The Rowers of Vanity Fair/Smith AL

Smith, Archibald Levin edit

“3rd Commissioner” (Spy), November 3, 1888 edit


He is the son of the late Francis Smith, Esq., J.P., of Salt Hill, Chichester, whose wife was a Miss Levin of the same place; and he perpetuates the names of both his parents. Born in 1836, educated at Eton and Trinity, Cambridge, he was called to the Bar eight-and-twenty years ago, when he commenced the successful career which has lately culminated in his appointment as Third Commissioner to inquire into journalistic Charges and Allegations the truth of which is now being so tediously investigated in Probate Court I of the Royal Courts of Justice. His education failed to make either a prig or a great scholar of him; but his legal experience and sound common sense have since combined to make him a Judge who has no superior amongst his puisne brethren. His rise has been as rapid as it was deserved; for he showed enough practical sense in his conduct of such cases as fell into his hands early in his career to impress Lord Justice Bowen, then Attorney-General’s “devil,” with his quality, and, as a consequence, he became himself an imp of less degree, being appointed the devil’s devil. That was all that was necessary to make the man, and when his master soared up to the Bench, Mr. Smith became a full-blown devil, in which capacity he counselled the Treasury so wisely that five years ago he was rewarded by being promoted to the position which he now occupies over the heads of all the Queen’s Counsel of the day.

He is not a very brilliant man, but his mental grasp is most comprehensive. He drinks in a new Act of Parliament while other men skim its first section, and intricate accounts in a big commercial case are a delightful exercise to his well-trained mind. He is very lucid, very popular, very good-natured, and very free from serious fault. He never acts, never wastes time, and never sermonises even to criminals when they are found guilty before him. He does not respect persons, he does not advertise, nor does he shirk the most unpleasant work. All which is high praise, but merited both by what he does and what he does not. Not having the gift of tongue in any marked degree, his charges to juries are choppy, and occasionally monotonous; but, being brief, clear, and always to the point, they are none the worse for that. There is only one more youthful Judge on the Bench; but there is also, take him for all in all, only one better. Being wealthy, he works rather for the good of others than himself; and having never been corrupted by Parliament, or by any other form of politics, he is extremely well adapted for the temporary office which he now occupies. He is always courteous even to the more foolish, and consequently more irritating, among juniors. He has much high spirit and much muscular strength; and his shoulders are types of the tremendous, with which he did stout service in the Cambridge Eight. He still loves exercise and the fresh air of Sussex. He is a jolly good fellow, who looks more like a sturdy English Squire than like the good Judge that he is. He is well favoured in all senses; and he wears a pair of pince-nez at the end of his nose.

Archibald Levin Smith (1836-1901) rowed for Cambridge from 1857 through 1859 and won all the Henley events he entered in the only year he rowed there (1858): the Grand with the C.U.B.C. and the Visitors’ and Wyfolds with First Trinity. In later years he regularly bet a new hat on the Boat Race with W.B. Woodgate, “on principle and from patriotism to his flag, even when public favour and market odds might seem to be dead against the hopes of his own club.”[1]

Smith featured in Vanity Fair three times in four years. First as shown here, when he joined Sir James Hannen and Mr. Justice Day to inquire into the “journalistic Charges and Allegations” by the Times affecting C.S. Parnell and other Irish nationalists. (In one occasion in that tribunal, Hannen denied thinking or saying something; Smith said “Nor I” and Day “made an inarticulate sound of concurrence”; but those reportedly were the only remarks of the two junior judges in the entire proceeding.)[2] This 1888 print is rare, since it and the other nine “red robed judges” of Vanity Fair have long been among the most collected “legals.” Smith’s second appearance was in the 1890 winter double number entitled “In Vanity Fair” (November 29, 1890), an unsigned composite reproducing the 1888 image. The third was in the following winter number, “Bench and Bar” (December 5, 1891) by “Stuff,” for which Vanity Fair wrote: “Of Puisne Judges here, best of all Common Law dispensers is Mr. Justice Smith, his common sense as English as his name; who when he notes joy and surprise on the face of the old offended whom he has sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, says bluffly, in vain attempt to hide his mercy, ‘Jones, remember it’s “hard!”’”

Smith joined the Court of Appeal in 1892. He became Master of the Rolls in 1900 following the death of W.B. Brett (Viscount Esher) in 1899 and the interregnum of Lord Alverstone, and died a year later.

The 1859 Boat Race: Cambridge Sinks, Smith Too edit

The morning of Friday, April 15, 1859 “was ushered in with heavy hail-charged clouds and half a gale of wind from the northward and westward,” Bell's Life reported. “Notwithstanding these drawbacks no less than fourteen steamboats assembled to witness the race, all crowded with spectators, and the number along the shore, both pedestrian and equestrian, was very great. Small boats there were few or none, as no one seemed to be so hardy as the crews. . . . [A]lthough the betting was 3 to 1 on Cambridge, good judges felt sure that the Cambridge boat would never live through the surf which was rolling.” Good judges were right:

[The start] took place at exactly one o’clock. A complete sea was on at the time, although it had just previously lulled, leading the spectators to hope the crews would yet start in smooth water, but as they got to their stations a furious squall of snow and wind speedily dispelled the hope. Oxford were on the Middlesex side, and Cambridge one buttress removed from them. The start was level, and it was a splendid neck and neck race for 100 yards. Here Oxford drew about a yard in advance and the water began to rush in torrents into the extremely frail bark which carried the Cantabs. This, as may be supposed, did not help them in their pace, and they were stern by about half their boat opposite Searle’s [boatyard]. Oxford continued to gain slightly, and were one clear length ahead at Rose Cottage. Here there was such a sea on that Mr. Hall [the Cambridge stroke] had his oar completely washed from his hand, but recovering it again in a moment, the race was continued with as much courage as before, the Cantabs pulling after their opponents in the most plucky manner, but losing ground at almost every stroke, till they reached Hammersmith Bridge, where there were nearly three lengths astern. Citizen J had several times come very near Cambridge, although repeatedly cautioned, and the screw Jackal again and again gave the Cantabs their wash. The Oxonians reached the bridge in ten minutes, and directly after Cambridge had gone through, Citizen J (chartered by Searle), in a most reprehensible manner, went right ahead of them, and much discomposed them. At the Waterworks there was nearly five lengths between the boats, both crews taking about thirty-eight strokes per minute, but although Cambridge was by this time almost full of water, they rapidly decreased the gap towards the end of Corney Reach, where the rowing of the whole crew was most beautiful and finished, while Oxford was keeping on in the same steady, workmanlike stroke. At Barnes they were only two lengths in advance, and the time from starting was 20 minutes 50 seconds. At this point the steamers that misbehaved themselves were the Jackal, Citizen L, a private boat, Citizen J, the Jupiter, chartered by Mr. Searle, and Citizen K, by Salter and Kelly, all of which were several times ahead of the Cantabs, who were still rowing very well, but it was all over. The bow-oar had been frequently covered with water, and opposite the White Hart at Barnes three waves washed completely over the boat: at the first warning the gallant crew, knowing what was coming, took their feet out of the stretcher straps and prepared for swimming, all except Mr. Smith, who had not learnt the art. At the fourth wave the boat sank completely under them, and it was almost a miracle they were not drowned, for the umpire’s boat, the Lady of the Lake, was close on their stern at the time; but the captain, in a very clever manner, immediately stopped his vessel, and life buoys and ropes were immediately thrown out. Mr. Darroch [No. 4] swam on shore, and all the others were fortunately picked up by various boats. The Oxonians were about three lengths ahead at the time, and probably accomplished the distance in 24 minutes 30 seconds, although they were so far ahead at the finish that the time could not be accurately taken.

The minute book of Smith’s college club, First Trinity, recorded: “In going up to the Starting Post the Cambridge Boat had nearly filled with water, and at the start it was known by her crew that she could not live through the race, and so perhaps the finest crew that ever left the University was beaten by a comparatively very inferior one owing to rowing in too low a boat on a rough day.”

References edit

  1. ^ W.B. Woodgate, Reminiscences of an Old Sportsman, p. 255.
  2. ^ Dictionary of National Biography.