More on Frye and Victoria College, Including the Question of Whether To Stay or Not

Victoria1

Responding to Russell Perkin:

In the Prologue to his 1949 diary, Frye writes, “I’m beginning to feel a bit restless—impatient with Victoria’s corniness, & wondering if it is really the best place in the world to work” (Diaries, 53) Then there are these entries:

The English department [at Michigan State] however lives in a squalor that reminded me of Victoria College. (Diaries, 193––26 April 1949)

Well, well.  On the way back Woodhouse told me Don Cameron Allen of Johns Hopkins had written him asking him if he thought anyone in Canada was capable of filling a full professorship there: 19th c. preferred, but failing that, history of criticism & general problems.  At the end of his letter he said “What about Frye?”  I said “please don’t slam that door.”  Salary $7000, leading (they don’t say how soon) to $8000. (Diaries, 231––16 January 1950)

At the moment, of course, I feel dreadfully bored because two things dangling in front of me all month like the apples of Tantalus haven’t moved any closer.  One is the Johns Hopkins offer, the other the English invitation [NF had been invited by Bonamy Dobrée to lecture in England].  I’ve more or less written off the former, & the latter is fading.  Then again, by not applying for the Nuffield I’ve stuck my neck out on the Guggenheim, & if I miss it I’ve really had it.  Oh, well, I suppose I should set all this down, as I have at least another month of it to go through.  More important is my recurring restlessness about Victoria, wondering if they’ll really adopt [Walter T.] Brown’s policy of running it at a third-rate level.  If so, I must make up my mind to leave, & that won’t be easy.  As I’ve said, I don’t think much of Joe as the next head, but he couldn’t be much worse than Robins has been lately.  Well, that’s enough ego-squalling for the present.  Light—I mean Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom.  I don’t care about choosing my path, but I’d like to get a glimpse of it occasionally. (Diaries, 242––27 January 1950)

After the usual buggering I went into lunch with the males in the English department, Cecil Bald, & Bennett.  I had mildly suggested moving the party to Chez Paris [Paree], in view of the fact that Bald has a special interest in Coleridge & it was silly to leave Kay Coburn out.  Robins said he couldn’t make the switch because Bennett didn’t want to take the party “off the campus.” [NF had suggested that the group have lunch “off the campus” so that Kathleen Coburn could be included in the party.  Women were excluded from eating in the Senior Common Room until 1968]  That’s the kind of thing that makes me restless about staying at Victoria.  (Diaries, 248–9––3 February 1950)

Ned [Pratt] tells me I’ve been made an F.R.S.C. [Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada], which is fine—I could use another degree.  Priestley & Collin (who’s been waiting fifteen years) went through too.  Ned says he’ll try to get Kay Coburn one: in my opinion she’s far better entitled to it than Priestley, to say nothing of that Collin idiot.  What’s good about it for me is getting it before I’m forty (Ned thinks I’m probably the youngest F.R.S.C. in the country) & without any solicitation on my part.  There are advantages in staying with Canada.  Nobody else in Victoria has one except Ned himself & DeWitt. (Diaries, 269––23 February 1950)

In the afternoon I went to the Library Committee meeting, damned dull, where we discussed a new way of saving money by taking all the unreadable stuff off to Bell House.  The morale of Victoria is so low that I wonder if even a blood transfusion would save it.  (Diaries, 276–– 2 March 1950)

After the Council Bennett reported from the Board of Regent’s meeting.  Said Victoria would try to get their floor salaries level with U.C. ones.  U.C. has lecturers 2000–3500, with automatic promotions each year of $200: when they hit the maximum they’re either made associates or fired.  No wonder Woodhouse uses his lectureships as jumping off places for his bright boys.  Assistants are 3500–4500, associates 4500–5500, and full 5500–7000.  Damn few are getting 7000—Barker Fairley is one of them.  So getting our floor level will take a certain amount of dough, but Bennett has really done wonders in the year he’s had.  I asked about promotions on the professorial level, & Bennett said Sid Smith had gone a bit vague at that point & had talked about merit and market value.  I said that answered my question, which was actually whether promotions were primarily due to offers from other universities.  Smith had said that the average professorial (full) salary was around $5800, & Surerus said practically everybody at U.C. is stuck at the lowest possible level of his salary.  It looks as though I’d better scratch around for some more offers.  (Diaries, 310–11––5 April 1950)

After the meeting he asked me if I were still opposed to Love’s appointment, and I said no.  But I still am: it’s a second-rate appointment, made out of pure inertia, and is the first move in bringing the English department down to the level of the other departments.  I pressed hard for giving Gord Wood something definite: say two-thirds the cost of the Senior Dinner—but obviously Victoria is going to do some terrific belt-tightening next year.  They’re sending my 3j and not impossibly the 4k course over to Trinity: I don’t know who inherits 2i, but that’s something Wood could do.  If they muff Wood I don’t see what there is in Victoria for me, except a small puddle & delusions of grandeur. (Diaries, 312––6 April 1950)

It would be terribly easy to dawdle & dither one’s whole life away, and still be under the impression that one was constantly busy.  I don’t know what the hell I did today.  By the way, the new President is a man called A.B.B. Moore, now Principal of St. Andrews College in Saskatoon.  Go west young man, but only long enough to attract some attention back east.  He better be good.  On paper it sounds like a dull appointment—churchman employed to smooth down Emmanuel’s ruffled feathers.  The trouble is—after all, nobody is going to read this diary except me and I don’t mind boring myself—that my restlessness is due to a loss of faith in Victoria’s future, but I sure as hell don’t want to leave Canada or stop being a Canadian, yet technically I’ve reached the end of the line in Canada for my kind of job.  Theoretically, there ought to be many advantages in being in the University of Toronto and not under its jurisdiction.  But Victoria’s position in federation is indefensible now, and can’t be rectified without financial loss which we can’t very well stand.  If I were President, I’d first appoint a Property Commissioner who would take over some of Bill Little’s over-enlarged functions & start operating our buildings in a less wasteful way.  Then I think I’d appoint a full-time publicity man.  Then I think I’d hire a lot of cheap teaching labor out of the graduate school & try to bring our teaching & tutoring, in our subjects, into line with the other three colleges.  Then, if this paid off, I’d start expanding departments, very slowly.  All philosophy first, then Spanish & Italian, then medieval & eventually modern history.  Kay Coburn once suggested the possibility of Victoria’s operating an Institute of Social Studies on the analogy of St. Michael’s Medieval Institute, and I think I’d look into that possibility, in connection with making the social outlook of the Church & its recruits a bit more realistic.  This may be all screwy, but we can’t just coast, because we’re coasting behind the whole time, trying to compete with a first-class university without a first-class staff or second-class resources. (Diaries, 366–7––31 May 1950)

There was also a letter from Irving attached to his new essay for the Americans.  A story in it about a freshman coming to Victoria to take an R.K. course from Professor Frye.  When he begins it he believes in God: when he gets to Christmas he believes in Frye’s God: when he comes to the end of the year he believes Frye is God.  As a matter of fact I’ve known for some time that undergraduates used to refer to me casually as “God” in their conversations.  It’s a strain to live up to that, & doubtless of some theological interest to know that God gets a hell of a dose of hay fever every year at this time: maybe that’s why so many wars start in August & September. (31 Aug, par. 585)

Our main speaker, Breithaupt, the Lieutenant-Governor, came down with stomach flu and the shits, and sent his fizzling regrets.  The Chairman was a dope named Heywood who runs the Evangeline shops—female underpinning.  He said Victoria could use more endowment, & then “digressed” portentously to attack the “creeping paralysis” of social security.  Being of course P.C. [Progressive Conservative], there were labored jests at Pearson’s liberalism.  Pearson said we needed deliverance from the clutching capitalist hand as much as from the “dead hand” (Heywood’s phrase) of the State [See Lester B. Pearson, “The Chancellor’s Inaugural Address,” Victoria Reports, 2, no. 2 (1952): 7–14.]  I remarked afterwards that it would be too bad for Victoria to suffer from the creeping paralysis of the social security brought about by a bigger endowment.  Those goons never stop to think of what they’re saying.  (4 February 1952, par. 90)

There are three appointments coming up: Knight, being first on the list, will presumably get a nod right away; Kee, who is high because we need a philologist, is next.  Both Ken and I are very doubtful about Kee, and even more doubtful about Joe when he starts talking himself into a sentimental view of Kee.  However, sometimes I feel that Victoria is pretty deeply committed to an absurd cult of mediocrity, though probably I feel that only because Joe suggested, swearing us all to secrecy, that Archie Hare is being considered for the next Librarian, because Bennett’s prejudice against Peggy Ray is so strong.  But surely this notion is too infernally silly even for Bennett to commit himself to, and perhaps the real plan is to have Woodside in there & make Archie registrar, which would be possible if not inspired.  Anyway, if David Knight comes on I’ll get rid of the writing course, and possibly Acta, and as I’m dropping at least one R.K. course, & may very soon drop both, I should soon be ready to streamline my work a bit more.  If I can pass on that Forum goldfish bowl I’ll be all set.  Again, I may drop 2i and take over 3k: Joe says it doesn’t matter about having two courses in the same year.  That would arrange things even more neatly.  Things are looking up: the four of us have gone all the way up to full Professor in the last ten years without any junior assistance whatever, and as a result my work is all bits and pieces. (Diaries, 509–10––14 February 1952)

At Council yesterday Archie Hare presented the report of the Committee on Extra-Curricular Activities, based on a questionnaire sent out to the students, of whom 392 replied.  That in itself seems to me significant of a curious attitude of students—they knew it was official, and as students don’t get all that mail it seems to follow that two-thirds of our students are distinctively scatterbrained, lazy, or sulky.  The report showed nothing surprising, except that Bennett had been evidently convincing himself that we do 50% of our teaching.  The report indicated that it was more like 20%, which of course it is, and he seemed chagrined.  Victoria is certainly being carried by the University of Toronto, and I suppose our (largely meaningless) independence will soon go: if it survives as a genuine decentralization I think we’ll be all right.  I’d rather see us cling to Toronto than to the Church.  (Diaries, 531–2––6 March 1952)

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