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Papers of Charles Lesingham Smith (1806-1878)

Reference Code: GBR/1849/FP/44-52


  • 1850 - 1878


Conditions Governing Access

As far as we know, there are no legal or other restrictions on access to any of the Lesingham Smith materials.

Biographical / Historical

Not much is known about Charles Lesingham Smith’s parentage or early life. He was born in Gloucestershire in 1806, and admitted to Christ’s College in 1825 to study mathematics. After taking his B.A. as 5th Wrangler in 1829, and his M.A. in 1832, he remained at the College as a Fellow till 1839. In April of that year he was presented by the College to the living of Little Canfield in Essex, and here he remained for the rest of his life.

He appears to have been very happy and integrated into local life at Little Canfield. In 1870 he published a small volume of poems entitled Home Recollections and Village Scenes, in which he writes affectionately of the village church, feast and school, and even his neighbour’s dog! He built a new rectory, which from illustrations appears to be a very large house for a single man and his three domestic servants. He also restored the church at his own expense, in recognition of which he was presented in 1858, by his parishioners and friends, with a magnificent silver salver, now in the care of Christ’s College. It was inscribed to him “as a memorial of his liberality in improving and ornamenting the parish church”.

In 1870 he began to keep a daily diary, and the three volumes given to the library by his great-great-niece in Australia make delightful reading. In them he writes about family, his neighbours and visitors, his reading material, letters received (sometimes transcribed in full), sermon subjects, church furnishings, world events, nature. He is constantly aware of and full of praise to God for the blessings he enjoys. In later years he had a curate called Backhouse, who seems to have been over-keen to take on the rector’s duties. On December 13th 1874 CLS records that “Backhouse looked most dismal when he saw me enter the vestry”; the following Sunday “I was really sorry to disappoint him, knowing that he felt sure of having all the duty to himself”. On another occasion: “I took my usual share of work in spite of Backhouse’s repeated suggestion that I should stay at home in the afternoon; he had a sermon ready. So had I”. Backhouse, however, got the better of CLS on at least one occasion: on a Sunday of “tempestuous” weather “Backhouse took fright, and having brought sandwiches he stayed where he was [between morning and afternoon service] … I gave in and turned back, doubtless to the great delight of my zealous curate”.

An earlier foray into journal-keeping, when he was much younger, resulted in the publication in 1837 of Excursions Through the Highlands and Isles of Scotland. This is a fascinating account of a walking tour undertaken in the summers of 1835 and 1836, written “often in discomfort and fatigue, and occasionally even in hunger and cold”. Since this is Scotland, scenery, people, hospitality, weather and midges occupy many of its pages. Also making an appearance are beautiful and detailed sketches in the author’s own hand. These, together with others done in Venice, Rome and the Lake District, reappear in a sketch book which forms part of the donation to the library.

CLS was an amateur poet, and in 1842 published a volume of poems in which the titles range from "Written under Milton’s Mulberry Tree" to "To a Roast Leg of Mutton"! He also translated some classical works, notably Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered. Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize, records that he received a letter in 1868 from CLS praising his (Nobel’s) poem A Riddle, and almost comparing it to Paradise Lost.

It is from Lesingham Smith's passion for book-collecting that Christ’s College has most benefited. An enthusiastic acquisitor of material on art, classics and mathematics, he left his collection of mathematics (including physics, mechanics and astronomy) books to the College on his death. This handsome collection includes, among other books by Galileo, a rare edition of the Sidereus Nuncius, the first scientific treatise based on observations made through a telescope.

In spite of his generosity to those around him and his collecting habit, on his death in 1878 he left the sum of £16,000, over £1m. in today’s terms.

(Note by Jane Gregory of Christ's College Library, lightly edited)


9 archive box(es) (9 clamshell boxes (each approximately 15" x 10"), numbered 44-52 in the College's Fellows' Papers collection)

Language of Materials



Summary of contents of the 9 boxes (Fellows' Papers, boxes 44-52):

44. Diaries, poems and sketchbook of Charles Lesingham Smith [CLS] // 45. Notes, articles, letters and photocopies of material by CLS // 46. Notebooks on mathematical subjects belonging to CLS // 47. Notes on mathematics by CLS // 48. Further notebooks on mathematical subjects in CLS's hand // 49. MS of 'Fergolds Geometrical Treatise" by CLS // 50. Notes on scientific writings by CLS // 51. Notes on classical and biblical subjects by CLS // 52. Miscellaneous material concerning CLS

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Much of the material was donated to the College in 1960 and 2008.

Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Christ's College Archives Repository

Christ's College Library and Archives
Christ's College
St Andrew's Street
Cambridge CB2 3BU United Kingdom