Wilfred Batten Lewis Trotter Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Wilfred Batten Lewis Trotter 1872-1939

English philosopher and essayist.

A prominent English surgeon, Trotter was an essay writer and philosopher whose work intertwined medicine and philosophy. Known as an accessible and entertaining literary stylist, Trotter was greatly admired. Today he is primarily remembered for The Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, a psychological analysis of the “herd mentality,” or the power of group dynamics.

Biographical Information

Trotter was born in Coleford, England, in 1872. At age 16, he moved to London to attend college, where he was an excellent student. Shortly after graduation, he entered medical school. An outstanding medical student, Trotter decided to specialize in surgery; he opened his own surgical practice after receiving his medical degree. In addition to his burgeoning medical career, Trotter was an aspiring essayist; he was particularly interested in the fields of science and philosophy. In 1908 Trotter published two papers about the herd mentality, which were precursors to his later, more famous, work. In the last years of his life, he taught at a medical school and turned to writing on a larger scale. The Collected Papers of Wilfred Trotter, an anthology of his final essays, appeared two years after his death in 1939.

Major Works

The Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War is an astute analysis of group psychology and the ability of large numbers of people to be swayed by innate tendency. Trotter's writings about the herd mentality are considered an important breakthrough in understanding group dynamics. The phrase “herd mentality” refers to the tendency of a group to operate solely as a large unit and to discourage any form of individuality. This work foreshadowed the Nazi crisis and offered valuable insight into the German mind-set during World War II. Trotter's other works, linking the intellectual and the scientific, appeared sporadically during his lifetime. His last essays, published in The Collected Papers of Wilfred Trotter, examine the field of medicine and detail Trotter's search to bond philosophy to science and to merge the concrete with the abstract.

Critical Reception

Though Trotter is little known today, his analysis of herd mentality endures and is now used in many fields of thought from criminal justice to mass marketing. The concept of a unit overpowering individuality has only become more meaningful. Reprinted in 1990, The Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War is considered a valuable psychological document as well as a provocative and eloquent philosophical treatise.