Monday, June 8, 2015

Dr Charles Samuel Myers

Found in the L.R. Reeve papers (see earlier postings) - this piece on Dr Charles Samuel Myers (1873-1946) psychologist, anthropologist and musicologist. Among other things, he wrote the first paper on 'Shell Shock' (1915.) Many of Reeve's subjects were connected to psychology which, with education and politics, was a life long interest. He attended many meetings of the industrial section of the British Psychological Society where he first saw Myers. He gives much good detail about his appearance, voice and character...


"He was a remarkable man," declared a well-known psychologist soon after the decease of Dr C. S. Myers, F.R.S. He was; and the tribute was, if anything, an understatement, for few who knew him would challenge the description 'remarkable'. One day, if the event hasn't yet materialized, a well-documented yet fascinating biography will insinuate itself into bookshops and public libraries, and thousands of people who have never heard of him will learn of a man who might well be described as a determined investigator into the innate possibilities of the human race.

I have mentioned elsewhere that in 1898 he and Dr William McDougall with an older psychologist, Dr W. H. R. Rivers, joined a small party of anthropologists to the Torres Straits. The trio were engaged in psychological field work, but Rivers also became infected with the anthropological germ and in later years made another trip to the Torres Straits.
As I am usually very careful in my assertions I must admit that I am not very decisive about a Cambridge experiment somewhere around 1897, but I believe that within a physiological laboratory at St John's College, the first laboratory for psychology in England was unofficially set up through the promptings of W. H. R. Rivers, and energetically encouraged by Myers and McDougall.
In 1912 the Cambridge official Laboratory was created largely from funds generously given by Dr Myers himself; and now that I have reached a truly historic enterprise I may as weIl pause for a moment to mention my visits to a centre of fruitful research. With interludes of a few years I have enjoyed a visit on three or four occasions; but apart from one or two references, I have no intention of enumerating the numerous experiments involved. I have no comment to make on such things as an ergograph, intelligence tests, fatigue tests, a lie detector and so on; but my outstanding memory is the Chamber of Silence.
It is more than forty years since I encountered the room where the only sound is one's breath, a cough, a sneeze. I know of no other similar experiment although the type may be fairly common today. Now I am not sure whether the initiators had any precise object in view, but I suppose they wondered whether they could get various responses from certain types of people. I only know that my solitary experience gave me an unusual reaction when sitting in a room where no external interference could penetrate. One missed of course the efforts of a chirping bird, the whistle of a butcher's boy; the sound of children at play was absent, no traffic was heard, the rustle of trees had departed, and the unusual experience was impressive if not uncanny. Sometimes I dream of early happenings which have disturbed me; but never a dream of my short incarceration in a room of complete silence. However I can imagine that nervous temperaments might be shaken when they realize that they are in a soundless interior. On the other hand it could be that nervous exhaustion might be somewhat remedied in an extremely quiet room in a hospital.
Here I must admit to a change of personal attitude since my early days, When I used to ask certain experimenters what they expected to find from their particular research, sometimes the answer was evasive. Obviously they didn't know. But at times an experiment reveals something unexpected and more important than one dared to anticipate. Montessori, for instance, learned from watching very young children fitting cardboard cylinders into larger ones, that a child was thinking at a much earlier age than most adults realized. Nowadays, therefore, I tolerate uncertain objectives.
Well, Myers was an early, if not the first director of the important psychological laboratory at Cambridge. After a few years he left his historic post in the hands of F. C. Bartlett and became Principal of the National Institute of Industrial Psychology, in London; the first institution of its kind in the world, and where contemporary history is still recording a magnificent venture.
Again I must refrain from a lengthy description of his activities in his new territory; but I attended at times the institute for meetings of the industrial section of the British Psychological Society, and I recall such names as Welch (Chairman), Earle, Miles, Farmer, Macrae, Sheila Bevington; all I believe leading members of the young institute. Also the principal, C. S. Myers, was usually there. Ten Years of Industrial Psychology, written by Henry J. Welch and Charles S. Myers, published by Isaac Pitman, is like a fairy tale and is fascinating enough to claim the attention of an art student or a poet. All I have to say about the various industrial investigations so cleverly recorded must be contained in one simple phrase: Economy of Effort.
Then, my account of the appearances of Myers at meetings of the British Psychological Society must also be brief. I saw and heard him from time to time from about 1920 to 1939. His was not the type of personality frequently intervening at a discussion. Usually, like most of us, he sat and listened; but when he did rise he provoked thought and respect. His presence moreover made one realize there was knowledge and purpose in the collective human atmosphere.
Furthermore, my appreciation reached the summit when he delivered an address at one of the annual meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science; and while on the subject of speeches, I remember one of his declarations which I shall never forget, for he was such an authority on his life's study. He claimed that England's output in Research was not as great as that of America, but it was more thorough: a remark once acknowledged in my hearing by an American psychologist.
I won't bore people with reasons why, for at least twenty-five years, I probably spoke to more leading psychologists than anyone, and I won't enumerate their names: a dreary procedure. Yet, as I was never backward in presenting myself to eminent scholars, I cannot claim ever to have spoken to Myers. He couldn't avoid seeing me because of my many appearances at meetings when he was present. One answer may be implied by the interview of one of my college contempories: a very sound, well-known psychologist. She says that her experience was not very satisfactory. There were several periods of constrained silence during which Myers seemed very unhelpful, and most of the talking was due to her own prompting. Since then I have often wondered whether the silence was part of his technique: that is to say did he believe in letting her blether her heart out and diagnose her personality accordingly, or was he simply a sensitive man who was uneasy when in the company of a stranger? I am inclined to think that Dr Myers could diagnose someone better when he just sat and listened.
It is impossible for me, and perhaps any other person to explain fully why the late Dr C. S. Myers, F. R. S., was one of the most interesting men anyone could possibly meet. Certainly there was an air of distinction about him. His voice was cultured, his smile elusive but friendly, his reticence apparent although not excessive, and he could appreciate a joke against himself with the best of them; but there was an aura of enchantment about him which defied a normal description, and he was like most of us: a blend of extrovert and introvert. Further, he was the most attractive bald-headed man I ever encountered. Somehow the shape of his bare head suited his appearance. The excellent photograph in Ten Years of Industrial Psychology endorses my opinion. He was like the G. O. M., William Ewart Gladstone, the older he got the more distinguished his appearance.
He was an enthusiastic Freemason.

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