The Spike or Victoria College Review 1940
Professor Hugh Mackenzie
Professor Hugh Mackenzie
The Death of Professor Hugh Mackenzie, M.A., C.M.G., makes the second break in the ranks of the four original professors of the College, Professor MacLaurin—the youngest and perhaps the most intellectually gifted of the four—having died in 1920 after a distinguished career as President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Professor Mackenzie was associated with Victoria University College as Professor of English Language and Literature until his retirement in 1936, though his resignation of his chair by no means put an end to his interest in and connection with the College. He was appointed Emeritus Professor of the College Council in 1937, and as a mark of appreciation of his services to University education he was promoted to the order of C.M.G. shortly after his retirement.
He was born in Rossshire and belonged to a large family, several members of which had come to New Zealand before 1899. One of these, the Hon. John Mackenzie, will always be remembered for the work he did in connection with land settlement in the country. After some years spent at the famous classical school—Aberdeen Grammar School—Professor Mackenzie transferred himself to St. Andrews University, where after distinguishing himself in the study of Literature and Philosophy he graduated M.A. in 1886, though he continued his studies there as a postgraduate student and as a member of the honours class in Greek came in contact with the writer, who was acting as assistant to the Professor of Greek at the time. The intervening years before his appointment to his chair and his departure for New Zealand in the old "Kaikoura," along with two other members of the original staff, he spent in St. Andrews in study, and in scholastic and literary work. He was thus well equipped for the work of the chair to which he was appointed. He never abandoned his interest in Philosophy, and for several years he lectured on the subject at Victoria College until the improved finances of the College enabled somewhat more adequate provision to be made for the teaching of that and other subjects.
As a scholar, Professor Mackenzie kept himself well abreast of what was from time to time written on his subject; his extensive library is the evidence of this. If he was unable to give you on the spur of the moment the information you required, he was as a rule able to tell you where you could get it. If he had a weakness it was excessive reverence for his authorities and quotation from them. This fact is very marked in the introductory lecture which he delivered at the opening of the College. The four lectures then delivered were published at the time and have always appeared to me to be very characteristic of their composers. The same tendency is shown in his frequent use of the expression "credible" or "approved authority." If these words appeared in a letter to the daily press, it was fairly safe to conclude that the letter emanated from him.
The students of the College have never had a professor more devoted to their interests than Professor Mackenzie. He was unsparing of himself in furthering their studies and his kindly nature made him most approachable. Nor did his interest inpage break page break page 25
his students end with their attendance at the College. He kept in touch with their careers, and if one was in a difficulty about the residence or position of a former student a reference to him in most cases produced the desired information.
There are some people who though not perhaps striking or original conversationalists themselves are the cause and centre of conversation by others. This combined with his Highland hospitality and geniality made his house in Kelburn Parade a gathering place for professors and students, and if one looked in upon him about four o'clock one was sure to find some other people there. He had an excellent memory for details, a sense of humour, and an extensive stock of recollections and anecdotes about people which he would bring out when apposite to the occasion. He was intimately known and entirely trusted by a circle of friends, and for myself I can say that in addition to my admiration for his honesty and good nature, I have to thank him for much wise and sound advice. In saying this, I feel sure that I am expressing the opinion of all who knew him.
Professor Mackenzie was an unflinching friend of liberty and a hater of all attempts to curb the free expression of opinion. Such public action as he took was in this direction. Though advanced in his views in most directions and a convinced champion of religious freedom—he had in him an element of Scotch caution and conservatism and only gave a half-hearted support to some of the changes which have in recent years taken place in the University of New Zealand.
Such weaknesses as Professor Mackenzie had were on the surface, for he was sound to the core, a man of whom Prior might have said, "Be to his merits kind and to his faults, whate'er they are, be blind."