William Small was an important illustrator of the 1860s onwards, who was very prolific and much imitated by lesser artists. He was trained in Edinburgh, but then moved to London. It has been said that his best work is from the 1860s, when he made line drawings showing good draughtsmanship. Later work tends to be lazier, and in wash. He illustrated in many of the periodicals, including Good Words and The Cornhill, and also drew for a variety of books of poetry, songs, and children's stories, he also contributed a very few drawings to Cassell's History of England. At his best, Small produced dramatic compositions, often with ambitious drapery and carefully worked out background detail.
A large, important picture by Small is his 'The Good Samaritan', which hangs in the Leicester gallery.