Smith, Robert Henry Soden (DNB00)

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SMITH, ROBERT HENRY SODEN (1822–1890), keeper of the Art Library, South Kensington, was born on 25 Feb. 1822. His father, Robert Smith of Dirleton, Haddingtonshire, was a captain in the 44th regiment, and served for some years in India. On his return he received the appointment of Athlone pursuivant-at-arms under Sir Bernard Burke, and settled in Dublin.

The son, Robert Henry, was brought up in Scotland, and then sent to Trinity College, Dublin, with a view to his ordination, but that design was not fulfilled. He became tutor to John Charles Pratt, earl of Brecknock (afterwards third Marquis Camden), and formed a lasting friendship with his pupil. On 1 March 1857 he was chosen a member of the staff at the South Kensington Museum, London, was appointed assistant keeper of the art museum and library on 25 June following, and became keeper of the national Art Library on 3 April 1868. The library was in an embryonic stage in 1857 when Smith entered on his work, and he was really the organiser of this branch of the museum, in which he gave a free rein to his keen instinct as a collector.

A lover of nature in every form, Smith made a special study of the freshwater shells. In antiquarian pursuits he was equally interested in English and oriental pottery, and of both he formed large collections. He also paid much attention to the history and forms of finger rings. As a juror he drew up the report on the porcelain at the exhibition of 1871. He also prepared the catalogue of the jewellery exhibited at South Kensington in 1872. He officially edited and partly compiled, for the use of students, several classified lists of books dealing with various arts and art industries, which are represented in the South Kensington Museum. He resided at 65 The Grove, Hammersmith, but died, unmarried, in a private nursing home near Cavendish Square, on 20 June 1890. With his friend Professor A. H. Church, Smith brought out in 1890 some poems entitled ‘Flower and Bird Posies.’

[The Academy, 5 July 1890, p. 16, signed δ, i.e. C. Drury E. Fortnum; Athenæum, 28 June 1890, p. 839; Times, 23 June 1890, p. 6; Illustrated London News, 12 July 1890, p. 53, with portrait; information from W. H. James Weale, esq.]

G. C. B.