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The Spike [: or, Victoria University College Review 1957]

In Memoriam

page 33

In Memoriam

Siegfried Eichelbaum

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.


When Victoria University College was very young and without a home of her own: when she had a name but no local habitation; she managed to develop an entity and to establish a character. Round a nucleus consisting of four "famous men" she gathered together a number of young men and women informed with an idea, "keen in their vocation." These first professors and students had to struggle against every academic difficulty and perhaps for that reason they acquired some individual merit and some corporate strength. Furthermore, luck was with them. Corporate bodies and corporate traditions fail unless the gift of self-expression is vouchsafed, and to meet this need The Spike was born and The Old Clay Patch came into being. The College, as I say, was fortunate. It had students of some talent; they were whole hearted, and it happened that some of them had the power of speech. Among these was a boy named Eichelbaum, Siegfried Eichelbaum, fresh from Wellington College.

At Victoria Siegfried graduated M.A. and LL.B., but these trivialities are mercifully forgotten. He entered fully and wholeheartedly into the life of the new college and became one of the ancient and honourable order of Munchums. He collaborated in the writing of three extravaganzas, Munchums, The Golden Calf, and The Bended Bow. He joined the editorial staff of The Spike and became one of the editors of the first edition of The Old Clay Patch. As a writer of university capping songs he was unique both in the quantity and in the uniformity of his excellence. One of the other collaborators, Seaforth Mackenzie, had a greater poetic gift, but none surpassed him in humour, in aptness and richness of allusion, in swift and tellnig comment concerning the academic situation and the world at large. After half a century no foregathering of old students is properly served without the music of Absent Friends and Memories from Abroad, both from his pen. Many of his songs have of course fallen into the blue waters of forgetfulness, but there is not one that is not worthy of remembrance. I know of no student song more full of pith and topical humour than The Praetor's Song in The Bended Bow"—an extravaganza that showed how the call to arms was obeyed at certain stages in the "ascent of Man"!

page 34

And we also sail per mare
On our galleys rowed by slaves:
O our tars are rich and tarry,
And Romania rules the waves.
Tho' the Roman quinqueremis
Doesn't seem the thing that steam is,
Her surpassing breadth of beam is
Such a comfort on the waves!

The quality that made Siegfried's writing so effective was the quick mental garsp which gave directness and simplicity to his diction. At the beginning there was an element of self-consciousness but this was later transformed into self-criticism and integrity. He saw immediately any element of absurdity or flabby sentimentality either in his own efforts or in those of others. Mackenzie had the same critical gift and they were invaluable collaborators.

It may, I think, be said of Siegfried Eichclbaum that in the first decade of this century he saw a vision of a University to which, through nearly fifty years, he remained true. He saw himself as a collaborator, and without thought of leadership or personal ambition. His devotion to the service has been unfailing and unflagging. After many years he became a member of the Council of his College and then a member of the Senate of the University, honours which extended his sphere of service, honours very richly deserved.

It is not in any place of dignity or honour, however, that his old friends will wish to think of him. They will think, perhaps, of the day on which the honour of nomination as Victoria's nominee for the Rhodes Scholarship was in his hands and by his persuasion the prize and then the final selecton went to his friend Allan MacDougall. They will think of him as a witty and self-conscious schoolboy, as an attentive and generous host, as a shrewd critic and as a faithful friend. They will think of his home and of his family, past and present, to whom so many generations of students owe so much. They will think of him, first and always, as a student and friend of Victoria University College, following her in all her vicissitudes"—to the end. They will think of him as the master of "the inevitable word." We may apply his own words to the retrospect:

Look back and see if in those walls
You helped to build and cherish,
Truth walks with courage, sword by sword,
Or both before some overlord
Fall down and weakly perish.

And if to meet that questing look
You cast from eye that's weary
You find a tale that's good to tell"—
Pass on, old man! All's well, All's well,
Nune tempus est abire!

page 35

And then that touch of the old self-conscious apologetic:

I've been and told a moral tale
Of transcendental beauty,
A thing I usen't to, and hence
Corroborative evidence,
De mea senectute.

And so passes an old editor of The Spike, a gay and happy raconteur, a rhymer of many parts, a humorist who never missed; above all, a good and faithful friend.

Victoria University College will march on through the centuries and many of her sons will be found steadfast at the fount of wisdom. The first decades, however, because they were the first, perhaps even because of their difficulties and restrictions, founded a tradition of devotion and service. They possessed, moreover, a few men and women who have left their mark. Among these will be found, not unworthy, the name of Siegfried Eichelbaum.

F. A. de la Mare

Sir Alexander Howat Johnstone

The Story of a University may be read in minute books and Parliamentary papers, but these give only the framework. Behind the bare facts stand the lives and the ideals, the gropings and the strivings, the victories and defeats of a multitude of men and women each of whom has contributed something to the sum total of her greatness. It sometimes happens that, from the multitude, by virtue of some special aptitude, some special gift of nature or training, there is given to an individual the power to inspire in others a greater sense of dignity and purpose. Such a one was Alexander Howat Johnstone. To him was given the power of logical thinking; the power of clothing and expressing thought in eloquent, trenchant and moving speech; the power which rises from elevation of thought when it comes from ripe knowledge and an inner sincerity.

Johnstone came to Victoria College in the year 1900, in the second year of her foundation, and he graduated B.A. in 1903 and LL.B. in 1905. During his five years as a student he earned his living as a cadet in the Government Life Insurance Department, so that his days were strenuous indeed. Nevertheless it is significant that, in his progress, the cultural degree in Arts preceded the professional one in Law. In later life, as a member of the New Zealand University Senate, as Vice-President of the Auckland University Board, and on other boards and committees, the educational claims of the Classics were never overlooked nor undervalued. To him the University was more than an Institute of Technology.

In the year 1900 the corporate life of the College was just beginning to stir, and in June, 1902. the first number of The Spike, the great organ of undergraduate page 36 life and spirit, came into being. The Spike was able in its first number to chronicle the formation of a "Students' Society to which all the athletic and social clubs are affiliated." The first fruits were the Hockey and Tennis Clubs and the Debating Society. A committee was set up to deal with the constitution of a "University Tournament," and a new and wider interest was introduced into University life. Johnstone entered into the life and spirit of the new time. He took his part in the founding of the Debating Society, and we find him joining the fight in that famous meeting which established our colours as green and gold"—the meeting at which "Jonhstone tried to stem the tide, and Prouse raised up his voice." His chief enthuisasm, however, was for Rugby football, and he was a member of the committee of 1902 "to foster the formation of a Football Club." He played in the first game; he served on the first committee; he was one of the first Life Members, and, after the lapse of fifty-four years, his active and subscribing interest in the club ended only with his death. It was at football and debating that we first came to know the calibre and quality of the man.

"Here's a health to our latest B.A.,
In his gig-lamps of gold he looks happy the day.
Long in the lower jaw, heart of the truest core,
At football and law he is making his way."

Capping Song

Our interest here is not in the details of a great career, but in arriving at a just estimate of the man we knew and loved"—especially in relation to the College. After his death statesmen and lawyers vied with one another in praising one who had served his country so ably and so well. Dr. James Williams. Principal of the College, one who worked as a student under Sir Alexander, himself wrote a tribute worthy of his old master. There was indeed in the master a noble pride in the profession of law as part of the administration of justice, and this just pride Sir Alexander was able to communicate to the pupil. There was in his whole attitude and approach to legal problems, a noble scrupulousness and devotion to truth not unworthy of the best in the Scots and English tradition. There was no question of trick or bluff in the armoury of this advocate. He bent all his ability to the task of making his words cogent and forceful, but it was always to the essential that his mind was directed. The element of greatness in advocacy lies very much in the capacity to sort out the essential with speed and directness, and the capacity to master facts and to deploy them to meet the exact issue was part of Sir Alexander's equipment. The process of briefing him was illuminating. He grasped the facts. examined them, especially those against him, quite objectively, and applied the law. He saw the worst and would not be taken by surprise. His great success in the Courts was the result of care in preparation and a capacity for seeing both sides from the beginning. He knew that Judges and juries have a hostile reaction to unfairness and exaggeration"—and he preferred understatement. The Judges perforce knew him; they knew that he did not bluff; they knew that his judgment carried authority; and they listened, as they used to listen to C. P. Skerrett when he practised at the bar.

It was characteristic of Sir Alexander that he was courteous even at his most forceful and trenchant, but it is fair to say that he could be devastating if he deemed it warranted. In one judicial proceeding a Senior Counsel is said to have page 37 remarked: "I have never before heard such a denunciation in a Court of Law." Rooted iniquity met short shrift at his hands. In general his power of saying the right thing coupled with his passion for justice claimed the full respect, if not the approval, of the opposition.

Though he had wandered far afield, when on the 5th day of May, 1934, the student body sought a graduate to present to the College the portraits of the four Foundation Professors, the choice fell upon Alexander Howat Johnstone. In The Spike of 1934 there is printed, with the poem of Seaforth Mackenzie, a verbatim report of that speech. No one who attended at the Library on that occasion is likely to forget it. Its distinction and dignity, is eloquence and sincerity gave it a special significance, and that significance was enhanced by the fact that the occasion marked the end of an epoch, an epoch which opened with "the fair beginning of a time" and ended with the passing of the first Professors.

I have not dealt with the many and varied services rendered by Sir Alexander to the University and to the State, services which, at his hands, have enriched our corporate life. At the outbreak of the war of 1914 and again in 1939, he threw the whole of his energies into recruiting and national service. He served, in addition, on an Aliens Tribunal, and upon the Special Tribunal for the appeals of Conscientious Objectors. We may well believe that his generous, wise and humane outlook was a constant source of strength to the Court of Appeal.

The final gesture of Sir Alexander to education came with his will, in which he left the residue of his estate for scholarships available to students of Law.

Perhaps I may conclude with a quotation from Thomas Carlyle given in the speech to which I have already referred. It is characteristic of the Carlyle in whom Sir Alexander delighted, both in its rugged wisdom, its robust directness and in the grave cadences of the biblical prose he so much admired: "Two men," says Carlyle, "I honour, and no third. First the toilworn craftsman, who with earth-made implement laboriously conquers the earth and makes her man's. A second I honour, and still more highly, him who is seen working for the spiritually indispensable, not daily bread, but the bread of life. These two in all their degrees I honour. All else is chaff and dust, which let the wind blow whither it listeth."

F. A. de la Mare

Fr. Francis Hugh Walsh

Father Francis Hugh Walsh, son of Peter and the late Mary Walsh, was born in 1910 in Christchurch, where he pursued both his primary and secondary education. Entering St. Bede's College in 1924, he early displayed those traits of deep scholarship and intellectual brilliance which were so much to distinguish his subsequent career. His love of the Classics and English literature manifested itself in these formative years, but another influence was at work which was to determine page 38 his life vocation. He could not have been in doubt as to the rich talents that were his, and, even in his St. Bede's years, he had determined to lay them at the disposal of his Maker by embracing the life of the Catholic priesthood.

In 1929 he sought admission to the Society of Mary, and proceeded to the Marist Novitiate at Highden, near Palmerston North. But such was not to be his destiny, the life of a religious, for a call to become a member of the diocesan priest-hood became insistent, and towards the end of that same year, he was accepted as an ecclesiastical student by the Archdiocese of Wellington. In pursuance of his goal he entered the National Seminary of Holy Cross College, Mosgiel, in 1930, and very early in his career at the College made his mark as an exceptional student. His love for languages revealed itself in his study of Hebrew, a self-set task, outside the ordinary seminary curriculum of studies. It surprised no one that at the end of two year's study of Thomist philosophy and one of theology he was selected to proceed to Rome in 1933. A resident of the Irish College, he attended lectures in theology at the Lateran University, and was ordained to the priesthood in March, 1934. In 1935 the University awarded him the accolade of Doctor of Divinity. Towards the end of the same year, Father Walsh returned to New Zealand, and was appointed curate at the Sacred Heart Basilica, Thorndon.

With the advent of the World War, Father Walsh was selected as a chaplain, and proceeded with the New Zealand Division to Egypt in 1940. In this entirely new sphere he won golden opinions from all ranks of the Armed Forces throughout the North African and Italian campaigns. A splendid mixer, a brilliant conversationalist, he was ideally suited for the task. It was little wonder that after the close of the European operations of war he was selected to proceed as chaplain with the New Zealand forces to Japan. War in Europe had given him the opportunity to return again to that continent, the love of whose culture was so potent a force in his life. Above all, France, his second home which he had come to revere so much in his Roman student days, again refreshed his spirit, and he took every opportunity of renewing acquaintance, or forming new friendships, with outstanding French scholars.

Returning to New Zealand from Japan, in 1946, Father Walsh resumed his pastoral ministry, working with his wonted devotion till 1949, when he was sent to Oxford University to pursue an arts course, with specialisation in history, leading to the B.A. degree. For three invaluable years he lived at the distinguished Jesuit House of Studies, Campion Hall, coming under the influence of one of the Church's most renowned scholars, the then Master of Campion Hall, Father Martin Darcy, S.J. He read a brilliant course at Oxford, and in 1952 gained his degree of Bachelor of Arts. In term vacations he ranged wide over the Continent, making his first visit to Spain, a country which had made a profound impression on him, as well as extending his travels to such founts of culture as Greece and the isles of the Aegean. These were the influences that mould Father Walsh into the finished, educated and cultured man who was able to walk with ease and grace in any circle.

Towards the end of 1952 Father Walsh returned to New Zealand, spending three months en route in the United States, lecturing upon Europe and the Far East to many distinguished audiences.

On his return Father Walsh was entrusted will the formation of the new parish of Featherstone, and it gave him, a true priest first and foremost, a deep satisfaction page 39 that now for the first time he was a pastor of souls. But University halls were destined again to know him, for the following year he moved to Wellington to become assistant lecturer in history and political science at Victoria University College. The quality and brilliance of his lectures is still gratefully recalled. It was the height of tragedy that life so rich, mind so cultured, should have been cut off in its fine flowering by his sudden death in May, 1956. It can truly be said that New Zealand has known few more truly educated men.

Rev. Father N. H. Gascoigne

To Be Taught History or political science by Frank Walsh must have been a unique experience. No one could have been further removed from academic convention. His first impact conveyed the impression of genial chaos, of inexhaustible, bubbling humanity, of warm feeling for life in all its rich variety. Nor was this impression wholly dissipated by later experience. He could stand a simple administrative direction on its head during the time that it took a man to climb a flight of stairs, and the examination of a detailed problem could be as readily overlaid by discussion of the European aristocracy or the merits of Tuscan wine as by a scholarly exposition. No conversation with Frank Walsh was dull or likely to proceed for long without some quick thrust or revelation of knowledge in an unexpected quarter. He was a widely cultured man; and his sincerity was none the less apparent because genially worn, and well accustomed to meet, in the cut and thrust of civilised talk, men of strongly contrary judgment.

As a historian his knowledge went deep into some aspects of medieval times, and into the age of Louis Quatorze. Yet he could cheerfully turn his hand to any part of the wide field included in the Oxford History Schools. His talk flowered when it dealt with worthwhile individuals, living or dead. His handling of theological problems was frank and scholarly, though readily softened by a kindly understanding of human frailty. Such kindliness incidentally, made him a quite ineffective critic, as he could hardly bring himself to believe that"—when allowances had been made"—anyone's work really deserved a mark less than B minus, or a comment of the devastating kind sometimes thought to be helpful by his colleagues.

His service to the University was tragically short, and other hands must write of his wide experiences before he came to us. He was a priest, a scholar at Rome and at Oxford, chaplain to the forces in Africa and Italy and Japan, a popular lecturer in the United States, and an enthusiastic musician. One of his last acts was to conduct a memorial service to Archbishop O'Shea, and the magnificently sung Requiem Mass in the Basilica seemed to a great congregation, drawn from all sections of the community, somehow to derive from his work. It was a fitting tribute to a gifted man who gave of his talents with irrepressible generosity.

F. L. Wood