Special Memorial Section

Eugene Taylor

Mark Stern pens a reverential reincarnation of Eugene Taylor.

By Mark Stern

Eugene TaylorIt was so very special to have known Eugene Taylor. Way back, when I was president-elect of the then Psychologists Interested in Religious Issues - now the Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (APA Division 36), it was suggested to me by Dr. Mary Jo Meadow that I consider inviting a young scholar/historian who was closely associated with the Swedenborgian Society and who served as archivist of the William James papers at Harvard University School of Medicine. Gene and I arranged a meeting. We discovered that we shared a broad array of interests - but particular in the area of the history of a unique American psychotherapy. I asked if he knew of the late Andras Angyal, a psychiatrist and psychologist, who had been a close friend (and perhaps therapist of Abraham Maslow) and, incidentally, my own psychoanalyst. Indeed he did, and even more of the context surrounding the emergence a circle of other practitioners and theorists who were infused with a new world spirit. As we spoke, I recognized Eugene's ardor for the unfolding of unfamiliar historical events. Again, in our exchange, I realized that Eugene was a rare breed of historian - one who vastly relished the spiritual implications in his subject matter. I was honored that Eugene accepted my invitation to be a speaker for the forthcoming APA convention

Eugene had asked me to a lecture he was scheduled to give in New York City sponsored by the Swedenborgian Society. It took place in a rare old New York clubhouse. There, amid an audience of mostly elderly seekers, he held forth on his vast knowledge of the emergence of a distinctly American psychotherapy. He was masterly, as he illuminated the gathering on the active roles that William James and Morton Prince played as members of a somewhat loosely formed Boston School of Psychotherapy - a group whose sojourn began in 1880 and lasted through 1920.  Eugene elaborated on James' interest in the role of experience in the intermix of so-called rational and "exceptional" mental states. He noted ways in which James drew on the intuitive, heavily influenced by the American Transcendentalists including his god-father Ralph Waldo Emerson and the near hermit Henry David Thoreau as well as from his father Henry James, Sr., who himself had an impassioned life-long interest in Emmanuel Swedenborg's concerns for the spiritual evolution of personal consciousness. 

Eugene gave a stirring presentation to Division 36 - one that concentrated on the materialization of healing modalities emanating from New England and somewhat culminating in the seminal workings by luminaries such as Andras Angyal in Boston and Harry Stack Sullivan in Washington. Some years later, when I was elected as president of the now Society of Humanistic Psychology (Division 32 of APA), I again had the opportunity of being able to invite Eugene to speak at the annual convention of APA. This time he launched into a fine critique of conventional experimentation in psychology in favor of more humanistic inquiry. I contend that Taylor's alive interest which ran counter to the empirical allowed him the space to be a font of historical facts resting as the foundation of American psychology: one that made live its contextual relationship to James' tantalizing emphasis on experience. 

I well recall the time that I was brought on the carpet by one of my critics who denied what I had written of James' having taken depressed patients into his Cambridge home for periods of conversation and recuperation. I turned to Eugene who was then bringing together James' "Exceptional Mental States," which were drawn from his Lowell Lectures at Harvard. With certainty he confirmed my account from what James himself recorded. 

After I heard of Eugene's passing, I began to reflect on my bringing Eugene into membership in the American Psychological Association and later having had the privilege of nominating him for APA Fellow. I thought back to my editorship of Voices - the Journal of the American Academy of Psychotherapists, and Eugene graciously allowing me to appoint him Historical Editor. We were often comrades in arms - each in our way, provoking an understanding of a sometime lost and found experiential emphasis in and of American psychology and psychotherapy. 

I will miss those encounters with my friend Eugene and that distinctive Jamesian appearance (recall the well shaped beard). His fluency in bringing rich and expansive servings to a table of offerings ran counter-clock to what others in the mainstream would cling to. Those of us who were fortunate enough to behold Eugene have been so enriched by his presence and his battles.