Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson
- August 3
), was an English
historian and political activist. He led most of his life at Cambridge
, where he did a dissertation on neoplatonism
before becoming a fellow. He was closely tied with the Bloomsbury Group
A noted pacifist, Dickinson protested Britain's involvement in World War I. His essay on the Covenant from the Treaty of Versailles (The Future of the Covenant, London: League of Nations Union, 1920) helped shape public opinion towards the League of Nations.
Dickinson was born in London to Margaret Ellen Williams Dickinson, daughter of William Smith Williams who was literary advisor to Smith, Elder & Company and had discovered Charlotte Brontë
. His father was Lowes Cato Dickinson (1819-1908), a portrait painter. When the boy was about one year old his family moved to The Spring Cottage in Hanwell
, then a country village. The family also included his brother, Arthur, three years older, an older sister, May, and two younger sisters, Hester and Janet.
His schooling included attendance at a day school in Somerset Street, Portman Square, when he was 10 or 11. At about age 12 he was sent to Beomonds boarding school in Chertsey. His teenage years from 14 to 19 were spent at Charterhouse School in Godalming where his brother, Arthur, preceded him. He was unhappy at the school, although he enjoyed seeing plays put on by visiting actors, and he played violin in the school orchestra. While he was at Charterhouse, his family moved from Hanwell to a house behind All Souls Church in Langham Place.
In 1881 he went to King's College, Cambridge as an exhibitioner (scholarship student), where his brother, Arthur, had again preceded him. Near the end of his first year he received a telegram informing him that his mother had died from asthma. During his college years, his tutor, Oscar Browning, was a strong influence, and Dickinson became a close friend of fellow King's College student C.R. Ashbee. Dickinson won the chancellor's English medal in 1884 for a poem on Savonarola, and in graduating that summer he was awarded a first class Classical Tripos.
After traveling in the Netherlands and Germany, he returned to Cambridge late that year and was elected to the Cambridge Conversazione Society, better known as the Society of Apostles. In a year or two he was part of the circle that included Roger Fry, J. M. E. McTaggart, and Nathaniel Wedd.
In the summer of 1885 he worked at a co-operative farm, Craig Farm at Tilford
. The farm had been started by Harold Cox
as an experiment in engaging in the simple living. Dickinson was proud of his hoeing, digging, and ploughing. That fall, and continuing to the spring of 1886, Dickinson joined the University Extension Scheme to give public lectures that covered Carlyle
, and Tennyson
. He toured the country, living for a term at Mansfield
and for a second term at Chester
. He spent a brief time in Wales
With financial help from his father, Dickinson then began studies for a medical degree, beginning in October 1886 at Cambridge. Although he became dissatisfied with his studies and nearly decided to drop out, he persevered and passed his M.B. examinations in 1887 and 1888. Yet he finally decided he wasn't interested in a career in medicine.
In March 1887 a dissertation on Plotinus helped elect him to a fellowship at King's College. During Roger Fry's last year at Cambridge (1887-1888), Dickinson, a homosexual, fell in love with him. After an initially intense relationship (that according to Dickinson's biography didn't include sex with Fry, a heterosexual), the two maintained a long friendship. Through Fry, Dickinson soon met Jack McTaggart and Ferdinand Schiller.
Dickinson then settled down at Cambridge, although he again lectured through the University Extension Scheme, travelling to Newcastle, Leicester, and Norwich. His fellowship at King's College (as an historian) was permanently renewed in 1896. That year his book, The Greek View of Life was published. He later wrote a number of dialogues in the Socratic tradition.
But we must not think that Dickinson lived the detached life of a stereotypical Cambridge professor. When G. K. Chesterton chose contemporary thinkers he disagreed with for his 1905 book, Heretics, the focus of Chapter 12 was "Paganism and Mr. Lowes Dickinson." There he notes:
- Mr. Lowes Dickinson, the most pregnant and provocative of recent writers on this and similar subjects, is far too solid a man to have fallen into this old error of the mere anarchy of Paganism. In order to make hay of that Hellenic enthusiasm which has as its ideal mere appetite and egotism, it is not necessary to know much philosophy, but merely to know a little Greek. Mr. Lowes Dickinson knows a great deal of philosophy, and also a great deal of Greek, and his error, if error he has, is not that of the crude hedonist. But the contrast which he offers between Christianity and Paganism in the matter of moral ideals--a contrast which he states very ably in a paper called “How Long Halt Ye?” which appeared in the Independent Review--does, I think, contain an error of a deeper kind.
Chesterton goes on to suggest that Christianity has so altered our civilization, that we can never return to Paganism:
- My objection to Mr. Lowes Dickinson and the reassertors of the pagan ideal is, then, this. I accuse them of ignoring definite human discoveries in the moral world, discoveries as definite, though not as material, as the discovery of the circulation of the blood. We cannot go back to an ideal of reason and sanity. For mankind has discovered that reason does not lead to sanity. We cannot go back to an ideal of pride and enjoyment. For mankind has discovered that pride does not lead to enjoyment.
Finally, Chesterton closes with a suggestion:
- But if we do revive and pursue the pagan ideal of a simple and rational self-completion we shall end--where Paganism ended. I do not mean that we shall end in destruction. I mean that we shall end in Christianity.
Dickinson was a lecturer in history from 1886 to his retirement in 1920, and the college librarian from 1893 to 1896. Dickinson helped establish the Economics and Politics Tripos and taught political science within the University. For 15 years he also lectured at the London School of Economics.
In 1897 he made his first trip to Greece, travelling with Nathaniel Wedd, Robin Mayor, and A. M. Daniel.
He joined the Society of Psychical Research in 1890, and served on its Council from 1904 to 1920.
In 1903 he helped to found the Independent Review. Edward Jenks was editor, and members of its editorial board included Dickinson, F. W. Hirst, C. F. G. Masterman, G. M. Trevelyan, and Nathaniel Wedd. Fry designed the front cover. Over the years Dickinson contributed a number of articles to it, some later reprinted in Religion: A Criticism and a Forecast, (1905) and Religion and Immortality, (1911).
World War I and after
Within a fortnight of the start of World War I
, Dickinson had drafted schemes for a "League of Nations" and, together with Lord Dickinson
and Lord Bryce
, he planned the ideas behind of the League of Nations and played a leading role in the founding of the group of internationalist pacifists known as the Bryce Group
. The organization eventually became the nucleus of the League of Nations Union. Dickinson promoted his ideas with a large number of books and pamphlets, including his book The International Anarchy
. Dickinson also attended a pacifist conference in The Hague in 1915. In 1916 Dickinson started a lecture tour in the United States promoting the idea of a League of Nations.
In 1929, the Talks Department of the BBC invited him to give the first and last lectures in a series called "Points of View". He went on to give several series of BBC talks on various topics including Goethe and Plato.
Death and afterward
After a prostate operation in 1932, Dickinson appeared to be recovering, but died on August 3
. Memorial services were held in King's College Chapel, and in London.
E.M. Forster, by then a good friend who had been influenced by Dickinson's books, became his literary executor. Dickinson's sisters then asked Forster to write the dead man's biography, which was published as Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson in 1934. Forster has been criticized for refraining from publishing details of Dickinson's sexual proclivities, including his foot fetishism and unrequited love for young men.
- Revolution and Reaction in Modern France, 1892
- The Development of Parliament during the Nineteenth Century, 1895
- The Greek View of Life, 1896, 1909
- Letters from John Chinaman and Other Essays , 1901
- The Meaning of Good: A Dialogue 1901
- Letters from a Chinese official being an Eastern view of Western civilization, 1903 (Published Anonymously)
- Religion. A Criticism and a Forecast, 1905
- A Modern Symposium, 1905
- Justice and liberty, a political dialogue 1908
- Religion and Immortality, 1911
- The European Anarchy, 1916
- The Choice Before Us, 1917
- The Magic Flute, 1920, a poetic fantasy
- War: Its Nature, Cause and Cure, 1923
- The International Anarchy, 1904–1914, 1926
- After Two Thousand Years: a Dialogue between Plato and a Modern Young Man, 1930
- Plato and his dialogues, 1931
- The Contribution of Ancient Greece to Modern Life, 1932
- The Autobiography of G. Lowes Dickinson: and other unpublished writings, 1973, edited by Dennis Proctor, published by Duckworth, 287 pages, ISBN 0 7156 0647 6 (hardcover)
- Causes of International War, ISBN 0-313-24565-7 ; ISBN-13 978-0-313-24565-7 ; 110 pages, bibliog, Greenwood Press Reprint, 1984
- E. M. Forster, (1934), "Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson", edited by L. G. Wickham Legg, London: Edward Arnold, 277 pages, (hardcover)
- P. D. Proctor, (1949), pages 225-227 in "The Dictionary of National Biography 1931-1940", edited by L. G. Wickham Legg, London: Oxford University Press, 968 pages, (hardcover)