have known at Oxford. He had the clearest and most lucid mind, and a natural experience of the world and of human character hardly ever to be found in one so young.’
Smith passed the years 1845–6 on the continent. At Rome, where he suffered a severe illness, he acquired a sound knowledge of Roman antiquities and inscriptions, and a satisfactory command of Italian, German, and French. While still convalescent he attended lectures in Paris, at the Sorbonne and the Collège de France, and was the delighted auditor of Arago and Milne-Edwards. He resumed his Oxford career at Easter 1847. It proved of almost unexampled brilliancy. He gained the Ireland University scholarship in 1848; he took a double first-class, and was elected a fellow of Balliol in 1849 (B.A. 1850, M.A. 1855). In 1850 he accepted a mathematical lectureship at Balliol College, and obtained the senior mathematical scholarship in 1851. Up to this date he was undecided whether to pursue classics or mathematics, and showed as much aptitude for the one as for the other. ‘I do not know,’ John Conington [q. v.] once said, ‘what Henry Smith may be at the subjects of which he professes to know something; but I never go to him about a matter of scholarship, in a line where he professes to know nothing, without learning more from him than I can get from any one else.’ He continued to lecture on mathematics at Balliol till 1873, when he resigned his fellowship and lectureship on receiving a sinecure fellowship at Corpus Christi College. He was elected an honorary fellow of Balliol in 1882.
In 1853 there seemed a danger of his being diverted to chemistry. Being called upon to lecture on the subject, he studied under Professor Story-Maskelyne, with whom he formed an enduring friendship, and reached the conviction that the properties of the elements are so connected by mathematical relations as to be discoverable by reasoning in anticipation of experience.
Smith was elected in 1860 to the Savilian chair of geometry, and became both F.R.S. and F.R.A.S. in 1861. He acted as president of the mathematical section of the British Association at Bradford in 1873, and of the Mathematical Society of London in 1874–6. In 1877 he became the first chairman of the meteorological council in London; and attended, as its representative, the international meteorological congress at Rome in 1879.
On the death of his mother, in 1857, he had been joined at Oxford by his sister, Eleanor Elizabeth Smith (1822–1896), a woman of exceptional ability and judgment, whose main energies were devoted to philanthropic and educational objects, and their house was the scene of much genial hospitality. During the vacations Smith travelled in Italy, Greece, Spain, Sweden, and Norway, and attended the meetings of the British Association. In 1874 he was appointed keeper of the university museum. The office ‘gave him a pleasant house, a small stipend, and not very uncongenial duties.’ But much of his time was still taken up with educational business. He was for many years a member of the Hebdomadal Council, as well as of innumerable boards and delegacies. From 1870 he sat on the royal commission on scientific education, and in great measure drafted its report. In the same year he accepted the post of mathematical examiner at the university of London, and was in 1871 appointed by the Royal Society a member of the governing body of Rugby school. In commenting on his nomination in 1877 as one of the Oxford University commissioners, Sir M. E. Grant Duff spoke of him in the House of Commons as ‘a man of very extraordinary attainments,’ even apart from the special qualifications implied by his position in the first rank of European mathematicians, while ‘his conciliatory character made him perhaps the only man in Oxford who was without an enemy.’ He received the honorary degrees of LL.D. from the universities of Cambridge and Dublin.
In 1878 Smith unsuccessfully contested the parliamentary representation of the university of Oxford in the liberal interest. He was a ready and telling speaker, but his candidature was urged on academic rather than on political grounds.
Smith's health had strengthened as he grew up; but in 1881 it began to be impaired by overwork. He died unmarried on 9 Feb. 1883, aged 56, and was buried at St. Sepulchre's cemetery, Oxford. His death evoked a chorus of eulogies. ‘Among the world's celebrities,’ in Lord Bowen's opinion, ‘it would be difficult to find one who in gifts and nature was his superior.’ He impressed Professor Huxley ‘as one of the ablest men I ever met with; and the effect of his great powers was almost whimsically exaggerated by his extreme gentleness of manner, and the playful way in which his epigrams were scattered about. I think that he would have been one of the greatest men of our time if he had added to his wonderfully keen intellect and strangely varied and extensive knowledge the power of caring very strongly about the attainment of any object.’
Smith was, in fact, devoid of ambition and