Cartoon portraits and biographical sketches of men of the day/W. H. Smith, M.P.
W. H. SMITH, M.P.
Portraits of the Member for Westminster have been published in various illustrated papers since he was successful in carrying off the 'blue ribbon' among electioneering contests in November 1868; and his features are now as well known to the public as those of any member of the House of Commons not a minister, ex-minister, or great party leader.
Mr. Smith was born in London in 1825, and is the head of the firm of W. H. Smith & Son, 186 Strand, whose various branch establishments, in the shape of railway book-stalls, are familiar to every traveller. The great house in the Strand was founded by the father of the subject of the present memoir. Forty years ago, when the London daily papers were fresh in the north of England forty-eight hours after their publication in the metropolis, when London and Manchester were that distance of time apart, all newspapers sent into the country passed through the Post Office. It occurred to Mr. Smith that, instead of waiting for the night mail and the agency of the Post Office, the morning papers might be sent off by the early morning coaches. As the earliest editions of the papers were often later than the times fixed for the departure of the coaches, Mr. Smith had great trouble to catch them. To overcome this difficulty, he established a system of express carts, which rattled along the turnpikes after the morning coaches till they caught them. On occasions of the greatest importance, these expresses of Mr. Smith's went the whole way at—a great expense, of course. For instance, Smith's express messenger, with newspapers conveying the news of George IV.'s death, arrived in Dublin before the king's messenger reached that city.Coaches went out and railways came in. Mr. Smith, first in the coaching days, was first under the new régime, and from the beginning has supplied almost every traveller by railway with his newspaper and his book. The enterprise and successes of the house, culminating in the election of
the head of the firm to fill the place of John Stuart Mill, as representative of one of the first constituencies in the kingdom, would afford matter for a fine chapter in commercial history.
Mr. William Henry Smith is a liberal Conservative in politics, an active member of the London School Board, a magistrate for the county of Herts, and a member of the Council of King's College. An able and ready debater, in the House of Commons his speeches are always listened to with marked attention, and his opinions carry great weight with them. The Member for Westminster addresses the House only when he has something of real importance to say. He is active in the discharge of his parliamentary duties, an invaluable man on committees, and has as high a reputation as any member of the House for the possession of that too rare quality—sound common sense.