Century of Endeavour

The TCD Board in the 30s

(c) Roy Johnston 1999

(comments to rjtechne@iol.ie)

On Dec 6 1930 the Annual Report of the Appointments Committee was noted. This continued to reflect the uptake of TCD graduates by the British Colonial Service. The secretary at this time was KC Bailey, who was an active Junior Fellow and Chemistry lecturer. I have not established when JJ's secretaryship ceased; he had referred to opening contact with Belfast in his earlier report, but this attempt by JJ to keep alive all-Ireland links seems to have lapsed.

On February 7 1931 Prof SM Dixon was sent to represent TCD at an International Conference on the History of Science, to take place in London on June 29 to July 3. I digress here to note the fact that this conference, in the 'science and society' domain, is regarded as historic, in that the USSR sent a strong delegation, headed by Bukharin, which included the physicist Hessen, who read a seminal paper on 'the social and economic roots of Newton's Principia'. This influenced JD Bernal, JBS Haldane, Joseph Needham and others; Bernal's 1939 'Social Function of Science' and Needham's monumental history of science in China being among the fruits of this important seminal event. The only science historian in TCD in the 40s was KC Bailey, whose lectures the present writer attended. I do not recollect any echoes of this 1931 event or its followers, which would suggest that the participation of Dixon was somewhat nominal.

The Junior Fellows in 1931 continued to work at a slow pace; the sub-committee on tutorial reform had meet but not reported. Goligher was now in the chair. JJ was not present, and was re-elected to the Lecture Committee, along with Rowe.

Returning now to the Political Economy and Commerce question: on May 18 1932 the Chair of Political Economy was suspended for a year, on the resignation of Bastable, and then on June 15 interim arrangements were set up for lectures in economics, with JJ appointed Lecturer in Applied Economics (money and credit, descriptive economics, commerce) at pass and honours levels. Duncan did economic theory, public finance, political and economic science, with the title Lecturer in Economic Theory. Constance Maxwell did Economic History. This situation persisted for a while, and then on November 18 1933 they invited application for the Chair in Political Economy (at a supplementary salary of £150, so this was clearly an internal appointment).

During this period JJ in his tutorial capacity applied (unsuccessfully) to the Board on behalf of J Harold Douglas for leave to re-sit the Final Freshman exam. The latter's father JG Douglas had worked with JJ in 1917 lobbying for the Irish Convention, with a political settlement on the Canadian model, and subsequently worked with him in the 40s when they were both Senators. JH Douglas subsequently became a Senator in the 1950s.

The Junior Fellows met once in 1932, on June 14; there were only 3 present; there had been 16 in 1931. Rowe resigned from the Lecture Committee and was replaced by AJ McConnell (who subsequently became Provost; does this suggest the Lecture Committee was a channel of influence? It is a pity there is no record).

Nothing was noteworthy in 1933 at Board level; the Junior Fellows again met only once; there were 14 present; JJ was absent (then living in Drogheda). They rejected conditions attached to Fellowship elections to be held in 1934.

In 1934 it was noted in the Board minutes (13/01/34) that the School of Commerce Committee included the Provost (EJ Gwynn), John Good, JCM Eason, Dr Bailey, the teaching staff and the Registrar. During the period Eason, the Dublin businessman, was active with JJ on the Council of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society. We can perhaps claim this as an indication of JJ's influence on School policy; the real world was important.

On February 14 JJ applied for a grant of £60 from the Madden Fund towards the publication of his polemical book 'The Nemesis of Economic Nationalism', in which he expressed criticism of the way in which the new Fianna Fail government was approaching the question of how to industrialise. This was opposed, and in the end they gave him £50, with half of any profits to go to the College. Russell opposed even this. Some years later £100 was voted without question for a book by Auchmuty (see below) which would appear to support JJ's continued 'enfant terrible' atatus.

There is an exchange of letters in JJ's papers which relate to the foregoing, which throw some light on JJ's sense of marginalisation. It seems he sent a draft of Nemesis of Economic Nationalism to EJ Gwynn the Provost, seeking critical comment. From Gwynn's reply (10/01/34) it is evident that the material is in the form of a series of lectures, presumably delivered via the Barrington process. Gwynn advised less sharpness and more urbanity, and urged less pointed criticism of de Valera and his party, with a view to getting the book read by its target readership.

In a subsequent letter to the provost (08/02/34) JJ makes his case for access to the Madden Fund. I feel I should quote his letter in full:

Dear Mr Provost

So far as I personally am concerned I accept the implications of the decision of the Board and Council with regard to the Chair of Political Economy in the spirit in which they were intended.

I was, as you know, about to publish a book on Economic Nationalism in which I analysed among other things the effects which present Anglo-Irish economic policies must have on the Irish commercial interest, on which the life of the College so largely depends. If I had published that book as Professor of Political Economy in the University of Dublin the English public would have taken notice, and I might have undertaken the financial risks incidental to publication. When the College in its own interests should have presented me with a megaphone, it has decided that I must continue using a still small voice.

In these circumstances I applied for a grant from the Madden Fund to cover the costs of publication. I am now informed by the Bursar that there is no money in the Fund for such a purpose. I hope the Board at its next meeting will take a wider view of the College interests which are at stake than it did when it decided not to make me a Professor of Economics.

When I became a Fellow I swore to "protect and promote the safety, dignity, peace and interest of the College". I regard a favourable decision on my present application as so vital to the interests of the College and so urgent, that it will be my duty in accordance with my Fellowship oath to lay the whole matter before the Visitors for their information in the event of a decision being unfavourable.

Yours sincerely...

So, it seems that to get some grudging publication resources from the Madden Fund he had to threaten the Board with the Visitors, while still smarting from his failure to get the Chair of Political Economy, which had gone to Duncan.

As an example of the flavour of the Board, and of the College, during this period, I feel I should mention their decision on May 2 1934 to censure JM Henry, a Mathematics lecturer and Junior Fellow, for his book 'The New Fundamentalism', as being inconsistent with his role as a tutor Fellow. Presumably he was considered in danger of corrupting the youth. A motion to deprive him of his pupils was narrowly defeated.

According to McDowell, Henry '...took such a wide view of culture that he tried to combine all elements of it together. Mathematics, psychology, philosophy, comparative religion, education, dietetics, fringe medicine, all were grist to his mill....a credo of an eccentricity which places it in the outer fringes of the curiosities of academic literature....his genuine surprise at the indignation caused by an implication, tossed off incidentally in his book, that the Virgin Mary was a respectable Temple prostitute...'.

I got Max Henry's book out of the Library of TCD and read some of it; I must say I agree with McDowell's assessment. McDowell goes on the say that '...had he survived into old age he would have made an admirable guru in a Californian commune...'. I would go further and add that the Max Henry case, to my mind, confirms the correctness of the decision made two decades earlier to get rid of Fellowship by examination, which selected people on the basis of broad-spectrum book knowledge rather than academic analytical ability to deal with specialist problems in depth. I suffered during my first year in TCD from lectures by Max Henry, in projective geometry; they were simply appalling, indescribable.

Note added by RJ 11/12/2005 to complement the above: I have AA Luce's obituary, which appeared in the Irish Times on 27/03/1947, and was kept by JJ among his final selection of papers which he took to Nenagh with him in his final retirement in 1970. I have scanned it in, and here it is:


James Maxwell Henry carried all before him at school and in College. Then he took first place in the British Civil Service, examination, and by rights he should have settled down to a life of honoured and affluent routine. But harness irked him and he did not hold with 'safety first'. He spent one fortnight, I believe, in London as civil servant, "licking stamps", as he phrased it; then he threw it all up, resigned his hard-won and coveted post there, and came back to Trinity to take the great risk, and read for Fellowship. The other candidates trembled. Here was Max Henry back, again, Henry the versatile, armed at all points: mathematics, classics, letters, and philosophy; and they said he was ready to throw Hebrew into the scale as well.

He wanted adventure, the adventure of the mind; he wanted truth at first-hand, and these things are not to be had in the routine of office life; and so he came back to books and study and speculative thought.

He was wayward and unconventional in pursuit of truth; he would not follow the crowd; he would "gang his ane gait," and leave orthodoxies to lesser men. He was perfectly sincere; he sought the truth of things (you could not hear him on the Metaphysical Society platform and doubt it), but he sought it as an individualist.

"Ever let the fancy roam." It was a rule of life for him. and the results were often dazzling, and always interesting. You never knew him dull or dumb. He was a brilliant talker; he knew something about almost everything, and the less he knew of it, he himself said, the better he talked. The Common Room on gala nights, crowded with experts in many subjects and with learned strangers from distant lands, held no terrors for Henry. He was in his element there, entering into the interests and outlook of all, conversing and not making conversation.

He had his serious side; but he rarely showed it to us. The Max Henry you met and talked to in the Front Square was gay and light-hearted and flippant as a rule, naughty sometimes, but always kindly. Did he ever say an unkind word? Full of theories about everything under the sun, and joying in every new thing, he belonged in spirit to sunny Athens of classic days, and I see him there among Plato's friends, perhaps sternly quizzed by Socrates and more than holding his own.

He was a good teacher, but he could not teach to schedule. He had the leapfrog mind, and the boundary of the science interested him more than the contents. You went to his lectures on geometry, and you learn the principles of logic. You went his logic lectures, and you learn about life.

The students loved him. He was a good tutor, open-handed to a fault, and ready to fight his pupils' battles. Years ago, Provost Bernard asked him to give an eye to students from distant lands, and Henry took that charge as a sacred trust, and fulfilled it. Many a graduate now far away looks back with gratitude to the day when he entered College, a stranger in a strange land, and Henry met him and took him by the hand and gave him sympathy and wise advice.

He could not limit his intellectual interests; he could not strike his wisdom into bounds, and so his best book remained unwritten. Nor did he rise to the front as an administrator, but he made a place for himself in College life, and filled it, and there we shall miss him sorely. For he was one of those rare talkers who enjoy hearing others talk. In consequence, he was in great demand as a chairman and a speaker, and he was always at the disposal of the students and willing to help them in their debates. For years he was president of the Neophytes and champion of their cause.

His interests outside College were wide and varied. Through life he was active in mind and body. he could play a good game of golf, tennis, cricket, chess and bridge. The lawn tennis club at Bray owes much to his care. His powers remained with him, till the close of day. His eye was not dim, nor his vigour of mind abated. And he had light at evening-time, when he saw his brilliant son just returned from service with the RAF in the Far East.

Maxwell had many friends and and no enemies, and a great volume of sympathy in their loss will go to his widow and their son. AAL.


The foregoing throws light on the nature of the incubus under which JJ laboured, as a result of his having been a pre-1919 Fellow. He had to work all that much harder to avoid being labelled as a polymath, dilettante or guru. Unlike Max Henry, whose specialisation was in mathematics, JJ managed to achieve a degree of specialist recognition in applied economics, but with impact mostly external to the College. I return to this in the lead-up to the McConnell reforms of the 1950s, and their gestation in the 1940s.

I should here refer to a bound m/s, dated 1934, which exists among his papers, which consists of a set of arguments about the promotion prospects of the pre-1919 Fellows, and a copy of a letter to the Registrar, in which he outlines a set of possible promotional procedures alternative to the one which he was then facing, namely, waiting for two members of the current Board to die off. He was looking for alternatives to the gerontocracy, and foreshadowing the philosophy which later crystallised into the McConnell reforms. Unfortunately for him, when these reforms took place, he was seen as having joined the gerontocracy, and he was unable to 'ride the wave'.

In 1935 on January 30 the Board accepted the Finance Committee's recommendation for 'certain advance payments' to JJ. It is not clear what these were for; he had been farming near Drogheda, under Economic War conditions, and had incurred losses due to the depressed price of cattle. I suspect that this may have been at the root of the problem. Taking this in conjunction with the 1934 m/s referred to above, I am however inclined to conclude that he was seeking an incremental rise in salary on the basis of his expectation of eventual Senior Fellow status, in order to enable him to do his work effectively. His work included the running of a farm, which was, in effect, his economic laboratory. He felt he needed hands-on experience if he was to lecture credibly in applied economics.

McDowell (p460) remarks that JJ '...having studied both Ancient History and Economics fell badly between the two stools, for he saw junior colleagues appointed to Professorships in both subjects. He then took up farming in his spare time and wrote extensively, if somewhat idiosyncratically on agricultural economics with special reference to Irish problems.'

McDowell in the foregoing assessment suggests that JJ's incursion into farming was a consequence of his academic lack of success. I don't think this is fair to him. He took up farming in the late 20s, before the economics chair came up, and his objective in doing so was to interact 'hands-on' with the economic real world, which he had observed closely during his 1920s Barrington travels. He had been active in the development of the School of Commerce towards Political Economy. The fact that the Chair went to Duncan rather than to him was a reflection of academic distaste for practice and deification of theory.

To return to the Board minutes: in June 15 it was noted that Harold J Laski was appointed Donnellan Lecturer for 1936. This was a bequest from 1794, for the purpose of conveying learning and good manners to the public. There had been a tendency for the topics to be related to theology and the lecturers to be clergy. This had been somewhat undermined in the 1920s with Joly and others coming in on science topics. This would appear to have been the first incursion into the domain of political economy. I would like to think that perhaps JJ had a hand in preparing the climate for this incursion by someone who was somewhat of a guru of the Left in Britain.

On July 3 Goligher was co-opted to be a Senior Fellow to replace Roberts, deceased.

On October 9 it was recorded that the lecture load of Duncan and JJ were to be reduced due to the extension of Legal Science. Their deficit would be made up by their giving pass lectures. This would seem to imply a demotion of the Commerce School. This however was rescinded in October 16; no additional lectures would be required. It is not clear if this implies a salary cut.

On October 23 it was decided to be present and to send a wreath on the occasion of Lord Carson's funeral. The Unionist flag is still nailed to the mast.

The Junior Fellows met on February 4 1936, after a long gap; Fraser chaired; JJ was present along with 16 others; they objected to the appointment of a Lecturer who was not a Fellow to be Editor of the Calendar, but in the end the objection was watered down, to the level that the Junior Fellows should at least be asked first.

On April 24 1936 the Board agreed to a request from the Industrial Research Council to allow Professor Werner (Chemistry) to supervise work on water in peat. Then on May 23 they agreed to reduce the quorum required for meetings of the Commerce School Committee from 7 to 5. On June 13 they agreed to appoint Sir Arthur Salter as Donnellan Lecturer for 1937, on the 'ethics of international trade'.

This I suspect could be not unrelated to JJ's book on economic nationalism; the global trade situation at this time was disastrous, and the problems posed thereby were at the top of most thinking peoples' minds.

In 1937 on March 19 the Board voted £100 from the Madden Fund to Dr Auchmuty in support of his book on 'The US and Latin American Independence', claiming 50% of any royalties, as had been done with JJ earlier. There was however no niggling, as had been the case with JJ in 1934.

On April 28 a letter of thanks was received from the GPO, after the abandonment of the use of Dunsink as the source of time for the master-clock. Exact GMT was by now available by radio, and Dunsink was no longer necessary in this role, which it had fulfilled for over a century.

The Junior Fellows met on April 29 1937, RM Gwynn in the chair, 14 present including JJ. They passed a motion regretting the resignation of Provost EJ Gwynn, and sought a joint meeting with the Professors with a view to establishing a broader-based procedure for election of the Provost, in which context they put on record their support for Thrift. There was here the first salvo of what subsequently became a constitutional reform movement which culminated in the election of AJ McConnell in (1952).

I found no echo of the foregoing Junior Fellows request in the Board minutes for 1937, confirming the existence of a 'democratic deficit'. On May 8 however the Board protested to the Northern Ireland Ministry of Home Affairs against a regulation requiring 5 years UK residence for applicants for medical posts. This was presumably aimed at cutting links with the Free State, and it affected TCD graduates, many of whom traditionally came from Northern Ireland.

Still in 1937 on June 2 Duncan was elected as Junior Fellows representative, in place of Alton who had been co-opted as Senior Fellow, on Gwynn's resignation as Provost. Then on June 16 RM Gwynn was co-opted, to replace McCran (deceased). We still have the gerontocracy, but new blood is beginning to come in; it was in RM Gwynn's rooms that Captain White initiated the foundation of the Citizen Army in 1913. There appear immediately minor progressive acts, like a grand of £20 to be given to a projected Irish Students Association, provided NUI and QUB did the same. On July 5 Robin Flower, the Irish language scholar responsible for putting the Blaskets on the European cultural map, was appointed as Donnellan Lecturer for 1938. Then on November 14 the Board sanctioned the setting up of the Dublin University Fabian Society; this was a focus for socialist thinking, initiated by Owen Sheehy Skeffington. The general rundown of Dunsink however continues; the houses are taken over as TCD staff residences; astronomy moves into the college, with FJ O'Connor appointed at an annual salary of £80, to give some lectures, and to take care of the instruments.

On April 20 1938 it was agreed to let the house at Dunsink to RM Gwynne; this was continuing the decommissioning of the Dunsink observatory.

In 1938 the Junior Fellows had a rapid series of 3 meetings on May 23, May 30 and June 27; there was concern about a threat to abandon the seniority rule for co-option to Senior Fellow status and Board membership. (It is possible that this related to JJ's position in the queue becoming regarded as a threat; he was still an 'enfant terrible' in the eyes of some.) There was also concern about the fellowship election procedures.

Then on June 11 they decided to elect Ditchburn to the Andrews Chair of Astronomy, at £250 per annum, plus £50 in lieu of Observatory House. Duncan dissented from this. It was however confirmed on June 18. Quite validly astronomy was being subsumed into the general teaching of physics, in the absence of any good scientific reason for keeping on Dunsink, with the resources available. On October 20 they decided to make Dunsink accessible only to students of TCD or the NUI under the charge of a Professor.

In 1939 on February 1, and then on April 20 there was concern about air-raid precautions (ARP); the college architect was consulted. On April 27 RB McDowell resigned his exchange studentship in Germany. It was agreed to strengthen the cellar under the library.

Then on June 14 they agreed to create Chairs, for the lives of the present holders only, in Applied Economics for JJ and in Economic History of Constantia Maxwell in Economic History. So in the end JJ, at the age of 49, achieved some degree of academic recognition for his not inconsiderable outreach work on government commissions and extern lecturing in popularising mode, under the Barrington banner.

On June 28 Duncan and Moorhead were accepted as the Junior Fellows representatives. Then on October 25 they agreed that JJ's lecture load should be 10 per week, 4 pass and 6 honours. On October 25th it was agreed that scholars on military service would receive their scholarship stipend, and then, significantly, on December 6 they agreed to discontinue singing 'God Save the King' at the end of the conferring of degrees. They bowed to Ireland's neutral status, and abandoned their imperial mantle, not before time.

In 1940 they agreed to allow Erwin Schroedinger to lecture in mathematics, in lieu of Hopf deceased, for the Hilary and Trinity terms. De Valera was in process of setting up the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, and this would have been a welcome interim arrangement for Schroedinger, recently arrived as a refugee from Austria.

In 1940 there is a reference to Vivian Mercier and Conor Cruise O'Brien getting into trouble over an issue of 'TCD' the students' satirical journal; there were fines, and Mercier had to resign. On April 13 students who wished to join the British Army were facilitated; this was then extended to those who wished to join the Irish Army, after a test case.

There was no Junior Fellows meeting in 1939; then towards the end of 1940 on November 12 there was a well-attended meeting, Luce in the chair, 14 being present, including JJ, though he was then again living in Drogheda. They decided to get their act together, elect a standing committee, and meet once per term. The standing committee initially consisted on the JF Board representatives with Godfrey, Parke, Ditchburn and McConnell, the latter two being in the lead of the reform group. They met again on December 4, Henry in the chair, 12 present, apologies from Luce and JJ. They adopted the report of the Committee, which included the following points:

  1. Meetings to occur once per term;
  2. Standing Committee (SC) to be appointed at the Michaelmas meeting;
  3. SC should have one annual retirement;
  4. There should be a reporting procedure for Board representatives;
  5. They suggest that the Board should also set up an SC to meet with the JF's SC;
  6. They undertook to keep the non-Fellow Professors informed
  7. the Joint SCs meeting should be for taking preliminary soundings, and the Board should be asked to explore its own power to change the College constitution.

We have here the makings of a powerful democratic reform movement, which JJ had consistently supported over the decades. Unfortunately for him, he was now on the verge of joining the existing Board under the old seniority procedures, and was not in a position to 'ride the wave'.

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Copyright Dr Roy Johnston 1999