Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wallace, William (1844-1897)

731875Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 59 — Wallace, William (1844-1897)1899Edward Caird

WALLACE, WILLIAM (1844–1897), professor of moral philosophy at Oxford, born at Cupar-Fife on 11 May 1844, was son of James Cooper Wallace, housebuilder, by his wife, Jean Kelloch, both persons of considerable originality and force of character. After spending four years at the university of St. Andrews, Wallace gained an exhibition at Balliol College, Oxford, in 1864, and in 1867 became fellow of Merton College. In 1868 he was appointed tutor of Merton, and in 1871 was chosen librarian. He graduated B.A. in 1868 and M.A. in 1871. In 1882 he was appointed Whyte professor of moral philosophy, and held that office, along with the Merton tutorship, till his death, fifteen years later.

As a professor he had great influence upon many generations of students of philosophy at Oxford. In his lectures he aimed not so much at the detailed exposition of philosophical systems as at exciting thought in his hearers. He lectured without notes, and seemed to develop his subject as he spoke; and the touches of humour with which his discourse was lighted up, the subtle beauty of expression which he often attained, combined with the gravity and earnestness of his manner, produced an impression of insight and sincerity which was unique of its kind.

He was killed by a bicycle accident a few miles from Oxford on 18 Feb. 1897. In 1872 he married Janet, daughter of Thomas Barclay, sheriff-clerk of Fife, by whom he had a daughter and two sons.

Wallace's writings are almost all devoted to the exposition of German philosophy, particularly of the philosophy of Hegel; but he was no mere reproducer of other men's thoughts. He absorbed the ideas of the writers with whom he dealt, and assimilated them to his own thought, so as to give to his exposition the effect of a fresh view of truth. Well read both in classical and modern literature, he was peculiarly successful in freeing philosophical conceptions from technical terms and reclothing them in language of much literary force and beauty. With him the effort to grasp the essential meaning of his subject always went along with the endeavour to express it in words which should have at once imaginative and scientific truth.

Besides many reviews and essays in ‘Mind’ and other journals, Wallace's published works were:

  1. ‘The Logic of Hegel,’ 1873 (translated from Hegel's ‘Encyclopædia of Philosophical Sciences’), with an introduction containing one of the earliest and most luminous expositions of the Hegelian point of view in the English language. In 1892 a second edition of his ‘Logic of Hegel’ appeared with notes, followed in the next year by a volume of ‘Prolegomena,’ based upon his earlier introduction, but containing much new matter.
  2. ‘Epicureanism,’ 1880 (in the series of ‘Chief Ancient Philosophies’ published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge).
  3. ‘Kant,’ 1882 (in ‘Blackwood's Philosophical Classics’).
  4. ‘The Life of Arthur Schopenhauer,’ 1890.
  5. ‘Hegel's Philosophy of Mind’ (translated, like the ‘Logic,’ from the ‘Encyclopædia of Philosophical Sciences’), with five introductory essays.
  6. ‘Lectures and Essays on Natural Theology and Ethics,’ selected from his manuscripts, ‘edited, with a biographical introduction,’ by the present writer, Oxford, 1898, 8vo.

[Personal knowledge.]

E. C.-d.