Nicholas Murray Butler

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...This is L R Reeve's admiring take on Nicolas Murray Butler (1862 -1947) an American philosopher, diplomat, and educator. He was a somewhat divisive figure and not universally liked. One notable critic of Butler was Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. While attending Columbia, Ginsberg scrawled the words "Butler Has No Balls" on his grimy dorm window. This must have been just before Butler died and it seems to have lead to the poet being chucked out of college.

Nicolas Murray Butler


  I often wonder whether the late Dr Murray Butler would, had there been such an award, have won a decoration as the busiest man in America. His scholastic and political record cannot be described as anything less than amazing.

  Years ago when I heard him speak to a distinguished and large audience in the Sheldonian theatre,
Oxford, he appeared steady, unruffled and unhurried. His height was nearly six feet; his features approaching distinction; his voice pleasing to the ear, and his oratorial gestures adequate to his theme. At the end of his speech I felt that his type was an inspiration to his thoughtful fellow Americans. We in England would be enriched by a few more men of his achievements. I believe I have already stated that when Professor Raymont returned from a three months' trip to the United States he informed a few hundred of us that the best Americans were as good as our greatest Englishmen. Agreed that many of us were already of the same opinion, it was encouraging to hear such a confirmation from a man of the calibre of Thomas Raymont.

  At the time of Butler's speech ( to the International Congress of Educational Associations) he was, in addition to membership of other important bodies, president of Columbia University; and I should think that his secretaries often felt almost distracted to fit in satisfactorily his multitudinous and really important engagements. To arrange them to everyone's satisfaction must surely have been miracles.

  Perhaps I had better, before pursuing his academic career, take a quick glance at some of his political activities. In 1912 he was chairman of the Republican Convention, New York State, and also a delegate representing the national convention; and as Vice-President Sherman was renominated but died before the general election the votes were diverted to Butler for vice-president. Here he was unsuccessful. Then, on four occasions he was a delegate to the Republican national convention. Among his aims he advocated a repeal of the 18th Amendment, mainly on the grounds that it failed to combat the evils of the liquor traffic and he favoured woman suffrage and the short ballot.

  Above all he must I think have been among the half-dozen leading aducationists ever known in America. His career makes on gasp in astonishment. At one time he was responsible, directly and indirectly, for no less than 36,639 students, for from his watch-tower he supervised Columbia University, a cosmopolitan institution which included Barnard Teachers' College and the Collage of Pharmacy. Moreover, during on period of his life he was chairman of a national committee to restore the University of Louvain: but before making any further reference to European affairs I must announce his editorship of the 'Educational Review', which he directed for thirty years, and it seems that he was the author of some dozen books, intended for serious men and women.

  As for his incalculable services for the world advancement of Education I must simply state that he received decorations from eight Euraopean countries, and I must not forget to add that he gave a series of lectures at eight British universities.

  But for such a figure one has to give up. I haven't suggested even a tip of his monumental distinction. One cannot hope to give a clear account of a man like Nicholas Murray Butler under a book of 80,000 words, and I am unable to envisage a really comprehensive biography of such a various man without nearly a decade of arduous research in many countries. No doubt one biography, or more, has already been acheived. Others will undoubtedly be undertaken. I pity the brace lad or lass who does eventually succeed in giving complete satisfaction to comprehending and appreciative scholars who revere such an outstanding American. For to succeed in such a task is to exhaust one's nervous energy; but I do hope that the reward will equate the enormous undertaking.

  I cannot end my appreciation of a great American without mentioning my wholehearted support of Butler's declaration that mental discipline and a liberal education are essential; and I can think of only two Americans I respect more: Abraham Lincoln and William James.

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