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REVIEWS BRETT'S HISTORY OF PSYCHOLOGY REVISED* C. R.MYERS When volume I of George Sidney Brett's History of Psychology first appeared a little over forty years ago (1912), it was immediately recognized as a literary and scholarly production of the first rank. It provided a comprehensive survey of "ancient and patristic" thinking on all matters psychological, and did so in a way that was authoritative , detached, vigorous, and readable. Looking back over nearly half a century of growth and expansion in psychology, this contribution to the literature seems to have been peculiarly timely and appropriate. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, mother-philosophy had given birth to yet another science and hap nurtured it through infancy and childhood. Then at a period of adolescent turmoil and rebellion, when the "new psychology" was trying so hard to establish its own independence, Brett, the philosopherhistorian , provided for it an invaluable "coming-of-age" gift-the full story of its own ancestry. When volumes II and III of the work appeared about a decade later (1921), they, too, were acclaimed for the same qualities which had distinguished the first. Typical are the comments of one contemporary reviewer: "The style has distinction and clearness with frequent flashes of humour.... It is easy to read in spite of the unavoidable tediousness of some of the topics. . .. The whole work is remarkably fresh, vivid and attractively written .. . by one who has the scholarship, science and philosophical training that are requisite for the task.'" Today, there is nothing to alter in such an appraisal. There have been other histories of psychology with a sharper focus on the recent past which, for a narrow domestic purpose, have been more useful and more used. But none has even attempted what Brett achieved. His History is a classic and it stands alone. It is this monumental three-volume philosopher's history of psychology that has recently been subject to "revision" in the form of radical plastic surgery. The operation has been performed by R. S. Peters, a lecturer in the Departments of Philosophy and Psychology at Birbeck College, University of London. A large number of incisions have been made and nearly half of the original underlying·Brett's History 0/ Psychology. Edited and abridged by R. S. PETERS. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.j New York: The Macmillan Company [Toronto: Thomas Nelson & Sons (Canada) Limited]. 1953. Pp. 742. lReview by "J.L.M." in Mind, N.S., XXXI (1922 ), 525. 427 428 UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY tissue has been removed. Many interesting but obscure wrinkles have been smoothed away. The familiar features which were kept have been somewhat rearranged. An attempt has been made to cover some of the incision scars with skin grafts in the form of "introductory" and "bridge" passages. The final section of the original has been amputated and replaced by an elaborate prosthetic device. The result of this operation is one large, tidy volume called "Brett's History of Psychology." It is difficult for a former student of Professor Brett's to wax enthusiastic about this Reader's Digest treatment of a sacred classic. It is even difficult to view it with the equanimity and detachment for which Brett himself was noted. And yet the least that can be said in its favour is that, if it had to be done at all, the result might have been much worse! In the first place, the surgeon-editor in this case is to be commended for his decision not to attempt to rewrite or paraphrase or abstract the original. What we have left of Brett in this volume (and it is a substantial amount) is at least Brett-and for this we should be thankful. The editor's purpose was to correct what he calls "certain obvious defects" in the original. The first, he says, is its unwieldy bulk. This he has set about correcting on the principle that half a loaf is hetter than no bread. If one grants the principle, there is little point in criticizing his decisions on what to retain and what to omit. It may be deplorable but it is probably true that few students can, or ever could, really...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 427-429
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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