Ransom to Tate and Guerry on McLuhan

The Selected Letters of John Crowe Ransom1 has an April 1946 letter from Ransom to Allen Tate concerning McLuhan:

Marshall McLuhan now at Assumption College, Windsor Canada2 ought to make a good editor for the Sewanee Review. Brooks, who was here for three days not long ago, knows him personally and thinks he has a lot and “is one of us” — though he’s Catholic. I believe he wants to get back into this country, but I am sure his status financially is a modest one, as he must be young. You saw his Hopkins piece with us, I suppose. (…)
PS Would Heilman of LSU be up to the mark?3

Tate had been the editor of the Sewanee Review for a couple years but was leaving the post. The “Hopkins piece” was ‘Analogical Mirrors’  which appeared in the Kenyon Review, edited by Ransom, in the summer of 1944. Heilman at LSU was Robert Heilman, a close friend of Eric Voegelin and a member of the English department there then, along with Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren.4 McLuhan met Heilman and Voegelin when he visited Brooks at LSU5 in 1945 and became a sometime correspondent with both. 

A few months later, Ransom wrote a similar letter to Alexander Guerry, vice-chancellor of the University of the South (where The Sewanee Review was published):

I am flattered by your invitation to advise as to the right editor of the Sewanee Review in Allen Tate’s place; I only wish I could reply with some certainty. There’s a good man who has written for this Review [Kenyon] and yours [Sewanee] too, if I’m not mistaken, and is excellent — Marshall McLuhan, now visiting professor at Assumption College, Windsor, Canada. He is an American6, either a Catholic or ex-Catholic, but a thinker of his own; studied at Cambridge, England, among other places; and Cleanth Brooks knows him personally and thinks very highly of him.  He is as good in the general prose field and the field of ideas as he is in the criticism of poetry. I would suggest that you write Brooks at Louisiana State for full information about him if you are interested. I have an idea McLuhan wants to get back into this country, and I predict he will have a distinguished career.7 

In his biography of McLuhan, W.T. Gordon includes some snippets from letters of Ransom to McLuhan from this same time period:

We haven’t had anything of yours for a long time and I hope it won’t be much longer before we can see something. I talked with Cleanth Brooks a short while ago; he is an admirer of yours and told me of some smart things you had talked with him [about].8 

I wish you didn’t rely on ambiguous terms like dialectic, rhetoric and grammar.9

  1. The Selected Letters of John Crowe Ransom, ed T.D. Young and G. Core, 1985.
  2. Ransom’s letter has ‘Conn’ here, perhaps as a typo for ‘Can’ or for ‘Ca-On'(tario).
  3. Letter from April 22, 1946, Selected Letters of John Crowe Ransom, 324-325.
  4. All would soon leave: Brooks and Warren to Yale, Heilman to the University of Washington in Seattle.
  5. On the same trip, McLuhan visited Tate in Sewanee, TN.
  6. Sic. Since Ransom would not have commented on McLuhan being an American, he plainly meant to write ‘Canadian’ here. Conversely, or additionally, he could have been thinking that, since McLuhan’s wife was American, he would be able to work in the U.S. with no problem.
  7. Letter from June 28, 1946, Selected Letters of John Crowe Ransom, 328.
  8. Ransom to McLuhan, January 12, 1946, in Gordon, Escape into Understanding, 386n49.
  9. Ransom to McLuhan, August 31, 1947, in Gordon, Escape into Understanding, 386n49. It must have been deeply thought-provoking to McLuhan that even such an accomplished and sympathetic reader as Ransom did not understand his central ideas.