recorded a visit he made to Horne on 15 February 1877 and how Horne gave him some pieces of biography, including that ‘he went to school at Edmonton where Charles Wells, Williams and John Keats were among his school fellows’. Mattheison notes that Williams was probably William Smith Williams, adding that the poet, Charles Wells, later became his brother-in-law.
Keats’s biographers offer a little about John Keats’s school days. His school was in Enfield, and he lived in nearby Edmonton. The school, under John Clarke, numbered some eighty or so boys, in a very liberal atmosphere with no beating and numerous books other than school books. It was said to have been Clarke’s son, Charles Cowden Clarke, who inspired Keats greatly, not least with his love of Spenser’s The Fairie Queen. I could quite see this inspiration spreading to Charles Wells and also to WSW. Gosse adds an anecdote about Wells playing a trick on Keats’s brother Tom, sending him on a rendezvous with an imaginary lady. John Keats was reportedly indignant, but it seems that the two poets soon made up and became devoted friends.
WSW also appears at some length in a reminiscence by another late Victorian writer, Theodore Watts-Dunton, of Wells’s relationship with Gabriel Dante Rossetti who championed Wells’s epic poem Joseph and his Brethren.13 I have to note that, whilst the reminiscence talks much of WSW and Wells, and of Wells’s, Horne’s and Keats’s schooldays, it makes no reference to WSW being part of them. Perhaps we are none the wiser as to WSW’s schooling.
We do, however, know he was apprenticed to Taylor & Hessey who published John Keats. Edmund Blunden’s account of Keats’s Publisher tells not only of a publishing endeavour but of an atmosphere heavy with efforts at self improvement. He tells how John Taylor, originally from Edinburgh, and James Augustus Hessey entered into partnership in 1806. They had met whilst apprenticed to the East Retford publisher, Vernor & Hood. Taylor was the literary man and Hessey, with gentlemanly connections, the bookseller. On moving to London they lived and worked at 93 Fleet Street, close to St Bride’s church. They shared the house with three other bachelors.
In 1812 a third and essential member of Taylor & Hessey joined in the person of lawyer, Richard Woodhouse, a school friend from Bath of the others who lived at number 93. Taylor wrote to his father about both Hessey and Woodhouse and of the latter said, ‘he joins us in our Essay writing and debates – in which he engages solely as we do for improvement’.14 The grouping he joined was known as the Philological Society which had first met on 8 January 1812 at the Queen’s Arms Tavern. Improvement was key; Taylor himself studied classics. This then was the environment which WSW entered as he embarked on his career. In an age when only very few attended university, this kind of self-help group was the way in which bright young men would make their way in the world.
During his time at Taylor & Hessey, if not before, WSW became friends with Charles Wells whose major work, the epic poem, Joseph and his Brethren, would re-appear from time to time during WSW’s career. They together formed, in Broxbourne in Hertfordshire on the river Lea, the Phoenix Boat Club for literary men.15 It seems, however, that it did not last for long.
WSW met John Keats on the latter’s final departure from England. He wrote a poem under the nom de plume of Gaston in commemoration of Keats which was published in Hone’s Table Book.16 The final verse gives a sense of the significance of Keats to WSW:

Thou knewest me by name and nought beside.
In my humble station, I but shar’d the smile
Of which some trivial thought might thee beguile!
Happy in that – proud but to hear thy voice
Accost me: inwardly did I rejoice
To gain a word from thee, and if a thought
Stray’d into utterance, quick the words I caught.
I laid in wait to catch a glimpse of thee,
And plann’d where’er thou wert that I might be.
I look’d on thee as a superior being,
Whom I felt sweet content in merely seeing:
With thy fine qualities I stor’d my mind,
And now thou’rt gone, their mem’ry stays behind.
Mixt admiration fills my heart, not can
I tell which most to love – the Poet or the Man.

Taylor and Hessey disbanded their partnership at the point when WSW ended his apprenticeship. He then took the adventurous choice of setting up his own bookshop but, again, this did not last for long.
George Smith is rather dismissive of WSW’s time at his next employer Charles Hullmandel.17 Yet, Hullmandel’s was a ground-breaking business. He had pioneered the new technique of lithography which was transforming the way images were reproduced and so making images available to many more people. George Smith describes the role WSW had as mundane; he was latterly a bookkeeper. Exactly what WSW’s role was, during his seventeen years with Hullmandel, we do not know, but it is clear from a paper that he presented to the Society of Arts on 22 December 1847 that he had a command of most aspects of the business. More remarkable though was the provenance of the paper. Henry Cole, sometime chairman of the Society, was a great champion of promoting knowledge. A firm adherent of the Benthamite doctrine of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, he championed projects as diverse as the penny post, a common gauge for railways and improvements in sewage disposal.18 It was Cole who worked with WSW on the preparation of the paper. Cole wanted to promote good book design and production and promoted a series of papers on different aspects of printing. That he chose WSW for the paper on lithography is surely evidence of the high regard in which he was held. This regard came through his employment with Hullmandel but also and, possibly more so, through his writings for periodicals such as the Spectator, the Athenaeum and the Examiner. Cole’s biography, entitled The Great Exhibitor, records his friendship with the then editor of the Athenaeum.19 Cole was said to be a man of boundless energy who relished the large audience. We might wonder at just how he got on with the quiet retiring WSW.
A survey of the paper, On Lithography, which WSW presented, will help in appreciating the broad scope of WSW’s knowledge and understanding.20 The Society had collected a large number of examples of the art for view by members. WSW begins by making two points. First, the wide variety demonstrated by the examples exhibited and second, the rapid progress which had been made since the first invention some fifty years earlier. He then tells the story of the invention by Alois Senefelder and how it was brought to England by Hullmandel and goes on to describe the various techniques, before moving to ground that seems to be closer to his heart: the artists. The first English proponents, he says, were William Nicholson and distinguished water-colourists Samuel Prout and J. D. Harding.
The mention of Samuel Prout draws in the name of John Ruskin for two reasons. First, whilst Ruskin seems to have been much in favour of traditional engraving, his biographer tells how at a young age he encountered Hullmandel’s skills and quite possibly met WSW. The year was 1833 and Prout had, with Hullmandel, produced a volume of Sketches in Flanders and Germany. James Ruskin had subscribed to the edition and father and son went to Great Marlborough Street to collect their copy. The sketches so impressed them and that they spent the next three weeks planning a trip to Flanders and Germany. The trip did not disappoint and indeed was extended to Switzerland, Italy and France.21
The second reason is that in his book, Modern Painters, Ruskin is most complimentary of Prout:

We owe Prout, I believe, the first perception and certainly the only existing expression of precisely the characters which were wanting to old art; of that feeling which results from the influence, among the noble lines of architecture, of the rent and the rust, the fissure, the lichen and the weed, and from the writing upon the pages of ancient walls of the confused hieroglyphics of human history22.

In his paper, WSW says of Prout:

[His] vigorous and picturesque pencilling, and his broad effects of light and shade, are very effective on stone; and his facility and fertility are evidenced in innumerable studies, as well as larger works; such as his Views on the Rhine, and two volumes of Sketches. No artist, has made better use of lithography than Samuel Prout, or has done more for art by this means.23

For WSW it was not Prout, however, who took lithography to an altogether different level. WSW cites critics as condemning lithography for lacking the precision of engraving but then missing the point that artists such as Harding produced finished pictures through lithography, ‘admirable for their union of force and elegance of style and striking effects of chiaroscuro’. He goes on to say that the public also undervalued the ‘rough freedom of Lithographic sketches’.24 For WSW it was through Richard Lane A.R.A. that lithography rose in public estimation with his ‘highly finished drawings […] his exquisite miniature imitations of sketches by Gainsborough and Edwin Landseer’.25
WSW’s obituary in the Athenaeum spoke of his frequent contributions on literary, artistic and theatrical matters to the Athenaeum, Spectator and Examiner. All three editors were strong characters with strong views. The authorship of pieces in periodicals seems generally to remain anonymous. One fortuitous exception is the case of the Athenaeum where for a few years the editor, Charles Dilke, took pen and annotated a number of contributions with the surname of the author. The marked copies are held by the City University in London. In 1843 the name Williams appears on a number of occasions. Extracts from a couple of these offer a sense of William’s style and breadth of interest. Many of the articles are reviews and a number of these surprisingly robust.

WSW writes about the new publications:

The publishing season has commenced with what looks like unusual activity after the stagnant state into which the print trade had subsided.
Foremost in magnitude and pretensions, though not in interest or excellence, is Mr Ryles’ elaborate engraving after Sir George Hayter’s clever composition, but vulgar picture, of The Coronation of Queen Victoria. The arrangement of the groups and the general effect of the scene are good, but the figures remind one of Madame Tussaud’s waxworks and the Royal and noble personages look with smirking meaningless stare, as if waiting for some signal to show that enthusiasm which ought to burst forth spontaneously, and characterise the very moment - the act of Coronation being just accomplished.26

A further piece has its focus on lithography:

The volumes of lithographic sketches put forth by favourite artists beginning with Prout, Harding and Stanfield, and coming down to Nash, Haghe, and Roberts - are exclusively of a popular character; their attractiveness consisting either in the charm of the style, the picturesque nature of the subjects, or the interest attached to the scenes delineated: with the exception of Mr Gally Knight’s architectural illustrations of ‘The Normans in Sicily’, no single one of the numerous series makes pretensions to archaeological research. In proportion as we regret this deficiency of exact information and scientific character, should we welcome the appearance of a work which combines pictorial beauty with learned investigation, and is at once valuable to the architectural student and acceptable to the lovers of art.27

Writing about a series of sketches which appeared under the title Portraits of the Princes and People of India, WSW says that ‘the drawings are lithographed with tints and white lights by Mr Lowes Dickinson who has shown himself, by the skill and spirit with which he has rendered the coloured sketches into neutral tents of lithography, one of the first figure draughtsman on stone’.28 Lowes Dickinson went on to become a celebrated portrait painter. He taught at the Working Men’s College alongside Ruskin and members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.29 He was a friend of WSW and would become his son-in-law.
In February 1844 two reviews of Modern Painters appeared in the Athenaeum and they were damning. In later correspondence with Charlotte Brontë, WSW is full of praise for the book.30 It could well be that Ruskin and WSW spoke about the negative reviews in and around the offices of the Athenaeum. The first direct correspondence I can find between WSW and Ruskin is dated 4 August 1856. As I explore later, the two worked closely in the 1860s when Ruskin turned his attention to political economy.
In 1844 the WSW family moved from Kensington to 3 Campden Hill Terrace where critic George Henry Lewes, his wife and family were to be their neighbours for the next three years. The two men and their families would develop close relationships. WSW’s relationship with Lewes also had another dimension. Franklin Gary, writing in 1936, draws his readers’ attention to mention of a circle of which WSW and Lewes seem to have been a part. A number of books on Lewes and Leigh Hunt’s son, Thornton Hunt, speak of a Phalanstery, a group of men and women living together following the inspiration of the French socialist, Charles Fourier, and novelist George Sand. This group was said to be based at a house in Queen’s Road Bayswater and this attracted scandalous attention. The evidence of WSW being part of this wider intellectual circle comes from novelist Eliza Lynn who wrote of her visits. Franklin Gary quotes her as characterising WSW as:

A man who fulfilled the Spanish proverb about him who speaks softly and writes harshly. In voice, manner and conversation, he was the gentlest creature imaginable; but his letters were harsh and acrid, and no one could think more cruelly than he - no one wounded more deeply when it came to pen and ink contradiction of his mild words and half hinted promises.

Gary adds:

I cannot help wondering if the novel of Mrs Lynn Linton had been rejected by the reader of Smith, Elder and Co. It is only fair to say that Charlotte Brontë’s letters lead one to form a somewhat different opinion of this man whom she described to her friend Mary Taylor in a letter of 4 September 1848 as ‘a pale mild stooping man 50 very much like a faded Tom Dixon’. 31

WSW was certainly capable of saying no. He read Catherine Spence's Clara Morison but declined it with a letter similar to that he sent to Charlotte Brontë on reading the Professor.32
Turning once more to art, in 1848 WSW wrote an article in the John Bull Magazine.33 In this he spends time and care to examine the ‘peculiarities of execution’ of the paintings by contemporary British artists exhibited at the then Royal Academy exhibition. He is strongly critical particularly of the treatment of colour which he suggests ‘degenerates between the opposite extremes of gaudiness and leaden blackness’. He goes on to provide what strikes me as a masterly explanation of the depiction of light in great paintings:

We view all objects through a subtle fluid of the atmosphere and in proportion to the density of this medium and the degree in which it is illumined, we see objects more or less distinctly. Light falling on any object is reflected by it so strongly at the point nearest to the light, that at this point the light almost destroys the actual colour of the object; which only shows its proper hue at a little distance from this point of light, while those parts of the object which recede from the light, appear less vivid in colour, until their hues are altogether lost in deep shade. It is obvious, therefore, that at every degree of remoteness from the light (as it appears to the spectator) the colour of the object undergoes modification. Gradations of light into shade on a white sphere, are a type of the gradations of light on any rotund body; the differences arise from variations in the form, colour and texture of the surface.34

The article continues with equally careful analysis. Surely this deep understanding has been earned by many hours spend at Hullmandel on lithographs and by studying paintings for the purpose of reviews.
Charlotte Brontë wrote of her visit to the exhibition and of her subsequent reading of the article. ‘I wish you had been with us when we went over the Exhibition and the National Gallery - a little explanation from a judge of Art would doubtless have enabled us to understand better what we saw; perhaps one day we may have this pleasure’.35
On 24 March 1849 The Builder magazine, with its readership of architects and designers, published an article entitled ‘On the importance of a knowledge and observance of the principles of art by designers’.36 The article ends with the name of its author, W. Smith Williams. Barely a month later Charlotte Brontë concluded a letter to him by offering congratulations on the publication of John Ruskin’s The Seven Lamps of Architecture, which, she says ‘if they resemble their predecessor, Modern Painters, they will be no lamps at all, but a new constellation of seven bright stars for whose rising the reading world ought to be anxiously agaze’.37
Taken with his paper on lithography, his reviews in the major periodicals and his piece in the John Bull Magazine on light and colour, this article brings a whole different dimension to this quiet grey man. It begins with essential principles:

In painting, the artist has to embody his ideas of scenes, persons or incidents by a pictorial representation of natural objects; and in proportion to the skill of his design and the truth of the representation, must be the vividness with which his idea will be expressed.

Turning to how this is achieved, he says:

It is the apparent forms, surface and hues of things that the painter has to depict, though he can only do this by understanding their real form and nature, and the effects of light and atmosphere upon them.

The result:

A picture is, or should be, the representation of what is seen either in reality or in the mind’s eye from one point of view at one moment of time and could and should convey the impression of an idea stamped upon the mind of the painter at that moment: which all fine pictures do. Design gives unity and definition to the conception.

The article goes on to explore design in practice and the types of furnishings used, patterns employed and effects created. It is a critique of the Victorian drawing room crammed with dark patterns, pictures and diverse objects, almost as if he is thinking of busy Victorian parlours such as that depicted in Holman Hunt’s Awakening of Conscience of 1853. He is, however, drawing on his views of painting before the Pre-Raphaelites and highlights errors such as painting objects in the background with the detail appropriate to those nearer to the eye of the viewer. In this regard I would expect him to approve Turner’s Frosty Morning of 1813 where, though it is hard to make out the distant carriage, in the foreground the frozen ground and labourer’s tools are as clear as crystal.
I am not an artist and this is not an article about art. The point that comes through loud and clear from WSW’s article is than he knew his subject and expressed clearly the views he held.
Further evidence of the circle to which WSW belonged may be found in an article, written by F. Klickmann, about WSW’s daughter, Anna Williams, on her retirement as an oratorio soprano. She said: ‘when my father was living we saw such a number of interesting people. Ruskin, Carlyle, Thackeray, Leigh Hunt, and so many others’.38
WSW’s correspondence with Charlotte Brontë is well known and sheds much light on the late 1840s and early 1850s. I suggest that both Shirley and Villette contain passages where WSW’s gentle teaching about art shines through. We know from the permanent exhibition at the Brontë Parsonage that Charlotte had learnt to draw and paint; however, in relation to any quest for evidence of the influence of WSW and the Cornhill parcels, the scene in the art gallery in chapter 19 of Villette rather jumps out. I wonder what WSW would have made of it? I have to admit to finding it, in part at least, very funny and so beg excuse at quoting a couple sentences from it:

These are not a whit like nature. Nature’s daylight never had that colour; never was made so turbid, either by storm or cloud, as it is laid out there, under a sky of indigo: and that indigo is not ether; and those dark weeds plastered upon it are not trees.
Several very well executed and complacent-looking fat women struck me as by no means the goddesses they appeared to consider themselves. (Villette, ch. 19)

The words are of course those of the narrator, Lucy Snowe, but there are hints of the way Charlotte sometimes expresses strident views. In her fascinating paper, ‘“These are not a whit like nature’: Lucy Snowe's Art Criticism in Villette’, Emily Petermann explores Lucy’s many observations on art.39 I feel that WSW’s efforts at art education may have helped Charlotte in writing these passages. Of WSW’s more general educational initiatives, the early part of Shirley, dealing with the implications of the French Revolution, may offer some evidence.
Following Charlotte’s death in 1855, WSW became involved in contributing to and publishing Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë. There were, of course, a good number of other authors whom he mentored and published. In the Brontë Parsonage Museum there is a remarkable article written by Frederick Wicks in 1895 which offers a vivid description of WSW and of the small office in which he worked.40 It also identified the pictures of three of his friends which hung on his wall: W. M. Thackeray, John Ruskin and George Eliot. All of these would contribute to the Cornhill Magazine which became the flagship of Smith, Elder.
In the early 1860s John Ruskin fell out with George Smith over some articles rejected by Smith for his new Cornhill Magazine. I suspect that, in order to keep Ruskin as a Smith, Elder author, WSW moved into the seat of primary contact with him. His first project was the edition of Selections from the Writings of John Ruskin.41 Its publication was met with contrasting responses. In the Ruskin Archive in the National Library of Scotland there is a letter from Thomas Carlyle to James Ruskin saying how wonderful he found it was to have the book at hand and available to dip into. He adds that for very many people who may not otherwise have access to John Ruskin’s works it was of huge value. In contrast, John Ruskin’s own views of the Selections become apparent from his letter to his father. ‘Don’t send the book of extracts to anybody, that you can help. Above all – don’t send it here. It is a form of mince-pie which I have no fancy for. My crest is all very well as long as it means pork, but I don’t love being made into sausages’.42
John Ruskin’s concerns cannot have been too serious, for there is correspondence from Ruskin to WSW in the Ruskin Archive that is both cordial and focussed on Ruskin’s writings on political economy. The Selections from the Writings of John Ruskin went into many editions.
Together, John Ruskin and WSW published Unto his Last in 1862, Ruskin’s principal work on political economy, and Sesame and Lilies in 1865 about the respective roles of men and women.43 This latter book as a whole was not necessarily aimed at children, but it was certainly accessible by them. Sesame and Lilies proved extremely popular, selling 160,000 copies through numerous editions and it was frequently a Sunday School prize.44 It was certainly, at the beginning of the twentieth century, well regarded in the USA.45
In 1865 came The Ethics of the Dust from lectures which Ruskin delivered to Wilmington Hall girls’ school near Nantwich in Cheshire. Its purpose was to teach crystallography and also to explore the method of teaching girls. The Crown of the Wild Olive followed in 1866 comprising three essays respectively on working men, war and capital. Time and Tide, a ‘series of letters addressed to Thomas Dixon a working cork-cutter of Sunderland’, appeared in 1869.46 This final Ruskin project was Fors Clavigera, a monthly publication in the form of letters to the working men and labourers of England.47 
WSW died in August 1875. He had retired only in January of that year. He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery together with his son Robert, his wife and daughter and son-in-law, Lowes Dickinson. There is a memorial designed by A. C. Gill (Figure 1).

Figure 1 near here. Caption: William Smith Williams’s monument (Portland Obelisk), Kensal Green Cemetery, London

Figure 2 near here. Caption: William Smith Williams plaque presented by members of the Brontë Society London and South-East, adjacent to the monument in Kensal Green Cemetery, London

1. Margaret Smith, ‘George Smith, Prince of Publishers, and William Smith Williams’, Brontë Studies, 36.1 (2011), 75-84.
2. I am grateful to Norman E. Penty, The Discovery of Charlotte Brontë: William Smith Williams, 1800–1875: a Genealogical Quest (privately printed, 2006), for his fascinating research into Smith’s family background and career.
3. Robert Hill, Letter to… [family archive: private correspondence from Cheryl Pivac].
4. Athenaeum, September 1875.
5. Publishers’ Circular, 1 September 1875, 635.
6. Margaret Smith, ‘A Window on the World: Charlotte Brontë's Correspondence with her Publishers’, Brontë Society Transactions, 21.7 (1996), 339-356.
7. Emily Petermann ,'”These are not a whit like nature”: Lucy Snowe's Art Criticism in Villette’, Brontë Studies, 36.3 (2011), 277-288.
8. Jian Choe ‘Towards Modern Aesthetics: Charlotte Brontë and J. M. W. Turner’, Brontë Studies, 43.2 (2018), 125-135.
9. Jerry White, London in the 19th Century (London: Vintage, 2008), p. 101.
10. Karen Laird, The art of adapting Victorian literature, 1848-192: dramatizing Jane Eyre, David Copperfield, and The woman in white (London: Routledge, 2016), p. 20.
11. The letters of Charlotte Brontë, Vol 2 1848-1851, ed. by Margaret Smith, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), 668.
12. Paul F. Mattheisen, ‘Gosse's Candid “Snapshots”, Victorian Studies, 8.4 (1965), 329–354, p. 353 <> [accessed 7 November 2018].
Theodore Watts-Dunton, Rossetti and Charles Wells: a reminiscence of Kelmscott Manor (1908), p. xliii in Charles J. Wells, Joseph and his Brethren (London, 1908).
14. Edmund Blunden, Keats’s Publisher: A memoir of John Taylor (London: Cape, 1936), p. 29.
15. Watts-Dunton, p. xlix.
16. Hone’s Table Book, 2.39 (1827).
17. Elizabeth Smith, George Smith: a Memoir with some pages of autobiography (for private circulation, 1902), Kindle edition loc 1256.
18. Susanna Avery-Quash, ‘Making Britain Healthy, Wealthy and Wise: Henry Cole and the Society of Arts’, RSA Journal, 146.5487 (1998), 126–129. [accessed 7 November 2018].
19. Elizabeth Bonythorn and Anthony Burton, The Great Exhibitor: The Life and Work of Henry Cole (London: V&A, 2003), p. 68.
20. William Smith Williams, On Lithography (London: Society of Arts, 1847), pp. 226-250.
21. Andrew Ballentyne, John Ruskin (London: Reaktion Books, 2015), Kindle edition loc 438.
22. The Works of John Ruskin, ed. by E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (London: George Allen, 1903), vol. 3, p. 21.
23. William Smith Williams, p. 233.
24. William Smith Williams, p. 233.
25. William Smith Williams, p. 234
26. Athenaeum, Fine Arts, 798 (11 Feb 1843), 141.
27. Athenaeum, Fine Arts, 806 (8 April 1843), 345.
28. Athenaeum, Fine Arts, 817 (24 June 1843), 597.
29. The Beginnings of the Working Men’s College (London: Working Men’s College, 1902).
30. The letters of Charlotte Brontë, Volume 2 1848-1851, ed. by Margaret Smith, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), 94.
31. Franklin Gary, ‘Charlotte Brontë and George Henry Lewes’, PMLA, 51.2, 1936, 518–542. [accessed 7 November 2018]..
32. Susan Magarey, ‘The Line of Least Resistance’ in Unbridling the Tongues of Women: A Biography of Catherine Helen Spence (Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press, 2010), pp. 43–62. [accessed 7 November 2018].
33. John Bull Magazine (1 July 1848), 422-3.
34. John Bull Magazine (1 July 1848), 422-3.
35. The letters of Charlotte Brontë, II, 85.
36. The Builder, 7 (24 March, 1849), 133.
37. The letters of Charlotte Brontë, II, 202.
38. F. Klickmann, ‘Moments with Modern Musicians’, Windsor Magazine, 1896 [article bought online].
39. Petermann, 277-288.
40. Frederick Wicks, ‘The Discoverer of Charlotte Brontë’, The Realm (26 April, 1895). By Courtesy of the Brontë Society.
41. Selections from the Writings of John Ruskin, ed. by William Smith Williams (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1861).
42. Letter to John James Ruskin from John Ruskin, 9 November 1861 in The Works of John Ruskin, ed. by E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (London: George Allen, 1903), vol. 17, p. li.
43. Andrew Ballantyne, John Ruskin, Critical Lives (London: Reaktion Books, 2015), Kindle edition, loc 2452.
44. The Works of John Ruskin, ed. by E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, (London: George Allen, 1903) vol. 18, p. 5.
45. Review of Sesame and Lilies by Lois G. Hufford in The Journal of Education, 63.16, (1906), 440, [accessed 7 November 2018].
46. William G. Collingwood, The Life of John Ruskin (1905) (London: Methuen, 1911), Kindle edition, loc 2451.
47. Collingwood, Kindle edition, loc 2978.

Notes on contributor

Philip Hamlyn Williams’s interest in William Smith William stems from his irritation that WSW seemed to be dismissed by many Brontë biographers. He is currently working on a biography of WSW. He holds an MA in Professional Writing and in 2008, as a mature student, was awarded a First Class Degree in Humanities from the University of Exeter. He, previously, had pursued careers in professional services, principally as a partner in accountants Price Waterhouse and the not-for-profit sector. He is the author of two books on the how the British army was supplied in the two World Wars: War on Wheels and Ordnance, both published by The History Press, Gloucester, England.

Correspondence to: Philip Hamlyn Williams. Email: Website:

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Bronte on 18 March 2019, available online: