The Spike [: or, Victoria University College Review 1957]
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.
When Victoria University College was very young and without a home of her own: when she had a name but no local habitation; she managed to develop an entity and to establish a character. Round a nucleus consisting of four "famous men" she gathered together a number of young men and women informed with an idea, "keen in their vocation." These first professors and students had to struggle against every academic difficulty and perhaps for that reason they acquired some individual merit and some corporate strength. Furthermore, luck was with them. Corporate bodies and corporate traditions fail unless the gift of self-expression is vouchsafed, and to meet this need The Spike was born and The Old Clay Patch came into being. The College, as I say, was fortunate. It had students of some talent; they were whole hearted, and it happened that some of them had the power of speech. Among these was a boy named Eichelbaum, Siegfried Eichelbaum, fresh from Wellington College.
At Victoria Siegfried graduated M.A. and LL.B., but these trivialities are mercifully forgotten. He entered fully and wholeheartedly into the life of the new college and became one of the ancient and honourable order of Munchums. He collaborated in the writing of three extravaganzas, Munchums, The Golden Calf, and The Bended Bow. He joined the editorial staff of The Spike and became one of the editors of the first edition of The Old Clay Patch. As a writer of university capping songs he was unique both in the quantity and in the uniformity of his excellence. One of the other collaborators, Seaforth Mackenzie, had a greater poetic gift, but none surpassed him in humour, in aptness and richness of allusion, in swift and tellnig comment concerning the academic situation and the world at large. After half a century no foregathering of old students is properly served without the music of Absent Friends and Memories from Abroad, both from his pen. Many of his songs have of course fallen into the blue waters of forgetfulness, but there is not one that is not worthy of remembrance. I know of no student song more full of pith and topical humour than The Praetor's Song in The Bended Bow"—an extravaganza that showed how the call to arms was obeyed at certain stages in the "ascent of Man"!page 34
And we also sail per mare
On our galleys rowed by slaves:
O our tars are rich and tarry,
And Romania rules the waves.
Tho' the Roman quinqueremis
Doesn't seem the thing that steam is,
Her surpassing breadth of beam is
Such a comfort on the waves!
The quality that made Siegfried's writing so effective was the quick mental garsp which gave directness and simplicity to his diction. At the beginning there was an element of self-consciousness but this was later transformed into self-criticism and integrity. He saw immediately any element of absurdity or flabby sentimentality either in his own efforts or in those of others. Mackenzie had the same critical gift and they were invaluable collaborators.
It may, I think, be said of Siegfried Eichclbaum that in the first decade of this century he saw a vision of a University to which, through nearly fifty years, he remained true. He saw himself as a collaborator, and without thought of leadership or personal ambition. His devotion to the service has been unfailing and unflagging. After many years he became a member of the Council of his College and then a member of the Senate of the University, honours which extended his sphere of service, honours very richly deserved.
It is not in any place of dignity or honour, however, that his old friends will wish to think of him. They will think, perhaps, of the day on which the honour of nomination as Victoria's nominee for the Rhodes Scholarship was in his hands and by his persuasion the prize and then the final selecton went to his friend Allan MacDougall. They will think of him as a witty and self-conscious schoolboy, as an attentive and generous host, as a shrewd critic and as a faithful friend. They will think of his home and of his family, past and present, to whom so many generations of students owe so much. They will think of him, first and always, as a student and friend of Victoria University College, following her in all her vicissitudes"—to the end. They will think of him as the master of "the inevitable word." We may apply his own words to the retrospect:
Look back and see if in those walls
You helped to build and cherish,
Truth walks with courage, sword by sword,
Or both before some overlord
Fall down and weakly perish.
And if to meet that questing look
You cast from eye that's weary
You find a tale that's good to tell"—
Pass on, old man! All's well, All's well,
Nune tempus est abire!
And then that touch of the old self-conscious apologetic:
I've been and told a moral tale
Of transcendental beauty,
A thing I usen't to, and hence
De mea senectute.
And so passes an old editor of The Spike, a gay and happy raconteur, a rhymer of many parts, a humorist who never missed; above all, a good and faithful friend.
Victoria University College will march on through the centuries and many of her sons will be found steadfast at the fount of wisdom. The first decades, however, because they were the first, perhaps even because of their difficulties and restrictions, founded a tradition of devotion and service. They possessed, moreover, a few men and women who have left their mark. Among these will be found, not unworthy, the name of Siegfried Eichelbaum.
F. A. de la Mare