Life of George Whalley
Life Of George Whalley
By John Ferns, Professor Emeritus, McMaster University
George Whalley, C.D., M.A., Ph.d, F.R.S.C., F.R.S.L., was born in Kingston, Ontario, Canada on July 25, 1915. His father, the Very Reverend Arthur Francis Cecil Whalley, M.A., D.D., who was to become Dean of Nova Scotia, came from a long line of Anglican clergy. At the time of Whalley’s birth his father was Dean of St. George’s Cathedral in Kingston. A seventeenth-century forebear, Judge Edward Whalley, had been a Regicide. The Reverend Whalley’s parents were English. Whalley told me that there was a family connection with the village of Whalley in Lancashire. Whalley’s mother, Dorothy Quirk, was an Englishwoman. The first four years of Whalley’s life were spent in Kingston. His family, then, moved down the St. Lawrence to Brockville. Whalley had an older sister Cecilia, and was the eldest of three brothers. His brother Basil was to recall of him, “It was my privilege to have grown up knowing George. He greatly and beneficially influenced my life and his memory still does” (Remembrances 15).
Interviewed in 1980 by David Pulver, the Entertainment Editor of the Kingston Whig Standard, shortly after his retirement from the headship of the English Department of Queen’s University, Whalley described his family life. His father, who taught him Latin and Greek, he described as a classical scholar and marksman. Significantly he remarked of him, “He loved boats and would rebuild them and loved sailing them” (5). For Whalley, who grew up on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence, childhood experience and his father’s love of boats are surely the sources of his life-long love of the water. Of his mother he said that she “was very fond of music. My grandmother was the daughter of a musician. I started playing piano at the age of four or five. All these things were always in the background. You made music, or you took photographs or you did carpentry or handled a boat or learned how to swim properly or you learned to be a reasonable wood craftsman” (5). He had observed to David Pulver earlier in the interview, “I grew up in a family where one tended to do a lot of different things” (5).
Several things about Whalley that will be important to our understanding of his development can be noted immediately. His English and Anglican background clearly drew him to the study of English literature and the Anglican tradition and naturally enough to the study of a writer like Samuel Taylor Coleridge who like himself was the son of the Anglican minister. We see too that love of boats and water anticipates Whalley’s naval career as well as his abiding love of a poem like Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” His love of music was also life-long. He became an accomplished pianist and organist as well as being involved with his wife Elizabeth in the founding of the Kingston Symphony Orchestra. But perhaps the most important aspect of his early life to notice is the variety of the activities in which he participated. Coleridge’s “multëity in unity”1 was always a favourite phrase of Whalley’s and we can see that George Whalley was a polymath. Near the end of his life Whalley delivered a paper at a conference on editing polymaths called “Coleridge and the Self-unravelling clue,” and when in 1984 (about eighteen months after his death) the Royal Society of Canada came to honour one of its most distinguished members, Professor John M. Stedmond described Whalley as “eminent in many fields – as critic, scholar, teacher, theorist, poet, biographer – the categories multiply. He was in fact a polymath whose keen and sensitive intelligence ranged widely.”
While it is my intention in this study to explore some of these aspects of Whalley’s work, (for example, his work as a poet, scholar, biographer and critic) what will be more important to notice than Whalley’s activities as a polymath is what principle or method holds these diverse activities together, for in the end “unity” was more important to him than “multëity.” I will attempt to show that Whalley’s diverse activities were held together by a vision at once humanistic and Christian, and that he attempted to realize this vision both in his life and writing.
Here I will consider briefly Whalley’s early life; his school days; his university life; his naval career; his criticism and scholarship; his teaching; his broadcasting; his interest in music, and finally his family life in the light of how they were held together by his Christian humanist vision.
In 1969 Whalley published a reflection on his early life called “Horses and Kings.”2 Michael Moore appropriately included it in Whalley: Remembrances (1989). As well as being a beautifully written piece that shows Whalley as one of the finest prose stylists to have written in Canada it reveals even more importantly the natural and organic connection, the unity that exists between the many activities in which Whalley, even at an early age, found himself involved. Of his religion he told David Pulver in the 1980 interview, “The bible and prayer book are simply part of my life, the rhythms and phrasing of them are indelibly in my mind. I was a church organist for a while, so most of the sounds and hymns and lessons are like second nature almost” (6). In the following passage from “Horses and Kings” boating, music, religion and writing come together through language that connects seemingly different worlds:
The river separated us from the United States and from the people that we viewed with jealous but ignorant suspicion. This did not prevent my father, when the little church in Morristown had no one to take the services, from getting out our big motorboat with a converted primitive aircraft engine in it and crossing the two miles of water on a Sunday afternoon to say evensong for a few faithful foreigners. I usually went with him and by the age of ten or so could play the hymns for him on the harmonium. It was absent-mindedness on his part, not rigid nationalist spirit, that made him pray on these occasions for the well-being and wisdom of the King and the Royal Family rather than for the President and Congress.” (Remembrances 19)
Indeed, “Horses and Kings” is surely the best single source for understanding both Whalley’s early life and his sense of what it meant to be a Canadian:
Canadians are stubbornly Canadian; we may prove in our secret way to be as unassimilable as the Jews and as inedible as the Laurentian Shield, though given to much worry about what it is to be Canadian. Being Canadian, I am not quite sure, being mistaken for an Englishman in Canada and an Irishman in England; and looking for something of my own that is distinctive and perhaps symbolic find certain durable things in my childhood and recall them as things concrete with no nostalgic intent. (Remembrances 16)
He offers the following recollection of Kingston in 1919:
In those days there were horses in the streets. When I was four, there was a garbage cart in Kingston with a wooden top like a stiff tent and metal doors that hinged upwards to let the garbage in. I always hoped it would arrive at our door about noon so that the driver would drop his little around anchor there and put the horse’s nosebag on, right in front of our house, so that I could study all the refinements of this marvellous machine. It was a matter of professional interest: I intended to be a garbage collector. The wheels were not rubber-tired. That would be the year after the First World War ended. (Remembrances 17)
Another important feature of Whalley’s life that we should note here is his essential practicality (unusual, perhaps, in an English professor). Whalley who in the navy designed landing craft and was one of the first (perhaps the first) Canadian scholars to use computers for research in the humanities was interested in a professional way in how the garbage cart was made. Less than a year before his death when the Humanities Association honoured him in Ottawa in 1982 colleague and former student Fred Colwell thanked Whalley for not becoming a garbage collector. It was a happy moment of good humour shared by a room full of well-wishers.
“Horses and Kings” also reveals Whalley’s powers of observation, his eye for detail, noticing in “the millionaire’s electric car” the “little cut-glass vases on brackets inside to hold fresh flowers.” He speaks of runaway horses, of horses slipping on the ice, of attending “the nicest funeral we had ever been to.” He recalls an Indian elephant leading a circus procession along King Street in Brockville and an organ grinder with a monkey who tweaked his ear. Love of the water is always strongly present, “The river was dangerous and deep and the two miles wide and wherever you were in the town you seemed to know that the river was where it was.” When Brian Crick and I met Whalley to discuss Studies in Literature and the Humanities (1985) with him in 1982, he told us that places he had known in Brockville as a boy were now under water to accommodate the St. Lawrence Seaway. Whalley remembered from his childhood that children would dive for coins thrown from passing boats.
The world in which Whalley grew up is clearly depicted in “Horses and Kings.” It is similar to the world that Robertson Davies describes in Fifth Business and which my own father recollects who as a boy of five saw the Kaiser burned in effigy in Victoria Park in London, Ontario at the end of the First World War. That Canada in which Whalley grew up and of which George Grant writes in Lament for a Nation (1965) has almost completely disappeared.
The First World War and the Depression were solid realities in Whalley’s early life and from the First World War, he grew up into the Second, as, he says,
to bear arms (as the liturgy allows) and to serve in the wars. For six years; almost ten in all. And found my country and my own people at a distance, discovered in what regard some Canadians are held, and learned that “O Canada" need not be a derisive comment. I do not lament what is gone – the horses, and kings, and side-wheelers and childhood – finding here a distinctive savour, subtle, unchanged in spite of all that is harsh, derivative, defensive and pretentious. Voices have their signal location, saying from Ottawa, Toronto, the St. Lawrence Valley, the Laurentians, Timmins, Petit-codiac, Purcell’s Cove, Victoria. Nothing has stopped the migration of the Canada geese. I’m hooked anyway; a country and its people cannot be judged by the musical quality of their national anthem. And some day somebody will find a market for muskeg. (Remembrances 21-22)
The blend of seriousness and humour, the lack of nostalgia or sentimentality, are characteristic, the writing as always is alert, observant, perceptive and carefully crafted. Whalley’s best writing always contains these qualities.
From 1922 to 1930 Whalley attended St. Alban’s School in Brockville. It was a small private Church of England boarding school for boys. His time there is recalled in Remembrances, by a fellow student John Mainwaring (23-27). It was a school of only fifty to sixty pupils. Whalley’s father was the school chaplain as well as being the rector of St. Peter’s, Brockville. Whalley began Latin at the age of seven. It laid the foundation together with Greek for the kind of classical scholarship that he brought to the study of English literature, that permitted him to share the learning of the authors he loved and studied in a way that no subsequent generation of scholars has been able to do.
John Mainwaring recalls that in June 1923 Whalley won a form prize for spelling. Spelling he always and rightly regarded as important in providing essential information about language. Also, he placed third in the 220 yards dash. He became a member of the choir and at the age of twelve he was confirmed by the Bishop of Ontario. In 1927 Whalley’s playing of the Shepherd’s Dance from German’s Henry VIII was described in the school magazine, The Albanian, as “extremely good.” At school he read Chums and the Boy’s Own Paper, the verse of Noyes and Newbolt, Treasure Island and A Tale of Two Cities. He learned to write verse in various forms including the sonnet. Also, he was greatly moved by accounts of Scott’s expedition to Antarctica, as he was later by the publication of Edgar Christian’s diary Unflinching in 1937. He admired D.H. Lawrence’s poem “Snake” as “an expression of the essential dignity of living things.” John Mainwaring captures well an essential feature of Whalley’s love both of individualism and of order when he writes, “In his own way he modelled himself on heroes who (if again in their own way) upheld the system.” One thinks immediately both of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and John Hornby who Whalley spent many of his mature years writing about and trying to fathom and understand.
Whalley became librarian and editor of The Albanian. In 1927 he participated in the school’s Orange and Black Revue, in 1928 his piano playing was again complimented, and on Sports Day in June 1928 he won the cup as junior athletic champion. The following June he wrote junior matriculation exams for McGill. In 1930 he left St. Alban’s at the age of fifteen. John Mainwaring concludes that at St. Alban’s Whalley “had shown ability as a scholar, athlete and musician, and clearly had a bent for problem-solving, which promised well should he turn to research. A literary talent also seemed to be emerging.”
According to Professor Anthony Preston, who taught him both Latin and Greek, Whalley arrived at Bishop’s University (his father’s university) in Lennoxville, Quebec in the fall of 1932. His father had narrowly missed a Rhodes Scholarship. Whalley gained one at the end of his time at Bishop’s. The Rhodes Scholarship is not given for academic merit alone and Whalley won places on both the university’s football and hockey teams. He was also involved in dramatics and debating. As Professor Preston writes:
George wanted to excel in all that he did but not at the expense of others. He wanted to be among the first, not necessarily the first, to be among the best, not necessarily the best. It was this that made him able to offer and receive the gift of friendship all his life. He had friends of all kinds and at all levels and did not lose them. Had he sought only to win at any price he would soon have lost friends all along the way. (Remembrances 29)
Professor Preston recollects that Whalley, who was University chapel organist while at Bishop’s, “was a fine musician and a more than excellent performer on organ or piano.” He recalls that Whalley, “spoke as he wrote: with simple lucidity.” This union of speaker and writer is an important quality as we will see throughout. “George was a leader from the first and had a fairness of outlook that lasted all his life,” Professor Preston concludes.
College contemporary Arnold Banfill remembers meeting the seventeen-year-old Whalley in September 1932. They had neighbouring rooms in the Old Lodge student residence. Banfill writes:
I saw a well-built and athletic-looking young man of medium height, long-headed, regular-featured, with straight dark brown hair and blue eyes. He was serious, reserved, quiet; when he smiled it was with his eyes as well as his mouth. As our acquaintance ripened into friendship, I sensed tremendous reserves of physical, intellectual and emotional strength; he seemed filled with a zestful joy of living, intense yet controlled, well-organized and purposeful -- someone who would be stimulated rather than frustrated by any difficulties and challenge he might encounter. He had a remarkably wide range of interests, and seemed to give all of himself to whatever at any moment he happened to be doing --. (Remembrances 31)
Once more we can see a unifying intensity brought to a wide range of interests. Banfill recalls that Dr. W.O. Raymond of the Bishop’s English Department, whose obituary Whalley was later to write (for the Royal Society of Canada), described Whalley as “a Renaissance man.” Dr. Raymond is not the only person to describe Whalley in this way. Alexander Brott and The Kingston Whig Standard also referred to him in this way. “Renaissance man” has frequently been applied in an attempt to describe Whalley’s character as polymath. Yet in Christianity and classicism we can find principles that held his diverse interests in unity and gave them meaning.
Dr. Raymond encouraged Arnold Banfill and Whalley to contribute to The Mitre, the students’ literary magazine. Banfill recalls Whalley contributing a poem called “Derelict” about an abandoned ship. Interestingly enough it was at Bishop’s in 1933 that Whalley first read John Livingston Lowes’ The Road to Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination (1927) that inspired his interest in Coleridge. The frontispiece of the original American of the book is of an Elizabethan ship in a stormy sea. Banfill records that “George and I were founding members of the Humanities Club, which met several times during 1934 and 1935” (Remembrances 33). Did Whalley’s life-long defense of the Humanities stem from this early interest? Banfill remembers that “At one meeting George read a most stimulating paper entitled ‘Faith and Reason,’ a philosophical disquisition for which his classical studies under Professor Preston had admirably qualified him” (Remembrances 33). Also, Arnold Banfill recalls that during both 1934 and 1935 Whalley was president of the University Dramatic Society.
Indeed, during his time at Bishop’s he played Dominic the butler in A.A. Milne’s The Dover Road; Jacques and Falstaff in Shakespeare’s As You Like It and an adaptation of Henry IV, Part I; Voltore in Ben Jonson’s Volpone; Mr. Collins in a dramatic adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Pronax in John Drinkwater’s X=O. Arnold Banfill describes Whalley’s acting as showing “intensity, reserve and perfect control, his humour and his ability to immerse himself wholly in whatever he was doing, resulted in performances effortless-seeming, natural, perfectly timed, and never overdone” (Remembrances 35). Finally, Arnold Banfill recalls a “prank” that he and Whalley perpetrated during their senior year when they held a noisy black mass for their fellow student victims of German measles. It was recalled fifty years later by the Dean of Residence who interrupted it, “That black mass you and Whalley put on -- what an abominable racket you made!” (Remembrances 36).
Arnold Banfill’s remembrance of Whalley is an affectionate and moving tribute to a friend. He captures the essence of the friendship not only in recalling the poems they wrote and ready to each other but also in recording how Whalley typed Banfill’s 30,000 word honours thesis for him in recompense for the use of the “standard” Underwood typewriter that Whalley had named “Incitatus” after Caligula’s horse. He is no hagiographer, however, as he recalls that Whalley could be angry when roused. Further evidence of Whalley’s generosity is provided by another Bishop’s contemporary Colin Cuttell who, as well as remembering the controlled anger of which Whalley was capable, recalls Whalley’s response to his election as Rhodes Scholar for Quebec on December 17, 1935:
It had been my dream since about the age of twelve -- and being so close to my heart, when it finally arrived there was no elation [...] I am glad for mother and dad because they have made tremendous sacrifices to give us all a good start; and somehow I seem to have had the lion’s share. Thank God their silent unselfishness has been in small measure repaid. (Remembrances 49)
We hear here the voice that Whalley was later to admire in Edgar Christian.
Colin Cuttell’s remembrance of Whalley is invaluable in another way since it provides an account of Whalley’s dedicated involvement in Scouting. While university students Whalley and Cuttell took over the Lennoxville Town Scouts at the instigation of Cuttell’s theology professor Philip Carrington who together with Bishop’s Principal Dr. McGreer and Whalley’s father hoped that Whalley would be ordained. Of their mutual involvement in Scouting Cuttell rightly warns:
Any future would-be biographer who finds this Whalley incomprehensible would be well advised to abandon the attempt. To miss the mystic would be to miss George.... His Scouting was a way of life. To be sure, there were few who had kept company with him in academic life, perhaps for years, who tumbled to the fact that they had been walking with greatness. He gave himself away to very few. (Remembrances 43)
Cuttell rightly sees Whalley’s swimming across the St. Lawrence at Brockville at the age of twelve as “a foretaste of his appetite for high adventure, anticipating that day when he would dive into stormy arctic waters to take a line to a sailor washed overboard” (Remembrances 43).
When Whalley graduated from Bishop’s in spring 1935 it was with first class honours. That summer he and Colin Cuttell participated in a scout camp at Lake Memphremagog, Quebec. At this camp Whalley organised a surprise attack on another camp that led to a reprimand. The scouts knew Cuttell as “Skipper” and Whalley as “Uncle George”. They had a deep affection for both. Then, while applying for the Rhodes Scholarship and prior to taking it up at Oriel College, Oxford in the fall of 1936, Whalley taught at Rothesay Collegiate School, New Brunswick. There he started a Scout Troop and took over the training of the choir. He did not find his colleagues entirely congenial as he wrote to Cuttell on October 30, 1935, “I still have my books, a piano and the boys to work with; and I hope a certain amount of imagination [...] And if it were not for the boys I should not be able to stick it. But in many ways I am very happy – it is only in the depths of those recurrent depressions of mine that these thoughts occur” (Remembrances 45). Whalley’s sense of duty, as always prevailed. As he had written to Cuttell at the end of the summer of 1935, “The three years in College have, on the whole, been very happy ones. But it is the scouting more than anything else that I shall miss [...] there is so much work to be done in this bad old world – and so very, very little time to do it that it positively staggers one” (Remembrances 48).
Colin Cuttell writes that when Whalley arrived at Oxford in the fall of 1936 to an Oxford Union that supported the motion “That this House will in no circumstances fight for King and County,” “He was to suffer severe disillusionment and the early collapse of his boyhood dream of Oxford as the educational summum bonum, the scholastic gate of heaven” (Remembrances 49). Luckily, through Cuttell, he was to find in the Christian community of Father George Moore’s St. Nicholas House, 22, Tower Hill in London a “home-from-home.” So although Whalley read Classical Greats (Literiae Humaniores) and Theology at Oxford, he seems to have derived more enjoyment from rowing than from studying. In 1982 the crossed Oriel oars were still displayed in Whalley’s home at Hartington, Ontario.
Whalley had good reason to take pride in his achievement as an oarsman at Oxford. Though in Colin Cuttell’s words he “narrowly miss[ed] a lace in the Varsity Crew” (Remembrances 52), he was awarded his Trial Cap in 1938. During academic year 1938-39 he was Oriel College’s Captain of Boats and in the Henley royal Regatta of 1938 he rowed bow in Oriel’s record-breaking coxwainless IV. Prior to returning to Canada Whalley took a walking tour in Germany during the summer of 1939. He rejected the idea of entering the church and was considering a career in music. He returned to another year of teaching at Rothesay Collegiate School and had been invited to join an expedition to Antarctica with the Scott Polar Research Institute when he joined the R.C.N.V.R. in June 1940.
As a Sub-Lieutenant in the R.C.N.V.R., Whalley was loaned to the Royal Navy from 1940 until 1944 for general service and special duties. Aboard the destroyer H.M.S. Tartar in late May and early June 1941 Whalley was present at the sinking of the Bismarck. When an accompanying destroyer H.M.S. Mashona was bombed and sunk following the action, Whalley jumped overboard to save one of her survivors from the sea. To David Pulver of The Kingston Whig Standard in the summer of 1980 Whalley gave the following account of this action for which in 1941 he was awarded the Royal Humane Society’s Bronze Medal for Saving Life at Sea:
That was in the war, when the Bismarck was sunk in 1941. I was a sub-lieutenant on a destroyer in the home fleet. Another destroyer with us was bombed and sunk, and there were four survivors in the sea, some quite badly wounded. I saved one of them -- it was a matter of trying to get them on board before the bombing resumed. (5)
About the sinking of the Bismarck, Whalley wrote in an article “The Sinking of the Bismarck: An Eye-Witness Report” that he published in The Atlantic Monthly (July 1960) and that is included in Remembrances:
But all the time there was running through my mind a vivid picture of the people in that ship [the Bismarck] .... I don’t know what men think or do or look like when they know what those men knew.... What that ship was like inside after an hour and a half of shelling does not bear thinking of: her guns smashed, the ship full of fire, her people hurt; and surely all men are much the same when they are hurt. It was a great relief that we were not sent in to torpedo, a dirty job. (Remembrances 84-85)
Whalley spent much of the rest of the war working at the Admiralty in London for the Naval Intelligence division on projects some of which still remain classified. As Daivd Pulver comments:
Reticent about most of his achievements, he talks with a hint of craftsman’s pride of his first publication, a handbook on the design of surf-landing boats and an analysis of wave movements. He wrote it, anonymously, for the British Admiralty and the boats were eventually used in clandestine operations in the English Channel. (5)
Whalley, who had wished to be a sub-mariner but was judged not to have good enough eyesight, was training as a watchkeeping officer and then found himself involved in designing landing craft and in landing and taking agents off the French coast. During this period Whalley lived at 96 Cheyne Walk near Battersea Bridge in which the painter Whistler had lived. It was here, in 1943, that he met his future wife, Elizabeth Watts, who also worked at the Admiralty and whose father had been a naval captain. When they married in Chelsea-Battersea Parish Church on Whalley’s birthday, July 25, 1944, Whalley told his friend Arnold Banfill in a letter that it was “far and away the most important thing that has ever happened to me” (Remembrances 36).
A fellow naval officer, Nigel Warington Smyth, recalls another life-saving operation in which Whalley was involved when they were testing surf boats at Porthleven, “It was during these trials that George demonstrated great bravery and determination in saving Commander Ted Davies and me from drowning in the surf on Praa Sands.” Nigel Warington Smyth adds:
Whalley was a very remarkable man. He had a quick and intellectual brain. He also had a quick wit and a keen sense of the ridiculous [...]. George was not at all complicated [...]. I would say that if I had been able to sail by boat round the world I would have chosen George as my companion. (Remembrances 91)
In 1943 Whalley was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander in the R.C.N.V.R. and took a Senior Staff course with the R.C.N. at Greenwich in 1944. He returned to the R.C.N. and served with it from April to September 1945. He remained on active Reserve until 1956. From 1952 until 1956 he was Commanding Officer of H.M.C.S. Cataraqui at Kingston and was promoted to the rank of Commander in 1953.
In September 1945 Whalley with his wife Elizabeth returned to Bishop’s University. Here he taught for two years at the rank of Lecturer and Assistant Professor as well as completing his M.A. thesis, “A Critique of Criticism,” (1948) the primitive version of Poetic Process (1953). Encouraged by Professors W.O. Raymond and George Clarke, he also published two books of poetry in this period Poems, 1939-44 (1946) and No Man an Island (1948). When Principal McGreer disappeared, having fallen into the river as the result of a stroke, Whalley organized the search party to find him and was one of two men called to identify his body at the coroner’s inquest. Bishop’s friends Arnold Banfill and Betty Jefferis stood godparents to the Whalleys’ first daughter, Katharine Cecilia (born January 1947) when she was christened in St. Mark’s Chapel at the University.
After only two years at Bishop’s, Whalley returned to England to undertake a Ph.D at King’s College, University of London, under the supervision of Professor Geoffrey Bullough. By this time he had met Miss Kathleen Coburn who was editing Coleridge’s Notebooks in Toronto and who encouraged Whalley’s interest in Coleridge’s Marginalia. Whalley, whose interest in Coleridge had been inspired by his reading of John Livingston Lowe’s The Road to Xanadu in 1933, had been considering working on Coleridge throughout the Second World War. As he told his audience at an editorial conference at the University of Toronto on November 6, 1971:
Late in 1945, when I was no longer required (as the 37th Article of Religion has it) “to wear weapons, and serve in the wars,” I was able to turn to a matter that had long occupied my thoughts: to examine – and if possible to delineate – various functions of the human mind [...]. Because it is difficult to correlate one function in one mind with another function in another mind, I had decided to try to find – if such existed – a large body of informal and spontaneous writing by one person whose mental activities were many-sided and whose achievement in each sphere of activity was unquestionably of a high order. I need not rehearse the possibilities that presented themselves; the specification was a rather refined one and the choice eventually – perhaps inevitably – settled on Coleridge without any guess at what was involved. It was an open choice in the sense that I was in no sense a Coleridge specialist – or even a literary specialist – and had no intention of being a scholar; my acquaintance with Coleridge was limited to the poems, those parts of the canon that every literate person sooner or later reads. (Editing, 90)
Once again we see the characteristic effort of Whalley’s to find unity in “multëity,” comparing various functions in one mind. He continues:
While making a preliminary inquiry into the question whether it was in fact possible to investigate another mind without simply finding projected there the patterns of what one wanted to find -- (I concluded that it might be just possible; that inquiry was called Poetic Process) -- I set about accumulating as much information as possible about what Coleridge had read, and when, and (if possible) why -- and what he had done with the reading. The relation to my original intention is clear: as is Lowes’s Road to Xanadu, the study of the reading was to be, not a study of Coleridge’s source and “influences,” but of his findings, soundings, and transformation. (91)
So, in pursuit of these interests that were to concern him for the rest of his life, Whalley set out to the University of London:
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and the pretext of a doctorate (for in those days it was a matter of “no degree-project, no cash”), enabled me to spend two years in England preparing my first document on Coleridge’s reading (S.T. Coleridge: Library Cormorant, 2 vols. typescript. London, 1950) which my supervisor Professor Geoffrey Bullough ruefully described as about the size of two London telephone directories. Whether the account of some 1,100 titles, with descriptive and critical commentary, was in fact an Appendix to the introductory mental biography, or the biographical essay a suggestive introduction to the Reading list, is a nice question that Coleridge himself might have savoured with a twinge of recognition, and left unanswered (91-92).
Though it is clear that Whalley had now exchanged a life of naval action for the life of the mind, his overriding feeling for unity inevitably connected the two:
And fortunately the place his [work] had to be done was that most glorious of all libraries, the British Museum. The North Library in those days was an enchanted place [...] at least the North Library was not the North Sea, and one lay to an anchor at the heart of the greatest public collection of Coleridgeana in the world, with access to the unfathomable collections that seem to be needed to unstitch Coleridge’s writing. Here indeed the spider’s web assumed a new destiny, not only from the original books and manuscripts but from the resources that it seems to take half a lifetime to find out how to use. (109)
So began a life’s work in which as Whalley noted “at times one can feel the presence of the person the notes were written for” (113). It is a feeling that the writer on Whalley shares. The editor writing notes of Coledrige’s notes, “needs a sense of propriety, tact, and courage. The fact is that Coleridge is immensely learned, and most of all he knows at any time is continuously at his disposal.” (114) The life-work on Coleridge was launched in the late 1940s. Twenty years later, in 1971, Whalley said of it at the close of his lecture on editing Coleridge’s Marginalia:
I consider myself fortunate to have come upon Coleridge’s mind, so perpetual a cause for wonder and source of refreshment; fortunate too to share in this hazard with some resolute and high-spirited rock-climbers, friends and colleagues whose minds are invigorated by the enterprise, their vision armed, their temper sweetened as much by the quality of the task as by its magnitude. (116)
In 1950 Whalley accepted an Assistant Professorship at Queen’s University in Kingston, the city of his birth. Here he settled with his wife Elizabeth and with their growing family, Katharine, Christopher and Emily, to teach, research and write for the next thirty-three years. He rose to become James Cappon Professor of English and Head of the Department from 1962 to 1967 and again from 1977 to 1980 when he retired. Apart from his elections to the Royal Society of Canada and the Royal Society of Literature, he held a Visiting Professorship at the University of Wisconsin in 1962, a Nuffield Travelling Fellowship, 1956-57; a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, 1967-68 and a Killam Senior Research Scholarship, 1973-75. Each of these last three awards allowed him to pursue Coleridge related and other studies in London, England.
From the time of his arrival at Queen’s in 1950 until his death in 1983 Whalley was, by any reckoning, a very busy man. During eight of those years (1962-67; 1977-80), he was Head of the English Department which is always a demanding task, but in any given year we would have found him completing a couple of scholarly articles, writing a review, working on a book, working on his edition of Coleridge’s Marginalia, giving a guest lecture or two, preparing a broadcast for radio or television, teaching his classes, taking an active part in naval or musical activities in Kingston and involved in his family life. But as his son Christopher and others have noted it was the same man who participated in all of these activities. One colleague spoke of him as “a totally integrated person” (Pulver 4). His son Christopher wrote:
I knew my father’s personality manifested through his daily life more than through his professional roles, but one of the greatest honours due this man is that there was no difference. The qualities of acuity and discipline which exemplified his work ran through everything he did. He was integrated to the extent that he operated from a single worthy core, and all his efforts contributed to evolving that core. This unity was evident in his use of language, which he held to be not only a tool of the trade, but the vehicle of thought itself: you do not think well if you cannot speak clearly, and vice versa. (Remembrances 187)
All of Whalley’s diverse activities came to birth through the unity of shapely language and were realized in the voice of a speaker or writer that was in its essence the same voice.
The voice itself is best explained by Whalley, the voice with the accent that was thought to be English in Canada and Irish in England. As he told David Pulver, “My mother was English, my father’s parents were English and I suppose that partly accounts for it. My wife is also English and then spending a lot of time in England and in the Royal Navy” (7).
At the roughest count we can see that Whalley published four books in the 1950s. Poetic Process (1953) and Coleridge and Sara Hutchinson and the Asra Poems (1955) preoccupied him through the first half of the decade but he also edited and wrote a foreward to the Selected Poems of George Herbert Clarke (1954) and edited and wrote a preface for Writing in Canada: Proceedings of the Canadian Writers’ Conference, Queen’s University, 28-31 July 1955 (1956). The second half of the decade was largely taken up with research into and the writing of The Legend of John Hornby (1962). The ill-fated expedition into the Barren Lands of John Hornby, Edgar Christian and Harold Adlard had interested Whalley ever since he had read Edgar Christian’s diary Unflinching when it first appeared in 1937. In the 1960s Whalley edited and contributed to A Place of Liberty: Essays on the Government of Canadian Universities (1964). Finally, in 1980 three further books appeared, first the culmination of over three decades of work the first volume of the Marginalia for The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and then the next day Death in the Barren Ground: The Diary of Edgar Christian edited and introduced by Whalley. It is peculiarly appropriate that books culminating life-long interest in Coleridge and Edgar Christian should have appeared simultaneously. Characteristically, Whalley contributed to and edited a tribute to a friend that appeared in the same year Christopher Pepys 1914-1974: A Remembrance by his Friends (1980).
Since Whalley’s death in 1983 five further volumes of his work or connected with his life and work have appeared. A second volume of Marginalia appeared in 1984; Studies in Literature and the Humanities: Innocence of Intent a gathering of eleven of his best essays mainly in defense of the Humanities and most from the 1970s appeared in 1985; The Collected Poems of George Whalley edited with an introduction by his friend George Johnston appeared in 1986;
Symbols in Life and Art: The Royal Society of Canada Symposium in Memory of George Whalley in 1987; and in 1988 Michael Moore’s George Whalley: Remembrances with the compliments of Elizabeth Whalley appeared. Other work is forthcoming. Heather Jackson of the University of Toronto continues to edit the Marginalia of Coleridge and a gathering of his Coleridge essays is being undertaken at Queen’s. John Baxter of Dalhousie University is preparing an edition of Whalley’s translation of Aristotle’s Poetics. The Association of Canadian University Teachers of English held a session in Whalley’s honour at Guelph in 1984. The volume of tribute that has followed Whalley’s death is clear evidence of the high regard in which he is held both within Canada and abroad. It becomes increasingly clear that, like George Grant, Whalley was a great Canadian, one of the great minds that our country has produced.
Besides the ten books published in his life-time, Whalley published over seventy articles and numerous reviews. And although Whalley himself regarded his work on Coleridge as his most important achievement, in my view his increasingly articulate defense of the Humanities that gathered force through the 1970s constitutes an equally more important achievement. Whalley’s colleague and Head of the Department of Music at Queen’s, Istvan Anhalt, expresses the importance of this work well. He sees Whalley as
engaged over a number of years in a campaign in defense of the humanities in education. He wrote and lectured widely on this topic that was of great concern to him, and his voice rang with passion and urgency. He felt this to be a very important matter, an endeavour in the face of enormous odds to safeguard features and components of a world-view that he felt is in the process of disappearing under the rapidly accumulating weight of trivia, trendiness, and a self-serving distortion of the meaning of relevance. (Remembrances 145)
The great critic and scholar was also a great teacher. Colleague Susan Dick’s anecdote catches the essence of what Whalley’s teaching meant. She recalls, “the amusement with which George recounted the one compliment he had received on his teaching. A woman who had taken his first-year course told him years later that she didn’t know what he had said, but it had helped her in raising her children” (Remembrances 135). This sense of implicit Christian teaching is surely echoed and confirmed in Whalley’s eldest daughter Katharine’s testimony: “When he said anything about my restlessness and discontent, he always came down on the side of the children: be patient, they are growing up so well, wait out this time” (Remembrances 183). “Suffer the little children to come unto me” could well stand as a motto for Whalley’s teaching. As his younger daughter Emily remembers,
In fact he was very generous altogether [...] if one of his students was in trouble and called him, my father would take whole days, if necessary, talking to the student, helping him or her to get straight and going again. Graciously, he gave of himself and time. Teaching was of utmost importance to my father. He never thought of himself as, or set out to be solely, a writer. He said he had a need to be useful and to give out. (Remembrances 175)
A former student told David Pulver that:
It’s wonderful experience to sit through one of his lectures. He manages to bring so many interests to it. His lectures are not just about literature, they’re about the workings of the mind in conjunction with other minds, about a humanistic appraisal of life. That’s much more useful and educationally sound than a lecture that sticks to a single piece of prose, for example. And he is often very funny in class, a tremendous sense of humour [...]. He opens up vistas which might otherwise remain closed and dark. (6)
We can see in his teaching a fulfillment of his early wish to explore different functions of the mind as well as his sense of the importance of the humanities.
Many former students who contributed to Remembrances mentioned the silences in Whalley’s classes, silences that allowed reflection and the true formulation of personal response. A colleague explained to David Pulver, “George doesn’t tell people what to think, he’s inviting them to reach down into themselves and find out what their emotional response is to a poem, and the words to articulate that response” (5). This surely is what education is, in essence, a leading forth, a development of the individual student’s response. As former student, Rick Johnson, expresses it in Remembrances, Whalley taught “in the true sense of the word educate, he wanted to draw out of us what we were capable of giving to ourselves, to the poem, and to one another” (150). Whalley helped his students in, “‘getting to know.’ By brooding patiently over Wordsworth’s poems, he encouraged us to gain ‘attitudes of mind,’ ‘methods of inquiry,’ and a ‘capacity for sustained reflection’” (151). In a seminar on Romantic Poetry he considered the poetry of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Keats sometimes spending several weeks on a single poem such as “The Solitary Reaper.” In a graduate seminar on Literary Criticism he considered the criticism of Aristotle and Coleridge.
Jane Campbell of Wilfred Laurier University who was a student of Whalley’s in the 1950s recalls the influence of his teaching after thirty years:
His voice is still to be heard, sometimes when I am re-reading words of Donne or Yeats or Eliot, sometimes -- as Frost says -- as a “tone of meaning but without the words.” There is a passage in the Prelude where Wordsworth considers the difficulty of defining indebtedness (Did Whalley read it aloud to us? Or did the lines, like so many others, become imbued with his resonance after the fact?) Wordsworth says:
Who that shall point as with a wand and say,
“This portion of the river of my mind
Came from yon fountain?”
Although I can’t be certain about the portions, I am fortunate with many others, in knowing something about their most memorable source. In the direction of his ghost, I make an inadequate, loving gesture. (Remembrances 101-102)
It is clear that Whalley, the Renaissance man, the polymath, was a great teacher as well as a great critic and scholar.
From the early fifties to the late seventies Whalley was involved in broadcasting largely on radio but also on television. He contributed to such C.B.C. series as Explorations, Heritage, Take Thirty, and Man Alive. Also, he worked with the National Film Board most memorably reading Archibald Lampman’s poetry in the short film Morning on the Livère (1964). David Pulver comments that “Whalley’s broadcasts have been largely in the documentary mould,” and Whalley told him “I became fascinated in the use of primary materials, and so disposing them in relation to each other that they interacted in a dramatic way” (6). Even at the end of his life Whalley remained interested in the possibilities of combining poetry and documentary materials in broadcasting though he had become justly critical of the degeneration of broadcasting. “Everyone at the CBC now is talking like a dee-jay [...] it’s the appalling cosiness and jocularity of that kind of speech that one finds objectionable, the perpetual glibness that trivializes whatever’s being said” (7).
C.B.C. radio producer John Reeves offers an assessment of Whalley’s contribution to broadcasting in Remembrances:
Whalley, poet and scholar, wrote frequently for radio in the nineteen fifties, sixties, and seventies. Sometimes as a compiler: collections of zany humour, for instance, and of translated poetry. Sometimes as an interpreter: elucidating Hopkins and Berryman, among others. And sometimes as adaptor. It is in this last field that he made a major contribution to broadcasting, by taking important books and creating from them radio features which were important works in their own right. The most straightforward, and the earliest, was his dramatization of the novel “Peter Abelard” by Helen Waddell, remarkable both for its insight into that great thinker’s mind and times and also for its portrait of Heloise in the extremity of her loss. Malory’s “Morte d’Arthur” was the source for a splendid serial culminating as it did, not in the passing of the once and future king, but in the subsequent death of the queen and the ending of Lancelot, in holy orders and in a sad serenity. The radio version of “Let us now praise famous men,” James Agee’s profoundly humane study of life among the rural poor in Alabama during the Depression, is an astonishing feat of organization: the huge sprawl of the original book would defeat any attempt at simple abridgement; instead the material had to be reworked in a way that would be true to its spirit and content, but effective as sound, not print; Whalley achieved this brilliantly by turning it into a Book of Hours, combining the two chronologies of the farmers’s day and the farmer’s (sic) year with the two horariums of the liturgical day and the liturgical year -- thus implicitly making the connection (as Agee had done in the book) between the sufferings of the destitute and thee Passion. However, the most intricate and challenings of his works was “If this is a man,” Primo Levi’s account of and meditation upon his captivity in Auschwitz: this was presented with a rigorous authenticity; the meditation and narrative of the author were in English, but the dialogue was conducted almost entirely in the actual languages of the prisoners and the guards (played by a large cast of immigrant actors), and the effect of this approach was to place the listener unsparingly in the confines of the camp itself. These four re-creations for the microphone, as valuable as the works from which they were derived, are among the finest pieces of writing ever done for the medium: they will stand for ever as a fitting monument to a man who, alike in his life and work, understood that in the heart of human pain there exists always, for those who can find them, the vestiges of hope and the possibility of grace. (Remembrances 105-106)
Here John Reeves gets to the very heart of Whalley’s enterprise in his concern with human pain, hope and grace. The life-long interest in Coleridge and in poems like “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” in John Hornby and the diary of Edgar Christian, in Aristotle’s Poetics and the nature of tragedy is reflected here in his work as a broadcaster. His interests were diverse but the same depth of human concern was brought to them all. The Whalley who could see the use for computers in editing Coleridge but knew that computers could not make judgements, who wanted Queen’s to have an excellent Film Studies programme, felt he could bring the humane influence of great literature to the widest possible audience through radio, television and film. It is significant that he was thought to be most successful as a broadcaster on religious subjects. As David Pulver observes, “Among the most successful of Whalley’s undertakings for the C.B.C. are radio and television programs on religious subjects. He says that by nature he’s a religious person ‘with a strong sense of the sacramental nature of religion. It’s my upbringing and training and I think my whole instinct... A great deal of Coleridge’s writing is on matters of that sort: religion, mysticism, religious experience, bible. It’s never very far away from my thoughts.’” Though Whalley was never ordained, his work in English studies is surely in the tradition of the Coleridgean-Arnoldian clerisy, of providing a humane, even Christian, education through literature. Even, perhaps we should say especially, broadcasting must serve such a purpose. Whalley’s belief seems to have been that technology must become thoroughly and properly human and must serve not dominate human purposes.
Whalley’s belief in the central place of the arts and humanities in human life is once more reflected in his musical activities. He learned to play the piano at an early age and became an accomplished pianist and organist. Claiming W.S. Gilbert as a distant relative he was also a librettist. From entertaining his school fellows at St. Alban’s with jazz piano, he moved to providing continuo and even playing piano concerti and timpani in the early days of the Kingston Symphony Orchestra. In 1956 he played the organ at a performance of the Messiah in Kingston in which Maureen Forrester sang. From 1963 to 1970 he was president of the Kingston Symphony Association. Though his daughter Emily recalls family piano playing ending in tears she also remembers her father selecting and playing her favourite pop records. The search for perfection and the deep love of music seem once again characteristic of the essential man.
Such love Whalley carried into the heart of his family life. Surely the most moving remembrances are those provided by Whalley’s children. Both his daughters Katharine and Emily, remember the careful help their father gave them in their poetry writing and his son Christopher recalls that while his father was hard on himself he was not hard on his son.
In 1977 Whalley received an honorary degree from Carleton University and in 1979 he received honorary degrees from the University of Saskatchewan and from his alma mater, Bishop’s University. In the spring and summer of 1979 he spent thirteen weeks in hospital as a result of major surgery for cancer. He made a remarkable recovery but fell ill again in January 1983 and died at his home at Hartington outside Kingston on May 27. His funeral with military escort was held at St. George’s Cathedral where his father had been Dean. His daughter Emily movingly recalls his days in hospital prior to his death:
When anyone came to visit him, he made an inhuman effort to be bright, even entertaining, and was lucid and witty as ever. He had an incredibly strong will to live and absolutely believed that he would recover. He had work to do, work to complete, and much new writing conceived and planned. To him each day was good and worthwhile. (Remembrances 178)
Emily Whalley’s final reflection must be shared by all who have known Whalley or read his writings, “I do not feel I have lost him, he left me so much. I do not see him but I feel him with me. We met somewhere and it continues” (Remembrances 178). His daughter Katharine writes simply “He put it in my hands to be a mature woman.” She feels “As if I am in possession of -- or possessed by -- something of him that is not personal anymore” (Remembrances 185).
Christopher Whalley tries to present his father’s essence in discussing how he thinks he would have responded to being characterized as a “Renaissance Man:”
I quite agree with the intended tribute to my father’s versatile mastery, but I can picture his response being a characteristic little wince at an inappropriate use of words; often the error was of a subtlety that only he would register. The term has an undertone of worldliness and bravura, whereas he was fundamentally an ascetic. He joked about his monkishness. He was austere and private, devoted to long study toward purity in a manner which was indeed of a former age. It was the ideal of classicism which my father espoused; a powerful elegance, formal yet simple.
I have tried to indicate the core of my father’s character. I cannot name it; I know only generally where it lies; yet it must be singular, his mystic centre: source, abode, and goal. This is how I account for his consistency and devotion. (Remembrances 189)
Christopher’s testimony is crucial for our understanding of the essentially religious nature of Whalley’s innocent intention. The combination of purity and classicism has clear origins in Christian and Greek traditions but the rare combination in Whalley has an elusiveness that is best seen as an inimitable individuality. Brian Crick speaks of “the accents of ‘sanity and penetration’ he bequeathed us. He had ‘that rarest of all gifts in a writer, a manner that nobody can fabricate.’ He ‘wrote with the gravity of a born humorist, out of a life that had known its own peculiar sorrows and immedicable desolations’” (Studies 14) Yet despite desolations George Whalley never lost sight of hope or grace.
Whalley, George. Studies in Literature and the Humanities: Innocence of Intent. Ed. Brian Crick and John Ferns.
Moore, Michael. Ed. Whalley: Remembrances. Kingston: Quarry Press, 1989.
Pulver, David. “The Renaissance Man: Portrait of a Classical Scholar.” The Kingston Whig Standard Magazine. October 4, 1980. p. 4-7. Print.
Whalley, George. “On Editing Coleridge’s Marginalia”, Editing Texts of the Romantic Period: Papers Given at the Conference on Editorial Problems, University of Toronto, November 1971. Ed. John D. Baird. Toronto: A.M. Hakkert, 1972. 89-116 and plates. Print.