Goldwin Smith has been largely forgotten today. In the three countries where he resided, copies of his writings can be found in the older university and public libraries. There is a plaque on a house in Reading, England, commemorating his place of birth in 1823. A lecture hall bears his name at Cornell University. The Art Gallery of Ontario is an elaborate extension of his mansion, the Grange, in downtown Toronto, where he died in 1910. Yet none of this suggests the degree of name recognition that Goldwin Smith once enjoyed throughout the English-speaking world, reaching something of celebrity status in Canada.
Smith’s power as a writer is evident. He had a facile pen and, for those times, had the ability to communicate his thoughts to people of diverse backgrounds in different countries. And then there was the commanding stage presence of the man, a presence attested to by a wide range of people who encountered him for the first time. Hensley Henson, future bishop of Durham and a man not easily impressed by others, noted his first meeting with him when Smith, as former Regius Professor, gave some well-attended lectures at Oxford.
He is rather a terrible man to behold: a very skeleton: his hand scrunched in mine like a packet of dead bones. But withal a man of