- 1900-1962 (Creation)
Level of description
Extent and medium
3.0 m of textual records and publications (23 boxes)
Name of creator
James Eustace Shaw was born at Dewsbury, Yorkshire, on July 7, 1876. He left England at the age of two, when his father was called to the Baptist Mission Church in Rome, and eleven years of boyhood spent in the Eternal City developed firm ties of what was to be an enduring and mutually enriching attachment to Italian culture. After three years back in England, at King Henry VIII's School in Coventry, he moved with his family to the United States in 1893 and entered Johns Hopkins University, a great centre for Romance Languages and Literatures, to specialize in Italian Studies. His Ph.D. thesis in 1900 was a study of early Florentine prose. For seventeen years he remained as a member of the teaching staff at Johns Hopkins, rising to the rank of Associate Professor. In 1917 he accepted a call to the University of Toronto as Professor of Italian, a post he held for almost thirty years, despite repeated efforts by leading American universities to lure him back across the border. The year 1946 marked his retirement, as it did his belated election as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Although he was able to return to Johns Hopkins for a brief period as Visiting Professor and to continue his scholarly work in his own study for more than a decade, failing health prevented him from taking an active part in the Society. He died on November 10, 1962.
A host of former students and colleagues remember him with gratitude and affection, for his kindly sincerity, his quiet humour, his warm friendliness and wise counsel. He is remembered too, with respect and admiration, for the breadth and depth of the erudition he wore so modestly, for his meticulous scholarship and sense of style, as well as for his rare capacity, in the spoken or written word, to communicate to others his own illuminating insights and revivifying enthusiasms, particularly in his chosen field of Italian literature and philosophy of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
His contributions to scholarship have been impressive in their quality, right up to his editing, in 1958, of the Italian poems of Milton for the first volume of the Columbia Commentary. In the early years his reviews and articles earned him a reputation that led to his election as Vice-President of the Modern Language Association of America in 1923 and as President of the American Association of Teachers of Italian in 1926. To the journal of the latter association, Italica, he contributed his services as consulting editor and, from 1924 to 1940, impeccable quarterly bibliographies of Italian Studies. He was a moving spirit of the Dante Society of America.
In his own creative criticism, three publications deserve special mention, distillations of his lifelong devotion to the study of Dante and Guido Cavalcanti. The earliest (1929) is a volume of Essays on the "Vita Nuova." Another penetrating essay, The Lady Philosophy in the "Convivio" appeared in 1938. Finally, in 1949, the Romance Series of the University of Toronto Press was brilliantly inaugurated by the publication of his long maturing study, completed in retirement, Guido Cavalcanti's Theory of Love: the "Canzone d'Amore" and Other Related Problems. A review of this work by another distinguished Italian scholar records the reader's constant awareness of the intensive care that has gone into every phrase of the writing, of the indefatigable investigation reflected in every phrase, and of the deep consciousness of poetic values in the interpretation, and its concluding appreciation applies as aptly to Shaw's whole career as a teacher and scholar: "The book is, in short, a triumph of perfectly patient scholarship and poetic sensitiveness, devoted to the study of a poem the greatness of which has been felt for centuries, but never before comprehended."
Few men have more richly deserved the title conferred upon him by the University of Toronto in 1958 : Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.
His wife, the former Marjorie Duer of Baltimore, predeceased him by two years. He is survived by three children, Nathaniel H., Madge (Mrs. Sydney M. Hermant), and Polly (Mrs. C. D. Kingsmill), all of Toronto.
Immediate source of acquisition or transfer
Transferred from the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in 2004.
Content and structure area
Scope and content
Personal records of James E. Shaw, professor of Italian in the Department of Italian and Spanish at the University of Toronto from 1917 until his retirement in 1946.
Includes: correspondence, notebooks, notes, research materials, and subject card files.
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