1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wilson, Sir Daniel

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WILSON, SIR DANIEL (1816–1892), archaeologist and Canadian educational reformer, was born in Edinburgh on the 5th of January 1816, the son of Archibald Wilson, a wine-merchant, and Janet Aitken. After studying at the High School and the University of Edinburgh, he spent the next ten years in journalism and in other forms of literary work (London 1837–1842, Edinburgh 1842–1847). In 1845 he became secretary to the Scottish Society of Antiquaries, and in 1848 published Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time, of which the chief value lies in the numerous illustrations, done by himself. In 1851 appeared his most important work, Prehistoric Annals of Scotland, which placed him in the front rank of archaeologists. In 1853 he became professor of History and English Literature in the University of Toronto, where his practical ability and energy soon made him the most important member of the staff. While writing extensively on the archaeology and anthropology of Canada, and giving an impetus to the study, he produced nothing of lasting importance. His main work lay in asserting the claims of the University of Toronto, and of University College, the teaching body in connexion with it, against the sectarian universities of the province which denounced the provincial university as godless, and against the private medical schools in Toronto. Largely owing to Wilson's energy in fighting for what he called “the maintenance of a national system of university education in opposition to sectarian or denominational colleges,” the provincial university gained the chief position in the intellectual life of Ontario. Two of the sectarian universities, the Methodist and the Anglican, have now become united to the provincial university, but the Baptist and the Presbyterian (see Kingston) still retain a vigorous existence. He was equally successful in his struggle against the rival medical schools in Toronto, the chief of which is now incorporated with Toronto university. In his efforts to escape the control of local politicians he was less successful, and in some cases appointments to the provincial university were made for political rather than for academic reasons. Though seeing that in a young and democratic country the Scotch-American model must be followed rather than the English, and though resisting attempts to follow the practice of Oxford or Cambridge, Wilson was a believer in the merits of a modified form of the residential system. He was one of the first in Canada to cast aside the classical tradition, and as early as 1860 had the courage to say: “It is just because . . . German and French are now the keys of so much modern philosophy and science that all wise University reformers are learning to give to modern languages the place they justly claim in a liberal education.” In 1881 he was made president of Toronto university; and in 1885 president of the literature section of the Canadian Royal Society; in 1888 he was knighted; and in 1891 given the freedom of the city of Edinburgh. He died at Toronto on the 6th of August 1892.

Record of Historical Publications relating to Canada, edited by G. M. Wrong, vol. v. (Toronto and London, 1901), pp. 199-217, gives a good sketch of his career, and a bibliography of his numerous works.