Little physical evidence remains of Goldwin Smith’s beginnings upon this earth. A plaque can be found beside the doorway of the large house on Friar Street, Reading, England, commemorating his life, which began there on August 13, 1823. 1 There are also the family vaults in St. Lawrence’s parish churchyard on which are inscribed the names and dates of his parents and all his brothers and sisters, though not that of Goldwin, who was buried in faraway Toronto.
Of his earliest years, or indeed of the period up to his election to a fellowship at Oxford in 1846, we have scant evidence beyond his own account written many years later. A travel diary of his mother, a deceased sister’s lock of hair, these tell us nothing of Goldwin Smith the boy. 2 Fond memories expressed for his early life are equally vague in content. Later correspondence with Sir John Mowbray, a longtime acquaintance from the Reading area, reveals only small glimpses of sentiment such as his devotion to the aged family retainer, “Dicker.”
Ambivalent feelings about the countryside of old England were evident in later references to his boyhood days. Clearly, he disliked the Toryism and stiff conformism of the old order that he encountered in the environs beyond his family’s estate at Mortimer. Although