Bibliography > Paper > Books by F. M. Alexander
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F. Matthias Alexander. Edited by Jean M. O. Fischer.
Man's Supreme Inheritance [1996]
Conscious Guidance and Control in Relation to Human Evolution in Civilization
Paperback. 250 pages. 1918 (1996).
Published by Mouritz (UK).
ISBN 978-0952557401. 231 x 154 mm. 12 b/w photos, index. First published 1910. Second revised and enlarged edition 1918. Third edition 1941. Fourth edition 1946. Fifth edition 1957. Mouritz edition published October 1996. Reprinted December 2002. Foreword by Walter Carrington.
Status: In print. Publisher website
First published 13 October 1996
Alexander’s first book. This is Alexander’s final 1946 edition with additional material from earlier editions with notes on changes made.
Mouritz description
This new edition contains two prefaces by Alexander, an introduction by John Dewey, and the section ‘To My Reader’ with appreciations which were included in the 1918 Methuen edition but accidentally left out of later editions. Ten appendices contain further material which was omitted from earlier editions, reviews of the 1910 and the 1918 editions, extracts from reviews, a printing history and a text comparison table of the 1910 and the 1918 editions. As well as the original photographs the book contains additional illustrations. Foreword by Walter Carrington.
List of Illustrations
Foreword by Walter Carrington
Preface to New Edition (1945)
Preface to First Edition (1910)
To My Reader
Introductory Word by Professor John Dewey
Appreciations from Professor John Dewey, Professor Frank Granger, Rev. J. H. Jowett and Professor H. M. Kallen
A Note on the Text by Jean M. O. Fischer
  • Part One: Man's Supreme Inheritance
    i From Primitive Conditions to Present Needs
    ii Primitive Remedies and their Defects
    iii Subconsciousness and Inhibition
    iv Conscious Control
    v Applied Conscious Control
    vi Habits of Thought and of Body
    vii Race Culture and the Training of Children
    viii Evolutionary Standards and their Influence on the Crisis of 1914
  • Part Two: Conscious Guidance and Control
    Introduction to Part Two
    i Synopsis of Claim
    ii The Argument
    iii The Processes of Conscious Guidance and Control
    iv Conscious Guidance and Control in Practice
    v Conscious Guidance and Control: Apprehension and Re-Education
    vi Individual Errors and Delusions
    vii Notes and Instances
  • Part Three: The Theory and Practice of a New Method of Respiratory Re-Education
    i The Theory of Respiratory Re-Education
    ii Errors to be Avoided and Facts to be Remembered in the Theory and Practice of Respiratory Re-Education
    iii The Practice of Respiratory Re-Education
    Concluding Remarks
  • Appendices
    a. Text from the 1910 edition of Man's Supreme Inheritance, omitted from later editions
    b. A case history from Conscious Control (1912), omitted from later editions
    c. Text omitted from the 1946 edition, but which appeared in the 1918 and 1941 editions
    d. Excerpts from reviews of Man's Supreme Inheritance (1910)
    e. "Health and Hygiene" -Review of Man's Supreme Inheritance (1910) in The Onlooker
    f. Excerpts from reviews and appreciations of Man's Supreme Inheritance (1918)
    g. "Making Over the Body"-Review of Man's Supreme Inheritance (1918) by Randolph Bourne in The New Republic
    h. Appreciation of Man's Supreme Inheritance (1918) by Dr A. C. Barnes
    i. Printing history of Man's Supreme Inheritance
    j. Textual origins of the 1918 edition
Publisher's description
This is the first book on Alexander's technique. It was first published in 1910. It was followed by the booklet 'Man's Supreme Inheritance Addenda' (1911) and a small book 'Conscious Control' (1912) and all three were revised and enlarged for the 1918 edition. The present edition consists of Alexander's authorized 1946 edition with additional material from earlier editions.
This new edition contains two prefaces by Alexander, an introduction by John Dewey, and the section ‘To My Reader’ with appreciations which were included in the 1918 Methuen edition but accidentally left out of later editions. Ten appendices contain further material which was omitted from earlier editions, reviews of the 1910 and the 1918 editions, extracts from reviews, a printing history and a text comparison table of the 1910 and the 1918 editions. As well as the original photographs the book contains additional illustrations. Foreword by Walter Carrington.
Errata to 1996 edition (corrected in reprint of December 2002): Page ix, last paragraph. Insert full stop after ‘Inheritance.’ After full stop read ‘In 1918 it was subtitled ... ’ etc. Page 195, title: for ‘Practice of New Method’ read ‘Practice of a New Method’. Page 236, table ‘Changes’, re ‘Introductory by Dewey‘: for ‘Unchanged’ read ‘New’. Page 237, table ‘Changes’, re Part 2: for ‘pahmplet’ read ‘pamphlet’. Page 238, table ‘Changes’, 3rd line: for ‘postion’ read ‘position’. Page 250, 3rd paragraph: for ‘in detailed’ read ‘in detail’.
Review by Kevin Ahern
First published in NASTAT News.

It is a real pleasure to be invited to write a review of Jean Fischer’s new edition of F. M. Alexander’s Man’s Supreme Inheritance (published by Mouritz Press, Foreword by Walter Carrington). This follows the same editor’s and press' publication in July of 1995 of F. Matthias Alexander Articles and Lectures. One can only hope that Fischer and Mouritz plan to re-publish the rest of Alexander’s writings, because these two volumes are remarkable for their comprehensive content and attention to detail. Articles and Lectures is the first published compilation of F.M.’s articles, published letters and lectures on his Technique. Thirty separate pieces are included, ranging in time from 1894 to around 1950, a number of which, to this reader’s knowledge, have not been readily available. (1) Each separate piece has its own brief introductory history and commentary. The extensive and fascinating Notes and References are almost a work in themselves. To have all this gathered together in one volume makes this a treasure chest worth continued re-reading for those eager to investigate the evolution of Alexander’s thinking regarding his work. One teacher has described it as "the fifth Alexander book."

The new Man’s Supreme Inheritance (hereafter MSI) is a gem of the same strand in that it can be inserted (chronologically) between Parts 1 and 2 of Articles and Lectures. We get to see F. M.’s thinking develop at this crucial time, which included World War I, his first trip to America, and his development of a new inhibitory use of his hands in teaching. The same attentive editing is evident. There is a complete, meticulous history of the different editions and printings of this book and even a section by section textual comparison between the 1910 and 1918 editions. (2) A varied selection of reviewers' responses to both of these additions is included in the Appendices.

What strikes me on this particular, personal revisiting of F. M.’s writings is the leap he has made. In the early articles (1894-1910) his emphasis is on the curative and restorative aspects of the Technique. The emphasis is continued and included in MSI but it is subsumed under the much broader emphasis on the importance of the adoption of the principles of conscious guidance and control to the successful growth (evolution) of the human race, as individuals and as a species. Alexander has re-understood the whole theory of evolution in the light of his work. John Dewey, who of course wrote the Introduction to the 1918 edition of MSI, refers twice specifically to it in his chapter on Habits and Will early in his own work, Human Nature and Conduct (1922). Later in that same book, Dewey discusses the ethical import of the doctrine of evolution:

"In fact evolution means continuity of change; and the fact that change may take the form of present growth of complexity and interaction. Significant stages in change are found not in access of fixity of attainment but in those crises in which a seeming fixity of habits gives way to a release of capacities that have not previously functioned: in times that is of readjustment and redirection." (3)

Such a strenuous process of growth and revitalization can most certainly be aided by study of texts such as those discussed in this review; (4) which all involved in this work can, in common, investigate, discuss, and refer to. Again, thanks to Jean Fischer and Mouritz Press. Please give us more quality re-issues of Alexander’s works.

(1) The editor even notes that at least two specific papers are missing and that many more may appear.
(2) Again, what is not known or certain is noted as carefully as what is thought definitive.
(3) John Dewey: The Middle Works, 1899-1924, Volume 14, P. 197. Southern Illinois University Press.
(4) Both Articles and Lectures and the new edition of MSI are available from STAT Books and AmSAT Books.

1997 © Kevin Ahern. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.
Review by Nicholas Brockbank
First published in The Alexander Journal no. 15, 1997.

Of the available literature on the Technique, the four books by Alexander stand alone. Everything written since has been essentially derivative. Without Alexander’s actual words, we would have little to fall back on but other people’s memories, making his Technique more difficult than it already is to evaluate.

This new volume of Man’s Supreme Inheritance is presented as the definitive version of what was Alexander’s first, seminal publication. Edited by Jean Fischer, it is exemplarily produced, containing most of what made up all previous editions, from 1910 onwards; and, with explanatory notes on its printing history and a contemporary foreword by Walter Carrington, could be considered complete.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Although Jean Fischer must be thanked for making readily available, in a quality format, a book that is an essential, undeniable part of every teacher’s heritage, he has, as editor, mistakenly seen fit to remove from the text what he terms "part of a sentence which contains a misleading and inappropriate analogy".

The missing passage comes from a chapter entitled “Evolutionary Standards and their Influence”, which was added to Man’s Supreme Inheritance in 1918, and consisted largely of a diatribe against the nation and people of Germany. To discount any suggestion he later changed his mind about what he had said, Alexander wrote a validating postscript in 1946.

Although it would be understandable for a man of his day to have found little admirable in the behaviour of 'civilised' Germany from either period, whether he was justified in similarly deriding savages – as Alexander called 'uncivilised' people – for their allegedly far greater lack of adaptability and control, going so far as to suggest that "when confronted with the unusual these people quaked like cowards, and fled panic stricken from the unaccustomed", is debatable.

Alexander’s chosen example of such a reaction was "the case of the Negroes in the southern states of America when the men of the Ku-Klux-Klan pursued them on horseback dressed in white". However offensive or ill chosen these words may appear, it is hard to imagine why Jean Fischer left them out of what is otherwise an original document. After all, there is much in Man’s Supreme Inheritance that could be similarly excised, if it was simply a matter of retrospective censorship.

To tinker with Alexander’s text, other than in a search for brevity, sets a dubious precedent. As teachers, we must learn to accept what he said, whether we think it good or bad, and not try and imagine we know how he would have expressed himself had he been alive today. There is, undeniably, much that is unpleasant, as well as much that is misguided, in Man’s Supreme Inheritance. In recent years, largely because of the difficulty of getting hold of a copy, it has probably been the least widely read of Alexander’s books. Many teachers will never have studied it; some, knowing what to expect, may feel a distaste for doing so now. Brushing Man’s Supreme Inheritance under the carpet is an individual option; but as a society, teachers have to stand, in general terms, for everything Alexander said, however unpalatable or untenable it may seem; unless they decide – again, as a society – to disassociate themselves from certain aspects of his beliefs.

Alexander had a unique insight into the human condition, which he elaborated, somewhat unnecessarily, into a generalised view of mankind ascending an evolutionary gradient. At the lower end sat the primitive races, hardly differentiated from animals, functioning instinctively; with civilised nations, at various stages of progress, further along the way – those of the West, for the most part, in the vanguard; and somewhere in the far distance, an idealised society governed, as he saw it, by 'conscious control'.

The trouble was, Alexander didn't devise his Technique to help bring such a society about so much as discover it in curing an irritating voice problem. It was only when he found other people’s disabilities could be resolved in the same way as his own that he formulated his concept of 'use', eventually claiming his method of improving this was as much evolutionary as remedial. Through conscious guidance and control, he believed mankind could continue to enjoy the benefits of civilisation without suffering from the 'debauched kinaesthesia' which he saw bedevilling its progress. He proudly forecast "a race of men and women who will outstrip their ancestors in every known sphere..."

It is salutary to remember that what Alexander hoped we would achieve, from an increased emphasis on the 'means-whereby', was essentially the same physical standard of use 'savages' already enjoyed through their dependence on instinct. He may have believed we had a potentially greater degree of mental control over our behaviour than them; but in point of fact, we are unlikely to become, through his Technique, any more conscious – in 'psycho-physical terms – than those Alexander so freely disparaged.

They apprehended their world differently, hardly disassociating themselves from it. Lacking the propensity for abstract thinking that renders so much of our own behaviour automatic – allowing us to live, for the most part, inside our heads – it is inconceivable they were not more attuned, for more of the time, to themselves and their environment, than their civilised counterparts; or that they were not more aware of the operation of a 'primary control', which – assuming it exists – only our insatiable predilection for detachment and abstraction could ever have so completely inured us to.

For Alexander, this capacity for rational thinking, by setting us apart from the animal, and to a great extent, the primitive, world, may have been the unwitting cause of a polarisation of mind and body that made modern man only fractionally attentive; but it had given us what he believed was freedom of choice; and he felt it was our task to make the most of this, rather than eulogising its non-emergence, or lesser development, in others. He certainly saw little virtue in abandoning the reflective, analytic capabilities that had taken humanity so far, however much they may also have lain at the root of its problems.

While admiring Alexander’s insight and vision, his desire to bring within the remit of reason much that would otherwise have remained instinctive was only laudable from the point of view of a troubled society. Imagining his Technique was universally applicable, he ignored the fact that those whose sensory appreciation was reliable, amongst whom would have been the indigines of his homeland, hardly needed a helping hand.

Civilisation, meanwhile, develops apace, largely due to our continuing to do the exact opposite of what Alexander recommended. Leaving our bodies to function unconsciously while we get on with the mental side of things is the sine qua non of progress. Modern society depends on it. For those who suffer as the result of this split, the Technique is a logical way back to health; but since psycho-physical disunity is the price we pay for cultural progress, it was probably over-ambitious of Alexander to think we could lessen our dependence on one without detriment to the other. Man’s Supreme Inheritance offers us the unlikely scenario of recovering consciousness of our use while retaining all the advantages of a civilisation that, by prospering, had deadened us to it in the first place.

Alexander’s solution, that we widen our field of attention to enable us to take in both means and ends, is clearly incompatible with the demands of modern society. His Technique may enable us change the way we react, largely by acquiring better habits, and in doing so, help us get back in touch with ourselves; but in an everyday context, unless we are peculiarly adept, we are unlikely to get much done, particularly cerebrally, while paying simultaneous attention to the way we are doing it. In all likelihood, such a skill, if globally pursued, would have very different consequences to those Alexander imagined when he foresaw future generations entering "new spheres as yet undreamt of by the great majority of the civilised peoples of our time".

1997 © Nicholas Brockbank ( Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.

Earliest publication date: 13 October 1996