W.O. Mitchell on Rupert Lodge

I wish merely to introduce myself as one of the products of some of the leanest years of the Manitoba English Department. The last year was somewhat relieved by the presence of Dr. Wheeler, but I had directed my energies to philosophy, and did my best work for Professor Lodge. (McLuhan to E.K Brown1, December 12, 1935, Letters 79)

Rupert C Lodge was co-head with Henry Wilkes Wright of the Philosophy and Psychology Department during McLuhan’s time at the University of Manitoba. Marchand (34) reports that Lodge’s recommendation of McLuhan to Cambridge called him his “most outstanding” student.

W.O. Mitchell took courses from Lodge at this same time2 and was greatly taken by him. As described in Mitchell’s son’s biography of him:

Bill (…) had begun to enjoy philosophy and his arts courses more than the sciences. This was largely due to Professor Rupert Lodge, who taught him philosophy. (…) Lodge made a lasting impression on him and was instrumental in altering his career direction [from medicine]: “It was Lodge who introduced me to the excitement of the inquiring mind, who helped me to discover that, philosophically speaking,  I am an idealist.” Lodge was a Platonist who (…) told his students that they had to choose a stance, that they could not (…) adopt more than one [fundamental] philosophy [at a time]: “He [told] them that there were three broad ways to approach life in this universe, that they had their choice of the materialist, the phenomenalist, [and] the [Platonic] realist” (…) [Mitchell] described  himself as a “Lodge boy” in the larger sense of having adopted a passion for philosophical inquiry. (…)
Lodge had definite views on the role of the university in educating the imagination. In the fall of 1931 various people debated in the editorial pages of the Winnipeg Free Press whether or not science and literature were “parallel functions of the human mind”.
Some argued that science was a body of fact to which new information can be added as acquired, but that literature was something else and that new writing did not make older authors obsolete. Another debater argued that literature courses at the university should not deal with older writers but with new writers in the way that science deals only with the newest ideas. Lodge disputed that science was simply a body of fact: “Science thus represents an adventure of the spirit, quite as much as poetry, and has quite as much power to thrill the imagination and liberate the mind from instinctive and local prejudices.” He believed that a student of science should study the history of science in order to “acquire background and culture”.  He did not believe that either Science or Arts departments at universities should turn out technicians, but that “the primary function of our university departments is, surely, to enlighten and liberate the minds of our students so that, whatever their professions or interests in after-life, they may be able to bring an educated and cultured outlook to bear on their problems”.3

Lodge’s contribution to the Free Press debate was titled ‘Science and Literature’ and appeared in the Manitoba Free Press, Oct 10, 1931, p11.4 McLuhan would naturally have followed this debate and doubtless discussed it with his father and with friends of his (and future UT colleagues) like Tom Easterbrook and Carlton Williams.


  1. At this time E.K Brown was the head of the English Department at UM, having come from UT as McLuhan was leaving Winnipeg for Cambridge.  Brown stayed only 2 years at UM before returning to UT. Later, he was the chair of the English Department at Chicago when McLuhan was attempting to land a job there in the middle 1940’s. But McLuhan does not seem to have contacted him then — he was apparently interested in the sort of position at Chicago that only Robert Hutchins and John Nef might have provided.  See Marchand 98-99.
  2. Mitchell attended UM from 1931 to 1934 and his biographers report that he took his first course with Lodge in 1933 and his second in 1934. McLuhan worked with Lodge in this same 1931-1934 period.
  3. The Life of W.O Mitchell 1, 1914-1947, Mitchell and Mitchell, 1999, 161-163. Mitchell’s recollections of Lodge in 1933-1934 were recorded more than 60 years later in 1996, just two years before Mitchell’s death. It is understandable that they were a tad hazy.  But it is also impressive that he remembered Lodge this fondly after such a long time.
  4. Some weeks later, on December 2, 1931, The Manitoba Free Press was renamed as The Winnipeg Free Press.