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Faculty Portraits

Benjamin Franklin Cocker
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

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