An Archive in Drupal

From the beginning the pursuit of George Whalley has been a collaboration between a scholar, Michael John DiSanto, and a systems librarian, Robin Isard. Their first conversation about building a database to organize Michael’s study of Whalley and his private and public archival materials was momentous. “Is FileMaker Pro, or something like it,” asked Michael, “the best software to use?” The answer, lost to time, can be neatly summarized as “No, I have a better idea.” From Robin’s perspective, experienced as he is in archival work, collecting the necessary materials to write a biography is comparable to building up an archive of materials. Robin said, “why not organize the materials you’re gathering by using archivists’ methods from the beginning? We’ll make an archival database that uses the Rules for Archival Description (RAD) – the Canadian national standard – built in Drupal, an open source content management system (CMS). No money is required, only the time to set up the database.” This was no small consideration: at that preliminary stage in 2012 external funding had yet to be secured. And the length of time required was diminished because Robin had recently built a RAD-compliant database for the Algoma University Archives and the Shingwauk Residential School Centre. The existing system, because of the way it had been built, was modifiable.

The choice to use Drupal, one among many open source CMS options, can be summarized briefly. The Drupal CMS is non-proprietary. It is not made and owned by a software or computer corporation, but instead built and maintained by a community of users, developers, designers, and testers. The large number of Drupal users make it a good example of code that conforms to Linus’s Law: “Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix will be obvious to someone" (Raymond 30). The Drupal CMS is well advanced in is evolution, making it reliable and stable. It is used for a very large range of websites: the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum; the University of Oxford; and the Official Beatles website, among others. One advantage of using this CMS is the data Michael collects is not contained within corporate software code that may make extracting it or exporting it to another system difficult and potentially expensive.[1] Another advantage is that thousands of modules have been coded for Drupal to provide a wide range of functions and customize the CMS. There is no need to make a photo gallery to display archive images from scratch when Shadowbox and Colorbox, designed and maintained by programmers in the Drupal community, are available. When an existing module does not meet a need precisely, an existing module can be modified or a new one built. The last is an example of “agile development,” the close collaboration of the content specialist (the scholar) and the computer expert (the code-writing librarian).[2]

The Rules for Archival Description was formulated by the Canadian Committee on Archival Description in the 1990s. It is a well-developed metadata standard, especially for the Whalley project, because of its comprehensiveness. It can be used to describe any real-world object. And while it embodies systems of identification and classification that have evolved from the experience of archivists and librarians for well over one hundred years, it has a contemporary perspective. It is aware of digital objects. In the July 2008 Statement of Principles, the purposes of archival description are summarized as follows:

  1. To provide access to archival material through retrievable descriptions;
  2. To promote understanding of archival material by documenting its content, context, and structure; and
  3. To establish grounds for presuming the authenticity of archival material by documenting its chain of custody, arrangement, and circumstances of creation and use. (Rules xxii)

A set of principles follows from this fundamental understanding:

  1. Archival description should be undertaken with attention to requirements for use.
  2. The description of all archival material (e.g. fonds, series, collections, and discrete items) should be integrated and proceed from a common set of rules.
  3. Respect des fonds is the basis of archival arrangement and description.

3.1 Description applies to all material, regardless of form or medium.

  1. Creators of archival material must be described.
    1. 1. Description applies equally to records created by individuals or families, and by corporate bodies.
  2. Description reflects arrangement (i.e. levels of description are determined by levels of arrangement).
    1. 1. Levels of arrangement and description constitute a hierarchical system.
    2. 2. Description should proceed from general to specific.
    3. 3. Information provided at each level of description must be appropriate to that level.
    4. 4. Relationships between levels of description must be clearly indicated. (Rules xxii-xxv)

RAD is compliant with the Open Archives Initiative (OAI). The latter is a standard for the digital exchange of information among archives that adopt it. And both RAD and OAI are compliant with Dublin Core, an international standard that outlines a minimum set of criteria for metadata exchange. This means the content of Whalley database can be transferred to almost any library or archival database using OAI protocols. This brief overview of RAD will render more intelligible the description of the database and the record-making process for letters that follows.

A large amount of Whalley’s correspondence is extant (as of 28 January 2018, over 4200 letters have been transcribed). As much of it as possible, gathered from multiple locations, will be collected into the database. The greatest single concentration is in Queen’s University Archives (QUA). Smaller collections are in the special collections of the E.J. Pratt library at Victoria University, Toronto and the William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections at McMaster University and elsewhere.[3] A significant number of letters are in the Whalley Estate papers in England. Some letters are in the private collections of Whalley’s family, friends, former students and colleagues. To keep things clear while explaining the Whalley database, an example from QUA will be used.

The database is structured as a hierarchy. At the highest level is a set of Books, to reproduce the language employed by Drupal. The Books are of two kinds. One operates as a container to hold individual records, and the other explains the provenance of the materials. They are both named to identify the location or person from which materials have been gathered. “George Whalley Fonds” signifies the collection in QUA. “John Ferns Fonds” signals the materials are from one of the co-editors of Whalley’s Studies in Literature and the Humanities: Innocence of Intent (1985). A single page of metadata records the Start and End Dates of the materials, the Date Range, a History Biographical field (e.g. a biographical statement of Whalley), the Repository (e.g. QUA), the Creator (George Whalley), a field for Scope Content (e.g. an overview of the content of the fonds, which is reproduced from the statement used by QUA), the Physical Description (10.21 m of textual and other material, again taken from QUA). Paired with each of the Fonds is an Accession (e.g., “George Whalley Accession” or “John Ferns Accession”). This is a single page of metadata to record the Contact Name, Email, Address, and Phone (in every instance, this is the scholar’s) and the Source Name, Email, Address, and Phone (e.g. Paul Banfield, University Archivist, QUA).

The records in the database are in some instances grouped in a way analogous to the organization of the physical objects and in other instances in a way that puts together materials similar in kind as determined by the scholar. The metadata included in each individual record indicates where the physical objects can be found in QUA or elsewhere. In this way, the database complies with a key principal in RAD: respect des fonds (which is to say, in the order made by the originator).  This means that regardless of how the records are arranged in the database, the connection to the original materials and their order is not broken. For the purpose of this overview, a letter Whalley wrote to his parents will be used. In the database it is named “Letter to Arthur and Dorothy Whalley 24-2-1941” and its individual identifier, the number that differentiates it from every other digital record of any kind, is 4978.

QUA provides finding aids that map the terrain for its fonds. The George Whalley Fonds has several finding aids. The one for Locator Number 5043 identifies materials that were added to the Whalley Fonds when Elizabeth Whalley, George’s widow, made a large donation before she moved from Canada to England a few years after his death. Looking over the series and sub-series into which the boxes and files are divided gives an overview of the nature of the materials: Books series - Death in the Barren Ground sub-series; Essays and Articles series – Scholarly and Critical Pieces sub-series, Imaginative, Biographical and Miscellaneous Pieces sub-series, Review Articles and Reviews sub-series, and Articles, Addresses, Talks, unpublished sub-series; Broadcast series – Scripts, radio and television: CBC, BBC, CTV sub-series, Liberetti and narrations for musical performance sub-series; Personal Materials series – Correspondence sub-series, and Subject Files sub-series. In the Correspondence sub-series, Box 2, Files 32 to 49 contain letters Whalley wrote to his mother, Dorothy Whalley, and his father, Arthur Francis Cecil Whalley, from 1932 to 1950. In the database, the records for all of these letters have been gathered together in a Record Container, which is one step below a Book. The Letter to Arthur and Dorothy Whalley 24-2-1941 used for this explanation is drawn from Location Number 5043, Box 2, File 41.

In viewing a record, the location of it in the database is made clear by the breadcrumb trail across the top of the screen: Home> George Whalley Fonds> Letters to Mother and Father from GW > Letter to Arthur and Dorothy Whalley 24-2-1941. This is an overview of the metadata fields, in the order in which they appear in the input screen, using the record for the letter:


Title: Letter to Arthur and Dorothy Whalley 24-2-1941

Start Date: 1941

End Date: 1941

*Accession Number: George Whalley Accession

*Repository: Queen’s University Archives

File Number: 041

Container Number: 002

Notes (Location Number): Loc # 5043

*Location: Hundridge



Timeline Date: 24/2/1941

Date Range: ---



*Creator: George Whalley

Responsibility: ---

^Language: English

*Source: ---

*Description Level: File



Physical Description:  ---

*Thickness: 0.3 cm of textual record

^Poem or Letter:  1 letter

Page Count: 3

^MS or TS: handwritten

*Paper: Beige

^Ink or Pencil: Ink

^Ink or Pencil Colour: Black

*Letterhead: None

KB: 1498



*Scan Resolution:  350 dpi

Scan Date: 22/8/2013

Scale: ---

*Master Scans File Location: Internet Archive Scans: /Users/disanto/Documents/GeorgeWhalley/GW digital scans/Internet Archive Toronto

Processing Notes: ---

*GMD: electronic, textual record



Published Version: ---

Publication: ---

Volume: ---

Issue: ---

Page Number(s): ---

Standard Number: ---



File Information


(525.44 KB)

Title: Letter to Arthur and Dorothy Whalley 24-2-1941 page 1


(546.01 KB)

Title: Letter to Arthur and Dorothy Whalley 24-2-1941 page 2

tn_Letter_to_Arthur_and_Dorothy_Whalley_24-2-1941-page-3.jpg (427.42 KB)

Title: Letter to Arthur and Dorothy Whalley 24-2-1941 page 3



File Information: Letter_to_Dorothy_and_Arthur_Whalley_24-2-1941.pdf (83.46 KB)

*Yes an image has been attached to this record.

*Yes a PDF has been attached to this record.


*Menu Settings: Not in Menu

Book Outline

*Book: George Whalley Fonds

*Parent Item: Letters to Mother and Father from GW

*Weight: 0

Revision Information: No Revision

Authoring Information

Authored By: Samantha

Authored On: 2015-06-22 15:17:07 -04:00

*Publishing Options: Published

For completing some of the metadata fields, we have elected to use drop-down menus and check boxes in an effort to ensure the entries are consistent (especially in naming and spelling) and to reduce typing errors. The fields marked with an asterisk (*) use drop-down menus or check boxes. For example, the drop-down menu for Location contains a list of over three-hundred places and addresses from which Whalley wrote (Unknown is one option when needed). For Language, check boxes allow one to select from the seven languages that have been found thus far in Whalley’s writings. Using check boxes allows for multiple selections when necessary. The same record is used for letters and poems. Most of the fields are used for both kinds of materials, but those under Bibliographic Information are used for the poems alone. The record format for audio recordings (e.g. digital copies of Whalley’s CBC radio broadcasts) have many similar fields, but others that are particular to an audio document. The Authoring Information fields are automatically generated by the database to record who made a record and when it was completed.

In the last section, Menu Settings, Book Outline, and Publishing Options are used to organize records in the database. Menu links are used only for items that are published on the Whalley website, organized in the menu bar. The Book Outline fields are for the internal organization of the database. A record is a “child” to the “parent”: Letter to Arthur and Dorothy Whalley 24-2-1941 is contained within a Record Container called Letters to Mother and Father from GW. In Publishing Options, one can select whether or not a record is viewable to others logged into the database.

The metadata fields and organization of the information captured in the metadata fields have changed since Michael’s study of Whalley began. The database evolves as the project grows. For instance, the significance of Whalley’s writing for radio was not understood at the beginning. Though it is preferable to start with a clear and comprehensive set of metadata fields – this is the way to minimize the number of times it is necessary to revisit materials – they can be changed.

Metadata can be used to sort and display records in numerous ways. Some options are internal to the CMS and others are search queries programmed by Robin. One example of the former is to see all of the records made by a particular research assistant. Another is to use the database search to display any record or PDF transcription within a record that contains a specified name, (e.g. Coleridge, Kathleen Coburn) word (e.g. translation, poetry), phrase (e.g. poetic process, innocence of intent), year, etc. Examples of search queries include the following: display all of the letters written in 1952 by using the fields for Timeline Date, Start and End Dates, or Date Range; display all of the letters Whalley wrote from London, England; show all of the letters Whalley wrote using Bishop’s University or Oriel College letterhead by using the Letterhead field.

The Timeline Date field was specifically made for this project. Each record can have one or more timeline dates. The necessity of permitting multiple dates first arose when we noticed that some of Whalley’s poetry manuscripts and typescripts are inscribed with multiple dates that indicate when he revised. It is useful with letters that contain multiple composition dates when Whalley started writing on one day and continued a letter later. By using a combination of the Timeline Date and Date Range fields (where a specific date isn’t available, a date range must be indicated), the database can make a chronological arrangement of all of the records. This is especially useful for generating a list that collates letters from the whole database. The date fields can also be used to generate a visual timeline of Whalley’s life for online publication. (Many different timeline displays, of varying degrees of complexity, can already be found online.) One generated from database records in which letter images and transcriptions are contained can help reveal when Whalley was corresponding with particular people and when those exchanges overlapped or not and also give direct access to the letters from within the visualized presentation of the chronology. Each point in the chronology can open a window with key details (e.g. location) and a brief summary of the letter. Hyperlinks embedded in that window can open the image or the transcription.[4]

The digital images of the original documents have been made in three ways. Research assistants have used an Epson Perfection V500 scanner and the Epson Scan software that was packaged with it. Letters are scanned at a resolution of at least 300 dpi as TIFF files (a lossless digital format). When visiting with those who knew Whalley, Michael has photographed letters using a Canon Powershot SD 14000 IS 14.1 megapixel camera or an iPhone when a camera wasn’t available. A large number of images, well over 114,000 as of 28 January 2018, were produced by the Internet Archive facilities located in the Robarts Library at University of Toronto and the Wellcome Library in London. For those images two Canon EOS 5D MkII cameras were used to produce JPG2 (also known as JPG2000) files at a resolution of 350 dpi. The database does not accept TIFF or JPG2 files. Partly, this is necessary to conserve hard drive space in the database. On an external hard drive connected to Michael’s iMac computer, the folder containing files associated with Whalley is well over 2 TB. (Multiple backups are kept on three separate external hard drives kept in two different locations.) The size of the database is a fraction of this. The size of the TIFF files can range from 50 to 200 MB and the size of the JPG2 files is often well over 10 MB. The JPG image files attached to the database records are under 1 MB. Usually, the TIFF and JPG2 files are converted to JPG files using an application entitled PhotoCovert on Mac. These JPGs are then resized using an application called BatchImageResizerLite, again on Mac. The names of the files do not change, only the file extension.[5]

When viewing a record, one can read all of the metadata and also choose to see the digital images and the PDF transcription of the letter. The images are displayed using a Drupal module called Colourbox. The same module is used to display the photographs in the gallery on the Whalley website. When selected the image is initially reproduced in a small view that can be expanded to a full size if it is necessary to read for details.

All of the letters are transcribed according to a consistent set of rules (e.g. font, margins, spacing, etc.). The transcriptions of the letters begin as DOC files that are converted into PDFs for the database. The PDFs are necessary because the database uses a module called Apache Solr that performs all of the indexing and search functions. It can read the whole content of PDFs, but not DOC files. At the top of each transcription a limited set of metadata is recorded. This reproduces the practice of Cambridge University Press’ The Collected Letters of D.H. Lawrence and The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad.

Letter to Arthur and Dorothy Whalley 24-2-1941

Text: MS QUA; Loc # 5043, Box 2, File 41

The first line reproduces the title and the second signals key information about the original document: MS or TS (manuscript or typescript) and the physical location. For those letters not in an archive, the person’s name and location is recorded (e.g. Katharine Clark, McBride, BC). By including this information in the header, a PDF or paper copy of the transcription of the letter can easily be traced back to the record in the database. When a letter is written on letterhead the presence of a university insignia is indicated in square brackets (e.g. [Queen’s University Insignia]) in the transcription. Corrections and marginal or interlineal insertions made by Whalley are also recorded in square brackets in the text (e.g. [Marginal note by GW: The date of departure has changed.]).

At the present time the database is solely for Michael’s use and for the interns and research assistants who are largely building its contents. Robin designed an interface for Selected Poems of George Whalley: A Digital Edition, which contains a selection of Whalley’s poetry manuscripts and typescripts, a letters directly related to them, and editorial notes written by Michael and Alana Fletcher (the co-editors). The interface will later be used to publish a larger selection of digital images and transcriptions of Whalley’s correspondence.[6] The dual pane reading interface allows users to choose to view one item in the two panes – for example, using one pane for an image and the other for the transcription (or metadata, or editorial note) – or to view two different items, one in each pane. The user can select from tabs that appear across the top of each pane: image, transcription, metadata, and editorial notes. Over time the contents of the interface will be expanded.

 Some comments about the extent of the source materials will help to lead into a commentary on how Whalley’s letters are significantly illuminating his life and writings. Both the personal and professional aspects of Whalley’s life are well represented, but the loss of some private letters is sorely regretted. Whalley’s letters to his elder sister Cecilia and his younger brother Basil are almost totally lost. Only a handful of letters to each remain. But a significant amount of his correspondence with Peter Whalley, the brother with whom Whalley had the closest relationship among his siblings it appears, is extant. Whalley selected and organized sizable donations of his papers to QUA. To these materials some additions have been made over the last thirty years. For example, the collection of papers for Whalley’s translation of Aristotle’s Poetics was donated after John Baxter and Patrick Atherton completed editing the book in 1997.

In the 10.21m of shelf the George Whalley Fonds occupies in QUA, a significant amount of space is filled by letters, both professional and personal. Often, both sides of the correspondence are available because Whalley kept carbon copies of his letters. The letters Whalley received are organized according to the name of the sender (e.g. M.H. Abrams, George Johnson) and the subject (e.g. his book Poetic Process, his appointment to Queen’s University). Some of the letters are concentrated in boxes and files devoted to a specific focus and wholly comprised of them, while others are found mixed among Whalley’s essays, radio broadcasts, and book manuscripts because the letters are associated with those items. Examples of the former include: three boxes containing forty-eight files of letters pertaining to Whalley’s work on Coleridge’s marginalia (and his contributions to other volumes in the Collected Coleridge through answers to inquiries he received from the other editors and materials he shared with them); one box containing seven files of letters regarding the organization of the 1955 Canadian Writers’ Conference and the publication of the proceedings as Writing in Canada: Proceedings of the Canadian Writers’ Conference, Queen’s University, 28-31 July, 1955, which Whalley edited; one box containing twenty files of letters exchanged with the contributors to and general correspondence associated with A Place of Liberty: Essays on the Government of Canadian Universities, edited by Whalley; twenty-five files of letters split between two boxes regarding The Legend of John Hornby; and a series of professional correspondence in five boxes containing one-hundred and seventy-fives files. The best example of the latter is the five boxes containing one-hundred and thirty-seven files of Whalley’s scripts for CBC radio. In these files, which are largely comprised of draft and polished versions of the work Whalley wrote and adapted for radio, along with copies of contracts for them, are letters Whalley exchanged with CBC producers, including John Reeves and Ted Pope. 

Among the personal letters the most compelling are those Whalley wrote to his parents, Arthur Francis Cecil Whalley and Dorothy (nee Quirk) Whalley. Eighteen files in two boxes contain over five hundred letters, dated from 1923 to 1956. The time Whalley spent at Oriel College, Oxford from 1936 to 1938 and at war from 1940 to 1944 are especially well represented. There are also letters Whalley wrote to life-long friends, Arnold Banfill and J.D. Jefferis, as well as an important friend he made later in life, George Johnston.

Significant collections of letters are outside of QUA: for example, Whalley’s letters to Elizabeth Whalley, Kathleen Coburn, and Katharine Clark. The first are in the Whalley Estate Papers in England in two boxes containing thirty-two files. The letters begin in 1942, twenty-one months before George and Elizabeth married on 25 July 1944, and end in 1980, less than three years before George’s death. The content of more than half of one box is comprised of letters written during and immediately after World War II. The rest are concentrated in periods when the Whalleys were apart, such as when Whalley was a visiting professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison for the first five months of 1962. There are approximately eight hundred letters. Whalley’s correspondence with Kathleen Coburn, his friend and collaborator, is the most important of his professional life. Coburn was the general editor of The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Their correspondence begins in 1946, which is also the year they met, and ends in 1982. The letters to Coburn are in both QUA and Victoria University Library, Toronto. The total of Whalley’s letters in the two collections is not less than two-hundred and ten. The correspondence with his eldest daughter Katharine is in her possession. Seventy-four letters are extant. It is the only set remaining of the letters Whalley wrote to each of his three children. For now, passages from Whalley’s letters to Kathleen Coburn and his daughter must suffice to show the value of the documents.

As one might anticipate, much of the correspondence between Whalley and Coburn focuses on Coleridge and Whalley’s work of collecting and editing Coleridge’s marginalia. These letters are remarkable for several reasons: they reveal the early ideas Whalley had in mind in undertaking the work on Coleridge that first resulted in the PhD he received from King’s College, London in 1950 (the thesis title was “S.T Coleridge: Library Cormorant”); they illuminate his working relationship with Coburn, for whom he served as a kind of first-lieutenant to her Chief Executive Officer, as he had for several naval officers on destroyers in the Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy during WWII; and they open a view into both the day-to-day minutia which occupied his time and the long-term evolution in the planning and publication of the Collected Coleridge. At least as early as 1933, when Whalley read John Livingston Lowes’ The Road to Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination (1927), Coleridge occupied Whalley’s thoughts.[7] In the letter of 1 October 1946, mindful of Coburn’s suggestion “in the first place that publication was to be considered,” Whalley outlines his plans for a book about Coleridge’s books, those he owned and annotated. This might be the earliest formulation, in writing, of Whalley’s conception of his plans:

The scope of the work, and therefore the time needed for completion, is something we must discuss. It could very easily be turned into a single “source-work” – and so I have considered it most of the summer – if it included (as surely it must) a bibliography of books owned or annotated by STC and perhaps a comprehensive list of Coleridge MSS and Coleridgeana other than letters. The backbone of the book would be (a) the “intellectual biography” and (b) the annotated reading list. I don’t see how we can avoid some distinct treatment of particular related topics, such as method of reading, method of using the notebooks, knowledge and history of foreign languages, the libraries used, the position of journalism, neoPlatonism, his uncompleted works &c. &c. I have a provisional list of some 20 such topics. (1)

It is clear they have already spoken about plans for a large collection of Coleridge’s writings when Whalley tells Coburn “I very much like the idea of its being published as an integral part of your larger scheme” (2). Among Whalley’s letters to Coburn is a document entitled “Decisions Reached at the Collected Coleridge Meeting, held at 36 Soho Sqrare [sic] 18 July 1963.” In it a publication schedule of the volumes through the 1960s is explained. The document records that “Professor Whalley says all the Text (Textus and STC annotation) of the Marginalia should be ready by the end of 1963, and the final copy, edited notes, etc, by August 1964” (2). At this stage Whalley does not know the editing work will consume the rest of his life and how his plans to write an intellectual biography will be postponed and eventually unrealized. The letters to Coburn, especially those in the early to mid 1970s, disclose the delays in publishing the marginalia: changes in the publisher’s plans, demands for significant cuts to the length of the first volume, and other matters. Anyone contemplating scholars’ lives and the relationship between life and work for academics is well-advised to read these letters.

The letters to Coburn also illuminate the genesis of Poetic Process, Whalley’s first major statement in criticism. In a letter dated 10 November 1947, Whalley tells Coburn of his plans to write a MA thesis at Bishop’s in anticipation of pursuing his PhD. In describing the aim of the thesis Whalley reveals the origins of Poetic Process, which is a revised and expanded version of the earlier work. He says he began with “the theme of the Imagination,” and then

as I outlined what I wanted to say, it has turned into (what I have provisionally entitled) A Critique of Criticism. I felt I needed to get some of the larger philosophical, metaphysical and aesthetical questions into focus before I could do much justice to the Coleridge work and so stumbled on the theme. It is really a double theme: (a) that criticism has suffered from assuming without careful examination its metaphysical basis; and (b) that an examination of reality from the artistic point of view suggests the necessity, and possibility, of a more inclusive “sense of fact” and a corresponding extension of logic beyond the limitations of analysis and inference.

            I think it all starts, as much as anything, from a profound distrust of Richard’s Principles of Literary Criticism, and a conviction that criticism can only be scientific if the word scientific means something much wider than the scientist means. But really it is an attempt to clarify for myself some of the problems of imagination and creativity. (1-2)

The inquiry Whalley began in writing this thesis and later in preparing Poetic Process continued for the rest of his life and influenced all aspects of his teaching and writing, including his correspondence.

In reading the letters to Katherine Clark one gains some insight into Whalley’s love for his daughter. The letters are remarkable, especially from the perspective of a biographer, because they abound with both family and intellectual matters. It is the latter that deserves some attention here. When Katharine was writing her MA thesis on Yeats, she sought guidance from her father. He gave her books from his collection and recommended others. He read drafts of her thesis and commented on them. It is difficult, at this distance, to get a picture of Whalley’s work with students at Queen’s University. The letters to Katharine reveal some insights into this part of his life. Only a few students recorded their experiences and impressions of him in the classroom. Examples of Whalley’s marginal comments on student essays or thesis drafts are more rare. To date only one student, David Kent, has shared an essay in which Whalley wrote comments. One of his students, Jane Campbell, has written that Whalley “marked essays meticulously. His written comments were penetrating; they managed to go straight to the heart of what we had half-consciously known to be wrong, yet without producing black despair. His marginal questions would turn out to be the ones we should have asked ourselves at the outset” (Moore 100). Kent’s paper supplies substantial evidence to support this claim. Additional evidence can be found in Whalley’s letters to Katherine about her thesis. They reveal the loving attention of a father to his daughter’s intellectual pursuits. One can infer from them how Whalley guided his graduate students and what kinds of comments he wrote for them. In a letter of 15 July 1970, Whalley writes his first impressions after reading a chapter draft he recently received:

This is to say that I read your chapter yesterday evening & liked it very much. I’ll write in more detail when I post it back before the weekend, but wanted you to have my first impressions at once. I find the writing vigorous & economical, & the account of Yeats’s changing view of his poetry against the changing circumstances of his life convincing as well as interesting. Stylistically, only a very small number of details need attention, & I don’t see anything questionable in fact or interpretation. Depending on how you see the whole thesis developing, this could be either an introductory chapter, or a transition between an account of the early poems & the ‘mature’ manner: my guess is the second, otherwise (a) the implied definition of ‘romantic’ will not be present; & (b) this chapter might pre-empt the detail of early poems & then what you say about early poems from discovery to mere illustration. Do you see it this way? (1) The world of his early poems; (2) what happened to him then & why [this draft]; (3) the embodiment of process (2) in poems &c; (4) the final ‘mature’ poems coming from a (still-developing) ‘mature’ position.

            Anyway, I wanted you to know that I enjoyed reading this & think you have a solid basis to work from, both in conception & in style. The trick of writing is to make the writing lucky – so that it moves in its own way & makes discoveries to you as it goes. You have done that well in this narrative chapter – which goes far beyond a mere anecdotal summary – & should be able now to carry this self-shaping energy into the analytical & more discursive chap sections. Use transitive & energetic verbs & you’ll find the sentences shaping themselves & the thoughts becoming muscular. (1-2)

This encouragement is followed by a letter dated 28 July 1970 in which Whalley makes a number of observations and raises some questions. He asks,

Is your theme to be the changes in the poetry? If so, you will have established early on that changes in the man go side by side with changes in the poetry. The changes that are covered by this chapter will be central to your discussion of the change in the poems from “early” to “mature”; so it will probably be in a central, rather than an introductory, position in the thesis. That being the case, two things follow: (a) the chapter will need to be firm and clear, rather than allusive – it has to provide a solid fulcrum; (b) it would be strengthened if it included some few quotations from poems that mark the change (both poetical and personal), and perhaps – if there are any for this period – the evidence of his revisions of early “Celtic” poems. (There is a link, I believe, between his interest in highly stylised acting and stagecraft on the one hand and his discovery of the integrity of words in his poetry – a discovery that “the music of poetry” must be verbal. This is perhaps the most remarkable characteristic of his late poetry – the way the words and spoken rhythms refuse to be anything but what they are.) (1)

After some paragraphs on the structure and writing the thesis, Whalley offers advice about the process of writing and revising that reveals his own practice:

More often than not, when I am writing something I have a germinal idea that I can scarcely formulate. The first draft (and more often than not, two or three later drafts) fishes out the germ and places it among the materials that will nourish it into the light. The purpose (I think) is not to arrive at a formulation of the “germ” but to let the germ come to life and grow – to declare itself through the life it makes for itself. What the germ declares is not itself, but the life implicit in it, in the way that an acorn is no substitute for an oak tree; and the end of the process is not so much something seen as an activity of seeing, dominated no doubt by the germinal idea, in which all the materials, the large structure, the texture, and the tune are essential rather than ancillary. (3)

This both draws on Whalley’s ideas in Poetic Process and anticipates those he articulates in his essays on literature and the humanities of the 1970s. The echoes of the later writings can be heard in the return to the language of the germ and the “life it makes for itself.” For Whalley, criticism and poetry share a common process of coming-into-being in discovering what was not yet known at the start. His idea of criticism as a “getting to know” is fundamentally the same for his idea of poetry.

Whalley’s reflections on the relationship between thinking and wording have a place here at the close. Though Whalley wrote perceptively on the relationship between computers and literary studies in the essay “Literary Computing,” a passage from another essay, “Teaching Poetry,” is worth considering.

At some point thinking must achieve body and articulation by being worded […] not simply in order to ‘record’ what has happened in the thinking, but as a means of defining, of sustaining and illuminating our own inquiry, the sustaining of the thinking. As the making of a poem is always a process of discovery, so the wording-out of reflection becomes itself a process of discovery; and this goes well or ill according to the precision and fertility of the wording itself. Hence the immense importance of teaching precision in choosing and applying special terms – not merely for the purposes of accurate definition, but in order to keep the line of vision clear, to keep the mind in sharp focus so that the glimpse of a fruitful possibility can be traced analytically to its most remote consequences. (Crick 225)

In one way this can be used as a guiding principle for the development of the Whalley database: Michael’s thinking about Whalley’s life and writings is partially given shape and “articulation” in the building of the database. The building of the database – in its structure, its metadata fields, and other elements – is part of the process of discovery, one that can help “to keep the line of vision clear, to keep the mind in sharp focus so that the glimpse of a fruitful possibility can be traced analytically to its most remote consequences.”


Works Cited

Beck, Kent, Mike Beedle, et. al. Manifesto for Agile Software Development. 2001. Web. 1 Sept. 2015.

Canadian Committee on Archival Description. Rules for Archival Description. (Revised Version, July 2008). 1 Sept 2015.

 “Decisions Reached at the Collected Coleridge Meeting, held at 36 Soho Sqrare [sic] 18 July 1963. TS. Loc # 2353.5, Box 1, File 13. Queen’s University Archives, Kingston.

Moore, Michael. Ed. George Whalley: Remembrances. Kingston: Quarry Press, 1989.

Raymond, Eric S. The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source By An Accidental Revolutionary. Sebastapol: O’Reilly Media Inc., 2001.

Whalley, George. Letter to Katherine Whalley, 15 July 1970. MS. McBride, BC.

---. Letter to Katherine Whalley, 28 July 1970. TS. McBride, BC.

---. Letter to Kathleen Coburn, 1 October 1946. TS. Loc # 2353.5, Box 1, File 9. Queen’s University Archives, Kingston.

---. Letter to Kathleen Coburn, 10 November 1947. TS. Loc # 2353.5, Box 1, File 9. Queen’s University Archives, Kingston.

---. “Teaching Poetry.” Brian Crick and John Ferns. Eds. Studies in Literature and the Humanities: Innocence of Intent. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1985. 215-19.


[1] In some situations a consultant must be hired to assist in writing the code to translate the data from one proprietary system to another.

[2] A statement of principles for agile development was written in 2001. The Manifesto for Agile Software Development is as follows:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan


That is, while there is value in the items on

the right, we value the items on the left more. (Beck)

[3] In the E.J. Pratt Library Special Collections, the Kathleen Coburn Fonds have a significant number of Whalley’s letters and the Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge Fonds have other materials. In the William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections at McMaster University, Whalley’s letters are found in the Arnold Edinborough Fonds, David Helwig Fonds, R.G. Everson Fonds, W.L. Morton Fonds, Clark, Irwin & Company Fonds, and McMillan Company of Canada Fonds.

[4] The visual timeline now under construction is a cooperative effort with the P.K. Page project.

[5] The data for the George Whalley project is kept in a Storage Area Network (SAN) connected to a virtual server via a Fiber Channel at Algoma University. The server’s Debian Linux operating system resides on the same physical machine as other virtualized servers, and its “hard drives” are located on a different machine in the SAN. A high-speed fibre optic connection ties the drives to the virtual server. The data on the SAN is backed up to an offsite SAN, again via fibre optics.

[6] At an early stage, the website Vincent Van Gogh: The Letters ( was the inspiration for an interface. It uses a proprietary code.

[7] One significant discovery in collecting the correspondence is that, shortly after returning from the war and joining the faculty at Bishop’s University, Whalley wrote to Lowes about his plans to study Coleridge. The letter is dated 1 December 1945. He wrote too late. He received a reply from Lowes’ son stating the father had died less than four months earlier.