By J. T. Jones
For the degree of Doctor of Laws, HONORIS CAUSA, I present Robert Kay Gordon, Professor Emeritus of English in this university.
Professor Gordon holds the B.A. degrees of Toronto and Oxford Universities and also the Toronto degrees of M.A. and Ph.D. On returning from Oxford to Canada in 1912 he went to the University of New Brunswick to teach English and History. According to the records, he was not only the head of these two departments, but the only instructor, a happy situation in which the head would be assured of the fullest cooperation by his staff.
He came to the University of Alberta in 1913 as Lecturer in English, advanced rapidly by merit through the various ranks to that of Professor, and in 1936 became the second head of the English Department. From 1943 to 1945 he was also Acting Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, when, the problems created by the war would have daunted one less devoted and patient. He retired from the University in 1950, to the regret of all who worked with him.
In 1938 Professor Gordon's scholarship was recognized when he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. The variety of his learning is indicated by his publications, which include articles on Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Scott, Hazlitt, Keats, Balzac. His affection goes chiefly, I believe, to Chaucer and Walter Scott, two authors who viewed life with direct and uncomplicated vision. He long ago taught himself to read the sagas in Old Icelandic; reading them is still a favorite form of relaxation. There appeared in 1927 in the Everyman's Library series Dr. Gordon's book entitled Anglo-Saxon Poetry, translating into modern prose English poetry written before the year 1000, a volume which has been in constant use by students of Old English everywhere. In 1934 in a book called The Story of Troilus he set side by side with the versions of Chaucer and Henryson his own translations of the tale from earlier accounts by French and Italian writers.
Professor Gordon served this University for nearly forty years. He was much respected. When he spoke in councils and committees it was with good sense and often with humor, with the reasonableness of one who believed that the judgments of others could be right. He was unyielding only when the issue was a moral one or concerned the standards and purposes of university education.
He expected his students to do their best. And yet, though his standards were high and his judgment strict and unentangled by his feelings, they knew him as a willing helper. This quality is put neatly in a story by C. E. Montague, an author whom Dr. Gordon likes, where it is said of a certain man: ÀI think he must have had the born teacher's knack of laying his mind close alongside the weak, muddled mind of dull youth. And may I add, the strong clear minds of the bright ones, for they also need encouragement to live up to their possibilities. As the University grew bigger and bigger and the machinery of administration more elaborate, he did not lose sight of the fact that it all exists for the individual student. Size and numbers do not dazzle him.
When Professor Gordon retired eight years ago his colleagues in the English Department gave him a painting which represented the Clerk of Oxford from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The artist, Professor Glyde, made the Oxford scholar look somewhat like Dr. Gordon. You remember Chaucer's description: "he nas nat right fat. I undertake." There is also another line that fits: "Noght o word spak he more than was nede."
But what makes this picture a most fitting one is the line that says: "And glady wolde he lerne, and gladly teche."
Eminent Chancellor: To have been both Professor Gordon's pupil and colleague is a privilege for which I hold myself to be envied. I have the honor to ask you to confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, HONORIS CAUSA.
Published Fall/Winter 1958.