Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Morison, James Augustus Cotter

MORISON, JAMES AUGUSTUS COTTER (1832–1888), author, born in London 20 April 1832 (he generally dropped the 'Augustus'), was the only surviving child by a second marriage of James Morison (1770–1840) [q. v.] The father from about 1834 till his death resided in Paris, where he had many distinguished friends. His son thus learnt French in his infancy, and afterwards gained a very wide knowledge of French history, life, and literature. After his father's death in 1840 he lived with his mother near London. His health was delicate and his education desultory. After travelling in Germany, he in March 1850 entered Lincoln College, Oxford. He was popular in university society, a 'good oar,' fencer, and rider, and a wide reader, although not according to the regular course. His university careerwas interrupted by visits to his mother, whose health was failing. He graduated B.A. and M.A. in 1859, and left Oxford, having acquired many friends, especially Mark Pattison [q. v.], Dr. Fowler, then fellow of Lincoln, now president of Corpus, and Mr. John Morley. He soon began to write in periodicals, and became one of the best known of the staff of the 'Saturday Review' while John Douglas Cook [q. v.] was editor. In 1861 he married Frances, daughter of George Virtue the publisher. In 1863 he published his interesting 'Life of St. Bernard,' a book which was praised by Mark Pattison, Matthew Arnold, and Cardinal Manning. It shows great historical knowledge, and a keen interest in the mediaeval church. He afterwards contemplated a study of French history during the period of Louis XIV, which occupied him intermittently during the rest of his life. Unfortunately, Morison was never able to concentrate himself upon what should have been the great task of his life.

His wife died in 1878, and he moved to 10 Montague Place, in order to be near to the British Museum, and afterwards to FitzJohn Avenue, Hampstead. He was elected a member of the Athenæum Club' under Rule II,' and was a very active member of the London Library Committee. He was a member of the Positivist Society, occasionally lectured at Newton Hall, and left a legacy to the society. A few years before his death symptoms of a fatal disease showed themselves, and he was thus forced to abandon the completion of his French history. In 1887 he published his 'Service of Man, an essay towards the Religion of the Future.' Although he regarded this as his best work, and contemplated a second part, to be called 'A Guide to Conduct,' his friends generally thought it an excursion beyond his proper field. His other works were numerous articles in the chief periodicals, a pamphlet upon 'Irish Grievances' in 1868, 'Mme. de Maintenon, an Etude,' in 1885, and excellent monographs upon 'Gibbon' (1878) and 'Macaulay' (1882) in John Morley's 'Men of Letters' series. He died at his house in FitzJohn Avenue 26 Feb. 1888. He left three children Theodore, M.A. of Trinity College, Cambridge, vice-president of the college of Aligarh, N.W. Provinces, India; Helen Cotter, and Margaret.

Few men had warmer and more numerous friends. He was a man of great powers of enjoyment, of most versatile tastes, and of singular social charm. He was familiar with a very wide range of literature in many departments, and the multiplicity of his interests prevented him from ever doing justice to powers recognised by all his friends. He was an enthusiastic admirer of every new book which to him appeared to show genius, and eager to cultivate the acquaintance of its author. No man had wider and more generous sympathies. He had no scientific training, and took comparatively little interest in immediate politics, although he once thought of trying to enter parliament; but there was apparently no other subject in which he was not warmly interested. His recreation he mainly sought in travelling and yachting. Perhaps his closest friends were those of the positivist circle, especially Mr. Frederic Harrison, Professor Beesly, and Mr. Vernon Lushington, but he had also a great number of literary friends, one of the warmest being Mr. George Meredith, who dedicated to him a volume of poems, and wrote a touching epitaph upon his death.

[The information for this article has been supplied by Morison's intimate friend and executor, Mr. Stephen Hamilton; also obituary notice in Times of 28 Feb. 1888, and personal knowledge.]

L. S.