Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Fowler, Thomas

FOWLER, THOMAS (1832–1904), president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, born at Burton-Stather, Lincolnshire, on 1 Sept. 1832, was eldest son of William Henry Fowler, by his wife Mary Anne Welch. His intellectual development owed much in youth to his uncle by marriage, Joseph Fowler of Winterton (son of William Fowler of Winterton [q. v.]), who had married his father's sister. There was no known kinship between the two families of the same name.

After attending the Hull grammar school and the private school of R. Ousby, curate of Kirton-in-Lindsey, he entered as a day-boy, in January 1848, King William's College, Isle of Man, and was promoted to the head-form in August. Among his school-fellows were Dean Farrar [q. v. Suppl. II], Professor Beesly, and the poet Thomas Edward Brown [q. v. Suppl. I], who, although a year and a half Fowler's senior, formed with him a life-long friendship (cf. Letters of T. E. Brown, with memoir by S. T. Irwin, i. 20). In half-holiday walks with Brown, Fowler began to cultivate that eye for beauty in nature which always stimulated his zest for travel. On 31 May 1850 he matriculated at Oxford, aged seventeen, as postmaster of Merton College. Brown was already at Christ Church. In 1852 Fowler obtained a first class in mathematical, and a second class in classical, moderations; and in the final examinations of 1854 a first in classics and a first in mathematics. In the same mathematical first classes was his friend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) [q. v. Suppl. I]; together the two read mathematics privately with Professor Bartholomew Price [q. v.].

As an undergraduate Fowler was in full sympathy with the 'Oxford movement'; but about 1854, when he graduated B.A., he gave up his tractarian opinions and connections, as well as the conservative political views in which he had been brought up, and adopted in permanence liberal, but moderate, opinions in theology and politics. In 1855 he was ordained, and became fellow and tutor, and in 1857 sub-rector of Lincoln College. In 1858 he won the Denyer theological prize for an essay on 'The Doctrine of Predestination according to the Church of England.'

It was during the twenty-six years of his residence in Lincoln College (1855-81) that he made his name as teacher, writer, and man of affairs. As proctor in 1862 he first came into close touch with university business. Thenceforth he took a leading part in it, either as member of Congregation and of the Hebdomadal Council, or as delegate of the Clarendon Press, the Museum, and the Common University Fund. His common sense, disinterestedness, bonhomie, and breadth and clearness of view account for his influence. His opinions on university reform received early direction from Mark Pattison [q. v.], fellow of his college. Fowler gave evidence before the University of Oxford commissioners on 26 Oct, 1877 (Minutes of Evidence taken before the University of Oxford Commissioners, part i. pp. 92-97) on lines which followed Pattison's 'Suggestions on Academical Organisation' (1868). 'I advocate,' he said, 'a transference of the more advanced teaching from the colleges to the university on the grounds that (1) it would tend to create a more learned class of teachers; (2) it would remedy certain gross defects in our present system of education [he refers here to the immaturity of teachers, and the subjection of teachers and taught to examinations]; and (3) it would establish a hierarchy of teachers [cf. his evidence before university commissioners 11 March 1873], the places in which could be determined by literary and educational merit.' In active co-operation with Dean Liddell, J. M. Wilson, Dean Stanley, Jowett, and others. Fowler played an effective part in promoting the important series of reforms which included the establishment of natural science as a subject of serious study in the university, the removal of tests, and the various provisions, financial and other, made by the commissioners of 1877, especially those by which a career at Oxford was opened to men willing to devote themselves to study and teaching.

As a teacher Fowler excelled in the small conversational lecture and especially in the 'private hour,' to which he devoted much time with individual pupils, trying to make them read and think for themselves. One of his earnest pupils at Lincoln was John (afterwards Viscount) Morley. Fowler was public examiner in the final classical school (1864–6, 1869–70, 1873 and 1878–9); and he was select preacher (1872–4). Fowler was professor of logic from 1873 to 1889. He had previously published 'The Elements of Deductive Logic' (1867; 10th edit. 1892) and 'The Elements of Inductive Logic' (1870; 6th edit, 1892), a manual which follows the lines of Mill's 'Logic' with independence and lucidity. While professor. Fowler made his chief contributions to literature. His edition of Bacon's 'Novum Organum,' which came out in 1878 (2nd edit. 1889), contains a valuable commentary on the text; the introduction clearly presents Bacon's place in the history of thought, and embodies much bibliographical research, for which Fowler had an aptitude. His monograph 'Locke' ('English Men of Letters' series, 1880) is notable for the historical setting of philosophical ideas, a feature already anticipated in his Denyer prize essay. An edition of 'Locke's Conduct of the Understanding, with Introduction,' followed (1881; new edit. 1901); monographs on 'Francis Bacon' (1881) and 'Shaftesbury and Hutcheson' (1882) appeared in the 'English Philosophers' series; the latter contains interesting new matter from the 'Shaftesbury Papers.'

'Progressive Morality ' (1884; 2nd edit. 1895) is a short work remarkable for the insight with which moral experience is probed and analysed, always with the practical end in view of discovering principles which may be helpful for the education of character. Of 'The Principles of Morals,' part. i. was in print as early as 1875, but was first published in 1886 in the joint names of John Matthias Wilson [q. v.] and Fowler; part ii. (the larger part) came out in Fowler's name alone (see prefaces to the two volumes and art. Wilson, John Matthias). Like 'Progressive Morality,' 'The Principles of Morals' is of permanent value; it expresses, with a difference due to the altered circumstances of the nineteenth century, the philosophical temper and outlook of the great English moralists of the eighteenth century, and retains a flavour of their style. Exactness, and even elegance, of style, very noticeable in the sermons which he preached at St. Mary's, mark all Fowler's writings.

On 23 December 1881 Fowler was elected president of Corpus Christi College, in succession to his friend Wilson. Fowler entered thoroughly into the life of his new college, writing its history, making himself fully acquainted with its educational needs and its finance, piloting it skilfully through the difficulties of the period of transition which followed 1882, when the statutes made by the commissioners of 1877 came into operation, and winning the esteem and affection of seniors and juniors. His exhaustive 'History of Corpus,' published in 1893 (Oxford Historical Society), is of special interest as the history of a 'Renaissance Foundation.' In 1898 he issued a less elaborate acoonnt of the college in the 'Oxford College Histories' series, and between 1889 and 1900 ho wrote a series of articles for this Dictionary on Corpus men of mark from Fox, the founder, to J. M. Wilson, his predecessor in the presidency. To this Dictionary he also contributed articles on the philosophical work of Bacon and Richard Price.

From 1899 till 1901 Fowler was vice-chancellor of the university. The work of the office was exceptionally heavy. The Boer war was in progress, and he as vice-chancellor, by arrangement with the war office, was charged with the duty of selecting for commissions in the army young university men ready to go to the front. From the strain of inquiry and correspondence involved his health never recovered. Largely through his influence the opposition in Oxford to conferring the honorary degree of D.C.L. at the encaenia of 1899 upon Cecil Rhodes, whose munificent endowment the university a few years after began to enjoy, proved innocuous.

Fowler, who was made F.S.A. in 1873, and hon. LL.D. of Edinburgh in 1882, proceeded to the degree of D.D. in 1886; and was elected hon. fellow of Lincoln in 1900. He died unmarried in his house at Corpus on 20 Nov. 1904, and was buried in the cemetery at Winterton. In the church there a choir-screen, with inscription, was erected to his memory; and there is a tablet in the cloister of Corpus. By his will he was a benefactor of the three colleges, Merton, Lincoln, and Corpus, with which he had been connected. A cartoon portrait by E. T. D. appeared in 'Vanity Fair' in 1889 (xxxi. 763).

[Foster's Alumni Oxonienses; The Times, 21 Nov. 1904; Athenaeum, 26 Nov. 1904; Oxford Magazine, 23 Nov. 1904; Letters of T. E. Brown, ed. with memoir by S. T. Irwin, 2 vols. 1900; Correspondence of Wilham Fowler of Winterton in the county of Lincoln, ed. by his grandson Canon Fowler of Durham, 1907; Crockford, 1903; Who's Who, 1903; Minutes of Evidence taken before the University of Oxford Commissioners (of 1877), part i. pp. 92-97 (Fowler's evidence taken 11 March 1873 and 26 Oct. 1877); private information supplied by his cousin. Canon Fowler, and others; personal knowledge.]

J. A. S.