Goldwin Smith

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Goldwin Smith
Goldwin Smith.jpg
Born(1823-08-13)13 August 1823
Reading, England
Died7 June 1910(1910-06-07) (aged 86)
The Grange, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Resting placeSt James's Cemetery
EducationEton College
Alma materMagdalen College, Oxford
TitleRegius Professor of Modern History
PredecessorHenry Halford Vaughan
SuccessorWilliam Stubbs
Parent(s)Richard Pritchard Smith, Elizabeth Breton
The Signature of Goldwin Smith.jpg

Goldwin Smith (13 August 1823 – 7 June 1910) was a British historian and journalist, active in the United Kingdom and Canada.[1] In the 1860s he also taught at Cornell University in the United States.

Life and career[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

Smith was born at Reading, Berkshire.[2] 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.[3] He threw his energy into the cause of university reform with another fellow of University College, Arthur Penrhyn Stanley. On the Royal Commission of 1850 to inquire into the reform of the university, of which Stanley was secretary, Smith served as assistant-secretary; and he was then secretary to the commissioners appointed by the act of 1854. His position as an authority on educational reform was further recognised by a seat on the Popular Education Commission of 1858.[4] In 1868, when the question of reform at Oxford was again growing acute, he published a pamphlet, entitled The Reorganization of the University of Oxford.

In 1865, he led the University of Oxford opposition to a proposal to develop Cripley Meadow north of Oxford railway station for use as a major site of Great Western Railway (GWR) workshops.[5] His father had been a director of GWR. Instead the workshops were located in Swindon. He was public with his pro-Northern sympathies during the American Civil War, notably in a speech at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester in April 1863 and his Letter to a Whig Member of the Southern Independence Association the following year.[2]

Besides the Universities Tests Act 1871, which abolished religious tests, many of the reforms suggested, such as the revival of the faculties, the reorganisation 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. Smith gave the counsel of perfection that "pass" examinations ought to cease;[6] but he recognised 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." His aspiration that colonists and Americans should be attracted to Oxford was later realised by the will of Cecil Rhodes.[7] 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.

Oxford years[edit]

Portrait of Goldwin Smith, by Sir Edmund Wyly Grier, 1894.

He 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.

The 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. Andrew Dickson White, president of Cornell University at Ithaca, N.Y., invited him to take up a teaching post at the newly founded institution. But it was not until a dramatic change in Smith’s personal circumstances that led to his departure from England in 1868, that he took up the post. He had resigned his chair at Oxford in 1866 in order to attend to his father, who had suffered permanent injury in a railway accident. In the autumn of 1867, when Smith was briefly absent, his father took his own life. Possibly blaming himself for the tragedy, and now without an Oxford appointment, he decided to move to North America.[8]

Cornell years[edit]

Goldwin Smith (center) and Andrew Dickson White (behind him, with top hat) at the opening of Goldwin Smith Hall, 1906.

Smith's time at Cornell was brief, but his impact there was significant. He held the professorship of English and Constitutional History in the Department of History at Cornell University from 1868 to 1872.[9] The addition of Smith to Cornell's faculty gave the newly opened university "instant credibility."[9] Smith was something of an academic celebrity, and his lectures were sometimes printed in New York newspapers.[10]

During Smith's time at Cornell he accepted no salary and provided much financial support to the institution.[11] In 1869 he had his personal library shipped from England and donated to the university.[11] He lived at Cascadilla Hall among the students, and was much beloved by them.[11]

In 1871 Smith moved to Toronto to live with relatives, but retained an honorary professorship at Cornell and returned to campus frequently to lecture.[11] When he did, he insisted on staying with the students at Cascadilla Hall rather than in a hotel.[11] Smith bequeathed the bulk of his estate to the University in his will.[11]

Smith's abrupt departure from Cornell was credited to several factors, including the Ithaca weather, Cornell's geographic isolation, Smith's health, and political tensions between Britain and America.[12] But the decisive factor in Smith's departure was the university's decision to admit women.[12][10] Goldwin Smith told White that admitting women would cause Cornell to "sink at once from the rank of a University to that of an Oberlin[note 1] or a high school" and that all "hopes of future greatness" would be lost by admitting women.[12]

Goldwin Smith Hall

On June 19, 1906 Goldwin Smith Hall was dedicated, at the time Cornell's largest building and its first building dedicated to the humanities, as well as the first home to the College of Arts and Sciences.[9][13] Smith personally laid the cornerstone for the building in October 1904 and attended the 1906 dedication.[13] The Cornell Alumni News observed on the occasion, "To attempt to express even in a measure the reverence and affection which all Cornellians feel for Goldwin Smith would be attempting a hopeless task. His presence here is appreciated as the presence of no other person could be."[13]:452–453


In Toronto, Smith he edited the Canadian Monthly, and subsequently founded the Week and the Bystander,[14][15] and where he spent the rest of his life living in The Grange manor.[16][17]

In 1893, Smith was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.[18] In 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 in Toronto, The Grange.

Political views[edit]

He continued to take an active interest in English politics. As a Liberal, he opposed Benjamin Disraeli,[19] and was a strong supporter of Irish Disestablishment, but refused to follow Gladstone in accepting Home Rule.[20] He expressly stated that "if he ever had a political leader, his leader was John Bright, not Mr Gladstone." Causes that he powerfully attacked were Prohibition, female suffrage[21] and state socialism, as he 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. In his Guesses at the Riddle of Existence (1897), he abandoned the faith in Christianity that he had expressed in his lecture of 1861, Historical Progress, in which he forecast the speedy reunion of Christendom on the "basis of free conviction," and wrote 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."


Smith was considered a devout Anglo-Saxonist, deeply involved with political and racial aspects of English nationhood and British colonialism.[22] He believed the Anglo-Saxon "race" excluded Irish people but could extend to Welsh and Lowland Scots within the context of the United Kingdom's greater empire.[23] 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 the East." These words form the key to his views of the future of the British Empire and he was a leading light of the anti-imperialist "Little Englander" movement.

Smith thought that Canada was destined by geography to enter the United States. In his view, separated as it is by north-south barriers, into zones communicating naturally with adjoining portions of the United States, it was an artificial and badly-governed nation. It would break away from the British Empire, and the Anglo-Saxons of the North American continent would become one nation.[24][25] These views are most fully stated in his Canada and the Canadian Question (1891). Donald Creighton writes that Smith was most ably rebutted by George Monro Grant in the Canadian Magazine.[26]

Bust of Goldwin Smith, by Alexander Munro, 1866.

British imperialism[edit]

Smith identified as an anti-imperialist, describing himself as "anti-Imperialistic to the core," yet he was 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. He was also opposed to Britain granting more representative government to India, expressing fear that this would lead to a "murderous anarchy."[27][28]

Goldwin Smith, photo by Notman & Fraser.

His opinion of British activity in the Transvaal was well voiced in the Canadian press and in his book In The Court of History: An Apology of Canadians Opposed to the Boer War (1902). This work is a fascinating articulation of pacifist opposition to the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899–1902. It is important because it is amongst the few expressions of opposition toward from the perspective of an Anglo-colonial settler. His anti-imperialism was intensified and made manifest in his Commonwealth or Empire? (1902), a warning to the United States against the assumption of imperial responsibilities.


Smith had virulently anti-Jewish views.[29] Labelled as "the most vicious anti-Semite in the English-speaking world", he referred to Jews as "parasites" who absorb "the wealth of the community without adding to it".[30] Research by Glenn C. Altschuler and Isaac Kramnick has studied Smith's writings, which claimed that Jews were responsible for a form of "repulsion" they provoked in others, due to his assertion of their "peculiar character and habits", including a "preoccupation with money-making", which made them "enemies of civilization". He also denigrated brit milah, or circumcision, as a "barborous rite", and proposed assimilating Jews or deporting them to Palestine as a solution to the "Jewish problem".[31]

Smith wrote, "The Jewish objective has always been the same, since Roman times. We regard our race as superior to all humanity, and we do not seek our ultimate union with other races, but our final triumph over them."[32][33][34] He had a strong influence on William Lyon Mackenzie King and Henri Bourassa.[35]

He proposed elsewhere that Jews and Arabs were of the same race.[36] He also believed that Islamic oppression of non-Muslims was for economic factors.[37]


Goldwin Smith is credited with the quote "Above all nations is humanity," an inscription that was engraved in a stone bench he offered to Cornell in May 1871. The bench sits in front of Goldwin Smith Hall, named in his honour. 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 at Urbana–Champaign).[38]

Another stone bench inscribed with the motto, sits on the campus of Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. It sits with a clear view down onto the city.

After his death, a plaque in his memory was erected outside his birthplace in the town centre of Reading. This still exists, outside the entrance to the Harris Arcade.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Note: Oberlin College had been coeducational since its founding in 1833





  1. ^ Underhill, Frank Hawkins (1960). "Goldwin Smith." In: In Search of Canadian Liberalism. Toronto: Macmillan & Co., pp. 85–103.
  2. ^ a b Kent, Christopher A. (2004). "Smith, Goldwin (1823–1910)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press.
  3. ^ Grant, W.L. (1910). "Goldwin Smith at Oxford," The Canadian Magazine, Vol. XXXV, pp. 304–314.
  4. ^ Waldron, Gordon (1912). "Goldwin Smith," University Monthly 12, p. 214.
  5. ^ Brock, M. G.; Curthoys, M.C., eds. (1998). The History of the University of Oxford. Volume VI: Nineteenth-Century Oxford. Oxford University Press. p. 459. ISBN 978-0-19-951016-0.
  6. ^ "Tests in the English Universities," The North British Review, Vol. III, New Series, March/June 1865, pp. 107–136.
  7. ^ "Cecil Rhodes's Bequests," The New York Times, 13 April 1902, p. 10.
  8. ^ Dictionary of Canadian Biography, on-line, Retrieved 12.02.2017
  9. ^ a b c "Goldwin Smith Portrait". Cornell University Library Digital Collections. Cornell University Library. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  10. ^ a b Philips, Paul T. (2002). The Controversialist: An Intellectual Life of Goldwin Smith. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 49–50. ISBN 9780275976118. Retrieved 3 February 2020.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Gaffney, Patricia (1971). Goldwin Smith Papers at Cornell University (PDF). Ithaca, New York: John M. Olin Library. pp. 1–16. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  12. ^ a b c Conable, Charlotte Williams (1977). Women at Cornell: The Myth of Equal Education. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. pp. 76-77. ISBN 0-8014-9167-3.
  13. ^ a b c "New Building Dedicated" (PDF). Cornell Alumni News. VIII (37): 443. 20 June 1906. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  14. ^ Adam, G. Mercer (1904). "Professor Goldwin Smith," The Canadian Magazine, Vol. XXIV, No. 2, p. 113.
  15. ^ Wallace, W.S. (1910). "'The Bystander' and Canadian Journalism," The Canadian Magazine, Vol. XXXV, pp. 553–558.
  16. ^ Plummer, Kevin (2008). "Historicist: An English Estate in the Heart of the City," Torontoist, 19 July.
  17. ^ Yeigh, Frank (1899). "Goldwin Smith at Home," The Book Buyer 18, April, pp. 195–199.
  18. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  19. ^ Lindemann, Albert (1997). Esau's Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews. Cambridge University Press, pp. 249–250.
  20. ^ Ross, Malcolm (1959). "Goldwin Smith." In: Our Living Tradition: Seven Canadians. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 29–47.
  21. ^ Smith, Goldwin (1883). "Woman Suffrage." In: Essays on Questions of the Day. London: Macmillan & Co., pp. 183–218.
  22. ^ Kohn, Edward P. (2004). This Kindred People: Canadian-American Relations and the Anglo-Saxon Idea, 1895–1903. McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-7735-2796-6. Chief among the movement's advocates was Goldwin Smith, former Oxford don, founder of the Commercial Union Club of Canada, and devout Anglo-Saxonist. Smith, an anti-imperialist, viewed Canada's connection to a distant colonial powers as unnatural and believed Canada's ultimate destiny was to unite with the United States.
  23. ^ Bueltmann, Tanja; Gleeson, David T.; MacRaild, Don (2012). Locating the English Diaspora, 1500–2010. Liverpool University Press. p. 125. ISBN 978-1-84631-819-1. Therefore, it was perhaps for want of the strengthening of Anglo-Saxon superiority that Anglo-Saxonism was not automatically defined as exclusively English. While, for Goldwin Smith, the Irish were certainly excluded, Anglo-Saxonism could be used more inclusively, at times embracing Welsh and (Lowland) Scots.
  24. ^ Grant, George M. (1896). "Canada and the Empire: A Rejoinder to Dr. Goldwin Smith," Canadian Magazine 8, pp. 73–78.
  25. ^ Colquhoun, A.H.U. (1910). "Goldwin Smith in Canada," The Canadian Magazine, Vol. XXXV, pp. 318–321.
  26. ^ Creighton 1970, p. 77
  27. ^ Dhar, Bishan Narayan (1892). Eminent Indians on Indian Politics. Bombay: Printed at the Education Society's Steam Press, p. 493.
  28. ^ Majumdar, B. B. (1965). Indian Political Associations and Reform of Legislature 1818–1917. Calcutta, India: Firma K. L. Mukopadhyay, p. 343.
  29. ^ "Goldwin Smith's Anti-Semitism Fuels Anger". The Cornell Daily Sun. 30 April 2009.
  30. ^ "The anti-semites: Goldwin Smith". Ottawa Citizen. 23 August 2010. McMaster University professor Alan Mendelson declares that Smith was "perhaps the most vicious anti-Semite in the English-speaking world." He spread hatred of Jews in dozens of books, articles and letters. Smith considered Jews to be "parasites" who absorb "the wealth of the community without adding to it."
  31. ^ "Goldwin Smith: Anti-Semite?" (PDF). History_of_Cornell_University#Giving_and_alumni_involvement. 3 March 2009.
  32. ^ Smith, Goldwin (1881). "The Jewish Question." In: Essays on Questions of the Day. London: Macmillan & Co., pp. 221–260.
  33. ^ Anti-Semitism in Canada, The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  34. ^ Hutzler, Charles (1898). "The Jews of Germany and the Anti-Semitic Question," The Jewish South, Vol. IX, No. 17, pp. 4–6.
  35. ^ Tulchinsky, Gerald (2008). Canada's Jews: A People's Journey. University of Toronto Press, p. 135.
  36. ^ Goitein, S.D. (1974). Jews and Arabs: Their Contacts through the Ages. New York: Schocken Books.
  37. ^ Ye'or, Bat (1985). The Dhimmi: Jews & Christians Under Islam. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, p. 324.
  38. ^ Cosmopolitan Club at the University of Illinois Archived 23 May 2006 at the Wayback Machine at
  39. ^ "Remind Me: Who Was Goldwin Smith?". Reading Forum. Retrieved 9 February 2010.
  40. ^ Stevenson, J.F. (1881). "Mr. Goldwin Smith's Lectures and Essays," Canadian Monthly and National Review, Vol. VII, pp. 429–433.
  41. ^ Lucas, D. V. (1885). The Twins: A Reply to the Anti-Scott Act Address of Mr. Goldwin Smith. Montreal: "Witness" Printing.
  42. ^ "Goldwin Smith and the Riddle of Existence," The Living Age, Vol. 213, 1897, pp. 488–491.
  43. ^ Fenton, W.J. (1898). The Riddle of Existence Solved: or, An Antidote to Infidelity. Toronto: Henderson & Co.
  44. ^ "Review: The United Kingdom: a Political History by Goldwin Smith". The Athenæum (3767): 5–6. 6 January 1900.
  45. ^ Spargo, John (1907). Capitalist and Laborer; An Open Letter to Professor Goldwin Smith, D.C.L., in Reply to his Capital and Labor[permanent dead link]. Chicago: C.H. Kerr & Company.
  46. ^ Rep. in Canadian Monthly and National Review, Vol. II, July/December 1872.
  47. ^ Cairnes, J. C. (1874). "Woman Suffrage: A Reply to Mr. Goldwin Smith," The New York Times, 23 September, p. 3.
  48. ^ Adler, Rabbi Hermann (1878). "Can Jews be Patriots?," The Nineteenth Century, Vol. III, pp. 637–646.
  49. ^ Schwab, Isaac (1878). Can Jews be Patriots? A Historical Study. New York: Industrial School of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum.
  50. ^ Adler, Rabbi Hermann (1878). "Jews and Judaism: A Rejoinder," The Nineteenth Century, Vol. IV, pp. 133–150.
  51. ^ Rep. in Eclectic Magazine, Vol. XXVIII, July/December 1878.
  52. ^ Rep. in Rose-Belford's Canadian Monthly and National Review, Vol. III, 1879.
  53. ^ "Mr. Goldwin Smiths The Atlantic Monthly Article," Canadian Monthly and National Review, Vol. III, 1879.
  54. ^ Adler, Rabbi Hermann (1881). "Recent Phases of Judæphobia," The Nineteenth Century, Vol. X, pp. 813–829.
  55. ^ Bendavid, Isaac Besht (1891). "Goldwin Smith and the Jews," The North American Review, Vol. 153, No. 418, pp. 257–271.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Smith, Goldwin". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

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