Charlotte's gentle 'reader' became a trusted friend

William Smith Williams was the literary reader and joint owner - with George Smith - of Charlotte's publisher, Smith, Elder & Co. It was William Smith Williams who first recognised Charlotte's talent in her submitted manuscript for The Professor - although he rejected it. His letter of rejection was so kind and encouraging, though, that she soon tried again with the manuscript of Jane Eyre. This time she was successful.

A large number of letters from Charlotte to William Smith Williams still exists - although, sadly, very few from him to her. It is clear from what remains, however, that Charlotte leaned on Smith Williams for advice and reassurance, and even went so far as to offer him advice on his children's upbringing.

He began his life in literary circles with an apprenticeship to Fleet Street publisher Taylor & Hessey, and later opened a bookshop, which, sadly unsuccessful, he had to close. He was working as a bookkeeper for a lithographic publisher when he met George Smith, with whom he later set up in business.

Married at 25, William Smith Williams went on to have eight children; Charlotte visited his home and family on several occasions. 'He was my first favourable critic,' said Charlotte in December 1847. 'He first gave me encouragement to persevere as an author. She described him as 'a pale, mild, stooping man of fifty.'

The Dictionary of National Biography notes that he 'played a useful part behind the scenes of the theatre of nineteenth-century literature,' even though 'he was by nature too modest to gain any wide recognition', and that he 'cherished from boyhood a genuine love of literature, and received much kindly notice from eminent writers... Besides Keats, he came to know Leigh Hunt and William Hazlitt.'

Smith Williams died at his home in Twickenham the age of 77 in 1875, six months after retiring from business with George Smith, and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London.