Australia, controversy, culture, History, psychoanalysis, religion
On 21 September 1921 Elton Mayo, Professor of Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Queensland, fulfilled an invitation to give the second Douglas Price Memorial Lecture. Mayo, known for his interest in Freud’s work had his own practice as a psychotherapist in Brisbane. With physician Dr T H Mathewson he studied the causes of nervous breakdown particularly its use in treatment of war veterans and shell shocked soldiers. As did his contemporaries, Tasman Lovell at the University of Sydney and Philip Le Couteur at the University of Western Australia, Mayo established the first psychology course at the University of Queenland and in 1919 and 1920 worked to establish a training program in medical psychology. He was particularly keen to develop a strong research base to underpin trainings in experimental psychology and psychoanalysis. Shortly after giving this lecture Mayo departed for Melbourne where he gave a series of lectures on psychoanalysis to medical students. At the beginning of 1923 he departed for the United States for further training. He never returned to live in Australia.
Why Mayo was invited to give this, the second of what would be four Douglas Price Memorial lectures, struck my interest. Clearly the audience would include people interested in the new disciplines – psychology and psychoanalysis. Freud’s work was increasingly reported in the local press. Mayo was known for the psychology course he had developed at the University of Queensland – and made it into Joy Damousi’s list of pioneer Australian psychoanalytical thinkers. But the identity of Douglas Price has disappeared. He is not listed in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. The National Library’s site, Trove, provides little information about Price beyond a couple of book titles and pointers to the newspaper collection. Google provides a few clues. A short history of All Saints Church in Brisbane, published by D.L. Kissick in 1937, reveals that Price held the post of Rector at All Saints Anglican Church in Brisbane from 1903 to 1911. He was Principal of Brisbane’s Anglican Theological College. Price edited a small paper, The Cygnet, until 1911. From 1912 to his death in December 1916, he edited The Modernist publishing in both items on literature, poetry and philosophy. Kissick explained how Price’s preaching increasingly conflicted with High Anglican Church doctrines of the Divine Nature of Christ. Describing these years as ‘the saddest and most disheartening
in the history of the ( Brisbane All Saints) parish’, Kissick outlinedPrice’s doctrinal differences with the Anglican Church. These eventually led to the Bishop forcing Price’s resignation in January 1911 and departure in April 1911. For Kissick Price
led his followers by devious ways from the reality in a search for a vain chimera of a religion of reason, from the true Faith to the man-made tenets of Modernism... ‘He finally denied Christ to be the son of God, holding there to be many sons of God and of himself he said ” I aspire to pass all barriers, even the bounds of personality, to yield myself to illimitable love, for I know I am one with God’.
Kissick’s short biography continued – not without its tenor of satisfaction as the movement Price founded eventually died away.
The Rev. D. Price then founded the Brisbane movement known as “Progressive Christianity” or “Modernism,” and was its guiding spirit until his untimely death in 1916. It is interesting to note that his last public address given on the Sunday before his death was entitled “Intolerance.” In 1921 it is said that the movement which he had led had become “moribund if not entirely dead.”
As Buckridge* notes Price’s ideas developed to the point of rejecting the doctrines of the Trinity, the Atonement, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection and the Divinity of Jesus. Drawing from a Ralston’s portrait of Price delivered in 1920, Buckridge describes how ‘against ssuperstition and sectarian bigotry’, Price argued ‘that the true object of religion was to foster our moral passion through an appreciation of the wisdom, goodness and beauty of the human heart as manifested in the moral, intellectual and artistic achievements of human beings of all ages and creeds’. He was ‘favourably disposed to the “science” of eugenics, and to a belief in reincarnation’. Quoting historian Jill Roe, Buckridge notes that Price ‘made common cause with liberal Unitarians in Sydney and Adelaide,and with the Theosophists, whose world leader, Annie Besant, he publicly defended from attacks by Fundamentalists on the occasion of her visit to Brisbane in 1908’. ( Roe in Buckridge, 2006).
Price, a poet and novelist was a single man. He was devoted to his God, his work and enormously popular with his congregation. One of his sermons, summarised in the Brisbane Courier of 12 March 1910 reads as a commentary on the relationship between inner selves and the outer world – matters occupying psychoanalytic theorists for the next decades. Read alongside the scriptural based sermons of his colleagues, Price’s command of language – and knowledge of ‘the human beings as living and struggling in their daily lives’ is outstanding. Let’s listen and watch as he quietly mounts the pulpit and begins:
We are born as from a quiet sleep, and we die into a calm awakening, but between that sleep and awakening the possibilities of our being seem to be well nigh endless, but it is possible that we may learn to control the health of our bodies by the power of our minds; that telepathy may be so developed us to become of real use; that some sure means may be found of communicating with “the dead; that clairvoyant vision may supersede the use of telescopes and microscopes. He is a fool who lays down the law as to what is impossible. A nearer and more important possibility than any of ‘these is to learn to live at peace with one’s temperament. It is not our circumstances which mould our life, but the disposition we carry into those circumstances. Sorrow, for instance, is tempera- mental; it comes more from without than, from within; some natures attract it as the moon attracts the sea. Charles Dickens had many troubles, but he rose buoyantly above them. Amiel would have been sad, though his every wish had been obeyed. The innermost part of us is the mysterious, wonderful and possibly divine. The outermost part of us has a somewhat clumsy envelope, full of obsolete growths, and seldom so beautiful as we could wish. Between soul and body is another wrapping, or series of wrappings, we call ”temperament,” almost as limit ing .as our physical overcoat. This it ia which determines our way of looking at things. Possibly it is not part of our eternal being, but for the time being it is ours “for better or for worse.” We were not asked what kind of a temperament we would like any more than we were asked to choose our bodies.
Quite a different story emerges from the newspaper archive.Brisbane’s Courier followed his story from the time of Price’s dismissal as Rector of All Saints in December 1910 through to his death – and beyond. Rather than Price leading a bunch of followers from the church, as Kissick stated, Price’s congregation protested to the church hierarchy about its treatment of him. On learning of the Bishop’s demand for Price’s resignation, members of the Congregation met in January 1911 to protest it. Upon Price’s departure in April 1911 a group defected to form the Progressive Christians or Modernists Group.The Courier newspaper was the message bank. In December 1912 notices appeared stating Price had accepted the Modernist’s invitation to return to Australia as their leader. Price’s sudden and untimely death in December 1916 is not explained although Kissick infers that he suffered from a painful illness. After this the Modernists continued meeting and, in 1920, inaugurated the first of the Annual Douglas Price Memorial Lectures with Meredith Atkinson, Professor of Sociology at the University of Sydney as speaker.
More published information about Mayo is available. Not only has he a place in the Australian Dictionary Biography but he is the subject of a biographical work The Enduring Legacy of Elton Mayo, published by Richard Trahair and Abraham Zaleznik in 1984. Mayo completed a year of medical training in 1901 but after becoming disenchanted with it, worked as a journalist before studying philosophy and psychology and developing his interest in Freud’s work. His initial career as an industrial psychologist, and psychotherapist in Australia was followed by a long period in the United States from 1923 where he became known for his work in business and organisational psychology. Mayo was from a high achieving family: his Adelaide based sibling, Dr Helen Mayo, was well-regarded for her work on infant mortality and parent education during the early decades of the twentieth century.
Mayo’s oration, ‘Psychology and Religion’ was published and found its way to reviewers as far afield as Perth’s Western Mail newspaper which produced a summary of his main points. Mayo seems to have set out to prove the veracity of Price’s views. Popular resentment of church authority ‘had almost died away’, he noted. People were more willing to assess for themselves the value the religious practices for themselves. Education and reading enabled them to disentangle these from philosophical and theological questions. ‘This last distinction has indeed become explicit in the churches themselves’, he noted:
It is evidenced in the insistence of the High Church Anglicans upon the value of religious practices as compared with religious discussions; also in their teaching that the ‘proof’ of Christianity is to be found not in the deductive or inductive logical processes, but in the personal experience of religious ecstasy.
Mayo’s focus, the focus, the psychology of religion, led to some interesting statistical facts. Citing a 1900 publication, Starbuck’s Psychology of Religion, in which the writer had gathered material from ‘1265 cases – 1011 males and 254 females’ drawn from a variety of locales, vocations, and churches, Mayo noted that conversion is a distinctly adolescent phenomenon beginning at the age of 7 or 8 years, ‘increasing gradually up to the age of 10 and then rapidly to 16; rapidly declining to 20 and gradually falling away after that’.
It was not to be considered as a manifestation of developing sexuality – perhaps a reference to Freud’s work – but recognised as part of the adolescent period of growth ‘in which the intellectual and emotional powers of the individual undergo a general and marked development; puberty is one aspect of such development’.
Mayo’s argument appears to have taken up Price’s idea of the self being at one with God. ,Civilisation brought together ‘the racial impulses’ a person had inherited and ability to ‘control such development by personal ideals of intellectual and practical achievement’, he argued. One’s strived towards a unity of self and then seek a corresponding unity in the universe about. Every separate thing is not as a thing in itself but part of a whole. One finds separateness, away from the ‘racial’ material from which one is constructed but then, Mayo argues, one is ‘compelled to merge the new-found self’ in the universe again. He concludes ‘It is in thought and feeling of this order that the religious experience, properly so-called takes its rise’.
Price’s thinking spoke to many in his congregation – a matter that the Bishops and Church hierarchy may have appreciated even as they rejected his heresy. As Mayo’s lecture also suggests,perhaps these people identified with the very human struggle he was able to articulate in his lectures – for the ability to find and live with one’s self and one’s temperament – the struggle, later articulated by psychoanalytic theorists since – and by those people who attempt this journey in the psychoanalytic consulting room.
Joy Damousi, Freud in the Antipodes,A Cultural History of Psychoanalysis in Australia, Sydney, UNSW Press, 2005.
Ralston, A. “Douglas Price: A Biographical Sketch.” The Place of Ethics and Religion
in Education. Ed. Meredith Atkinson. Brisbane: Government Printer, 1920.
Roe, Jill. Beyond Belief: Theosophy in Australia, 1879-1939. Sydney: New South Wales
UP, 1986, pp. 319-320.