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Karl Eugen Guthe
The Michigan Alumnus 80-99

KARL, EUGEN GUTHE (1866-1915)
NOVEMBER 1, 1915

The entrance of Death upon our familiar circle solemnizes us all at
 any time. But when one is taken who is still in his prime, whose scientific
 career and opportunity for service promise much, whose eagerness for truth 
is not blunted, who retains the vivacity of youth, we almost rebel, and mourn 
with keenest regret the pity of the broken life, as our limited vision accounts 
it. Such were our prevalent feelings when we received the staggering
 news of the death of Dr. Guthe, on 10th September 1915, under tragic circumstances, —after two severe surgical operations, —at the remote town of 
Ashland, Oregon. He had taken leave of some of us in mid-August, stal
wart and full of health, anticipating the Pacific trip with the genial zest 
so characteristic of him; and the sad intelligence, coming but a brief month 
later, shocked us profoundly.

Karl Eugen Guthe was born in Hanover on 5th March 1866, so that he
 had not reached his fiftieth birthday at the time of his death. He received
 his preparatory education in the Hanover Gymnasium and Technical School. Migrating, after the European custom, he studied at the Universities of 
Strassburg, Berlin and Marburg, habilitating as Doctor of Philosophy at 
the last in 1892. In the same year, he emigrated to the United States with 
others of his family. For seven years, from 1893 till 1900, he was Instruc
tor in Physics in the University of Michigan; in 1900, he was advanced to 
an Assistant Professorship, which he retained for three years. In the
 autumn of 1903, he entered the service of the United States Government as
 Associate Physicist in that admirable organization, the Bureau of Standards. Two years later he accepted a call to the Headship of the Department of
 Physics in the sister State University of Iowa, where he remained for four
 years, becoming in this short period one of the influential members of the
 staff, a man in whom the institution took legitimate pride. 

When, in 1909, after the resignation of Dr. Henry S. Carhart, Dr.
 Guthe returned to the University of Michigan as Professor of Physics, the
 appointment met with the heartiest approval of all, and in three years he 
had so established himself among us, alike as an investigator and a person
ality, that, when the Graduate School of the Department of Literature, Sci
ence, and the Arts underwent reorganization and became the Graduate De
partment of the University, he was selected for the delicate duties of the 
Deanship, not only by his colleagues in the natural sciences, but by many
 others. He assumed the new office at Commencement, 1912.

He had no 
more than laid foundations for the future when Death snatched him. Much
 remains to be accomplished for our Graduate School; but the first Dean, 
 setting his face toward the things of the mind, —surely the things that most 
matter in any university, —was enabled by his personal qualities to render
 a difficult transition less disturbing than it might well have been in other 
hands. His broad education stood him in good stead here. For, despite his 
paramount interest in physical science, he possessed the equipment to appreciate the value and methods, not simply of humane studies, but even of the 
speculative treatment of first principles. In this connection it may be appo
site to record that one of his latest contributions, "Roger Bacon as a Scien
tist," was written after careful, conscientious reading of Bacon's works in 
the original Latin, and after animated discussions with colleagues in Philosophy.

So, too, some of Dr. Guthe's colleagues may be unaware that he
 was a profoundly religious man. The deep that calls unto deep in our na
ture found "consentaneity" in him, as the poet says. And while, thanks to 
his scientific convictions, he could not associate himself with any church 
bound by an official creed, he was a prominent supporter of the Unitarian
 Society, and President of its Board of Trustees. Thus, for many reasons, 
 preoccupation with the severe demands of the most exact of the natural sci
ences had not staled his vivid sense for questions involving human valua
tions. Nay, cast in a generous mould, —spiritual and intellectual no less
 than bodily, —he was ready to admit, with his eminent colleague of the Uni
versity of Vienna, that "Science does not pretend to be a complete view of
 the world; it simply claims that it is working toward such a complete view 
in the future. The highest philosophy of the scientific investigator is precisely this toleration of an incomplete conception of the world and prefer
ence for it, rather than for an apparently perfect, but inadequate concep
tion." (Ernst Mach in "The Science of Mechanics" (Eng. trans, zd edn.), p. 464.)
This standpoint preserved his mind fresh, open to new ideas, suspicious of finalities, always moving forward. If he ever allowed himself to
 indulge intolerance, it was for dogmatism or, rather, for the mental laziness
 which, by an obvious paradox, issues in an attitude akin to that of easy om

It was inevitable that one so active mentally should make numerous
 contributions to the literature of his chosen subject and, withal, take an
 occasional excursion further afield. Fortunately, a complete list of his pub
lications is available—too lengthy to be given in detail now. There are no 
less than seventy-five titles. These divide themselves naturally into the fol
lowing groups: —

(1) Forty-six technical articles; 

(2) Seventeen popular or semi-popular expositions; 

(3) Eight reviews; 

(4) Four books—"A Manual of Physics" and "College Physics," in
 collaboration with his colleague, Dean John O. Reed: the section
 on "Heat," contributed to Duff's authoritative "Text-Book of 
Physics;" and "Definitions in Physics," entirely from his own 
pen, his latest work.

Naturally, too, Dr. Guthe received wide recognition from his co-work
ers. He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement
 of Science, and Vice-President of the Section for Physics in 1908. His elevation to the Presidency of the American Physical Society would have been 
a matter of course. He enjoyed the distinction of membership in the Wash
ington Academy of Sciences; his fellow countrymen had elected him to 
membership in Die Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft: while the French
 had similarly honoured him with a place in La Societe Franchise de Phys

In 1892, Dr. Guthe married Miss Clara Belle Ware, of Grand Rapids, who survives him, together with two sons and a daughter. While we now 
give expression to our grief for the loss of a generous and distinguished
 colleague, we remind ourselves that the widow and orphans are far more
 terribly bereft. Accordingly, we beg to be permitted to assure Mrs. Guthe
 and her children of our deep and most respectful sympathy.

R. M. Wenley
Alexander Ziwet
H. M. Randall

At the meeting of the Research Club, held October 20, the President
 spoke in appreciation of Dean Guthe. Of particular significance was the
 following paragraph: 

"It is pleasant to remember in these days of national and racial differ
ences, when so many are carried away by their partisan feeling, that although
 often at variance with the opinions and sympathies of many of his friends 
he neither gave offense to any nor took offense; and this, quite without 
sacrifice of his independence. He did indeed show, as too few have shown, 
 how science and its methods, its ideals and its purposes, may give men 
integrity and poise; winning for himself and his views the respect that with 
his sense of fairness he was so ready to accord to others and to their views. 

A true scholar, a faithful and efficient officer, and a most genial friend, 
 Dr. Guthe was one whom we are glad to have had among us and whose
 memory we may well cherish."