Born in St. John, New Brunswick, on September 19, 1879, William Hall Clawson was educated at St. John Grammar School and from 1896 to 1900 attended the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, where he got a B.A. in Classics and English. Then he travelled to Harvard and received his A.B. and A.M. For the next three years, from 1902 to 1905, he succeeded W. F. Stockley as Chair of English and French at the University of New Brunswick. Returning to Harvard, Clawson completed his doctoral thesis on the Robin Hood ballads and earned his Ph.D. in 1907. William John Alexander invited him to Toronto that Easter, gave the young man a dinner, and introduced him to the Department. Clawson started teaching that fall at University College. His expertise was philology and the history of the language, but shortly he was teaching both first year Pass and first year Honours courses as well as composition, Chaucer, English and Scottish popular ballads, and Elizabethan drama. He was promoted to Assistant Professor in 1918, and to Associate Professor in 1924.
Most of his lecture notes are in the University Archives. Over his 42 years of service at Toronto, he taught many eminent students, including the future Governor General, Vincent Massey, the poet Earle Birney, Margaret ("Peg") Stobie (who taught Old English at the University of Manitoba and taught this editor), and A. S. P. Woodhouse, the future Department head at University College. Clawson acted as secretary to the English and History Departments from 1914 to 1928, and after his promotion to Full Professor in 1944, went on to chair the Department of Modern Languages twice, and the Combined Departments of English.
At his retirement dinner, held at Hart House on April 10, 1950, University College Principal W. R. Taylor celebrated Clawson's "loftiness of mind and real graces of the spirit," but of all those at the dinner Northrop Frye was most moved by Clawson's address. "Norrie Frye" wrote him afterwards: "I don't want to let your dinner go by without telling you how deeply impressed I was by your address. I felt that I was being directly confronted with the fact that the working career of a fine scholar and teacher is, simply in itself, a really monumental achievement. For one of the younger members of the staff, such a vision is a tremendous sense of encouragement."
Clawson married Avis Geraldine in Halifax on September 7, 1910. In Toronto, they had three children, William Kennedy, Gerald Hall, and Mrs. Homer Pearson, and lived at 96 Oakwood Ave. He was a Liberal and an Anglican. The family summered in Muskoka, like the Alexanders, and his recreations were canoeing, walking, and swimming.
At his death Clawson left a complete manuscript of an edition of John Capgrave's Life of St. Norbert from a unique manuscript, Phillipps MS 24309, now Huntington MS 55, intended for the Early English Text Society. The introduction and notes, and part of the glossary, were complete.
CLAWSON'S MAJOR PUBLICATIONS
- "Arnold Bennett." Canadian Bookman, NS 2.2 (April 1920): 46-51; 2.3 (July 1920): 33-40.
- "Ballad and Epic." Journal of American Folk-Lore 21.82 (Oct. -Dec. 1908): 349-61.
- "The Framework of the Canterbury Tales." University of Toronto Quarterly 20.2 (Jan., 1951): 137-54. birn pam RBSC 1
- The Gest of Robin Hood. Toronto: University of Toronto Library, 1909. PR 2125 C5 Robarts Library
- "The Nature of Literature." American Journal of Psychiatry 100 (Jan. 1944): 577-78.
- "Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry." Proceedings of the Ontario Educational Association (1913): 149-57. PR 1181 P48C5 Robarts Library. CIHM no. 86856
SOURCES FOR CLAWSON'S CAREER
- Records and papers of W. H. Clawson. University Archives B87-0052/001-007. Includes the text of his address at his retirement dinner at Hart House.
- The Canadian Who's Who, Vol. IX, for 1961-1963. Toronto: Trans-Canada Press.