[An extract from Jan de Bruyn’s unpublished autobiography, published here with his permission.]
Shortly after my discharge from the Army I registered along with hundreds of other veterans at the University of British Columbia. It was September 1946. I was eager and straining at the bit. It had been eight years since I had completed Senior Matriculation, and I would have to relearn the habits of study. But I had the advantage of having taken my earlier schooling seriously, and I had in those earlier days conducted my studies in an organized manner. I imagined that I would have no difficulty riding this new bicycle; it was very like the old one.
Having had Senior Matriculation, I was able to enter second year; I registered for the mandatory English course, Canadian history, Psychology, Philosophy, and Economics. All were unfamiliar subjects to me except English. I had very little interest in them, but had to work through them to reach third year when I could load my program with English courses.
The English 200 course was enormous; everyone in second year, at that time, was required to take it. The class I was in was held in a large theatre room in one of the original “temporary” buildings on the campus then known as Applied Science (later to become the Geography building). The room was packed with an audience made up very largely of veterans like myself, mostly “mature” students. I was eagerly awaiting the entrance of the professor, and the beginning of my study of English literature. I was fondling an empty pipe, occasionally putting it in my mouth. In walked Thorleif Larsen, looking formidable and professorial in his black academic robe. He looked straight at me, picked me out of this throbbing mob, and said, “Put that pipe away. This is a university, not a public house!” I felt humiliated and deflated.
Some years later when I told him this story, Prof. Larsen didn’t remember the incident at all. I guess he was just making sure from the outset that these bold and rough vets had better know who was boss and that the boss would tolerate none of their coarse tricks in his classroom. Natural enough. Ironically, it turned out that the very best and most stimulating course I took throughout my student years was his seminar on Literary Criticism.
English 200, the survey of English literature from the Renaissance to the Victorians, was the highlight of my year. I found the other courses interesting enough, but they did not engage me intellectually. Economics seemed to me to be a very inexact “science” and therefore not a science at all; Psychology appeared to be largely a matter of common sense lifted to the level of significant discovery. I found the language of the textbook we had to read quite appalling, larded with the jargon of the subject and consequently lacking sharpness and precision. For Philosophy we had a newly appointed professor from the U.S. who was reputed to be a real whizz. His name was Barnett Savery (at UBC 1946-71). He was interesting enough, but only, I think, because the subject matter was a novelty for me and the substance often encouraged one to use Poirot’s “little grey cells.” But I could not imagine spending one’s whole professional life dealing with insubstantial abstractions without anchors in reality.
One other course I had actually chosen because I was genuinely interested in the subject matter – Canadian History. Unfortunately, the instructor was rather inept. He dealt in fact only, taking his material straight out of the textbook, and failing entirely to organize the facts into a coherent picture of the national developments that eventuated. We were expected to remember (for examination purposes) the population statistics for domestic livestock in New France, for example, but heard nary a word about the contribution this livestock made to the economic development of the colony. Having a rather naïve (I suppose) conception of the ideal way in which such a course ought to be taught, I went, along with a friend who shared my concerns, to see the instructor to tell him of our reaction to his approach. I had conceived of this direct confrontation as the way people at the university behaved. Professors would be delighted to hear how the students responded to their courses, and the exchange of ideas about communication between teacher and student was surely a normal aspect of the process of education! I was wrong. Although this instructor put a bold face on it, he was evidently surprised, if not shaken to find himself the subject of critical examination by students, who apparently expected him to listen seriously to their concerns and to either defend his pedagogical manners or change them. When I received back my term paper, I found that I had achieved a mark of 5 out of 10! I had made one spelling error; apart from that there was no mark on the paper, and no comment to explain what the deficiencies in the essay were. I went again to see him, to ask for a more detailed critique of the paper. I explained that I had received first class marks for the work I had submitted in my other courses. I got nowhere. I thought it an instance of blatant discrimination. I managed to create an ironic situation in this instance too. After I had written the Christmas examination, I was asked to come to his office. I was given to understand that I had got the highest mark in the class, and he wished to persuade me to take Honours in History. I was pleased to be able to tell him that I was already committed to the idea of doing Honours in English – so no thank you! This instructor was not on the faculty in the following year—a big plus for the History Department.
I had better luck with the instructors of the English 200 course. The material of the course, now unfortunately missing from the curriculum, was examples of the best literature from the Renaissance to the Victorian period. We had different instructors for the various literary periods in order that each period could be taught by an expert in that area. We were therefore treated to instruction by some of the senior members of the Department: Larsen for the Renaissance; Billy Macdonald for the l8th century; Roy Daniells for the Romantics; John Creighton for the Victorians. It was a great course, packed with fine representative works, well calculated to provide a significant overview of the history of English literature, omitting, understandably, only the Middle Ages, where the difficulties of language made its inclusion in a survey for universal student consumption impractical. I was immensely grateful for this course and have always regretted the thinning process that went on to reduce its “burden,” and its eventual disappearance. It provided me with a solid basis for the study of English literature that followed, and its usefulness in that respect continued to be evident to me even when I was doing graduate work in England.
Every class I was in was enormous in terms of population. The advent of the veterans had been like a sudden flood. Army huts were brought on Campus to serve as temporary classrooms, and in first and second year most classes were held in the largest available accommodation. My largest class, Psychology, was held in the Auditorium (now the Old Auditorium) to a packed house of some 500 students; the smallest, Philosophy, met in an army hut with seating arranged theatre-style. There were about 100 students in this class. As a consequence of these large groups, it was difficult to make friends with people who shared your particular interests. There were a few people on campus whom I knew. Noel was back finishing his B.A. in History. He was a senior and I rarely saw him except by chance. Pete Brolly who had served in the Airforce was also there; he was taking Commerce and seemed to spend most of his time at the remoter edges of the campus. The fellow who had persuaded me to go to see our History instructor was Roger Pederson, a friend of Ida and Warren Workman whom they had met in the Arctic when they were first married. Roger was a bit of a maverick, but in spite of his wilder tendencies, he and his wife Joan became our good friends. Roger shared the Canadian history class, as I have indicated, and we often had a coffee together in an army hut which had been transformed into an eatery to deal with the overflow from the Cafeteria, which was the main food and drink dispenser on campus, and which occupied the basement of the Auditorium.
It was at one of these coffee sessions that we met a chap called Rod Young. He was older than we were by about ten years. His main interest was politics, which appealed to Roger more than to me; I was never an enthusiast, but rode along. I was certainly on the left, a social democrat, but I could never arouse myself to any enthusiasm for the various “causes” that people seemed to get all excited about. My views were broad and general; I believed in justice for all; I was for a more equitable distribution of wealth; I wanted the worker to receive a fair wage for his labours; I wanted universal health insurance provided by the state. But I was no activist. Rod Young, however, was, and in Roger he found just the man to join him in whatever escapade he might choose to mount. Rod had political ambitions, and he decided to run as a candidate for the federal by-election that was to be held in the spring of 1947 in Vancouver Centre. To this end he recruited a gang of helpers from among his fellow students, Roger and I among them. He had us out on weekends handing out leaflets, and knocking on doors to ask for support for our candidate. Rod was running as a C.C.F-er. The constituency had been staunchly liberal, the seat having been held by a cabinet minister called Campney. We worked hard for Rod who ran his campaign with industrious enthusiasm. And amazingly, I thought, he won the seat, and went off to Ottawa. He soon squandered the opportunity, however, by showing his true colours; he was far more radical than we had been led to believe; he was undoubtedly a Communist. This did not sit well with the electorate, who threw him out in the following year when the general federal election was held. Needless to say, we felt betrayed.
School work necessarily occupied most of my time, both on campus and off. Between classes, I would go to my seat in the library which I reserved early in the day by placing a pile of books and notes on the table. There I studied and did whatever exercises or essays had to be prepared for handing in. I had a carefully organized timetable for studying to ensure that all my subjects were allotted equal time, and I adhered strictly to my schedule. But I had to find some way to augment our regular income, which consisted of a monthly payment of $60.00 for a married man plus $12.00 per month for each child. So our monthly income was during this first year $84.00. We could barely scrape by on that. Besides we had to consider the summer months, during which our allowance was cut off until the next session of university began. I undertook various jobs. Somehow, I got to be a filing clerk at the university’s counseling office. They always had a lot of loose paper around that no one was interested in filing away, and I would go in every once in a while and tidy the place up. Besides that, I had a scrubbing route; usually on Saturdays when lectures ceased at noon, I went over to Acadia Camp to scrub floors. I had two or three regular customers, and I also scrubbed out the hut the residents used as a sort of community hall. These odd jobs were time-consuming and didn’t bring in very much, but it was better than nothing. Besides these, I got a job, as many of my fellow-students did, delivering Christmas mail during the holidays. The first time, in 1946, I was assigned to the Capitol Hill area, where each house was perched on the hillside, and could only be reached by climbing innumerable steps. One was very glad to get the mailbag emptied so that one could retreat to some dry spot to recover. All these were stopgap jobs; I eventually heard of the possibility of work at Woodward’s in the Mail Order Grocery Department. This department assembled grocery orders received by mail, packed them and sent them off as freight on the coastal steamers of the Union Steamship Co. to various centres up the coast between Vancouver and Powell River. There were two shifts: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and 4 p.m. to midnight. I applied and was accepted, and this job provided the extra income we needed for the rest of my student days at U.B.C. It was very convenient. I could work weekends, and also full-time during the holidays, so that we could weather the drought of the summer when our government cheques stopped coming.
April, says the poet, is the cruelest month! Certainly for me April 1947 was a tough one. I had examinations to write, and a very large garden to cultivate, and all this had to be done at the same time. I had begun the process of review about the beginning of March, and had as usual a schedule of review to follow, as well as a schedule of work to keep me up to date and get any written work done. As the spring advanced I had to get into the garden and dig it up. When we moved in, the garden was covered with couch grass. I hired someone to plough it up with a roto-tiller, but the tines just got fouled up in the long tangles of grass, so I had to do the job by hand. So in the spring it was a matter of turning the soil, but still a long job. And then, of course, I had to plant whatever we decided to grow. It was awkward having to do this at the very time when I needed every available minute to stay on top of my courses. I was hoping to do well, though lacking in confidence. I made a bet with Pete Brolly that I wouldn’t get a First Class average; Pete had more confidence in me than I had. This bet with Pete became a kind of superstitious tradition, and fortunately for me Pete always won, so I won too in a way, and we were both happy. I had another rather silly superstition about exams; I had to go to the university on my bicycle whenever I had to write an examination. Don’t ask me why! But it was beneficial to have the exercise and the time to reflect on the material I was going to need to write the paper. By the end of April  the exams were over, my first year as a student was finished; time to go to work at Woodward’s.
I didn’t see much of the children during the daytime except on Sundays, but I got to put them to bed after supper, and read to them, and on Sundays we would go for a walk if the weather was not too awful. There were also occasional excursions by streetcar to the Farm at the university to see the cows and sheep, or to Stanley Park for a visit to the zoo and to feed the ducks at Lost Lagoon.
After a month or so of nail-biting suspense, I finally received my marks in the mail. I had lost my bet with Pete. Hooray! As soon as I knew that I had my first-class standing, I went to see Dr. Sedgewick, the head of the English Department, to ask him to admit me to the Honours Program. He lived in an old frame house on Trutch Street, and I called on him there. Sedgewick was a legendary figure for me. I had been hearing about him since my high-school days, when David Mac Caughie spoke of him. David had actually met him, and the wild goatherd poet of Gibson’s Landing about whom David was always exulting incorporated Sedgewick in his incomprehensible Ezrapoundian verses as G.G. Homer Sexwick. It was well known that he was gay, but no scandal was ever connected with his name. He afforded sly amusement in this context, but no derision. He was universally respected as a teacher, and was well-known in the city because he wrote a column in the local newspaper for a considerable period. I, of course, was in awe of him. He was a small man, maybe 5 feet, 2-3 inches. Sharpish chin, large eyes behind thick lenses, gray, thin hair on his balding head, thick dark eyebrows. He spoke precisely through thin lips with a slightly English accent. He was very friendly to his awe-struck, nervous visitor. It didn’t take him long to make me feel comfortable in his presence. When he had found out what he wanted to know about me he assured me that I could try Honours English if I wished to, and cautioned me to expect a lot of hard work. I assured him that I was ready for that. When I prepared to leave he shuffled up to me, took my arms in his hands, looked up into my face with his spanielly eyes, and said he would let me go to hell in my own way. In a year he would be among my friends. To this day I hold him in high regard, and have always been grateful to him for his tutelage, his encouragement, and above all, his friendship.
So at last when the summer was over, and it was again time to register at the university, I was able to indulge myself, and drown in English courses. I had to take one course outside the department, and I chose British history as being most helpful and complementary to my English studies. The course I took was taught by Professor Sage, the head of the History Department. I think it was his last year. He, at least, was very relaxed, and spent more time telling jokes and laughing at them than getting on with the material. When March rolled around he was just emerging from Anglo-Saxon England, and preparing the field for the Battle of Hastings. Fortunately, there was a literary option on the final exam, which I appreciated very much.
With respect to the main course, my plate was overflowing: Renaissance Poetry, Dorothy Mawdsley; Shakespeare, Sedgewick; The Novel, Freddie Wood; Honours Seminar: The 1590’s, Phillip Akrigg, and the not-so-pleasant but required Anglo-Saxon, Billy Macdonald. I enjoyed them all, except for Anglo-Saxon, but even there, it was fun to participate in Billy Macdonald’s enthusiasm for the puzzles of language. He always had a Vulgate Bible with him so that he could check the Anglo-Saxon translation for accuracy. He was nearing the end of his career. He spent his last years studying botany; one used to see him rushing about on the campus examining the trees and bushes, and picking sample leaves to contemplate when he got them home. In English 200 he had taught us The Rape of the Lock without a textbook. He knew it by heart.
Sedgewick taught his Shakespeare course in Arts l00 (later, Math. 100). He had a full house. Arranged in theatre style, the room catered to his histrionic style of teaching. He fancied himself an actor, and played G. G. Sedgewick to the hilt. On the first day of the class the place was full of chattering students; the bell rang, but there was no change in the racket. The diminutive body of Sedgewick entered at the front of the room; the din continued. He stood there for a moment, then turned, and walked sedately out. The class was thunderstruck. At the next class, you could hear a pin drop; we listened for his footsteps coming down the hall. He entered and looked at the class in his baleful way, and finally walked to the lectern.
On one occasion a student at the top of the banks of seats complained that Sedgewick had marked only a single page of his term paper; Sedgewick replied. “I don’t have to eat the whole cheese to know it’s rotten.” There were no further complaints. When we reached the point in King Lear where Gloucester’s eyes are plucked out, he silently closed his book and walked out of the classroom. There are more ways than one of communicating powerful feeling. Sedgewick’s method in teaching Shakespeare was to rub our noses in the text. Read it intensively, investigate the meaning thoroughly, read every note and textual gloss, become intimately familiar with the text. His examinations tended to be simply a number of quotations, which we were required to identify and explicate. Other aspects of the plays could be discussed in our term papers. If you followed his regimen you knew the plays when the course was over.
I very much enjoyed the novel course. Freddie Wood began the year by snarling at us and trying to get students to move out and take some other course. I think he wanted to reduce the amount of marking he was going to have. Freddie had a long thin face, and a mouthful of very large horsy teeth which were prominently displayed when he was making his snide remarks about students in his efforts to discourage registrations in his class. But he inevitably ended up with a full house in Arts 100. His lectures were useful and apposite, but I discovered later that he taught the novels on the list from old notes without re-reading the books. I found the course most interesting and useful, and was particularly grateful for having been introduced to the work of Jane Austen, whose novel Pride and Prejudice is surely the best example of the genre in our literature.
Finally, there was Phil Akrigg’s seminar on the 1590s. There we examined a number of works of prose and poetry not usually found on the normal curriculum, the marginalia of the Elizabethan period like Dekker’s The Wonderful Year, and Coryat’s Crudities, Drayton’s Idea, Spencer’s Mutabilitie Cantos, and so on. Akrigg was fresh out of his PhD, and was not, perhaps, at his best with a small group, but he worked us hard and the discussions were wonderful opportunities to talk with our peers under supervision about significant aspects of literature. We learned to eschew romantic generalizations and to focus on the text. This seminar brought the Honours group into close contact with each other, and enabled us to establish relationships which were helpful in all our studies, and in our common interest we provided each other with moral support which was important certainly to me during this period of uninterrupted work and the consequent stress. The best brains in the group were Jack Bilsland and Marion Chapman.
As Third Year Honours drew to a close, I made my bet with Pete, worked up a study schedule, got out the gardening tools, and did what had to be done. The examinations came and went, and once again I had to wait several weeks before my marks arrived in the mail. Happily I lost my bet again, and was very much heartened that I had weathered the storm and achieved my purpose
Before the end of term I had been to see Freddie Wood about an idea for my Graduating Essay, which was part of the requirement for the Honours degree. I wanted to deal with the contrast in the way Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë displayed the drama of life. I suggested to Prof. Wood that I might develop my theme by having Jane and Charlotte engaging in conversation in their angelic robes; I think Freddie was a bit scandalized by this notion; no, no, I had to go about this in the conventional way, with all the trappings of scholarship. At any rate, he agreed to be my supervisor. During the summer I undertook to read all the novels of these two authors, and do some preliminary thinking about it. I knew that it was going to be difficult to squeeze in work on this project with all the other tasks I would be faced with. As usual, I worked at Woodward’s as often as possible, and tended my garden, watched my kids grow and played with them whenever opportunities arose.
In September  it was back to the books. I had another busy and exciting year to complete. Honours students then had to take two courses more than was normally required. I knew it would be foolish to take the extra courses in the winter session. This would mean spreading myself too thin all over the work I had undertaken, so I left the extra two courses to do in the summer session, and so would graduate at the Fall convocation. Still, the burden in Fourth Year was heavy enough. We had to write our Graduating Essay and we had to swot up the history of English Literature for a set of five examinations which we had to pass but which yielded no credits. These two heavy requirements were over and above the normal load of coursework. This Honours program was tough but decidedly thorough. I was so fully engaged in the process of becoming educated, as a matter of fact, that although I had been accepted as a member of the prestigious Letters Club, I had been unable to participate. Well, first things first!
My program for this year consisted of another Shakespeare course, from Sedgewick; Victorian Poetry, from Bill Robbins; Chaucer; from Sedgewick; Linguistics, from Ruth Humphries, and an Honours Seminar conducted by Thorleif Larsen. The linguistics course was something that I had to take, but I was not particularly engaged by the subject. Ruth Humphries had prepared herself assiduously to teach it; it was not her special field by any means, but she did the job, although she ruffled a few feathers and drew complaints from some of the students. There was a small rebellion, but the majority of her quite small group remained loyal to her and she managed to survive the year, and in my view she deserved plaudits for taking the course on and doing the job with such thoroughness. However, it was dull stuff; I just bulled my way through it, but I don’t think any of it stuck. But the value of the course was that it brought me into contact with Ron Baker, who was doing an M.A. and was interested in the subject. He became a friend.
Bill Robbins was about as straight as they come. Like the period he taught, he was proper. He taught his course with high seriousness. Matthew Arnold was his special study, and like Arnold he appreciated what was best in the intellectual and literary worlds. His course was not exciting, but one got to know Victorian poetry. Bill revealed very little of himself on the lecture platform. I got to know him better later, and very much admired him. I discovered after his death that he was a poet, and that at the time Ida and I were contributing our poems to Birney at the Canadian Forum, so was Bill Robbins. And like my sister, Bill had found his way onto Birney’s list of “poets to watch.” I guess the professor took precedence over the poet in later years. Bill was a great guy for whom I developed enormous respect and an affectionate regard.
Larsen’s seminar was based on the recent work of I. A. Richards on Practical Criticism. This course taught me how to read and evaluate poetry, and was without doubt the most valuable of my entire student years. Larsen began by issuing numbers. We were to use only the number we drew as identification on our written work. He did not want to know whose paper he was reading. In this way he minimized the possibility of any sort of bias. Right at the beginning he gave us four poems to analyze. We had to turn in the paper the following week. When I got mine back I had received 5 out of 10! I was devastated. I went home and cried. If that was a measure of my capacities I had no business in Honours. However, I swallowed my pride, and continued. The others had done no better. Larsen was obviously alerting us to the need to become precise in our criticism and to forego the clichés and vague abstractions that we had used to discuss literature heretofore. He began to show us how Richards’ method could be applied to the examination of poetry, and how it would reveal the totality of meaning that was there, not merely what the poet may have intended, but also what he may unconsciously have included through his imagery, diction and other devices of the craft. Reading poetry became an adventure, and our papers became more and more detailed, and longer. As we had to do one every week, this course was extremely burdensome, but also very rewarding. It wasn’t long before I was getting 8 out of 10, then 9’s and eventually 10++’s. Larsen had instructed us not to write critiques on any poems that we recognized. He wanted our reactions to poetry that was a completely fresh experience for us. One time he gave us a poem by John Donne which I knew very well, and so I did not do a paper on it. Instead I wrote a poem for him about our early frustration in the course. I think he appreciated receiving some direct insight into our struggles. I quote the latter portion of my poem which was entitled “English Four Four Five”:
In this frame I try to stand
With the poet hand in hand
And delight to find his passion
Speak to me in equal fashion.
But my joy is short of breath,
Dies a quick but painful death
When the pedagogal pencil
Smites the intellectual stencil;
Slashes here and questions there;
Stands on end the mental hair;
Scuttles vessels bearing feeling;
From this doom there’s no appealing;
Scorns beliefs thought absolute;
Tears fond hopes out by the root;
Thorough is the biting lead,
To its judgement bows my head,
Not in shame so much as sorrow
That I cannot better follow
Poets and their songs of living
Which to most are freely giving
Passion, hope, all rich emotion,
Human love, divine devotion,
While I flounder in the dark,
Begging for the vital spark.
I spent the year in a swirl of paper: longer and longer weekly papers for Larsen, the usual term papers for my other courses, and the ongoing job of pushing ahead with the Graduating Essay. I managed to keep everything moving and got the work in on time, and by the end of term I had my Graduating Essay completed and handed Prof. Wood the required number of copies. Prof. Robbins was to be the other reader. In the midst of all this flurry and just at the time when I should be reviewing and getting ready for the final examinations, it was brought to my attention that there was a scholarship being offered for which I was eligible to apply, and I was encouraged to do so. This was the Beaver Club Scholarships, one being offered in each province to a veteran of the Canadian armed forces. The scholarship provided 500 pounds sterling per annum for study at a university in England. It could be extended to cover two years. I applied. I was apparently short-listed and asked to present myself in Toronto for an interview. Travel expenses were to be paid, as well as some daily allowance to cover meals and accommodation. The whole business threw me into a nervous tizzy. I handed my Chaucer essay in to Sedgewick, and made my excuses to Larsen to cover my inability to produce the next paper, and took the train to Toronto. Before I left, I had a marvelous indication of Sedgewick’s goodwill. He asked me if I had appropriate clothing to wear to the interview; well, no; all I had was my old battledresses, one dyed brown, the other, blue. Sedgewick immediately wrote a cheque made out to Chapman’s, one of the more expensive clothing stores in Vancouver, and left the amount blank. “Go and buy a suit”’ he said. I had to pay more for the suit than I would have paid had I gone to Woodward’s, for example, where I got a 10% discount because I was an employee, but I was stuck with Chapman’s. Fortunately I was able to repay him very soon after I returned.
During the past year the relationship between Sedgewick and myself developed into as near friendship as it was possible to get without destroying the essential restraints imposed by the fact that I was one of his students. He had employed me as a marker, and Jimmy Sandison and I frequently went to his house to give him a hand with something or other, or simply to chat. I guess he became to me a sort of father figure.
I made the train trip with two other B.C. students with the same mission as myself. We were all hoping to become B.C.’s Beaver Club Scholar. The long nerve-wracking journey finally came to an end, and we arrived in Toronto where I had never been before. I didn’t have much time for sightseeing, but I remember that I thought the city hall one of the ugliest buildings I’d ever seen. They must have heard me, for not long afterwards Toronto built itself a very handsome and innovative civic centre. On the afternoon when I was to have my interview I went decked out in my new suit to the appointed place and was duly called. The door was opened to my knock by a small-statured birdlike man whom I recognized at once as Vincent Massey. He was most gracious and kind, and made me feel at ease immediately. He was the chairman of the selection committee; the others were my recent boss, General Crerar, and the President of Toronto University, Sydney Smith – a formidable panel of judges. I answered their questions as well as I could, and spoke of my ambitions and ideals, and of my interest in Canadian literature. I was soon dismissed with the same courtesy they extended to me when they welcomed me, but gave me no inkling of how well or ill-disposed they were to my cause. So I started home; I stopped off in Winnipeg to enjoy a brief visit with the Roys. While we were at supper the day of my arrival a telegram was delivered. It was addressed to me. It was from Betty; I have its text by heart: “England here we come. Life’s proudest moment!” Indeed it was. There was great jubilation at the dinner table
Soon I was home again, and Betty and I had some planning to do. Also, I had to pull myself together and finish the year; there were examinations to write, beginning with the Honours examinations on the History of English Literature – one on each of five periods: Anglo-Saxon, Medieval, Renaissance, Eighteenth Century, and Victorian. We wrote one a day for five days running, and were allowed to write as long as we wished. Some fun! I was exhausted after that. Sedgewick asked me where my Chaucer essay was; I told him I had handed it to him before I left for Toronto. He had lost it. I gave him the carbon copy, which fortunately I had kept, but I explained to him that I had no time to go through it to correct all the typos, and other mechanical errors there might be there. I assured him that the original had been virgin pure. But when I got the essay back, he had red-penciled all the mistakes anyway. He gave me an A+ and told me not to splinter my paragraphs.
When the end of term rolled around Sedgewick played a trick on us. He abruptly brought the class to an end on the penultimate lecture day. The class had decided to have a bit of a do for him because he was retiring. I had written a Chaucerian portrait of him and one of the girls in the class had made an illuminated manuscript of it, and we had bought him a small gift. So I had to write him a note indicating that the class had some questions for him and would he please turn up on the last lecture day. For the occasion, I went to class early and wrote the poem on the board, and established myself at the lectern. When he arrived, I waved him to my usual seat in the front row, and bawled him out for being late. Then I ordered him to read aloud the Middle English verses on the board. I explained that we had found a document in one of the squatter’s shacks on the shores of the eastern end of Burrard Inlet, and we recognized the Chaucerian style. We wanted to consult him as to the authenticity of the manuscript. I frequently corrected his pronunciation as he read the poem on the board, and he bridled and fumed and was obviously having a wonderful time. At the conclusion of it all we presented him with the illuminated manuscript and the gift, and wished him well in his retirement. It was a wonderful occasion. We brought tears to his eyes.
At this time Honours students had to face a formidable oral. The student had to appear before an examining committee composed of all the senior professors in the Department. Any and all of them would throw questions at one for a couple of hours. When it came to the morning when I was to be the victim of this rather over-elaborate procedure, I was so nervous I couldn’t remember who had written David Copperfield, and had to go to the Library just before the oral to look it up. When the proceedings began, Freddie Wood asked me to explain to the assembly what my Graduating Essay was about. I was speechless; I couldn’t think. However, once I was recovered from the initial shock, I managed well enough. During the ordeal, I was nervously winding a note from my daughter Sydney about my fingers, and when the oral was over, Prof. Daniells, who was to become the new Head of the Department, asked me what the paper was, and I showed it to him. He laughed, and endorsed it appropriately. It is one of my treasures.
The old order was changing, yielding place to new. Sedgewick asked me to come and stay with him for a couple of weeks because his housekeeper was taking a holiday, and he didn’t want to be alone in the house. So for two weeks I slept at his place. Towards the end of my stay, Sedgewick’s Aunt Libby came to stay, and he was closeted with her in his study for hours at a time. He was, it turned out, giving her instructions about the disposal of his goods in the event that he should die. And he went to hospital soon after; I had no inkling of what was wrong with him.
By this time, Summer School was almost over. The Psychology of Adjustment was, as I anticipated, a useless affair, but I made myself swallow enough of it to make a first-class mark. The course involved the writing of a self-analysis, in the preparation of which I gave my imagination full rein; this delighted the marker, who gave me 80%. The Milton course was taught by a visiting Professor, Merritt Y. Hughes, a Miltonist who had edited with great care and outstanding scholarship the works of Milton. He was not an inspired or inspiring lecturer. His way of expounding the text was to deliver footnotes. However, he made us aware of the richness of Milton’s language and learning. I was only sorry that the course was so hurried; there was little time to deal thoroughly with the multiplicity of ideas that arose out of the major works.
The session was satisfactorily concluded. I had now fulfilled all the requirements of the Honours degree, and could go to England, and the University of London where I had been accepted, with a clear conscience. I made preparations to join the family in Winnipeg. I went to the hospital to say goodbye to Sedgewick, said farewell to my parents, and off I went to be reunited with my children. When I reached Winnipeg, I found an item in the newspaper telling me that Sedgewick had died [on 4 September 1949]. It was a time of endings, some happy, others sad. I would miss him.