Lewis Lapham has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a journalist, writer, broadcaster, and critic. He is perhaps best known as editor of Harper’s Magazine, a position he held, with just one brief hiatus, between 1976 and 2006. Yet he continues to edify and entertain with a new journal that bears his name, even as it reflects his intellectual tenor and literary passions. First appearing in 2007, Lapham’s Quarterly is an innovative publication— part magazine, part anthology—that devotes each of its issues to a social, political, or cultural theme, and uses primary sources from across the ages and continents to explore its various facets. While at Harper’s, Lapham authored the monthly essay “Notebook,” which won him the National Magazine Award in 1995. In 2006, he was inducted into the American Society of Magazine Editors’ Hall of Fame.
Mr. Lapham’s essays have been collected in 14 volumes. Their titles not only offer a glimpse at the focus and range of his interests, but also hint at the salubrious provocation they promise attentive readers: in the 1980’s appeared Money and Class in America; the 1990’s produced Waiting for the Barbarians and The Agony of Mammon; The 2000’s gave us both Lights, Camera, Democracy and With the Beatles, a memoir of Mr. Lapham’s 1968 visit to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in India. Mr. Lapham’s most recent book is Pretensions to Empire: Notes on the Criminal Folly of the Bush Administration (2006). His writing has appeared in numerous publications of note, including Life, Commentary, Vanity Fair, and The New York Times, and, in Canada, The Walrus and Maclean’s. Mr. Lapham has hosted two television series on PBS, America’s Century and Bookmark, and he currently presents The World in Time: discussions with scholars and historians on Bloomberg radio.
If a King’s undergraduate, professor, or alumnus were to imagine a day in Mr. Lapham’s work life, he or she would undoubtedly recognize common patterns. The Foundation Year Student would find him wrestling with familiar texts ancient and modern; majors in our combined honours programmes would see him enjoying the camaraderie of authors living and dead.
Our journalism students could observe him not only composing essays that effortlessly marry history and current events, but also doing so under deadline, and with an eloquence that overflows the page into mellifluous podcasts and television interviews. Indeed, Mr. Lapham seems to embody the collective mission of the College even as he fulfills its individual aspirations. For him, writing is no mere utilitarian store of inert records, but a house of mutual dialogue, where writer and reader are joined in a vital communal act. In this sense, everything he writes, whether of historical or contemporary import, is infused with political urgency. This core sensibility informs all the modes of exposition he has mastered, from prophetic outrage, to satirical seriousness, to a wry humour nourished by the ironies and contradictions of human experience. Indeed, even in his most devastating critiques, this “Kingsian” Übermensch evinces a conviviality and joie de vivre that would not make him out of place in our own HMCS Wardroom.
A much-imitated brainchild of Mr. Lapham’s Harper’s days is the famed Index, an informative, sometimes whimsical stream-of-consciousness table of statistical facts. Mr. Lapham may forgive us for employing the form here in an effort to encapsulate his multifarious accomplishments:
Number of Foundation Year authors in the Winter, 2012 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly: 31
Number of recent King’s graduates hired by Lapham to work as interns: 3
Number of hours Lapham spent in an Indian taxi with Ringo Starr: 8
Number of Honourary Doctorates Lapham has received from the University of King’s College to date: 0
Mr. Chancellor, in recognition of his zeal for broad and interdisciplinary study, for his contribution to literature, history, and journalism, I ask you to confer upon Lewis H. Lapham in the name of King’s College the degree of Doctor of Civil Law (honoris causa).
The English philosopher Francis Bacon defined goodness itself as “the affecting of the weal of men, which is that the Grecians call ‘philanthropy’; mere ‘humanity,’ he went on to say, “is a little too light to express it.” If one were to seek a heavy practitioner of Bacon’s philanthropy, that active exercise of goodness that goes beyond the mere benevolent, indwelling fellowfeeling of human beings, one need look no farther than Nova Scotia’s own Elizabeth Fountain. Mrs. Fountain was born in Halifax and is an alumna of Mount Saint Vincent University. For many years, in partnership with her husband Fred, Mrs. Fountain has practiced philanthropy both in our local community and beyond, affecting the common weal through the nurture of programmes and initiatives principally in the areas of education, culture, and health care.
Recognizing that education forms the minds of the community at its crucial stages, Mrs. and Mr. Fountain have played steadfast roles in sustaining the missions of Mount Saint Vincent University, Dalhousie University (where Mr. Fountain is Chancellor), and the University of King’s College. The Fountains’ support of the arts and culture in our community speaks to their deep understanding that the humane soul is formed by more than just intellect. Some of the initiatives to which they have contributed in this domain are the Fountain Performing Arts Centre at King’s-Edgehill School, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Symphony Nova Scotia, the Scotia Festival of Music, the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, and the National Gallery of Art. For the protection of our environment and care of physical culture, they have endowed the Nova Scotia Nature Trust and the Fountain Arena at St Margaret’s Centre. Causes they have favoured in the area of community health include the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, Laing House, the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Red Cross, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Nova Scotia, and Autism Nova Scotia.
In 2009, the untimely and deeply- mourned passing of the Fountains’ son, Alex, himself a King’s student, proved a profound challenge to the outward-looking perspective Elizabeth Fountain had so vigorously cultivated. Nevertheless, she has had the courage to transform a personal tragedy into positive advocacy in the area of mental health. She was one of the leading forces behind the recent change to the Nova Scotia Department of Health’s Personal Health Information Act, which allows information sharing between mental health care providers and the supporters of persons living with mental illness if those individuals or others are at risk. In addition, Elizabeth and Fred Fountain have made a handsome gift to the University of King’s College for the restoration of HMCS Wardroom and for the creation of the annual Alex Fountain Memorial Lecture, the first of which was held in October, 2011. The inaugural speaker, chosen by students, was former Governor General, the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean; in November, 2012, King’s will welcome the renowned Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor as the second Alex Fountain Memorial lecturer.
It was the view of some ancient Greek philosophers that true philanthropy had its wellspring not in personal resources, but in a love for others so great that it must originate in a superhuman or divine benevolence. It is in recognition of her provident, caring, and generous exercise of goodness, Mr. Chancellor, that I ask you, in the name of King’s College, to confer upon Elizabeth Fountain the degree of Doctor of Canon Law, honoris causa.