Goldwin Smith, controversialist, reformer, and prolific journalist, was an early prophet of the British Commonwealth, and one of the first advocates of English-speaking union. Though not a markedly original thinker or political philosopher, he was an intelligent liberal and on many subjects a representative Victorian, who speculated with unflagging interest on the problems of his day. Born and bred in England, domiciled for many years in Canada, and a frequent visitor to the United States, he had numerous friends in all three countries. He was for six years Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford, and for two years Professor of English and Constitutional History at Cornell University.
Smith’s ideas, disseminated during his lifetime in more than two hundred journals, reflected strains characteristic of nineteenth-century thought, and in particular the Victorian concern about questions raised by the two great forces of democracy and imperialism. He analysed in lucid prose the major problems of the Anglo-American community and the beginnings of Canadian national life. A master journalist in the great age of modern journalism, he was seldom a constructive critic, but as a publicist of remarkable fertility he brought into sharp focus the issues of the issues of the time. On one matter his perception was unrivalled; he fully appreciated the profound significance of the common traditions and interests which linked the English-speaking peoples, and throughout a long life his energies and ability were devoted to furthering friendship and understanding among them, Elisabeth Wallace has written a brilliant and authoritative biography of his distinguished Canadian man of letters. Her research has been thorough, not merely in the large collection of Goldwin Smith papers at Cornell University, but in many little-known sources in Canada and Britain. She has quoted extensively from Smith’s private correspondence with Gladstone, Cobden, Bryce, Dicey, Carnegie, and numerous other eminent Victorians, and brings and enjoyable style and a stimulating viewpoint to the study of a nineteenth-century liberal whose pen was, as Richard Cobden said in 1865, “a power in the State,” and whose ideas are becoming more and more influential today.