Samuel Eliot Morison

Samuel Eliot
Morison
1887
1976

American Rear Admiral, U.S. Naval Reserve, Historian and Author

Author Quotes

No big modern war has been won without preponderant sea power and, conversely, very few rebellions of maritime provinces have succeeded without acquiring sea power.

Skepticism is an important historical tool. It is the starting point of all revision of hitherto accepted history.

So I have cultivated the vast garden of human experience which is history, without troubling myself overmuch about laws, essential first causes, or how it is all coming out.

The same contingencies of time and space that force a statesman or soldier to make decisions, impel the historian, though with less urgency, to make up his mind.

These clipper ships of the early 1850's were built of wood in shipyards from Rockland in Maine to Baltimore. These architects, like poets who transmute nature's message into song, obeyed what wind and wave had taught them, to create the noblest of all sailing vessels, and the most beautiful creations of man in America. With no extraneous ornament except a figurehead, a bit of carving and a few lines of gold leaf, their one purpose of speed over the great ocean routes was achieved by perfect balance of spars and sails to the curving lines of the smooth black hull and this harmony of mass, form and color was practiced to the music of dancing waves and of brave winds whistling in the rigging. These were our Gothic cathedrals, our Parthenon but monuments carved from snow. For a few brief years they flashed their splendor around the world, then disappeared with the finality of the wild pigeon.

Throughout this evolution from left to right, Beard always detested war. Hence his writings were slanted to show that the military side of history was insignificant or a mere reflection of economic forces.

A few hints as to literary craftsmanship may be useful to budding historians. First and foremost, get writing.

Too rigid specialization is almost as bad for a historian's mind, and for his ultimate reputation, as too early an indulgence in broad generalization and synthesis.

Any child knows that history can only be a reduced representation of reality, but it must be a true one, not distorted by queer lenses.

With honesty of purpose, balance, a respect for tradition, courage, and, above all, a philosophy of life, any young person who embraces the historical profession will find it rich in rewards and durable in satisfaction.

Courses on historical methodology are not worth the time that they take up. I shall never give one myself, and I have observed that many of my colleagues who do give such courses refrain from exemplifying their methods by writing anything.

Yet enthusiasm is no excuse for the historian going off balance. He should remind the reader that outcomes were neither inevitable nor foreordained, but subject to a thousand changes and chances.

Every historian with professional standards speaks or writes what he believes to be true.

Everyone agrees to that; but when we come to define truth, dissension starts.

Historical methodology, as I see it, is a product of common sense applied to circumstances.

I have nothing revolutionary or even novel to offer.

If a lecturer, he wishes to be heard; if a writer, to be read. He always hopes for a public beyond that of the long-suffering wife.

In any case, his judgment and set of values, acting alone or through his assistants, determine not only what is gold and what is dross but the design of the history which he creates out of the metal. The historian decides what is significant, and what is not.

Intellectual honesty is the quality that the public in free countries always has expected of historians; much more than that it does not expect, nor often get.

If the American Revolution had produced nothing but the Declaration of Independence, it would have been worthwhile.... The beauty and cogency of the preamble, reaching back to remotest antiquity and forward to an infinite future, having lifted the hearts of millions of men and will continue to do.... These words are more revolutionary than anything written by Robespierre, Marx, or Lenin, more explosive than the atom, a continual challenge to ourselves as well as an inspiration to the oppressed of all the world.

If the European discovery had been delayed for a century or two, it is possible that the Aztec in Mexico or the Iroquois in North America would have established strong native states capable of adopting European war tactics and maintaining their independence to this day, as Japan kept her independence from China.

Make no mistake; the American Revolution was not fought to obtain freedom, but to preserve the liberties that Americans already had as colonials. Independence was no conscious goal, secretly nurtured in cellar or jungle by bearded conspirators, but a reluctant last resort, to preserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

No big modern war has been won without preponderant sea power; and, conversely, very few rebellions of maritime provinces have succeeded without acquiring sea power.

On her first voyage, the Columbia had solved the riddle of the China trade. On her second, empire followed in the wake.

The freedmen were not really free in 1865, nor are most of their descendants really f ree in 1965. Slavery was but one aspect of a race and color problem that is still far from solution here, or anywhere. In America particularly, the grapes of wrath have not yet yielded all their bitter vintage.

Author Picture
First Name
Samuel Eliot
Last Name
Morison
Birth Date
1887
Death Date
1976
Bio

American Rear Admiral, U.S. Naval Reserve, Historian and Author