Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

H. G. J. as a Biographer's Subject

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

H. G. J. as a Biographer's Subject

Article excerpt

Some Autobiographical Writings


ABSTRACT. In the last decade of his life, Harry Johnson (1923-1977) wrote a number of autobiographical pieces. He published three relating to his periods in Cambridge (1946-47 and 1949-55), but he did not publish two long autobiographical notes and a series of memoirs of his undergraduate career at the University of Toronto (1939-43), his first teaching job as the entire economics department at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia (1943-44) and his later period in England (1966-74). This material provides a number of clues as to the way Harry wished to be remembered and the paper develops some of the strongest autobiographical themes common to them.

I WANT TO TAKE IN MY DISCUSSION of Harry what might be a slightly unusual tack. Rather than deal directly with Harry as the subject of a biography, I will spend some time dwelling on how Harry seems to have wanted to be regarded. In doing so, I want to make use of a body of autobiographical material he left behind, much of it unpublished. The published material, which relates almost entirely to Cambridge, appeared in three papers: "Cambridge in the 1950s," first read at Amherst in February 1973; "Cambridge as an Academic Environment in the Early 1930s: A Reconstruction from the Late Nineteen-Forties," first read in October 1975; and "The Shadow of Keynes," intended to be, but never, read in Chicago. [1] The unpublished material includes one paper listed in his bibliography, "Autobiographical Notes," June 23-25,1969 and four further documents: "Harry G. Johnson's Contributions to Economics: An Evaluation by Himself," written, to judge from the internal evidence, in 1974 before his resignation from the London S chool of Economics (LSE); "The University of Toronto, 1939-43," dated July 5, 1974; "St. Francis Xavier," dated August 14-15, 1974; a discussion of his "London career," dated September 2- 3, 1974; as well as three fragments on English public intellectual life in 1970s, one dated August 21, 1974.

Except for the 1969 piece they all are from the perspective of Harry's early 50s. They are not simply anecdotal or simply reminiscences: the unpublished memoirs, like the published ones, frequently attempt to draw "lessons" or generalisations from the experience under discussion. This is not surprising, given the directions in which his professional interest in the discipline had developed. Where appropriate I have supplemented these autobiographical materials with other items from Harry's papers or the secondary literature.

Harry was born in Toronto on May 26, 1923, the elder son of Harry Herbert Johnson, "a moderately successful journalist and city editor[2] turned political organiser for the provincial Liberal Party," and Frances Lily Muat Johnson, a teacher who after the birth of her two sons took an MA and in 1930 became a part-time psychologist at the Institute for Child Study at the University of Toronto, founded in 1926 under the direction of William Blatz. In 1930, a year after Harry H. became secretary of the Ontario Liberal Association, Harry's parents moved to a 100-acre farm in Scarborough, then a township east of Toronto, where they remained until after Harry finished university. Harry H. seems to have acted the "gentleman farmer": "his idea of farming was striding around in jodhpurs on Saturday mornings in the summer and ordering the hired man to fetch up the team and pull the car out of snowbanks or ferry us to it in the snowy winter." But, according to Harry's postwar application for a Rhodes Scholarship, his fat her did keep cows, thus giving his sons "chores." The result was that the Johnsons were "land poor" for much of the 1930s. Nevertheless, except for the "financially worst year" when he went to the local one-room country school a mile and a half's walk away from the farm, Harry was educated privately at the Institute's laboratory school, St. …

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