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Bill Thayer

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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.

Vol. XXV
Sir William Smith

Smith, Sir William (1813‑1893), English lexicographer, was born at Enfield in 1813 of Nonconformist parents. He was originally destined for a theological career, but instead was articled to a solicitor. In his spare time he taught himself  p271 classics, and when he entered University College he carried off both the Greek and Latin prizes. He was entered at Gray's Inn in 1830, but gave up his legal studies for a post at University College school, and began to write on classical subjects. He next turned his attention to lexicography. His first attempt was the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, which appeared in 1842.​a The greater part of this was written by himself. In 1849 followed the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography, and the Greek and Roman Geography in 1857. In this work some of the leading scholars of the day were associated with him. In 1850 he published the first of the school dictionaries; and in 1853 he began the Principia series, which marked a distinct step in the school teaching of Greek and Latin. Then came the Students' Manuals of History and Literature, in which the Greek history was the editor's own work. In carrying out this task Smith was most ably seconded by John Murray, the publisher, who, when the original publishers of the dictionaries got into difficulties, volunteered to take a share in the undertaking. The most important, perhaps, of the books edited by William Smith were those that dealt with ecclesiastical subjects. These were the Dictionary of the Bible (1860‑1865); the Dictionary of Christian Antiquities (1875‑1880), undertaken in collaboration with Archdeacon Cheetham; and the Dictionary of Christian Biography (1877‑1887), jointly with Dr. Henry Wace. The Atlas, on which Sir George Grove collaborated, appeared in 1875. From 1853 to 1869 Smith was classical examiner to the University of London, and on his retirement he became a member of the Senate. He sat on the Committee to inquire into questions of copyright, and was for several years registrar of the Royal Literary Fund. He edited Gibbon, with Guizot's and Milman's notes, in 1854‑1855. In 1867 he became editor of the Quarterly Review, which he directed with marked success until his death on the 7th of October 1893, his remarkable memory and accuracy, as well as his tact and courtesy, specially fitting him for such a post. He was D.C.L. of Oxford and Dublin, and the honour of knighthood was conferred on him the year before his death.

Thayer's Note:

a The work was often revised, expanded, or reprinted; the last edition I know of was in 1890‑91. A very large portion of the 1875 edition — many hundreds of articles — can be found online elsewhere on this site; eventually all the articles relating to ancient Rome will be onsite, as well as a few stray articles that, though about ancient Greece, caught my fancy nonetheless.

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Page updated: 18 Nov 17