Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smith, John Russell

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SMITH, JOHN RUSSELL (1810–1894), bookseller and bibliographer, was born at Sevenoaks, Kent, in 1810, and was apprenticed to John Bryant of Wardour Street, London. He took a shop at 4 Old Compton Street, Soho, devoted himself to English topography and philology, and issued in 1837 his useful ‘Bibliotheca Cantiana; or a Bibliographical Account of what has been published on the History, Antiquities, Customs, and Family History of the County of Kent’ (large octavo). The titles are classified with collations and notes. Smith left two copies, with manuscript annotations, to the British Museum. Among his supporters was John Sheepshanks [q. v.], the well-known collector. His ‘Bibliographical List of the Works that have been published towards illustrating the Provincial Dialects of England,’ arranged under counties, 8vo, appeared in 1839, as well as ‘Westmoreland and Cumberland Dialects: Dialogues, Poems, Songs, and Ballads by various Writers in the Westmoreland and Cumberland Dialects, now first collected, with a copious Glossary,’ 8vo.

In 1842, on the occasion of the schism in the Archæological Association, one section of the members, including Thomas Wright, Mark Anthony Lower, Halliwell-Phillipps, and Henfrey, transferred their publications to Russell Smith. Increase of business caused Russell Smith to move to 36 Soho Square. Among the books he published there were Nares's ‘Glossary’ (edited by Wright and Halliwell-Phillipps), Barnes's ‘Dialect Poems and Grammar,’ Vernon's ‘Guide to the Anglo-Saxon Tongue,’ and Bosworth's ‘Anglo-Saxon Dictionary,’ abridged. He is best remembered by his ‘Library of Old Authors,’ an interesting and valuable series of reprints, chiefly of sixteenth and seventeenth century literature. The volumes, which were neatly printed by the Chiswick Press in small octavo, were for the most part carefully edited, and were issued between 1856 and 1875.

Among the catalogues of secondhand books issued by Russell Smith may be mentioned one of topographical prints, drawings, and books printed before 1700 (1849), ‘Shakesperiana’ (1864), ‘Americana’ (1865), tracts, twenty-six thousand in number (1874), and engraved Portraits (1883). He contributed the first complete list of English writers on fishes and fishing to R. Blakey's ‘Historical Sketches of Angling Literature’ (1855). Some copies were separately issued as ‘Bibliographical Catalogue of English Writers on Angling and Ichthyology’ (1856).

Smith retired from business about 1884, when his stock and copyrights were sold. The ‘Library of Old Authors’ was disposed of to William Reeves for 1,000l. He died on 19 Oct. 1894, at Kentish Town, aged 84. His industry and literary taste are noticed by Saunders (Salad for the Social, 1856, p. 46), and his ‘integrity in the publishing way’ by W. C. Hazlitt (Four Generations of a Literary Family, 1897, ii. 367). A portrait after a photograph is prefixed to his ‘Catalogue of Engraved Portraits’ (1883).

[Athenæum, 10 Nov. 1894, p. 644; Bookseller, 6 Nov. 1894, p. 1025; Allibone's Dict. 1870, ii. 2148.]

H. R. T.