John Linton Myres

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No one stands in such a need of humility before Myres’s noble shade as his successor in the Honorary Editorship of MAN. There may well be other criteria by which its Editors can be measured, but the most obvious, and surely the most unflattering to them, is that of comparison with its founder. To know, so far as they can, and be inspired by his mind is their best resource; they need not fear to be thought unadventurous, for who could hope to outdo Myres in originality? Indeed it is precisely for that quality that his inspiration will be of the greatest utility to us. It is partly for that reason, and not only to honour his memory, that so much space is given—doubtless for the first and last time in MAN’S history—to so many obituary notices. Let MAN’S newer readers learn, by these presents, what Myres meant to MAN, and be ever watchful for any attrition under his successors, in the interests of some temporary fashion, of the ideals which he set for it. This is no sentimental subservience to the dead: as the foregoing notices sufficiently testify, he saw the relations of things better than his contemporaries; with extraordinary foresight, he established in MAN—and more generally in the Institute itself, whose policies his counsel so strongly influenced—one of the chief means by which the anthropological sciences in this country successfully withstood and turned to advantage the stresses imposed upon them by the increasing and salutary specialization of their several related studies. In his account of ‘A Century of Our Work’ (MAN, 1944, 4) at the Institute’s Centenary Meeting in 1943, he told how, when he was working for the foundation of MAN, he was disconcerted to find how many of those who offered financial support made it conditional upon some subject being excluded; he knew well that no theoretical preconceptions could be allowed to limit the growth of the science of man, and that no editor and no council was competent to set such limits to MAN’S field. He saw too that no degree of specialization need be regarded as excessive provided only that it was not regarded as exclusive and self-sufficient but as an avenue of advance on behalf of a unified science. He, more than any other, thus ‘held the ring’ for the valuable developments of theory and practice of twentieth-century anthropology. And, as is the common fate of those with a genius for moderation, his influence was sometimes taken for granted by those who supposed their progress to be entirely due to their own merits.

His own life and work decisively broke the general rule that specialists must be narrow and generalists shallow. It was I think the extraordinary reconciliation in him of the two capacities, his power of startlingly deep penetration into almost any subject, which combined with his Zeus-like appearance to make us who knew him in his later years think of him as in some way superhuman; but it was in truth an intensification of humanity. His very existence was to the last a considerable force in anthropology, and a void has been left at the centre which others, less well equipped, must strive to fill.


This obituary first appeared as: Fagg, William. 1954. ‘John Linton Myres: 1869-1954’. Man Vol. 54, pp. 42-43. Reproduced with permission.


To cite this article:

FAGG, WILLIAM. 1954. ‘John Linton Myres: 1869-1954’. Man Vol. 39, pp. 97-98. (available on-line: