in new answers. Apart from the controversies connected with ‘Essays and Reviews’ (1860), and with the writings of Bishop Colenso (1863 et seq.), much valuable work had been subsequently done by foreign scholars—Graf, Nöldeke, Kuenen, and others. With the work of the latter very few in Britain were familiar. Smith was thoroughly competent as a scholar to deal with modern biblical theories, and at the same time his position and character were supposed to guarantee that any articles written by him would, while stating the latest results of scholarship, be so framed as to avoid needless offence to those who still clung to the time-honoured traditions of the churches, which were still taught in the colleges. The article ‘Angel,’ by Smith, in vol. ii. of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ and that on ‘Bible’ in vol. iii., both appeared in 1875, and almost immediately it became known that they were regarded by men of influence in the free church with suspicion and dislike. A committee was appointed by the assembly of 1876 to investigate the articles; its report, laid before the assembly of 1877, was so hostile that, availing himself of a constitutional privilege, Smith found it necessary to demand a formal trial by ‘libel’ (indictment) for his alleged heresies and errors. The proceedings that followed were protracted and involved. As a result, Smith practically ceased to be an acting professor in 1878. Eventually the entire series of his ‘Encyclopædia’ articles—‘Angel,’ ‘Bible,’ ‘Chronicles,’ ‘Canticles,’ ‘David,’ ‘Eve,’ ‘Haggai,’ ‘Hebrew Language and Literature,’ as well as an article on ‘Animal Worship and Animal Tribes’ in the ‘Cambridge Journal of Philology’ for 1879 (a study in totemism)—were challenged as being written in such a way as to suggest to the reader that ‘the Bible does not present a reliable statement of the truth of God, and that God is not the author of it.’ After various vicissitudes the written indictment in all its forms disappeared, but its place was taken by a vote of want of confidence, followed by his summary removal from his chair in June 1881.
Long before this ignominious ending of a harassing discussion it had dawned upon Smith that he was occupying a somewhat false position, and as early at least as January 1879 he wrote to an intimate friend that he would willingly retire from the chair if by so doing he could secure a peaceful ending of the whole controversy. But he went on to say that he felt it due to certain friends to carry on the struggle to the end, as there could be no doubt that his abandonment of the field would only be taken as an encouragement to a repetition of similar prosecutions in the case of others. The net result of the famous ‘case’ with which his name is still intimately associated in Scotland consisted in the liberalising influence, the force of which is not even yet spent, which it enabled him to exert on all classes of the community. His debating speeches, delivered in the course of the proceedings, often rose to a high standard of eloquence, and his ‘Answers’ to the libel were most instructive and informing. In the winter of 1879–80 and again in 1881 he delivered in Edinburgh and Glasgow by request two series of popular lectures, which were afterwards published as the ‘Old Testament in the Jewish Church’ (1881; 2nd edit. 1892), and ‘The Prophets of Israel’ (1882; 2nd. edit. 1895). As a mark of the sympathy that was widely felt for him during the anxious proceedings, a valuable gift of Arabic books and manuscripts was publicly presented to him in Edinburgh in 1881.
Immediately after his dismissal Smith accepted an invitation to become colleague to Professor Baynes, now in somewhat failing health, as editor in chief of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ and he consequently transferred his residence from Aberdeen to Edinburgh. He threw himself into his new duties with characteristic energy; and it was to his clearness and breadth of outlook, as well as to the painstaking care in the management of details, that the successful completion of the work in 1888 was largely due. By the consent of all who came in contact with him, and especially of those who were in daily communication with him in this connection, he displayed a combination of qualities such as is rarely met with in work of this kind, demanding, as it does, knowledge of men as well as of subjects, and skill and tact in dealing with both. Nor did he edit merely; the articles he himself contributed were both numerous and important, including such subjects as ‘Levites,’ ‘Messiah,’ ‘Prophet,’ ‘Priest,’ ‘Sacrifice,’ ‘Tithes,’ as well as articles on most of the books of the Old Testament.
In spite of the labour involved in seeing the concluding twelve volumes of the ‘Encyclopædia’ through the press in the course of seven years (1881–8), Smith fully maintained his interest in Semitic subjects, and found time for much work in that direction. The Arabic studies he had carried so far in the early years of his professorship in Aberdeen he had already extended during the years of his ‘suspension,’ the winter of 1879–1880 being devoted to a prolonged stay in Egypt with a visit to Syria and Palestine,