Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smith, John William

SMITH, JOHN WILLIAM (1809–1845), legal writer, born in Chapel Street, Belgrave Square, London, on 23 Jan. 1809, was eldest son of John Smith, who was appointed in 1830 paymaster of the forces in Ireland. His mother was a sister of George Connor, master in chancery in Ireland. After exhibiting remarkable precocity at a private school in Isleworth, he passed in 1821 to Westminster School, where he was elected queen's scholar in 1823. He entered in 1826 Trinity College, Dublin, where he obtained a scholarship in 1829, and was awarded the gold medal in classics in the following year. He joined on 20 June 1827 the Inner Temple, where, after practising for some years as a special pleader, he was called to the bar on 3 May 1834. In the same year appeared his ‘Compendium of Mercantile Law,’ London, 8vo, a work distinguished equally by profound learning and luminous exposition. ‘An Elementary View of the Proceedings in an Action at Law’ followed in 1836, London, 8vo, and ‘A Selection of Leading Cases on Various Branches of the Law,’ a work of incalculable benefit to the student, in 1837–1840, London, 2 vols. 8vo. From 1837 to 1843 Smith was lecturer at the Law Institution, and in 1840 was appointed to a revising barristership. He practised for a time on the Oxford circuit and at the Hereford and Gloucester sessions, but latterly only in the metropolis, where he died of consumption induced by overwork on 17 Dec. 1845. He was buried in Kensal Green cemetery, and a tablet was placed to his memory in the Temple Church.

In Smith an ungainly person, a harsh voice, and awkward manners served as a foil to mental endowments of a high order. To a veritable genius for the discovery and exposition of legal principles he added a large erudition not only in the ancient classics, but in the masterpieces of English, Italian, and Spanish literature. He was also well read in theology and a devout Christian. Smith's ‘Mercantile Law’ reached a third edition in its author's lifetime; later editions by Dowdeswell appeared at London in 1848, 1855, 1871, and 1877, 8vo, and by Macdonell and Humphreys in 1890, London, 2 vols. 8vo. The ‘Elementary View of the Proceedings in an Action at Law’ reached a fourteenth edition by Foulkes in 1884, London, 12mo; and the ‘Leading Cases,’ a tenth edition, edited by Chitty, Williams, & Chitty, in 1896, London, 2 vols. 8vo. Other (posthumous) works by Smith are: (1) ‘The Law of Contracts: in a course of lectures delivered at the Law Institution; with notes and appendix by Jelinger C. Symons,’ London, 1847, 8vo; subsequent editions by Malcolm in 1855 and 1868, and by Thompson in 1874 and 1885, 8vo. 2. ‘The Law of Landlord and Tenant: being a Course of Lectures delivered at the Law Institution; with notes and additions by Frederic Philip Maude,’ London, 1855, 1866, 1882, 8vo.

[Westminster School Reg. ed. Barker and Stenning, p. 213; Law Mag. xxxv. 177; Law Times, vi. 473; Warren's Misc. ed. 1855, i. 116–184, and Law Studies, ed. 1863; Albany Law Journ. vi. 393.]

J. M. R.