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The Spike or Victoria College Review 1936

Hugh Mackenzie, Professor of English Literature, 1899-1936

page 12

Hugh Mackenzie, Professor of English Literature, 1899-1936

"What travel does for the 'travelled thane' literature does for the judicious student of letters. It widens his horizon, renders his sympathies more catholic and withal makes him a fitter unit in the social economy; and by consequence the better fitted to fulfil the high destiny of his being."—Inaugural Address, April 1899.

The Highlander in New Zealand would be a rich subject for research. There was a small group of Highlanders in "The Bengal Merchant" when she set out from Gravesend in 1839—a brave sight among the drab Sassenachs in their neat blue jackets and flowing Tartan. There were hundreds of them a few years later, come by way of Nova Scotia and South Australia, a veritable odyssey in ships made with their own hands, with a Norman McLeod at their head. There was one of them, Mackay by name, in that first foray on the floor of the House, laying about him with an umbrella in place of a claymore; and there was another, with the glorious name of Mackenzie, who led the land-hungry immigrants against the squatters in the days of Ballance and Seddon.

This Mackenzie had a half-brother, named Hugh, who started off from his father's farm at Ardross in 1878 on an academic odyssey which brought him in due time, by way of Aberdeen and St. Andrews to teach Englsh literature in the splendid new university which the Capital City was erecting in honour of Queen Victoria.

Hugh Mackenzie had been through the good old Scottish schools: first the classics at Aberdeen Grammar School, then Philosophy at St. Andrews, and then three years' post-graduate work in logic and metaphysics—placed in the first rank of honours by some of the most eminent teachers of Scotland. After graduation he had remained at St. Andrews, winning reputation as a tutor—teaching, they say, the Gaelic to W. M. Lindsay, to say nothing of morals to the Marquis of Bute—and sublimating his inherited fighting instincts in the rough and tumble of journalistic warfare.

Seventeen years in all—very happy years, we can well believe, with the kindest and charmingest wife in Scotland and a brood of lively children—he remained in the grey little North Sea town, deeply regretted when in 1899 he gathered his bairns and his books and his golf clubs and made for New Zealand.

He was not long in making his mark on Wellington. At first he lived in the town, but he soon heard the call of the wild and retired to the heights of Karori, whence we may imagine him sallying forth every afternoon on his trusty nag. in the famous black clerical hat, with his saddlebags bursting with the works of John Milton and Spencer's Synthetic Philosophy and an unfinished manuscript "Defence of the secular system of education," on the way to his evening's work at the University. What a sight for tired undergraduate eyes as he cantered into the High School yard in a cloud of dust and glory and hitched his horse to a paling! Even the ranks of pedagogy could scarce forbear to cheer.

Just so, in the second half of the 18th Century might the Reverend John Wesley or Dr. Samuel Parr have cantered up to The Mitre at Oxford. It did a little, such an entrance, to transfigure the hard, cramped seats and the characterless walls of the great barn that served for a university when the High School girls and their teachers had departed for the day.

In what spirit he came to his work we may learn from his Inaugural Address. Steeped in the writings of Greece and Rome he is chiefly concerned to defend tradition and continuity in letters against the claims of what is novel or partial or singular or merely useful; asserting the claims of literature against the increasing claims of Science and Commerce, nevertheless, as a good humanist he desires to keep literature in touch with all the activities of the human

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Hugh Mackenzie

"I am invited by Spike to say something by way of a 'farewell.' . . . I wish to state, to begin with, that during the past 37 years, I have been uniformly accorded by the Victoria University College Council, by my colleagues on the Professorial Board, and by the students to whom I have been privileged to lecture in the English Classes, every courtesy, consideration and indulgence that I could desire. My ways have fallen in pleasant places. . . . Over seventy years ago I was sent to school—and I have been in school ever since—and I now feel that it is time that I should be relegated to the limbo of what I shall take the liberty of labelling the 'Praeterites' (the Bygones); yet, old as I am, I am very much of a modernist and futurist in spirit. Were I privileged to live for seventy more years, I would still continue the quest for further enlightenment on numerous problems—theological, philosophical, social and other, to which I have been unable to find satisfying solutions."

Hugh Mackenzie.

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Broken but Unbowed

Broken but Unbowed


page 13

spirit. "The more we know of man, the more we know of mind, the fitter we shall be to take our place in life and to fulfill the high destiny of our being. What has helped man through the ages, what has calmed and composed him in moments of doubt and despair; what has nerved his heart and chastened his spirit must be of perennial interest." It must be the aim of the university as a whole "to bring education and scholarship into living contact with the social forces of the day."

For thirty-seven years Hugh Mackenzie has devoted himself to these tasks. With learning and high temper and geniality he has endeared himself to successive generations of students. Given to hospitality, his house has been always open to colleagues and students and townsmen. With a great army of friends in every walk of life, no one has done more to keep the University in touch with the town. Friend of all children, indulgent helper of all lame dogs, 'father confessor' of all sorts and conditions of penitents, courageous defender of unpopular causes, lover of light and learning, the College and the City and the Country are the better for his sojourn among us.

On behalf of students past and present Spike wishes him happiness in his retirement.