Obituary: Christopher Morris

Christopher Morris, historian and teacher, born Great Bookham Surrey 24 January 1906, Fellow King's College Cambridge 1930-93, married 1933 Helen Soutar (one daughter; and one son deceased), died Cambridge 16 February 1993.

CHRISTOPHER MORRIS was a quintessential college don of the inter-war years. His life was devoted to his pupils, to King's and to Cambridge. He came up in 1924, was elected a Fellow by dissertation and taught history until he retired in 1971; and he was still working in his rooms until a few days before he died.

He used to say that he learnt the secret of supervision from Nathaniel Wedd (who brought EM Forster out of his shell). You must first find something to praise in a pupil's essay, after which you can say practically anything. And you must teach the man not the subject. Lecturers cover the subject and recommend the books; the supervisor spots the strengths and weaknesses in his pupil and recommends the books to open his mind such as The Martyrdom of Man or The Brothers Karamazov. Morris spent hours on his pupils. A scholarship candidate would receive before he came up a letter in his own hand eight pages long suggesting what to read.

He was not a charismatic teacher whose pupils imitated him. Always friendly, he was cool - he looked through you, summing you up. The serious and stodgy he tried to shock, the too-clever-by-half he jolted by insisting they produce evidence and use sources critically to justify their epigrams. The genial lazy athlete found himself facing a man wearing an Achilles or Alverstone tie (Morris ran in the four-mile relay for Cambridge) and if invited to his home - for he and Helen were untiringly hospitable - would find the whole wall of a room covered with volumes on cricket.

He was a connoisseur of undergraduate intellect. He enjoyed setting and marking exam papers and identifying the precise cast of a candidate's mind. He enjoyed defending to his fellow examiners the nuance of alpha beta minus or a beta gamma query query alpha (the sign of a charlatan).

Dons such as he are indispensable colleagues. He was asked time and again to be chairman of the Tripos examiners. For years he did duty as Seeley Librarian for the History Faculty. He was even in 1938 a (merciful) Junior Proctor. When Sir John Clapham retired Morris became only the third president of the oldest of all college history societies, founded by Oscar Browning in 1876, and for 30 years opened each academic year with a paper. History societies of other colleges had only to ask him for a paper and he would oblige. Their range was astonishing: from the Plague of 1665 and matters that came from editing the diaries of Celia Fiennes to the social structure of cricket - 'Gentlemen and Players', in which the snobbery of the gentlemen was revealed to be matched by their gamesmanship. He called himself an amateur historian. A professional was one whose researches in the archives illuminated a particular period or subject. Yet he was in fact prodigiously learned in all sorts of byways, and bought and read thousands of books.

Morris began by lecturing on Tudor and Stuart constitutional history and later gave the standard course on the history of political thought from Plato to Rousseau. Out of this came books on the Tudors, on Tyndale and Hooker, and the first of a projected three-volume history on Western political thought. But the tide had turned and his liberal interpretation did not take into account the challenge his contemporary Michael Oakeshott was making nor how his younger colleague Quentin Skinner was changing the subject.

Morris stepped from the pages of Mill's Essay on Liberty. Nothing pleased him more than to vote in a minority of one. He would side with a minority even if some of them held views the antithesis of his own. On the Abdication, on military service and architecture he expressed original views. Enjoying paradox, he was something of a paradox himself. When young he was a pronounced agnostic, but there was no more regular attender of chapel services and he was a natural member of the church patronage committee.

He was a champion of women's colleges and on retirement directed studies for Girton for three years; but he shook his head over feminism. Nor did he hide his disapproval of the trendy and of political correctness. When some Fellows argued that the college had no right to finance private education by maintaining the Choir School, he reminded them that the choristers were part of King Henry's foundation and had a better right to support than they. He was a great college man.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot