The Times/1904/Obituary/Thomas Fowler
The President of Corpus
The President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Dr. Fowler, died at 12.30 p.m. yesterday, in his 73rd year. He had been gradually sinking since the attack which followed upon his attending the Vice-Chancellor's admission to office on October 8. The Vice-Chancellor was an old friend and colleague, and Dr. Fowler insisted upon being present at the ceremony.
Thomas Fowler, for more than 20 years President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, was born at Burton-Strather, in Lincolnshire, on September 1, 1832. He was educated at King William's College in the Isle of Man, and obtained a Postmastership at Merton College, Oxford. In 1852 he took a second class in Classical moderations and a first class in mathematics, but he bettered that position in the final schools by taking a first class in classics followed by a first in mathematics in 1854. In the following year he was elected to a Fellowship in Lincoln College, and was forthwith appointed tutor. In 1858 he obtained the Denyer Theological Prize for an essay on "The Doctrine of Predestination according to the Church of England"; but though he was appointed a Select Preacher in 1872-74, his maturer studies were not largely of a theological character. In 1862 he held the office of Junior Proctor, and in 1873 he was selected Professor of Logic, and held that chair until 1889. He officiated as a public examiner in the classical school on many occasions between 1864 and 1879, and took a very active part in the general business of the University, holding many academical offices in connexion the Press, the Museum, the Common University Fund, and occupying for many years a seat in the Hebdomadal Council. In 1881 he was elected, rather unexpectedly, to succeed the late Professor J. M. Wilson as President of Corpus Christi College. He had no previous connexion with Corpus, and though he stood high in academical distinction and repute, it surprised many that the society should go outside its own members to find a new head, especially as there was at least one member of the college, no longer a Fellow, who had served it faithfully as a tutor for many years and might well have expected to find his reward in headship. Nevertheless, the choice of the society fell on Fowler, much to his own surprise and, indeed, to his no small embarrassment; for the member of the college who might well have aspired to the headship was an old friend of its own, and it should be recorded to his honour, as it may now be stated without indiscretion, that he did not accept proffered dignity until he had ascertained that, even if he decline it, it would not be offered to the friend who claims he generously regarded as superior to his own. However, once elected, Fowler fully justified the choice of those who had conferred upon him so unusual and so unexpected honour. He identified himself from first to last with all the interests and traditions of the college, he maintained its high repute in the University, he adorned it by his own learning and literary activity, he wrote its history in a volume displaying much patient research which was published by the Oxford Historical Society, he dispensed a genial and liberal hospitality, not merely to members of the society, but to a large circle of personal friends, and he worthily sustained the position of a high academical dignitary, holding the office of Vice-Chancellor from 1899 to 1901, and discharging its duties with assiduity, devotion, and discretion. Since his retirement from that office his health had seemed to his friends to be gradually failing, and though the end has come rather suddenly, yet, it has been only too plain for some time past that his days were drawing to a close.
The late president was not the least conspicuous of that group of aceademical Liberals who from the middle of the last century did so much to pilot the University through a very stormy time of controversy and reform. He was a junior contemporary of men like Jowett, Arthur Stanley, Goldwin Smith, Mark Pattison, whom he might have succeed as rector of Lincoln, John Matthias Wilson, who he succeed as President of Corpus, and Dr. Liddell, sometime Dean of Christ Church. With these men he acted, and to their school of University politics he belonged, he was always found on the Liberal side in the theological and quasi-theological conflicts of the time, and he took a very active part in the long struggle for the abolition of University tests. He lived continuously in the University from the age of 17 onwards; University business was as the very breath of his nostrils, and probably from first to last his share in its conduct was as great as that of any of his contemporaries. Indeed, he often groaned under its burden, and would lament that it impeded the studies on which his heart was really set. In this, perhaps, he deceived himself, for he really loved the stir of business, through his literary output was not inconsiderable. He was not a profound and original thinker life his predecessor, J. M. Wilson — who, nevertheless, produced nothing — but he was an industrious, well-informed, and intelligent student of philosophy, and he had the gift of writing lucid and scholarly English. His works included two volumes on Deductive and Inductive Logic respectively, which have passed through many editions, and are, in the main, a reproduction for Oxford use of the logical system of John Stuart Mill; an elaborate edition of Bacon's "Novum Organon," with introduction and notes' an edition of Locke's "Conduct of the Understanding"; monographs on Locke, Bacon and Shaftesbury and Hutchison; "Progressive Morality, an Essay in Ethics"; and "The Principles of Morality," an important and original work, which incorporates as much of the thought of the late J. M. Wilson as that stimulating teacher but too fastidious writer ever managed to put on paper. The work is really Fowler's own in the form in which it was given to the world. But it was largely inspired by Wilson, and in some few parts it was written by him. This is no inconsiderable output, whether in quantity or in quality, for a man who was absorbed all his life in University business and gave lavishly of his time, energy, and intellect to its efficient conduct. There have been more brilliant sons of University than Thomas Fowler; there have been none more loyal, and few who have devoted more of their life to its faithful service.