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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Goldwin Smith (1823–1910)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE LIBERAL movement in the politics and religious thought of the nineteenth century was adequately represented by the intellectual career of Goldwin Smith. Throughout his long life he was ever in the van of what he considered the progressive forces of the time. His conception of progress, as primarily a moral process, pervades the entire body of his writings whether he is dealing with the Canadian question, with the question of Home Rule, with the condition of the colonies, or with the temper of the Establishment. So convinced was he that the workings of the moral order exceed in strength all other forms of power, that he measured the importance and duration of various social and political institutions by the degree of their conformance to this order. In consequence he saw disintegration where others see permanence; and degeneration where others look for growth. The charge of being of a negative and destructive spirit has been frequently brought against him: he claims, however, by the tacit testimony of his books on politics and history, the privilege of a prophet, who can foresee reformation only through the intervening spaces of disorder and decay.  1
  The fundamental principle underlying his judgments of contemporary affairs is contained in his early lectures on the ‘Study of History.’ He applies the principle of historical development—the progress of mankind through the efforts of individuals—to present-day matters. To understand his conception of history is to understand to a degree his position towards the events of his time.
          “That the human race is in a real sense one; that its efforts are common and tend in some measure to a joint result; that its several members may stand in the eye of their Maker, not only as individual agents, but as contributors to this joint result,—is a doctrine which our reason perhaps finds something to support, and which our hearts readily accept. It unites us not only in sympathy, but in real interest, with the generations that are to come after us, as well as with those that are gone before us; it makes each generation, each man, a partaker in the wealth of all: it encourages us to sow a harvest which we shall reap, not with our own hands indeed, but by the hands of those that come after us; it at once represses selfish ambition, and stimulates the desire of earning the gratitude of our kind; it strengthens all social and regulates all personal desires; it limits—and by limiting sustains—effort, and calms the passionate craving to grasp political perfection or final truth; it fills up the fragment, gives fruitfulness to effort apparently wasted, and covers present failure with ultimate success; it turns the death of States, as of men, into incidents of one vast life; and quenches the melancholy which flows from the ruins of the past,—that past into which we too are sinking, just when great things seem about to come.”
  2
  It is this dispassionate spirit of world-citizenship, this ability to “look before and after,” which ever caused Goldwin Smith to attach himself permanently to no party, to hold fast by no creed, political or religious. His manner of life ever fostered this cosmopolitanism of thought and feeling. He is by birth an Englishman. He was born at Reading, Berkshire, August 13th, 1823; was educated at Eton, and at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was graduated with high honors in 1845; subsequently he was chosen Fellow and tutor of University College. In 1847 he was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn. In 1850, and again in 1854, he served as secretary to the Royal Commission of University Reform. From 1858 to 1866 he was a member of the Education Commission, whose labors resulted in the Education Bill of 1870. At the same period he was Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford. He had devoted himself early in his career to the study of contemporary politics. In 1861 he published ‘Irish History and Irish Character,’ in which he endeavored to explain the events of Ireland’s history by the temperament of her sons. In the same year he published the ‘Foundation of the American Colonies,’ and two years later ‘The Morality of the Emancipation Proclamation.’ He had made a most careful investigation of the causes leading to the Civil War; he understood the situation better perhaps than any one else in England. His support of the North was strong and persistent; during the period of the War, his letters to the Daily News went far to hold a clear picture of the situation before English readers. As was usual with him, he understood the importance of the moral question underlying the political; he foresaw the triumph of the Union, because it was in the stream of the tendency towards righteousness. In 1865 appeared his ‘England and America,’ and in 1866 ‘The Civil War in America.’ In 1866 he published also his ‘Lectures on the Study of History.’ These are of great value, not alone for their princely style: they exhibit a clearness of insight into social and political problems, and into the laws of historical development, not surpassed by any other modern historian. Goldwin Smith assumes that history cannot be studied as a whole until the moral unity of the race is thoroughly felt. He disclaims the theory of the positive school, that history is governed by necessary laws, and can therefore come under the domain of physical science; disclaims it on the ground that the moral element in it renders it just beyond the calculations of science. It is made up of the actions of men, and must be read in the light of moral rather than material laws. It thus becomes the highest of all studies,—the study of man’s struggles upward from the beast to the god. In another lecture on ‘Some Supposed Consequences of the Doctrine of Historical Progress,’ he endeavors to show that Christianity as a moral power has been ever on the side of civilization and advancement: where it has conflicted with progress, its dogmatic, not its moral quality has been in the ascendency.  3
  In 1868 Professor Smith accepted the chair of English History in Cornell University; in 1869 he published ‘Relations between England and America,’ and a ‘Short History of England.’ In 1871 he removed to Toronto, where he was made a member of the senate of Toronto University. From 1872 until 1874 he edited the Canadian Monthly; he was then for a time the editor of the Bystander, a political weekly. After the discontinuance of this paper, he edited the Week until 1881.  4
  In 1879 he published ‘Political Destiny of Canada,’ and in 1891 ‘Canada and the Canadian Question.’ He advocates the annexation of Canada to the United States. He bases his arguments for annexation upon what he believes is inevitable in the course of national development,—the union of the English-speaking races on the North-American continent. He is moreover a disbeliever in England’s imperialism: he does not favor the colonial system, being of opinion that the greatness of a nation does not depend upon the extent of the territory controlled by it; he believes, moreover, that England must lose her colonies, as they grow in strength and in individuality.  5
  In 1880 he published a ‘Life of Cowper.’ It is not equal to his ‘Life of Jane Austen’; perhaps because he was more in sympathy with the novelist’s common-sense and impersonal outlook upon life, than with the hypersensitive spirit of the gentle poet. In 1881 appeared ‘Lectures and Essays’; in 1882 ‘Conduct of England to Ireland’; in 1883 ‘False Hopes, or Fallacies, Socialistic and Semi-Socialistic’; and in 1884 ‘A Trip to England.’ In 1894 he published ‘Essays on Questions of the Day,’ and in 1899, ‘The United Kingdom, a Political History,’ in which his old skill in presentation and the strength of his convictions were once more exhibited. He was over seventy years of age, but his hand had not lost its cunning, nor was his natural force abated. ‘In the Court of History, the South African War’ (1902) and ‘Commonwealth and Empire’ (1902) deal with questions then predominant. ‘My Memory of Gladstone’ (1904) passed through another edition in 1909.  6
  In his books ‘Guesses at the Riddle of Existence,’ ‘The Founder of Christendom’ (1903); ‘Lines of Religious Inquiry’ (1904); ‘In Quest of Light’ (1906), and ‘No Refuge but in Truth’ (1908), he touches on them merely as one who cannot afford to linger long over what can after all, as he believes, be solved only in the domain of the moral nature, not of the intellectual life. His faith, like the faith of many of his contemporaries, would express itself in conduct rather than in the subtleties of creed. For that reason he is drawn to the contemplation of Christ as being in very truth the Light of the moral world.  7
  Of Goldwin Smith’s position in the domain of literature it is difficult to speak with justice. He was less a man of letters than a man of affairs; yet, as a writer of sinewy English prose he was not surpassed among his contemporaries. He handled words like delicate instruments which may assist to the birth or may deal death. For this reason, if for no other, he was a formidable adversary, a trustworthy champion. His English is the English of the scholar, whose taste and character have been formed by contact with the world as well as with Homer, Lucretius, and Virgil. His culture as a poet is shown in some admirable versions of Horace. Of the reasonableness of his opinions in religion and politics, future generations alone can judge with fairness. He is thoroughly representative at least of a transitional age in the political and religious development of the modern world. He died at Reading, England, on August 23, 1910.  8
 
 
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