Saturday, June 6, 2015

J. H. Wimms

Another piece by L.R. Reeve, this on the writer and psychologist J.H. Wimms (Joseph Henry.) He is unknown to Wikipedia and his dates are also unknown but a remark by Reeves that his children must by now be grand parents or great grand parents (written circa 1970) puts Wimms birth date at about 1870. He published a paper in the British Journal of Psychology on The Relative Effects of Fatigue and Practice produced by Different Work in 1907 and earlier in 1903 Elementary Biology (Pilgrim Press). Wimms is mentioned in an earlier jot on D. W. Brogan where Reeve describes him as 'the finest lecturer I have ever known' - no mean compliment, as Reeve was a constant attender of lectures throughout a long and busy life. The Brogan piece also has background on L.R. Reeve.


The finest lecturer for any university is the man who can maintain an unbroken interest on almost any occasion. Trite, but true; and the greatest I have ever known was J. H. Wimms, M.A., of Goldsmiths’ College. He was one of those rare scholars who can maintain the attention of students who, even with no desire to learn are, in spite of themselves excited by the magnetic presentation of the lecturer, and find eventually that they have quite a fair knowledge of one or more specific subjects.
I have known the time when Wimms has, at the end of a lecture, been bombarded with questions,
and frequently has had to leave us because he was due to meet another college group, and through him I can understand what lecturers mean when they declare that a student learns more out of the lecture room than in it; for almost every one of his lectures was followed by a heated discussion in the corridors and locker rooms; and while I usually deplore having to study books written by members of a college staff I am bound to say that his Introduction to Psychology gave me a better foundation for an intricate subject than any similar book I have encountered during the last sixty years. I am sure too that, as regards psychology, there can never be written an easier book to understand. It is simply just what it claimed to be: an introduction. There is no padding, and while many writers introduce simple facts in a somewhat woolly context, Wimms was content to produce a slim publication which any normal adult could easily grasp; and even now when I think of that modest little book of long ago (which a borrower never returned) I recollect such words as conation, cognition, retrospection, introspection and other intrusions into the common English language. In that slim volume moreover the blank pages at the beginning and end of the introduction are filled with quotations I derived from Wimms’s contributions when quoted during his lectures. Even today I can repeat declarations from the rare occasions when he referred to various authorities, "A habit is easy to make, bat to break it is being flayed alive"; also, “Sow a thought reap an action, sow an action reap a habit, sow a habit reap a character, sow a character reap a destiny"; and "As a twig is bent the tree’s inclined".
I must have memorized at least eight pages of quotations written in small handwriting, some of which came from other source books which we were directed to study. There was Karl Groos: "Children do not play because they are young; they have their youth because they must play". There was Stanley Hall; and there was William James, perhaps America’s greatest psychologist, whose Talk to Teachers is a classic and may have been responsible for the memorable declaration: "We learn to skate in the summer, and we learn to swim in the winter”.
Therefore I worked very hard at my psychological chores and when examination questions were handed to me at my desk on the great annual occasion when 'butterflies’ were prevalent, my only trouble was to scribble all my responses in the allotted time. Modesty forbids me to record the result; but I wasn’t at the bottom of the agonizingly-awaited list pinned up on the board outside the Vice-Principal’s office, and perhaps I may announce that Wimms congratulated me on my performance.
At one time he had a reputation which I, in common with other juniors, could never understand. On arrival at the college, seniors warned us that he was two-faced and couldn’t be trusted. We juniors asked for evidence of such a statement. No instance was forthcoming and the smear never persisted for we were all happy under his lectures and general activities. My theory is that a certain senior had a ‘chip on his shoulder’ following a just admonition for a certain breach of good conduct and started a whispering campaign. Moreover, I myself was guilty of one irregularity. Students in lodgings were supposed to be in by 10 p.m. Tutors were on a rota to make an occasional visit to lodgings. Wimms, living at Leytonstone, called at my place in Brockley and found that I was absent. Jones, my fellow student, told him that I had gone to escort my fiancee to the London Hospital but would soon return. After waiting half an hour I was still absent. On return I was instructed to report to Wimms in the morning. I reported. Said J. H. W., "I blessed you last night; you made me miss my usual train." After my apology and explanation plus a few questions from him he dismissed me by saying, "After all you are old enough to know how to conduct yourself, so we’ll let it go at that, but I hope I don’t have to miss my train again.” A fair admonition I thought, and my particular cronies agreed with me that Wimms had been very tolerant.
It would of course be impossible to prove, nevertheless I should have liked to undertake an investigation on a personal theory: that as regards examinations in psychology Wimms was the most successful tutor of all time; and his successor, Fred Schonell, a brilliant Australian who eventually became Vice-Chancellor of Queensland University, was a very deserving, very close runner-up in competence.
For my happiest intellectual days during sixty years I am indebted to J. H. Wimms more than to anyone else, for he nominated me for membership of the British Psychological Society. Until just before his nomination I hadn’t known of its existence, and his interest took me eventually among many of the most dedicated and brilliant minds not only in Britain, but in an international society where one finds the most tolerant and understanding people on earth.
It may be an anti-climax, but it is imperative to refer to his home life. Like Sir Oliver Lodge, Wimms was the father of a large family. Rumour says that on one occasion when the intrusion of another infant was announced in the women’s staffroom of the college one member reacted With, “What, another?" I have heard that Mrs Wimms wasn’t too pleased with the comment. Some of his numerous children must now be grandparents, even great-grandparents. No doubt their grandchildren would like to know that their great-grandfather inspired hundreds of young students to study the hardest and most fascinating of all subjects: Human Behaviour.

No comments:

Post a Comment