Smith, was a British-Canadian historian and journalist.
was born at Reading, Berkshire. He was educated at Eton College
and Magdalen College, Oxford, and after a brilliant undergraduate
career he was elected to a fellowship at University College, Oxford.
He threw his keen intellect and trenchant style into the cause
of university reform, the leading champion of which was another
fellow of University College, Arthur Penrhyn Stanley.
the Royal Commission of 1850 to inquire into the reform of the
university, of which Stanley was secretary, he served as assistant-secretary;
and he was secretary to the commissioners appointed by the act
of 1854. His position as an authority on educational reform was
further recognized by a seat on the Popular Education Commission
of 1858. In 1868, when the question of reform at Oxford was again
growing acute, he published a brilliant pamphlet, entitled The
Reorganization of the University of Oxford.
the abolition of tests, effected by the act of 1871, many of the
reforms suggested, such as the revival of the faculties, the reorganization
of the professoriate, the abolition of celibacy as a condition
of the tenure of fellowships, and the combination of the colleges
for lecturing purposes, were incorporated in the act of 1877,
or subsequently adopted by the university. He gave the counsel
of perfection that "pass" examinations ought to cease;
but he recognized that this change “must wait on the reorganization
of the educational institutions immediately below the university,
at which a passman ought to finish his career.”
aspiration that colonists and Americans should be attracted to
Oxford was later realized by the will of Cecil Rhodes. On what
is perhaps the vital problem of modern education, the question
of ancient versus modern languages, he pronounced that the latter
“are indispensable accomplishments, but they do not form
a high mental training“ – an opinion entitled to peculiar
respect as coming from a president of the Modern Language Association.
held the regius professorship of Modern History at Oxford from
1858 to 1866, that “ancient history, besides the still unequalled
excellence of the writers, is the ‘best instrument for cultivating
the historical sense.” As a historian, indeed, he left no
abiding work; the multiplicity of his interests prevented him
from concentrating on any one subject. His chief historical writings--The
United Kingdom: a Political History (1899), and The United States:
an Outline of Political History (1893)--though based on thorough
familiarity with their subject, make no claim to original research,
but are remarkable examples of terse and brilliant narrative.
outbreak of the American Civil War proved a turning point in his
life. Unlike most of the ruling classes in England, he championed
the cause of the North, and his pamphlets, especially one entitled
Does the Bible sanction American Slavery? (1863), played a prominent
part in converting English opinion. Visiting America on a lecture
tour in 1864, he received an enthusiastic welcome, and was entertained
at a public banquet in New York.
1868 he threw up his career in England and settled in the United
States, where he held the professorship of English and Constitutional
History at Cornell University till 1871. In that year he moved
to Toronto, where he edited the Canadian Monthly, and subsequently
founded the Week and the Bystander, and where he lived the rest
of his life living in The Grange manor.
continued to take an active interest in English politics. He had
been a strong supporter of Irish Disestablishment, but refused
to follow Gladstone in accepting Home Rule. He expressly stated
that “if he ever had a political leader, his leader was
John Bright, not Mr Gladstone.” Speaking in 1886, he referred
to his "standing by the side of John Bright against the dismemberment
of the great Anglo-Saxon community of the West, as I now stand
against the dismemberment of the great Anglo-Saxon community of
words form the key to his views of the future of the British Empire.
He always maintained that Canada, separated by great barriers,
running north and south, into four zones, each having unimpeded
communication with the adjoining portions of the United States,
was a profoundly artificial and badly-governed nation, that was
destined by its natural configuration to enter into a commercial
union with the US. This would in turn result in her breaking away
from the British empire, and in the union of the Anglo-Saxons
of the American continent into one great nation.
views are most fully stated in his Canada and the Canadian Question
(1891). Though describing himself as “anti-Imperialistic
to the core,” he was yet deeply penetrated with a sense
of the greatness of the British race. Of the British empire in
India he said that “it is the noblest the world has seen
... Never had there been such an attempt to make conquest the
servant of civilization. About keeping India there is no question.
England has a real duty there.” His fear was that England
would become a nation of factory-workers, thinking more of their
trade-union than of their country.
forebodings were intensified in his Commonwealth or Empire? (1902)--a
warning to the United States against the assumption of imperial
responsibilities. Among other causes, that he powerfully attacked
were liquor prohibition, female suffrage and State Socialism.
All these are discussed in his Essays on Questions of the Day
(revised edition, 1894). He also published sympathetic monographs
on William Cowper and Jane Austen, and attempted verse in Bay
Leaves and Specimens of Greek Tragedy.
his Guesses at the Riddle of Existence (1897), he abandons the
faith in Christianity expressed in his lecture of 1861 on Historical
Progress (where he forecast the speedy reunion of Christendom
on the ”basis of free conviction“), and writes in
a spirit “not of Agnosticism, if Agnosticism imports despair
of spiritual truth, but of free and hopeful inquiry, the way for
which it is necessary to clear by removing the wreck of that upon
which we can found our faith no more.”
his later years he expressed his views in a weekly journal, The
Farmer’s Sun, and published in 1904 My Memory of Gladstone,
while occasional letters to the Spectator showed that he had lost
neither his interest in English politics and social questions
nor his remarkable gifts of style. He died at his residence, The
Smith is credited with the quote "Above all nations is humanity",
an inscription that was engraved in a stone bench he offered to
the Cornell in May 1871. The bench sits in front of Goldwin Smith
Hall, named in his honor. This quote is the motto of the University
of Hawaii and other institutions around the world (for example,
the Cosmopolitan Club at the University of Illinois). However,
modern readers are often surprised by the deep anti-semitism of
many of Smith's writings.