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Michael Collie 1929-2011

Michael Collie

Polymath who spanned the arts and sciences and turned to the history of geology late in life.

The writer, professor, bibliographer and historian of science, Michael Collie, was born 8 August 1929, in Eastbourne, Sussex. His early years were spent in Edinburgh and Nottingham, and from 1939-47 he boarded at the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Grammar School where he received a thorough education and captained the cross-country and cricket teams. Summers were spent working on the Watson family farm in Granby, Leicestershire, where he learned, among other skills, how to drive a team of plough horses. He served two years in the British Army Intelligence Corps (1947-49) and was based in Egypt and Greece. In 1949, Michael matriculated at St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge University, where he earned a BA (1952) and later an MA (Cantab).

Michael’s career as an educator of English began in 1953 at Selwyn College and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and included posts at Cambridgeshire Technical College (1955-57), the University of Manitoba (1957-61), University of Exeter (1961-62), Mount Allison University (1962-65), before settling at York University, Toronto (1965-1990), where he attained the rank of Professor and also served as chair of the Department of English (1967-69) and Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies (1969-73). While at York University, Michael supervised numerous PhD candidates and his ability to pose challenging research questions was legendary.

Michael’s wide-ranging and extensive publishing career began in 1956 and it steadily grew to include 23 books and more than 60 articles, addresses and dictionary entries. In addition to books of poetry, Michael wrote critical theory essays, bibliographies and biographies on subjects ranging from George Meredith, George Gissing and Jules Laforgue to George Borrow. Beginning in the mid-1980s Michael became interested in the history of science and wrote several books in that field including: Henry Maudsley: Victorian Psychiatrist (St. Paul’s Bibliographies, 1988); Huxley at Work (Macmillan Press, 1991); Murchison in Moray: a Geologist on Home Ground (American Philosophical Society, 1995); George Gordon: an Annotated Catalogue of his Correspondence (Scolar Press, 1996); Murchison’s Wanderings in Russia (British Geological Survey, 2004); and Science on Four Wheels: the Continental Travels of Roderick Murchison (1840-45) (Academica Press, 2010).

Many of those books included annotated editions of previously unpublished correspondence and journals of eminent scientists which provided context for his analysis of the development of science during the 19th Century. It was his work in the history of geology that led him to become a Fellow of the Geological Society in 1992. He also was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1987. Michael continued to work on several bibliographic and history of geology projects up to the time of his death.

Michael Collie was an indefatigable correspondent, keen investigator, generous collaborator, hospitable host, avid fell walker, and devoted family man. He is survived by his wife Joanne L’Heureux Collie, five children, Peter of Sydney, Kate of Edmonton, Jeremy of Narragansett, Ursula of Scorton, Nick of southern Spain, and five grandchildren. Michael died peacefully in the company of Joanne, Ursula and Nick at Nottingham City Hospital on 21 July 2011.

By John A Diemer