In August 2016, WRP was lucky enough to be contacted by a relative of Henry Osborn Taylor and Julia Isham Taylor who had a number of Whitehead-related materials to share with us. These included letters from Whitehead to the Taylors, letters from others to the Taylors that discuss Whitehead, and a dozen Whitehead photographs. They proved a very exciting find for our project. One of the letters even contains Whitehead’s own brief assessment of his Gifford lectures, which runs somewhat counter to J.M. Whittaker’s famous account in Lowe’s biography of his audience dwindling from several hundred to only a half dozen (see Lowe, vol. 2, p. 250). Whitehead writes: “I think that the ‘Giffords’ went well. Some of the middle lectures were rather too closely reasoned for verbal delivery even to a Scotch audience – but on the other hand the last lecture was, in my judgment, the best that I have ever delivered, whatever be the worth of that level” (letter to Henry Osborn Taylor, August 21, 1928). It is interesting to see that Whitehead himself thought highly of what would become the last chapter of Process and Reality, which is so often held up by Whitehead scholars as some of his finest work.
The Taylors, for those who may not know, anonymously donated the money for Whitehead’s Harvard salary, and so were ultimately the ones who made his entire Harvard career possible (a fact which Whitehead knew nothing about until after H.O. Taylor’s death in 1941 – see Lowe, vol. 2, p. 133). Unsurprisingly, the Whiteheads became great friends with the Taylors upon their arrival in America in 1924. This included Whitehead’s attendance at an annual “philosophers’ weekend” that Julia established on Columbus Day, 1924. This tradition is described in a book on St. Clements – a mansion built on the Taylors’ estate along the Connecticut river in 1902 – that was donated to WRP along with scans of the letters and photographs:
In 1924 Julia (Julia Isham Taylor, wife of Henry Osborn Taylor) began a tradition, a “philosopher’s weekend” on Columbus Day for Harry’s friends: Lawrence J. Henderson, biological chemist; Edmund B. Wilson, zoologist; W. Morton Wheeler, zoologist; they were joined in subsequent years by Alfred North Whitehead, philosopher; A. Lawrence Lowell, President of Harvard, and David Randall MacIver. It was a weekend for the exploration of ideas. No women were asked and Julia only appeared for dinner. This annual event continued until 1939 when Julia died. (St. Clements: the Chronicle of a Connecticut River Castle, by Prudence Taylor Palmer and T.J. Palmer, Cobalt, Connecticut: Paper Rock Publishing Company, 1992, page 110)
We are delighted to share the dozen photos sent to us that capture one such weekend, on Columbus Day, October 8, 1932. The first photo originally appeared in the aforementioned book on page 110. For this year the philosopher’s weekend was held at H.O. Taylor’s summer retirement house – a Taylor family home called Knowles House in Cobalt, Connecticut. The philosophers walked over to St. Clements, the mansion that Henry’s brother Howard had built.