Robert Ranulph Marett

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Robert Ranulph Marett (13 June 1866 – 18 February 1943) was a British ethnologist and a proponent of the British Evolutionary School of cultural anthropology. Founded by Marett's older colleague, Edward Burnett Tylor, it asserted that modern primitive societies provide evidence for phases in the evolution of culture, which it attempted to recapture via comparative and historical methods. Marett focused primarily on the anthropology of religion. Studying the evolutionary origin of religions, he modified Tylor's animistic theory to include the concept of mana. Marett's anthropological teaching and writing career at Oxford University spanned the early 20th century before World War Two. He trained many notable anthropologists. He was a colleague of John Myres, and through him, studied Aegean archaeology.

Family background[edit]

Marett was the only son of Sir Robert Pipon Marett and Julia Anne Marett. He was born in Saint Brélade. He belonged to a family, originally named Maret, that settled on Jersey from Normandy in the 13th century.[1] The Saint Brélade branch built a manor house for themselves, La Haule Manor (today a hotel).[2] They had substantial wealth and position, contributing high-level magistrates to the government of Jersey. Robert's father had been Bailiff of Jersey. He was one of the founders of La Patrie, a patriotic newspaper. Earlier, Philip Maret, third son of the second Seigneur of La Haule, born in 1701, had emigrated to Boston, where he became a merchant captain. His subsequent family participated in the American Revolution and the War of 1812.[3]

Robert's mother, Julia Anne, also bore the name of Marett before marriage. She was one of the eight children of the Janvrin sisters, Esther Elizabeth and Maria Eliza, by one Philip Marett, who was not in Robert Pipon's immediate line. Philip was a name often used by the Maretts. Thus, Julia Anne was only a distant cousin of her husband. The house, however, came into Robert Ranulph's possession through his mother. Her mother was Maria Eliza Janvrin. She and Robert Pipon had four children, Robert Ranulph, Mabel Elizabeth, Philippa Laetitia, and Julia Mary. Robert Ranulph was an only son but had three sisters and a large number of cousins.[4] The family was Anglican.[5] Cyril Norwood said of him, in a review of his autobiography in 1941:[6]

Born of good family, reaching back through many generations of service in Jersey, he was brought up in a good home with wise and cultured parents in a beautiful place set fair in the freedom of sky and sea. Nature in her kindness endowed him with good brains, good memory, lively imagination, and abounding physical vigour.


Primary and secondary education[edit]

St. Aubin in 1890. The railway is visible just above the beach. La Haule Slip is the first one, just before the clearing.
Beach from St. Aubin's Bay. La Haule is the large building on the left.

For his initial educational years, the young Robert was taught in a Dame school of the area.[7] He was then placed in St. Aubin's School, a private grammar school founded in Maison Martel. This was the former home of the Martel family, merchants, in Saint Aubin, Jersey, which was not far from La Haule Manor. It had been founded in 1813 by Esther Brine and her husband, Philip le Maistre, a schoolteacher. The Brines had purchased the mansion from the Martels. In 1867, they reported a student population of about 50 boys, half of whom were boarders.[8] For the wealthy in Jersey, this school was the only path to secondary school.[9]

St. Aubin's had an international reputation. Robert attended between ages nine through 14, 1875–1880. On the death of Le Maistre in 1873, the new headmaster and owner was John Este Vibert, who had a military frame of mind. Many future military officers came from St. Aubin's. Vibert was also a scientist and a member of the Royal Meteorological Society. He manned a weather station in the building.[10]

Marett went on to secondary school at Victoria College, Jersey. It was founded in 1850 on the recommendation of Queen Victoria. Marett was there from the age of 14 to 18, 1880–1884. He commuted daily by the train line which existed for several decades across the south of the island.[11] In secondary school, and then in university, Marett was gregarious, popular, and athletic. Later, he spent his time golfing and shooting. For fun, he loved to party and prank as he had a sense of humor. He joined the Jersey Militia, which was a social club, and he was made a lieutenant at age 17. He also read avidly in La Haule's extensive library. He took a great interest in natural history.[12]

After finishing school in 1884, he planned to start at Balliol College, Oxford University in autumn, but his father's lingering illness delayed him. His father died on November 10th. According to the British law of primogeniture, he inherited the entire estate, but for the time being, he was not interested. There were no practical changes in the management of the estate. His mother and three sisters continued living in the home. However, his mother died in 1901, and the three sisters never married. They were still in the house, all over 70, when the Germans occupied it in 1940. Leaving for Oxford, Robert never returned on a permanent basis. His own family did eventually move there, but for him, it was only a part-time home which he occupied mainly in the summer. It was an ideal summer home as it was sparsely populated, located on the shore, spacious, luxurious, but without such amenities as electricity[citation needed].

College education[edit]

Oxford University

Though well-to-do, Marett applied for financial assistance, the award of which was based on excellence and typically demonstrated in an examination. In British English, he won an "exhibition" from the Council of Legal Education (today's Inns of Court School of Law). In this case, this was a modest financial award for the study of law. The award made him an “exhibitioner.”[13] He had to join the Inner Temple, one of the four groups of a professional association of barristers called the Inns of Court. It was (and is) primarily an educational institution qualifying lawyers to argue at the bar; that is, professionally in court.

There was an overlap with Marett's interest: Roman Law. Marett majored in classics, the study of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Anthropology as an academic subject did not exist at the time; in fact, Marett was to be one of its first professors, the first at Oxford. As required by membership in the Inner Temple, he had finally to pass a “bar examination” in Roman Law, which he did in 1891. This success did not qualify him in any way to practice law. He was never a lawyer, and he was never interested in the government of Jersey, as his father had been.[14]

Marett received notice of his grant in November. It was too late to begin in autumn. He, therefore, petitioned to begin with the Hilary term. He had enrolled in a classics curriculum called Literae Humaniores (Lit. Hum.). It is divided into two sequential parts, Honour Moderations, or “Mods,” a study of the Ancient Greek and Latin languages. He then enrolled in courses selected from a variety of classical topics, with the requirement that eight papers be written. This part is called “Greats.”[15]

Marett was finished with his Mods by 1886, with a First. Going on to the Greats, he won the Chancellor's Prize for Latin verse in 1887, which was a modest sum contingent on submission of some New Latin verse composed by the recipient.[16] He had nearly completed the Greats by 1888, concentrating on philosophy. British degrees at the time were designed for three years.[17] However, this specific curriculum was designed for four years.

He still had more work to do when, in early 1889, he was struck by meningitis walking home from class. Knowing he was in a possibly life-threatening condition, he intruded on the first doctor's office he saw, and he was lucky enough to be diagnosed immediately by an experienced physician. He was then unable to attend Oxford for the rest of the term. When he had recovered sufficiently, he was sent to Switzerland for final treatment. In July he was granted the degree of Bachelor of Arts (BA) in absentia with a First anyway, but he still needed to pass the Bar in Roman Law.

In Switzerland, he had the best of academic intentions. He was learning French and German. He enrolled at the University of Berlin in philosophy, which he studied for a year. However, being a young man of wealth whose father had been known internationally, he had an informal access to the upper echelons of society. He associated with Junkers and had lunch with the Kaiser. Among the Americans abroad, he met Buffalo Bill. His planned educational experiences were rapidly developing into a Grand Tour. At the end of the year (1890), he refused to go home. Touring on to Rome, he fell in with the society of Lord and Lady Dufferin, inveterate party-goers. Socialising was their stock-in-trade. Lord Dufferin was then the British ambassador to Italy. The 24-year-old Marett was dazzled, and he described the year as “rapturous”.[6] He toured Italy, Greece, and France in the company of notables, making friendships that would last a lifetime.

Finally, the time came to go home, but in 1890 he still had the Bar Exam to take. He found some tutoring work at Balliol, and became a secretary to Toynbee Hall while he was studying for the exam that he eventually passed.[18] When the results were announced in early 1891, he was free to begin his professional career. He was awarded the Master of Arts (M.A.) later that year without additional work or examination, as is the custom at Oxford.[19]



Marett's first professional position was in philosophy as a Fellow at Exeter College, starting in the fall of 1891. Depending on the definitions of the institution, “Fellow” in the British system has a broad range of meanings ranging from graduate student to a senior research associate. In Marett's time at Oxford, fellow meant in essence a member of the faculty with the same basic privileges as any. Today it is necessary to ask exactly what Marett did to be paid as a fellow.

Exeter College, which was a small one in population, was undoubtedly being governed by the statutes of 1882.[20] It provided for a Governing Body consisting of a Rector and two types of Fellows: Ordinary and Tutorial. Some in addition had special duties, such as the Bursar. Hiring was by vote of the Governing Body. There is a brief memo in the ‘’Register for Exeter College’’ for 1890 that he was a “Tutorial fellow Ex. Coll.,” presumably “Exeter College.”[21] He was a tutor of philosophy in the Oxford Tutorial System. He met with students regularly, individually or in small groups, to suggest reading for them and check their previous readings. Americans have never had this system.[22]

As to how he may have obtained the position, he says in his autobiography that all he asks of the historian is that he be classified as “even the least of ‘Jowett’s men,' referring to the long-standing Master of Balliol College. He was referred to as the influential philosopher, classicist and Gladstonian partisan, named Benjamin Jo[23]wett. The aforesaid men dotted the Houses of Parliament and British society in general like stars in the sky, all promoting British liberalism. A word or two from Jowett might easily have influenced the Governing Body.

However, he got the position, and Marett resolved to set himself on the path to success. He applied for the T.H. Green Moral Philosophy Prize in 1893, a monetary award offered once every three years by Balliol College for the best paper on moral philosophy.[24] Marett won it with The Ethics of Savage Races, which was never published. However. Edward Burnett Tylor,founder of Cultural Anthropology, was on his examining committee for the paper. The relationship between the two men continued.[25] Marett now had demonstrated the ability to think creatively. He obviously had a career in philosophy and religion ahead of him and was made sub-rector.[26] Jowett died that year, but Tylor’s opinion would have been crucial.


He succeeded E.B. Tylor as Reader in Anthropology at Oxford in 1910, teaching the Diploma in Anthropology at the Pitt Rivers Museum. He worked on the palaeolithic site of La Cotte de St Brelade from 1910–1914, recovering some hominid teeth and other remains of habitation by Neanderthal man. In 1914 he established a Department of Social Anthropology, and in 1916 he published "The Site, Fauna, and Industry of La Cotte de St. Brelade, Jersey" (Archaeologia LXVII, 1916). He became Rector of Exeter College, Oxford. His students included Maria Czaplicka, Marius Barbeau, Dorothy Garrod, Earnest Albert Hooten, Henry Field[27] and Rosalind Moss[28]

Phases of religion[edit]

E.B. Tylor had considered animism to be the earliest form of religion, but he had not had access to Robert Codrington's linguistic data on the concept of mana in Melanesia. Codrington wrote after Tylor. Consideration of mana led Marett to retheorize Tylor's history of religion, adding an initial phase, pre-animistic religion, called pre-animism by others. A new common thread must be found to unite the three phases. Marett suggested the supernatural, or "power of awfulness" (in the original sense of the word). Marett's analysis of the history of religion was presented in The Threshold of Religion (1909) and was refined in Anthropology (1912), and Psychology and Folklore (1920).

Publications and lectures[edit]

  • Origin and Validity in Ethics (1902)
  • The Threshold of Religion (Second, Revised and Enlarged ed.). London: Methuen and Co. Ltd. 1914 [1909].
  • The Birth of Humility (1910)
  • Anthropology. New York; London: Henry Holt and Company; Williams and Norgate. 1912.
  • Progress and History (1916)
  • Psychology and Folk-lore. London: Methuen and Co. Ltd. 1920. Compendium.
  • The Diffusion of Culture (1927)
  • Man in the Making: An Introduction to Anthropology (1928)
  • The Raw Material of Religion (1929)
  • Faith, Hope and Charity in Primitive Religion (1930–1932)
  • Sacraments of Simple Folk (1930–1932)
  • Head, Heart and Hands in Human Evolution (1935)
  • Tylor (1936)
  • Man in the Making (1937), New Edition
  • A Jerseyman at Oxford (1941), autobiography

Marriage and family[edit]

Having established himself at Exeter, Marett entered a plateau, despite his anthropological paper. In 1896 he was already 30. Personal biology was on his mind. A new women's college had entered the Oxford system, Somerville College. It was of great interest to the unmarried dons of Oxford, such as R. R. Marett. He managed to meet one of its students, the youngest daughter, Nora, of the British explorer of Africa and subsequent Vice Consul to Zanzibar, John Kirk (1832–1922). A Scottish physician, he had been with David Livingstone when Henry Morton Stanley asked, or at least is said to have asked, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

Livingstone and Kirk were both dedicated to the suppression of the slave trade in Africa, a cause championed by British liberals. It presented a political paradox. Slavery could only be stopped by military opposition to the slavers. If British forces did intervene, the government was accused of building a colonial empire. This contradiction brought down the second premiership of William Gladstone in 1885, when he did not go to the assistance of Charles George Gordon at Khartoum. The latter was attempting to defend the city against Muhammad Ahmad, slaver, and new Islamic messiah. Gordon was killed. The tide turned in Britain in favor of the empire. After the Battle of Omdurman, 1896, the region was brought into the empire as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.

Earlier Kirk had come home from Africa to recover from exhaustion. He accepted a medical position in Zanzibar in 1868. That same year the government offered him the post of Vice-Consul there. On the strength of his new income and importance, he married his fiancée, Helen Cooke (1843–1914), and together they had a son and five daughters, one of which was Nora (1873–1954).[29] A liberated woman for the times, she attended the new college that would bring women to Oxford, where she met Marett. Alike in political views and sentiments, they loved each other dearly, but Marett's contract with Oxford stipulated that he must not marry for a certain number of years. Those were up in 1898. He was 32, she 25. In the first decade of the 20th century, they had four children: John Ranulph (1900–1940), Philippa Suzanne (1904–1991), Joya Elizabeth (1905–1979), and Robert Hugh Kirk (1907–1981).

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Payne, James Bertrand (1859). Armorial of Jersey (Reprint ed.). RIPOL Classic. p. 278.
  2. ^ Marett births on Jersey were mostly at the same place, La Haule, in the village of Saint Aubin, Jersey, part of the parish of Saint Brélade. St. Aubin is on the southwest side, on the west of St. Aubin’s Bay. Eastward along the beach, is a projection, La Haule Slip, which originally joined the estate. The coastal road, originally running around the north side of the estate, has been made to run between the estate and the beach. The location is informally called ‘’blanc pignon’’, “White Gable,” from the sailing directions for entering the port of St. Aubin, a fishing village. The bay is shallow. The fishermen were to take a bearing on the “white house” located on what became “upper blanc pignon” on the slopes. La Haule is in “Lower Blanc Pignon,” of interest mainly for the meteorological station there. The location of the original white house is obscure; the directions indicate there was more than one. La Haule also is said to be “the village of La Haule,” but if there ever was such a village in Jersey (there are some in France), perhaps before the manor, it has been lost. Chandler, John (1847). The seaman's new guide, revised by J.S. Hobbs (24th ed.). London: Charles Wilson. pp. 122–124.
  3. ^ Baldwin, Simeon E. (1890). A Brief Memorial of Philip Marett. New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, Printers. p. 3.
  4. ^ "Robert Pipon Marett". Ancestry. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  5. ^ Wheeler-Barclay 2010, p. 244
  6. ^ a b Norwood, Cyril (6 September 1941). "A Jerseyman at Oxford" (PDF). Nature. 148 (3749): 266–267. Bibcode:1941Natur.148..266N. doi:10.1038/148266a0. S2CID 4143674.
  7. ^ The term went out of use in the United States in the 20th century, being replaced by day care.
  8. ^ Fry, Herbert (1867). Our Schools and Colleges. Containing the principal particulars respecting endowed Grammar Schools, ... as also information respecting Colleges and Universities. London: R. Hardwicke. p. 146.
  9. ^ Parish schools were of poor quality, and the Elementary Education Act 1870 in Britain, appropriating and funding them for public education, was not to be realised on Jersey for many years. The current roster of primary schools is entirely later 20th century.
  10. ^ Venn, J.A. (1954). "Part II From 1752 to 1900: Volume VI Square-Zupitza". Alumni Cantabrigienses; a Biographical List of All Known Students, Graduates, and Holders of Office, From the Earliest Times to 1900. Cambridge: University Press. p. 288. The school and the station came to an end with his early death in 1886. The house was sold, to become later the Hotel La Tour, renamed from a modification that added a mediaeval tower. Since 2013, its destruction has been planned to make way for luxury housing.
  11. ^ With the advent of the automobile, the train fell into disuse. The Germans restored it during World War II. Today most of the rail-bed is a pedestrian path, while there are no traces of the stations.
  12. ^ Poole, Austin Lane (29 August 1941). "Enjoying Life". The Spectator.
  13. ^ American English does not have the word. There were no exhibitions of any sort as Americans understand them. Etymologically the word means “showing.”
  14. ^ The results of the Bar Exam are given in "Bar Students' Examinations, Hilary 1891". The Law Journal. XXVI–1891: 72. 24 January 1891. Many of the cursory sources in American English, confused by the language, draw the wrong conclusions. Marett did not major in law at Oxford. He was never qualified to argue at any bar, let alone the bar in Jersey. Although Jersey’s government consisted mainly of barristers working in London, Marett had no interest in being one of them. By an accident of culture, the Council of Legal Education was willing to support the history of law, Roman in this case. Proof of excellence was expressed as “a bar exam.”
  15. ^ Classics in British English is verbally and conceptually different from the American version. There is a certain commonality of subject material, but ideas about what should be included vary somewhat.
  16. ^ "University Scholarships and Prizes". The Oxford Magazine: 166. 4 May 1887.
  17. ^ American English sources are apt to describe Marett’s progress as though he had a double major, or earned two degrees. There are many differences in the educational system, but the British division into the two levels is based on the fact that some mastery of Greek and Latin is a prerequisite for reading authors who wrote in Greek and Latin. There was one major, one degree, and both levels were required to obtain it.
  18. ^ Toynbee Hall was a charitable institution in the East End of London dedicated to supplying services to the poor and ideologically reforming society in the direction of removing barriers between rich and poor. In college, Marret was a liberal. He belonged to the Russell Club, an organization of obscure origin supporting liberalism in Britain. That meant support of the Liberal Party (UK) under William Gladstone, who was generally for social reform and against the empire. At Oxford, the club later merged with another to form the Oxford University Liberal Democrats.
  19. ^ A British custom, now rare, practised by some universities. The degree was awarded automatically to B.A. holders who had some further association with, or —more commonly— donated to, the university. The prevailing sentiment today is that the M.A. should be a degree earned by study and examination. Proposed legislation to that effect failed of being passed, and the practice remains extant today at both Oxford and Cambridge with graduates receiving a written invitation to pay a fee to receive the M.A. approximately one year after graduating.
  20. ^ Kirwan 2005, p. 1
  21. ^ Boase, Charles William (1894). Registrum Collegii Exoniensis: Register of the Rectors, Fellows, and Other Members on the Foundation of Exeter College, Oxford. With a History of the College and Illustrative documents. Oxford: Oxford historical society at the Clarendon Press. p. 198.
  22. ^ Drawing the wrong conclusions from British English, some commentators postulate a fellowship in 1891 followed by some sort of tutorship in 1893. The evidence is that Marett was never in the “Ordinary” position, but started as a Tutor.
  23. ^ Marett 1941, p. 74
  24. ^ The prize was created under a bequest of Thomas Hill Green, White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy at Balliol. He died in 1882. It was Green who created the fund in his will, not his wife in memoriam, as some assert. The candidates must submit and be examined on a paper on moral philosophy. The M.A. was a prerequisite; that is, the candidate must be associated with Oxford. Richard Lewis Nettleship; Charlotte Byron Symonds Green (1906). Memoir of Thomas Hill Green: Late Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and Whyte's Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Oxford. London: Longmans, Green. p. 249. Green Prize in moral philosophy. Although some notable persons won the prize initially, it fell into disuse and became a source of financial aid for graduate students. Ultimately so few applied that the university turned it into a scholarship fund "University Agenda". Oxford University Gazette. 24 September 2009.
  25. ^ Jones, Robert Alun (2013). The Secret of the Totem: Religion and Society from McLennan to Freud. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 163–154. ISBN 9780231508773. Jones speculates that Tylor already had Alzheimer's disease, but Tylor was only 34. He did not die until 1917, some 24 years later. Such a view reduces the entire relationship, which began in 1893, to an intellectual caretaker capacity on the part of the younger man, apparently unnoticed by anyone else, an unlikely view. Marett claimed in his autobiography that Tylor’s memory was already troubling him: Marett 1941, p. 117 Merely not being as skillful at 34 as you were at 24 does not imply Alzheimer’s. A critic of Tylor, Marett may have been over-competitive.
  26. ^ A second-in-command-to the rector, who was in charge of the school. The terminology for the heads of colleges varied somewhat according to tradition. Jowett was the Master of Balliol, but Exeter had a Rector. There was only one sub-rector at a time, but he might change, and the sub-rector did not necessarily lead to Rector. Rectorships were originally for life.
  27. ^ Field 1952. p. 35
  28. ^ James, TGH. "Moss, Rosalind Louisa Beaufort (1890–1990)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  29. ^ "Sir John Kirk". Livingston Online. Archived from the original on 27 February 2015. Retrieved 26 February 2015.


External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Rector of Exeter College, Oxford
Succeeded by