Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Graham, William (1839-1911)

GRAHAM, WILLIAM (1839–1911), philosopher and political economist, born at Saintfield, co. Down, in 1839, was a younger son of Alexander Graham, farmer and horse-dealer, by his wife Maria Crawford, a descendant of a Scottish presbyterian family which came to Ireland in Charles II's time to escape rehgious persecution. The father died poor while his son was very young, and it fell to the mother, a woman of spirit and intelligence, to bring up the children — four sons and a daughter — amid many hardships. William obtained a foundation scholarship at the Educational Institute, Dundalk, and being well grounded there in mathematics and English was soon engaged as a teacher in the royal school at Banagher, where he remained till he entered Trinity College, Dublin, in July 1860.

At Trinity College Graham won distinction in mathematics, philosophy, and English prose composition. During most of his college course he worked outside the university as headmaster successively of two important schools in or near Dublin. But a foundation scholarship in mathematics which he won in 1865 gave him an annual stipend together with free rooms and commons. He graduated B.A. in 1867, and thereupon engaged in coaching students in mathematics and especially philosophy. His success as private tutor enabled him to give up his school work. He devoted much time to the study of philosophy, and in 1872 he published his first book, 'Idealism, an Essay Metaphysical and Critical,' a vindication of Berkeley against Hamilton and the Scottish school.

Graham, who had proceeded M.A. in 1870, left Dublin in 1873 to become private secretary to Mitchell Henry, M.P. [q. v. Suppl. II], but resigned the post in 1874 and settled in London. In 1875 he was appointed lecturer on mathematics at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and he engaged at the same time in literary and tutorial work; but the best part of his time for some years was given to the preparation of the most important of his books, 'The Creed of Science,' which appeared in 1881. This is a work of great freshness and power, discussing how far the new scientific doctrines of the conservation of energy, evolution, and natural selection necessitated a revision of the accepted theories in philosophy, theology, and ethics. It was well received, running to a second edition in 1884, and it evoked the admiration of Darwin, Gladstone, and Archbishop Trench. In bigoted circles Graham's argument was foolishly credited with atheistic tendencies. This wholly unfounded suspicion caused the Irish chief secretary, Sir Michael Hicks Beach, to withdraw an offer which he made to Graham of an assistant commissionorship of intermediate education in Oct. 1886. In London Graham was soon a welcome figure in the best intellectual society. His many friends there included men of the eminence of Carlyle, Lecky, and Froude. Carlyle wrote of finding in him 'a force of insight and a loyalty to what is true, which greatly distinguish him from common, even from highly educated and what are called ingenious and clever men.' One of his strong points was his conversational gift. Professor Mahaffy wrote of him at the time of his death, 'His highest genius was undoubtedly for intellectual recreation. In this he had few equals' (Athenæum, 25 Nov. 1911).

Meanwhile his increasing reputation had led to his election in 1882 to the chair of jurisprudence and political economy in Queen's College, Belfast. This post he held till 1909, when ill-health compelled his retirement. At Belfast he enjoyed the enthusiastic regard of a long succession of pupils. He was professor of law for ten years before he joined the legal profession. In 1892 he was called to the bar at the Inner Temple without any intention of practising. His duties at Belfast allowed him still to reside most of the year in London, and in his leisure he produced a succession of works on political or economic subjects. 'Social Problems' came out in 1886, 'Socialism New and Old' in 1890, 'English Political Philosophy from Hobbes to Maine' in 1899, and 'Free Trade and the Empire' in 1904. He also read a paper on trusts to the British Association at Belfast in 1902, and was a frequent contributor to the 'Nineteenth Century,' 'Contemporary Review,' and 'Economic Journal.' He was for many years examiner in political economy and also in philosophy for the Indian civil service and the Royal University of Ireland, and in English for the Irish intermediate education department.

He received the honorary degree of Litt.D. from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1905. His health began to fail in 1907, and he died unmarried in a nursing home in Dublin on 19 Nov. 1911, being buried in Mount Jerome cemetery there.

[Graham's Autobiographical MS. notes; Irish Times, 20 Nov. 1911; personal knowledge.]

J. R.