Conservative but informative and very entertaining: James Franklin on "Corrupting the Youth"

22 Jan

I do not share by any means all James Franklin’s views and attitudes, though I respect them and share some. I borrowed this University of NSW mathematician’s history of philosophy in Australia from Surry Hills Library the other day and am finding it as entertaining as any novel, indeed more entertaining than quite a few I have read. It is also reviving many memories as well as filling in more than a few blanks in my knowledge. Of course it is partisan; I find it hard to imagine a history of the subject that would not be, unless it was a telephone-book compendium of philosophers with all evaluation excluded. Franklin does not hide his preferences; nor should he. Some will therefore feel dudded, I guess, and envisage quite a different narrative. However, that doesn’t concern me too much as I am simply enjoying the narrative Franklin does give, while sometimes also thinking “Well, you would think that, wouldn’t you?” He does have a sense of humour, an eye for the ridiculous, and sufficient human interest to keep the narrative grounded. See James Franklin, Corrupting the Youth: a history of philosophy in Australia (Sydney, Macleay Press 2004). Reviewed by C.A.J. Coady, University of Melbourne from a Catholic perspective, also complains of its Sydney bias.

A great weakness in the book is its almost complete neglect of social and political philosophy, for which Franklin apologises in a bibliographical section notable for its chaotic organisation. This neglect is particularly surprising given the book’s strong emphasis upon social and political issues. And there is no discussion of Australian contributions to epistemology. But in spite of its defects, Franklin’s book is immensely readable and wears its considerable erudition lightly.

Some chapters go beyond what one might expect. I am particularly interested in Chapter 6 and 10, which deal respectively with ideas of Empire in Australia and the guidance of youth. More on those here or on Oz Politics later perhaps.**

I did find a nice conjunction between my reading and the document my mother wrote, which I mentioned here a couple of weeks back. In that document, which I still plan to transcribe for my family stories pages, is an account of my grandfather teaching in the Hawkesbury village (then outpost) of Spencer one hundred years ago:

About this time he sent his first pupil he thought ready for a State Bursary and the honour of the first bursary ever won by a small school pupil went to this lad who later became one of the heads of the Marist Brothers in this country. He died in Feb of this year — 1979 — at the home for retired Marist Brothers at Toongabbie NSW — there was quite a bit about Dr Woodbury in the papers when he left this world with a very distinguished career behind him. Following Austin, state bursaries came the way of several other pupils, tow of these brothers and sons of fishermen who after an education at St Joseph’s College and Sydney University became doctors — one had a distinguished career in Queensland and the other was a Macquarie Street specialist… My father was the son of a Scotsman and a Presbyterian so religion had no bars in those days…

Grandpa really was an agnostic when I remember him, and there was no Catholic school in Spencer, so it was the state school (one teacher for all grades) or nothing, but that in no way detracts from my mother’s story or my grandfather’s achievement.

Austin Woodbury figures in Chapter 4 of James Franklin’s history as an example of one of the few prominent scholastic philosophers in Australia, and a bit of an old reactionary it seems. Nonetheless I do know he sent Christmas cards to my grandfather well into the early 1960s, and even came out to Sutherland to visit him on at least one occasion.

WOODBURY, AUSTIN MALONEY (1899-1979), priest, philosopher and theologian, was born on 2 March 1899 at Lower Mangrove (Spencer), New South Wales, fifth son of native-born parents Austin Herbert Woodbury, orchardist, and his wife Margaret, née Maloney. His great-grandfather, Richard Woodbury, sentenced to transportation for seven years in 1803, had arrived in the colony in 1806 and become district constable of the Lower Hawkesbury in 1820; his descendants still farm in the area. After leaving the local public school, young Austin studied by correspondence while helping on the farm. As a boy, he showed ‘a reflectiveness and concern beyond his age’.

Belonging to a devout Catholic family—four of his sisters were to join religious Orders—Woodbury entered the Society of Mary (Marist Fathers) in 1918 and completed secondary studies at the juniorate, in Sydney and at Mittagong (1919-20). From 1921 he was at Mount St Mary’s Seminary, Greenmeadows, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand; he took his first vows on 2 February 1923. He studied (1926-28) in Rome at the Dominican Ponteficio Ateneo ‘Angelicum’ where he was influenced by Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, who was prominent in the revival of Thomistic studies. Ordained in Rome on 31 July 1927, Woodbury gained doctorates in theology and philosophy. Back in New Zealand, he taught at St Patrick’s College, Wellington, then at Greenmeadows (1930-36). From 1938 to 1943 he was founding rector of Blessed Peter Chanel’s Seminary, Toongabbie, New South Wales. There, in 1941, he started an Australian Illawarra Shorthorn stud, Meadowstream.

In 1945 Woodbury established the Aquinas Academy in Gloucester Street, Sydney, to fulfil his ambition of sharing philosophical and theological insights with the Catholic laity. Concentrating on the original texts of Aquinas, he showed remarkable penetration as an interpreter of Thomist metaphysical principles. His incisive and entertaining expository style made philosophy’s subtleties intelligible to the uninitiated. Communicating his own enthusiasm, he inspired several of his students to obtain doctorates abroad. He made a great impact upon the narrow outlook of Sydney Catholicism. His students came from all walks of life, including the professions and the universities. By 1963 the second Vatican Council was bringing an end to the closed world of Counter-Reformation Catholicism. The analytical approach of the medieval scholastics gave way to a renewal movement seeking a more inclusive synthesis of Christian thought: the academy struggled for relevance.

Tall, impressive and authoritarian, Woodbury scorned non-philosophers. He and his associates in the academy stood aloof from the political controversies of their day. Although sensitive, he lacked the capacity to engage with those holding contrary views; he had been nicknamed ‘Bismarck’ as a seminarian. His belligerent essays in controversy had little impact outside Catholic circles. He retired to Hunters Hill in 1974.

Woodbury had maintained close links with the Australian Illawarra Shorthorn Society and became an acknowledged authority on the breed, regularly visiting the Royal Easter Show. In the 1950s, as well as running the Aquinas Academy, he managed Collisdun stud at St Michael’s Orphanage, Baulkham Hills. Troubled by bronchial illness throughout his life, Woodbury died on 3 February 1979 at St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was buried in the Marist cemetery, Toongabbie; he was later reinterred beside his parents at Spencer. [Australian Dictionary of Biography]

An interesting Australian story though.


What Was Postmodernism? on John Baker’s blog.

** Tuesday: The threatened entry is on Blogspot: This just about nails it….

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Posted by on January 22, 2008 in Australia, Best read of 2008, Christianity, education, faith and philosophy, memory, personal, reading


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