THE LATE PROFESSOR HENRY SMITH.
GREAT statesmen, successful generals, famous authors, distinguished men of science, eminent theologians—all those who have been raised by industry, talent, or the caprice of fortune, to prominence in a profession—become by degrees actors on whose movements our attention rests, and whose familiar figures are part of the spectacle of life. The public they have interested during their time bids them, when they die, a kindly and sympathetic farewell, retraces their career, counts up their successes, and assesses their general apparent value. Professor Henry Smith, whose loss this week casts a shadow both over Oxford and through many circles of educated men and women, belonged to none of these categories. To by far the greater number of Englishmen, his name is probably un- known. Some will vaguely recollect it as that of a candi- date put forward unsuccessfully a few years ago by Oxford Liberals for the representation of the University. Many even of those who are aware that a man in the fullness of his powers is just dead, whose brilliant intellectual attainments have pro- bably not been surpassed by any other of their English contem- poraries, may, nevertheless, be surprised at regret so widely felt and so loudly expressed over the loss of one who wrote no great books, patented no great invention, amassed no fortune, made no famous speeches, and led no conspicuous movement, political or social. Measured by the popular measure of publicity and fame, Professor Henry Smith would hardly seem, to most of us, to have been one of the great men of the time. Yet it would be difficult among the world's celebrities to find one who in gifts and nature was his superior. Generally speaking, there is a rough justice in the sentence passed upon intellectual men who achieve no definite worldly success. We surmise, and often with truth, that some weak spot somewhere in their powers has been the cause of their failure to acquire those sublunary dis- tinctions and rewards which coarser and more practical people manage to secure. To the case of Professor Smith, this kind of criticism would be inapplicable, for he possessed both the qualities and the character which might have made him famous in many active walks of life. His mental attainments were of the highest order. A finished classical scholar, a mathematician, in some respects of European distinction, a considerable meta- physician, a trained master of most branches of knowledge, literary, economic, and scientific, an adequate linguist, and a man of sound judgment, perfect temper, and wise aptitude for affairs, he combined with his other special excellences a delicate gaiety of spirit, a brilliant conversational power, which made him one of the most accomplished and attractive ornaments of any educated company in which he moved. To what eminence in public or professional life accomplishments so varied might not have led him,it is difficult to feel sure, if only he had ever plunged
into the stream of competition or adventure. But some delicate touch of indifference to worldly success mingled itself with his genius, and he remained to the last content with playing, and with playing well, whatever part fortune brought to him to play. Incessantly occupied in the discharge of duties both of a public and a private kind, that thickened round him as years went by, he was satisfied with what had fallen to his share in the lottery of life, and neither solicited nor ostentatiously avoided anything beyond. The " note " of personal ambition seemed absent from his composition. And so it happens that the great public which takes its knowledge of men from newspapers and books, from debates in Parliament and the records of our Law Courts, hardly knew—if, indeed, it knew at all—Professor Henry Smith.
As the personal "note" was wanting in Smith, so, on the other hand, the intellectual or academic " note " was one which he possessed in, perhaps, its most attractive form. Vanity and self-seek ing, e very form of mental intemperance and extravagance, seemed to have no place in anything that he ever said or did. The last, the rarest triumph of education, is when it destroys the desire of self-assertion in a man of genius, and substitutes in its place the crowning flower of perfect moderation and equanimity. The greatest of Greek philosophers, in the greatest of moral treatises, has elaborated a theory that virtue consists in a golden mean, and in the avoidance of dangerous ex- tremes; but when driven into a corner for a standard by which the mean is to be measured, the illustrious. moralist has no better compass to furnish for our guidance than this,—that the golden mean in each case must be that which is defined by the reason of some thoroughly temperate man. The result of Henry Smith's genius and culture combined seemed to make him the very man required by a philosopher for his human measuring-rod. A University life sometimes spoils and some- times perfects natural capacities, but it usually leaves its mark upon them, whether it be for good or evil. Nobody could doubt but that Henry Smith, as he issued from the Academic mould, was a natural genius, with an impress of his University stamped distinctly upon him ; and Oxford has, perhaps, never had a more happy specimen to produce of her best influence than the late Savilian Professor of Geometry.
Smith came from Rugby to the University as a remarkable boy, and won the blue ribbon in all the great intellectual competi- tions of his Undergraduate days. He became in due course a Fellow of Balliol, and joined a Common Room which consisted of a small group of very distinguished men. The present Master of Balliol was already conspicuous in the society of Balliol Fellows, as the most successful and most energetic tutor of the first of the Oxford Colleges of the period. Among the rest were names of academic fame—Mr. Lake, the present Dean of Durham ; Riddell, an accomplished hero even among Shrewsbury scholars, whose beautiful character and refinement of mind were prematurely lost to the University by an early death ; Archdeacon Palmer, not the least distinguished of a trio of brothers of all of whom Oxford had reason to be content; Lonsdale, Wall, Woolcombe, Walrond, and a few years later, Newman and Green. These were the days when Oxford, always passing through some phase or other, was entering on a new situation. The Tractarian movement had subsided, but the University was not at rest. A reforming Parliamentary Commission was troubling the waters. The old system of close Scholarships and Fellowships was slowly giving way, and like the rotten boroughs of a past political period, the close preserves of the Colleges were being either extinguished, or thrown open to public competition. But Oxford was still Conservative at heart. Leaders of the old school and their followers held the University pulpits, dominated Congregation, monopolised the best preferments, resisted to the best of their powers all local change, and were ready on provocation to ostracise unorthodox reformers for being, like Socrates, the corrupters of youth. Married Fellows were as yet unknown ; it had not yet become necessary to build whole suburbs of semi-detached villas to receive the feminine colonists of the future. But there was a stir and an agitation throughout the Academic world which the sense of changes, present and to come, had produced. University politics and polemics were, as always, of absorbing interest. Hansel and Goldwin Smith tilted against each other in debate before an admiring and competent academic audience. Oxford was, in fact, at war,—a war, it is true, polite, polished, and courteous. Into this atmosphere, charged as it was with considerable personal electricity, Henry Smith was thence-
forward absorbed ; for nearly thirty years, no more attrac- tive, brilliant, or genial figure was to be found in the perturbed society of the University. Some happy combination of judg- ment and temper made him acceptable even to those with whose opinions he had nothing in common. He succeeded in being a politician, without wearing the obnoxious colours of a partisan. He had the great art of never pressing a victory home, and of bearing defeat with pleasant equanimity. His business powers, his modesty, his wisdom, and his entire freedom from egotism and dogmatic presumption, a deli- cate gaiety that never flagged, wit that sparkled without wounding, and which rose incessantly to real brilliancy, made him not merely an effective personage in the Oxford world, but universally acceptable in any society, whatever the shade of its opinions. His finished persiflage, his pleasant epigrams, will long be remembered, though the brightest conversation is often the most evanescent, and the finesse of wit, like a musical laugh, disappears with the occasion, and cannot be reproduced upon paper or in print. As by degrees his attainments were recognised, both in England and abroad, his influence at Oxford naturally deepened; but neither within nor without the Univer- sity did he grasp at opportunities of notoriety. Such power and authority as he possessed he held without an effort, without solicitation, apparently without any personal satisfaction in them. In offices of friendship, he was constant ; in such public or civic duties as came in his way, assiduous ; no good or benevolent work ever needed a helping hand, but his was at its service, without ostentation, and without any expectation of personal advantage. He was a good speaker, without being a rhetorician ; his death, indeed, last week was hastened by a chill caught or increased while he was addressing a gathering of agricultural labourers.
A life like Henry Smith's, of exemplary moderation, far re- moved from even a suspicion of worldliness and vanity, is seldom found in these days in combination with intellectual powers and practical ability on so considerable a scale. There are, no doubt, many nooks and corners in which at times may be seen flowering the "wise indifference of the wise." Students, divines, men of science or of letters, not seldom seem content to retire from the world, as if they had measured the true value of the things we most of us eagerly compete for, and wee perfectly satisfied, of deliberate choice, to remain spectators of the fever of mankind. Some physical inaptitude, or some constitutional tendency, not unfrequently lies at the bottom of this apparently philosophic temper. Patient self-possession, and a sober estimate of the world and of what it can give, are rarely found in a man who lives in constant contact with other men and their affairs, who shares in the interests of his generation, occupies him- self with its business, and whose genius seems to bring high honour and success almost within his reach. Professor Henry Smith was not buried away from his fellow-creatures in literature, or study, or contemplation ; he was no recluse or invalid, but a man of the world, active, competent, social, only, —not ambitious. Personal serenity of such a type is rather a classical than a modern virtue ; perhaps an age different to our own may yet regard it as one of the highest forms, not merely of intellectual, but of civic excellence. It is the characteristic of recent civilisation, that in almost all its aspects it seems based upon a theory of personal competition. The prominent figures on every stage are the result of a struggle, not for exist- ence, but for success. It is a contest which all seem satisfied to recognise as one of the conditions of ordinary life ; which con- stitutes the essence of our politics, of our commerce, of our poli- tical economy, of our laws of property themselves. In the general race to possess more than the average share of wealth; power, fame, it is, perhaps, a wholesome lesson to turn for a short breathing-time to the uneventful example of the life of a man of genius, who was fitted for most distinctions, if he had cared to seek them, but who was unaffected by the universal fever, possessed his soul in perfect patience, and remained to the last content to discharge all the duties which Providence allotted to him, without affectation, and with that composure of soul to which great gifts are not always allied. The secret of the philosophic temperament, exhibited in this its most manly shape, is one which is not easy to explore ; but when the phenomenon is seen, its charm attracts us the more in proportion to its rarity. Essayists and moralists for the last two thousand years have preached it, and inculcated it; some have gone so far as to boast of its azquisition,—its praise, certainly, is among all the pro- phets. Probably it is the product neither of Nature, nor of educa-
tion singly, but of a happy, and of an admirable combination of the two. Among the many friends, acquaintances, admirers, whose thoughts have in the last few days been saddened or sobered by the unexpected death of a brilliant man of genius, there are none who will not readily accord to Professor Henry Smith the tribute of unaffected respect for what without extravagance may be termed his extraordinary powers of mind, his gentle and Lmlian wisdom, and the sweetness of character which never made an enemy, lost a friend, or sought a personal advantage for itself. But besides this and beyond this, it may not be out of place, before a personality in many ways so complete fades into indis- tinctness, and a life ceases to be familiar to us which must here- after be treasured rather in the memory of his contemporaries and friends than in the history of his time, to recognise in the Professor Oxford has lost that special type of wholesome and of manly virtue the growth of which is not much favoured by the rash and turmoil of these times. Great mental gifts can be found, when occasion demands them ; talents grow on every tree. But the serenity of heart which enables its possessor to wear the gifts of genius with sobriety, and to use them nobly and well, without seeking to expend them in the purchase of fame, or wealth, or of advancement, is a quality which modern society little cultivates, and seldom sees.