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CHARLES A. STRONG PAPERS

Scope and Content Note

The Charles A. Strong Papers document the thought of philosopher and psychologist Charles Strong (1862-1940) and his friendships with George Santayana (1863-1952), William James (1842-1910), and a circle of academic philosophers known as the "critical realists." The critical realists worked within the school of American pragmatism originated by Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) and popularized by William James. Also present in the collection are two letters from American novelist, Edith Wharton (1924, n.d.) and a small group of letters (1921-35) to Strong from the English writer, Violet Paget (Vernon Lee, 1856-1935), documenting the close friendship between the two expatriates. The papers span the years 1877 to 1939, but the bulk of the material dates between 1906 and 1939. The collection was transferred to the Rockefeller Archive Center in 1994 by the donor.

The Strong papers are arranged in five series:

  • Series I - Personal Correspondence
  • Series II - Professional Correspondence
  • Series III - Writings
  • Series IV - Writings of Others
  • Series V - Miscellaneous Papers
Within the correspondence series, letters have been retained in their original order, in runs of Incoming and Outgoing correspondence. Series III, Writings, and Series IV, Writings Of Others, are arranged alphabetically by title (Series III) or author (Series IV). In Series V, Miscellaneous Papers, materials are arranged alphabetically by type of material.

Little information is available in these papers about Strong's personal life. There are scattered references to his wife, Bessie Rockefeller, and her illnesses, but there is no correspondence from her in this collection.

Strong's relationship with the Rockefeller family can only be surmised from these documents. There are two letters from his father-in-law, John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (1927, 1933); the first relates to the disposition of Bessie Rockefeller's estate, the second to an allowance for Margaret, Strong's daughter. A 1916 letter from Rockefeller to Strong's father, Augustus H. Strong expresses the wish that the Strongs resettle in America, "instead of isolating themselves from their family, and making other connections with strangers." The bulk of Senior's correspondence with Charles and Margaret Strong is located in the Rockefeller Family Archives, Record Group 1, John D. Rockefeller Papers, Correspondence Series. Outgoing correspondence from the letterbooks is available on microfilm. There is incoming correspondence from Bessie Rockefeller Strong (1891-1894), Charles Strong (1886-1894), and Augustus Strong (1879-1894). In Record Group 2, (Office of the Messrs. Rockefeller), Series H, Friends and Services (Friends and Relations section), there is one folder of correspondence (1886-1911) from both John D. Rockefeller, Sr. and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and their associates to Charles and Bessie (1886-1911). Also available in Record Group 2, in the personal papers of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., is correspondence (1881, 1886-1925) between John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Augustus and Kate Strong, Charles' sister. In the Strong papers described here, George Santayana's letters indirectly provide information about Margaret Strong and her husband, George de Cuevas, as Santayana remained a lifelong friend to the Strong's.

Series I, Personal Correspondence, contains four folders of detailed letters (1877-1885, 1891, 1939) from Strong to his family, written largely between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five. In them, Strong gives news of his scholastic achievements at Phillips Exeter Academy, the Gutersloh Gymnasium in Germany, and Harvard College. After his father opposed his first bid to attend Harvard, Strong wrote, "I think I have a moderately good faculty of putting up with mylot." The bulk of Strong's incoming correspondence consists of letters from his father (1910-1921) reporting on family activities in Rochester, New York and his frequent travels. The few letters from his mother, Harriet Strong, are interfiled with those of Augustus Strong.

Series II, Professional Correspondence, fills Boxes 4 through 8 and contains Strong's correspondence with philosophers and writers. Letters are arranged into runs of Incoming and Outgoing correspondence. Strong's correspondents include:

  • Bernard and Mary Berenson
  • Henri Bergson
  • Alfred Binet
  • John Dewey
  • G. Lowes Dickinson
  • John Galsworthy
  • William James
  • Arthur O. Lovejoy
  • John Masefield
  • G. E. Moore
  • Friedrich Paulsen (1 letter)
  • Charles S. Pierce (2 letters)
  • Ralph Barton Perry (2 letters)
  • Walter Rauschenbusch
  • Bertrand Russell
  • George Santayana
  • F.C.S. Schiller
  • Paul Shorey
Among his most faithful colleagues and critics were:

  • Durant Drake (Vassar College)
  • Dickinson S. Miller (Columbia University)
  • James Bissett Pratt (Williams College)
  • A. K. Rogers, (Yale University)
  • Roy Wood Sellars (University of Michigan).
Strong's outgoing correspondence includes a packet entitled "My Letters to Philosophers" (1902-1912).

George Santayana's correspondence with Strong, located in Series II, is the largest single correspondence in the collection. The letters are uninterrupted for the period 1900 to 1939 and fill twenty folders. Most of the letters were written after 1912 during extended sojourns in France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. Santayana's letters are warm and full of personal anecdote, and report on the books he is reading as well as the progress of his own writings, including The Realm of Matter (1930), the Realm of Truth (1937), The Realm of Spirit (1940), and the novel, The Last Puritan (1939). Although they remained loyal friends, Strong and Santayana continually disagreed over the scope and limits of perception. Their philosophical differences gradually took on a personal edge. After a 1938 meeting in Rome, which led to an altercation, Santayana wrote that he and Strong had fallen "out of sympathy on almost every current subject." In 1939, he declared, "Your presuppositions as to what can and what cannot excite consciousness are not such as I feel any need of making." Strong's letters to Santayana fill three folders and consist mainly of typescript drafts of letters for the years 1930, 1932 and 1933 concerning philosophical subjects.

The letters of William James to Charles Strong fill seven folders and are largely uninterrupted for the period 1898 to 1910, the year of James' death. In his letters, James discusses materialism, his reactions to Strong's writings, books he is reading, his teaching load, travel plans, family life, and the precarious state of his health. He describes in 1905 his first encounter with French philosopher Henri Bergson. Writing on 6 February 1906 from Palo Alto, where he was lecturing at Stanford University, he gives a lively account of his reaction to the San Francisco earthquake. Strong's letters to James fill one folder. Two letters (1889), written from Berlin, offer a theory of materialism explaining the relationship between the mind and the body, in which the human mind is a product of natural processes. Strong's theory found formal expression in his first book, Why the Mind Has a Body (1903).

Series III, Writings, contains a variety of unpublished writings by Strong, including prose, poetry, a play manuscript, and notes. The two poems, humorous riffs on the subject of giving up smoking, were addressed to Edith Wharton, probably during the early 1920s. Wharton's poem in reply is located in Series IV, Writings of Others. Strong's 1937 attempt at a play, "Entbehren Sollst Du," reveals a highly complex but hidden emotional life. His philosophical autobiography (7 pp.) describes his rejection of Christianity, his studies with William James and Friedrich Paulsen, his differences with Santayana, and his views of the nature of perception and consciousness. Series IV, Writings of Others, includes unpublished manuscripts of Durant Drake, Arthur Lovejoy, Violet Paget, James Bissett Pratt, and George Santayana. Also present are galleys of William James' Pragmatism (1906), annotated by Strong. Series V, Miscellaneous Papers, contains copies of newspaper clippings and obituaries, printed materials, visiting cards left by Strong's guests in Fiesole, and the wills of Santayana, Augustus H. Strong, Harriet Savage Strong, and Charles Strong. Charles A Strong Papers Finding Aid

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