Hugh Crichton-Miller (1877-1959)

Found among the papers of L R Reeve* this appreciation of the life of Dr Hugh Crichton Miller Scottish psychiatrist and founder of the Tavistock Clinic.

Tavistock Clinic**


  My appreciation of the late Dr Hugh Crichton-Miller is not in chronological order so I begin with an unusual admonition made in the middle of one of his talks to an audience of highly intelligent and respectful graduates: If you can't study the subject deeply leave psycho-analysis alone'.
His advice has never left my memory for two reasons: the very level-headed doctor was one of our greatest authorities on medical psychology, and a few weeks later the matron of a nursing home, having asked my opinion of the new psychology informed me that treatment was beneficial to half the patients concerned and disastrous to the others. Hence I was warned and I feel to-day that the warning is more imperative than ever before, not only to myself but to the increasing number of people concerned.
However, as psycho-analysis is not on my own terms of reference I refer to my next view of the specialist on the platform in Wimpole Street, when he so ably interpreted Dr Montessori's address. I have mentioned him in my reference to Montessori elsewhere so turn to my third episode when I heard him at the seaside.
  If there remains a more compelling speaker than was Crichton-Miller I have no burning desire to listen to him. Not so long after the first world war a different lecturer arrived each evening to address the Summer School of Psychology at Brighton. Crichton-Miller appeared one evening, and at the end of the refresher course it was agreed that his contribution was the best of all. His style was not that of a running commentator; at infrequent times he was searching for the right word, something like the late Sir Austin Chamberlain, although the pauses were not so prolonged. Very occasionally there was a suggestion of unease. All the same there was a charm in his quiet intensity, every word could be heard, there were no dramatic gestures, only a dullard would be unaware of his meaning, and he had a magnetic influence on his audience.
  He was born in Genoa. His father was the Rev. Donald Miller, D.D., and I am sure I have read somewhere that the father's house was unofficially the centre of the British community in that historic area. In his early days Crichton-Miller was educated at Fettes College, Edinburgh, followed by a period at Edinburgh University where he was, I find, President of the University Union: a significant indication of an outstanding student. I haven't yet met an ex-president of any university union whose personality isn't above the average; besides, I have known two of his Edinburgh contemporaries who were themselves outstanding men. I must add too that Pavia University can claim him as a distinguished son where he achieved another doctorate.
  So much for his formal education: which I am sure is incomplete in the telling; and his high offices are too numerous to present a comprehensive account; therefore I am leaving out some of his responsible activities, among which were House Surgeon and House Physician, Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, general practice, San Remo, Italy and Aviemore, Invernisshire, officer in charge functional cases, 21st General Hospital, Egypte, plus several responsible office in various areas.
  Yet, possibly his chief claims to fame concern his establishment Bowden House, at Harrow-on-the-Hill, a centre for the treatment of psychiatric disorders, and his international reputation as founder of the Tavistock Clinic, a curative centre for mental disturbances. Ex-patients will remember his successful treatment with gratitude for many years; his curative methods will be a tradition for a number of generations. Men of his great achievement are hard to forget.
  As for his thoughtful publications and well-presented conclusions, some of them will be accepted for many years as classics and the final authority among doctors and teachers. Among his six books 'The New Psychology and the Teacher', 'Psycho-analysis and its Derivatives' must be useful not only for students, but for any adult interested in human conduct. Further, not too busy to write half a dozen professional publications he found time to write many articles and essays in various medical journals; and I can believe that probably his greatest service to medicine is due to his faultless knowledge of the Italian language.
  After many years of reading, or hearing, of seeing an unusually attractive and deep-thinking medical man I have arrived. with temerity, at two theories: that his interest in the educational side of psychology was nearly as great as his absorption in medical science. Then at times he quietly entered a meeting the education section of the British Psychological Society, listened intently to a paper and the subsequent discussion between such leading figures as Sir Cyril Burt, Dr Ballard, Sir Percy Nunn and Susan Isaacs, and left without expressing an opinion. My second impression makes me feel lyrical. It seems to me that from his early days in rompers to his last breath his family life was unusually happy. His parents, brother and sisters fitted easily into a mutually tolerant parent-child relationship, and later he and Mrs Crichton Miller in turn were very happy with responsive, cheerful progeny. During the second world war there was a photograph in a daily paper of the doctor with two or three charming daughters in service uniform. Maybe the proud father was wore his uniform too. I am not sure. But it is certain I have never seen a happier little group for many a long day.
  His protracted illness, borne with fortitude, ended when he was eighty-two. Friends and admirers alike miss his stimulating presence; family anguish must at first have been enormous; but he left his eminent son Donald and his daughters a priceless inheritance which must have been a great consolation, and which they will always treasure above wealth: proud memories.

* Found among  the papers of the long defunct literary agency Michael Hayes of Cromwell Road S.W.5  - parts of a manuscript memoir by one L.R. Reeve of Newton Abbot, South Devon. Mr Reeve was attempting to get the book (Among those Present: Very Exceptional People) published, but on the evidence of the unused stamp Hayes never replied and  L. R. Reeve published the book himself through the esteemed vanity publisher Stockwell two years later in 1974.

L R Reeve had in a long life met or observed a remarkable selection of famous persons. He  presents 'vignettes' of 110 persons from all grades of society (many minor or even unknown) they include Winston Churchill, Dorothy Sayers,  H H Asquith, John Buchan, the cricketer Jack Hobbs, J.B. Priestley, H.G. Wells, Marconi, E.M. Forster, Duchess of Atholl, Marie Stopes, Oliver Lodge and Cecil Sharp -- 'it is unnecessary to explain that  many I have known have not known me. All of them I have seen, most of them I have heard, and some of them have sought information, even advice from me." Reeve states that the unifying qualification all these people have is '… some subtle emanation of personality we call leadership, and which can inspire people to actions  unlikely to be undertaken unless prompted by a stronger will."

Reeve was a teacher throughout his life and deputy head of 3 London schools, headmaster of Loughborough emergency schools, ex-president of London Class Teachers Association  and very early member of the British Psychological Society (55 years)... I calculate he was probably born in about 1900. His style is markedly unexciting but he has much information unavailable elsewhere.. He sent 6 typed manuscripts to (from the smell) the chain-smoking agent Hayes…

** Statue of Freud in front of the Tavistock Clinic. Photo by  Mike Peel for which much thanks.

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