Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia

Goldwin Smith


[This text was written in 1938. For the full citation, see th end of the text.]

SMITH, GOLDWIN (1823-1910) historian and political journalist, was born at Reading , Oxfordshire , England , on 13 August 1823, son of Richard Pritchard Smith, M.D., and his wife, Elizabeth Breton. His father's family, of Yorkshire origin, was characterized by a tradition of county gentility, and several of its members had served in the clergy of the Church of England. His father had studied at Caius College , Cambridge , graduating M.B. in 1817, and M.D. in 1825. He was elected F.R.C.P. in 1826. His mother was eldest of a family of twelve, descended from a Huguenot refugee; she had been adopted by her uncle, a Mr. Thomas Goldwin, a West India merchant of Leamington , whose name was given to her elder surviving son. Frail in health, she died in 1833, after sharing in the fortune of her uncle.


In 1831 Smith entered Monkton Farley, a boarding-school near Bath , where he remained for five years; in 1836 he entered Eton College , where he studied rather harder than the somewhat lax régime of the day required. His Reminiscences recount in some detail the life in which he took part; here he met Edward Coleridge, his tutor, nephew of the poet, and Henry Hallam, younger son of the historian. From Eton he matriculated in 1841 into Christ Church College , Oxford , whence he went to occupy a demyship at Magdalen. Here he came under the influence of a classical tradition which strengthened his already marked interest in the humanities and modern thought. His summers were spent in travel on the Continent, in France , Italy , Switzerland and Germany . Matthew Arnold, Edward A. Freeman, the historian, and Arthur Hugh Clough, the poet, were at Oxford in Smith's days.


At Oxford , Smith won the Hertford scholarship in 1842, and the Ireland scholarship in 1845, together with the chancellor's prize for Latin verse. In this year he graduated with a first in literae humaniores. In 1848 he proceeded M.A., after carrying off two chancellor's prizes for Latin and English essays. He contributed Latin verse to the Anthologia Oxoniensis of 1846. Already he was becoming known as a pronounced liberal on religious and political questions.


He was a student at Lincoln 's Inn in 1842, apparently with a view to entering the legal profession, and seems to have spent a great deal of time in London as an alternative to Oxford . He was called to the bar in 1850, but found the law demanded too much of his physical powers. In this latter year he accepted an ordinary fellowship in University College , which he held until 1867.


Smith had been active in demanding a Royal Commission of inquiry into the administration of the University, and when such a commission was appointed at the end of August 1850, he became its assistant secretary. The report of 1852 satisfied many of Smith's liberal opinions, suggesting that religious tests be relaxed, that some of the medieval statutes be abrogated, that fellowships should be filled on a basis of merit, and that a teaching professoriate should be created. This task was only completed with the passing of the Oxford University Reform Act in 1854, and the completion of new regulations for the University in 1857. In these years he became a friend of Lord Ashburton, and met Carlyle and Tennyson.


Smith's earliest political associations were with the party of Sir Robert Peel; in 1850 he began to write for the Morning Chronicle , at that time an organ of the party. In later years he came under the influence of Cobden, Bright, and the Manchester School ; he was attracted by their ideal of universal peace and freedom, and was impressed by their conception of the duty of refusing any responsibility that might lead either to war or to persecution. Imperialism to Smith, in his youth as in his old age, would always foster a spirit of wanton aggression. The discontent in Ireland seems never to have been regarded by him as a product of imperialistic ideals and sentiments; his opposition to the rising sentiment for home rule was to be the cause of Smith's first attracting general notice in public affairs.


When the Chronicle stopped publication is 1853, its editor, John D. Cook, Beresford Hope, Sir Henry Maine and Lord Robert Cecil (later Marquis of Salisbury) and Goldwin Smith, composed the editing staff of the new Saturday Review. In the first number, Smith reviewed Tennyson's Maud. His later contributions are uncertain. In 1854 he reviewed Matthew Arnold's Poems by A ., for the Times, and contributed papers to the Oxford Essays between 1856 and 1858.


In 1858 Smith was invited to become a member of the Royal Commission on National Education, under the chairmanship of the Duke of Newcastle. In 1859 he was nominated by Lord Derby, then Conservative prime minister, regius professor of modern history at Oxford . For this he gave up his journalism and settled down to equip himself as a historian, building a house for himself on the northern outskirts of the city. As a teacher, he stimulated the thought and ethical sense of his hearers, rather than encouraging research. He sought to widen the old curriculum, and soon found himself active in many fields of controversy. In common with many nineteenth century Englishmen, Smith attacked the unquestioning acceptance of religious dogma, and plead quite frankly for rationalism in belief, publishing two tracts in defence of scepticism in 1861. In this year, he also published five Lectures on Modern History. In 1862 he paid a visit to his friend, Cardwell, chief secretary for Ireland , at his home in Dublin .


About this time Smith was employed as private tutor to the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), declining an invitation to accompany the Prince to Canada in 1860. His last years at Oxford were characterized by an increased attention to politics; the civil war in America moved him deeply. In this question he began as an opponent of the northern claim to an indivisible union, but was persuaded by the eloquence of John Bright that the principal point of controversy was the question of slavery. From that moment he protested with all his serious eloquence against the English commercial interests who were lending support and assistance to the Confederacy.


In September of 1864 he left England for a three-month visit to the United States , as a kind of envoy of the Liberal party to gather the real facts of the situation, in order to combat effectively Southern sympathy among the upper classes in England . His Does the Bible Sanction American Slavery found a wide public at the time. He met Lincoln, Lowell, Emerson, the historian Bancroft, and C. E. Norton. He visited the Federal armies before Richmond , and was made honorary LL.D. by Brown University . These three months enabled him to write an important series of letters to the London Daily News, and an effective pamphlet England's America (1865), which sought to show the fundamental harmony between the political philosophies of the two countries. Lectures and other publications continued the influence of this visit.


In 1867 Smith was appointed to membership in the Jamaica committee, established to investigate the alleged cruelties of Governor Eyre's suppression of a negro uprising; this activity brought him into close association with John Stuart Mill. The formation of a committee backing Governor Eyre, whose membership included Carlyle, Kingsley, Thomas and Ruskin, was denounced by Smith. This was followed by a bitter controversy with Ruskin, and the delivering of a series of lectures in various parts of England on Pym, Cromwell and Pitt. The next two years were spent in lecturing and pamphleteering; this series of lectures (1867) and his collaboration in Essays on Reform (1867) led to his being criticized by Robert Lowe as having an extravagant faith in democracy.


An accident to his father in 1866 led to Smith's withdrawal from the professorship at Oxford ; his father's ill health became mental derangement, ending in suicide, in October of 1867. The shock had considerable effect on Smith's nerves, and the acquisition of a modest competence made it necessary for him to withdraw from his fellowship at University College , reducing his tie to Oxford to an honorary fellowship at Oriel. "Having no very definite object in life," he writes at this time that he "thought of returning to America and further studying American history and institutions". A letter to the New York Tribune in January of 1868 explained that he was to make a lengthy visit to America "in order to study American history". About this time he met Andrew Dickson White, recently named president at Cornell University , Ithaca , New York , who was then looking for professors for the newly founded institution. Smith had already met Ezra Cornell in 1864 and was in strong sympathy with the proposal to found a non-sectarian university for men of moderate means. Hence the offer of a chair in English and constitutional history was gladly accepted. Smith refused remuneration in order to be free to lecture and arrange his work as he chose.


Undoubtedly this decision to leave a promising career in England was caused largely by the recent personal disaster, but one must also consider the slowness with which the reform of Oxford University was proceeding, the difficulty of attaining freedom of action in England , and the pleasing prospect of an active participation in the reconstruction era in the United States . Before he left England there was some discussion of his entering politics, and several speeches which he made on political questions were widely discussed. He published a pamphlet entitled Reorganization of the University in 1868; in this he argued for the extension of university opportunities to all classes, the raising of all standards, the broadening of the basis of fellowships, and various other changes in the administration. Smith must also be regarded as one of those who recommended the preparation of the Oxford dictionaries and the establishment of provincial universities in England , to undertake instruction in practical science.


In more practical sides of Oxford life Smith was always deeply interested. To his efforts was largely due the reversal of the Great Western Railway's decision to establish its repair plants at Oxford; with the aid of a member of the board of directors, an effective campaign was carried on which stirred up sentiment on the question in the University as well as among the officials of the company. Smith regarded the increasing athleticism of Oxford as an evil tendency; college rowing was to him largely misapplied energy. On the other hand he was inclined to encourage the rising volunteer movement.


Among his colleagues at Cornell were J. L. R. Agassiz, James Russell Lowell, and Bayard Taylor the Germanist. With these, Smith suffered the hardships of the first few years of the establishment of the University, boarding in local hotels and teaching in a huge building previously used as a hydropathic establishment. Smith seems to have adapted himself to these new conditions of life, for he writes in his Reminiscences (p. 374) that their "life was social and merry . . . I look back on those days with pleasure. No years of my life have been better spent". He also records a visit to the Oneida Community and other phenomena of American religious life. Smith spent only two years at Cornell, lecturing on history and again entering into controversial writing, this time aroused by the increasing hostility to England which he perceived in America . This he attributed to the rising opposition to the principle of free trade, fostered by manufacturing and commercial interests.


Another cause of annoyance was a bitter attack on his personal character and behaviour by Disraeli, in his novel Lothair. Smith wrote a letter to the Times of London in June 1870, in which he described Disraeli's reference to himself as the "stingless insults of a coward". Undoubtedly this attack started, or at least increased Smith's strong anti-Semitism, a tendency which is very apparent in the years immediately following.


He was visited at Cornell in 1870 by James Bryce (later Viscount Bryce), Prof. A. V. Dicey and Tom Hughes. In the same year he made an extended visit to Canada , going as far west as Winnipeg . He was becoming disillusioned with American politics, and early in 1871 sought more comfortable quarters with his relations. Mr. and Mrs. Colley Foster. In this way Toronto became his home for the rest of his life, his professorial duties at Cornell coming gradually to an end. He paid frequent visits to Ithaca up to 1872, when his professorship was changed to the title of non-resident professor, under which appointment he gave occasional lectures only. In 1874 he was made a senator of the University of Toronto , and was also a member of the Council of Public Instruction, representing the public school teachers of the province. In this year he was also first president of the National Club at Toronto .


In 1881 he retired from his non-resident professorship, retaining only the rank of lecturer in English history. In 1894 he received the title of emeritus professor. His interest in the welfare of Cornell was attested by the gift of his private library, and a supporting endowment of 14,000 dollars. He gave a stone seat to the university campus, with the inscription, "Above all nations is humanity," and his memory is perpetuated there in the name of the Goldwin Smith Hall. The residue of his estate was bequeathed to the same, university "for the promotion especially of liberal studies, languages, ancient and modern, literature, philosophy, history and political science".


On his arrival in Toronto in 1871, he began to contribute to the Toronto Globe, then under the editorship of its founder, George Brown. A favourable review of George Eliot's Middlemasch soon started a controversy with offended readers and Smith found it expedient to withdraw. His ventures in journalism from this time are numerous and varied. With a small group, he founded the Toronto Evening Telegram ; and on his own account, began the first of a series of short-lived periodicals, designed to express his own liberal opinions. The Nation ran for two years (1874-1876), and was followed (1882-1883) by the Bystander, which varied from a monthly to a quarterly. The Liberal (1875) was shorter-lived. In 1883 he began The Week, to which he contributed a regular article; this ended in 1886. During these years (1872-1897) he wrote regular essays on politics and literature, for the Canadian Monthly, later known as the Canadian Magazine. He also contributed to the New York Nation and Sun, to the Times and the Daily News of London , the Manchester Guardian, the Pall Mall Gazette, the St. James's Gazette, the Spectator, Macmillan's Magazine, Contemporary Review, and the Nineteenth Century.


On 3 September 1875, he married Harriet Dixon, widow of Henry Boulton of "The Grange", Toronto , who owned the famous old residence, once the rendezvous of the exponents of the Family Compact: this house became Smith's residence and here he lived until his death. There were no children of this marriage. His wife was the daughter of Thomas Dixon of Boston , and was born in 1825. After his marriage Smith had a fixed residence, for the first time since leaving his father's house in Reading : but his roving foot did not leave him, and he visited Europe, the Canadian West, and the United States at frequent intervals.


In 1876, Smith returned for eighteen months to Europe, where his optimism for North America was reconfirmed. He seems to have been glad to leave for Toronto again in the summer of 1878, where he found the scene changed by the general election, which had put the Conservative party in control of the government. However, Smith maintained his relations with England and English affairs by regular visits, by correspondence with his friends there, and by active participation in controversial discussion in the British papers. Occasionally he took part in public discussion of political affairs; a speech made at Reading in 1877, in which he discussed the development of material prosperity in England brought the hostile criticism of John Ruskin, and in Fors Clavigera he was ridiculed for confusing prosperity with progress. In 1881 he was chairman of the economics section of the Social Science Congress at Dublin and spoke on "Economy and Trade" in which he attacked protective tariffs.


Several things combined to prevent his return to England at the close of his life. He took an increasing satisfaction in watching the development of Canadian civilization and institutions, and there is little doubt that he was increasingly bound to Canada by the social ties of his wife. Probably, also, he felt less and less able to fare the uprooting of himself, morally and physically, from the comfortable home from which he could watch the rise of a new nation among the older peoples of the world.


Definite and concrete invitations to take part in British affairs were not lacking, however. In 1873 and 1878 he was urged to stand for Parliament in Manchester and Leeds, respectively; in 1881 he was invited to become master of University College, but this, as all similar inducements, were refused. In 1886 he electioneered for the Liberal Unionists in England , opposing Gladstone and home rule, and writing a pamphlet which was widely circulated, entitled Dismemberment no Unity. He apparently regarded the breaking up of the United Kingdom as quite different in nature from the cause of Canadian nationalism, remaining anti-Imperialist in his view of the world at large and distrusting the movement towards particularism in Europe .


The growth of Imperialism in the last years of the Victorian age was very disquieting to Smith. He continued to attack Joseph Chamberlain, who was colonial secretary from 1895, and violently opposed the Boer war, as did many Englishmen at home. His strenuous support of the cause of the Boers in the Canadian and the American press and his book, In the Court of History, the South African War (1902), were accused of the utmost in pacifism. Cecil Rhodes for Smith was a satanic influence.


American political life offered no consolation. Protective tariffs, the war with Spain, the annexation of the Philippines (1900) were very unsatisfactory developments in a country whose liberal past had meant so much to him, and he expressed his views with vigour in his book Commonwealth and Empire (New York, 1902).


In English affairs he was interested to the end: his share in the discussion of the fate of the House of Lords consisted of a suggested reconstruction on an elective basis. He could not, however, support its abolition, nor could he approve the growing socialist movement of the 1890's. He had signed J. S. Mill's petition for woman's suffrage, but even this movement he regarded in his later years as a menace to the state.


An outsider when it came to effective intervention in the conduct of affairs, Smith was always active in spreading ideas and encouraging enlightened discussion of major issues. From his arrival in Toronto he was engaged in the "Canada First" movement, which sought to create a sentiment of Canadian independence and self-sufficiency. In 1874 he joined the Canadian National Association and became president of the National Club, both groups being formed to promote nationalism outside of the recognized political parties. While the net result of this movement was not great, one may easily trace the sentiments herein expressed in the shades of Canadian Imperialism today. Smith overestimated the centrifugal forces in Canada and could not grasp the strength of the British tie, nor could he foresee the manner in which British policy would adapt itself to the requirements of the changing Empire. What was merely a sturdy moral independence meant a political change in Smith's eyes: but time was to show that the development of a civilization in the Dominion would not involve a cutting of the Imperial bond, but only a restatement of the relationship in terms of a new commonwealth.


"Canada First" the logical conclusion of a nationalist period, made little headway with an illogical people, and Smith turned from the advocacy of independence to the study of a possible union with the United States . Natural forces, he thought, would soon bring Canada into annexation with the larger power to the south: and Smith, always the rationalist, again failed to grasp the significance of sentimental ties in determining Canadian policy. His advocacy of the removal of tariff barriers between Canada and the United States of America he regarded as the application of sound free-trade principles; and he looked on tariffs against European and British products as necessary to the unification of the continent. The policy of commercial union brought him into conflict with leaders of all parties, intent on exploiting nationalism only so far as it was useful for political ends and not far enough to cause the submergence of the Canadian entity in a larger economic unit.


This movement for a commercial union seems to have reached a great height of activity between 1890 and 1892. Failure in the election of 1891 led to a reorganization in 1892 when the Continental Union Association was formed with the objective of the complete reunion by peaceful and constitutional means "of the Dominion of Canada and the United States of America. with the consent of Great Britain". Preparation for the elections of 1896 led to renewed activity and the taking up of the Canada Farmer's Sun, in which Smith was to print long articles every week until his death.


The victory of Laurier was not very pleasing to him for it was promptly swamped in the Imperialism of 1897. The part Laurier led Canada to play in the Boer war was deplored by Goldwin Smith: "Laurier's apostasy", he writes ". . . is now complete. I am very sorry for it; no one can fail to like the man personally and my own relations with him have been pleasant. But he was completely changed by his title and the jubilee".


Advocacy of various forms of union with the United States had brought Smith into the centre of a storm of abuse. His attack on the Canadian Pacific Railway as a politico-military project brought him into increasing conflict with the growing number of Imperialists in Canada, and his repeated and scathing criticisms of the office of the governor-general lent colour to his being denounced as a Republican and traitor. He came near expulsion from the loyal St. George's Society of Toronto in 1893, and refused the much discussed honorary degree offered him by the University of Toronto in 1896, because he felt that it was "likely to bring the University more annoyance and disturbance of its proper dignity than anything of the kind can possibly be worth".


His views on Canadian independence were the logical outcome of his early anti-colonial opinions. He felt that the colonial status prevented the attainment of the moral and physical self-sufficiency typical of an adult nation. Speaking of North America in general, he pointed out that it "is not democracy that is the evil. Democracy is the necessary lot of these new worlds". A by-product of his political thought was his finding himself at the end of his life in close and sympathetic understanding with that strange bedfellow, Henri Bourassa. A deep opposition to war, a belief in Canadian nationalism, a realistic perception of the North American circumstances - these things brought the English Smith and the French-Canadian Bourassa into a partnership against the Imperialism rampant in their day. Smith, however, at last admitted conversion to the view that Canada did not so much seek independence as a working union with the United States, similar to the relation of Scotland and England, merging without loss of identity. But Smith could not rightly be accused of disloyalty to England: "her interests and honour have ever been uppermost in my heart". He did not consider the "flunkeyism" of the "little court" in Ottawa as a necessary expression of the Canadians' attachment to England; rather it was a useless waste of money.


From his earliest manhood Smith had been interested in the reform of education on a pattern closer to the demands of 19th century rationalism and materialism. The inquiring into the University and its colleges in which he had been associated with Mark Pattison, Jowett, A. D. Stanley, and others, had given him an opportunity of discovering his skill in directing and strengthening the liberalizing movement in British education. He had found his powers as a reformer, and had seen, in his "Oxoniensis" letters to the Times , how effective journalism could be in these matters. Most of all, he found that he was much

better endowed as a writer than he could ever be as an orator. In general he was considered less than mediocre as an orator, yet he delivered one speech before the Toronto Bar during the Boer war which is a monument of inspired logic.


This educational interest had taken him to Cornell, and in a few years from his departure he was in these affairs again. On being urged by Egerton Ryerson and Oliver Mowat, he presented himself for election to the Council of Public Instruction, on which he served for some years. His writings frequently touched on the place and function of the university in Canadian life. As always, his standards were high and he insisted upon clear definition of terms. He proposed a reconstruction closer to the English model, free from political domination, attractive as a subject for private endowment. Professional schools he did not regard as proper members of a great university. Thus when he served on the Royal Commission of 1906, many of his recommendations were put into effect, but he was clearly overwhelmed by some of the more advanced phases of the constitution of the federated University. He was called on for advice and help in the finding of the new president.


His real affection was for Cornell. He had done much for Toronto , served on the Senate, helped to reform it, and been a friend and host of many members of its faculty. He had given it 10,000 dollars to commemorate Alfred the Great's millenary in 1901, and 7,000 dollars for Convocation Hall in 1903. He disagreed with co-education and female teachers, and tried in every way to maintain the English tradition of a university which perpetuated the culture of the past, although he saw clearly that the New World demanded rather "an emporium of knowledge which will lead to wealth". He could not finally resolve the conflict between the freedom of thought which true university education should create and the docility and efficiency on low levels sought by most employers of young men.


Smith, as a good democrat in theory at least, was a theoretical friend of labour. War was capitalistic, and the desire for peace made him a friend of the leaders of various left wing movements. He had met and talked with Louis Blanc, and had a high esteem for Mazzini, who impressed him "as really noble". Smith writes that Mazzini "seemed to me a genuine servant of humanity, regarding Italian nationality . . . as subservient to the general good of mankind". But these sympathies with the oppressed did not extend to the support of the labour unions, for these bodies seek their ends by coercion and strikes, and he opposed them, for attempting to violate the liberty of the employer and of the free worker. Thus Smith retained an aristocratic respect for property and wealth, a fact which illustrates his own theory that history progresses by imperceptible differences. He did not see that the Socialism he hated is the next step after democracy. Smith moved backward towards a more aristocratic ideal, after witnessing some of the excesses of which popular movements are capable. Universal suffrage was a nightmare to the latest of his attitudes: "Ignorance a million times multiplied does not make knowledge," he writes; and again, "the grossly ignorant and the totally irresponsible, instead of being metaphysically entitled to the suffrage, are morally and politically entitled to be exempted from the exercise of the power which they could only use to wreck the commonwealth". It follows that he was utterly opposed to the blind slavery which makes the strength of party rule; the endless extension of the franchise under this system led, he felt, ultimately to an anarchic convulsion returning to the rule of force.


Smith always prided himself on the breadth of his interests and his ability as a critic of literature. In 1880 he contributed a book on Cowper to the "English Men of Letters" series, and in 1892 a volume on Jane Austen to the "Great Writers" collection. Translations from Latin poets and the Greek tragic authors were less successful productions, and a volume published in Toronto in 1899, Shakespeare the Man , is little but an anthology of the more lyrical passages in the plays of Shakespeare strung on a slight thread of comment on the personality of the playwright. Historical writing was also undertaken, with indifferent results: a study of American history, The United States; an Outline of Political History, 1492-1871 (1893, and often reprinted), and his two volume study of British developments, The United Kingdom: a Political History (1899) were fairly widely read, being clear and agreeable presentations of the main facts, spiced with Smith's own prejudices and general opinions. His pamphlets are very numerous, and generally pointed and crisp in expression. He wrote a small guide-book, Oxford and Her Colleges (1894) and a descriptive volume, A Trip to England (1895, reprinted from The Week, 1888). Later in his life he published a number of volumes in which he recounted his associations and recollections of earlier days. In this period also (1897-1908) he wrote a good deal on the subject of religion, always from the point of view of the confirmed rationalist. In general he regarded the Old Testament as a millstone around the neck of Christianity. His agnosticism, as many other of his views, was scandalous to the orthodox, but he was regular in his attendance at church.


In religious matters he was a rationalist personally, but concerned as a public duty to restrain the movement towards atheism or agnosticism so apparent in his time. His writings in general expound the "modern" view that Christianity need not be impaired by the new science. Protestantism, closely associated with democracy, both historically and philosophically, was satisfactory for the superior intelligence that he was, but as his knowledge of the world grew, he was the more eager to see the perpetuation of the authoritarian and aristocratic society in which he had grown up. Thus he opposed the unrestricted immigration of the many races of Europe, he feared their ideas, their habits, their tendencies, and all the diversity of background and tradition which Canada could not hope to absorb.


Humanitarian in principle, he also sought to be humanitarian in practice. The Associated Charities, the S.P.C.A., the Toronto Athletic Club, and innumerable smaller funds received his enthusiastic support. A lifetime of public service was capped by the gift of "The Grange" to the city for an art gallery. This was Mrs. Smith's suggestion, not his, and sprang partly from her desire that the old house and the best of its contents might be preserved. Perhaps his numerous ventures into journalism should also be counted here: they cost him much in thought and money, to serve the public good as he saw it.


Smith, caustic and pointed in his comments especially when he felt it necessary to puncture the naive enthusiasm of Canadians for their local poets, responded to a request from Prof. L. E. Horning of Victoria College for his views on Canadian literature with the statement that "No such thing as a literature in the local sense exists or is likely ever to exist". He added that provincial differences would always limit the field of the Canadian author, that there were few readers among the Canadian leisure class, and that the presence close at hand of the numerous and wealthy reading public of the United States would always attract the efforts of the professional author in Canada. In sharp contrast with the optimistic views of Charles Mair, William W. Campbell, Duncan C. Scott, and others, this opinion was bitterly criticized, and regarded as unduly pessimistic, discouraging to those who were seeking to make a literature for Canada .


This episode was typical of his attitude to all Canadianist movements. Smith in England was a small part of a large and elaborate organization, but at least he was part of it: in Canada , he was a man of place and wealth, bearing no recognizable relation to the whole, an outsider, a "Bystander" as he knew himself to be. His mind perpetuated the eighteenth century vision of an exotic America promising wealth, order and simplicity, looking forward to the attainment of Utopian perfection long before Europe could hope to have it. A professed liberal, his liberalism hardened as the world advanced beyond him: to the end he clung to the old formulae, government must mind its own business, men are entitled to self-development, man must be "no more inclined to submit to the tyranny of majorities calling themselves the state than to the tyranny of kings".


Brought to Canada by the same restless idealism that had taken him to Cornell, Smith suffered much the same disillusionment in Toronto that he had previously experienced in the United States . From the first he found that the Canadians were not ready for his views: in 1868 he writes from the shores of Lake Simcoe that "the Canadians of these districts are unprogressive, but they are physically a very fine race, and kindly and courteous. They are intensely loyal, and exaggerate all English habits and prejudices". While his opinions are not so frankly expressed in later years, one may perhaps guess that his views had not radically altered. His preaching of the obvious destiny of the British tradition in Canada, his careful repetition of what was so apparently true, that the motives of his activities considered the good of England quite as much as the good of Canada, and that sentimental ties need not necessarily be sacrificed when new commercial arrangements are made, brought the thoughtless to regard him with such hatred that many years of his life were passed in an atmosphere sometimes approaching a social boycott. His extreme rationalism, his view of the overwhelming importance of the forces of geography and economics, his independent disregard of prejudice and sentiment alike, the somewhat arid legalism of his approach to human situations were badly understood in an age which sentimentalized with Tennyson and Dickens. His views roused dislike, distrust, and hatred, and the bad temper of his opponents led to a decline of his influence and a loss of his political following at the very time when the unperceived forces of social change were bringing about the very transformation of Canadian society he had foreseen. His plan for political and commercial union with the United States would always remain unrealized: but the similarity of culture and civilization, literature and popular taste, has become more perceptible every year. A letter to the editor of the New York Sun , of March 1909, recapitulated Smith's hopes and dreams for the reunion of the English-speaking race in America . The honorary LL.D. of Toronto was finally given him in June 1903; he was cited by President James Loudon as "a distinguished historian and thinker, one of the greatest living masters of prose writing, a respected and high minded citizen", a description which is neither more nor less true than most such eulogies. Loudon promised that Smith would be long remembered for his fearless expression of honest convictions, as well as for benefactions to the University. Endowed with more wit, and a sense of humour, sufficient to overcome his excessive respect for his own wisdom, he might have been remembered as one of the most penetrating observers of the Canadian scene. Interested "Bystander" that he was, he never achieved the detachment necessary to give his views the permanent significance of the social criticism of a Voltaire or a Bernard Shaw. Interested in controversy, his interest was always that of an advocate, waging violent warfare in a particular case in which a favourable decision was never possible, although the principles were ultimately sound. It was irony that Smith, clear-sighted critic of Canadian affairs, should have fought so hard with Canadians over what the forces of nature were to bring to the Canada which cursed him for a traitor. "Cultural identity and economic interdependence," says one writer, "have wrought silently what a brilliant mind and a lifetime of effort attempted to hurry, but probably delayed".


The last years in "The Grange" were a prolongation of his early days in England ; servants, habits, society, everything was planned as far as possible to make his house an "outpost of the gospel of the English gentleman". His wife made a thing of beauty of their life there: tea and dinners, their carriage and bays, spring in New Jersey , illustrious callers, Mrs. Humphrey Ward, Arnold , Morley, Dicey, Carnegie, and the rest. It was an oasis in Toronto , and Goldwin Smith opened it to innumerable Torontonians, especially the Round Table Club, which met fortnightly to eat, drink, and talk. Here he wrote his Reminiscences (published posthumously by Arnold Haultain, Macmillan , New York , 1910) a rich collection of varied memories and comments with an unsatisfactory thread of narrative, written in a pungent style.


The extreme sensitiveness of his youth seems to have been lost with age: but the "reckless aggressiveness" always remained. In some of his later writings one detects a touch of sourness and embitterment, due probably to the essential inflexibility of his mind and his dissatisfaction at the turn events had taken. It has been pointed out that his mental equipment seems to have been complete at an early stage in his life, and that he was always quite satisfied with its utility. Yet he took fifty years to settle down in life, and then entered upon a career of polemical journalism, during which period he turned from one periodical to another, always seeking a pulpit from which to preach. In Toronto at least he was regarded as a great man; the basis for this reputation seems rarely to have been questioned, his public being quite content to listen with unconvinced respect. His fame was without doubt due as much to his own serious self-confidence as to his facility of expression, unusual at any time in Canada . The man who could refer glibly to Victoria as "a Stuart upon a Hanoverian throne" or who could call the thought of Emerson "an avalanche . . . of unconnected pebbles . . . some of them transparent, some translucent, some to me opaque", was unusual enough to be regarded with awe. But the man who could persistently hammer out the tunes of "Canada First" and "Commercial Union" in the face of Imperial conferences, the Diamond Jubilee, the Boer war, and a dozen rabidly patriotic newspapers, was a phenomenon so rare as to be monstrous.


As a historian Smith seems to have been almost impervious to the positivism fashionable in his formative period. Science and its findings counted for much in life, but for Smith there was always character beyond, representing moral and aesthetic values which cannot be forgotten in even the most utilitarian and materialistic age. He did much to rescue historical studies at Oxford from the dilettantism of the past, and paved the way for the self-respecting professional historian of today.


His style is limited in its range, given to colourless development occasionally lightened by an epigram or pungent reflexion, usually stirred by a feeling of dislike. His conversation is said to have resembled his usual prose style. He avoided deliberate effects, sought to put his ideas as briefly and sharply as possible, sometimes eloquently, always clearly. Typical of his epigrams is a description of Napoleon III as "a political cracksman who with his legs under your table would be meditating a raid upon your strong-box". His opinions, of course, were usually strongly felt and clearly expressed, often to the point of unnecessary violence. But he succeeded in maintaining the respect of most of his opponents, living on good terms with those whose ideas he thoroughly disliked. The historian Dicey described him as the last of the pamphleteers, possessed of "every gift except two . . . a sound judgment and a real sense of justice". Thus he criticized Gladstone as excessively partisan, vain and ambitious, with a strong tendency towards casuistry.


Goldwin Smith perhaps was in the long run very little besides a journalist. History for him was part of the education of a statesman; history is a sermon, and its successful writing demands a clearly expressed judgment and interpretation on every controversial subject. The result was that as he approached his own time his work became, as Dicey wrote to Viscount Bryce, a series of striking criticisms, rather than a great history. His characters were often spoken of as personal enemies, treated with a tone of authority "which in the end breeds distrust". For Dicey, he was almost always unconsciously unfair: this quality was concealed by his dignity, his severity, and his accuracy. But he had a radical defect, a want of judgment, Dicey called it, which showed in every expression of opinion on contemporary problems, which meant that in the long run his views were unimportant to the judicious.


He gave the appearance of a man who drew further and further into the past, a man who never read a contemporary, even though that might be Bernard Shaw, George Meredith, Thomas Hardy; who knew nothing of the thought of his day, who offered little constructive criticism of it and no conclusive refutation. He was perhaps in the broader sense not a thinker; he was not even a critic. He was a man of principle gifted with a vitriolic pen which produced by some automatic device the answer to every problem. He was the reflective half of a man of action, not the philosophic conscience of his day. He was a journalist, less well endowed than Morley, less colourful than Carlyle, less intelligent than he thought.


His taste was in all things that of his age, neither better nor worse. His few ventures into literary criticisms are feeble and uninspired, for he seems to have had no understanding of the nature of poetry and its inspiration. His taste in painting was not good, "The Grange" was full of bad portraits, many of them copies.


In 1882 Smith was made a D.C.L. of Oxford and elected F.R.S.C. He was given an LL.D. by Princeton in 1896. In 1887 he was president of the Commercial Union Club of Toronto. He was at different times vice-president of the Canadian Land Law Amendment Association, chairman of the Loyal and Patriotic Union formed in Canada to aid in defending the integrity of the United Kingdom, president of the Liberal Temperance Union, and chairman of the Citizens' Committee (Toronto) for municipal reform. He was elected president of the American Historical Association in 1904.


Smith in his prime was well described by John Bigelow on the occasion of a visit he made to West Point in 1868: "He was tall, thin, of a dark complexion, baldish, nothing sympathetic in his manner or winning, though his smile when he indulged himself with one was pleasant. He appears like a man overworked, to whom conversation has become a fatigue". Forty years later, some of the same traits were noted by Mrs. Humphrey Ward, who remarked the liveliness of his glance and his activity at more than 80 years of age. However, we have it on other authorities that the man had an indisputable charm and courtesy of manner. An intimate contemporary relates an anecdote of an occasion on which Smith was entertaining the five or six members of the Farmers' Party (with which he was in thorough sympathy ) at "The Grange". One of them, wishing to express his appreciation of their host, rose saying: "Dr. Smith, your parents made a grave mistake in naming you. They should not have called you Goldwin Smith, but Golden Smith", which drew a grim smile from the subject.


The household at "The Grange" was described by a visitor as one long settled in service and linked not merely by hire but by mutual attachment to . . . master and mistress. On his eightieth birthday, Smith received a gift with this inscription, "please to accept this little gift from us servants in this house as a token of our admiration of you as a gentleman and an esteem and affection for you as a master". This gift became one of Smith's most cherished possessions.


His plan for turning "The Grange" over to the Art Association immediately after Mrs. Smith's death in September 1909 was interrupted by a bad fall in January 1910: complications ensuing on the breaking of his thigh caused his death on 7 June of that year. Of his estate, valued at over 800,000 dollars, 689,000 dollars went to Cornell University .


Portraits by (Sir) Wyly Grier of Toronto , painted in 1894, hang in the Bodleian Library, Oxford , and in the office of the Toronto Telegram. Another by John Russell was made for the Corporation of Reading, England. His birthplace, 15 Friar Street , Reading , is marked by a tablet. Smith was buried in St. James's Cemetery, Toronto .


[Morgan, Can. Men, 1898; J. J. Cooper, Goldwin Smith, D.C.L., A Brief Account of His Life and Writings, Reading, 1912; Dict. Nat. Biog., Second Supplement, Vol. II, London, 1912; University of Toronto Monthly, June 1903; R. A. McRachern, "Goldwin Smith", an unpublished dissertation, Toronto, 1934; W. E. Blake and Sir Edmund Walker papers in the University of Toronto Library; J. R. Robertson collection in the Reference Library, Toronto; A. D. White papers in Cornell University Library; manuscripts in possession of W. D. Gregory, Oakville, Ont.; T. Arnold Haultain, Goldwin Smith, His Life and Opinions, Toronto, n.d.; private information.]


Source: H.B. "Goldwin Smith", in Charles G. D. ROBERTS and Arthur L. TUNNELL, A Standard Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Canadian Who Was Who , Vol. 2, Toronto , Trans Canada Press, 1938, pp. 405-415. A few minor typographical errors have been corrected.


© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College