Three Important Books by Harvard Professors
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A PHILOSOPHER. By George Herbert Palmer, Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston, 1931. Price: $2.00
THE revelation of a vigorous, conscientious mind, made at a time when years have enriched a man's quality and softened his critical curiosity, from the substance of Professor Palmer's book. Both the autobiographical facts and the attainment of a personal philosphy together with his fellow teachers, Royce, James, Munsterberg and Santayana have long been assured.
In telling the story of his life, Professor Palmer has sketched with brevity numerous circumstances, often trivial in size, which have had a bearing on his career. The absence of generalizations and the restraint in the description of personal events combine in such a manner as to remove both false humility and wearing trivia, qualities often consequent in accounts of this type. Naturally, his tracing of the rise of the department of Philosophy at Harvard is the most interesting topic handled. The change of system from one consisting of a minister who made occasional ventures into speculative ethics and morals, even at its best not separated from theology, to a group of active thinkers, both metaphysical and ethical, who violently disagreed in their theories of knowledge, yet were the best of friends, is described in an undramatic fashion. If this and other accounts are slightly deficient in humor, they are nevertheless written without zeal. Perhaps Professor Palmer wholly appreciates the fate of those undergraduates of 30 years ago who year in, year out would listen to an empiricist like James tear down the frail web of idealism wrought by Royce or Palmer himself, only to witness the process reversed when they returned to the idealists.
Inconsequential as much of Professor Palmer's facts may be, the terse style prevents it from becoming tedious, but the true flow of ripe wisdom is not reached until the second half of the book. Here the passages are so inchoate with thought that the sentences are almost without exception deep, if not winged, aphorisms. Professor Palmer's work should go on the shelves side by side with the settled wisdom of other great personalities in American letters.