Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/156

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


casion quoted Macrobius, perhaps the only instance in which that author has been mentioned in the House of Commons. He continued to support Wilberforce's motions till the abolition of slavery in the British colonies. He supported Mr. Grey's motion of parliamentary reform in 1792, and again in May 1797, then stating that he had attended every meeting on the subject for twenty-two years, and voted for similar resolutions to the end of his parliamentary career. In the debates on Fox's resolution against war with France, on 18 Feb. 1793, and in all debates connected with the revolution in France, he spoke and voted with the new whigs, and he was elected a member of the Whig Club, from which Burke and Windham had retired, on 12 Jan. 1796. He had been mentioned as a proper person to represent the city of London, and justified this opinion by attention to finance and other commercial questions. On 3 Feb. 1797 he made a report on a proposed loan, and on 22 Feb., after a very long speech, moved forty resolutions in favour of open competition for government loans. His first resolution was put and received twenty-three votes in the affirmative, and 171 noes. On 10 May 1805 he opposed the corn regulation bill, and in 1806 discussed the pig-iron bill. He supported in 1802 Mr. Dent's bill to prevent bull-baiting with a quotation from Ovid, but agreed with Windham on 29 Jan. 1806 in opposing the proposed funeral honours to Pitt. He voted for the impeachment of Lord Melville, and spoke in favour of the dismissal of the Duke of York from the command of the army. In 1817 he expressed some indignation at the difference between the views of Robert Southey, as laureate and writer in the ‘Quarterly Review,’ and as author of ‘Wat Tyler,’ an early effort which had just been printed without Southey's permission. Southey retorted in ‘A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P.’ Smith was made a commissioner of highland roads and bridges, and in that capacity travelled through the highlands in the first years of this century, and was hospitably entertained by the chiefs at Castle Grant, Dunvegan, and elsewhere. It added to his popularity that his father had been kind to Flora Macdonald [q. v.] when she was in the Tower, sending her tea and other luxuries.

Smith was a patron of Opie and of Cotman, and Reynolds sometimes dined at his house. He was the second purchaser of the picture of Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse, now in the collection of the Duke of Westminster, and he possessed two fine Rembrandts. He knew Dr. Richard Brocklesby [q. v.], and met Dr. Johnson at his house. Samuel Rogers begins his recollections with an account of a dinner at William Smith's on 19 March 1796, where the company consisted of Charles James Fox, Dr. Parr, Tierney John Courtenay, Sir Francis Baring, Dr. Aikin, Sir James Mackintosh, and Sir Philip Francis. Rogers presented Mrs. Smith in 1792 with a handsome copy of the ‘Pleasures of Memory.’ Fox, Priestley, Dr. John Moore, Gilbert Wakefield, Sir James Mackintosh, Thomas Clarkson, and Zachary Macaulay were frequent visitors at his house; Wilberforce was his friend and associate throughout life, and his portrait is drawn by the skilful hand of Sir James Stephen in his famous essay on the Clapham sect. He lived in Aldermanbury when he began public life, and afterwards at Clapham Common. During the parliament of 1812 he bought a house and estate at Parndon in Essex, while his town house was for many years before and after that time in Park Street, Westminster. He died on 31 May 1835 at the house of his eldest son, Benjamin, 5 Blandford Square, a district demolished in 1897 for the Great Central railway. Sir James Stephen says: ‘When he had nearly completed fourscore years, he could still gratefully acknowledge that he had no remembrance of any bodily pain or illness, and that of the very numerous family of which he was the head, every member still lived to support and to gladden his old age; and yet, if he had gone mourning all his days, he could scarcely have acquired a more tender pity for the miserable, or have laboured more habitually for their relief.’ He married, on 12 Jan. 1781, Frances Coape, and had five sons and five daughters, of whom the youngest died at sixty-nine, two lived to more than seventy-five, six to more than eighty, and one to more than ninety.

His portrait and that of his wife by Opie are at Scalands, Sussex, and there is a full-length portrait, painted by H. Thompson, R.A., for his constituents, in St. Andrew's Hall, Norwich; both have been engraved. His family also possess a painting representing him as a boy talking to his father.

Benjamin Smith (1783–1860), his eldest son, was born on 28 April 1783, married Anne Longden, and died on 16 April 1860. He contested Norwich at the election of July 1837, when Sir William Scarlett and Lord Douro were successful. Scarlett's election was declared void, and he became member on 14 May 1838. At the next election, on 28 June 1841, Smith was returned with Lord Douro, and continued to sit until the dis-