“it was not as a teacher I was in awe of him: it was as a reader.”

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.

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6 Responses to “it was not as a teacher I was in awe of him: it was as a reader.”

  1. marmer01 says:

    I was actually wondering if McMurtry and McKillop managed to overlap. Glad they did.

  2. I remember McKillop, but did not have the privilege of studying under his tutelage. I was there when McMurtry was teaching at Rice, and I read everything he wrote. I was in awe of him as a writer. Unfortunately, I did not take his class. I also knew Dr. Williams, who was a friend, but I never took his class either. I should have taken all three, and then I would not struggle as I do to complete the writing of novels.

  3. Amy Lawrynovicz says:

    My mother and I were both Rice graduates with degrees in English. She was a great fan of Dr. McKillop. She went on to be an English professor herself. In my years at Rice there was no one who could read like Dr. Dennis Huston. I enjoy your posts very much. Now I have 2 daughters working at Rice.

  4. Lynne X WRC ‘88 says:

    What a lovely description and insight.

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