The Late Professor Morris

The story of the outward life of the departed teacher and scholar, George Sylvester Morris, may be briefly told. It was a life great, not in outward circumstance, but in spirit, and in the quality of its achievement.

George S. Morris was born November 15th, 1840, at Norwich, Vermont. After pursuing the courses in the district schools and village academy, usual to the New Englanders of that period, he entered Dartmouth College. He was graduated, with high standing in his class, as Bachelor of Arts in 1861. Three years afterwards, he received the degree of Master of Arts in course from the same institution. The same year he entered Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Here he studied for two years. Doctor H. B. Smith, whose own philosophical ability placed him high among the theologians of our country, discerned the unusual strain of Mr. Morris's mind, and advised him to continue his studies in Germany. This he did, carrying on, as is usual, his studies at more than one University, but chiefly with Trendelenburg in Berlin, and Erdmann and Ulrici in Halle. In 1868, he returned, having acquired a command of the German and French languages, and considerable acquaintance with Italian. He then spent some time teaching in a private family in New York City.

Meantime Doctors Smith and Schaff had projected a "Theological and Philosophical Library." This they desired to open with a history of philosophy. That of Ueberweg was selected, and none was found more fitted to do the work of translating than the scholar fresh from philosophical and

( 4) language studies in Germany. The translating was performed in such a way that excellent judges, German as well as English, have pronounced the translation superior to the original. All the numerous references to Greek and Latin authorities were verified and translated, ambiguities in style and statement were corrected; the bibliographical references were increased from the ready and ample store of the translator; numerous accounts of the more noted contemporary German philosophers were added. The translation is a monument not only to the breadth and accuracy of Professor Morris's scholarship, but to his entire fidelity and thoroughness in executing whatever was committed to him.

At about this time there was a vacancy in the chair of modern languages at the University of Michigan. Professor Frieze was then acting president, and upon his invitation, an invitation delivered, I believe, in person, Mr. Morris accepted the position. For eleven years the department of modern languages had the benefit of his wide learning, his native love of thoroughness, his culture of mind. During these years, however, he continued to cherish above his other intellectual interests, the study of philosophy, and when in 1878 the opportunity opened for him to give instruction as a lecturer in philosophy in the recently opened Johns Hopkins University, at Baltimore, he gladly responded. For three years he joined this lectureship to his teaching in Ann Arbor. In 1881 the scope of his lectureship in Baltimore was broadened, and he resigned his chair in Michigan University. Only for a year, however, was the University deprived of his inspiring service. Arrangements were made, whereby, as the colleague of Doctor Cocker, he gave one-half of each year to instruction in philosophy in this institution. In 1883, upon the death of Doctor Cocker, Mr. Morris was made professor of philosophy, retaining this position up to the time of his untimely death, upon the 23rd of March, 1889.

Professor Morris was married at Ann Arbor, June 29th, 1876, to Miss Victoria Celle. She, with two children, remain to mourn him who is departed. It would not be possible becomingly to speak of the family-life thus disrupted by death. Its beautiful character is so well known to the students who so often shared in its graceful hospitality,

( 5) as well as to those to whom this home was a continuation of their own earlier home, that the thought of it is a grateful memory. The tenderness and depth with which Professor Morris, in his lectures upon political philosophy, dwelt upon the institution of the family are more than explained by the natural and close companionships of his own life.

We cannot cease to regret that the entire unconsciousness of Professor Morris that his own experiences could be of interest to others should have deprived us of any more adequate record of his intellectual development, especially inthe growth of his philosophic thought. In the opening of his lectures upon British Thought and Thinkers, there is an allusion to himself, which is worth quoting, both because of its rarity and because it reveals how early his mind sought the philosophic channel. "I can remember," he says, "how as a mere boy, more than once, in an evening reverie, an experience somewhat in this vein came to me. All my boyish ideas of things seemed, as pure creations of my own fancy, to melt away, and there remained, as the whole sum and substance of the universe, only the empty and inexplicable necessity of being, plus a dull, confused and indescribable sensation as of a chaos of shapeless elements. Then came the return to the world such as it had actually shaped itself in my imagination—the earth, with its green fields and forest-covered mountains, the world-inhabited heavens, the changing seasons, man and his past history and unrevealed earthly destiny, not to mention the myriad little and familiar things which would necessarily crowd the foreground of such a picture in a boy's mind. The view which a moment before had demonstrated so signally its capacity of dissolving again became a slowly changing panorama of a world. It was into such a conception of a world that I, following unwillingly a bent common to the universal mind of man, was more or less blindly seeking to introduce order and permanence. What must be? Why must anything be? Why must all things be? I need not say that the immediate result of my reflections was tolerably negative!" We cannot but wish as we read this that we had more autobiographical fragments to draw upon.

The instruction Professor Morris received in college

( 6) does not appear to have appealed to him particularly. Indeed, it seems rather to have impelled him, with a dislike which never left him, from what is often miscalled metaphysics, the partly verbal, partly arbitrary [ ] of various recondite notions. At one period, he was a disciple of the English Empirical School, of the Mills, and of Bain and Spencer. He went so far as to consider himself a materialist. In later years, it was something more than a logical conviction of the purely theoretical shortcoming of these forms of philosophy that made him so strong, though so fair and appreciative, an opponent of them. It was also, if we may make use of some remarks of his upon one occasion when materialism was under discussion, the conviction, which personal experience had brought home to him, of their ethical deficiencies, of their failure to support and inspire life. It was in Germany, and immediately under the influence of Trendelenburg, in the main, that his trend of thinking was changed to a manner which he never ceased to regard as more catholic, more profound, more truly experimental. The change seems to have been due to a more adequate acquaintance with the history of philosophy, especially in its classic Greek types. Trendelenburg was among the first of a class of university teachers now numerous in Germany. He based his thinking and teaching mainly upon the history of philosophy, taken in connection with the leading results of modern science. Professor Morris was brought, seemingly, into a position somewhat similar to that of his teacher. At least, he never surrendered the belief that genuine personal philosophic conviction must be based upon a knowledge of philosophy in its historic development. This belief was the basis of his opinion that what American thought needed above all else as a condition of getting out of its somewhat provincial state, was an adequate acquaintance with the great thought of the past. While he held a definite philosophical position of his own, and held it firmly, his instruction was based upon the idea that the main thing after all is to get the individual out of his restricted ways of thinking and in contact with the stream of reflective thought that has been flowing on well nigh twenty-five hundred years. For a time his own philosophic conviction was probably an Aristo-

(7) -telianism modified and developed by the results of science. While Professor Morris never abandoned the positive features of his conviction, later and independent study convinced him that there were wider and deeper truths with which it must be conjoined. Although Trendelenburg had incorporated within his own teaching the substantial achievements of that great philosophical movement which began with Kant and closed with Hegel—the ideas, for example, of the correlation of thought and being, the idea of man as a self-realizing personality, the notion of organized society as the objective reality of man—he had taken a hostile attitude to these positions as stated by Hegel and to the method by which they were taught. While Professor Morris was never simply an adherent of Trendelenburg, he probably followed him also in this respect. At least, he used sometimes in later years to point out pages in his copy of Hegel which were marked "nonsense," etc., remarks made while he was a student in Germany. It thus was not any discipleship which finally led Mr. Morris to find in Hegel (in his own words) "the most profound and comprehensive of modern thinkers." He found in a better and fuller statement of what he had already accepted as true, a more ample and far-reaching method, a goal of his studies in the history of thought.

This is not the place, of course, to attempt any resumé of Professor Morris's philosophical thought. That fortunately stands for itself in the writings which he has left; it advances in the "living epistles" which he has written in the hearts and brains of scores of students. But since Professor Morris never held his philosophy by a merely intellectual grasp, since it was fused with his personal character, and gained its color and tone from his own deeper interests, it seems worth while to speak of his thought in relation to his other characteristic qualities,—his love of beauty and his strong religious nature.

All who knew Professor Morris knew how genuine and deep was his appreciation of the beautiful, especially as manifested in poetry and music. In music, indeed, he had not only a theoretical appreciation, but a practical and loving knowledge. This love of the beautiful found an abiding

( 8) home in the very heart of his philosophy. It gave to his thought a peculiar elevated tone. It brought him into congenial sympathy with some of the greatest spirits of the race, notably Plato. While he did not draw his essential intellectual nutriment from Plato, he did derive from him, in large measure, intellectual inspiration. He never spoke of Plato without a kindling enthusiasm, a warmth of sympathy which no other philosopher ever aroused in quite the same degree. It was this genuine kinship of spirit which led Professor Morris to write in the following words, of Plato: "He is the intelligent poet of philosophy rapt with the moral power and fascination of philosophic truth, and in his wonderful dialogues bringing its resistless spell nearer home to the mind and heart of humanity than any other one whom the earth has been privileged to see. Reason in him is all aflame with feeling, but not mastered by it. He has not simply the acute perception, but the warm impression of eternal and essential being—of truth, beauty, goodness—and he is consequently enabled with the electrical effectiveness of a poetic touch to deliver this impression to mankind." The further tie which bound Professor Morris to the thought of Plato is in the fact that Plato dwells on the ideal character of beauty, not upon its sensuous quality; the ethical factor in beauty is what attracts. It was the beauty of spirit, the beauty of the eternal idea manifesting itself in outward form that drew Mr. Morris. The delight in this factor made his idealism poetic as well as philosophic. There was a prayer of Socrates which Professor Morris was wont to refer to and which he could not quote without his very countenance revealing how much it had been already realized in him: "Beloved Pan and all ye other gods who haunt this spot, give me beauty in the inward soul and may the outward and the inward man be at one."

It was characteristic of Professor Morris that the two writings from which he most often quoted were the Dialogues of Plato and the Gospel of St. John. In the fundamental principle of Christianity, he found manifested the truth which he was convinced of as the fundamental truth in philosophy—the unity of God and man so that the spirit which is in man, rather which is man, is the spirit of God.

( 9) "The very sense of philosophical idealism," he says in one of his works, "is to put and represent man in direct relation with the Absolute Mind so that its light is his light and its strength is made his. "The firmness with which he held this truth is the key to all of his thinking. It is also the key to his attitude towards current religious beliefs. In the ordinary antithesis between the supernatural and the natural, he saw concealed the deeper truth of the antithesis of the spiritual and the natural—an antithesis involving, however, a unity; the natural being only the partial and dependent manifestation of the spiritual of such a position, he found all history to be the demonstration, the showing forth. The philosophy of art, of the state, of religion, as well as of knowledge, was to him inexplicable upon any theory. It was because he found in Hegel not merely the general recognition of this idea, but the attempt to work it out in its bearings upon concrete fact, that he was in later life so attracted to Hegel. The result of this conviction was that his philosophical knowledge gave body and masculine vigor to his religious faith, and his faith stimulated and quickened his theoretical convictions. But we do him wrong to speak of his religious faith and his philosophic knowledge as if they were two separate things capable of reacting upon each other. They were one—vitally and indistinguishably one. In this union, that union of his, his intellectual and moral nature had its roots—a union which made him so complete a man and his life so integral. He was preëminently a man in whom those internal divisions, which eat into the heart of so much of contemporary spiritual life, and which rob the intellect of its faith in truth, and the will of its belief in the value of life, had been overcome. In the philosophical and religious conviction of the unity of man's spirit with the divine he had that rest which is energy. This wholeness of intelligence and will was the source of the power, the inspiring power, of his life. It was the source of the definiteness, the positiveness of his teaching, which, free from all personal dogmatism, yet made the pupil instinctively realize that there was something real called truth, and this truth was not only capable of being known by man but was the very life of man.

The other personal quality which gave color to Profes-

( 10) -sor Morris's thought was his profound feeling of the organic relationships of life—of the family and the state. At one with himself, having no conflicts of his own nature to absorb him, he found the substance of his being in his vital connections with others; in the home, in his friendships, in the political organization of society, in his church relations. It was his thorough realization in himself of the meaning of these relationships that gave substance and body to his theory of the organic unity of man with nature and with God. This theory, like any theory, may be held in an empty formalism of thought, but in Professor Morris's teaching, it was quickened and made real by his own practical realization of such relations in actual life.

Of Professor Morris's writings, nothing can be here said, excepting to give an incomplete list. Among his earlier writings are two essays, written for the Victoria Institute of London, of which he was an associate member, and published by them. The titles of these are: The Theory of Unconscious Intelligence as Opposed to Theism and The Final Cause as Principle of Cognition in Nature. About this

time should be placed an account of the philosophy of Trendelenburg, published in the New Englander. Here should be mentioned also the translation of Ueberweg's History of Philosophy. There was published in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, while Professor Morris was still professor of modern languages, a lecture, which he had delivered before a class reading Taine, upon the theory of Art, a lecture which contains in germ, the ideas later developed in his lectures upon Esthetics. Marking his connection with Johns Hopkins University are British Thought and Thinkers, and later the Exposition of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. The latter was the initial volume of a series of works, called German Philosophical Classics, and published by S. C. Griggs & Co. Of this series, Professor Morris was the proposer and editor, and at the time of his death it included seven volumes, one of which besides the Kant, that upon Hegel's Philosophy of History and State, was by Professor Morris's own hand. This was his last work. Between it and the Kant comes an article in the Princeton Review entitled, "Philosophy and its Specific Problems," the book

( 11) upon Philosophy and Christianity, made up of lectures delivered upon the Ely Foundation before the Union Theological Seminary. He published also, as the first of a series of Philosophical Papers of the University of Michigan, an address which he had delivered before the philosophical society of the University upon University Education. About the time when he was seeing through the press his exposition of Hegel, the scheme of a "Library of Philosophy" was under discussion in England. Professor Morris was asked by its editor, Mr. J. H. Muirhead, to write the volume upon the history of logic. Professor Morris was even then thinking of what he should turn to next, and he welcomed with great pleasure the opportunity thus afforded him. Nothing could have been suggested which would have awakened so ready a response. When he spoke of it, he said that for some time back, it had been his desire to give the next years of his work to the study of Real Logic with a view to preparing something that might last. This history of logic gave him in an unexpected way, the chance to make thorough preparation for this treatise upon logic itself. For a year and more before his death he had been busy reading for the history. It is to be feared, however, that nothing was left in shape for publication. Professor Morris's death has brought a loss no less deep, in its way, to the philosophical world at large, than that which has come upon the University, and his circle of personal friends. He was, indeed, in the prime of his work. His own feeling, as expressed in one of those rare moments when he broke through his accustomed reserve in such matters, was that in past work he had been serving an apprenticeship for what he hoped to do.

It remains to speak of Professor Morris as a teacher. There is, indeed, nothing to be said of him as a class-room instructor that is not to be said of him as a man. Nothing could have been more foreign to his character than to assume in any respect an attitude or quality in the class-room different from that which marked him elsewhere. There was the same sincerity, the same simplicity, the same force of enthusiasm in him in one place as in another. No "officialism" such as sometimes gathers about the work of teaching ever touched him. He was everywhere simply and only a

(12) man. But Professor Morris had unusual gifts as a philosophic instructor. He was, among other things, a commentator of the first order. That is, he had the selective eye which made at once for the heart of an author under discussion; he had the pregnant phrase that lays bare this heart to the eye of the student. He had the gift of inspiring in his pupils the same disinterested devotion to truth that marked himself. He conveyed in large measure what, in his essay upon University Education already alluded to, he himself calls "the power to detect and the will to condemn all essential shams and falsehoods." Scholarship never lost itself in pedantry; culture never masqueraded as mere intellectualism, with ethical inspiration and backing. He was especially successful in arousing pupils with any particular aptitude for philosophy to advanced and independent work. The spirit of his work was that which he declared should be the spirit of all truly University work—a free teacher face to face with a free student. He once defined idealism as faith in the human spirit; this faith he had, and his voice and his influence were always for broadening and freeing the scope and methods of college work, without in any way relaxing the solidity and thoroughness of mental discipline.

Of the place and function of philosophy in University training he had a high conception—not because he in any way would magnify his own office at the expense of others, but because he saw in philosophy the organic bond of all special sciences, "the coördination of all knowledge." The University, to quote again from Professor Morris, "is the institution devoted to the fullest and freest cultivation of the universal condition of human freedom—knowledge of the truth." This end is humane, is ethical; and it is only because philosophy tended to knowledge of the truth, that he made high claims for it. So far was he from desiring any exclusive treatment of philosophy that he writes that "her praises will never be rightfully and effectively sung until they are sung by others than adepts." I can find no better expression of the spirit in which Professor Morris himself taught philosophy than is voiced in one of his own earlier writings. He speaks there of "the noblest common-sense which seeks reform, not simply protest and the demand for change, but by fitly

(13) feeding the fountains of intelligence, through which alone a true and authentic reform can be maintained." To feed the fountains of intelligence was precisely, it seems to me, the work of Professor Morris in philosophy. While we cannot estimate the loss to thought in the sudden death of Professor Morris, we cannot be sufficiently grateful that there are so many scattered over the whole land who have felt the quickening touch of his divine love of truth, and who have felt the "fountains of intelligence" within their own breast, called into life and energy by the truth as he bore witness to it.

No attempt can here be made to appreciate the intimate and personal qualities of Mr. Morris. Were I to attempt it, the flood of personal memories and affections would prevent. To those who did not know him, no use of adjectives would convey an idea of the beauty, the sweetness, the wholeness of his character. To those who did know him, it is not necessary to speak of these things. His gentle courtesy in which respect for others and for himself were so exquisitely blended, his delicate chivalry of thought and feeling; his unusual union of intellectual freedom and personal simplicity—who shall speak adequately of these traits? The words of one who knew Mr. Morris only by his outward presence, and through the report of others, comes to my lips: "There was nothing which he held as his own; he had made the great renunciation."


No notes

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2