In Memoriam. A. G. Dew-Smith

In Memoriam. A. G. Dew-Smith  (1903) 
by Michael Foster

The Cambridge Review Vol. XXIV no. 606 April 30, 1903

in memoriam.

A. G. Dew-Smith

Through the death of Albert George Dew-Smith, many men in Cambridge and in the larger world outside Cambridge have lost a friend whose place can never be filled.

Dew (he did not take the name of Dew-Smith till 1871) was born in 1848, and came up to Trinity in 1869. In his second year he was, partly by the scientific tastes which had been fitfully pursued in his boyhood, but chiefly by mere curiosity, led to attend a lecture of mine in Trinity ; and something in the lecture, the mode of presentation, I imagine, rather than the substance, appealed to him so strongly that he became one of my regular pupils. But though he spared neither time nor labour in the little pieces of original inquiry to which I put him, I could not persuade him to take up seriously the routine preparations for his degree; and it was a relief to me that he was successful in the Natural Sciences Tripos of 1872.

Among those who attended my courses in those early years, three men were, with Dew-Smith, the most constant workers in the Laboratory: Francis M. Balfour, Henry Newell Martin, and Archibald Liversidge. With each of these Dew-Smith formed a close friendship; and in the winter of 1873–4 he went with Balfour to the newly established Stazione Zoologica at Naples. The charms of Italy at once laid hold of him, and in succeeding years he paid frequent visits to that country, not so much for the purpose of continuing his researches as of enjoying the many varied pleasures which Italy alone can give. Once he spent a considerable time at Florence with Frank Balfour's brother Gerald (now President of the Board of Trade) and Hildebrand, the German sculptor.

Cambridge however continued to have a firm hold on him. Though not a Fellow of Trinity, he was allowed rooms in College and the privileges of the high table. He gradually ceased to occupy himself with investigations of his own, but he continued to devote himself to the interests of the physiological school, which was then rapidly developing. He took a special interest in apparatus; in order that the laboratory might be more efficiently equipped, he, at his own expense, brought a mechanician named Fulcher to Cambridge, and set him up in a small establishment in Panton Street. This in a short time developed into the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company, to carry on which Dew-Smith and Mr Horace Darwin formed in 1881 a partnership.

In 1878, mainly through Dew-Smith's help, the Journal of Physiology was started under my editorship, and before long, in order to provide the journal with adequate illustrations, the Scientific Instrument Company, under Dew-Smith's direction, undertook lithographic and other similar work. Indeed, to this part of the Company's work Dew-Smith devoted himself with great energy and remarkable skill. Photography brought together his love of apparatus and a love for art which was even stronger in him. For many years from the early eighties onwards much of his time was spent in photographic work ; and he worked with signal success, as they well recognize who treasure the photographic portraits which he took of his friends and various distinguished men, both of this and other countries.

In 1890 the partnership between himself and Mr Horace Darwin was dissolved; Dew-Smith, however, retained the lithography and photography. For some time he continued to be wrapt up in the work. Save for a brief summer's holiday he was always to be found in the workshop at Tibbs Row, and whoever was privileged to be admitted into his studio always found some new thing of beauty, or at least of interest, to admire. After a while, however, he became wearied of the business side of the work, for it was a definite business which he had been carrying on. All this he transferred to his chief assistant, Mr Edward Wilson, and the photographic plant and skill which he had acquired was henceforth employed for his own pleasure or for special tasks undertaken for the benefit or at the request of his friends, such as his reproduction of the MS. of the minor poems of Milton, which he did for Trinity College.

So far I have spoken of such part of Dew-Smith's life as was determined directly or indirectly by his connection with myself. But there was another part of his life in directing which I had n3 share whatever. Even in his boyhood, together with the dormant love of science which brought him to me, there must have been a far stronger dormant love of art. When this was first awakened I cannot tell; I only know that even in the earliest days of our friendship he had already become the possessor of a large number of rare books and several valuable pictures. When the rooms in Bishop's Hostel at Trinity College, which he afterwards occupied for many years, were allotted to him, he set about—I was going to write—'to furnish them,' but that commonplace word is not the right one with which to describe the way in which he transformed the four bare walls left by a Cambridge builder into a chamber full of beautiful things, which, though each in turn drew upon itself the gaze of the visitor, produced, together the dominant effect of luxurious ease and comfort. There was in it no mark of the collector. For Dew-Smith was no mere collector. He took unwearied pains and put forth unusual skill as a hunter to secure something which he sought, a rare first edition, a fine old engraving, an attractive and fantastic jewel, or some old bit of furniture, yet he sought to possess it, not simply that he might have it, but because, having it, to look at it or to handle it gave him pleasure whenever he wished.

He must have begun to gather together such things very early, and in gathering to have worked with unusual skill, for so early as 1878, when he told me, in his usual manner of speaking, that he 'thought about getting rid of some of his rubbish,' I found that his 'rubbish' was advertised with more than usual enthusiasm by Messrs. Sotheby as 'a very choice library and a small but rich collection of ancient engravings and modern drawings.' An article in Frazers Magazine for July, 1879, on Bibliomania in 1879, says 'January 29 of last year is a red letter day in the calendar of the bibliomaniac. On that day the library of Mr Dew-Smith was sold by auction at Messrs. Sotheby's room in the Strand. . ." . The very catalogue is a work of genius. . . . And in the absence of any official handbook it is perhaps the best guide that the critical student of the latest fashions in bibliography can select.'

The owner of 'things' which could be spoken of in such terms, had naturally many friends outside Cambridge and the Scientific Instrument Company. He was in the eighties a member of the select Dilettanti Society and of the then vigorous 'Rabelais' Club. At the Savile Club and elsewhere he was for many years frequently in the company of the younger princes of literature and art. He was one of the many who came under the personal fascination of Robert Louis Stephenson, who in turn was attracted to him. Indeed, he got to know most of the 'coming men,' and they got to know him.

At home at Cambridge his large and exact knowledge of books and art stood the University in good stead when he served on the Library, Fitzwilliam Museum, and other syndicates.

With his home in Trinity College, with no duties and no labours other than those which he took up of his own accord, and yet with interests so many and varied that he was never at a loss for something to do, with no ties to hinder his going and coming just as he pleased, and with an income more than enough to meet his wants, the lines seemed to have fallen for him in very pleasant places; and his friends made sure that he would never wish for any others. Yet he did ; and marrying in 1895 Miss Alice Lloyd, he entered upon a new life. The rooms at Trinity, to which he had done so much, were given up, and he and his wife took possession of the old-fashioned Manor House at Chesterton. Here he found a new interest, or rather revived an old one. In early years, while living with his mother at Thames Ditton, he had come under the spell of gardening, and I still possess at Shelford plants which years ago he brought me from there. At Chesterton the old love, so long lacking opportunity, found its chance again, and he once more walked among flowers.

Some happy years thus passed quietly away, until early in 1900 he was suddenly attacked by an alarming disease. His recovery was not permanent. In January last his tenure of the house at Chesterton came to an end, and he removed to Hurlingham Court at Fulham. During the removal with its attendant worry he became much worse; on the seventeenth of March he passed away, and on the following Thursday he was buried at New Chesterton. By his death I have lost my oldest friend in Cambridge; but though I knew him so long, I dare not try to paint in words what he really was. To the many who knew him as Dew-Smith, and knew him little, he was a picturesque character whose ways were his own; to us who knew him as Dew, and knew him well, to whom he had often been a very present help, he was at once a delightful companion and a trustworthy, ever-ready friend.

M. Foster.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.