The Singular Experience of
the Peirce Biographer
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"Upon this first, and in one sense, the only rule of reason, that in order to learn you must desire to learn and in so desiring not be satisfied with what you already incline to think, there follows one corollary which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy: Do not block the way of inquiry."
--C. S. Peirce to the Harvard philosophers, 1898
Charles Sanders Peirce, the United States's greatest philosopher, died some eighty years ago on April 19, 1914. In 1957, when I began to think about a dissertation in the history of American ideas at the University of California at Los Angeles, he was attractive as a subject because, unlike his celebrated contemporaries William James, Josiah Royce and John Dewey, he was the only major figure in the entire field without major studies concentrating upon his life. There were very few biographical studies about Peirce of any kind, none of which, significantly, was based on the large Harvard collection of Peirce's biographical manuscripts. This odd fact was intriguing in itself. The first of these studies, apart from contemporary sketches in such compendia as the 1906 Biographical Dictionary of America, was Morris Cohen's Introduction to Chance, Love, and Logic in 1923, the first and very limited collection of Peirce's philosophical work, drawn from his best known published sources. Cohen, a student of Josiah Royce who was deeply indebted to Peirce for his late work, called Peirce "the founder of pragmatism" and, unlike James's and Royce's successors for sixty years among the Harvard philosophers, found him a major philosophical figure:
|In the essays gathered together in this volume we have the most developed and coherent available account of the philosophy of Charles S. Peirce, whom James, Royce, Dewey, and leading thinkers in England, France, Germany and Italy have placed in the forefront of the great seminal minds of recent times. Besides their inherent value as the expression of a highly original and fruitful mind, unusually well trained and informed in the exact sciences, these essays are also important as giving us the sources of a great deal of contemporary American philosophy.(1)
In 1934, there was Paul Weiss's tantalizing essay in the Dictionary of American Biography, based largely on obituaries and interviews. Weiss called Peirce "the most original and versatile of American philosophers and America's greatest logician" and described how Benjamin, Peirce's father, was aiming him at genius:
|From time to time they would play rapid games of double dummy together from ten in the evening until after sunrise, the father sharply criticizing every error...His father also encouraged him to develop his powers of sensuous discrimination, and later, having put himself under the tutelage of a sommelier at his own expense, Charles became a connoisseur of wines.(2)
In 1949, Philip Wiener, inspired by Dewey's famous essay "The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy," published Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism. Three years earlier he had already announced his major findings, which were very damaging to those who attributed the origin of pragmatism to Peirce:
|Not a single reference to Peirce's "Metaphysical Club" supposed to consist of [Chauncey] Wright, James, O. W. Holmes, Jr., John Fiske, Nicholas St. John Green, Joseph. B. Warner--the latter four trained in law--F. E. Abbot, and Peirce has been found outside of Peirce's inconsistent accounts [in the Collected Papers] in any of their writings or accounts of their lives by their friends, so that Peirce's claim that he first formulated the principle of pragmatism in that group is doubtful. But the group did symbolize the great effect of Darwin's work on American thought in the diverse forms of pragmatism that appear in the works of these men in methodology of science, law, history, and theology.(3)
In 1952, Max Fisch had published an intriguing description
of Peirce's career as lecturer at The Johns Hopkins
University from 1879-84, based almost entirely on Hopkins
sources, which suggested that President Gilman fired Peirce, despite the promise of tenure because the limit of eccentricity and emotional instability which Gilman could indefinitely tolerate in a man of genius was marked by [the British mathematician J. J.] Sylvester; that Peirce had overstepped the limit; and that...Gilman took the first politic occasion to remove Peirce. If Peirce's unorthodox economic, political, and social views found expression during his Hopkins years, they also must have weighed heavily against him.(4)
And lastly in 1954, there appeared Perry Miller's biographical sketch in his anthology American Thought: Civil War to World War I in which he offered the typical Harvard view that Peirce is a complicated and difficult mind. He published no philosophical book in his lifetime, only a series of articles which his ardent admirers often found incomprehensible. He lived a rather shoddy existence, never considered respectable enough to be offered a chair of philosophy, got such income as he could by working for the Geodetic Survey or receiving alms from friends. He was cantankerous and isolated, and only in recent years, when his scattered pieces and manuscripts are at last being printed, has he come into his own. In fact, there already exists something of a Peirce cult, and possibly the danger is no longer that he be neglected, but that too much be made of him.(5)
Miller went on to report that professors of philosophy,
presumably idealists and naturalists including those at Harvard, accused Peirce of "vulgarizing the mind into a way of satisfying animal appetites or anxieties".
Except for obituaries, scattered biographical references in the first six volumes of the Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, his letters to Lady Welby about signs and his life as a gentleman farmer(6), a few memoirs, notably by his students Joseph Jastrow and Christine Ladd-Franklin(7], some occasional sketches, and glancing mention in histories of American thought and books about Peirce's philosophy(8), these essays contained the only biographical information available in 1957, (Arthur Burks's volumes XVII and XIII of the Collected Papers and Carolyn Eisele's "Charles S. Peirce: Nineteenth Century Man of Science" did not appear until 1958 and 1959, respectively) and none of these earlier ones reflected the Peirce biographical manuscripts which the Harvard philosophers had bought at Royce's insistence from Peirce's widow in 1914. Obviously, there was a great need for a biography of Peirce and these few biographical sketches were so provocative that I decided, in my naive ambition, to apply to the Harvard Department of Philosophy for permission to consult their Peirce papers for a biographical dissertation. On March 17th, 1958, Roderick Firth, the chairman informed me that "this Department is willing to allow you to consult the C. S. Peirce collection at Harvard," for a biographical dissertation, subject to its approval of the material I intended to use.(9) As it happened, I was the first and at that time the only researcher to whom the Harvard philosophers had given wide permission for such a study. As a graduate student from the hinterlands, I naturally felt extraordinarily fortunate and queasily uneasy at the same time.
My pursuit of Peirce, which still continues, began toward the end of June, 1958, when I arrived in Cambridge. Despite the letter of permission, the Widener Library archivist did not allow me to begin research in the papers until he could verify its authenticity, which did not occur for over two months. As I waited, calling and writing the department every week, I began with very limited success to examine the library's holdings for books from Peirce's library of at least 12,000 volumes, which was also brought to Harvard by Royce, finding and spending several fascinated weeks with his annotated copy of the Century Dictionary. I also began asking questions about Peirce of a wide group of persons connected with Harvard, including retired professors and, indeed, anyone likely to have information about Peirce who would entertain my questions. What I discovered astonished me. Most of those I questioned thought of Peirce as an eccentric and debauched genius who was a rich source of unrelated and unformed ideas, significant, if at all, only for having thought of the bright glimmer of ideas like pragmatism, which James had christened and which James, Royce, Dewey, and others then developed into important major systems of thought. One person mentioned his brilliance in logic as well-known and fundamental and another spoke reverently of Peirce as a great, misunderstood, and mistreated thinker whose genuine importance had been suppressed. Almost all of them told stories about his evil ways. Did I know that he was a drunkard, a drug addict, a homosexual, a libertine who had died of syphilis; that he was an atheist who had married the granddaughter of an esteemed Episcopal bishop, who fled him when he tried to seduce her into sexual perversion; that he then had a long adulterous affair with a French whore, whom he married for her money; that he had several bastard children by several women, one a Negress? These accusations and others were a common currency in the older Harvard intellectual community. Few of those I asked showed enthusiasm for a Peirce biography. All of them were concerned with the consequences for Harvard's reputation by bringing such things to light about one of their own; after all, Peirce was Harvard, Class of 1859, his father was a distinguished Harvard astronomer and mathematician, and his grandfather was the first college librarian, who also wrote the first history of the school. Others were distressed about the effects on the Peirce family's feelings and suggested that they would surely sue me for making these embarrassing revelations. Indeed, as I was to learn years later, this general view of Peirce among the Harvard cognoscenti had been summarized in 1892, twenty-two years before Peirce's death, by George H. Palmer a Harvard philosopher, when he wrote to President William R. Harper of the University of Chicago, who was considering hiring Peirce. The characterization remained unchanged in 1958, forty-four years after Peirce's death:
|I am astonished at [William] James's recommendation of Peirce. Of course my impressions may be erroneous, and I
have no personal acquaintance with Peirce. I know, too,
very well, his eminence as a logician. But from so many
sources I have heard of his broken and dissolute character
that I should advise you to make the most careful inquiries
before engaging him. I am sure that it is suspicions of
this sort which have prevented his appointment here, and I
suppose the same causes procured his dismissal from the
I did my best to dismiss these unsettling slanders of the
man in whose greatness I already firmly believed and joined
the Charles S. Peirce Society (founded in 1946 by Frederic
H. Young), whose secretary-treasurer Edward Madden
announced in its bulletin in February, 1958, that "Mr.
Joseph L. Brent, Department of History, U.C.L.A., would
appreciate receiving any obscure biographical references to
Peirce" (there were no responses). At the same time, I had
initiated correspondence with Arthur Burks, Jackson Cope,
Carolyn Eisele, Max Fisch, Thomas Goudge, Murray Murphey,
Paul Weiss, and Philip Wiener, all Peirce scholars (and
Harvard outsiders) with a biographical interest in him,
whose work treated his ideas as important and
original.(11) None claimed a current interest in a Peirce
biography, all supported my plan, and some provided me with
advice and counsel, especially in their warnings to me that,
for reasons they could only speculate about, any project
involving the Harvard philosophers and the biographical
part of their Peirce collection was a dangerous
undertaking. It was from them that I learned that the
Harvard philosophers had (at a time unknown to me at this
writing) restricted both the study and the use of his
extensive biographical manuscripts. The Development of
Peirce's Philosophy, by Murphey, published in 1961 (and
reissued in 1993) was and remains, the only detailed
book-length study based chronologically on any genuine
knowledge of Peirce's extraordinary life. As Murphey was
aware, because he tried so hard to get it, a thorough
knowledge of that life would have made his book much
better, but, like the other would-be Peirce biographers of
the time, Murphey made do with what he could get permission
to use. He even went so far as to refuse my offer that he
make use of my extensive biographical notes, many of which
came from the Harvard collections, because, as he recently
|Yes, I do agree with you that Harvard's boat should have
been rocked and sunk. The reason I did not try to do so
was because I was fairly sure that the boat that was rocked
and sunk would be mine. I didn't have the money to take
Harvard to court, and I did not see any other way of
bringing pressure on them that would work. I think that
cumulatively all of us did finally force them to do
something, which was of course to bring in Max [Fisch].
Arrogance is certainly the word to describe those people;
they were impossible.(12)
In his review of my 1993 biography, Charles S. Peirce: A
Life (for which permission to quote from their Peirce
collection was finally granted by the Harvard philosophers
thirty-one years after I completed the Peirce
dissertation), Murphey wrote that the biography(13)
|would have been published long before this had not the
Harvard Department of Philosophy...refused him permission
to quote from a number of the manuscripts. Here again, as
so often in the past, the Harvard Department of Philosophy
acted to obstruct research on Peirce, thus continuing the
Harvard vendetta against Peirce which lasted from Eliot's
ascension to the presidency of Harvard in 1869 until the
advent of Putnam, Scheffler, and a new breed of Harvard
professors. The history of the Harvard Department's
conduct with respect to the Peirce manuscripts is one of
the sorriest tales in American academic history.(14)
It is finally time to establish in brief the major reasons
that lie behind this harsh and, I believe, well-deserved
Obviously, the Harvard philosophers had their reasons for
the policy of censorship, even though these have never been
clearly and openly stated, only vaguely insinuated. At the
very least, they believed that there was something
dangerous in bringing Peirce's life to light. Their
position is expressed in a letter to Murphey of March,
1952, in response to his request to see the restricted
papers in aid of his account of the evolution of Peirce's
| Dear Mr. Murphy [sic]:
I have made inquiries about the confidential Peirce
papers in consequence of your letter of March 10 and have
learned that they include material to which it is
impossible to permit access. I hope that steps can be
taken to separate these papers in such a way that some of
them could be made available to scholars. We have had to
refuse a number of earlier requests similar to yours and
this makes it all the more desirable that some such
reclassification be brought about. The situation is
sufficiently complicated to make it impossible to effect
such a rearrangement very soon and I fear, therefore that
whatever might be done in this direction would occur too
late for the immediate purpose of your thesis.
W. V. Quine
This segregation was begun in 1954 and completed in 1956.
Whether, as part of this process, specific papers were
chosen for destruction remains a question. When, in
September, 1958, I began working through the manuscript
correspondence collection in the attic of Widener Library
at Harvard University, what I found was dusty, dirty
chaos. There was an incomplete list of holdings by box
number. Some attempt had been made at some earlier time to
organize the letters by correspondent name in folders
stuffed into now disintegrating boxes, but a substantial
minority of letters was simply scattered. Some individual
files seemed complete, others obviously were missing
letters, sometimes a few, sometimes many, often almost
all. There was no consistent chronological order. It was
sometimes impossible to take letters out of their boxes
without tearing them, but I was not allowed to change the
existing place or order of any document, or to replace the
damaged boxes or folders. The collection of letters
written by Peirce was the most confused; there were
multiple drafts of many letters, often undated and
unaddressed, many pieces of philosophical writing (some of
them lengthy), bits and pieces of his inventions and plans
for projects, receipts for wine, drugs, coffee, and other
purchases, scraps of legal matters, and many other odds and
ends. Major parts were obviously missing. One personal
file, though, of great interest for and understanding of
the development of his life and thought was intact--his
application (and various materials connected with it) for a
grant from the Carnegie Institution of Washington in 1902-3,
when he was sixty-three, to write out his philosophy in
thirty-six "memoirs." It contained a number of drafts in
which Peirce tried, as well, to explain his inability to
finish and publish a major work of philosophy and other
Thinking that perhaps the biographical files were
considered unimportant, I surveyed the philosophical
manuscripts and found them also to be in dangerous
condition and in extraordinary confusion. (It was
possible, however, to identify those manuscripts used by
Hartshorne and Weiss by their green cover sheets.) With
that discovery, I concluded that the Harvard philosophers
had no interest in preserving Peirce's work, and that they
considered it to be of little value. Nathan Houser has
described, in a preliminary but accurate essay, the sad
history of the Peirce papers from the time of their
acquisition from Peirce's widow, in 1914, until the
For the first two years because of Royce's enthusiasm and
respect for Peirce's work, considerable progress was made
in sorting and arranging the amazing confusion of
manuscripts, but after Royce's sudden death in 1916,
although sporadic efforts were made to honor his
intentions, the project was allowed to decline and the
papers were seriously maltreated. Apparently, some papers
were carried away to be studied by teachers, students, and
others. Some were simply pocketed, some of the Peirces'
intimate letters were removed to the William James
collection, and, perhaps, even destroyed. An unknown
number was given away as scrap paper to the war drive. His
large annotated library, which Royce had promised Peirce's
widow would be protected, was dispersed without any record
of disposition, many to other universities, including some
in Japan. Only twenty-five of Peirce's books are now part
of the Peirce Collection; others that remain at Harvard are
kept on open stacks. Ten years after Royce's death, Charles
Hartshorne, a recent Harvard Ph. D. in philosophy with a
deep interest in idealism, but no background in logic and
mathematics, was hired to prepare an edition of Peirce's
papers in two volumes. Houser quotes him on what he found
in a room on the third floor of the Widener Library:
[The papers] were in a small number of big piles on a
large table. I don't remember whether there was any label
on the top of each pile. I think there were about eleven
piles. On the shelves there were, I seem to recall, just
fifty-two empty boxes, each of which was labelled, showing
that the manuscripts had been sorted under fifty-two
categories, but my predecessor on the job had evidently
taken them out of these boxes and resorted them into a much
smaller number of piles....
There was, I think, nothing else in the room. This was
the room for the Peirce papers during the three years I
worked on them. I remember having the impression that
these fifty boxes were labelled in a reasonable way and
that probably there'd been a pretty good classification
which my predecessor had destroyed.(17)
In the fall of 1926, Paul Weiss, an impoverished, gifted,
and ambitious graduate student who had studied at the City
College of New York under Morris Cohen (editor of one the of
the first collection of Peirce's philosophy called Chance,
Love and Logic published three years before), casually
joined Hartshorne in the project. Luckily, he was
competent in logic and mathematics and had a forceful
character. He convinced the department to expand the
project to six volumes. He discovered in a basket marked
"to be discarded" one of Peirce's most important papers in
logic. Written about 1880, while Peirce was at Hopkins, it
proposed a Boolean algebra with one constant and was "a
striking anticipation" of the Harvard philosopher H. M.
Sheffer's proposal to the same effect, published in
Neither Hartshorne nor Weiss had any editing
experience and Weiss recalls that at no time did any of the
Harvard philosophers instruct or oversee their labors,
neophytes that they were, nor did they advise them
concerning any points of philosophical importance.
According to Weiss, only one change was ever suggested in
their editing of the papers, and this occurred when he
requested that Lewis go over volume 4, "The Simplest
Mathematics," and is represented by a footnote.(19) Weiss
also recalls that no members of the department ever made
more than a perfunctory visit to their workroom during the
periods they worked on the papers, although Hartshorne
recalls taking a number of manuscripts at different times
to A. N. Whitehead for his comment. (I wonder if Whitehead
would have written in just the way he did without knowledge
of Peirce's work. In Process and Reality, which appeared
in 1929 (based on his Gifford Lectures of 1926-7),
Whitehead proposed that a philosophical system should be
conceived as being generated recursively from a few basic
metaphysical categories, which is precisely what Peirce
described as his procedure in the manuscript of "A Guess at
the Riddle" and in "The Architecture of Theories" published
in The Monist series of 1891-93. The issue of the extent
of Peirce's unrecognized influence is a genuine one.) When
Weiss left for his first appointment at Bryn Mawr College in
1931, he took with him all the manuscripts required for the
fourth volume of the Collected Papers, which contains a
selection of Peirce's most important then unpublished work
on logic and mathematics. He returned them to Harvard two
years later, but the Harvard philosophers had made no
record of what he had taken and had not requested their
Despite these facts, the Harvard philosophers stated in
the introduction to the Collected Papers that:
| Nearly all the members of the Department during the last
fifteen years, as well as many others who were interested
in Peirce, have devoted much time to the very often very
intractable material of the manuscripts. But the final and
laborious work of selecting, arranging and preparing the
papers for the press has been done by Dr. Charles
Hartshorne, formerly Instructor in Philosophy at Harvard,
and by Dr. Paul Weiss, who is at present an Instructor in
Philosophy at this university...(21)
Weiss and Hartshorne both remember that the original
intention of the Harvard philosophers was to name
themselves as the members of the department as the editors
of the Collected Papers. Weiss recalls that it was only
with the greatest difficulty that he convinced R. B. Perry
that to do so would be unjust, with the consequence that he
and Hartshorne appeared on the title page as editors.
The papers languished for ten years. In 1941, another
Harvard graduate student started to organize and number
(the McMahan numbers) the collection in sixty-one boxes,
including correspondence, for transferral to Widener
Library. Three years later, in 1944, just before the
transfer under the chairmanship of C. I. Lewis, there
occurred a "give away" of Peirce's manuscripts, in which
the Harvard philosophers and their friends took whatever
struck their fancy. After strong objections, Lewis issued
a recall, but we cannot know now, except by chance, what
and how much was taken, or what was returned. (It is
fairly said of Lewis that his successful career as a
logician grew out of his two year study of Peirce's
unpublished logic papers in the early twenties and his
earlier knowledge of Peirce's published work in the field,
to which he was introduced by Royce. In the first edition
of his first important work, A Survey of Symbolic Logic,
published in 1918, Lewis devoted twenty-eight pages to
Peirce's pioneering work in the field and called it as
important as George Boole's. In later editions and in
other works, the account of Peirce's importance is left
out.) Houser writes:
| ...some important manuscripts were quietly returned many
years later by an eminent Harvard graduate who confirms
that the "give-away" did occur and that he kept certain
papers because he thought they would be safer in his
care. Among the papers returned by this single graduate
were such important writings as Peirce's "A Guess at the
Riddle," a manuscript on Darwinism and synechism, part of a
manuscript on selfishness and political economy, a paper on
religion and politics, and notebooks on phaneroscopy.(22)
The papers were transferred from the Widener to Houghton
Library in 1960, which already had nineteen boxes of Peirce
manuscripts, probably originally sequestered by R. B. Perry
in the early 30's, while he was working on his biography of
William James. (It seems likely that a number of the
Peirces' intimate letters were destroyed by Perry in an
effort to sanitize Peirce's relationship with the
Jameses. Perry gave Hartshorne, on condition that he
destroy them, a small number of Peirce's widow's letters to
James's wife, which, among other things, described Peirce's
addiction to drugs and alcohol. The letters are now at the
Peirce Edition Project in Indianapolis. In a 1934 letter to
Gifford Pinchot, Juliette described how Peirce, as a young
man, helped William James to master psychological method
and added that "Harry James [William James's son Henry Jr.]
is most anxious to get from me the early correspondence and
lessons between the two men [Peirce and William James] and
he offered to buy them..."(23) The letters have never been
found.) A last substantial addition to the Houghton
collection was made in 1969, when an old desk filled with
important Peirce manuscripts, whose history remains
unclear, was found in the underground passageway connecting
the Widener and Houghton libraries. The Peirce Collection
is now permanently housed in the Houghton. At least a
quarter of the philosophical papers, numbering over 80,000
pieces, are still misarranged and the biographical material
remains in a state of confusion.
In November, 1958, after a month of disordered research,
when I inquired about a particular box, the archivist
informed me that the Peirce collection had been searched
for evidence of certain aspects of Peirce's life and that
those portions had been restricted. The box I had asked
for was one of four so classified. At that point, like my
predecessors who tried to study Peirce's life, I seriously
considered giving up the entire venture. I sought advice
from McGeorge Bundy, then dean of the Harvard faculty, and
asked him to intervene in support of my request to consult
the restricted boxes. He agreed to look into the matter
and suggested the name of an attorney used by the Harvard
Corporation to counsel me, but at the same time he gently
and elliptically asked me to consider carefully the
personal danger I risked in proceeding against the power of
Harvard University. The attorney thought I might prevail in
a suit, but added that, after bringing the possibility of a
suit to the department's attention, he believed that the
Harvard philosophers would see to it that my career was
ruined. I conferred several times with Firth, the
department chairman, who apologized for the great
difficulties his mistake, in giving me permission in the
first place, had caused; he offered to write a letter of
explanation to my department and to give me $500 for my
troubles. When I refused the offer, he invited me to apply
to the department for appointment as the official Peirce
biographer (I did not take the offer seriously, for I was
mere graduate student, and I wrote him to that effect).
The outcome was that I was allowed to continue to do
research, but kept from the restricted boxes. Max Fisch
was eventually appointed the official biographer in 1959.
Shortly before my move to Cambridge to begin research in
June, 1958, Fisch wrote me:
|Any further work I do on Peirce is likely to proceed so
slowly that I see no reason why you should not go ahead as
if I were not involved in any way or degree....You have a
fair chance to make a major contribution to American
intellectual history, in which Peirce seems to me the key
Murphey, a historian, wrote to me soon after I had agreed
to the restriction imposed by the Harvard philosophers that:
|I think you are in a very difficult situation....A good
biography cannot be written without access to all data....
Whatever Peirce did was of a highly immoral
nature....Harvard has a real interest in keeping this
quiet. I do not believe it is inertia; there is something
dangerous there which they want to keep under cover.(25)
My decision in November, 1958, to proceed without access
to the restricted boxes was based on two assumptions. The
first was that, very probably, the Harvard philosophers did
not know what was in the biographical materials. Their
dismissal of Peirce's importance, and their disgust at his
life made it seem to me unlikely that they had made a
serious effort to find out what was in the restricted
boxes. I also believed that the available material
probably had indications of what they were trying to
hide. Fisch wrote me later, as he was considering the
Harvard philosophers' offer in April of 1959, that he had
once surveyed the restricted boxes and "I can assure you
that what they add to what a diligent researcher can dig up
elsewhere is much less than the restrictive policy
assumes."(26) Fisch's here illustrates a point that
research historians consider obvious: it is unlikely that
significant events are recorded by only one source. I soon
discovered important biographical information about Peirce
in many collections, nine at Harvard itself. Within a week
of my decision to continue with my research into Peirce's
life, I discovered much revealing but disconnected material
about Charles's personal life in the collection of his
father Benjamin's letters. These included many family
papers commenting on Charles in addition to his father's
letters. The collection was restricted at the request of
the Harvard philosophers before I had quite finished
studying them. I found some 10,000 pages of Peirce
manuscript in the National Archives in the Coast Survey
papers, his employers for thirty years. The Hopkins
archives included some information not used by Fisch in his
Hopkins essay. Other university archives contained papers
of Peirce's correspondents. So did the Library of Congress,
the Massachusetts Historical Society, and other
depositories. Many likely sources for Peirce's life and
thought still remain unexplored at this writing.
By the end of April, 1959, when Fisch conditionally
accepted his appointment as Peirce's biographer, I had
amassed nearly 2500 notecards on Peirce's life. In our
correspondence, I kept Fisch informed of my progress and of
my troubles with the Harvard philosophers. Despite this, he
expressed a strong interest in a collaboration to save him
time and effort. By the end of June, I had completed my
study of the Coast Survey material and of several
collections at the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian
Institution, the National Archives and the Carnegie
Institution of Washington, and had accumulated more than
3000 notecards. During a visit with Fisch in the summer of
1959 at his home, we cordially discussed at length how we
might work together. We agreed that we would write
separate Peirce biographies, expressing our different
interests, but would collaborate in and pool our research,
some of which I would do as his assistant, which I had, in
fact, already done at his expense in Milford, Pennsylvania,
Peirce's home for the last thirty years of his life. There,
I conducted interviews, examined the local newspapers,
official records, and a Peirce letterbook in the possession
of a Milford resident. Fisch also offered to advance my
cause with the Harvard philosophers, especially in the
matter of seeing the restricted papers. I offered to let
him make copies of all my notes, including leads, which he
immediately did. Those notes, with Fisch's annotations,
are part of the Peirce Edition Project's collection.
That autumn, an event occurred which quickly led to the
end of our friendship and our collaboration--and for thirty
years, to my ambition to write a Peirce biography. Fisch
received a telephone call from a retired Peirce scholar and
devotee (perhaps cultist in Miller's sense), and member of
the Peirce Society who had, on impulse, made a pilgrimage
to Milford with a friend to visit the appropriate shrines
and talk with the elders about their memories of the
Peirces. In doing so, they learned about my earlier
presence, misinterpreting it to mean that I was an imposter
who claimed to be Harvard's official biographer. Fisch
wrote to me:
| My informant became quite exercised about the
matter;...so he made a trip to Harvard, had a visit with
his old friend Donald Williams (who is apparently to be
chairman [of the philosophy] department this year), heard
from Williams about the department's difficulties with
you, and urged Williams to write to key people in Milford
stating that I am the biographer chosen by Harvard, that
you do not represent Harvard in any way, etc. It is my
impression that Firth had not yet showed Williams my letter
about you, so he was not in a position to set my informant
straight...Well, my informant then went back to Milford,
conveyed his authoritative information...and I'm afraid
also the information about your difficulties with Harvard
and its view of you. Then he began getting other reports
in Milford according to which you were my agent, or
assistant, or collaborator...I provided him what I could
over the telephone. He seemed relieved but still puzzled
that I should be accepting help from someone of whom the
Harvard department thought so ill....I shall do what I can
by correspondence, but perhaps the cloud of
misunderstanding will not lift until after personal
conversations at Harvard in February and at Milford
Fisch also said that, until this unexpected event, he had
intended to send me copies of the notes Jackson Cope had
earlier made for him on the restricted papers. He now was
reluctant to ask Harvard's permission to do so, which he
thought necessary. Though Fisch did his best, the Harvard
philosophers would not agree to anything involving me with
themselves. Fisch acquiesced in their decision to deny me
access to the restricted papers (or to any other Peirce
biographer excepting, in some instances, Eisele and, of
course, Burks, who had earlier screened the papers for
volumes VII and VIII of the Collected Papers, without
making much use of them). In giving in to their
stipulations, Fisch also broke off our agreement and did
not afterwards share any of his research results with me,
as he had agreed to do.
Fisch's appointment as the official biographer had two
major effects, one destructive and the other
constructive. On the one hand, he became the Harvard
philosophers' gate-keeper in all matters affecting access
to and use of their biographical information about
Peirce. In practice, this meant that no other would-be
Peirce biographer had any chance at it. He often exercised
this function with a high degree of caprice, allowing a few
to read tantalizing bits, but refusing them permission to
use what they had seen. Surprisingly, the secrets were
kept, though, occasionally, a Peirce scholar took advantage
of these glimpses of the extraordinary figure Peirce
was.(28) On the other hand, Fisch plunged with
single-minded devotion into the chaos of Peirce
manuscripts. By 1970, with the help of his wife Ruth, Don
D. Roberts, Richard Robin (author of the annotated catalog
and identification numbers for the Harvard Peirce
Collection), Eisele, Murphey, and other independent
scholars, he had managed to bring sufficient order to the
philosophical manuscripts so that they could be used on
microfilm, though with difficulty, by scholars anywhere.
In 1973, he presented "A Plan for a New Edition of the
Writings of Charles S. Peirce" to a group of scholars who
agreed to ask Harvard to give them permission to make
electroprint copies of, and to use the Peirce papers to
publish a multivolume chronological selection of Peirce's
work. Harvard agreed to the arrangement. The copies were
deposited the next year with the Institute for Studies of
Pragmaticism at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, a
place far removed from the refined hotbed of ideas,
culture, and inspiration that Cambridge and Harvard
University had been for Peirce in his youth and young
manhood. This exile was an appropriate consequence of what
Murphey calls "the Harvard vendetta against Peirce." In
1975, the entire project was moved to Indianapolis,
bringing it a little closer to home. There, founded and
directed by Edward C. Moore and funded through his efforts
by Indiana University, The National Endowment for the
Humanities, and the National Science Foundation, The Peirce
Edition Project began. Moore appointed Fisch as general
editor with a staff of four. The staff has put most of the
materials in order and five volumes of a projected thirty
have been published by the Indiana University Press. Over
the years, Fisch also collected Peirce materials of various
kinds from a large number of sources, and also brought
together a large library on 19th century American
thought. In 1989, Fisch retired, too ill to write his
biography. He left a legacy of a well-conceived, usable
and ongoing center for the study of Peirce as a fitting
sign of his persistence and devotion.
In the meantime, I had become an outcast among Peirce
scholars. Some of them publicly accused me at meetings of
the Peirce Society of slander and character assassination
(a still lingering reputation), which led to the
surreptitious reproduction and distribution of my
dissertation here and in Europe. Several presses and
scholars showed an interest over the years in publishing a
revision, but the Harvard philosophers told them that no
permissions would be forthcoming. In 1977, for example,
Charles Crittenden, a philosopher then interested in
Peirce, and John Clendenning, editor of the Royce papers,
urged me to publish it. Crittenden wrote:
|...It seems to me that it could pretty well be published
as it stands. The picture given is not altogether
favorable to Peirce, of course, but then that may be as it
should be. In any case as the Peirce project proceeds
there will be great interest in the life of this
fascinating man, and your biography will be a prime source
of information....let me commend you for a fascinating
account of a fascinating and difficult figure, and for your
(as it seems to me) sound judgments throughout.(29)
I sent the letter to Fisch who discouraged the
possibility, writing that, "...you have a vision of Peirce
that is unlikely to reach print...," and reporting that it
was most unlikely that the Harvard philosophers would
relent.(30) In thirty years, the dissertation was cited
only twice. With sardonic amusement, I realized that I
felt a sense of kinship with Peirce in his long-held anger
at Harvard's treatment of him.
Then, in 1990, entirely unexpectedly, long after I had
moved into other fields of interest and had given up on the
biography, Thomas A. Sebeok, a distinguished semeiotician,
linguist and Peirce scholar (who is not an academic
philosopher), found my dissertation and asked me to revise
it for publication, including in my text, where I thought
it appropriate, the results of Peirce scholarship since
1960. In December, 1991, at the request of Indiana
University Press, the Harvard philosophers, who could no
longer find sufficient reason to deny it, gave me
permission to publish selections from their Peirce
Collection. In January, 1993, the Press published my
biography and Houser, the new director of the Project,
allowed me to study the restricted papers, which I had
vainly asked to see thirty-five years before, as well as
Fisch's files. All Peirce materials at the Project and at
Harvard are now accessible to scholars, making it possible,
at last, eighty years after his death, to freely study not
only Peirce's philosophical manuscripts, but (with the
addition of new research into collections likely to have
Peirce material but not yet examined) the entire record of
his extraordinary and tragic life as well. This opening up
of the Harvard and Project sources of Peirce biography--this
belated unblocking of the way of inquiry--will mean that we
will be able at last to place him more accurately and fully
in the fabric of the history of ideas, and to state more
rigorously the range of his relevance to the manifold
worlds to which he claimed his discovery of semeiotic gives
Citations to works other than those by Peirce are given in
the usual form. Those for Peirce are given in abbreviated
form: for the Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce,
CP 1.1 means volume 1 paragraph 1; for Writings of Charles
S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition, W1:100 means volume 1,
(1) Cohen (1923): iii
(2) Weiss (1934): 398-403.
(3) Wiener (1946): 181-2, (1949): 24-6.
(4) Fisch (1952): 277-311.
(5) Miller (1954): xxxi.
(6) Lieb (1953)
(7) Ladd-Franklin (1916): 715-722; Jastrow (1914): 571, (1916): 723-726.
(8) Lewis. C. I. (1918) A Survey of Symbolic Logic 79-106; Anderson and Fisch (1939) "Charles S. Peirce" Philosophy in America from the Puritans to James; Schneider (1946) A History of American Philosophy 334-337, 516-523, 546-550; Buchler, Justus (1939) Charles Peirce's Empiricism; Feibleman, James K. (1946) An Introduction to Peirce's Philosophy Interpreted as a System: Goudge, Thomas A. (1950) The Thought of C. S. Peirce; Gallie, W. B. (1952) Peirce and Pragmatism; Thompson, Manley (1953) The Pragmatic Philosophy of C. S. Peirce. For what was then thought to be available about Peirce, see Fisch's bibliography (1964): 483-514.
(9) Allen, Ruth, secretary to the department, to author, March 17, 1958
(10) W4: lxv. Introduction by Houser.
(11) Burks had published on Peirce's theories of probability and abduction, his categories, and on his system of signs, and had just finished his work on Vols. VII and VIII of the Collected Papers, for which he had access to the Harvard Peirce biographical manuscripts, but he made limited use of them and declined Harvard's offer to write the official biography; Eisele was at the beginning of her major work on Peirce, the mathematician and scientist, having published his correspondence with Simon Newcomb, on his gravimetric and astronomical work at the Smithsonian, and other subjects; Fisch had published on O. W. Holmes,Jr. and pragmatism, on Peirce at Johns Hopkins, and on Alexander Bain and the origins of pragmatism; Goudge had published The Thought of Charles S. Peirce and on Peirce's theories of induction and abstraction; Madden had published on Peirce's methodology; Murphey was completing The Development of Peirce's Philosophy; Weiss was co-editor, with Charles Hartshorne, of Vols I-VI of the Collected Papers, and had published on Peirce's architectonic; Wiener, in addition to his Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism, had published Peirce's correspondence with Samuel P. Langley and, with Frederic Young, had edited the first volume of Studies in the Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce. Of these, only Burks had the chance to study the Harvard biographical manuscripts; Eisele, Murphey, Fisch and Wiener had to use other sources, such as the Smithsonian, the Coast Survey, Johns Hopkins and the personal correspondence of others. For more detail, see Fisch's bibliography (1964).
(12) Murphey to the author, 5/13/1994.
(13) Brent J. (1993).
(14) Murphey (1993): 723-728.
(15) Quine to Murphey, March 13, 1952.
(16) Houser (1992): 1259-1268.
(17) Houser (1992): 1261.
(18) CP 4.12n. H. M. Sheffer (1913): 14:481-88.
(19) CP 4.19n*.
(20) The recollections by Hartshorne and Weiss were made in conversations with the author between 1992 and the present.
(21) CP 1.vi.
(22) Houser (1992): 1262-63.
(23) Juliette Peirce to Gifford Pinchot, September 10, 1934. Pinchot Family Collection.
(24) Fisch to the author, April 18, 1958.
(25) Murphey to the author, February 27, 1959.
(26) Fisch to the author, February 18, 1959.
(27) Fisch to the author, September 17, 1959.
(28) For example, Auspitz (1983): 51-64. He used manuscript material concerning Peirce's addiction that Fisch had not cleared.
(29) Charles Crittenden to the author, 1/11/1977.
(30) Fisch to the author, 5/18/1977.
Auspitz, Josiah Lee, 1983. "The Greatest Living American Philosopher." Commentary. 76:51-64
Brent, Joseph. 1993. Charles Sanders Peirce: A Life. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Buchler, Justus 1939. Charles Peirce's Empiricism. London: Keegan Paul.
Eisele, Carolyn. 1959. "Charles S. Peirce: Nineteenth Century Man of Science." Scripta Mathematica 24:305-24.
______. 1954. "Charles S. Peirce and the History of Science." Yearbook of the American Philosophical Society 353:358.
______. 1957. "The Charles S. Peirce-Simon Newcomb Correspondence." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 101:409-433.
______. 1957. "The Scientist-Philosopher Charles S. Peirce at the Smithsonian." Journal of the History of Ideas 18:537- 547.
Feibleman, James K. 1946. An Introduction to Peirce's Philosophy Interpreted as a System, with a forward by Bertrand Russell. New York: Harper & Brothers.
Fisch, Max H. 1954. "Alexander Bain and the Genealogy of Pragmatism." Journal of the History of Ideas 15:157-59.
______. 1939, 1969. "Charles Sanders Peirce." Introduction to Part 4, Section 20 in Philosophy in America: From the Puritans to James. Edited in collaboration with Paul Russell Anderson. New York: D. Appleton Century. Reprinted New York: Octagon Books.
______. 1964. "Draft of a Bibliography of Writings about Charles Sanders Peirce." (with Barbara E. Kretzman and Victor F. Lenzen.) Studies in the Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce, Second Series. edited by Edward C. Moore and Richard S. Robin. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
______. 1952. "Peirce at the Johns Hopkins University." (with Jackson I. Cope.) Studies in the Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce. edited by Philip P. Wiener and Frederic H. Young. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Gallie. W. B. 1952. Peirce and Pragmatism. Penguin Books.
Goudge, Thomas A. 1950. The Thought of C. S. Peirce. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Houser, Nathan. 1992. "The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Peirce Papers." Signs of Humanity/L'homme et ses signes. General Editor Gerard Deledalle. Vol 3 Semiotics in the World/La semiotiques dans le monde. Edited by/Edite par Michel Balat and Janice Deledalle. The Hague: Mouton de Gruyter. 1259-1268.
______. 1986. "Introduction." Writings of Charles S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition. Vol. 4. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Jastrow, Joseph. 1914. "The Passing of a Master Mind." Nation, 98:571.
______. 1916. "Charles S. Peirce as a Teacher." Journal of Philosophy, 13:723-26.
Ladd-Franklin, Christine. 1916. "Charles S. Peirce at the Johns Hopkins." Journal of Philosophy, 13:715-722.
Madden, Edward H. 1956. "Chance and Counterfacts in Wright and Peirce." Review of Metaphysics 9:420-432.
Miller, Perry, editor. 1954. American Thought: Civil War to World War I. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Murphey, Murray G. 1961 and 1993. The Development of Peirce's Philosophy. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. Reprinted with a new preface and appendix Bloomington: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.
______. Review of Charles Sanders Peirce: A Life. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 29: 723-28.
Peirce, Benjamin. Family Papers. The Houghton Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Peirce, Charles Sanders. 1923. Chance, Love and Logic: Philosophical Essays by the Late Charles Sanders Peirce, The Founder of Pragmatism. Edited with an introduction by Morris R. Cohen. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc.
______. 1931-35. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Edited by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss. Vols. I- VI. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
______. 1958. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Edited by Arthur Burks. Vols. VII-VII. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
______. 1953. Letters to Lady Welby. Edited by Irwin C. Lieb. New Haven: Whitlock's.
______. Papers. The Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
______. 1982-. Writings of Charles S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition. Edited by the Peirce Edition Project. Projected in thirty volumes. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Peirce, Juliette. Papers. Peirce Edition Project, Indiana- Purdue University, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Pinchot, Gifford. Family Papers, Library of Congress Manuscripts, Washington, D. C.
Robin, Richard S. 1967. Annotated Catalogue of the Papers of Charles S. Peirce. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press.
Schneider, Herbert W. 1946. A History of American Philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press.
Sheffer, H. M. 1913. "A set of Five Independent Postulates for Boolean Algebra, with application to logical constants." Transactions, American Mathematical Society 14:481-88.
Thompson, Manley. 1953. The Pragmatic Philosophy of C. S. Peirce. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Weiss, Paul. 1934 "Peirce, Charles S." Dictionary of American Biography S. v.
Wiener, Philip P. 1949. Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
______. 1946. "Peirce's Metaphysical Club and the Genesis of Pragmatism." Journal of the History of Ideas 7:218-233.
______. 1947 "The Peirce-Langley Correspondence and Peirce's Manuscript on Hume and the Laws of Nature." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 91:201-228.
Wiener, Philip P. and Young, Frederic H., editors. 1952. Studies in the Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
END OF: Joseph Brent, "The Singular Experience of the Peirce Biographer