Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smythe, Percy Ellen Frederick William
SMYTHE, PERCY ELLEN FREDERICK WILLIAM, eighth Viscount Strangford of Ireland, and third Baron Penshurst of the United Kingdom (1826–1869), philologist and ethnologist, born at St. Petersburg on 26 Nov. 1826, was third and youngest son of Percy Clinton Sydney Smythe, sixth Viscount [q. v.], and younger brother of George Augustus Frederick Percy Sydney Smythe, seventh Viscount [q. v.] During part of his youth he was almost blind. From the first he devoted himself to the study of languages. At Harrow he taught himself Persian, and at Oxford he learnt Arabic. He matriculated from Merton College on 17 June 1843, and held a postmastership for two years. In May 1845 he was nominated by the vice-chancellor one of the two student-attachés at Constantinople. He became paid attaché there in 1849, and was oriental secretary from July 1857 to October 1858. He gave assiduous attention to his official duties, and his health suffered severely from the strain of work entailed by the Crimean war. Meanwhile he acquired a complete knowledge of Turkish and modern Greek, made a thorough study of Sanskrit, and mastered every branch of oriental philology. He spoke Persian and Greek with facility, and was versed in their dialects. To all this he added a considerable acquaintance with Celtic, competent classical scholarship, and a strong taste for geography and ethnology.
On his accession to the peerage on his brother's death in 1857 Strangford took a house in London, but mainly continued for four years in Constantinople, where he lived the life of a dervish. In 1863 he travelled in Austria and Albania, widening his knowledge and strengthening his interest in the eastern question. He described his own position with regard to it as anti-φιλελλην, but pro-φιλoρωμαιος, and thought that the future of south-eastern Europe belonged to the Bulgarians rather than to the Greeks. He proclaimed himself a liberal, but took no interest in general politics. He considered Lord Stratford de Redcliffe ‘absurdly overrated.’ His letters showed the liveliest sense of humour, as well as exact and varied scholarship. He was a frequent contributor to the ‘Pall Mall Gazette’ and the ‘Saturday Review,’ but published no book during his lifetime. He wrote, however, the last three chapters of his wife's ‘Eastern Shores of the Adriatic.’ In 1869 two volumes of his ‘Selected Writings’ were edited by Lady Strangford. They contain, besides the three chapters above mentioned, many contributions to the ‘Pall Mall Gazette’ dealing with the eastern question, and a review, published in the ‘Quarterly’ of April 1865, of Arminius Vámbéry's ‘Travels in Central Asia.’ Among ‘Some Short Notes on People and Topics of the Day’ is an interesting study of Walt Whitman, whose writings Strangford maintained were ‘imbued with not only the spirit, but with the veriest mannerism’ of Persian poetry. In 1878 Viscountess Strangford also published his ‘Original Letters and Papers upon Philological and kindred Subjects.’ Prefixed to them are letters from Vámbéry and Prince Lucien Bonaparte. The former testifies that Strangford read, spoke, and wrote Afghan and Hindustani, as well as Arabic, Turkish, and Persian. Prince Lucien credited him with an acquaintance with Slav tongues. At the time of his death Strangford was president of the Royal Asiatic Society. ‘In his own line,’ says his friend Sir M. Grant Duff, ‘the last Lord Strangford was unique,’ and left a vacancy in European journalism which was never filled. He died suddenly at 58 Great Cumberland Street, London, on 9 Jan. 1869, and was buried, beside his elder brother, at Kensal Green. An elegy on him by F. T. P[algrave] appeared in ‘Macmillan's Magazine’ in the following month. He left no issue, and the peerages became extinct.
His wife, Emily Anne, Viscountess Strangford (d. 1887), was youngest daughter of Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort [q. v.] He married her on 6 Feb. 1862. She was a woman of great physical energy and intellectual refinement. Before her marriage she had travelled with her sister in Egypt, Asia Minor, and Syria, and as a descendant of the Beauforts of the crusades, she was given by the patriarch of Jerusalem the order of the Holy Sepulchre (Reid, Life of Lord Houghton, ii. 151). In 1861 she published ‘Egyptian Sepulchres and Syrian Shrines, including some stay in the Lebanon, at Palmyra, and in Western Turkey, with Illustrations in Chromo-Lithography,’ 2 vols. (new edit. 1874). A review by Lord Strangford led to their acquaintance and subsequent marriage (Athenæum, 2 April 1887). After her marriage Lady Strangford wrote ‘The Eastern Shores of the Adriatic in 1863, with a Visit to Montenegro,’ 1864, 8vo. On her husband's death in 1869 she went through four years' training in a hospital in England, and devoted herself largely to nursing. She originated the National Society for Providing Trained Nurses for the Poor, and in 1874 published ‘Hospital Training for Ladies.’ She took the leading part in organising a fund for the relief of the Bulgarian peasants in 1876 (see Report, 1877), and educated several at her own expense in England. In the following year she went to the seat of war in Turkey, in order to superintend a hospital she had established for Turkish soldiers. On the occupation of Strigil by the Russians, though troubled by the violent demeanour of some Cossacks, she was treated with great consideration by General Gourko (A. Forbes, War Correspondence, 1877–8, pp. 320–1).
In 1882 Lady Strangford established and opened at Cairo for the St. John's Ambulance Association the Victoria Hospital for the sick and wounded in the war with Arabi Pasha. On her return to England the red cross was conferred on her by Queen Victoria. She afterwards co-operated with Mrs. E. L. Blanchard in the establishment of the Women's Emigration Society in London; founded a medical school at Beyrout, and endowed at Harrow a geographical prize in memory of her husband. She prepared for publication not only her husband's papers, but also a novel, ‘Angela Pisani,’ left in manuscript by her brother-in-law, the seventh lord Strangford, to which she prefixed a short memoir. In 1878 she wrote a preface for J. Finn's ‘Records from Jerusalem Consular Churches,’ 1878. Lady Strangford was on her way to Port Said, where she was to open a hospital for British seamen, when she died of cerebral apoplexy on board the Lusitania on 24 March 1887.[For Viscount Strangford, see Burke's Extinct Peerage; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Pall Mall Gazette, 12 Jan. 1869; Saturday Review, 16 Jan. 1869; Journ. Royal Geographical Soc. 1869 (Sir R. Murchison's address); Sir M. Grant Duff's Notes from a Diary, 1897, i. 134, ii. 125–6; Works, edited by his wife. For Lady Strangford: Times, 28 March 1887; Victoria Mag. February 1879 (with photograph); Brit. Mus. Cat.; Allibone's Dict. Engl. Lit. (vol. ii. Suppl.).]