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.
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.
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:
Chesterton goes on to suggest that Christianity has so altered our civilization, that we can never return to Paganism:
Finally, Chesterton closes with a suggestion:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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Apr 16, 1999; AUTOBIOGRAPHIES ARE, by their very nature, individual works. If, however, we look at the autobiographies of people who have in...