Obituary: Christopher Morris

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IF INTELLECTUAL and individual student-care debts had to be paid by undergraduates of King's College, Cambridge, between 1930 and 1970, Christopher Morris, and his powerful wife, Helen, would have been very wealthy indeed, writes Tam Dalyell (further to the obituary by Lord Annan, 1 March). Theirs was an affectionate relationship and Morris called her 'my cartographer, my typist, and my severest critic'.

Morris's interest in his students began the moment a man was accepted by the college. To this day, I treasure the letter that I received as National Service tank-crew in Rhine Army, penned in Morris's minute handwriting, courteously recommending a long book-list, headed by Motley's Rise of the Dutch Republic. Morris believed that his future pupils should take the opportunity of National Service 'to get the Historical Classics under their belt'. Even by the standards of Cambridge Fellows, Morris himself was enormously widely read, and would recommend books, tailored to the needs of individuals, as he perceived them.

Privileged were Kingsmen who took the History Tripos in the 1950s. We were supervised by John Saltmarsh, who in himself encapsulated Medieval Fenman, the clever Arthur Hibbert, the formidable young Noel Annan, the razor-sharp Dr Eric Hobsbawm, and Morris himself. His special quality as a supervisor was his puckish enjoyment in putting a contrary point of view on any historical argument. He was an arch- enemy of the glib and the facile. One of his other MP pupils, Michael Latham (Melton Mowbray until 1992), and I agreed that Morris instilled in undergraduates a tendency to challenge conventional wisdom or received doctrine.

In a glittering tribute on the occasion of Morris's 70th birthday, when former pupils travelled from all over Britain to be present, organised by David Chipp, Chief Executive of the Press Association 1969-86, and another of Morris's pupils, Tony Melville, headmaster of Leys School in Cambridge, John Prest, Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, spoke for us all when he referred to Christopher as a 'supreme foe of cant and pretension'.

For a pupil, Morris's strengths were in the political thought of the Tudors, and later Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau - and in ecclesiastical history. It was a source of sadness that James Cargill-Thompson, one of his star pupils and ecclesiastical historian at King's College London, died young, leaving only a posthumous work on Luther.

Morris was in the tradition, not of Keynes, like his King's contemporaries, Richard Kahn, and Nicky Kaldor, but of his exemplar, Sir John Clapham, the economic and social Historian, Vice-Provost from 1933 to 1943.

Above all, perhaps, he will be remembered by half a century of Cambridge undergraduates, the welcome that we received from Christopher and Helen at No 5 Merton Street, and the civilising influence on us all. The Morrises - for Christopher and Helen were a collective entity - left a legacy among all who came in contact with them of discerning good taste.

Comments