Autobiography of Margaret Floy Washburn 沃什博恩自传
作者: washburn / 11429次阅读 时间: 2011年11月11日
来源: http://psychclassics.yorku.ca 标签: Washburn washburn
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Autobiography of Margaret Floy Washburn

First published in Murchison, Carl. (Ed.) (1930).History of Psychology in Autobiography(Vol. 2, pp. 333-358).
Republished by the permission of Clark University Press, Worcester, MA.

© 1930 Clark University Press.

Posted April 2000


SOME RECOLLECTIONS

Nothing gives the writer of the following paper courage to present it but the fact that she herself can read with interest the autobiography of anything human. Even this thought is hardly relevant, for an account merely of one's intellectual life can hardly avoid depicting a prig rather than a human being. Nevertheless, the temptation not to be left out of the autobiographical enterprise is irresistible.

There are progressive persons, interested in educational theory, who love to describe the defects of their own early training, but I seem to remember chiefly what was helpful in mine, so that, like Marcus Aurelius, I begin my meditations by thanking the gods for having given me "nearly everything good."

I was born in New York City on July 25, 1871, in a house built for my mother's father. It stood surrounded by a large garden, on a tract of land belonging to my mother's maternal grandfather, Michael Floy, which originally extended from 125th to 127th streets and from Fourth to Fifth Avenues. At the time of my birth both sides of 125th Street from Fifth Avenue to the Hudson River were occupied by white-painted frame mansions set in gardens. This great-grandfather of mine came from Devonshire and had won success as a florist and nurseryman in old New York. I have reason to thank the gods for his diligence, which enabled me to finish my professional training without having to earn my own living. All my other ancestors were in America before 1720; one-fourth of them were Long Island and Westchester County Quakers, five-sixteenths New York Dutch, one-fourth Marylanders, and one-sixteenth Connecticut Yankees.

I was an only child, and the first eight years of my life were spent in the Harlem house; my father then entered the Episcopal ministry and for two years had a parish at Walden, an Orange County village. We next moved to the small Hudson River city of Kingston, where I got my high-school training and whence I went to Vassar.

It seems to me that my intellectual life began with my fifth birthday. I remember a few moments when I was walking in the gar-[p. 334]den; I felt that I had now reached an age of some importance, and the thought was agreeable. Thinking about myself was so new an experience that I have never forgotten the moment.

I was not sent to school until I was seven, but, like many other persons, I cannot remember the time when I could not read, nor when I learned. The first school was a private one kept by the Misses Smuller, the three accomplished daughters of a retired Presbyterian minister who lived in the next house. It would be hard to find better teaching anywhere at the present time. In my year and a half there I gained, besides the rudiments of arithmetic, a foundation in French and German that saved me several years in later life, and the ability to read music and play all the major and minor scales from memory, a musical grounding that has been the chief aid to one of my greatest sources of enjoyment.

When we left New York for the two-years' sojourn in Walden, my school was, though still a private one, much like the district-school type, housed in a single-room building. I learned very little there: some American history and a little elementary physics. During these two years, between the ages of eight and ten, I wrote stories, of which one or two examples remain. They display no literary talent whatever except a precocious vocabulary, due to my constant reading. A family legend, by the way, was that the subject of this autobiography, aged seven, having had a bad tumble at school and been established as an invalid for the rest of the day, described the behavior of a playmate in the following impressive terms: "And Enid stood rooted to the spot with amazement at beholding me comfortably established on the sofa." Besides children's books such as the immortalAlice-- in which the only thing I found funny was Alice's play with the black kitten before she went through the looking glass: the rest was highly interesting but not at all amusing --, George MacDonald's enchantingThe Princess and the Goblin, which kept me awake the night of my seventh birthday and was read to pieces; all of Miss Alcott, Susan Coolidge, and Sophie May, I read between the ages of nine and twelve the whole of Dickens and the Waverley Novels.

The removal to Kingston came when I was eleven; here I entered a public school. By a blunder I was put into a grade too high for me, and suffered much anguish with arithmetic; in the spirit of M. Aurelius, however, it may be said that this was a piece of good fortune, for, managing somehow to scramble through the Regents' [p. 335] examinations, I entered the high school at twelve. New York State's system of Regents' examinations is, I believe, considered by all enlightened educators as below contempt, but I had much reason for gratitude to it. The terrifying formalities attending these examinations, where one's teachers with trembling fingers broke the seals on the packages of question papers sent from Albany, and one signed at the end of one's production a solemn declaration of having neither given nor received help, made all subsequent examinations in college and university seem trivial. What could be more comfortable and less awe-inspiring than being examined by one's own instructors?

The curriculum at Ulster Academy covered three years and would deeply distress a modern authority. It consisted of short-term courses in a large variety of subjects, each of which supplied a certain number of "Regents' credits." This method gave very poor results in the sciences, and my entire class failed twice to pass the Regents' examination in chemistry, having had no laboratory work. Our teacher performed some demonstration experiments, of which I can remember only sodium scurrying over the surface of water as a little silver ball and potassium bursting into flame under similar circumstances; also Prince Rupert's drop falling into dust when its tip was pinched; why, we had not the slightest idea. However, the course in "political economy" firmly fixed in one's mind the rudiments of the theory of supply and demand, and that in "civil government" equipped one with some lasting idea of the structure of state, county, township, and city. We had to learn the Constitution of the United States thoroughly, and a few years ago I was able to impress my colleague of the Department of Political Science at Vassar by answering test questions on it. Passing Regents' examinations in Latin had somewhat the nature of a sporting event. Having read four books of Virgil, we tried the examination on all six, reading at sight the passages from the last two. Several of us got over this hurdle, and theAeneidknew us no more. What we lost in literary appreciation was gained in confidence for sight reading.

During these years I read in all my spare moments. Never having to do any school work at home, and enjoying the blessed privilege of an only child to be undisturbed when at leisure, I devoured all of Thackeray and Fenimore Cooper, Irving, Don Quixote (illustrated by Doré), Cary's translation of theDivine Comedy(similarly adorned), and a wide range of other literature includingGulliver's Travels, Fox'sBook of Martyrs, and what I could make out of the [p. 336]Canterbury Tales. There was a good library at home and another at the Academy. Scott was read and reread until I was fourteen, Dickens I read until about fifteen years ago, when his world began to seem too remote. That so much reading did no harm to health is shown by the fact that until I was twenty-six I was never ill. We had little in the way of out-door sport except skating, which came naturally to all dwellers by the Hudson.

In the spring of 1883 my parents and I made a memorable trip down the Mississippi from St. Louis to New Orleans by one of the old "palatial" steamers, which took a week for the run. I can still hear the call of the man with the lead, repeated from an upper deck and from the pilot-house, "Mark three!"; when it was "Mark twain!" a deep bell sounded once, the slow alternating puffs of the two engines stopped, and the great boat floated softly on over the shoal. The summer of my fourteenth birthday we went abroad for six weeks spent in the British Isles and in Paris; Walter Scott had made an excellent background for this journey.

I entered Vassar in the fall of 1886 as a preparatory student, for I lacked some Latin and had had no French since my earliest school days. Miss Smuller had laid so good a foundation that I needed only a semester at Vassar to secure admission to freshman French.

At this time there were no 'majors' in the Vassar curriculum. English, mathematics, Latin, a modern language, physics and chemistry, were required through the sophomore year; psychology, so-called, and ethics in the senior year; there was no requirement of continuity in any other subject. So far as there was continuity in my own studies, it lay in chemistry and French. Professor LeRoy Cooley taught chemistry and physics in crystal-clear lectures: his favorite word was 'accurate,' which he pronounced 'ackerate,' and I have loved, though by no means always attained, 'ackeracy' ever since. Particularly delightful was quantitative analysis, with the excitement of adding up the percentages of the different ingredients in the hope that their sum might approach one hundred; though the faint suspicion always remained that a particularly 'ackerate' result was due to losing a trace of something here and getting in a grain or two of dust there. French was admirably taught by two alternately kindly and ferocious sisters, Mlle. Achert and Mme. Guantieri, known to the students as Scylla and Charybdis: from the beginning no English was ever heard in the classroom, an unusual requirement in those days.[p. 337]

I am rather glad that I took no courses in English literature. When I was sixteen I began to love poetry, especially Keats, who absolutely bewitched me. Later, through a growing interest in philosophy, Matthew Arnold, with his matchless combination of classic beauty, clear thinking, and deep feeling became my favorite; I wrote my Commencement oration on "The Ethics of Matthew Arnold's Poetry," tracing the Stoic elements in it. For the love of poetry and philosophy I found in my sophomore year a strong stimulus in an older student who had been a senior in my preparatory year and had returned to college to work for a master's degree. She had been the leader of a brilliant group of girls in the class of '87, whose religious radicalism had distressed President Taylor in his first year of office. I now experienced the mental expansion that comes with dropping orthodox religious ideas, an expansion accompanied by exhilaration.

From my junior course in English I remember gratefully a book calledRhetorical Analysis, by Professor Genung of Amherst. It consisted of selections of prose from a wide range of masters; at the bottom of each page were detailed questions on the style, which we answered in writing: such as, "Exactly what does each of these metaphors contribute?" "Why is 'which' used instead of 'that' here, although 'that' is more nearly correct?" This work was invaluable in developing the ability to say what one meant and I recall it every time I try to write.

A wonderful new field was opened in my junior year by a course in biology whose teacher was a young Bryn Mawr Ph.D., Marcella O'Grady. She later married Theodor Boveri, the great authority on cytology, and has now, some years after his death, returned to America and to teaching. She lectured admirably and drew beautiful figures on the board. In this year, too, I began the study of Greek: Professor Abby Leach was a skillful teacher of its grammar, and brought the little group of my classmates in two semesters to the point where they could join the incoming freshmen who had had two years' preparation. I cherish proudly the scraps that remain, and pity the person who has to master scientific terms with no knowledge of Greek.

It was, I think, the summer after my junior year that I read in my father's library Arthur Balfour'sDefence of Philosophic Doubtand acquired for a lifetime the conviction that no one has ever succeeded in constructing a logic-proof system of monistic metaphysics.[p. 338]

President Taylor's course in psychology, required in the first semester of all seniors, was based on James Clark Murray'sHandbook of Psychologyand lectures on the history of philosophy by Dr. Taylor. Murray's book was directed against the associational school, Dr. Taylor's lectures against materialism. Murray's argument was that association could not explain the process of active relating, which he called comparison: "association can merely associate." This was a sound position: James had expressed the same thing the year before in pointing out the neglect of 'selective attention' by the associational school. The problem is focal in psychology at the present time, with the believers in 'creative mind,' vitalism, voluntarism, and so forth on one side and the mechanists on the other: I firmly believe that it can be solved by mechanism, but not that of the old associative type. Dr. Taylor's attacks on materialism were made, not from the idealistic point of view, but from that of 'natural realism,' originating with Reid and still being defended in those days by President McCosh of Princeton. Dr. Taylor (whom, by the way, we regarded with great affection) had no idea of presenting metaphysical systems to us impartially: he wished to preserve our religious convictions by saving us from materialism in the one direction and pantheistic idealism in the other. This vigorous special pleading was more stimulating than the most conscientiously impartial presentation of opposing views could have been.www.psychspace.com心理学空间网

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continued...


I am sure our foreign friends will never forget the revelation of democracy in action which they obtained from standing in line and collecting their own sustenance at that cafeteria. I was elected to the International Committee at this meeting, an honor I appreciated the more because of the other Americans chosen at the same time.[p. 358]

One of the difficulties in writing these recollections has been that the present is so much more interesting than the past. It is hard to keep one's attention on reminiscence. Scientific psychology in America -- though not, alas! in Germany, its birthplace -- seems fuller of promise than ever before. The behaviorists have stimulated the development of objective methods, while configurationism is reasserting the importance of introspection; and, best of all, pure psychology is enlisting young men of excellent ability and a far sounder general scientific training than that possessed by any but a few of their predecessors.