THE EFFERVESCENCES OF A UNIVERSITY ORATOR

FOREWORD

It is a great honour to be asked to provide a Foreword for this book, and it is a great happiness to recall the days of my Presidency at the University of New Brunswick. Each Encaenia and Convocation, I vividly remember, was brightened by the wit and learning of the Public Orator. As I read the citations that appear in the following pages, I am aware that they tell me something I did not know, or of which I had not thought, about those upon whom the University has set the seal of its high approval. From the opening words of each to the opening words of the Latin formula of presentation, "Insignissime Praeses"--not to be translated in Freshman innocence "O insignificant President"--Professor Cattley sustains interest in his subjects and probity in his reflections. It may well be said of him, as Nestor said of Menelaos, in Richard Lattimore's fine rendering of The Odyssey "He will not tell you any falsehood; he is too thoughtful".

Albert W. Trueman
President of UNB, 1948-1953

 

INTRODUCTION

By ancient tradition, the Orator, a university officer, is "the voice of the Senate", and among his duties is to present on their behalf to the President, and to the entire university body assembled, distinguished personages for the bestowal of degrees honoris causai.e. honorary.

Like the Public Orators at Oxford and Cambridge the Orator of the University of New Brunswick makes these actual Presentations in Latin, the historic medium of European universities. Latin is a monumental language, admirably proper to such monumental occasions, and we do well, as even our Latin-less brethren feel, to preserve it for the conferring also of our degrees-in-course.

Honorary Degrees, as the title implies, are awarded for merit, not earned by sweat--at least by the sweat of examinations--and they have in consequence always invited some satirical levity. A rugged Texan, rather short on academics but long on the wide open spaces of his State and the cattle it breeds, had been inveigled over to war-time Cambridge to explain America to the embattled undergraduates. He had protested that all he could explain of his Republic was that he "had had American mud between his toes and grass burrs in his heels", and that all he really knew about was Texas Longhorns. He proved a superb, if unconventional, lecturer as his book* reveals, and the Public Orator, when presenting him for an Honorary Degree, quipped:

". . . "de bobus longicornibus quod ille non cognovit, inutile est aliis cognoscere. Nunc apud nos, ut est ab assiduis solibus petasatus, inter togatos homines deversatur."

". . . what he does not know about Longhorns is not worth knowing. A sombrero'd visitor from a land of perpetual sunshine, he graces our begowned community."

One deduction here seems legitimate. Other universities deem it prudent to assign citations to members of staff in the particular field of the respective candidates. Of the resulting panegyrics some gleam, a few sparkle, but an inexorable pressure drives too many into becoming lists, in dutiful but drab detail, of the subjects' professional accomplishments. In such recitals the keenest layman is apt to lose interest, particularly if he has been bombarded with them in the advance publicity. Where, however, one man is entrusted as Orator with this delicate task the good soul, as is obvious, cannot be deeply versed in the technical merits of half a dozen candidates and must, therefore, have recourse to the earthier aspects of each. Provided he observes high academic decorum while launching his genial shafts, a long hot ceremony can pass off with refreshing airiness, and the audience be delighted to find that the august recipients are, after all, human beings, and that all things academic are not implicitly stuffy.

Why, in a U.N.B. so dedicated to its ceremonial Latin, are most of the citations in this little book in English? It is one of the purposes of my introduction to explain not only why it came about, but how.

Appointed to the Chair of Classics in 1929, I learned only three days before my first Encaenia** that it was the prerogative of the Professor of Classics to act as Latin Orator. My Chancellor, Dr. C.C. Jones, (whom, until then, I had adored as a second father) approached me quite casually and said, "By the way, we have two--no, three--candidates for Honorary Degrees: just make up a little Latin paragraph on each. Remember, they don't 'supplicate' for these, you 'present' them." These, my first victims, were: The Right Honorable Francis Alexander Anglin, Chief justice of Canada, to be Doctor of Laws; Theodore Goodridge Roberts, the well known Canadian author, to be Doctor of Letters, and William Ambrose Found, Deputy Minister of Fisheries, to be Doctor of Science.

I was very young and very green. But the spirit of a Public Orator at once began infusing my veins (and raising my blood pressure). Out of respect, I will not set down what I concocted for the learned Justice. "Thede" Roberts I had the good fortune to know, and by way of allusion to his military career I worked in ... et militavit non sine gloria--and blessed Horace for the inspiration. But on the Fisheries candidate I decided to convulse my audience with a verbal play on "found"

"Insignissime Cancellari et tota Universitas, praesento vobis Guilielmum Ambrosium Found, Piscatorem inter primos qua nomine qua auctoritate repertum."

"Illustrious Mr. President and this whole University body, I present to you William Ambrose Found, a Fisheries man, found by authority as by name in the first rank" (then followed a steal from Vergil's ‘cerulean Proteus').

I had a nagging doubt whether all my listeners would be well enough up in their Latin to catch the subtle allusion of "repertumem>", so, just before the ceremony, I panted up to my lecture room to check in the dictionary whether perhaps the more familiar "inventum" had enough respectability. Alas, when rather breathless I got there, it was to find the room full of women in white aprons busy preparing the Encaenia Tea, the door barred by a table loaded with cups and saucers--and my Lewis and Short buried beyond resurrection. I had to risk my second thought. When the great moment came, I pulled out all the stops on FOUND--INVENTUM--and what resulted? Silence!

I knew then that Latin in a double entendre, however blatant, was doomed.

Not Latin, however, in the ceremonial. Here it has a mystique quite its own and an unbroken history going back to, and, beyond, that greatest of orators, Cicero. Sensitively pronounced, its vowels sounding like so many organ notes, it can be very compelling in a hall aglow with the mediaeval pageantry of hoods and gowns, and crowded with expectant supplicants and proud parents. And, as we found out, it could provoke a riot to drop the language from even a part of the ritual. We did once, when to save time we cut out the latinized Christian names, and we had an angry father on our backs vociferating:

"I've come all the way from Georgian Bay to hear my son's name read in Latin--and you've substituted English!"

The force which decisively converted the citations themselves to English was Lord Beaverbrook.

During the interregnum between Presidents in 1948, his Lordship, as Chancellor, presided at Encaenia. Some days before that fateful ceremony he relayed to me a command to compose on nine candidates*** citations in English, which he would himself deliver. They were to be models of lucidity, brevity, honesty and pungency--and he sent me a pattern.

I set to work, armed with no better than a friendship with one, an acquaintance with another, and Who's Who for the rest. Now Who's Who is pretty bleak material for a polished oration, but I sweated out what I thought would sound elegant and rushed them to my Chancellor on the afternoon before. He gave them one glance and tore them up, growling that he would handle them himself. And there I had to leave the matter, wondering how, with a V.I.P. dinner to host that night, he would find time and a fraction of his phenomenal energy to produce much meatier versions than those on which I had spent two long afternoons.

Later that evening, and hardly to my surprise, I received a message that I was to compose (and deliver) them in Latin. However, next morning I found that one of my colleagues was to be the work-horse and the citations were presumably to be in English. Here, as I could not help, I pitied him; and I went to lunch not knowing in the least how things were to be.

At the meal came another telephone call: the citations were, after all, to be in Latin! I had half an hour, and in that brief span I hastily reviewed the two I had providentially completed the night before, and, relying for the rest on some appropriate superlatives (which I jotted down on the back of an envelope), I joined the procession.

Somehow we got through that dreadful afternoon; and next day his Lordship, with that disarming generosity which always marked him, complimented me on my performance. "You know", he vouchsafed, “after hearing you, I'm sure Latin is the right medium for such things."

I knew better. Latin when transplanted, Latin however lucid, brief, honest and pungent, could never work the miracle of a Cambridge Orator and provoke its ripple of learned laughter. Next year I begged my new President**** (who has courageously consented to pen the Foreword) to let me try the citations proper in English, while retaining the traditional Latin of the Presentation formula.

That is why I am printing mainly the citations of my "English" era.***** We have, however, twice within that era taken, at the plea of certain traditionalists, a leap--backwards, in my opinion--into Latin. I am including with the Latin the translations I wrote to accompany each; but how they will compare with their fellows I leave the reader to judge. It seems to me that, with the citations in our mother tongue and Latin in the formula, we have what is missed by the die-hards of either camp, the best of both worlds.

I should have said "mother tongues". In a province which hopes to become bilingual, I regard it as a minimal compliment to a French-speaking candidate to offer one or more paragraphs in his language even if my accent is, as I confessed over Premier Robichaud, de moindre éclat than his English. And on one occasion I ventured a greeting in Welsh--for Sir David Hughes Parry.

After painful weighing of pros and cons I am including neither titles, nor professions nor decorations of candidates--not even of our late and beloved Governor General. These were given full publicity at the time and in most of the citations they reveal themselves. Their inclusion would pose the more acute problem of where to draw the line. Does a "Very Reverend" merit mention but a mere "Reverend" not? If a "Sir", is he to be designated Baron, Baronet, or Knight? And if the latter, of which Order? And what of more diffuse claims to honour? No, at this their lesser Judgment Day, better that all stand "unhouseled, disappointed, unanel'd" beside their less adorned honorary classmates. It is a humbling un-dress rehearsal for their latter Dies Irae, and it keeps the names uniform and uncluttered.

Even so, the candidates at our Sesquicentennial Encaenia of 1950 got short shrift, except the two speakers at those twin ceremonies. There were twenty-nine others and time literally forbade lengthier laudations.

The citations for Convocation 1956 and Encaenia 1957 will not be found because, being on sabbatical leave, I was not present to write or to deliver them.

In October 1954 there were eight candidates. For certain of these I elicited the help of colleagues. Of two later citations one was virtually, the other completely, written by persons who knew the candidates intimately. I personally pronounced all these citations but I have acknowledged in their several places my debt to each collaborator.

I now want to express my wider gratitude to hundreds of other helpers. Experience has taught me that to strike the purest ore one must prospect far afield. My prospecting has been regularly charted in the university telephone bills, which reach twin peaks for long distance enquiries in early May and October. Loyal secretaries, devoted friends, admiring colleagues, old classmates, and on occasion a wife or two, have metted at my urgent appeals for intimate data, from golf handicaps to personal idiosyncrasies, and at my assurance that I will not set down aught in malice. Regarding the wives, I am not aware of having caused a single divorce or even a judicial separation. Indeed, more than one spouse has confessed to me that she never knew what a wonderful man she was married to, until I had exposed his hidden virtues.

Some of my most valued allies have been the Reference staff of the Library. Among these co-operative ladies I must single out Miss Nan Gregg, who has always sensed the kind of material I needed and had it laid out and indexed in her own sweet and imperturbable way. May she give as good (but not better) to my successor! Another was Professor Charles D. Hérisson, who possessed that exquisite Gallic feel for the right mot and a saving touch of humour. How often, when I have put myself in his critical hands, he has countered with "Eh bien! mon Robert; pas de vos plaisanteries habituelles? Pour-quoi si sombre, M. l'Orateur?" Another is my good friend and, I fear, flatterer, Michael Wardell, whose sagacious advice, like his printing presses, has been available to me late or oftener early. He pays me the signal compliment of printing my efforts in The Gleaner, always--the acme of tact--just after, not before, I have spoken them. I have been similarly honoured by successive editors of The Alumni News, Mrs. "Peg" (Jones) McNair and Mr. and Mrs. "Doc" Roberts. With all these I must couple my President, Dr. Colin B. Mackay. He has an almost encyclopaedic acquaintance with men and affairs and a shrewd ear for a sentence too long or a paragraph too loaded. He has saved me from many a blunder and helped me trim many an otiose phrase. I thank them one and all, and, with them, my proof-reading associates.

And now a word in my own defence.

I am against the spoken word being published in advance. Oratory good or bad is meant to be listened to, and I like my periods to ring fresh in the ear. Feebly but fruitlessly I have resisted the printing of my orations in the Encaenia, and now the Convocation, booklets. Feebly, because, after all, Cicero would have jumped, and did, at the prospect of such immortality. Fruitlessly, because I have been powerless to reverse a practice for which I consider the arguments shocking:

"It will give people something to do before the procession comes in." Well, what is the University Orchestra, what the Band of H.M. Dragoons, there for, if not to entertain the expectant audience?

"A full souvenir of the ceremony." I can, and do, send the candidates richly illuminated copies of their citations; others can read them the same afternoon in The Gleaner.

"The public at the back of the hall can't hear distinctly." Even with the P.A. system?

True, the acoustics of the Gymnasium are poor, and of the Rink exasperating. But this does not soothe my chagrin at watching my sallies, over which I have burned midnight oil by the gallon, being scanned, and sometimes tossed aside, by a victim literally at my elbow on the dais. But these annoyances fade to nothing compared with my distress (in the middle of a critical cadence) at the turning over of a thousand pages. It has all the "surge and thunder of Ocean on a western beach"--and I know people are reading not listening!

Citations at Convocation always seemed to go over better than at Encaenia, and that, I am sure, was the reason. Perhaps, when we get a proper Convocation Hall, we can revert to the spoken word unheralded by print. I would advise my successor to push for such an edifice. An honorary degree would be well spent if it enticed some millionaire into building us one.

I cannot close without expressing to that group which has sponsored this little book how touched I have been by their gesture. The Associated Alumnae is a society of dear fine women, the most loyal supporters of U.N.B. Many of them are my former pupils. They it was who fought for, and won, out first women's residence. I fear, however, that with the present venture they have bitten off more than their corporate teeth can chew. Here is no "monument more lasting than bronze" that they are sponsoring, and the estimated gross cost appals me. Yet it would be rank discourtesy to withhold my co-operation. And who am I to discourage such trusting disciples?

Robert E.D. Cattley

 

Notes

*A Texan in England, by J. Frank Dobie (Hammond & Hammond, London, 1950).

**Encaenia, derived from the Greek and meaning Feast of Reconsecration, has the same sense as “Commencement”, i.e. the ceremony celebrating the end of one academic year and the beginning of the next.

***The nine were: The Rt. Hon. Clarence Decatur Howe, Jesse Holman Jones, Lowella Bernice MacNaughton, Solomon Randolph Noble, Joseph William Sears, Russell Leigh Snodgrass, Albert William Trueman, Edna White--to be Doctors of Law; Robert Barclay Miller--to be Doctor of Science.

****A. W. Trueman, D.Litt., LL.D., President, U.N.B., 1948-53, and later Director of the Canada Council.

*****My "Latin" era also included the following:

1932 Thomas Allen Hoben--to be Doctor of Laws.

1933 William Arthur Cowperthwaite--to be Doctor of Letters; Richard Bedford Bennett, Lorne Albert Pierce--to be Doctors of Laws.

1934 Chester Martin, Leonard Percival deWolfe Tilley--to be Doctor of Laws; William Maclntosh--to be Doctor of Science.

1935 Richard Burpee Hanson--to be Doctor of Laws.

1936 Albert Allison Dysart, William Henry Harrison, Jack Hall A.L. Fairweather--to be Doctor of Laws.

1936 Edward Wentworth Beatty--to be Doctor of Laws; Leonard Harold Newman--to be Doctor of Science.

1937 George Frederick McNally--to be Doctor of Laws; William Kendrick Hatt--to be Doctor of Science.

1938 John Babbitt McNair, Marshal Everett Mott--to be Doctor of Laws.