Department of English

University of Toronto

Passing of Milton Wilson

Dear Colleagues and Graduate Students,

It is with great sadness that I write that Milton Wilson passed away on Friday, March 22. Professor Emeritus and FRSC, he was the first Chair of the Department of English (from 1975-1980). Born in Toronto in 1923, he received his BA (1945) and MA (1946) from the University of Toronto and his PhD from Columbia University (1957). Milton was appointed a Lecturer at Trinity College in 1949 and rose to the rank of Professor in 1966. During his first two decades at the University of Toronto, he published extensively on Canadian literature, as an omnibus reviewer for UTQ and as a Literary Editor and then Managing Editor of The Canadian Forum. His monograph E. J. Pratt (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart) appeared in 1969. Throughout his life, however, his great love was English Romanticism, and particularly the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley. His monograph Shelley’s Later Poetry (Columbia University Press, 1959) was groundbreaking, and placed him among the foremost critics of this poet. In 1993, he was awarded a lifetime achievement award from the Keats Shelley Society.

It is difficult to sum up the huge contribution that Milton Wilson made to the University of Toronto. This tall and genial scholar safely steered the Department of English through the stormy waters of its first years, and I cannot imagine a person better suited for the job. In recognition of what Denton Fox called his “highly successful reign,” “ruling wisely and benignly,” the Department of English established the Milton Wilson Prize, awarded to the first-year undergraduate student who obtains the highest marks in two English courses while completing a five-course load. The following list of some of the graduate students whom he supervised is a testimony to his impact upon Canadian Literature and British Romanticism: Jay Macpherson, Anne McWhir, John O’Connor, Tilottama Rajan, Douglas Kneale, Lisa Vargo, Bruce Wyse, Tom Orman, and. I believe, Karen Weisman. Anyone who knew Milton valued that friendship. As a person he brought as much to us as he did as a scholar, a teacher, and our first Chair. His “transmitted effluence cannot die / So long as fire outlives the parent spark.”

Please join us in a memorial service on May 2 at 11:00 a.m. in the Trinity College Chapel. A reception will follow in Seeley Hall.

Alan Bewell,
Chair of the Department of English

Obituary, The Globe and Mail:

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