Canada has had a rich heritage in both her native and adopted sons; many of them would add luster to a much older country, and some have made for themselves a lasting name on both sides of the Atlantic. Her jurists and statesmen, her scholars and divines, have been the jewels of her crown, and have gained for her, as well as for themselves, an enduring fame; and with pardonable pride she can point to her sons whose names, not she only, but the world itself, “will not willingly let die.” And no name that illustrates her annals is more worthy of special mention than that of the gentleman whose name heads this memoir a man distinguished for profound and varied learning, and for his ability as a journalist, writer, and lecturer. His reputation is not confined to this Province or country, but is well known in the proud Universities of England, and also in like institutions of learning in the United States.
Goldwin Smith was born on the 13th of August, 1823, at Reading, England, where his father was at that time practicing as a physician. He came of a family which originally resided at Wybunbury, in Cheshire. He received his early training at Eton, and did much more than his share in earning honors for that celebrated school during his university course at Oxford, where his career was remarkably successful. He first entered as an undergraduate of Christ Church, but being elected to a Demyship in Magdalen, he completed his course in that College. His assiduity won for him the Hertford and Ireland scholarships, and he ranked first-class in classics when he graduated B.A. in 1843, obtaining the Chancellor’s prizes for Latin verse, and for the Latin and English essays, thus early giving evidence of that great ability to use the English language which has since earned for him so distinguished a place among the writers of modern times. Two years after graduating he received a Fellowship in University College, of which he became Tutor. He was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1847, but never practiced law. In University College he earned for himself a position, and became recognized as an independent and practical thinker, capable of grappling with great problems beyond those which lay immediately in his path. The Government early appreciated and rewarded his ability by appointing him, in 1850, Assistant Secretary of the Royal Commission to enquire into the general condition of the University of Oxford, especially in relation to its revenues, discipline, and studies. Of the second Commission appointed to report in regard to the same institution, he acted as Secretary. He was also honored with a place on the Royal Commission to examine into the state of Popular Education in England. In this position he did good service, at the same time availing himself of the opportunity of acquiring a thorough practical acquaintance with the condition and needs of the English Schools. The knowledge then gained has since enabled him to deal intelligently with the educational problems of both his native and adopted lands.
In 1858 he became Professor of Modern History at Oxford, which position he filled until 1866, fulfilling its duties in such a manner as to attract the attention of the highest authorities in England. During this time his reputation crossed the Atlantic, and his decided stand in favor of liberal reforms in educational and religious matters gained for him many admirers in America. He first visited this country in 1864, and received from Brown University the honorary degree of LL.D. He was a warm supporter of the North during the American civil war, and wrote and spoke strongly in favor of the abolition of slavery. Early in 1868 he was appointed Lecturer in English and Constitutional History in Cornell University at Ithaca, New York, an office which he still holds, although since 1872 he has been a resident of Toronto. After coming to Canada, Mr. Smith at once took a prominent position in educational circles. He was appointed a member of the Senate of Toronto University, and was elected by the Public School Teachers of Ontario their first representative on the Council of Public Instruction. He was for two years President of the Provincial Teachers’ Association, in which capacity he gave very general satisfaction. In addition to the many public lectures which he has delivered on educational subjects, he has identified himself with public education in his adopted country by his course of Lectures on History, given to the ladies of Toronto and Montreal.
During his residence in Canada, Mr. Smith has been prominently connected with the press. He was a frequent contributor to the Canadian Monthly during the early part of its career, and was a leading writer on the staff of the Nation. During the past twenty-five years he has been an assiduous writer, and has published the following works: “Irish History and Irish Character;” “Rational Religion and the Rationalistic Objections of the Bampton Lectures of 1838;” “Lectures on the Study of History,” 1861; “The Empire: A Series of Letters to the Daily News;” and “Does the Bible Sanction Slavery ?” 1863; “Letter to the Southern Independence Association,” and “Plea for Abolition of Tests in Oxford,” 1864; “England and America: A Lecture,” 1865; “The Civil War in America: An Address de-livered in Manchester,” 1866; “Three English Statesmen Pym, Cromwell, and Pitt,” 1867; “The Reorganization of the University of Oxford,” 1868; “The Relations between America and England,” being a reply to a speech by Charles Sumner, 1869; and “The Political Destiny of Canada,” 1878. Mr. Smith’s style is pure, clear, and very vigorous, and his language remarkably select.
In politics, he was originally an adherent of Sir Robert Peel, and an admirer and supporter of that statesman in his attempt to rise above the trammels of party, and to govern in the interest of the whole nation. After the rupture between Peel and the Tory aristocracy, he took his place in the ranks of the Liberals, and has ever since been, as a political writer, an opponent of class government and legislation. In Canada, he has never connected himself with a party, but has remained an independent member of the press.
Goldwin Smith was married in 1875 to Harriet, daughter of Thomas Dixon, Esq., of Boston, and widow of William Boulton, Esq., of Toronto.
It has been justly said of him that “He is undoubtedly stamping his impress upon the literature and the history of his time, and Canada has reason to be proud of her adopted son.”