The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

II. Historians, Biographers and Political Orators

§ 30. Goldwin Smith

Two English historical writers who, though in very different ways, came into close contact with important political ideas of the nineteenth century, and, more especially, with those concerning the progressive development of the British Empire, were, at not very distant dates, conspicuous personages in the life of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge respectively. Each in his way a master of style, Goldwin Smith and Sir John Robert Seeley differed fundamentally from one another in the political conceptions which pervaded their historical writing. In 1858, Goldwin Smith was made a member of the commission on national education. When, in 1859, the earl of Derby appointed him regius professor of modern history at Oxford, he had gained much experience as an academical reformer and political journalist, but had his reputation as a historian still to make outside his university. Two years later, he published a volume entitled Lectures on Modern History. The most historical of these, On the Foundation of the American Colonies, had, at the same time, a distinct political bearing, and, in 1862–3, was followed by a series of letters contributed to The Daily News, and afterwards reprinted with additions, under the title The Empire, which, in his most forcible style, advocated the separation of the British colonies from the mother-country and their establishment as independent states. This became the governing idea of his political activity, which, at the same time, shaped his later personal life. In 1862, he produced another volume, not less striking in manner and style, entitled Irish History and Irish Character. Five years later, he published an admirable series of historical essays, originally produced as public lectures, and called Three English Statesmen (Pym, Cromwell and Pitt). Before this, the great American civil war, during the progress of which he visited the states, had found in him an enthusiastic supporter of the cause of the north. Having, in 1866, been compelled by a severe personal trouble to resign his Oxford chair, he, two years afterwards, transferred himself, with his political aspirations and disappointments, at first to Cornell University, in the United States, and thence, in June, 1871, to Toronto. There, for nearly a generation longer, he continued to carry on an incessant journalistic activity. The books he sent forth were not of much importance; and, notwithstanding the fascination of his style, always clear and dignified, the letters from him printed in The Manchester Guardian and elsewhere gradually became like the voice of one crying in the wilderness. He can only be classed among historical writers by a courtesy which will hardly be refused to him. He could not keep the spirit of political controversy out of anything he wrote; and, in truth, that spirit was part of his genius.