It gives me great pleasure to join in welcoming Emeritus Professor McKenzie this afternoon. He comes before you as a distinguished New Zealander and as an eminent international figure in the field of bibliography: the study of the production, transmission and reception of books and other texts, and of the principles applied in editing and interpreting them.
When he left this University forty years ago as the first Unilever Scholar and began his PhD studies at Cambridge no one foresaw how rapidly and how emphatically he would make his mark as a scholar. By the time he returned here a little over three years later he had completed a two-volume study of the early history of the Cambridge University Press that would be highly praised in Britain and the United States, and had gained much attention for his research papers. The Times Literary Supplement publicly deplored his 'imminent return to his own distant country', expecting no doubt that this shining new star would fade in frustration amid antipodean gloom.
How wrong that assumption was! Every aspect of his career at Victoria University in the next twenty-six years was remarkably fruitful, his creativity and flair for leadership in the University and in the community being smoothly and congenially integrated with his international research achievements.
He was a brilliant teacher across a wide range of English literature, his second year Shakespeare course, in particular, being one of the most stimulating and celebrated on campus. He established the Wai-te-ata Press to give senior students hands-on understanding of letterpress printing, and, with characteristic generosity, gave long hours to producing academic and literary texts in fine editions at that press.
He was responsible for initiating the course in creative writing, the programmes in drama and film, and those in art history and in librarianship. He led the development of Victoria University Press for twenty years, bringing to the University's activities in printing and publishing both a far-reaching vision of possibilities and masterly practical insights. This blend of qualities similarly marked his contributions to the development of the Alexander Turnbull and National Libraries, and of Downstage Theatre.
Throughout these years he lectured extensively in Europe and the United States, and published books and papers on several aspects of bibliography and textual study, moving fluently from particular topics to broader conceptual issues. In an important series of lectures at Cambridge on the London book trade he signalled the beginning of a major personal project that is soon to be published by the Oxford University Press, a large three-volume edition of The Complete Works of William Congreve, the Restoration dramatist.
In the early 1980s he was being drawn more and more to Britain, for example as President of the Bibliographical Society. In 1986 he was invited to take up a post at Oxford, which led to his 1989 appointment as Professor of Bibliography and Textual Criticism, from which he retired last year. His crowded years at Oxford have been marked by outstanding successful teaching of postgraduate students, by close involvement in the affairs of the British Library as a member of its Advisory Council, and by his participation in a large scholarly project A History of the Book in Britain. Earlier this year he delivered the Clark Lectures at Trinity College, his predecessors in that role including some of the greatest literary figures of the past century.
Retirement from teaching has simply made more time for his numerous scholarly commitments. He is universally recognised as an accomplished practitioner of traditional editing and bibliographical skills, and as a highly innovative thinker about the future direction of the field of study he has adorned for four decades. Gold medals from learned societies, election as a Fellow of the British Academy, and numerous other honours testify to his standing. He is to be honoured today by the academic institution with which he has had the longest association, one he continues to foster at every opportunity.
Chancellor, Don McKenzie has constantly stressed that the meaning of any text or dramatic action is shaped by every aspect of its form. The elements of this ceremony shine with transparent purpose: my formal presentation of the candidate, the time-honoured words to award the degree, and the ritual placing of the academic hood. They symbolise a strong desire to express to him our deep respect for his achievement as a scholar and his excellence as a teacher, and our gratitude for the outstanding contribution he has made to the wellbeing and enhancement of the University, and of many other academic and cultural institutions.
Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you