The Williams home in Wheatley

The Williams home in Wheatley
The home of William Smith Williams' family in Wheatley

Thursday, 31 January 2019

William Smith Williams and Art

Most people know William Smith Williams as the man who discovered and mentored Charlotte Bronte. His passion for art was at least as strong as that for literature. He wrote on art for the Athenaeum, Spectator and Examiner; he presented a masterly paper On Lithography to the Society of Arts; he wrote a precursor to the Pre-Raphaelites in John Bull and on the place of art in design for The Builder. He was a friend of John Ruskin; he had hands involvement in publishing his later works; he edited the Selections of the Writings of John Ruskin published by Smith, Elder in 1861.

His obituary in the Publishers Circular said of his later years that:

He became so absorbed [in assessing the work of authors] that he ceased to write himself, and became more warmly friendly with many writers whose names are known to all the world and whose friendship and esteem he never lost. Amongst these may be named Leigh and Thornton Hunt, WM Thackeray, the Miss Brontës, John Ruskin, Miss Kavanagh, Mrs Parr (Holme Lee), Egerton Webbe, George Henry Lewes and many others including a great number of painters.

Charlotte Bronte clearly valued William's views on art as she wrote:

I had just read your article in the John Bull; it very clearly and fully explains the cause of the difference obvious between ancient and modern paintings. I wish you had been with us when we went over the Exhibition and the National Gallery; a little explanation from a judge of art would doubtless have enabled us to understand better what we saw; perhaps one day, we may have this pleasure.

As I said his paper On Lithography is masterful and has some wonderful illustrations.

With thanks to the RSA

I write more in my forthcoming article in Bronte Studies and, of course, in the draft of my biography of this true Renaissance man

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

A glance back and an attempt to see ahead

Publishing Ordnance was something I really wanted. Writing it had taught me so much about a terrible period in our history, in particular about ordinary men and women who had done extraordinary 'ordinary things' for those they loved. I wanted more people to know the story. I gave four talks on the book and found audiences thoroughly engaged.
Lincoln Drill Hall is inextricably linked with the Great War; it was where the Lincolnshire Volunteers mustered before beginning their journey to France. It was wonderful to introduce the only BBC Prom outside London, the highly appropriate Soldier's Tale. It was a privilege to be part of the Commemoration of Lincoln in WW1. It was wonderful to welcome Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful and then Sir Michael himself as part of the Lincoln Book Festival.
With thanks to Phil Crow
War on Wheels and Ordnance were inspired by my father who fought in both world wars. It was thus both appropriate and wonderful that I was invited to the RAOC Officers Association dinner to mark the centenary of the founding of the Corps to which my father devoted his life. A few weeks later I was at the Chilwell War Memorial on the centenary of the Armistice where my maternal grandfather had worked as supervisor on the Shell Filling factory and where my father had founded the Army Centre of Mechanisation in 1935. Unforgettable occasions.
William Smith Williams comes from a different age and a different world. To have an article on my research of him accepted by Bronte Studies was a great compliment; to have completed a draft of his biography was an achievement of which I am proud. Let's hope a publisher agrees!

The year ends with another work in progress. I had been struck by the massive impact on people's lives of serving in two world wars. I saw them as a Blighted Generation. I had noted that many I had written about had died young. They hadn't been killed in the trenches, on the beaches or in the POW camps but they had worked under massive pressure for years on end and this had taken its toll. I am seeking to tell some of their stories.

So, that is the glance back; what of the year ahead?

I so hope I can publish William. I will complete a Blighted Generation and explore publication options. I think I will have some work for Story Terrace writing some family stories. Beyond all else I hope we can find a viable path forward to my beloved Drill Hall.
Lincoln Drill Hall