A. S. P. WOODHOUSE (1895-1964)

CO-EDITOR (1963)

 


Representative Poetry On-line
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University of Toronto Library 2001.


Arthur Sutherland Pigott Woodhouse was born in Port Hope, Ontario, on September 27, 1895. He was obtained a B.A. at the University of Toronto in 1919 and was Townsend Scholar at Harvard University, where he took an A.M. in 1922. An eminent Miltonist, the head of the University College Department of English and the most widely influential English professor in Canada for the last twenty years of his life, Woodhouse received many honours, including a Guggenheim fellowship in 1942 and an honorary D.Litt. from Acadia University in 1948. He lived at 24 Heathdale Road, Toronto.

F. E. L. Priestley's article, "A. S. P. Woodhouse 1895-1964," in Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, is a warm, true testimony to Woodhouse's career. Here it is:

With the sudden death, on October 31, 1964, of A. S. P. Woodhouse, Canada lost one of her greatest scholars, and the Royal Society one of its most distinguished members and its recently elected First Vice-President. The loss is made all the more severe in that he was still at the very height of his intellectual powers, with a great deal of important work in progress and still more planned. There is added to the sense of personal bereavement a further sense of deprivation to the world of scholarship, international as well as national, through his death.

Arthur Woodhouse was born in 1895 at Port Hope, Ontario. After spending ten years of his childhood in England, he returned with his mother to Ontario, where he completed his secondary education at the Collegiate Institute, Barrie, under T. H. Redditt, and then entered University College, Toronto. There he formed that devotion to the College and the University and, even above these, to scholarship and English studies in particular that were to shape his whole career. He never tired of paying tribute to. the great teachers who had stimulated and impressed him: W. J. Alexander, W. S. Milner, G. M. Wrong, and M. W. Wallace. Of Alexander he often asserted that he was the finest expositor of English literature that he had ever heard, and there is little doubt that it was from these teachers that Woodhouse derived his combination of interests, in literature as an art, in literature as the embodiment of ideas, and in literature as part of an historical context. From Toronto he entered the Harvard Graduate School, where these interests were not always encouraged. There philology was thought to be of prime importance for students of literature. Germanic Philology, Gothic, Romance Philology, and Old French were among the courses required of all students in English. Woodhouse completed all the courses towards the Ph.D., but several years of teaching intervened before he had finished his doctoral thesis, and he declined to prepare himself a second time in philology (in which he had no special interest) for the final oral examination which was largely concentrated on that area. It was characteristic of him to get from Harvard the education he wanted, and to refuse the education (and the degree) he felt less appetite for. At Harvard he studied under Irving Babbitt, who again stimulated his interest in the relation of literature and ideas, and although Woodhouse was in many respects far from being a disciple of Babbitt's, he often paid tribute to his teaching and influence.

After five years at the University of Manitoba in the Department of English, Woodhouse was invited to join the staff at his old college, to share with Herbert Davis the teaching of eighteenth-century literature, and with Malcolm Wallace the teaching of Milton. To these main fields he later added Victorian Thought and the History of Criticism. In 1944 he became head of both the college and the graduate departments. As a teacher he had few equals, and certainly no superior. It was a very firm part of his doctrine that the popular opposition of the teacher and the research scholar was a fallacy, and that the best teachers were active in research and were stimulated by it. Indeed, the aim of research was to acquire knowledge for the purpose of imparting it, and whether through publication or through lectures and seminars was a matter of lesser importance. His lectures were consequently full of his own discoveries and conclusions, and as carefully prepared as most publications. They were in fact written and rewritten almost endlessly, constantly revised and reworked. In delivery they were relieved by a succession of brilliant asides, flashes of impromptu wit, and further explorations of ideas. Behind both lectures and asides lay an astounding mass of learning, a mastery not only of the whole corpus of text of the author, particularly in the case of Milton, but also of the relevant body of historical, philosophical, and theological context. And all this learning was presented with a grace, an ease, a clarity, and a liveliness, which prevented it from being oppressive. Nor was the primary importance of the literature ever submerged by the context.

Few indeed of the many generations of students, undergraduate and graduate, who succeeded each other every year or two in his classes, can have failed to be influenced in their attitudes to literature and to scholarship by his precept and his example, and through the ninety or so former students of his now serving as members of faculty in universities throughout Canada, in the United States, Britain, India -- in fact almost wherever English literature is studied -- something of his influence is at work. He always modestly underestimated his own contribution to the development of his best students, but often spoke as if the sense of having at least to some extent helped to produce a number of real scholars gave him more satisfaction than anything else in his career.

It was of course not only in the classroom that his presence was felt. He had a passion for excellence in things academic, a passion to improve the standards, the facilities, and the conditions of scholarship and teaching in the humanities, primarily in his own college and university, but also as far as possible throughout Canada. In his own institution, he began by playing a large part, with E. K. Brown, in reorganizing the honours course, and then, as head of the graduate department, largely framed the structure and shaped the policies of the rapidly expanding graduate programme. His vigorous and clear voice made itself heard on the President's committees which reorganized the School of Graduate Studies and the University of Toronto Press, and which set up the Research Fund to aid faculty research. He served for thirteen years as editor of The University of Toronto Quar- terly and developed it into a "journal of the humanities"; he founded and for the first ten years edited the annual survey, "Letters in Canada," which still occupies one issue of the Quarterly each year. He was also active on the committees to establish at Toronto the Graduate Centres for Mediaeval Studies and for Linguistics, and on the advisory committee of the Press. He played a leading part in planning the collected edition of John Stuart Mill which the Press is producing.

In the larger, national sphere, Woodhouse worked tirelessly in the cause of the humanities. He was a founding member of the Humanities Research Council of Canada, and three times its chairman. With Dr. (now President) John Robbins he took part in the various negotiations with American foundations which procured support for the Council and enabled it to establish its system of scholarships and grants in aid of research and of publication. With Professor (later President) Watson Kirkconnell he carried out the historic survey, The Humanities in Canada (1947), which, when published, served not only as an assessment of the state of the humanities and of their needs, but through its recommendations as a guide for nearly all the improvements in that state since effected. He was a distinguished Fellow of the Royal Society, a member of its Executive Council, a President of Section II, and, in this year, First Vice-President of the Society.

His reputation as a scholar was truly international. He was invited to lecture at London, Harvard, Chicago, Johns Hopkins, as well as at many Canadian universities; he gave the Sedgewick Lectures at British Columbia, and inaugurated the Weil Foundation Lectures in Cincinnati. He had honorary degrees from eight universities, including an L.H.D. from Chicago -- a degree which seems singularly apt. He was a member of the editorial boards of the Columbia Variorum Commentary on Milton's Poetry, of the Yale edition of Milton's Prose Works, and of the University of Toronto Press Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, to each of which he was also to contribute a volume. That for the Columbia Variorum was almost complete, and will be published, as will his Weil lectures. His Puritanism and Liberty (1938; 2nd ed. 1951) was rapidly acknowledged as the definitive edition of the Army Debates, and its Introduction as one of the most authoritative works on English Puritanism. His brilliant and solidly packed articles, almost any one of which would have provided meat for a book for a lmer author, earned him a dominant place among the world's Milton scholars. Everything he wrote was of the same high quality; his reviews are in themselves original contributions to scholarship.

All those who knew Arthur Woodhouse well will recognize that all the foregoing account, just and accurate as I hope they will find it, is merely an account of the public Woodhouse, or, as I called it on the happy occasion of the Department's dinner in his honour, so short a time ago, Woodhouse the National Institution. To this Woodhouse it is relatively easy to pay public tribute. It is much more difficult to convey the power and charm of his personality, the quick spontaneity of his wit, the precise and lively flow of his ordinary talk. He was the most superb of companions, with a great fund of anecdotes and recollections, amusing opinions on everything under the sun, unexpected areas of knowledge (he had a most exact and comprehensive body of technical information about English locomotives, for example), and prejudices with which he entertained both his hearers and himself. He enjoyed argument, and engaged readily in controversy, but seemed incapable of bearing any grudge. He was one of the most generous of men, and for all his vigour in attack, one of the most amiable. At one period when he must have been heavily oppressed by domestic worries, weary almost to exhaustion, he showed none of the signs of irritability one would expect and forgive, but preserved his warm kindliness. He was in the strict sense a magnanimous man. He was also, particularly in view of his intellectual stature, extremely modest, almost diffident, about his works and achievements. Canada will feel the loss in him of a great scholar; those of us who were privileged for many years to be his colleague, close associate, and companion will feel the loss of a most honoured and loved friend.

 

 

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