Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Marshall McLuhan, John Pick & Gerard Manley Hopkins

by Cameron McEwen

… those pretty mirrours, which like a crevice in a wall thorow [through] a narrow perspective transmit the species of a vast excellency (Jeremy Taylor, 1613-1667 qtd. in McLuhan, IL 66)

The object with Klee became a gate or door or a window opening into the countries of the mind … (McLuhan, Review of Paul Klee)

The paths of John Pick and Marshall McLuhan came together in 1936 at the university of Wisconsin in Madison. Both were 25 that year and both intensely interested in Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Pick, the future founding editor of Renascence, was completing his pio- neering Ph.d. thesis on Hopkins; McLuhan was in the process of con- verting to the Catholic Church, a process in which Hopkins played a decisive role.

Pick and McLuhan were born within two months of each other in 1911 — McLuhan on July 21, Pick on September 18 — and they died only a little over a month apart — McLuhan on New Year’s Eve at the end of 1980, Pick on February 6, 1981.

John Pick was born in West Bend, Wisconsin, 40 miles north of Milwaukee and 700 miles southeast of Winnipeg, where McLuhan grew up. From West Bend, Pick went to South Bend, Indiana, graduat- ing from Notre dame in 1933. He obtained his M.A. from the university of Wisconsin, did research at Harvard and Oxford, and returned to the university of Wisconsin to obtain his Ph.d. with a dissertation on Gerard Manley Hopkins. At Wisconsin he was an English department teaching assistant in the 1936-1937 school year, along with McLuhan. Pick received his Ph.d. in 1938 and took up his first academic appointment at Boston College in 1939. In 1945 he returned definitively to Wisconsin to teach at Marquette where he remained for more than thirty years.

It is possible that Pick and McLuhan were already acquainted in England in the small world of Oxbridge North Americans.1 Pick’s first research visit to study Hopkins materials at Campion Hall, Oxford, doubt- less overlapped with McLuhan’s much longer time in Cambridge. In any case, after meeting or remeeting at Wisconsin, the two became close friends. McLuhan, writing from St. Louis to Corinne Lewis, a few months before their marriage in 1939, reported: “John Pick [. . .] was my best friend at Wisconsin. He is Catholic, one of the very few on the staff there, and was my sponsor when I was received into the Church” (February 1, 1939, Letters 108). In this same letter, McLuhan notes: “Am enclosing the Phd. thesis abstract of John Pick.” This abstract is not included with the published letter and is therefore given here (in an addendum) to complete the record — but also for the important indications it gives of the common interests of the two friends (as seen especially in McLuhan sending it to his future wife). Continue reading at

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