Edwardian and Georgian Canadian Poets
1900-1930


 

 

Selected Essays and Reviews

by Bliss Carman

Edited by Terry Whalen


 

Charles G.D. Roberts*


 

Charles George Douglas Roberts was born on January 10th, 1860, at the old parsonage of Douglas, a parish on the east side of the St. John River, only a few miles above Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick. His father, the Rev. G. G. Roberts, had been appointed rector of the parish soon after his marriage with Emma W. Bliss, one of that Loyalist family which traces its descent through a line of lawyers back to the Rev. Daniel Bliss, Emerson's progenitor and the first pastor of Concord. In less than a year after the birth of their son, Mr. Roberts was transferred to Westcock, in Westmoreland County. Here, in that charmed land of wind and meadows and dikes and seafaring folk, which has lent its enchantment of flying color and bending grass to "In the Afternoon," "Tantramar Revisited" and many another bit of inspired realism,-

"the long strong wind, thro' the lonesome Golden afternoon"

blew rough and blithe under the youngster's hair. "Inspired realism," indeed, is only a make-shift term. There is a quality in these poems and their fellows, which teaches everyday things, pasture lands and fishing boats and the common work of men, and enables them,-sets them in their higher more subtile relations with the beauty and sweep and pathos of those shadows on the face of Nature which man calls life and death.

In 1874 Mr. Roberts, père, again removed his family, this time to Fredericton, where he undertook the responsibilities of the rectorship whose duties he continues to discharge, with an unfailing kindliness, with a thorough goodness and gentleness of heart that have secured a large share of love among his townsmen. Mr. Roberts, poet, entered the College School in that town, upon a two years' course of preparation for college. His only teacher up to this time had been his father; he now passed into the hands of Mr. George N. Parkin, head master of the school (whose predecessor, by the way, was Dr. Roberts, Professor Roberts' grandfather) a teacher of remarkable quickening power, whose ideas on English public school life and on "The Reorganization of the British Empire" we have just been reading in The Century. Roberts remained at this school until 1876. In that year he won the silver medal of the school for proficiency in classics, and matriculated at the University of New Brunswick, also in Fredericton. Here he won a Classical Scholarship at the end of his freshman year, a gold medal for Latin prose at the end of his second year, and graduated with honors in Mental and Moral Philosophy and Political Economy in June 1879. At the end of his summer vacation after graduation he was placed in charge of the grammar school at Chatham, N.B. In the summer of 1880, Robert's first volume, "Orion and Other Poems," was published. Towards the end of the same year, on December 29th, Mr. Roberts was married to Mary Isabel Fenety, daughter of George E. Fenety, Esq., of Fredericton.

In 1881 Prof. Roberts received the degree of M.A. from his Alma Mater, and in 1882 was appointed master of one of the public schools in this "Shadowy town of the tall elm trees," a position he retained for a little more than a year. In December of the same year, 1883, The Week was started in Toronto, Ont.,-a new departure in Canadian journalism, whose subsequent unqualified success in work of a high grade gives interest to the fact that Roberts was its first editor. His connection with it, however, was not a long one; and in 1885 he was called to the chair of English and French in King's College, Windsor, Nova Scotia, where he now lives. His second volume of verse, "In Divers Tones," appeared in the first months of 1887. "Poems of Wild Life," edited by him has just been added to the series of Canterbury Poets, and a college text-book of Shelley's "Alastor and Adonais," with critical introduction and notes, will soon be in press.

Not to speak of the original work of Professor Roberts, it is safe to say that his marked success as a teacher is due to an unswerving and strongly individualized energy of purpose, coupled with wide sympathy and an unusually inspiriting enthusiasm for literature, and directing a penetrating critical faculty. He is a strenuous lover of his native land, (one almost says, of his native soil,) sturdy, virile, patriotic, easy of approach, a good friend, and (if one may venture a hazarded opinion) but an indifferent enemy. It is upon the loyal, uncompromising and unquestioning patriotism of such men that Canada,-the true Canada, mindful of her history, loving her heroes, keeping faith with the greatness of her destiny, rests her bid for fame and honor among the Nations.


"Charles G.D. Roberts," The Magazine of Poetry: A Quarterly Review, Jan. 1889 [back]