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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1934

Professor Mackenzie's Speech

Professor Mackenzie's Speech

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,—This is for me a rather embarrassing experience, for I have always, when attempting to address an academic audience, suffered from something approaching nervous debility. While I am sincerely grateful to all who are good enough to thrust unmerited greatness upon me in this generous way, I could fain have wished that I had been spared the honour until I had been promoted or degraded to my post-mortal sphere.

Fifty years ago I was a student of my distinguished friend and colleague, Professor Rankine Brown, and I then acquired an inferiority complex, and it is still asserting itself! Thirty-five years ago I accompanied Professors Brown and Easterfield on a missionary journey to New Zealand. Some few years ago I published a circumstantial account of our eventful voyage to this country, and of our arrival in Wellington on April 1st, 1889! (I intend, at the close of this luncheon, to present to each of you a copy of this "circumstantial" account.) During a seven weeks' voyage in the old Kaikoura (then making her last voyage to New Zealand) Professor Easterfield and I started an intensive refresher course in Domestic Science and in Plunket Nursing. He was bringing two small children, and I four, to this country. We therefore established a Plunket laboratory. He was in charge of the pasteurising and sterilising departments, and I in charge of the feeding-bottle department! Well, so successful were we in our collaboration that we succeeded in getting all our Plunket babies to New Zealand in prime Plunket condition, and they are still, after 35 years' life in New Zealand, in prime Plunket condition! Some five or six years after our arrival in New Zealand, Sir Truby King established the system in this country without acknowledging any obligation to Professor Easterfield or myself. Professor Easterfield, in his generous and self-denying pro-Scot moments, tells us that, but for the fact that there was no Scottish candidate for the Chair of Chemistry, when he was appointed, all the four foundation Professors would have been Scots. Well, with three Scots to begin with, and with the tincture of "sweetness and light" which our cultured English colleague brought into the Scottish atmosphere, Wellington had what is popularly called "a great asset." Think of it! Professor Brown and myself had, before coming to New Zealand, lived through, and survived, 5½ years of Scottish Sabbaths! That you will readily concede accounts for the sobriety, the solemnity, and the dignity which have always characterised our work and influence in this generously appreciative community. Our students, too, of the first decade of the history of Victoria College, had to take themselves and their work seriously. There were very little first-aid and spoon-feeding by the State in those days. The luxury of generous State-aid came later. The fact that the teaching staff and the students of our early days at Victoria University College took themselves and their work seriously accounts for the great respect entertained for our University College throughout this Dominion.

The influence of the council, of the teaching staff, and of the graduates and undergraduates has always been such that (notwithstanding all that we, occasionally, hear to the contrary), our University College has invariably been on the side of the angels, on the side of the police, and on the side of the Government of the day. Mr. Seddon was always a very present help in our times of page 18 trouble, and so was Mr. Massey; and I entertain no doubt that when Messrs. Forbes and Coates get our cows and sheep into full profit again, those statesmen will leg-rope Mr. Masters, and will generously recognise the claims of our University and other educational institutions. Victoria College has already achieved one remarkable distinction. It has commandeered the Supreme Court Bench, and succeeded in securing a galaxy of the highest talent in the front rank of the Dominion's barristers. Indeed, it has already left its hallmark on all the learned professions.

Now, with regard to the portraits—let me say that only two types of portrait are of much interest to me:—
(1)The passport portrait, in which the photographer-artist's success depends on his reproducing, if he can, the detailed creases and wrinkles which sin and crime (and the beast in the Freudian subconscious realm) have left in the features or person of his subject or victim.
(2)The painter-artist's portrait, in which the painter seeks to produce, if possible, a thing of beauty—ideal and artistic—even out of what may in itself possess more of "the beast" than of beauty!

Now then, you will observe that Mr. Nicoll has been very gracious—even merciful—to Professors Brown, Easterfield and myself! He appears to have taken great pains to conceal our finger-prints, and to iron out all traces of at least the habitual criminal and sinner from our portraits. I am satisfied that he has got Professors Brown and Easterfield as others, and as I, see them—and have seen and known them. They are, I think you will agree with me, "all there"!

As for my own portrait, well, it is not for me to say whether I am there as others see me, or whether I am, or am not, "all there." I have never been privileged—perhaps a fortunate thing for me—to see myself as others see me. I have (as you know) never seen my features at first hand, but only through a glass darkly or as reflected from a wall (or reflecting agent) opposite to a kind of Platonic cave. It is, therefore, for you, not for me, to say whether I appear to be there as you and others see me. All I can say is that I am satisfied that Mr. Nicoll has done the best for me that Nature permitted him to do, and the best, too, that charitable aid from a distinguished artist could do for me.

When I look at Professor Brown's portrait, I feel as it were in the presence of a benign Scottish Saint and Father Confessor. How near to sainthood he has attained will be realised when I tell you that, although I played golf with him for over 20 years—and frequently saw him inwardly very much perturbed—the worst that I ever heard escape his lips was:

"per deos immortales!"

When I look at Professor Easterfield's portrait, I feel in the presence of one who aspired to sainthood, but who had (like myself) much more of the naughty schoolboy and sinner in him than Professor Brown ever had!

Professor Easterfield's portrait gives me the impression that he has abandoned the mysteries of alchemy, and has taken to studying the mysteries of the Breviary and of the Prayer-book, and so that his place among the saints is assured.

When I look at the portrait of President Maclaurin, I feel that the eleven years of his strenuous academic life and work in America but rendered him more youthful in appearance than when he began his career as Professor of Mathematics at Victoria University College; and this of itself greatly increases the regret that a man of such exceptional ability and distinction should have been lost to the academic world in the prime of his life.

Now, let me assure you all that I am very grateful for your kindly efforts to thrust greatness on me.