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By lamp or morning light,

Bent close over the page,

You heard the language right,

No matter from what age.

These four lines are the opening stanza of “Coronach for Christopher Drummond,” by Helen Pinkerton, published in the first issue of The New Compass. (You can read the whole poem here.) C.Q. Drummond died on March 26, 2001, and ten years ago this month, contributors to The New Compass honoured his life and work in the very first issue of the journal. (If you missed it, you can find my first post about the anniversary of The New Compass here.)

C.Q. Drummond

Over many years of teaching in the Department of English at the University of Alberta, C.Q. Drummond inspired his students to “hear the language right,” and his death left many people feeling, as Gordon Harvey describes it in his “Letter from Cambridge,” that he was “palpably absent everywhere,” whether in Edmonton, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the many places he had visited with friends and colleagues in the past, or at the MLA annual conference in New York.

The New CompassMy father, John Baxter, wrote about how Drummond “was for me the very embodiment of the idea of the university,” and about how, like Jane Austen’s Mr. Bennet, Drummond “derived enormous amusement from contemplating the absurdities of life; but unlike Mr. Bennet, Mr. Drummond found it an even more profound pleasure when people made sense.” (If you read my father’s essay on “Literary Criticism and The New Idea of A University,” you’ll also find the part where he quotes from my Ph.D. thesis, which was later published as Jane Austen’s Philosophy of the Virtues.) At the end of his essay, he quotes Harvey’s remarks on the occasion of Drummond’s retirement:

But most of all, what Christopher said was fun. He made the intellectual life fun, and he (more than any teacher I’ve encountered anywhere) was obviously having fun living it. Later on I was amazed to realize that Christopher had a reputation in the English Department for severity and negativity. This taught me something about the fear of intelligence and (especially) of literary criticism, even among well-meaning people. For only people made deaf by some great insecurity could entertain such a view of a man whose most characteristic gesture in conversation [was], after all, that great whooping [guffaw] of delight, and whose most characteristic phrase [was] “It’s just wonderful!”

Ian Robinson’s essay in the first issue of The New Compass opens by saying that “One of the best things in the original series of The Compass was the four essays by C.Q. Drummond under the series title of ‘An Anti-Miltonist Reprise,’” and he goes on to offer a reply to Drummond’s argument. Robinson published Drummond’s Milton essays at In Defense of Adam, by C.Q. DrummondEdgeways Books in 2004, in a collection entitled In Defence of Adam: Essays on Milton, Bunyan, and Others, edited by—you guessed it—John Baxter and Gordon Harvey. The second issue of The New Compass includes Baxter’s reply to Robinson’s argument: “What significance does Paradise Lost have for us now, in life and in literature? By asking this question once more, [Robinson] takes us to the heart of the matter, making a daring and wholly successful use of Blake in the process and offering a generous but not wholly successful refutation of Drummond.”

In the inaugural issue of The New Compass, we were pleased to commemorate Drummond’s life and work, to continue the discussion of ideas he was passionate about—as Robinson writes, “discussion is immortal”—and to publish as well one of his own essays, “Whalley on Mimesis and Tragedy.” In that essay, he focuses on the “strikingly coherent and profound accounting for tragedy and mimesis” that emerges from George Whalley’s commentary “On Translating Aristotle’s Poetics,” first published in the University of Toronto Quarterly (1970), and in his essays “The Aristotle-Coleridge Axis” (University of Toronto Quarterly [1973]) and “Jane Austen: Poet” (Jane Austen’s Achievement, ed. Juliet McMaster [1976]). Drummond highlights Whalley’s “one central insight—that both mimesis and tragedy are species of doing, acting, making, activity, process.”

My co-editor at The New Compass, Michael DiSanto, is currently preparing an edition of Whalley’s own poetry and a selection of his wartime letters. You can read more about Whalley and about Michael’s research at this website devoted to Whalley’s life and works. You can read more about my work on Whalley’s idea that Jane Austen was a poet, “a maker of tragedies as well as comedies,” in my essay “The Tragic Action of Mansfield Park.” A revised and expanded version of this essay is forthcoming in Approaches to Teaching Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, edited by Marcia McClintock Folsom and John Wiltshire. These are just a few of the examples of how the conversations continue, many of them inspired by Drummond, many inspired by Rohan Maitzen, who supervised both Michael’s Ph.D. on Joseph Conrad and my own on Jane Austen, and many inspired by my Dad, long after we published the first issue of The New Compass, and long after we published the fourth and last issue in December 2004.

More on The New Compass:

Happy 10th Anniversary to The New Compass!

My online literary journal is now in print

That moment when you’re revising obsessively and it feels like “an attack of scrupulosis”…

“Coronach for Christopher Drummond” (featured on Patrick Kurp’s blog Anecdotal Evidence)

Helen Pinkerton’s “Coronach for Christopher Drummond”