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Dickinson, Goldsworthy Lowes (1862-1932)  
 
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Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, a Cambridge classicist, is significant for the glbtq legacy as the author of the immensely popular The Greek Way of Life (1896), in which he delicately broaches ; as the creator of a frank and rather liberated or "modern" account of homosexuality in his posthumously published autobiography; as the subject of a biography written by his friend E. M. Forster, which, however, remains reticent on Dickinson's sexuality and may say more about Forster than Dickinson; and as an important disseminator of Plato and his idealization of male friendship.

Public Life

Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson was born in London on August 6, 1862. His parents were artists and early Christian socialists. Educated at Charterhouse School and King's College, Cambridge, he graduated in 1884, as an outstanding scholar and recipient of the Chancellor's Medal for a poem on Savonarola composed in imitation of Shelley's "Adonais." That same year, he was also inducted into the Cambridge Conversazione Society, the Apostles or fratres, a club that once included Alfred Lord Tennyson and Arthur Hallam and that became the progenitor of the Bloomsbury group.

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Dickinson studied medicine but never practiced. Instead, he wrote, as he admits, bad poetry (except, maybe, "To the Heavenly Love," some Shakespearean sonnets, and the dialogue Body and Soul--all reproduced in his Autobiography) and pursued humanitarian projects, such as working on a cooperative farm and, like his friend Edward Carpenter, supporting the university extension program through lecturing. He also met with many members of the socialist Fabian Society (for example, George Bernard Shaw and Beatrice Webb) and immersed himself in classical and modern civilization, avidly reading Plato, Shelley, and Goethe.

In 1887, he was named fellow of his old college (based on a thesis on the neo-Platonist Plotinus), which provided a more stable professional environment. In 1892, however, his fellowship was not renewed. He then became a librarian, but was appointed college lecturer in political science in 1896. In 1920, he was given a pension fellowship, tenable for life. He worked also as a lecturer at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

In 1900, Dickinson made a visit to Greece, followed by lecture tours in the United States, and finally trips to India, China, and Japan, where he soon realized the ills of Western imperialism and colonialism. He experienced a mystical heightening of consciousness and began to form a new concept of civilization, shaped by Occidental humanism, Oriental philosophy, mystical religion, and classical wisdom.

When World War I broke out, Dickinson was deeply shocked. He founded the pacifist Bryce Group, became president of the Union of Democratic Control, joined Bertrand Russell in his stance against the war, advocated the establishment of the League of Nations (a phrase he possibly coined), and was instrumental in its conception. He hoped that his work on behalf of the League would help end future warfare. He died on August 3, 1932.

A prolific author and public intellectual, Dickinson has an impressive bibliography to his credit: From King to King: The Tragedy of the Puritan Revolution (1891), Revolution and Reaction in Modern France (1892), The Development of Parliament During the Nineteenth Century (1895), The Greek View of Life (1896), The Meaning of Good (1901), Letters from John Chinaman (1901), Religion: A Criticism and a Forecast (1905), A Modern Symposium (1905), Justice and Liberty (1908), Religion and Immortality (1911), Appearances, Being Notes of Travel (1914), The European Anarchy (1916), The Choice Before Us (1917), The Magic Flute: A Fantasia (1920), War: Its Nature, Cause and Cure (1923), The International Anarchy, 1904-1914 (1926), Goethe and Faust (1928), After Two Thousand Years: A Dialogue Between Plato and a Modern Young Man (1930), and Plato and His Dialogues (1932).

Most of these books are now out of print and remain primarily of interest to specialists of the League of Nations and students of the influence of Platonism and Cambridge idealism. But the sheer number shows Dickinson's contribution to the society of his day and the unusually broad range of his interests and learning. The tomes range widely across cultures, histories, civilizations, denominations, philosophies, music, and more.

The Greek View of Life

Dickinson's most popular text, The Greek View of Life (1896), illustrates his fascination with Plato and with ancient Greece, often seen as a golden age of homoeroticism. Due to its popularity (it is still being used in college classrooms), the book exposed, probably for the first time, a large audience of non-specialists to, among other topics, Platonic love. The book is divided into sections on the Greek view of religion, the state, the individual, and art.

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