An interesting National Post story by Robert Fulford about a guy with an enviable career:

In 1948, when William Toye was about to graduate from the University of Toronto, what he wanted most in the world was a job in Canadian book publishing. This was an outlandish career plan, since Canadian publishing barely existed. We had few publishers and they produced few books. They spent much of their time importing whatever the Americans and the British published. They kept afloat by selling Bibles, dictionaries and schoolbooks. Was this any way for a bright young man to start out?

But young Toye saw his destiny and insisted on it. When he applied for a job at the Canadian branch of Oxford University Press, he was told they had nothing for him but a place in the warehouse. He said that would be fine….

After starting at the bottom, he eventually learned the techniques of book production, began editing schoolbooks, then travelled the country to make Oxford books known in universities and schools. He wrote children’s books and edited Marshall McLuhan’s letters. He taught himself typography, not an easy thing to do.

He became the first and, for many years, only Canadian author or editor who could both provide the content of a book and design it at a high level. (Now there’s one other Canadian who can turn the same trick, Robert Bringhurst.) In 1956, when Robert Weaver organized The Tamarack Review, he recruited Toye as an editor and designer; Toye stayed with The Tamarack through its quarter of a century as the leading literary magazine in English Canada.

Almost alone in his profesion, Toye has had exactly one full-time employer. He joined Oxford in 1948, stayed there till he retired in 1991 and then began freelancing for Oxford. His long service in the trench warfare of editing was recognized by Oxford University.

On a September day in 1995, suitably gowned, he walked across the Oxford campus to the Sheldonian Theatre, the 1660s building by Christopher Wren, site of sacred Oxford rituals. There he heard the university’s public orator praise him in Latin, calling him Gulielmum Toye. His accomplishments were detailed and he was described as part of “our far-flung empire,” one of the governors of its provinces. “Educated at the University of Toronto, he has shown himself a true Oxford man,” the orator said. That’s the kindest thing anybody at Oxford could possibly say, if not precisely the way a Canadian patriot would put it.

I’ve been freelancing for Oxford for some years now myself; can I expect to hear my name read out as Stephanus Dodson one of these days? (Thanks for the link, Paul!)


  1. The Oxford praise bit doesn’t impress me that much, but the foresight and determination this guy showed in single-handedly creating a career do. If I had the same ability to conceive and pursue a dream so early in life, I’m sure it would have been a very different life…

  2. Stephanum, presumably, if the construction in which your name appears is the same as Toye’s.

  3. John J Emerson says

    As I understand, there are a number of poets who are able to make beautiful books in addition to writing them. I hesitate to name names because my memory is vague, but I think that Jonathan Williams and Cid Corman are two of them.

  4. There was never–ever–a time when there was such a desperate need for good editors to make good choices.

  5. Cambridge recently gave an honorary degree to a bloke employed as a street-sweeper by the City Council. He had become a distinguished local historian.

  6. As I understand, there are a number of poets who are able to make beautiful books in addition to writing them. I hesitate to name names because my memory is vague, but I think that Jonathan Williams and Cid Corman are two of them.
    You understand correctly, and those are two superb examples.

  7. dearie–isn’t that a bit of cheap shot? Oughtn’t the University to have given him an honorary DOCTORATE? DPhil? Surely a Masters is pretty small beer? And he deserved more.

  8. Hofstadter is pretty design-obsessed with his books too, even rewriting paragraphs to make them look better on the page (or so he claims). Whether or not you think he’s good is another matter. Randall McLeod hasn’t done a book yet but he designs his journal articles beautifully (and eccentrically).

  9. @Catanea: according to the local rag –
    In the past, Cambridge University has awarded honorary PhDs to internationally recognised personalities including Bill Gates and Nelson Mandela. But a spokesman described honorary masters degrees as “quite exceptional” and said they were awarded for services to Cambridge.
    He said: “The degree is being awarded for services to the community as an historian.
    The only other person to receive an honorary Master of Arts at the ceremony was Brigadier Sir Miles Hunt-Davies, the Duke of Edinburgh’s private secretary. The Duke is Chancellor of Cambridge University….
    Seems fair enough to me. (Declaration of interest: my wife knows Allan. They first met over 25 years ago at an evening class on local history.)

  10. A stray thought, Catanea: under the Cambridge system, I’d expect that a particular college will have presented Allan for his MA. He would, I’d expect, thereby get MA rights to dine at High Table in that College. I’m just wondering which college it was and whether he likes to pop in for dinner occasionally. Ditto the Canadian publisher: does he jet over to Oxford to dine in College sometimes?

  11. Nice. And I noted the point, in the first paragraph, that prior to 1948 Canadian publishing barely existed. I don’t know that first-hand but suspect it’s true.

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