Havelock to McLuhan, 1970, and its background

On September 23, 1970, Havelock wrote to McLuhan:

Please look after yourself. I still carry with me the feeling that you area man who works always near the bone, pushing his nerves to the limit.  (Letters, 406, n2)

He was answering a letter from May 22, 1970, which McLuhan had dictated to his secretary from hospital following a heart attack.

It would be interesting to know what Havelock’s reference was with the word ‘still’ here. Evidently he was thinking back some years — or decades.  Indeed, it is possible that the two had met already in 1946, McLuhan’s first year at St Michael’s. Officially, that was Havelock’s last year at UT before moving to Harvard.  But Havelock was already a guest lecturer at Harvard that year and was presumably in Toronto only sporadically.  

In the intervening years, Havelock seems to have been in Toronto frequently, partly as a result of his continuing close ties with the classics department where he had spent almost two decades.  As a sign of these ties, Havelock contributed essays to the Festschrift volumes for Gilbert Norwood in 1952 (‘Why Was Socrates Tried?’) and for George Grube in 1969 (‘Dikaiosune. An Essay in Greek Intellectual History’).1

But Havelock also had important ties in Toronto outside the classics department, notably with his old progressive comrades like Frank Underhill (history) and even with less progressive former colleagues like Harold Innis (political economics). In his essay ‘Harold Innis: A Man of His Times’2 Havelock recalled a visit to Toronto to lecture in 1951 or 1952:

one morning in the fall of 1951, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I received, somewhat to my astonishment, a personal phone call from him [Innis] to come up to Toronto as soon as I could, to speak to his seminar in the old McMaster building3. (247)

Later in this same essay, Havelock describes his impression of Innis from this visit:

A fatal illness of the body overcame him when his mind was still young, superactive in the formulation of a historical theory or set of theories which he did not live to complete. He had always retained a surprisingly youthful appearance, to match the mind within. His biographer [Donald Creighton] records the memory — it is mine also — of that tragic change which overcame it in the latter days of his life. This had already occurred when I went back to Toronto to encounter him for the last time. I remember being slightly surprised — it was a few years since I had seen him — by a kind of nervous and suppressed energy which seemed to animate him. He seemed not so much to walk around the building as stride purposefully through it. I speculate that he may have sensed already that not much time was left, and that he was determined to pack the maximum of thinking, reading, and writing into it, drawing on the resources of a disciplined will; assembling all those concepts, researches, and conclusions which constitute what has been called the third phase of his scholarly journey; putting down all he could as quickly as he could often in jumbled sequences which make hard reading. (253-254)4

By this time McLuhan had participated in the 1949 ‘values seminar‘ with Innis and was now,  in 1951, in correspondence with him.5 It is very likely that McLuhan would have audited the session with Havelock and, if he did not already know him personally, have met him at that time. 

If Havelock and McLuhan did not meet in 1946 or during this 1951 (or 1952) visit of Havelock to Innis’s seminar, it is entirely possible that the two met in connection with Explorations magazine (the organ of the Culture and Communications seminar), which was, of course, centrally concerned with Havelock’s topic of orality and literacy. This could have occurred either in Toronto or Harvard6 since Jackie Tyrwhitt, an important member of the Explorations team, transferred from Toronto to Harvard in February 1955.  McLuhan mentions Havelock in his 1954 address to the Catholic Renascence Society, ‘Eliot and the Manichean Myth’, and (as will be detailed in further posts) certainly came to know of Havelock’s work on orality and literacy, but also his literary criticism, soon after he arrived in Toronto in 1946. 

  1. Havelock returned to Canada in an official capacity to present a Vanier lecture in Ottawa in 1970 (‘War as a Way of Life in Classical Culture’) and for his important series of lectures in Toronto in 1974, ‘Origins of Western Literacy’.
  2. In ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 38:3,  242-254, October 1981. Reprinted in Harold A Innis: A Memoir (1982), 11-26. The essay was originally given as a lecture in October, 1978, when Havelock and McLuhan together recalled Innis at Innis College (UT).
  3. Before moving to Hamilton in 1930, McMaster was located on Bloor Street in Toronto just north of the University of Toronto. At the time of the move, the McMaster building was sold to UT. Innis would have attended classes in this building as a McMaster undergrad forty years before his seminar with Havelock in 1951/2.
  4. This visit must have taken place in late 1951 or early 1952. As tendered in this same essay, Havelock’s overall assessment of Innis was very high: “Take him all in all, in the specific categories of his achievement, and you will not, I think, find up to this point in time his equal among his fellow Canadians. (…) I hazard the opinion that his premature death constituted a minor disaster in the long history of the human understanding.” ‘Harold Innis: A Man of His Times’, 253-254
  5. See also letters from Innis to McLuhan here and here.
  6. In a letter to Pound from June 12, 1951 (Letters 223), McLuhan mentions being at Harvard in May that year. So he and Havelock could have met then, for the first time or again.

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