The New Compass: A Critical Review



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C. Q. Drummond and Conversation


Sarah Emsley



Welcome to the first issue of The New Compass: A Critical Review. The journal is the off-spring of The Compass: A Provincial Review, which was published at the University of Alberta and produced nine issues between 1977 and 1980, under the editorial direction of John Baxter, Colin Ross, John Thompson, and (from Number 4 on) Jim Young. The inspiration for The Compass came from someone whose name does not appear on its list of editors, the late Professor (or as he preferred to be called, Mr.) C.Q. Drummond, and it is to him that this first issue of The New Compass is dedicated.


Like The Compass, The New Compass focuses on the connections between literature and life and on the ethical bearings of those connections. We invite interdisciplinary approaches to literature that demonstrate collaboration between and among disciplines such as history, philosophy, education, and politics. In reviving the idea and ideals of The Compass, “we welcome reason charged with conviction about issues in our lives,” and “we invite active participation by our readers; without such collaboration we cannot survive.” In the new journal’s format as an on-line publication, we hope once again to encourage conversation. Our website is plain, and we hope that our community of readers will speak plainly to one another as well, so that we can be as clear as possible when discussing the literature that matters.


For Christopher Drummond, conversation was essential to living: active, discriminating, intelligent, alive, and, above all, collaborative conversation. Mr. Drummond was a teacher who taught through conversation, and a literary critic who worked through his ideas in discussion and debate. His death on March 26, 2001 made many of his former students feel conversation would not be the same again. I am one of those students, as I took a class with him in the last term that he taught at the University of Alberta, in 1992. A few years later I visited with him in Edmonton when I went to attend my first literary conference. On the opening night of the conference I spent several hours in conversation with him, always intending to leave to go to the scheduled events, but unwilling to sacrifice the opportunity to talk to a great literary critic. He quarreled with me in the past about my imprecise use of the word “great,” but this time I’m sticking to it. Whether the topic was Paradise Lost, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the differences between men and women, the state of education in Canada, or which is the finest vodka in the world, the conversation was challenging and lively. He asked questions, drawing people into a debate that was both educational and fun.


In the weeks after his death I was frustrated with the conversations I heard around me in classes and seminars, and even more frustrated with my own inability to converse at the level he had required. So many of the things he said exist now only in the memories (and some class notes) of his students, as he published infrequently. Fortunately, a collection of his essays, entitled In Defence of Adam: Essays on Bunyan, Milton, and Others, edited by John Baxter and Gordon Harvey, is now forthcoming from The Brynmill Press/Edgeways Books. The New Compass is delighted to publish an excerpt from this book in our first issue. Drummond’s essay on “Whalley on Mimesis and Tragedy” is an exploration of George Whalley’s analysis of Aristotelian principles that ends with the characteristically humble remark, “I do not claim to understand this matter,” along with an invitation to further conversation and reflection: Drummond reminds us that Whalley says “for him the outcome of a piece of vigorous thinking … ‘could be expected to be, not a group of “conclusions” or doctrinal precepts, but rather the record of a feat of inventive thinking and the starting-point for fertile, elucidatory, finely controlled, and energetic reflection in response to it.’” With Drummond’s own vigorous and inventive thinking alive for us still on the page (or on the web), we can hope to continue reflecting on the conversations he began.


In this issue of The New Compass, Gordon Harvey offers his reflections on Drummond’s teaching in his “Letter from Cambridge,” remembering the experience of participating in Drummond’s (formal) classes at the University of Alberta as well as in the more informal discussions held in his hotel room at every meeting of the MLA annual conference. In an essay on “Literary Criticism and The New Idea of A University,” John Baxter comments on Ian Robinson’s and Duke Maskell’s recent book, and offers Drummond’s conversational model as the embodiment of what liberal education should be. Ian Robinson’s article on “Milton’s Justification of the Ways of God; or, The Fall into Language” is, as he says, a reply to C.Q. Drummond. Robinson takes up, strengthens, and finally objects to the argument Drummond put forward in the inaugural lectures in the University of Alberta English Department Lectures (since renamed the Edmund Kemper Broadus Lectures) in 1971, which were published in Numbers 2, 3, 4, and 5 of The Compass and will be reprinted in In Defence of Adam.


Also in this issue, we are pleased to publish poems by Helen Pinkerton (“Coronach for Christopher Drummond”), R.L. Barth (“Veterans Day 2002,” “Economics 101,” and “To Maj. William Umbach”), and Turner Cassity (“Deferring to the Count” and “Infrastructures”), along with a translation from Euripides by Steven Shankman (“Hecuba addresses the corpse of her grandson Astynax following the fall of Troy”). Janet Bailey reviews David Lodge’s book Consciousness and the Novel: Connected Essays (2002) and finds Lodge reluctant to defend the idea of the soul, even while he offers a careful exploration of cognitive neuroscience’s current views on “consciousness studies.” Richard Lansdown explores what it means to claim or reclaim an author for a particular audience in his review of J.C.F. Littlewood’s D.H. Lawrence: The Major Phase (2002) and Gary Adelman’s Reclaiming D. H. Lawrence: Contemporary Writers Speak Out (2002).


We hope you enjoy reading The New Compass, and we encourage you to join our conversation, whether by submitting an article, poem, or short story, or by commenting on work published in this issue. You can reach us by e-mail at the following addresses: Michael DiSanto is at, and I am at






Emsley, Sarah. “Editorial. The New Compass: A Critical Review 1 (June 2003) <>