Samuel Eliot Morison

Samuel Eliot
Morison
1887
1976

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

Author Quotes

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.

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.

A tough but nervous, tenacious but restless race [the Yankees]; materially ambitious, yet prone to introspection, and subject to waves of religious emotion. . . . A race whose typical member is eternally torn between a passion for righteousness and a desire to get on in the world.

An historian should yield himself to his subject, become immersed in the place and period of his choice, standing apart from it now and then for a fresh view.

Between 1941 and 1945 the United States heavily for the long-term results of Roosevelt's meddling, for which, ironically, he won the Nobel Peace Prize, ... The Oxford History of the American People.

But sea power has never led to despotism. The nations that have enjoyed sea power even for a brief period-Athens, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, England, the United States-are those that have preserved freedom for themselves and have given it to others. Of the despotism to which unrestrained military power leads we have plenty of examples from Alexander to Mao.

Dream dreams and write them aye, but live them first.

Franklin may . . . be considered one of the founding fathers of American democracy, since no democratic government can last long without conciliation and compromise.

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