Monday, August 18, 2014

My Dad's list of books - a penchant for philosophy

"What's that pile of papers and magazines?" G asked, opening the cupboard under the kitchen bench.

The top shelf held tablecloths and napkins, the bottom phone books and a pile of…well… newspapers. Mum used to put old newspapers there to use to line the birdcage/cat tray/whatever.

"Isn't it funny," I said, "how you can live with things for years and not really notice them? I'll go through it all and chuck it out. Since we get the newspaper every day we don't need a store cupboard for the stuff."

So I did. Half way down, beneath the more recent newspapers (recent meaning dating back to 1997!), there was a heavy sheet of cardboard, and it became obvious that beneath that were magazines and news clippings Mum had hung onto.

I diligently went through them. Most of them were binned after a cursory read through, but I kept a few I found interesting (heaven help me! I'm turning into Mum!).

At the very bottom was an old-fashioned 1940s cardboard-bound foolscap ledger. I flicked through it and recognised Dad's elegant handwriting.

Most of the ledger was empty, and it had been used as an address book and notebook rather than for recording figures. Judging by some of the dates, it was Dad's book in the late 1940s. He'd written addresses for men he'd served with in the RAAF, with little notes beside their names about their families or what relationship they'd been to him during WWII.

Following the addresses, after many blank pages, Dad had headed a page Books. It was a list of books he owned, because I recognised several of the titles. They are still here in this house (although many of them are destined for the local church fete as I've tried to read them but they're not my sort of books). Most of them are popular fiction of the time by authors such as Ion Idriess.

The next page was headed Books to be read in order for educational purposes.

Now, Dad wasn't the most educated bloke on earth. He'd been second-last in his class in maths in high school. Having said that, he was intelligent - he'd been an officer in WWII, he was well-spoken and clever, but he hadn't had a classical education or been to university. Clearly in 1946 he thought his education needed finishing, for the list of 112 books began with Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. It included all the Greek philosophers. Marcus Aurelius and Leonardo da Vinci made the list. Erasmus. Francis Bacon. St Thomas Aquinas. Milton. Descartes and Hume. Classics authors such as Thackeray, Defoe and Swift. Voltaire.  Goethe. Darwin. There were 112 authors on Dad's list, which ran to nearly four pages.

He'd marked off the ones he'd read or obtained:

  • Plato's Dialogues
  • Aristotle's works
  • Lucretius' Of the Nature of Things
  • Ovid's Metamorphosis
  • Marcus Aurelius' Meditations
  • The New Testament
  • Maimonedes' Guide for the Perplexed
  • St Thomas Moore's Utopia
  • Montaigne's Essays
  • Shakespeare's Complete Works (which I have in the house)
  • Thomas Hobbes' Elements of Philosophy
  • Rene Descartes' The Passion of the Soul
  • Milton's Paradise Lost
  • Newton's Opticks
  • Kant's Critique of Practical Reason
  • Ricardo's Principals of Political Economy and Taxation
  • Hegel's Philosophy of History
  • Darwin's Origin of Species
  • Wundt's Outline of Psychology
  • Nietzche's The Will of Power

I feel as if I've discovered someone I never knew at all; the Dad I remember is the Dad of my toddlerhood. Hardly a man to be sprouting philosophy to his two year old daughter.

The Dad Mum spoke of wasn't a philosophiser either. He was an intelligent man with a sense of humour, a careful attitude to driving and piloting, a man with a successful betting system for the races, a part time SP bookie, a carpenter and handyman, a man with a taste for beer and good wine, a man with a sometimes carefree attitude to spelling and written grammar, a man who'd pull his hat down over his ears and make a silly face for the camera, a man who had an affair and buggered off. I feel as if I know that Dad reasonably well.

I wonder now about that list from the 1940s; why he lost interest. I wonder who inspired him to create that list in the first place.

And now I'll never know.

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