McNaspy remembers McLuhan

In his posthumously published memoir, Play On! (1996), Clement J. McNaspy, S.J. (1915-1995), a colleague of McLuhan at St Louis University and a frequent correspondent of his in the 1940s, records “the growth of my friendship with a young professor at St. Louis (…) H. Marshall McLuhan” (39).  The two became acquainted in SLU in 1937 (or 1938?1):

While I was never a member of the English department at St. Louis University, either as student or faculty member, my activity as director of the chorus of scholastics helped me get to know several teachers there. Principal among them at the time was Father [William] McCabe [S.J., the head of the English department]. One day, shortly after he had employed McLuhan, a Canadian recently graduated from Cambridge University in England, Father [McCabe] met me in the hall and mentioned that Marshall McLuhan was interested in getting to know someone interested in music. We met in Father’s office and quickly discovered interests in common. My ignorance of modern English poetry at the time was no less than monumental, since our English teachers at Grand Coteau (Jesuit Novitiate) treated the subject as though it had ended in the early nineteenth century. So, the idea of at last learning something about modern English poetry was thrilling, to say the least. In return, I was happy to introduce Marshall to some of the delights of music and to help deepen his knowledge of Virgil and Dante, both of whom were then and continue to be special enthusiasms of mine. Marshall was astonished to discover that I knew nothing whatsoever about Gerard Manley Hopkins, the great Jesuit poet of the late nineteenth century. We started with several of the “Terrible Sonnets,” which proved a revelation to me. (39)

A further memory of McNaspy recalls the time in the summer of 1938 when McLuhan met Corinne Lewis, whom he would marry a year later. McNaspy conflates their meeting and marriage into “some weeks” (but he was writing almost 60 years after the events):

Shortly before taking my final exams in philosophy and in classics, I recall a very pleasant drive over into Illinois with Marshall McLuhan. We visited several Native American mounds and discussed all manner of personal issues. “Do you plan to get married?” I asked. “I don’t think so,” replied Marshall.”I plan to be wedded to my work.” A few months later when I was at Spring Hill College, I recall receiving a letter from Marshall announcing, “I’ve just met a marvelous person named Corinne. She is large and has masses of hair and is from Dallas.” I saw the handwriting [on the wall], and my thoughts were confirmed some weeks later when another letter announced, “Just married Corinne. We’re very happy!” From then on I looked forward to meeting the marvelous Corinne. (42)

  1. McNaspy says that this meeting took place “shortly after (William McCabe, head of the English department) had employed McLuhan” and that McLuhan was “a Canadian recently graduated from Cambridge University in England”. Both of these point to 1937, McLuhan’s first year at SLU, rather than 1938. But in 1938 Bernard Muller-Thym returned to SLU from Toronto and began to write a column on ‘Music’ in the SLU magazine, Fleur de Lis. McLuhan and Muller-Thym rapidly became best friends. It may be that McLuhan’s sudden interest in music relates to this 1938 event rather than to 1937.