The Michigan Alumnus 103
Benjamin Franklin Cocker
Faculty Portraits IX
Benjamin Franklin Cocker was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1821 and died in Ann Arbor April 8, 1883. Between those dates is a career of unusually diversified character con summating, as our purpose of brief review lies, in his call to the chair of philosophy in the University of Mich igan in 1869.
He was one of the striking figures and strong personalities of the Cam pus of the last generation. He was tall and lithe, with face thin, nose aquiline, eyes searchingly penetrating. His figure was crowned with long, white hair through which he so often nervously ran his fingers, and which was combed straight back from his forehead. Nor did his unusual aspect and manner belie the expectations they aroused. His students might have great difficulty in recalling the body of information they received from him but they would have none in naming those qualities of his which made him so strong a factor in their education. And if his instruction be- longed to days forever passed, its spirit is never to be outgrown. Of its form and content nothing need now be said. His personality was the ele ment that abides.
With whatever well defined lines he might demarcate fields of speculation, kinds of conduct or faculties of soul the impression conveyed by his voice, face and manner was that of a man who felt himself to be in the presence of mystery vast and meaningful. In the apprehension of this his soul quiv ered and throbbed. In the expression of it his voice took timbre that served well its purpose. Into room 21 his classes used to come noisily and care lessly. Often they left as the devout leave a sanctuary. Men have not for gotten their surprise in finding that they had tiptoed their way out of a classroom.
His supreme purpose never seemed to lie in the line of discovering and collocating facts. His passion was to apply to life facts of value and ideas of worth. He touched human life with a reverent hand. Everything was sub ordinate to it. He deepened the sense of it in his pupils. They wondered sometimes what kind of psychology he was teaching, or of philosophy, or of ethics. It seemed to them very like religion. And it was. He did have a distinct philosophical system, but it was the handmaid of religion. He was widely read in contemporary science, but it was in the interest of life. He loved to make himself at home in that dim borderland between metaphysics and theology. But it was in the interest of theology.
His own religious experience and his previous work in the ministry had doubtless given his nature that bent which he maintained in his personal relations and instruction. His hospi tality was generous. Students consulted him freely. So in life and books and his place of instruction alike he felt a profound sense of his personal mission, and such was the greatness of his soul that he seldom failed to awaken in others those emo tions that made for honor and truth.
Arthur William Stalker, '84