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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Edwin Lawrence Godkin (1831–1902)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
AMONG the men in the United States who through the agency of the press have molded intelligent public opinion, Edwin Lawrence Godkin deserves an honorable place. In the columns of the New York Nation and the New York Evening Post, for a generation he gave daily editorial utterance to his views upon economic, civic, political, and international questions, this work being supplemented by occasional incisive and scholarly articles in the best periodicals. His clientèle was drawn mainly from that powerful minority which is made up of the educated, thoughtful men and women of the country. To this high function Mr. Godkin contributed exceptional gifts and qualifications; and that in its exercise he was a force for good, is beyond dispute.  1
  Born in Moyne, Ireland, in 1831, he was educated at Queen’s College, Belfast. Then came the more practical education derived from a familiarity with men and things, for in early manhood he began newspaper work as war correspondent, in Turkey and the Crimea, of the London Daily News. As correspondent of this paper he came to the United States and settled here, being admitted to the New York bar in 1858. But journalism was to be his life work; and in 1865 he became the editor of The Nation, a weekly,—succeeding the Round Table, but at once taking a much more important place as a journal of political and literary discussion,—and the next year its proprietor. In 1881 he also became one of the owners and the controlling editor of the New York Evening Post, a daily, and his contributions henceforth appeared in both papers, which bore to each other the relation of a daily and weekly edition. Thus he was in active journalistic service for nearly forty years.  2
  From this slight biographical outline it may be seen that Mr. Godkin brought to the pursuit of his profession and to the study of American institutions some valuable qualifications. A college-bred man of wide experience, an adoptive American able to judge by the method, a careful student of the philosophy of government, from Aristotle to Sir Henry Maine, his views combined in an unusual degree the practical and the theoretical. No doubt he had in his writings what to some might have seemed the defect of his quality. There was in him a certain haughtiness of temper, and what seemed like impatient contempt for the opponent in argument, which, conjoined with a notable power of invective and satire in dealing with what he deemed to be fallacious, was likely to arouse opposition. Hence the feeling in some quarters that Mr. Godkin is not at heart an American, but a captious critic, with sympathies ill suited to a democratic government.  3
  This opinion is not justified by a fair examination of his writings. He had on the contrary and in the true sense proved himself a true American. He spoke wise words upon many of the social and political problems of our day. He defended democracy from the charge of failure, pointing out that here in the United States social defects, wrongly ascribed by foreign critics to the form of government, have been incidental to the settling of a vast new country. He stated with clearness and cogency the inadvisability of allowing the government paternal power in finance and tariff legislation. He preached the difference between cheap jingoism or political partisanship, and the enlightened Americanism which puts its finger upon weak points, criticizing in order to correct and purify. Mr. Godkin, in this, was a consistent worker in a cause of which Lowell was a noble prophet. And in regard of literary excellence, his editorial writing is often a model of lucid, sinewy English style; while his more deliberated essays were admirable for calm dignity, polish, and organic exposition, with an air of good breeding over it all. His death occurred in England on May 20, 1902.  4
 
 
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