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WE have suffered a loss beyond the power of words to express in the death of Archibald Cary Coolidge, which occurred at his home in Boston on January 14, 1928. He had been born there sixty-two years before, a lineal descendant of Thomas Jefferson and William Randolph of Virginia. From the time of his graduation from Harvard in the class of 1887 he followed many and varied lines of work, but all leading to the real objective of his life -- the scientific study of history and the true utilization of its lessons.
Six years after graduation he became an instructor of history at his loved alma mater, to whose increasing renown and usefulness he devoted the remainder of his life. For this task, to which he brought the most complete devotion of mind and soul, he had prepared himself by arduous work. Until the beginning of 1893 he specialized in the study of history and philosophy under celebrated teachers at the Universities of Berlin and Freiburg, receiving at the latter his doctorate in philosophy. During this period, as well as in later life, he devoted all his spare time to travel. An insatiable thirst consumed him to study at first hand and by personal observation the affairs of the world, "to see the abodes and to know the minds and manners of many peoples," and to learn their languages. He knew that a deep insight into the spirit of a people requires a knowledge of their written and spoken words. He knew that history is the history of man and that to understand man he must know men. History was not to him an abstraction. He knew that it "is philosophy teaching by examples." Historical events meant nothing to him apart from the lessons he could learn from them and the assistance they could give in moulding a better future from a worse past. Nor in applying the lessons of history as an aid to the progress of mankind did he indulge in vain speculations. He knew that the summum bonum of that progress is a matter of long attainment. He did not study history in the hope that he would discover some magic formula by the utterance of which man would be recreated, but one that would control and direct his evolution from worse to better, that would subject instinct and passion to reason, that would ever lead towards that summum bonum whether possible of complete attainment or not.
During these years he served the Department of State as Secretary of Legation in St. Petersburg and Vienna and as private secretary to his uncle, Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, American Minister in Paris. While studying at the German universities he had travelled extensively in Germany, Austria, France, Poland and Hungary, and he now visited Norway, Sweden and Russia. Later he thrice visited Russia, once during the war as special agent of the State Department in Sweden and northern Russia, and again in 1921 with the American Relief Administration. Twice he journeyed around the world studying conditions in the Orient and elsewhere. He was the American delegate to the Pan-American Scientific Congress in Chile; Harvard lecturer at the Sorbonne and other French universities; Harvard exchange professor at the University of Berlin; and member of the American Peace Delegation in Paris, during which time he was also chief of the special mission to Vienna. Those who were then in Paris will remember how the American Delegation relied on his reports, both written and personal, for the real truth about events that were so often misunderstood or misstated.
Shortly after the war and in the midst of other absorbing work he was chosen by the Council on Foreign Relations to be the first Editor of its journal, FOREIGN AFFAIRS. None but those associated with him in this work can know how much its success was due to his ripened experience and judgment, his tact, and his good common sense. He contributed to it many widely read articles. In reference to his last article one who knew him in this work better than any one else says: "When I talked with M. Poincaré in Paris a couple of months ago, he praised Coolidge's article in the October FOREIGN AFFAIRS on Anglo-French relations during the last quarter century as being 'a model of perfect historical writing.' And he went on to say that this was because Prof. Coolidge's knowledge was so deep and at the same time so general that he didn't have to stop the sweep of his reader's thoughts by harping on details, as so many modern historians feel they must do." He remained the Editor of FOREIGN AFFAIRS until his death and it pleases us to think that he carried with him the knowledge that it had won a place in the foremost rank of journals, in any language, devoted to international affairs.
For the last sixteen years of his life he also was Director of the Harvard University Library. To this work he gave his ability, his scholarly knowledge, the love of his heart. He found it a great library; he left it one of the few greatest. He enriched it with many splendid collections. One loving friend speaks of these as an unending stream pouring down in almost terrifying waves of knowledge upon the library shelves from every nation of the globe. Then came his great task of classifying and making available this mass of varied knowledge. For, to him, a library was not a charnel house filled with the bones of dead ideas, but rather a garden in which they might be made to germinate and grow and bear fruit each after its kind.
And in the midst of his books he died. We like to think of him thus surrounded by the great spirits of all time, not as friends mourning but rather joyously welcoming him to their Elysium where he with them may know and understand the eternal verities. We like to think that we can hear coming from one of those ancient books written by one modest and gentle like himself the whispered words with which he welcomes this latest comer of his group of white-souled friends
Animae quales neque candidiores Terra tulit, neque quis me sit devinctior alter.
TASKER H. BLISS