One more thing about Alan McKillop, and an important thing it is.
This is a short excerpt from Larry McMurtry’s Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen:Reflections on Sixty and Beyond:
“The teacher I wasn’t outreading, and the one, consequently, whom I paid the most attention to, was the now mainly forgotten scholar of the eighteenth century Alan Dugald McKillop, a stooped and rather shuffling figure at Rice when I arrived. I never knew Alan McKillop well, but I respected him greatly. In my last year as a graduate student I took his course in the English novel–but it was not as a teacher I was in awe of him: it was as a reader. I was just glad he was there, as an embodiment of learning of the old-school, unfrivolous kind. At Harvard he had been a pupil of Kittredge, Santayana, and William James. For myself, just beginning to glimpse a few towers and turrets in the deep mist of knowledge, Alan McKillop represented a level of learning that (I came to believe) had existed only in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1910, when my father was just getting his three annual months of schooling in a one-room schoolhouse. As I listened to Alan McKillop I came to realize that if any man had read the whole of English literature, from the Anglo-Saxon fragments to Anthony Powell, it was he. (At a tea in his home, the one time I was invited there, in 1959, he showed me Powell’s books, as well as those of C.P. Snow, whose academic novels he admired.)
Though not a particularly inspiring lecturer, Alan McKillop did leave one with the sense–valuable to me then–that literature, whether one wrote it, taught it, or just read it, could be a life-long occupation; one could approach it in a leisurely way, to be sure, but one needed to approach it seriously.
With Dr. McKillop as an example I figured out that the way to find out what to read was to locate a great reader and follow in his or her tracks. There are, though, surprisingly few great readers–they are as rare now as giant pandas.”
Like McMurtry I found great reader at Rice but in a sign of the times he’s not an English professor but a staff member. If you want to read better, go here and follow my friend Patrick Kurp.
Bonus: It was a beautiful day on campus Monday. I’ve never seen this closed before.