I started at the University of Sydney in 1960. Think about that: such a long time ago. I was sixteen years old. If in 1960 someone had said to me “I started at the University of Sydney in 1913” I would have thought “You poor old bugger…” Perhaps some of you are thinking just that.
So what were my teachers like at University? First point, I guess, is that not all of them could teach, though some could, and a few were positively inspiring. There were some who really could not teach but made up for it in scholarship or eccentricity, like the late Dr Thelma Herring whose lectures on Shakespearian comedy in 1961 were in many ways quite dreadful, yet had some interest. That the plays were comedies or even that they were plays escaped her attention, but her familiarity with the minutiae of sources and dates was beyond question. Her speaking style was a distraction as she followed a kind of tune with rising intonation that had an amazingly soporific effect. She was determined too. No matter what noise — a low-flying jet plane for example — she would carry on regardless, her mouth opening and closing unintelligibly, except perhaps to lip-readers, but none of us, so far as I am aware, could read lips. She would also commence her lecture whether or not anyone was in the room. Even so, she was by all accounts a fine person, and she was treated rather badly when the Leavisite revolution happened from 1963.
Shakespearian tragedy was the province of one of the most inspiring teachers I had at University: Professor (then just Dr) Derick Marsh. I will tell you about him next time.