Smith, Robert Percy (DNB00)

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SMITH, ROBERT PERCY, known as ‘Bobus’ Smith (1770–1845), advocate-general of Bengal, born in 1770, was eldest son of Robert Smith, and brother of Sydney Smith [q. v.] He entered Eton College in 1782, and became very intimate with John Hookham Frere [q. v.], George Canning [q. v.], and Henry Richard Vassall Fox, third lord Holland [q. v.] With them in 1786 he started the school magazine entitled ‘The Microcosm,’ which ran for nearly a year, and procured for Smith an introduction to Queen Charlotte. In 1788 he became a scholar on Dr. Battie's foundation, and in 1791 obtained Sir William Browne's medal for the best Latin ode. In the same year he entered King's College, Cambridge, and graduated B.A. in 1794 and M.A. in 1797. On 4 July of the same year he was called to the bar of Lincoln's Inn. In 1803, through the influence of William Petty, first marquis of Lansdowne [q. v.], and Sir Francis Baring [q. v.], he obtained the appointment of advocate-general of Bengal. In seven years he returned to England with a fortune, and settled in London. While in India he allowed his brother Sydney 100l. a year, and on his return lent him 500l. towards the expenses of his move into the country, and gave 100l. a year to support Sydney's eldest son at Westminster.

In 1812 Smith entered parliament as member for Grantham, but made no reputation as a speaker. At the general election of 1818 he contested Lincoln unsuccessfully, but two years later he won the seat and sat as the representative of the borough until his retirement after the dissolution of 1826.

Although Robert Percy never attained the fame of his brother Sydney, with whom he always maintained very affectionate relations, yet those who were intimate with both held that ‘Bobus’ equalled, if he did not surpass, him in the very qualities for which the younger was renowned. He was a man of great originality, a profound thinker, and of wide grasp of mind. His wit was proverbial, and his conversation provoked the admiration of Madame de Staël. His language was characterised by Canning as ‘the essence of English,’ and Landor declared that his Latin hexameters would not have discredited Lucretius. He died on 10 March 1845 at his house in Savile Row, London. His country residence was at Cheam, Surrey. In 1797 he married Caroline, daughter of Richard Vernon, M.P. for Tavistock. She was half-sister of the mothers of the third Lord Holland and of the third Lord Lansdowne. By her Smith was father of Robert Vernon Smith, baron Lyveden [q. v.]

A number of Smith's Latin verses were published by his son under the title of ‘Early Writings of Robert Percy Smith,’ Chiswick, 1850, 4to.

[Reid's Life and Times of Sydney Smith, pp. 4–14; Annual Register, 1845, p. 258; obituary notice by Lord Morpeth in the Morning Chronicle, March 1845, reproduced as a preface to Early Writings; Harwood's Alumni Etonenses, p. 357; Memoirs of Sir James Mackintosh, i. 137, 208.]

E. I. C.