PRESIDENT WOODROW WILSON smiled and said, "I wouldn't want to impede so energetic a reporter" to Felix Morley who had just hollered down and entered the House elevator that day in 1918, unaware that it held only the president, two scowling secret service men and the confused operator.
The president needn't have worried. No one not even a president, could stop Felix Morley, whether as a reporter, editor, government adviser or college president. His life has been one of energetic endeavor punctuated with consistent success and capped with honors. In (FOOTNOTE)or the record he revisits the high spots, relives the controversies and vigorously restates his ideas on America and its place in the world.
Born and educated on the quiet campus of Haverford College near Philadelphia, Morley served in an ambulance unit in World War I. ("Cover up me feet, chum," a young English boy, both legs amputated, whispered to him, "they're perishingly cold"). Unsurprisingly -- for one of his Quaker upbringing -- Morley felt no hostility to Germany during the war and afterward favored a negotiated peace.
As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford after the war, he studied under historian Sir Ernest Barker and other great minds. Once when he protested to Barker that the eight books assigned for an essay due in a week were more than he had read at Haverford in a year, he was educated by this response: "My dear chap, it seems high time you learned how to read. Of course I don't want you to absorb every word in those references. Just run through them and pick out what is cognate to your theme."
For Morley, this was a formative experience, as were the years in the late 1920s he spent writing editorials for the Balitmore Sun under J. H. Adams, a man who saw a newspaper as an engine for rectifying injustice. And about whom it was said, "He could imagine getting beaten for an idea, and even getting beaten by it, but he was quite unable to imagine running away from it." During this period Morley spent five months in Asia amidst the ferment of poverty and political upheaval. That experience was later more than balanced by a stint in Europe for the American League of Nations Association where he saw a shattered landscape and a populace demoralized by terrible inflation.
In 1933 Morley became editor of the then modest Washington Post under Eugene Meyer who had bought it at an auction. Meyer was a close associate and Morley a friend of former President Herbert Hoover. Morley modeled the newspaper on the famed Manchester Guardian by turning it toward an international outlook and a philosophy of independence. He boosted the news value of cartoons, letters to the editor, and the Sunday book page, and recruited some top-notch columnists. The Post thrived during these years (Morley won a Pulitzer in 1936) despite Meyer's cheese-paring, paternalistic ways, and deep-seated antagonism to FDR. Morley shared this antagonism to some degree, and we find him writing these unfortunate words on the occasion of FDR's death: "I shall not be so hypocritical as to pretend . . . I am in any way devastated by the news."
Morley's work threw him into contact with the great in America and elsewhere. Walter Rathenau, the German Foreign Minister in the '20s, Morley calls the most brilliant statesman he ever met. But it wasn't until after World War Ii in West Germany that the able Jewish diplomat's plans saw fruition. In the '30s Morley acted as a channel to the State Department for German and Japanese dissidents who were trying unsuccessfully to stifle their nation's preparations for war.
But in 1940 Haverford called him back to become its president, and he spent the war years there trying to blend a Quaker campus with the demands of total war. He made innovations, erased a deficit and did much to propel the college forward.
He then returned to journalism and edited Human Events, a small but influential newsletter, leaving it in 1950 when the other owners jumped on the Nixon-McCarthy bandwagon. Since then he has written for Barron's, Nation's Business, and other journals of opinion.
Now on the wrong side of 80, Morley lives on his old retreat at Gibson Island, Md., where age has not withered the cogency of his thought. Politically, he is a "libertarian" opposed to governement centralization. "The vestment of power in HEW is demonstrably bad," he writes, "but its concentration in the Pentagon and CIA is worse because the authority is often concealed and covertly exercised." He pronounces a pox on both parties, the Republicans for their advocacy of militarization and the Democrats for their paternalism on social services.
For the Record is not without its faults. Morley is justifiably pleased with his achievements and is generous to himself in saying so . . . often. He is a man who doesn't like to fail, and other than the fact that his sane and sound ideas have never prevailed, makes almost no mention of other personal failure. In 1937 he and brother Christopher the famed writer, poet and humorist, put on a series of debates (along the lines of "Resolved That Newspapers Do More Harm Than Good") at which juries in several cities voted for the winner. Morley doesn't tell us who won, but I will bet Christopher won in a walk.
Still, it's an informative and useful book by and of a man who has always been at the center of crucial issues and events. In England, Morley once sat in the House of Commons before World War Ii and hear Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain say that it was time for cool heads, to which Lloyd George retorted that every fish can have a cool head: what Britain needed was a warm heart. Felix Morley, as his book shows, has both a cool head and a warm heart. (END FOOT)