Old School: Torpor and Stupor at Johns Hopkins

by Bill Benzon

Also known as Tottle and Stutter. But the real name was Tudor and Stuart: The Tudor and Stuart Club.

The Tudor and Stuart Club was a literary society at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore – yes, they insist upon that “the” before “Johns” – and I was the club secretary for several years back in the late 1960s and 1970s. I don’t know just how that honor came to me. But I’d taken many literature courses as an undergraduate, half of them or so with (the now legendary) Richard Macksey and the others with members of the English Department: Earl Wasserman, Donald Howard, D. C. Allen, and J. Hillis Miller. They must have decided that I had a future as a literary critic and so deserved this honor, though, naturally, it came trailing a few pedestrian duties. I was pleased. I’m pretty sure it was Dick Macksey who told me.

T&S was established athwart the boundary between those pesky Two Cultures academic reformers are wont to natter on about [1]. The club room was located on the Arts and Sciences campus (where I was), but the Medical School (across town in East Baltimore) had an equal partnership in the club’s affairs. Sir William Osler, FRS, FRCP [2], one of the four founders of The Johns Hopkins Hospital – yes, you read right, “Sir” in the New World no less – endowed the club in 1918 as a memorial to his son, Edward Revere Osler, who was killed in World War I. Osler was a legendary character, the Father of Modern Medicine, but also a bibliophile and historian. Part of his son’s book collection went to the club, along with some of his fishing tackle – at least I think it was his Revere’s. But it might have been Sir William’s. I don’t rightly recall what I was told at the back then. Anyhow, I assure you, there was fishing tackle in the club’s oak-paneled room in Gilman Hall and it had a distinguished provenance. Had to, it belonged to T&S!

T&S club room

The Tudor and Stuart Club Room, c. 1929

Meetings were organized around an academic presentation, which was followed by cold cuts, tobacco, beer, conversation and, on a good evening, conviviality. As Sir William had been a physician, not a literary scholar or critic, the Medical School contingent and the Arts and Sciences contingent alternated in picking topics and choosing speakers for the monthly meetings.

As secretary it was my duty to go down to the Lexington Market and buy the cold cuts. If meeting minutes were taken and distributed, I didn't know about it. That wasn't my responsibility. I provisioned the meeting [3].

I forget which vendor we bought the cold cuts from, but the club had an account. I would be offered samples each time I made the monthly purchase. Pastrami, corned beef, roast beef, ham – I guess. I’d sample each, nod my approval, and the requisite poundage would be sliced, wrapped, and placed in shopping bags, one for each hand. I must have bought some cheese somewhere – not that I actually remember doing so, but I’m just saying so out of the principle of the thing, along with the bread and condiments. These things are all necessary, no? And, as they couldn’t materialize out of thin air, I must have purchased them and transported them back to the club room on meeting day.

But not before I’d been to Fader’s tobacco shop to buy the tobacco, boxes of Sher Bidis, cigars, and loose pipe tobacco of various kinds. A couple deep draughts [4] on a Bidi was good for a bright-edged buzz, and perhaps an exchange of knowing winks about inhalants used in more private settings. And sometimes those winks were exchanged between a faculty member and a student.

Oh my!

Have you ever been in a good tobacco shop? The aroma coalesces into an olfactory substance that drapes itself around you, connecting you with the vital organic. It is a delicious illusion.

T&S had a standing order with Fader’s, which was a good thing, as I surely didn’t know anything about purchasing tobacco. The order included the club’s special mix. Who formulated that, and when? I can still smell the shop, well, almost, after five decades.

I’d deliver the food and the smokes to the club room and then go over to The Johns Hopkins Faculty Club where I was one of the group that had dinner with the evening's guest speaker. The others would be faculty from both the Medical School and the Arts and Sciences School, as appropriate to the meeting, along with guests and club officers. The only other officer I remember is the curator, Michael Hancher, who was a young assistant professor in the English Department. The club must have had a president, a vice president, and a treasurer, but I don’t remember who they were or how they were distributed between the two schools [5]. As far as my memory is concerned, it was just me and Mike. We ran the party.

The worthy who had endowed the Faculty Club back, I believe, in the 1930s, also decreed that each meal should be finished with a cup of sherbet. For some reason I cannot fathom, that worthy believed that culinary elegance required sherbet, and so it was sherbet at the Faculty Club. That was fine with me. I liked sherbet (still do).

We would meet at the bar first. That’s where I learned to drink scotch. I’d never had scotch before, not at home, not otherwise at Hopkins. It started with Torpor and Stupor – I jest – at the club. Don’t ask me just how that came about, because I’d then have to fabricate an answer, which is something I’d rather not do. No doubt I followed someone’s example.

Yes, I was of drinking age by that time.

After a suitable period of lubrication we would repair to a private room for dinner. Was there a linen cloth on the table? Let’s say that there was, and reasonable flatware, not pressed tin. How was the food, you ask? I don’t remember. What I remember is that T&S had its own bottle of cognac. Once the cognac had been poured and drunk, a mark would be placed on the club’s bottle so we could be sure that no one stole a drink from it between meetings. The bottle must have been stored somewhere, but that’s another one of those many minor mysteries on which I am uninformed. Did the Faculty Club have a little cubby where they stored the bottles belonging to various members?

Cognac consumed, we would make our way to the club’s room on the 4th floor of Gilman Hall. I have this vague sense that there may have been occasions when my step was not the steadiest on this saunter. Along with the oak paneling, the books, and the fishing tackle, there was an oriental carpet on the floor [6] and there was a bust of Sir William himself in a shelf nestled in a corner. I believe – though I am to some extent making this up – that the evening’s comestibles, smokes, and a keg of beer were kept in the Office of the Humanities Center, which was adjacent to the T&S room. Oh, I’m pretty sure of the respective locations of the rooms, and of the door between them. It’s the location of the goods I’m not sure about. We got to them after the evening’s paper and subsequent discussion.

Which was erudite. I have since read that academic jobs sometimes hung in the balance, but I don’t remember such things. I’ve also read of informal conventions as to who got to ask the first question, at least on literary evenings. No doubt that, as a mere graduate student, I wasn’t privy to such politicking. I have this vague, albeit paradoxically specific, recollection of some one occasion when the room was packed. But surely that wasn’t always the case. No doubt some presentations were better than others, some discussions better than others. But I have few specific memories about any of that.

One thing that I do remember specifically, however, is that one graduate student, Sister Gertrude, had a wide black leather band sewed to the bottom hem of her habit. The skirt seemed wide, long, and weighty enough to be worthy of a Sufi dervish. THAT I remember, and you can see why. Some referred to her, surreptitiously of course, as the S&M nun.

She was a graduate student in the English Department. At the time the undergraduate school was all male, though that changed in my last year or two at Hopkins. But women were admitted to the graduate school. And of course there were some on the faculty. Phoebe Stanton’s two semester introduction to art history was legendary, and for good reason. She was a superb lecturer. Mary Ainsworth introduced me to primate ethology in an independent study course I took with her on infant-mother attachment [7]. But the English Department faculty as all male at the time.

Sister Gertrude was not the only woman at those T&S meetings. I remember another graduate student, who’d taught my discussion section in Earl Wasserman’s course on Romantic Literature. And then there’s the woman who was the wife of one of the young medical school professors. That’s three women I remember specifically, though only one of them in any detail. Surely there were others. After all, women constitute half the world’s population.

But, in the logic of the thing, at Hopkins and at that time they must still have been greatly out-numbered by the men. And, you know what, I don’t remember more than one or three of the men either, that is not specifically. Sure, Wasserman, Miller, Allen, Macksey and so forth, they must have been there. I say that, not because I have specific memories of them at specific meetings – don’t have many memories of specific meetings – but because they were at Hopkins in the late 1960s and early 1970s and so must have attended T&S meetings, drinks and dinner before hand has.

I do, however, remember Mike Hancher, the young assistant professor who was the club’s curator. He had an elegant apartment in a new building on the south edge of Wyman park at the southern edge of the Arts and Sciences campus. What I remember is late at night, after the questions had been made and answered, after intellectual reputations had been hazarded and forgotten, after the condiments had been spread and the cold cuts ingested, after the beer had been quaffed and jokes shared, after the pipes had been filled and the tobacco transubstantiated into tastes, aromas, ash and memories, after friendships had been joined, affirmed, and confirmed, after all that, Mike and I had to stick around and conduct the unconsumed beer through a tube and down a drain.

At 2AM.

Why, pray tell, did we do that, waste all that perfectly fine beer? Once upon a time a custodian came upon a keg after a meeting. It still had beer in it. He proceeded to rectify that situation and consequently did something – I don’t know what – that got him fired. Maybe just for being drunk. Anyhow, the club decided that it couldn’t allow that to happen again. If there was any beer left in the keg at the end of the night, the curator and secretary would have to empty it out [8].

Hancher left for the University of Minnesota at the end of the 1972 academic year. In the Fall of 1973 I shuffled off to Buffalo [9] to get a Ph.D. in English. I took a course on “Traditional Forms of the Narrative” from Bruce Jackson, who was married to Diane Christian, aka Sister Gertrude. She had left the order and married Bruce, a folklorist and documentarian. In 1983 they released Out of Order [10], a documentary about six nuns who’d left religious life. She was named SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in 1997. In 1981 Michael Hancher published an early article of mine in Centrum: Working Papers of the Minnesota Center for Advanced Studies in Language, Style, and Literary Theory [11]. These days both of us are interested in digital humanities.

I haven’t been back to Hopkins in years. But I’ve never left the Old School, even if I’m cruising cyberspace many hours a day.

Veritas vos liberabit.

Notes

[1] I’ve been listening to laments about the ‘gap’ between these two cultures for 50 years and little has changed. I conclude the discussion isn’t serious. It’s mostly penance undertaken as an ethical price paid for keeping things the way they ARE.

[2] If you’re curious about the initials, look them up. I’d guess that “F” is “Fellow” and “R” is “Royal”. “S” is likely “Society”. I leave the rest as an exercise for the reader.

[3] I wonder just how the duties of club secretary are spelled out in the bylaws.

[4] British spelling, you know.

[5] No doubt spelled out in the bylaws.

[6] I believe Dick Macksey arranged for it. Through a dealer on Greenmount Avenue? I remember him remarking that it was an OK carpet, but no more. I remember this because it seemed fine to me. Remember that carpet Henry James made a big deal of? Of what quality and tribe? Woven by young girls?

[7] She had worked with (Sir) John Bowlby in Britain and done field work on mother-infant interaction in Africa. She had a prepublication copy of his Attachment, Vol. 1, which I read in a mimeograph copy of the typescript.

[8] I can’t imagine that this particular duty was spelled out in the club’s bylaws. No doubt it would have been allowed under a “such tasks as deemed necessary” provision of some kind.

[9] Yeah, I had to say it. The devil made me do it. BTW, that was the catch phrase of Flip Wilson, a comedian born in Jersey City, where I’ve lived most of the last two decades. I’m now in Hoboken.

[10] Diane Christian and Bruce Jackson, Out of Order, Documentary Educational Resources, 89 min, 1983. http://www.der.org/films/out-of-order.html

[11] You can download the whole issue at this link: http://conservancy.umn.edu/handle/11299/164588

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