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
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
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.
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.
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.