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The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U, S. A.
“I THINK I can trace the growth of his opinions, from the little delicate boy who read his Bible and prayed the more resolutely because of the jeers and taunts of his companions at the first school he went to; the thoughtful youth, who, very early sent to Glasgow University, and while under the spell of Chalmers’s eloquence, ' got thinking' over metaphysics ; the poet in nature and aspiration, chained to the dull routine of a lawyer's office; the mature mind, to which the incompatibility of the theory of punishment as held by theologians and by jurisprudence grew more and more intolerable; through all and in all the same elements — unflinching search, honest unbiassed striving toward truth, and unshaken devotion of the whole moral nature toward the Supreme Wisdom — the Highest-God! Sometimes I think, Surely some kindred nature will one day take the threads I could supply him with, and weave them into a whole. Sometimes I resolve to write out, only for myself and the nieces, all I know; or for myself only, the sweet eventless record of - indeed, indeed, - a great untroubled happiness.” This passage,
from a wife's letter soon after her husband's death, may be taken as the key to the present volume, which attempts the portraiture of both husband and wife. He was a man of genius and rare fineness of nature; the associate in early years of Mill, Sterling, Maurice, and Lewes. He was a constant contributor to . “ Blackwood's Magazine ” from 1839 to 1871, and that journal said at his death : “ No better type could be found
of the true man of letters, the student, scholar, and critic of our days.” But his reviews were anonymous, and he was withdrawn from society and an active career by a retiring disposition and the fascination of thinking purely for the sake of thought. His very name, William Smith, the commonest name in England, seems like a passport to oblivion. His personal history, quite devoid of external adventure, has yet for thoughtful minds an interest comparable to that which attends the fortunes of a Stanley or a Livingstone. For he too was an explorer, and in realms whose secrets have an attraction for our generation beyond those of the Dark Continent. And his researches were fruitful. “Thorndale,” the book which won for him the greater part of such modest celebrity as attached to his name, gives an inadequate measure of the degree of solid conviction and clear light he attained. “Gravenhurst,” his later and probably less known production, brings the world's latest thought to the study of the world's oldest problem, with results which contribute not a little of clearness to philosophy, energy to religion, and peace and strength to the heart.
This volume includes extracts from his writings, dramatic, critical, and philosophical, - writings which various causes, external and internal, seem to have hindered from due recognition. A biographer may be considered too partial an advocate to set his estimate against that of the world, though, on the other hand, that final judge sometimes nods, and when afterward roused may shape his opinion differently. Be that as it may, this author, by no means indifferent to the world's good opinion, was very far from depending on it for his happiness. One might well apply to him his own words, written of a man of like spirit with himself, Arthur Clough: “It was not till after he had left the scene that the world at large knew that there had been a poet amongst them. Then there was much clapping of hands. Could he who had passed
in behind the veil have returned at our summons, to receive our plaudits, we feel persuaded that for such a purpose he would not have re-lifted the fallen curtain.”
The idea which the wife intimates, of writing herself some story of her husband's life, was so far carried out that she did write a sketch of him for their friends only, which afterward she hesitatingly allowed to be published, as the prefix to a reprint of some of his philosophical works, a connection not favorable to any wide circulation. This exquisite memoir is the basis of the present volume. No other hand could approach hers in fitness for the task she undertook. But that task did not include any history of her husband's intellectual development, nor any statement of his final views; it was the beauty of his personal traits that at that time filled her heart and inspired her pen. ' A fuller exposition of the subject is here essayed; and with it there is blended a portraiture of her who brought completion and happiness to his life. Her charming personality unconsciously portrayed itself in her letters and writings, with a vividness which makes her a living figure.
“No woman yet,” said “ The Spectator recently, “ has ever really told as the history of her life as Rous sean and Pepys have told theirs, - that is, without any attempt at concealment." It adds the suggestion that a refinement, a delicacy, and sense of the sacred seclusion of the heart might restrain any woman's mind from the necessary introspection. Certainly any conscious selfdisplay to the world would have been quite impossible to the womanly nature of Lucy Smith. But to her own friends one of her many and great charms was the transparency with which to those she trusted she expressed her real and inner life. It was an openness which sprang from a generous confidence, and from her constant disposition to share her best possessions with others. Especially in writing of her husband, the love which in her was
almost a worship inspired a frankness of utterance in which her own traits reveal themselves. In self-forgetfully picturing him, she has delightfully pictured herself. Of literary ambition she had not a particle; when she made a translation or a sketch it was to “turn an honest penny ; and when she dashed off verses, it was to ease her heart of its fulness of joy, of struggle, or of playful
Rare charms of intellect, feeling, and character were combined in her. The ardor and depth of her nature were matched by its disciplined fidelity and winning grace. It is in her private letters that her genius shines brightest, if genius be the right word for such a union of insight, tenderness, sympathy, and vivid interest in everything about her. One can scarcely imagine a creature more brimming over with life, a life as pure as brilliant.
Such self-revelation, of such a woman, we have here. And it is to be added that this life is displayed to us under all the great typical experiences of womanhood, except only that of mother. This story ends not at the marriage-altar; it goes on through the every-day experiences of a most happy wedded life; still on, through the midnight shadows of bereavement, and the sacred and sublime experiences of love stronger than death.
One other element of interest is present. The wife, fully sharing the husband's thought, is like him led to relinquish much of the traditional creed, comes into full presence of all the new thought and the new doubt, and while the problem which engaged him was an intellectual one, on her it falls to find a place under the changed conditions for her heart in its supreme needs. .
Whatever value belongs to this story is largely due to the extraordinary openness and transparency of the woman who is really its author. It is not inconsiderately, nor without sense of possible animadversion, that such full self-disclosure is set before the general public. But “Wisdom is justified of her children,” and they who