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  • Writer's picturePresbyterian Reformed Church

The William Young Collection at Westminster Theological Seminary

Text by Rev. D. Douglas Gebbie.  Photographs by Rev. Michael J. Ives.

While in Philadelphia for the NAPARC meetings, the Rev. Michael Ives and I took the opportunity to visit Westminster Theological Seminary so that we might see the William Young Collection.  We were graciously received by Sandy Finlayson, the Seminary’s Director of Library Services and Professor of Theological Bibliology, and introduced to Robert McInnes, the Archivist and Special Collections Librarian

Dr. Young had left his papers to the Seminary in his will; and, upon his death in 2015, approximately fifty cubic feet of papers were packed and send to Philadelphia.  The work of sorting them reduced that volume by half as years of bills and receipts were removed, along with long out of date bus and railway schedules.  After this preliminary sorting, the work of cataloging began.  Now in 2018, the centenary of his birth, Dr Young’s papers are cataloged and available for study.

Our visit to the archive began with a surprise.  We were ready to be taken down into some subterranean labyrinth of shelves and boxes; however, we were stopped at a prominent place on the main floor of the library and shown two display cases containing photographs and correspondence relating to Dr Young’s student days at Westminster.  It impressed us deeply that the Seminary thought so highly of him as an alumnus to do this.

After our ‘wow’s and ‘Oh, look’s, we were taken down in an elevator to the archives.  There we saw the section of shelves with columns and rows of clearly labeled white boxes: Dr Young’s papers.  Bob McInnes opened boxes and took out files to show us things that he thought would be of interest.  We saw so much more of a man whom we thought we knew.  There were photographs from his infancy, childhood, and youth.  It wasn’t until we saw the clothes that he was wearing that we realized his age.  He was an old man when we had first met him.  Yet, he had a contemporary mind.  He would pull out incidents from the past to talk about the perennial issues at stake; but rarely would he reminisce about specific events or people.  We saw the reminders he kept of his travels.  Now, we had heard anecdotes of those voyages: you might have memorized the Musgrave Ritual; he had been to the Reichenbach Falls.  But the stories were told with such freshness, even when we had heard them before, that it could have been only the week before that he had been away, not when airplanes had propellers, and cars had tailfins.

We saw things from his visits to Korea (he left his philosophy books to a seminary there), to Scandinavia for research into Wittgenstein, to The Netherlands for his translation of Dooyeweerd, and to Oxford for his studies at Merton.

We did not have not time to delve into the papers proper.  Nevertheless, we left with some idea of what was there.  It would be tedious to list the contents of the numbered boxes and their sub-numbered files.  If you wish an introduction to what might be found in the Collection, the best place to start is the selection of his writings published by Reformation Heritage Books under the title,

Remembering ‘Shady Maple’, the name of Dr Young’s house in Rhode Island, as we looked on the filed and boxed papers brought the laughter of many happy memories and the silence of reopened wounds of loss.  It brought also wonder.  Anyone who opened one of the boxes destined for Philadelphia would soon realize that any attempt to bring order to its contents would be like chipping at the tip of an iceberg.  We must thank Sandy Finlayson and, especially, Bob McInnes for reducing the iceberg to a structure of ordered cubes.

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