Alfred Owen Aldridge (1915-2005)

Alfred Owen Aldridge (16 December 1915 – 29 January 2005)

By Carla Mulford (followed by an additional comment from Hazel Burgess)

Alfred Owen Aldridge was a teacher and good friend to many colonialists. He would have been 90 this coming 16 December.

Owen Aldridge’s book, Franklin and His French Contemporaries , sits open on my desk as I am writing this, and his Benjamin Franklin, Philosopher and Man , is shelved at arm’s length. As Leo Lemay’s dissertation director, he considered himself my intellectual grandfather, as he phrased it, because I was Leo’s student. I will miss seeing his name in print, and I have missed his genial, polite, highly polished, interested presence at the few conferences I’ve been able to attend in recent years. I’d like to offer a few words about Owen here.

Alfred Owen Aldridge’s work on Franklin and the Enlightenment — and the work of colonialists of British America of his generation — took place at a time when Puritan studies and American Studies (of a nationalist sort) were experiencing heydays. Owen became an intellectual leader not just in the history of ideas for the next generation and then my own generation of scholars, but in comparative studies (including comparative philosophies–“East” and “West”) and comparative colonial studies, as well. He was determined in his ways, both as a person and as a professional. This demeanor both awed and inspired those around him. His scholarship reveals a learned quality rare even among those of his generation. The very stalwartness of his endeavor to discover, elucidate, and circulate studies in the eighteenth century signalled to those of us who were entering into PhD work in that field (rather than, at that time, in the more popular era of the 17th century) that, if we could just be like Professor Aldridge (and, to be sure, like his student, Leo Lemay), if we could just understand the richness of the archive and if we could find an interpretive strategy to bring these materials to light for the current generation of students, we too might have a chance to find a place in a profession that surely would have enough space for all kinds of inquiry.

When one met Owen Aldridge, one had a sense one was meeting a very rare, very seriously engaged scholar. And unlike many scholars with his superior qualifications who typically are more used to speaking about themselves and their work primarily, one had a sense that this intellectual was truly interested in one’s own work: he would ask after it, ask about archives searched, and offer suggestions for further research or other possible ways of looking at the questions the materials were raising. Sometimes a conversation with Owen Aldridge could feel like walking into a talking library. What a remarkable feeling that was.

I have admired him greatly. I will continue to use his work with respect and affection.

Carla Mulford
Department of English
Pennsylvania State University
112 Burrowes Building
University Park, PA 16802

Additional Comment by Hazel Burgess:

To Carla Mulford:

I was saddened to read Leo Lemay’s and your messages on EARAM-L just now, not because Owen Aldridge has died, but because his flowing pen (as it were) has been stilled. He was old and tired, but still had more to offer.

I had occasion to correspond with him in 2003 when he gave freely of his time and advice. He was disappointed at the postponement of a meeting in Hong Kong in August of that year. He told me he was working on a study of John Adams’s religion which he hoped to finish in the next few months, and investigating the possibilities of a new edition of Thomas Paine: Man of Reason. My research interest is Thomas Paine, and, in my opinion, Owen Aldridge researched and wrote about his subject with a finesse not found elsewhere. I must check to see if he published the Adams piece.

I emailed him last October, but had no reply. I was concerned about his health, but hesitated to put the question to anybody on the list.

Thank you to both Professor Lemay and yourself for bringing me up to date. The world is poorer for your “intellectual grandfather’s” passing.


Hazel Burgess, PhD
University of Sydney.

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