Smith married, in 1857, Flora Macdonald, of the same lineage as her famous namesake, and daughter of Mr. Macdonald of Ord in Skye. His wife, with a family, survived him. His eldest daughter, gracefully introduced into his Skye lyric, ‘Blaavin,’ died two months after him.
The ‘Life Drama and other Poems,’ published in 1853, reached a second edition that year, and passed into a third in 1854, and into a fourth in 1855. Marked by youthful inexperience, and extravagant in form and imagery, the poems (especially the title-piece) abound in strong gnomic lines and display fine imaginative power. In April 1853 John Forster elaborately reviewed the book in the ‘Examiner,’ prompting Matthew Arnold's opinion that Smith ‘has certainly an extraordinary faculty, although I think that he is a phenomenon of a very dubious character’ (Arnold, Letters, i. 29). ‘The latest disciple of the school of Keats,’ Clough called him in the ‘North American Review’ for July 1853. ‘The poems,’ said the critic, ‘have something substantive and lifelike, immediate and first-hand about them’ (Clough, Prose Remains, p. 358). The leading periodicals of the time were agreed as to the striking character of the poems, but they differed regarding their absolute merits. In May 1854 an ostensible review of a forthcoming volume to be entitled ‘Firmilian’ aroused attention and curiosity in ‘Blackwood,’ and in the course of the year there was published ‘Firmilian, or the Student of Badajoz: a Spasmodic Tragedy, by T. Percy Jones.’ It was so good that Mr. Jones was at first accepted as a new bard, but it presently appeared that the work was an elaborate jest by Professor Aytoun, who satirised in ‘Firmilian’ the extravagances of Mr. P. J. Bailey, Dobell, and Alexander Smith. ‘Spasmodic’ was so happily descriptive of the peculiarities ridiculed that it instantly attained standard value (Sir Theodore Martin, Memoir of Aytoun, p. 146).
‘Sonnets on the Crimean War,’ by Smith and Dobell, appeared in 1855. They are forgotten. As a sonneteer, while he was thoughtful and readable, Smith lacks fluency and harmony of movement. In 1857 he issued ‘City Poems,’ in which he touches a high level with ‘Glasgow,’ ‘The Boy's Poem,’ and especially ‘Squire Maurice,’ probably his most compact and impressive achievement in verse. The ‘Athenæum,’ No. 1056 (December 1857), found evidence in the ‘City Poems’ of ‘mutilated property of the bards,’ and there arose a sharp discussion over charges of plagiarism freely laid against Smith. Even ‘Punch’ (probably by the hand of Shirley Brooks) was stirred to active interference, and entered for the defence. The charge was at once as valid and as futile as a similar accusation would be against Milton, for example, and Gray, and Burns. The question is discussed with adequate fulness in an appendix to ‘Last Leaves,’ a posthumous volume of Smith's miscellanies, edited with memoir by his friend, P. P. Alexander. In ‘Edwin of Deira’ (Cambridge and London, 1861, 8vo), Smith writes an attractive and spirited poem, exhibiting commendable self-restraint and a chastened method. Unfortunately, the poem challenged attention almost simultaneously with Tennyson's ‘Idylls of the King,’ and it is surprising that, under such a disadvantage, it reached a second edition in a few months. Still, Smith did not escape the old charge of plagiarism and imitation. He was even blamed for utilising Tennyson's latest work, though his poem was mainly, if not entirely, written before the ‘Idylls’ appeared (Alexander, Memoir, p. lxxxii). Envious comparisons thus instituted were inevitably detrimental, and a fine poem has probably never received its due.
Smith wrote the life of Cowper for the eighth edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ 1854. To a volume of ‘Edinburgh Essays,’ 1857, he contributed a sympathetic and discriminating article on ‘Scottish Ballads’ (republished in ‘Last Leaves’). This essay Thomas Spencer Baynes characterised at the time as ‘beautiful,’ adding, ‘His prose is quite peculiar for its condensed poetic strength’ (Table Talk of Shirley, p. 53). Although Aytoun enjoyed the fun of ridiculing the excesses of the ‘Spasmodic School,’ he had (like Blackie and the other university professors) a real admiration for Smith, whose work he introduced to ‘Blackwood.’ Other outlets were also found—‘Macmillan,’ the ‘Museum,’ Chambers's ‘Encyclopædia,’ various newspapers—and in 1863 appeared ‘Dreamthorp: a Book of Essays written in the Country.’ Occasionally florid in style, nor wholly destitute of trivial conceits, these essays embody some excellent descriptive and literary work. In 1865 he published ‘A Summer in Skye,’ a delightful holiday book, vivacious in narrative, bright and picturesque in description, and overflowing with individuality. For Messrs. Macmillan's ‘Golden Treasury Series’ he edited, in two volumes, in 1865, the ‘Poetical Works of Burns,’ prefixing a memoir which is second only to Lockhart's in grasp and appreciative delineation. A graphic but somewhat unequal story of Scottish life, largely autobiographical, and entitled ‘Alfred Hagart's Household,’ with sequel, ‘Miss Dona