The Controversialist: An Intellectual Life of Goldwin Smith

By Paul T. Phillips | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

The Regius Professor

In the sense of a formally defined position, Goldwin Smith’s career reached its apotheosis very early with his appointment as Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford in 1858. As he stated then and later, it was all he could have aspired to in a lifetime, and he looked upon it as the fulfillment of his career ambitions. That he had published virtually no historical works beyond his extended essay on The Political and Social Benefits of the Reformation in England (1847) was not a disbarment to the position at the time. Somewhat outside the realm of academe, the title had routinely been bestowed upon men of letters. Many holders of the chair had taken it to be little more than a sinecure. Even with the establishment of the school of history and law in 1850, Smith’s predecessor, Henry Halford Vaughan, had taken his continuing role as clerk of the Western Assizes with more seriousness. 1

There is little doubt that Smith’s political connections, gained through his commission work, were responsible for his appointment. Another Oxonian, James Anthony Froude (1818–94) was a stronger potential candidate in terms of achievements as a historian. As the third and fourth volumes of Froude’s History of England were published in 1858, some of his Oxford friends encouraged him to seek nomination from Lord Derby, the prime minister. But Froude had left

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