When H. Pearson Gundy was completing work on his selected Letters of Bliss Carman (1981) in the late ’seventies, he visited the University of Western Ontario to examine Carman’s letters to Margaret Lawrence in the D.B. Weldon Library. At that time, he described Carman’s seventy-nine letters to Lawrence as the "quintessence" of his correspondence with women, an assessment echoed and modified in his published comment that "a few of them [are] among his best and most characteristic" (372). With the generosity that was one of his own salient characteristics, Gundy decided to draw sparingly on Carman’s letters to Lawrence for the selected Letters in order to leave the way clear for an edition of the entire correspondence by a junior member of Western’s English Department who had already begun the process of transcribing and editing it. The book in hand is that edition.

When he started to correspond with Margaret Lawrence on May 15, 1927, Bliss Carman (1861-1929) was sixty-six years old and at the height of his fame in Canada. In 1921 and 1922 he had undertaken reading tours of central and western Canada, and in 1923 McClelland and Stewart of Toronto had published Ballads and Lyrics, a selection of his poems "for the Canadian market" (Carman 310). In 1925 he was elected a corresponding member of the Royal Society of Canada and awarded the Lorne Pierce Medal for his distinguished service to Canadian literature. And in December of the same year he delivered the "series of lectures and readings at the University of Toronto [that were] later published as Talks on Poetry and Life (1926)" (Sorfleet 17-18). Nor was Carman’s high reputation confined to Canada in the mid-to-late ’twenties: early in 1927 he read to audiences of as many as "fourteen hundred or more" at various colleges in the American southwest (Letter 35, November 17, 1927) and later in the same year he published his edition of the Oxford Book of American Verse. In 1928 and 1929, there were further reading tours to the Maritimes and western Canada and two more books of poetry, Wild Garden (1929) and the posthumous Sanctuary: Sunshine House Sonnets (1929), the former published in the United States and the latter in Canada.

The eclipse of Carman’s literary reputation that had been almost inevitable since the onset of Modernism did not occur until after his death on June 8, 1929, but there were portents in the preceding years of what was to come. The Oxford Book of American Verse was "so widely criticized both for omissions and inclusions as well as for bad copy-editing" (Gundy 355) that in 1928 he was already hard at work on a revised edition, and on April 27, 1927 the McGill Fortnightly Review (Montreal) published F.R. Scott’s "Canadian Authors Meet," a scathing satire of pre-Modern Canadian writers that names all the major poets of Confederation—Carman, Archibald Lampman, Charles G.D. Roberts, Duncan Campbell Scott, and William Wilfred Campbell—but singles Carman out for special, albeit oblique, opprobrium: "Shall we go round the mulberry bush, or shall / We gather at the river, or shall we / Appoint a Poet Laureate this fall?" (Scott 248). On October 28, 1921, near the beginning of the Indian summer of his fame, Carman had in fact been crowned with a wreath of maple leaves and proclaimed Canada’s unofficial "Poet Laureate" by the Montreal branch of the Canadian Authors Association. It was an apotheosis pregnant with pathos as well as bathos— an act of "friendly appreciation" (Carman 282) that simultaneously heralded the attention of the ensuing years and touched the poet with the ludicrousness that invites satire.

In his affectionate Prefatory Note to Sanctuary: Sunshine House Sonnets, the Irish poet and playwright Padraic Colum provides a vignette of Carman as he was in the nineteen ’twenties:

His life had a frugal dignity which was in itself a rare and a fine achievement. The tweeds that he wore had given him long service; they were always carefully pressed and spotless; that wide-brimmed hat he had worn for many seasons. Yet there was always something in his attire that corresponded to the gaiety and color of his mind—a bright neck-tie, a silver chain, a turquoise ornament that some Indian friend had bestowed upon him. He was a tall man. But that exceptional build was contained in a thin in

tegument. He bled easily; he was sensitive over every part of his great frame. However, that irritability that usually goes with the thin skin was no part of his nature. Bliss Carman was above everything else a sweet-natured man. I am sure that no one ever parted from him without thinking, "I hope I shall see dear Bliss Carman again." (vi)

"[I]n the struggle which every visionary must have with the world [Carman] had no divided heart," observes Colum; "quietly, without any argumentation, he took the side opposite to the world’s. ‘Getting and spending we lay waste our Powers,’ Wordsworth lamented. Bliss Carman did with the minimum of getting and spending. ‘Little we see in Nature that is ours,’ that noble lament goes on. Bliss Carman . . . earned the right to say these words with less bitterness than most visionaries" (vi).

It is apparent from her surviving letters to him in the Archives of Queen’s University that Margaret Lawrence (1896-1973) became infatuated with Carman when she heard him read at the University of Toronto in 1925 and that she sought him out at a literary party in Toronto shortly before initiating their correspondence in May, 1927.1 At that time, Lawrence was single, intellectually accomplished, steeped in mysticism and thirty-one years of age.2 She had graduated from the University of Toronto in 1920 with a B.A. in Modern History and a well-grounded "interest . . . in the women’s rights movement" (Introduction [v]).3 "After her graduation . . . , she pursued a freelance writing career for the next twelve years," becoming "literary and associate Editor for [the] Canadian Home Journal"4 and writing two books, Mediums and Mystics (with Albert Durrant Watson), published in 1923, and Sieur de La Salle, published in 1930 (Introduction [v-vi]).5 "In 1928 she joined the staff of Consolidated Press," the publisher of the Canadian Home Journal, Saturday Night, and other periodicals, where she "worked until 1943" (Dustcover).6 In 1943 she also married Benedict Greene (c. 1887-1984),7 the publisher of Who’s Who in Canada, whom she had met "at a Toronto literary party in 1929" and would have married in the ’thirties had not Greene, the son of an internationally known Jewish scholar, shrunk from hurting his father by marrying a gentile. Lawrence’s letters to Greene from 1936 (just prior to their separation) and 1942-43 (preceding their reconciliation) were published posthumously as Love Letters to Baruch (1973).8

As a number of Carman’s letters indicate, Lawrence’s "interest in women’s rights continued throughout" the ’twenties (Introduction [vi]). Several of her reviews in Saturday Night in 1928-29 substantiate this interest, not least her review of three books on marriage and birth control in the December 1, 1928 issue of the magazine.9 In 1931 she published a History of the School for Nurses at Toronto General Hospital, and in 1932 the Canadian Club "sent her on a national speaking tour during which she lectured to thousands of women on the feminist movement" (Introduction [vi]; Dustcover). In 1936, she published The School of Femininity, a study of women writers from Mary Wollstoncraft and Jane Austen to Dorothy Parker and Pearl Buck that fully reveals her alignment with the maternal feminism which, as Veronica Strong-Boag has demonstrated in The Parliament of Women: the National Council of Women of Canada, 1893-1929 (1976), characterized mainstream Canadian women’s movements prior to the Second World War. The School of Femininity was also published in Britain (as We Write as Women) and it was reprinted in the United States in 1972, the year before Lawrence’s death.

The essay "In Memory of Bliss Carman" that Lawrence published in the June 1930 issue of the Canadian Home Journal contains numerous intimations of her deep and abiding affection for him:

It is a year in June since Bliss Carman died. Though at no time will it ever seem to Canadians that Bliss Carman is dead. We do not hear his soft woodsy voice, or see his strange eyes that looked out at the world from far away. We cannot laugh at his sudden whimsical remarks or try to keep up with his long strides. All this has gone. But the poems remain, and the memories of people who loved him. And that counts.
     Last June the papers of Canada were filled with editorials and verses and letters from constant readers about the death of Bliss Carman. It made those of us who knew him well, cry quietly to ourselves. For, however sweet the devotion of people is, it seems to matter very little after someone has died. I said to myself, "if only he could have known this while he lived." What it might have done for him. For I have never known a human being to be so responsive to appreciation as Bliss Carman. I do not mean that he looked for adulation. He shrank from the person who hunted literary lions, and made great to-do about him because he was Bliss Carman. Many a time I have seen him almost congeal in front of too gushing a person. He seemed to know instinctively when it was real, and then he gave royally of the lovely mind that was his. When it was not real he looked out from his house as he described it in a letter, and wondered what all the excitement was about. For, though he lived consecratedly for his poetry, he did not take the business of being a famous poet too seriously. His joy was to be with a friend in whom there was a lot of laughter, as well as sufficient understanding of the inwardness of life. But, for all of that, he would have been touched by the editorials and letters and poems. He would have been touched softly as people are when triumph comes at the end of sorrow and struggle. His life had not been easy. It is hard to be a poet in these days, when the measure of justification is in how much money can be made. No money, or very little of it, can be made by writing poetry.
     I said to him once that if I had a son, and found one day that he was writing poetry, I would not be elated, but infinitely concerned. Because I knew there was a small place in the modern world for the children of verse. He said, you would be right. He went on to tell me that it depressed him dreadfully to think that at the end of his years he was poor. Not that he would have changed places with anyone else. He loved his verse-making too much for that. But he was no fool about the world. He estimated things correctly. He knew he had adventured for poetry, and he took what came of that adventuring graciously, without any complaints against the cost, and also without any self-congratulation on account of the fame.
     I am putting this down because I think Canadians should know it.
     But, there is something else they should know. That the reception which Canada gave Bliss Carman when he came back to read his work in recitals gave him a new zest for life. He had been very ill, as most of us know, but he recovered amazingly, and was able to take long reading tours. Everywhere he drew packed houses, and though the soft voice had not power enough behind it to carry much beyond the first few rows, the people cheered and clapped, out of love for the work of his which they knew anyway. They were happy to look at him, as indeed they might well have been, because Bliss Carman, even in his old age, racked with tuberculosis, and drawn with fatigue lines from a disordered heart-action, was fascinating to look at. He was like an old king from a fairy story, tall and slim and finely built. His hair had been tawny, and was only touched with grey. His eyes were golden coloured. His whole appearance stimulated the imagination. The heroic lines made one expect a booming voice, and here was a gentle lovely tone, like the distant sounds that come from the forests, or like the mid notes of a fine cello. He spoke his words distinctly, giving them their due, as one who loved them dearly.
     News of his death came to me as I sat in my garden on a mellow afternoon in the lovely early days of June last year. There were scarlet poppies blazing in the sun, and a silver birch tree was making whispering sounds in the wind. Strange as it may seem, I had a volume of his poems in my hands. I was thinking that no one else had ever loved the spring as Bliss Carman. I was looking at the gorgeous poppies and thinking how his perfectly sculptured hands might touch their petals. I was hoping that something would send him to Canada soon, for I had been ill a long time, and I wanted someone who had known the terrors of convalescence to tell me that life was worth being determined about. But, Carman had gone on his long hike while I was thinking.
     As the days passed I could not be sorry. Death had no horror for Bliss Carman. He was aware of god, and quite content to follow the mortal span with graciousness. As he said again and again in his poems. The night before he died, he planned happily to go on a long walk the next day. June meant walks in the woods to him. I sat in my garden and remembered. I tried to write because everyone else was writing who had loved him, and many also who had loved his name and his work. But I was not able to. It was all too recent. I was disappointed in myself, until I recalled what Carman himself had written in a letter about his emotion over the death of Peter MacArthur, who was his friend. He had written "I have just been reading Peter MacArthur’s Friendly Acres. It makes me cry like a simp. But do read it, you won’t have to cry, you didn’t love him." That comforted me. Carman, for all his radiant spiritual faith, was human, and lonely when his friend went on to death, though not sorry in the ordinary sense of things, any more that I was as I looked at Scarlet poppies in June, and knew that Carman would not pass my way again. For in spite of all the lovely colors of early summer, and all the strange sounds of nature, there is nothing on earth beautiful enough for a poet like Carman. So, I could be glad in my soul that he was gone in search of God.10

Carman’s letters to Lawrence attest to the development of their relationship through several stages. At the outset, it was the cordial outcome of Lawrence’s interest in the poet and his work, but very quickly it developed into a long-distance romance that had come to mean a great deal to them both. "[Y]ou seem to grow darlinger with every epistle," wrote Carman on September 21, 1927; "[a] very few more such letters . . . and you will have passed the comparative and reached the superlative!" (Letter 10). To Lawrence’s request that he visit Toronto during his forthcoming travels, he replied that this would be impossible "[b]ut thanks be to Allah, or whoever, nor space nor time can quite undo us. ‘Us’ meaning Margaret and Carman." The epistolary lovers did meet in Toronto on at least two or three occasions in 1927 and 1928,11 but their relationship probably remained platonic—a meeting of minds that shared similar philosophical and literary interests. Nevertheless, there are sexual elements to their correspondence. Carman’s letters of February 10 and 25, 1928 hint of some jealousy on Lawrence’s part in regard to the women who inspired his Songs of the Sea Children (1904) (see Letters 52 and 55), and in his letter of July 11, 1928 he uses his animalistic alter ego "Willie," first to flirt with various amorous possibilities and then to discuss the amatory proclivities of his cousin, Charles G.D. Roberts (see Letter 68). The fact that Carman’s next letter is a plea to Lawrence "to WRITE" (Letter 69) may indicate that such explicit "gabble" (Letter 68) was not to her liking. It may also indicate that the pressures of her work and the attentions of the "man" mentioned in Carman’s letter of August 22, 1928 (Letter 71) had moved him towards the margins of her thoughts. For whatever reasons, the flow of their correspondence slowed noticeably after the middle of July, 1928, and in the early months of 1929 when Lawrence was acutely ill and Carman was continually travelling, it ceased almost entirely (see Letter 78). Carman’s last letter to Lawrence was written a little over a week before his sudden death of a brain haemorrhage on June 8, 1929. There is a certain poignancy to its closing words: "Love to you as ever / B."

To anyone interested in Carman’s poetry and ideas, the principal value of his correspondence with Lawrence will reside in those parts of it in which her admiration and affection prompt him to share his thoughts on a variety of topics, from contemporary politics to the Confederation poets. "I am a free-trade Tory," he proclaims on October 6, 1927, and on February 18, 1928: "In reading over Duncan Campbell Scott I was disappointed to find how very much of all his work suffers for want of air. Too literary and old fashioned. And he needn’t be. When he drops the conventional old-style, and betakes himself to new free rhythms, he is great" (Letters 17 and 54). External nature and its psychological effects are a continual theme of the letters as, less appealingly, are personal names and their relation to individual identity. Of no appeal whatsoever but of some historical interest is the virulent antisemitism that surfaces in several letters, prompted, in the first instance, by Lawrence’s account of being accosted by a young Jewish lawyer in the Toronto home of the anarchist Emma Goldman.12 Of most interest, however, are Carman’s explanations and intimations of his philosophical principles and ideals. On February 2, 1928, Carman directs Lawrence to The Making of Personality (1908) as a summation of "the Evolutionary Delsartean thought" that had dominated his "philosophy" until "[Thomas] Troward and Theosophy came into view" (Letter 51). Earlier letters provide a succinct description of the theory of mind-body-spirit harmonization that lies at the heart of Carman’s Delsartean or unitrinian philosophy (see Letters 18 and 20) and, as the annotations in the present edition reveal, numerous other letters provide valuable insights into the impact of "Troward and Theosophy" on his thought and work in the nineteen twenties.

The letters of Carman to Lawrence upon which the present edition is based were donated to the University of Western Ontario by Lawrence herself in September, 1936 (Notes 103). A note in what could be Lawrence’s handwriting states that there are "3 missing" from the "[f]irst letters May to Sept. 1927."13 Accompanying the letters are their envelopes and enclosures, some of which cannot be linked with certainty to a particular letter (see Appendix D). Some of the photographs and all of the holographs of Carman’s poems that accompany the letters have been reproduced in the present edition (see Appendices).

The letters of Lawrence and Carman that are preserved in the Archives of Queen’s University were written between September 11, 1927 and June 26, 1928. They have been of considerable assistance in clarifying some of Carman’s remarks and references, but they have not been included or quoted in the present edition. This is partly for copyright reasons, and also out of respect for Lawrence’s request to Carman on October 3, 1927 that her self-revelatory letters to him should be destroyed. In the same letter she pledges to respect Carman’s privacy in a similar way, a fact that may account for the letters that are missing from the collection that she donated to the University of Western Ontario.

Carman’s letters from New Canaan, Connecticut and Twilight Park, Haines Fall’s, New York are written on fine paper with printed letterhead. Most of the letters from New Canaan include Carman’s initials (B.C.) as part of the letterhead, a grace-note that has been echoed in the present edition. The printed letterheads of the hotels at which Carman stayed between November 3 and December 2, 1927 have been simplified to the name and location of the hotel. A similar treatment has been accorded to Carman’s telegrams.

In editing Carman’s letters for publication the following procedures have been followed: equal signs have been replaced by colons; square brackets have been replaced by round ones; hyphens have been treated as dashes except between syllables and in compound words; single underlines have been rendered as italics and double and triple underlines as capitals. Ampersands, abbreviations, and "American" spellings have been retained. Carman’s corrections and changes have been accepted, but his uncorrected errors have been retained and noted by "sic". When the grammar or sense has required the addition of a syllable, word, or punctuation mark, the addition is enclosed in square brackets. When a word or punctuation mark has been deleted because of repetition, the deletion is registered with empty square brackets. Because Carman’s intentions with regard to paragraphing are frequently unclear—he often begins a new sentence on a new line, for example, and sometimes begins a new page with an indentation—all the openings of paragraphs have been indented with the exception of those at the beginnings of letters and postscripts and, in the absence of a clear indentation, materials judged to be part of the same train of thought have been treated as one paragraph.

I am grateful to the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada for the research grant that made this edition possible and to the Department of English at the University of Western Ontario for its secretarial assistance. John Lutman and, before him, the late Beth Miller graciously provided access to the Carman letters at Western and Anne MacDermaid, Donald S. Richan, and George F. Henderson kindly furnished details and copies of the Lawrence letters at Queen’s. Jennifer Francisco, Graduate Assistant, Department of History, University of Toronto and Marnee Gamble, Special Media Archivist, University of Toronto provided valuable information about Lawrence. Mary Flagg, the University Archivist of the University of New Brunswick, and Eric Swanick, the Legislative Librarian for New Brunswick, were similarily helpful in regard to Carman’s New Brunswick connections, as was Rita S. Humphrey, the Curator of Manuscripts at the Armstrong-Browning Library at Baylor University, regarding his visit there in 1927. My thanks also to Susan Pryke and J.M. Zezulka for information about the Canadian Chautauqua on Muskoka Assembly. I am especially grateful to John Lutman for permission to reproduce photographs and manuscripts from the Lawrence bequest. Also deserving of special thanks are Nancy Sanderson, Kerry Breeze, Kim Verwaayen, and Danielle Seiggel, who entered and formatted the edition, and J.R. Sorfleet and Terry Whalen, who made valuable suggestions towards its improvement. Finally, I am grateful to Margaret Maciejewski for her countless contributions to the annotations.


Notes to the Introduction


  1. See Lawrence’s letters of September 26, October 3, and October 19, 1927 and February 13, 1928. See also Carman’s Letter 11. [back]

  2. According to the obituary of her mother, Anne Elizabeth (Mitchell) Lawrence, in the December 6, 1930 issue of the Toronto Globe, Lawrence’s father, James, was a representative of "the Penman Company in Toronto" and her brother, Alexander Mitchell, a resident of Detroit, Michigan. Lawrence’s mother was born in Castledawson, Country Derry, Ireland and her father in Pitcow, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The Lawrence home in Toronto was at 101, Glenholme Avenue. [back]

  3. In a letter of September 4, 1927 to Carman, Lawrence states that problems with her eyes in her final year at the University of Toronto prevented her from completing her programme but that she was awarded her degree nevertheless because of her consistently strong performance and a superlative essay on the women’s rights movement. [back]

  4. Lawrence’s contributions to the Canadian Home Journal include articles under her own name, such as "Romance" (in two parts) and "Books and Women" in the December, 1928, February, 1929, and December, 1929 issues, and regular articles in the "Special Departments" section signed "Eleanor Dare" (see also Letter 1 n. 2). [back]

  5. Lawrence discusses her writings on various Canadian explorers and pioneers in several letters to Carman, and on June 13, 1928 mentions her plan to write a series of historical vignettes based on the chapters in a projected book. She points to "Lescarbot and his Order of Good Cheer: Memory of the First Canadian Writers to Be Honored at Quebec" in the May 19, 1928 issue of Saturday Night, 8-9 as the model for such vignettes. Her "Sieur de la Salle" appeared in the August, 1928 issue of Willison’s Monthly, 110-13. [back]

  6. Before "join[ing] the staff of Consolidated Press"—that is, becoming a regular columnist for the Canadian Home JournalLawrence worked briefly in the Toronto office of the British publishing house of J.M. Dent and Co. (see her letter of June 13, 1928 and Letter 63 n. 6). [back]

  7. Greene’s obituary "Benedict Greene, 96, was publisher involved in extraordinary romance," in the Toronto Star, February 8, 1984, A18 gives some details of his life, noting that, among other things, he was a playwright and the honorary curator of the art gallery at the University of Western Ontario. [back]

  8. According to the anonymous Introduction to Love Letters of Baruch, Lawrence converted to Roman Catholicism between 1937 and 1942 and "was seriously considering entering a convent" when Greene re-entered her life after the death of his first wife and father ([vi]). [back]

  9. "Marriage and Motherhood," Saturday Night (December 1, 1928), 16 and 19, a review of George Riley Scot, The Truth about Birth Control: a Guide for Medical, Legal and Sociological Students, Joseph Collins, The Doctor Looks at Marriage and Medicine, and Margaret Sanger, Motherhood in Bondage; from the Files of 15 Years Correspondence on Birth Control. [back]

  10. Taken from the corrected typescript in the Lawrence bequest, Special Collections, D.B. Weldon Library, University of Western Ontario. [back]

  11. In early December, 1927 (see Letters 41 and 42), in May 1928 (see Letter 60), and possibly in June, 1928 (see Letter 70 n.5). [back]

  12. Lawrence’s account of the incident survives in a letter of October 3, 1927. [back]

  13. A note by Jan Beveridge, who apparently organized the Lawrence bequest in the mid-’seventies, states that "letters [are] missing from envelopes post [marked]" November 2 and August 31, 1927. [back]

Works Cited in the Introduction


"Benedict Greene, 96, was publisher involved in extraordinary romance." Toronto Star. 8 Feb. 1984. A18.

Carman, Bliss. Letters of Bliss Carmen. Ed. H. Pearson Gundy. Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1981.

Colum, Padraic. Prefatory Note. Sanctuary: Sunshine House Sonnets. By Bliss Carman. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1929. v-viii.

Dustcover. Love Letters to Baruch. By Margaret Lawrence Greene. Toronto: Musson Book Company. 1973.

Gundy, H. Pearson. Introduction and annotations. Letters. By Bliss Carman. Ed. H. Pearson Gundy. Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1981. xi-xvii and passim.

Introduction. Love Letters to Baruch. By Margaret Lawrence Greene. Toronto: Musson Book Company, 1973. [v-vii].

Lawrence, Margaret. History: the School for Nurses, Toronto General Hospital; Commemorating the Fiftieth Anniversary of Its Establishment, 1881-1931. Toronto: Toronto General Hospital, [1931].

——. Sieur de La Salle. Ryerson Canadian History Readers. Toronto: Ryerson, [1930].

——. Letters to Bliss Carman. Archives, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario.

——.The School of Femininity: a Book for and about Women as They Are Interpreted through Feminine Writers of Yesterday and Today. New York: F.A. Stokes, 1936.

——. We Write as Women London: Michael Joseph, 1937.

Notes. Love Letters to Baruch. By Margaret Lawrence Greene. Toronto: Musson Book Company. 1973. 102-03.

Sorfleet, John Robert. Introduction. The Poems of Bliss Carman. By Bliss Carman. Ed. John Robert Sorfleet. New Canadian Library Original 9. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. 6-18.

Scott, F.R. Collected Poems. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1981.

Strong-Boag, Veronica. The Parliament of Women: the National Council of Women of Canada, 1893-1929. Ottawa: National Museums of Canada, 1976.

Watson, Albert Durrant, and Margaret Lawrence. Mediums and Mystics: a Study in Spiritual Laws and Psychic Forces. Toronto: Ryerson, 1923.