Smedley, Francis Edward (DNB00)

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SMEDLEY, FRANCIS EDWARD (1818–1864), novelist, known as ‘Frank Smedley,’ born at Great Marlow, Buckinghamshire, on 4 Oct. 1818, was the only son of Francis Smedley (1792–1859) of Grove Lodge, Regent's Park, high bailiff of Westminster, who married, on 25 Sept. 1817, Frances Sarah, daughter of George Ellison of Alfred House, Great Marlow. His grandfather, James Smedley (1775–1853), of a Flintshire family, a king's scholar at Westminster school, and of Trinity College, Cambridge (1793–7), was usher at Westminster 1797–1804, and master of Wrexham free school 1804–9. Owing to a malformation of his feet, Frank Smedley became a permanent cripple and was debarred from going to Westminster school, where his name had long been held in esteem. He spent some months (1834–5) under the Rev. Charles Millett, a private tutor at Brighton, and was subsequently taught by his uncle, Edward Arthur Smedley (1804–1890), who was usher at Westminster from 1828 to 1836, and was also chaplain of Trinity College, Cambridge, and from 1836 vicar of Chesterton, near Cambridge. At Chesterton Smedley acquired his knowledge of university life, and there also his inborn love for open-air life and sports was confirmed; the sedentary existence to which he was condemned gave him a feminine alertness of perception. These characteristics, together with a quick rather than a deep sense of the humorous, are manifested in the ‘Scenes from the Life of a Private Pupil,’ which Smedley was encouraged by two cousins to contribute anonymously to ‘Sharpe's London Magazine’ during 1846–8; the ‘Scenes’ proved so successful that they were subsequently expanded into ‘Frank Fairlegh; or Scenes from the Life of a Private Pupil,’ and published in the form of a moderately long novel in 1850. A second edition was promptly called for and illustrated by George Cruikshank (other editions, New York and Philadelphia, 1850; London, 1854, 1855, 1864, 1866, 1878, and 1892). In 1850 he commenced for the same magazine ‘Lewis Arundel; or the Railroad of Life,’ which was published in 1852, with illustrations by ‘Phiz’ (i.e. Hablot Knight Browne [q. v.]) (London, 1855, 1867 and 1892, and Philadelphia, 1852). In the meantime he became, and continued for about two years, editor of ‘Sharpe's Magazine,’ at first without remuneration, and afterwards at a nominal salary. In it he published as a Christmas story the least successful of his tales, ‘The Fortunes of the Colville Family’ (London, 1853 and 1855, 8vo). In 1854 he edited three numbers of the short-lived ‘George Cruikshank's Magazine’ (to the first number of which Cruikshank contributed his characteristic ‘Tail of a Comet’), and, next year, in the ambitious form of shilling monthly parts, each with two illustrations by ‘Phiz,’ he issued his very unequal ‘Harry Coverdale's Courtship’ (London, 1855, 1856, 1862, 1864, 1867; New York and Philadelphia, 1861). While this was in progress he published, in conjunction with Edmund Yates [q. v.], a shilling book of nonsense verses entitled ‘Mirth and Metre, by two Merry Men’ (London, 1855, 12mo). He subsequently contributed a few papers to ‘The Train,’ a magazine founded by Yates in 1856, from which date his health began rapidly to deteriorate. In 1863 he purchased, as a summer retreat, Beech Wood, near Marlow. Next year, on May-day, he was carried off by a fit of apoplexy at Grove Lodge, Regent's Park. He was buried on 9 May at Great Marlow, a mural tablet being erected to his memory in the church. In 1865 some of his verses were collected in ‘Gathered Leaves,’ to which are prefixed an engraved portrait and a memorial sketch by his friend Edmund Yates.

To give a satisfactory picture of youth in a state of pupilage, which should entertain at the same time boys and their elders, is a difficult if not impossible task; but, after ‘Tom Brown's Schooldays’ (and excluding ‘Vice Versâ’), it is probable that no book has arrived nearer a solution of the problem than ‘Frank Fairlegh,’ the first few chapters of which represent the summit of Smedley's literary achievement. In obtaining his success, the author happily eschews any attempt at pathos and relies on well-devised incident and a genuine, if somewhat rudimentary, vein of pleasantry.

[Barker and Stenning's Westminster School Register, pp. 211–12; Gent. Mag 1853, i. 328, 1859 i. 440, 1864 i. 811; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. xi. 330; Gibbs's Buckinghamshire Worthies, p. 362; Athenæum, 1864, i. 649; Illustrated London News, 14 May 1864; Men of the Reign, 1885, p. 819; Allibone's Dict. of English Lit.; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. S.