Queen's University

A Life of Learning and Other Pleasures

We present an exclusive excerpt from "A Life of Learning and Other Pleasures," the memoirs of distinguished, beloved, and long-serving Queen’s political scientist John Meisel.

To portray my Queen’s beginnings as exhilarating is a miserably inadequate understatement. I was drifting into a career and testing professorial waters, [my wife] Murie and I began conjugal life, joined a university community, and moved from a throbbing city to a mid-sized town in languid Eastern Ontario. I was immensely excited about being married and being a prof – and full of anticipation – but viewed the relocation to Kingston and Queen’s with something like amusement.

This calls for a confession: I had unwittingly succumbed to a case of “Trano-smugness” and “Varsity-vanity.” There was nothing boastful about it, just a comfortable, vaguely formulated sense that Toronto and its university were the best in the land and hence more important than what I would be joining in Kingston. The comparison was not fully articulated, but I viewed my new destination as a sort of farm club to prepare one for the Big Leagues. A funny image to invoke, now that I think of it, for so non-jock a person as I. It was also a strange attitude since I had no idea whether I would be good enough for an academic career even in Podunk, and was still awestruck by the opportunity confronting me at Queen’s.

Prof. Emeritus John MeiselProf. Emeritus John Meisel arrived at Queen's in the fall of 1949.

There was also an ambiguity in our situation. We knew that we would be in Kingston only one academic year [1949-50], but there was nothing temporary in the way Murie and I set out to establish our household. When I say “Murie and I,” I fantasize; it was Murie who did it all. I concentrated entirely on my university job, as was then the custom in families – particularly European ones. In any event, I had no domestic skills, whereas Murie was superbly endowed with them and throughout her life ensured that we lived in an aesthetically pleasing ambience.

I later realized that even so temporary an abode as a bed-sitter during a sabbatical would be subjected to beautification, endowing it with a touch of our personalities. I was delighted by this approach. So, while at one level we were aware of the provisional nature of our arrangements, we also began assembling the furniture we expected to accompany us “forever.” We did not have much money but all our acquisitions were well-designed and attractive, often because of our families’ generosity and always because of Murie’s good taste and manual skills....

The Corrys lived about half a dozen blocks from us, and since the couch would not fit into the trunk of their car and we did not own one, Prof. Corry proposed that we carry it over.

The unorthodox arrangement[s] affecting our furniture early attested to the collegial spirit animating the [Political Science] department. We did have one sofa but needed to order a set of twin beds. These took a while to arrive and in the meantime the great J.A. Corry came to the rescue.

“You’ll need the departmental couch!” he announced. It seems that such a serviceable fixture had been circulating among the economists and political scientists at Queen’s for some years. At different times, Prof. Frank Knox, one of the outstanding teachers of his era, the W.A. Mackintoshes, and most recently the Corrys had the use of it. They no longer needed it and we became its custodians until it was passed on to the next colleague.

The Corrys lived about half a dozen blocks from us, and since the couch would not fit into the trunk of their car and we did not own one, Prof. Corry (he was not Alec to me until later) proposed that we carry it over. A witness, luckily finding herself at the right place and at the right time, could have observed the distinguished Queen’s senior political scientist, later to become the principal [1961-68], and a gangly, awestruck, unknown young recruit proceed along Kensington Avenue and Union Street, and up a narrow staircase, lugging a couch which had offered repose to some of Canada’s finest political and economic minds.


[book cover image]
A Life of Learning and Other Pleasures
John Meisel’s memoir begins in 1923 in Vienna.
Meisel tells of his early schooling and traces his family’s escape from war-torn Europe, through Casablanca, Eindhoven, and Port-au-Prince, and culminates with his family’s arrival in Toronto. There a Canadian immigration officer’s welcome forever coloured Meisel’s perception of his new home.
After he arrived at Queen’s in 1949, his narrative continues with an engaging account of university teaching and research over the past six decades.
We learn, too, of his public service as Chair of the CRTC and how Prof. Meisel helped shape Canada’s electoral system.
For more info, please visit www.wintergreenstudiospress.com. Available May 2012 online, or through local bookstores. $35.
Queen's Alumni Review, 2012 Issue #2Queen's Alumni Review
2012 Issue #2
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