Biographies of the Principal Faculty Members, Classics at UBC, 1906-1936
LEMUEL FERGUS ROBERTSON (1878-1956)
Credit: U.B.C. Archives
(record no. 1.1/1509)
LEMUEL FERGUS ROBERTSON (1878-1956), “Lemmie” to his friends, was a native of Prince Edward Island, where he grew up on a farm — holding his Homer, if legend is to be believed, in one hand, while milking a cow with the other.
He took his BA at McGill, where he studied with the noted Ciceronian scholar, and university Principal, William (later Sir William) Peterson (1856-1921), under whom he later (1902) took an MA. He came to Vancouver first in 1899 to teach at the Vancouver College, where he was prominent in guiding its evolution in 1906 into the McGill University College of BC, an institution that, like Victoria College in the capital, offered courses for the first two years of a McGill degree. Here Robertson, J.C. Shaw (the college Principal), Arthur Boak (later a noted historian at Michigan) and J.C. Macnaghten formed at different times the Classics contingent in the years before World War I.
Credit: U.B.C. Archives (record no. 1.1/840)
Robertson was a pivotal administrative figure, serving as Registrar of the College, and Secretary of the Faculty and the Senate, in addition to being the Assistant Secretary of the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning of British Columbia, the executive body that oversaw the development of higher education in the province.
Robertson was the Classics department’s senior member when the university opened in 1915, and became Professor and Head in 1920. He saw Classics through the years at Fairview (1915-25), when it was temporarily lodged in a building that is today’s Willow Pavilion at Vancouver General Hospital. He continued as Head for sixteen years after the move to Point Grey, and to the grey-stone Arts Building (now housing Mathematics, and concealed behind the new Koerner Library), the home of the humanities at UBC until the move to the Buchanan Building in 1958.
Tall and of formidable bearing, Robertson was built to be a commanding administrator. At UBC he served as Director of the Summer Session, and was a member of the Senate from 1915-25. The citation for his honorary degree (1941) labeled him “a lively and benevolent campus spirit, a genius loci.”
As a teacher, Robertson was predictably paternalistic at a period when many undergraduates were still in their teens. He could also on occasion show a sharp edge, as Hugh Keenleyside (1898-1992), a future diplomat of distinction, but a mediocre Latin scholar in the Fairview years, sarcastically recalled. For him Robertson was someone who “as a sensitive classical scholar, apparently derived great pleasure from yielding to the temptation to throw classroom barbs in my direction.” Philip Akrigg, an undergraduate in the mid-1930s, found Robertson’s appearance that of “a sanctimonious Pickwick with a red nose,” but did remember him once deprecating an uninspired translation of Horace and threatening to render the poem in a way that would “show that I wasn’t always sixty.”
Although he invariably wore a red tie, his politics were of a more pastel shade. He was reputed to require from his students, or at least those who wished to pass his courses, the worship of two great liberals: Marcus Tullius Cicero and William Lyon Mackenzie King. Nearly fifty years later Malcolm McGregor recalled reading Cicero’s letters with Robertson as “one of the lasting experiences of my academic life.” However, Robertson denied him other potentially lasting experiences by keeping Ovid’s erotic poems off the syllabus for several decades.
He was blessed in his only son, Norman Alexander Robertson (1904-68), Classics Club’s President in 1921-22, Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College in 1923, pioneer member of the Department of External Affairs in Ottawa, confidante of his father’s political hero, Mackenzie King, and later High Commissioner to Britain (1946-9; 1952-7), and Ambassador to the United States (1957-8).
Among Robertson père’s enduring legacies was the Classics Club. It was first established in the 1920-21 session, and maintained an almost unbroken history until the early 1990s. It usually met at professors’ houses, and afforded an opportunity for students as well as faculty to offer papers on subjects of general interest, and engage in recreational diversions, such as dramatic productions, and, at least in the early days, the singing of Latin songs.
ARTHUR EDWARD ROMILLY BOAK (1888-1962)
Arthur Boak, a faculty member at the University of Michigan 1914-1958, is still respected for his scholarly work on the later Roman and Byzantine empires, for his frequently reprinted survey of Roman history, and for his publication of papyri from Tebtunis in Egypt. Mortimer Chambers (UCLA), who wrote the entry on him for the Biographical Dictionary of North American Classicists (1994) at 49-50, noted Boak's birth in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and his teaching as lecturer at "U. British Columbia, 1910-1." In fact, Boak came to Vancouver at the age of eleven, when his father, Henry Westman Conroy Boak, a lawyer, moved to the far west, like many Maritimers of that period. That same year (1899) Lemuel Robertson also moved to Vancouver to teach at the High School, and Arthur Boak almost certainly attended this institution between 1899 and 1903, when he left for Queen's University for his undergraduate education. When he graduated at age 19 in 1907, he may have been considered too young to undertake further study, and he seems to have spent at least some of the years 1907-1910 (all of which Chambers claims he spent as a "Tutor" at Queen's) in Vancouver, teaching at the McGill University College of Vancouver, which after 1906 offered the first two years of a McGill degree. The photograph of this college's faculty shown above (in the biography of Lemuel Robertson), is dated to 1908. Boak must have left either the Vancouver college or Queen's no later than 1910, since he took his M.A. at Harvard in 1911. Chambers is thus wrong in claiming that Boak taught at the "U. British Columbia" (which did not come into existence until 1915), and he is unlikely to been in Vancouver in "1910-1" unless he took his Harvard M.A. at long distance.
Boak probably chose Harvard because his colleague Lemuel Robertson's cousin, William Scott Ferguson, was that university's leading ancient historian. Robertson would undoubtedly have known the Boak family well, since around 1912 Henry Boak was President of the Vancouver chapter of the Archaeological Institute of America with which Robertson was naturally involved. Arthur's later presence in Michigan probably drew Homer Thompson to that institution for his doctoral studies in the late nineteen-twenties, when Boak supervised his dissertation on papyrological evidence for the grain trade in Roman Egypt.
There is some further information on Boak's connections with Vancouver from 1932. In that year O.J. Todd wrote to him (letter of 22 October; Boak Papers, University of Michigan Library, Box 3.3) about two papyri that had been donated to the U.B.C. department. The letter opens: "The two papyrus documents that you so kindly secured for us are to be mounted as in the British Museum between panes of glass, with a brief statement about them and a translation." Todd then asks Boak's views as to the documents' "condition and date ... the circumstances of their purchase, and a criticism of my interpretation" - an interpretation that went on for three pages. Todd remarked that Boak would have been approached sooner, when the papyri "were fresher in your memory .. if I had not been under the impression that Professor Robertson was getting in touch with you about the matter." This final remark suggests that the donation could have been made some years earlier. Boak started publishing papyri from Tebtunis in 1929, and presumably the two he donated to U.B.C. were ones that he had acquired privately in what was then a laxer environment for the acquisition of such antiquities. So far (January 2001) no information on the fortuna of these papyri has emerged, and Boak's reply to Todd's letter does not appear to be extant.
HARRY TREMAINE LOGAN (1887-1971)
Credit: U.B.C. Archives
(record no. 5.1/1788)
Robertson’s student at the Vancouver High School and the McGill College, was born in Londonderry, Nova Scotia, the son of the Rev. Dr. John Logan, a Presbyterian minister. He completed his Classics degree at McGill in 1908, and went on to St John’s College, Oxford (A.E. Housman’s college) as British Columbia’s Rhodes Scholar — a just reward for his combination of intellectual and athletic abilities.
At Oxford he did not emulate his McGill predecessor, H.J. Rose (1883-1961), whose academic prowess carried him to an Oxford fellowship at the age of twenty four. Logan did, however, gain a “blue” in lacrosse (i.e., he represented Oxford against Cambridge), while graduating in “Greats” (Literae Humaniores) some distance behind a future scholar of distinction, the epigrapher, Theodore Wade-Gery (1888-1972). A quarter-century later one of Logan’s students, and his successor as departmental Head, Malcolm McGregor, collaborated with Wade-Gery on a major epigraphical publication.
While at Oxford, Logan reportedly (the sole source is Em. Prof. James Russell) came to know T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) (1888-1935), whom in later years, according to Russell, he fondly recalled as “Ned.” More importantly, he met his future wife Gwyneth Nesta Lilian Ruthven Murray (1888-1979), youngest daughter of Sir James Augustus Henry Murray (1837-1915), the first editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. She had graduated in mathematics from Cambridge (Girton College) in the days before that university officially awarded degrees to women. They were married in 1915, when Harry Logan was en route to the front line.
Logan’s years at Oxford (1909-11) belong to the last phase of the gilded age immortalized in Max Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson, a milieu far removed from that of a Rhodes Scholar from western Canada with a religious background and a social conscience. While at Oxford Logan met Kingsley Ogilvie Fairbridge (1885-1924), an intense Southern Rhodesian with a plan for establishing farm schools throughout the British Empire for orphans from the mother country. Logan spent the years 1936-49 away from UBC furthering this enterprise at a school near Duncan on Vancouver Island, and as Secretary of the Fairbridge organisation in London.
After Oxford, he studied theology at Edinburgh and McGill, but, instead of following his father’s footsteps into the ministry, returned to teach Classics in Vancouver. At the outbreak of war in 1914 he joined the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders, and later transferred to the Canadian Machine Gun Corps, the history of which he wrote before returning to UBC in 1920. He ended the war with a Military Cross, mentions in despatches, and the rank of Major, later raised to Lieutenant-Colonel in recognition of his work with Canadian Officers Training Corps at UBC. He was in later years always known as “Colonel Logan,” or simply “the Colonel.”
At UBC Logan drew on his Oxford training to become a beloved teacher of ancient history, ancient philosophy (Plato was his passion), and Latin literature. He delivered his lectures “quietly and grippingly, without rhetoric, but with a precise choice of diction and a skilful variation of tone to produce emphasis” (Malcolm McGregor). He was also an accomplished declaimer of Latin verse.
He served in numerous administrative roles: as a founder of the Faculty Association and of the Alma Mater Society, as a long-time member of the Senate (1930-48, 1954-60) and Board of Governors (1941-45), and at the end of his career (1949-54) as Head of the Classics Department. His most tangible legacy is Tuum Est (1958), the centennial history of UBC that still remains the best general account of its subject. This was a work of reminiscence as well as history, by one of the university’s builders, who had joined the students in October 1922 in marching to Point Grey (in the “Great Trek”) to demand an enlarged campus.
As a UBC Senator in the early 1930s Logan was involved in the debates that followed the financial assault on UBC by the provincial government and its Minister of Education, Canon Joshua Hinchliffe, an Anglican priest who lacked much charity towards higher education. In 1931-2 not merely the Faculty of Arts, but the university itself seemed threatened. At one point Logan supported his Dean, Daniel Buchanan, in a dramatic vote of censure against President Klinck.
After retiring, he taught in a supernumerary capacity for fifteen years. He had the pleasure of seeing one of his students from this period, Terence Penner (BA 1957), go on to a distinguished career as a Platonic scholar.
U.B.C. awarded Logan an honorary degree in 1965.
Credit: U.B.C. Archives (record no. 1.1/4450)
OTIS JOHNSON TODD (1883-1957)
O. J. Todd in his study at home.
Credit: Douglas Todd
OTIS JOHNSON TODD (1883-1957) was born in Garland, Pennsylvania, and came to UBC in 1918 with a summa cum laude Bachelor’s degree (1906), and a doctorate (1914), both from Harvard, and after a stint of teaching at Whitman College in Walla Walla.
The doctorate was earned under the supervision of John Williams White (1849-1917), an authority on the language and metre of the Athenian comic poet Aristophanes, with a dissertation on Aristophanes’ treatment of time, published in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology.
Todd was rapidly promoted to Professor of Greek (1922), later changed to Professor of Classics (1932). Until Louis MacKay’s arrival in 1940, he was the only publishing scholar in the department, and one of the few major scholars in the humanities in the university. He and the Senecan scholar William Hardy Alexander (1878-1962) of the University of Alberta were the two giants of classical scholarship in Western Canada in the inter-war years, but unlike Alexander, and many contemporaries, Todd eschewed the publication of occasional pieces in journals like the Dalhousie Review, Queen’s Quarterly, or the University of Toronto Quarterly. His humanism was entirely scholarly in character.
In 1923 he contributed translations of Xenophon’s Apology and Symposium to the Loeb Edition, and throughout his career produced a steady stream of articles in major journals such as Classical Philology and Classical Quarterly. In 1932 he left an enduring monument when, after a year’s sabbatical at Harvard, he completed White’s lexicographical work by publishing with the Harvard Press his Index Aristophaneus.
He ranged widely over both Greek and Latin literature, from, for example, an analysis of the role of Zeus in the Prometheus Bound to a detailed explication of a section of Aristotle’s Politics. He was particularly devoted to Aristotle, and his heavily annotated copy of the Immanuel Bekker edition of the philosopher survives in the department. Em. Prof. Peter Smith (University of Victoria) recalls reading the Politics with Todd in the early 1950s; Malcolm McGregor, by contrast, remembered Todd’s abandoning as “a completely hopeless task” an attempt to read the Poetics with him in the early 1930s.
Homer Thompson recalled “a shy man, but very kind and considerate ... fond of music, chiefly the violin.” Malcolm McGregor emphasised the “sharp and mischevious wit” that lay behind the “solemn and preoccupied mien.”
Todd’s scholarship was firmly rooted in linguistic skills and close textual study, and, unusually for an American, it involved verse composition as a complement to his expertise in Greek and Latin metrics. Yet as early as the 1919-20 session he also introduced a course on Greek literature entirely based on translations.
Todd succeeded Lemuel Robertson as Head in 1941, a year before becoming the department’s first Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He was a pioneer at UBC in the development of what is today called “Continuing Education.” As Secretary of the “Extension Committee” he defended the university’s mission in a radio broadcast (“The University in the Life of the Province”) in 1935, at height of the Depression. And, like Malcolm McGregor in later years, he was involved with the Ceremonies Committee.
Todd was as keen a sportsman as Harry Logan, with a particular interest in tennis (he won several faculty tournaments), and in soccer (or “association football” as it was then known), which he discovered only after coming to Canada. From 1947-9 he served as President of the Canadian Football Association. A sports field at UBC now bears his name, and the memorial minute in the proceedings of the Senate (of which he was a member 1941-8) notes, “probably few university teachers in Canada, other than physical educationalists, contributed more to the development of amateur games, inside and outside the university.”
O. J. Todd in his office ca. 1950. On his file cabinet are some of the pots that his son, Douglas Todd, has donated to the Museum of Anthropology.
Credit: Douglas Todd
O.J. TODD PLAUTI TERENTIQUE STUDIOSIS S.
Rev. AUBREY NEVILLE ST.-JOHN MILDMAY
Rev. AUBREY NEVILLE ST.-JOHN MILDMAY (1865-1955), was a part-time “tutor” and “assistant” 1917-24. His thorough formation in the classical languages at Winchester College, where he was Head Boy, was reinforced by “Mods” and “Greats” at Oxford, where at New College he was a contemporary and friend of Gilbert Murray (1866-1957), who became Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford (1908-36), and the foremost Hellenist of his day. In his posthumously published memoirs Murray recalled Mildmay as having been “nicknamed , ‘the eternal,’ because he was never ‘in time’.” Homer Thompson not surprisingly remembered him as a “whimsical supernumerary” and “real English eccentric.”
Mildmay’s presence in British Columbia was reportedly at the behest of his family. He was thus a not unfamiliar breed in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Canada — the “remittance man,” who lived abroad off family doles on condition that he not return home. Mildmay’s sin, in the eyes of his family, may have been an inappropriate marriage. But that union did produce Audrey (1900-53), an able soprano, and in the mid-1920s the Mildmays returned to England to further her career. She later married John Christie, who founded the famous Glyndebourne opera festival in Sussex as a vehicle for her. Aubrey wrote Greek epigrams for the Glyndebourne wine-list, and shortly before his death published a volume of his Greek and Latin verse compositions (Horae Mediterraneae), with a prefatory tribute (“Envoi from the Pacific”) from his former friend and colleague, O.J. Todd.