Journal of the Polynesian Society/W. H. R. Rivers obituary

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Obituary: W. H. R. Rivers  (1922) 
H. D. S.

THE death is announced by cable from England of Dr. W. H. R. Rivers, M.A., M.D., Hon. LL.D. (St. Andrews), D. Sc. (Manchester), F.R.S., F.R.C.P.

The intellectual power of Rivers combined with his varied accomplishments place him first among English anthropologists, and first probably among the contemporary anthropologists of the world. His earlier student years were spent in the study of medicine. From the study of the functions and diseases of the nervous system, he passed easily into the field of psychology, a science which remained the central ground of all his later studies. At the time of his death he held the lectureship in social psychology at Cambridge. In 1899-1900 Rivers made his first acquaintance with ethnological field work as a member of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits. Perhaps the most brilliant band of scientists that ever went abroad together were united in that expedition, under the leadership of A. C. Haddon. A few years later Rivers was at work among the Todas, an Indian folk who make the dairy their temple and the dairyman their priest; while in the years before the war he was working in Melanesia. It was at the close of this investigation that he visited New Zealand and conferred with the veteran ethnologists Percy Smith and Elsdon Best. In 1915 appeared his great “History of Society in Melanesia,” a work still almost unknown in New Zealand, for which he was awarded the Copley gold medal of the Royal Society, an honor never previously bestowed on any anthropological work. In the later years of the war Rivers was appointed physician in charge of the great hospital at Hampstead, in which all nerve cases occurring in the Air Force were concentrated. The results of his studies of the psycho-neuroses were published in a series of books known to every student of these matters. He was not only a great psychologist and a great physician, but his distinction both in ethnological field work and in ethnological theory places him, it may well be believed, in the first place among the world's contemporary anthropologists. His largest and most original contribution to science was made in the recondite field of anthropological method, a department in which as yet he stands alone. In spite of a - 88 retiring disposition, honors were showered on him. He was President of the Folk Lore Society, President of the Anthropological Institute, Fellow and Copley gold medallist of the Royal Society, and held honorary degrees from several universities. But his students will always remember him as the clearest and most lucid of exponents of those difficult studies, social organisation and anthropological method, as the most modest of all men, and as the loyalest of friends.

His works include “The Todas,” “The History of Melanesian Society,” “Kinship and Social Organisation,” “Dreams and Primitive Culture,” “Mind and Medicine,” and “Instinct and the Unconscious.” He also contributed notable articles to Hastings' Encyclopœdia of Religion and Ethics, and to scientific journals, including Folk-lore and The Sociological Review.

H. D. S.

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This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1927. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).