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discuss the provisions of an important commercial treaty with a foreign Power. More wideawake than any to the fact that oranges bought at half-a-crown the hundred can be sold to a profit at two for three halfpence, it scarcely follows that his brain could penetrate the intricacies of the opium trade, grasp the advantages arising from open ports, or weigh the benefits of an easy tariff against the cost of maintenance of a ship of war to protect merchants. It is a fair assumption, however, that a man who is familiar with the management and routine of a large business of any kind, may, provided he be versatile and expansive enough to bear the change of groove, transfer his administrative faculties with a good effect to a State department requiring similar functions for its conduct.
The subject of our sketch is the successful head of a large and far ramifying business; devoting his energies to financial and administrative departments of the public service, he has been able, after but a brief apprenticeship to the trade of the State, to manage his new and larger business in an admirable manner.
Though only ten years old in Parliament, Mr. Smith is by no means new to public service. He is a county magistrate for Bucks, Middlesex, and Herts, in the last-named of which counties he formerly had a residence, at Abbotts Langley. His country address is now Greenlands, Henleyon-Thames. He has served on the Council of King's College, London, and was a member of the London School Board (Westminster Division), until press of political work compelled him to relinquish that post.
There have been several contemporaries of the name of William Henry Smith; one wrote on Law Reform, Ethics, and Pyschology, another was secretary of a National Association for the Promotion of the Freedom of Worship, a third a, surgeon, a fourth a writer upon Shakespeare and Bacon. The William Henry Smith of whom we are writing is the son of a gentleman of the same name, whose obituary may be found in the Gentleman's Magazine for September, 1865, a publication which has ceased to be a chronicler of the departed, and has left nothing to supply its place in its own line. The account ran as follows:
“July 28. Suddenly, at Bournemouth, aged 73, W. H. Smith, Esq., of Walton House, Bournemouth, and Westbourne Terrace. Mr. Smith, who commenced life as a newsvendor, had by industry and intelligence established one of the largest businesses in London, and his well known book-stalls are to be seen at almost every railway station."
The business just referred to, originating at a time when London had not one hundredth part of its present distribution of newspapers, now includes the sale and circulation of current literature throughout the United Kingdom, with head-quarters in the Strand and Arundel Street, London, in Dublin, Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham. It includes, moreover, the bookselling trade at nearly every railway station, a specialty created by the firm, and the managemement of a circulating library, not so large as Mudie's, but its only rival of any magnitude.
The Mr. Smith of our sketch was born June 24th, 1825, was educated at the Grammar School, Tavistock, and married in 1858, Emily, eldest daughter of the late Frederick Dawes Danvers, Esq., of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Mr. Smith came prominently before the public in 1868, having stood without success at the general election of 1865. At a time when the Metropolitan constituencies were almost unanimously Liberal, he succeeded in dislodging the Liberal representative of Westminster. This in itself might afford no matter for comment, nor any reason for speaking of the event as bringing Mr. Smith into prominence. But the case was no ordinary one. Mr. Smith's antagonist, as is well known, was the late John Stuart Mill, and the battle was more than the normal conflicts of political rivals ; it was the contest between the ideal and the practical as to which should rule in the conduct of practical things. The representative of the philosophic ideal was a man of European reputation ; the representative of business-like politics was the head of a firm of booksellers and newsagents, a man of no hereditary position, possessed of no aristocratic patronage.
There are two ways of regarding the members of Parliament. One is as an awkward squad, the majority of whom are on trial to see which can be drilled into acquaintance with certain forms, and afford a reserve whence may be drawn a supply of administrators whenever required. The other mode of regarding the Commons is as a select body of delegates broadly representing every phase of opinion in the nation, a collective embodiment of every kind of wisdom. According to the latter view, which receives but a poor support from facts, we might fairly agree with the writers of the time, who said “ An air of mediocrity is certainly in some measure given to a Parliament from which so thoughtful, so bold, and so highly informed a man [as Mr. Mill] is absent, and in which Mr. Smith takes his place." According to the first named view, to which in this instance events have given support, the replacement of the philosopher by the thriving man of business was
unexceptionable wisdom. Mr. Mill would never, with advantage to himself and the community, have turned his energies to the economy of Whitworth guns and to the question of shells of steel versus chilled iron; Mr. Smith is applying the same business faculties to the matter of the fleet in armour of iron, which have enabled him to float his paper fleet over the railway stations of England.
Looking back upon the utterances of that day, surely no one, even of the most liberal views, can help smiling at the wrath of the journals representing thought, amongst whose words may be found that “ Westminster has shewn herself incapable of keeping a great man when she had got one, and a surprise
has raised a wealthy newsvendor to temporary prominence, and even to such kind of enduring notoriety as attends those whose names get somehow embedded in the world-wide fame of an opponent." It is so absurd that in a material world like this, thoughtful people should not understand that the first requisite for order is a supply of men of material faculties to carry out the policy that is the world's present best. The philosopher may be erecting the ideal structure that is to take form twenty years hence (we are allowing for the terrible rapidity of the times); what the hour requires is the man who can do the business required to maintain the solid realities of the present. If the House of Commons is a technical college of political minutia, and will not admit the disturbance of thinkers, the real power of a Stuart Mill is but little affected thereby. A sentence expressed in Parliament, such as Sir, we all of us know that we hold erroneous opinions, but we do not know which of our opinions these are, for if we did, they would not be our opinions,” gains immediate publication, and a reproduction over the country through the newspaper Press ; but if it appeared in an essay in a leading journal, the result would be much the same, if not quite so rapid. Thought would delight a few weary readers if it could be found rather more often within the interminable Babel of all-night sittings; but it would probably frighten and disturb more than it would delight. The average Englishman's mind is not fitted for the sudden entrance of abstract thought.
Mr. Smith's rapid progress in political life has not marked so much an opposition to the ideal in politics as a movement in the direction of the downfall of purely hereditary influence. Lord Beaconsfield owes his own elevation to his genius, Mr. Smith owes his to his talents ; neither has supported his claims upon hereditary influence. Both would alike have been laughed to scorn by the friends of their youth if they had dared to speak of the possibility of their ever being members of Her Majesty's Cabinet. Lord Palmerston, the representative of the close of a great political epoch, declared that his caste alone had the leisure for political life, and that if he were to think of reyuesting middle class people to aid his Government, they would reply that they were too busy, had too many aff and were too reluctant to give up moneymaking. And yet now, under a Conservative Government (not to name what we have seen under Liberal auspices), is being shewn the possibility of the truly radical development of a Ministry drawn from the middle classes. Mr. Disraeli's middle class origin is now obscured under a coronet : very possibly, if good fortune serve, the Mr. Smith of the present may one day be similarly hidden under the title of Lord Greenlands, or the Earl of Abbotts Langley, but each will none the less have attained high office without the traditional support of family patronage.
From the time when he was nominated under the shadow of the Nelson Column, and returned at the head of the poll, Mr. Smith has given a gradually increasing attention to public affairs. As he entered Parliament, his party went out, which was perhaps too early in his career to be any serious disappointment. But from year to year his risings in the House have been more and more numerons, and his political interests more complex. We will not speak of speeches; Mr. Smith does not go out of his way to make speeches, or compose ornate observations; he keeps to his point and is brief and business-like. He forms the absolute antipodes to the typical Irish member.
In February, 1871, on a motion of Mr. Smith's to lease to the Metropolitan Board of Works the land that forms now the gardens of the Thames Embankment, the Liberal Government suffered defeat. In 1873, Mr. Smith moved the Resolution on the Budget. We cannot refer to the numerous matters in which he has participated; he is a material pillar of the existing State rather than an architect of a new one, and a detailed account of much that he has accomplished, in conjunction with his party, would be like extracting a single part from a vocal quartett and publishing it by itself.
The praiseworthy, if somewhat colourless, labours of the administrator are not the most attractive to the imaginative mind. Indeed, it is curious how transcendently, even though we profess to deny its power, the ideal element is what moves us. But in the present case,
as the most imaginative statesman of the day returned to power, which was in 1874, Mr. Smith's merits were at once recognised,