Delight Springs

Monday, July 29, 2013

A peripatetic prophet

It's 58 degrees, and (says the BBC) the Pope has apparently asked who he is to judge gay people. Are the end times at hand? I hope not, I've got travel plans and a Cause to carry.

Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller (let's just call him FCSS), I've confirmed, was both a prophet and a peripatetic. I want to take some students and a colleague and go track his steps. And his missteps. The author of the parody journal Mind! (with "I Cant's Critique of Pure Rot") made plenty of both.

FCSS (1864-1937) was a British pragmatist and humanist at Oxford (and later USC). He influenced and inspired William James ("I leave the 'Cause' in your hands..."), and fell into a deep unwarranted obscurity after his death. Before, really. He was a clever and too-eager polemicist and enfant terrible. He made James smile and cringe.

But his obscurity's beginning to recede, thanks to recent scholarship by John Shook and Mark Porrovecchio and others. Porrovecchio says Schiller's a "tonic" for our times. We need that!

I intend to do my part for the Schiller revival too, with a future Study Abroad course devoted to American philosophy's British roots (and branches). Going for a meeting about that tomorrow.

Last night I came across a delightful account of the then-still-heralded Prophet, from 1917. Edwin Slosser tracked Schiller down "at the gate of Corpus Christi College," dismounting his bicycle.
...he is alert and agile physically as he is mentally. He usually spends his summers mountain climbing in the Alps... Mr. Schiller wears the pointed beard that was the distinguishing mark of the radical of the nineties. He has a Shakespearean-shaped forehead, but wears un-Shakespearean glasses. He is as interesting to converse with as he is to read, which is more than you can say of many authors. He talks best while in motion, a real peripatetic philosopher.

Slosser continues, deliciously,
I wondered why he did not take his students out of the old gloomy lecture room and walk with them as he did with me, up and down the lawn between the trees and the ivy-clad walls of the college garden. Curious turf it was, close-cut and springy; I never felt anything like it under my feet... 
And that's all the encouragement I need to take my students out on the springy turf of middle Tennessee, when we get going again in a few weeks. Nor can I wait to feel the grass of Corpus Christi.

Just a few forms to fill out, and a few more students to snare.

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