Duncan Campbell Scott

Addresses‚ Essays‚ and Reviews



Elise (Aylen) Scott conceived The Circle of Affection, her husband’s last book.  She “thought I should print some of the fugitive things that were scattered about, and the contents cover quite a long time.”  So Duncan Campbell Scott wrote to Lucile Gagnon on August 22, 1947, four months from his death at the age of 84.1  Besides the poems and stories, The Circle of Affection has five essays: “Wayfarers” (the title under which Scott assembled a group of travel pieces), “The Last of the Indian Treaties,” “Poetry and Progress,” “Clarence Gagnon: Recollection and Record,” and “The Tercentenary of Quebec.”  These are presumably the only essays Scott wished to collect, and readers of the present book, assembled without the author’s say-so, should remember that.  The first piece in this collection is an unpublished talk (c. 1891) on the life and work of Heinrich Heine.  The last is the “Message” Scott wrote for a National School Broadcast that was aired after his death.  Between these two is all of Scott’s non-fiction prose that has come to light, with a few lengthy exceptions: At the Mermaid Inn, the Toronto Globe column he shared with William Wilfred Campbell and Archibald Lampman in 1892 and 1893;2 the 1905 biography, John Graves Simcoe; the 1947 monograph on the art of Walter J. Phillips.  Those texts and Scott’s 1905 biography, John Graves Simcoe, are available in libraries (At the Mermaid Inn in the edition edited by Barrie Davies) and so are not represented here.  Some readers will miss “The James Bay Treaty,” a report long attributed to Scott which recent research has shown was probably written by Samuel Stewart, Scott’s co-commissioner on the Treaty 9 trips.3  Those exclusions acknowledged, though, there is far more prose in this book than appears in any of the Scott bibliographies, and much of the more was located by R.L. McDougall, whose assistance is gratefully acknowledged.
     Scott’s writing on literary, historical, artistic and Indian Affairs subjects includes unpublished talks, journalistic pieces, reviews [page xi] and serious essays published but never reprinted.  Now accessible to students of Scott, whether as writer, Indian Affairs bureaucrat or man of his time, this material helps to nuance our sense of the man and his work, but it replicates without solving the enigma of sensitive poet/racist civil servant.  Scott would never have approved the publication of pieces like his meandering talk on George Bernard Shaw and his shaggy address on Heinrich Heine, but this is the ambiguous fate of writers who — unlike the forgotten contemporaries whose work Scott reviewed enthusiastically — outlive their own time.  As a benign or sinister spirit, Scott continues to haunt us.  Many of his essays show him consciously constructing Canada, still a work-in-progress fifty years after his death.  By introducing his contributions to nation-making into the light of newer thinking about empire and race, we hope to enlist him for a further phase of the process.
     Because Scott is an important Canadian poet and cultural icon, it makes sense to gather his essays together even if in doing so we are not presenting undiscovered gems of Canadian prose.  There is good writing in this book, but even at his non-fiction best Scott was no Keats, no Borrow, no Landor, no Gibbon — to name some of the prose writers whose style he admired.4  We might simply mention the uneven literary quality of Scott’s essays and then move on, but a question should be asked first: why did such a good writer publish so much indifferent prose, especially when he argued publicly for the young country’s need for high standards of writing?
     In one of his best essays, “Poetry and Progress” (1922), Scott calls from high literary ground for a solid foundation for Canadian literature and Canadian identity.  “[C]reative power” in this country “is casual, intermittent, fragmentary,” he says, “because society is in like state” (Circle of Affection 127-8), and the situation cannot be mended by careless haste:

There must ever be this contrast between the worker for instant results and the worker who toils for the last perfection.  One class is not without honour, the other is precious beyond valuation.  As time passes we shall find in this country, no doubt, a growing corpus of stimulating thought that will still more tend to the nourishing and support of creative genius. (Circle 128)

Scott was always moderate in his public pronouncements.  Privately, he had much less use for the instant-result crowd.5  On [page xii] February 23,1935, he wrote to Pelham Edgar that “When one looks at the literary life in the mass one can have no respect for it.  This outpouring of books of no particular importance and the rush of misleading advts and reviews! how sordid it all seems.  As I have never had any part or lot in it I can still enjoy those old, and some few new things that appeal to me.”  Scott sees himself as most of his critics have seen him — the austere artist, the poet’s poet, untainted by commercialism or make-work writing.  In view of his frequent complaints in later life that his job was blocking his writing, it’s interesting that at least once he endorsed a split between the two sorts of work.  “[T]hough it sometimes seems hard not to have more time to give what one is deeply interested in,” he wrote to Peter MacArthur on July 29, 1897, “yet it is better not to depend for one’s livelihood upon one’s imagination and fancy.”  Better?  Perhaps, though I sense a shade of “easier” here.  The marketplace kills poetry — that is Scott’s assumption.  A more virile6 approach to this commonplace might have been to set up in the marketplace with one’s best.  That best and the marketplace (more generally, the public realm) might then undergo complementary transformations.  But it remained for a later generation of poets to imagine a role for poetry in, for example, politics.  In E.J. Pratt’s Towards the Last Spike, “The moulding of men’s minds was harder far / Than moulding of the steel [the railroad, the nation] and prior to it” (215) and canny use of metaphor is what moulds minds.
     With a few exceptions, Scott was not, in his non-fiction, “the worker who toils for the last perfection.”  Why not?  Is there a double standard, one for poetry and fiction, and another for non-fiction?  (I think Scott is referring to stories rather then to non-fiction prose when he observes that “My prose is written very much like my verse and I cannot get the rhythm of it if I dictate or typewrite” — to B.K. Sandwell, September 9, 1945.)  Would occasional prose pieces have shone brighter if Scott had enjoyed writing them?  He was a very private man drawn against his wishes into a public life requiring speeches or lectures or essays that he would have ducked if he could.  Of his longest essay, the three-part “Indian Affairs” published in Canada and Its Provinces, he confided to Pelham Edgar that “I am pulling together some stuff for Doughty and Shortt’s History of Canada supposed to be about Indians, a pure task, nothing more” (March, 1911).  Purely a task, he means.  Not that the task was easy.  It required a huge amount of research, and the writing, [page xiii] however bland the results, must have been very taxing.  Scott was often asked or required to write about Indians and the Department of Indian Affairs that employed him for half a century, and only one essay bears any marks of personal enthusiasm and connection with his subject.  “The Last of the Indian Treaties,” the account of his 1905 Treaty 9 negotiating trip, by canoe, among the Cree and Ojibway of Northern Ontario, is the essay that appears in The Circle of Affection, and it is the only Indian essay with much literary merit.
     Early in his career, Scott may have seen the positive side of being an amateur (in the root sense of lover) rather than a professional writer, but he did often curse his job for interfering with his writing.  This, to Pelham Edgar, is typical:  “I have not much verse to send you as I am a bearer of burdens[,] and only occasionally can I get the time for the fundamental brain work, the quiet for the necessary thought” (November/December 1913).  In 1913 he still had almost twenty more years to spend in Indian Affairs, and 1914 was the year of his promotion to Deputy Minister of his Department, after which the pressure increased.  One of the large company of artists whose gainful employment starved their art, Scott would have empathized with the grasshopper/artist in the fable, fiddling away the summer while the practical ants busily lay up provisions for the winter.  In his own way, he was trying to re-write that story so that grasshopper-fiddlers would rise in the estimation of ants.7  Actually, he was ant and grasshopper both — capable civil servant and good poet — but he hated his job.  Career-long frustration boils up in a letter he writes to William Arthur Deacon on the eve of his retirement from Indian Affairs: “I am glad you dwell on my essential Canadianism.  I think that is true & I hope to write a few more such poems when I am released from my fifty year imprisonment with the savages” (February 8, 1931).
     This from the pen of the author of “At Gull Lake: August 1810,” from a man who has dreamed his way into otherness.  Shocking, now that the word “savage” is understood to express a tragically limited cultural attitude.  It would have been shocking to few whites in 1931, though, and the shift in perception that has taken place — a casual remark in one era becomes a flashpoint in another — ought to be unsettling.  Scott’s relationship with the Native people he thought of as “wards” does not in fact reduce to an “imprisonment with the savages,” but the words reveal an unbridgeable gap between himself and his charges and suggest why so much of his [page xiv] prose about First Nations people was perfunctory.  Scott wrote with passion and conviction about Indians, he wrote well about them, only when he was free to choose his subject and his medium.  Perhaps it was only when he was not engaged as official, as authority, that there could be any possibility of true (paper) relationship with Native people.
     In 1982, Robert Bringhurst wrote about Dennis Lee that “He has not, to my knowledge, published a glib page in more than a decade” (59).  I first read that as a remarkable compliment, touching Lee’s writing as well as his seriousness, and of course it is.  Recently it has occurred to me to think of the writer who pays the compliment as a kind of quality monitor, ringing the writing of his contemporaries to test it for the true.  This may sound officious, but it is no more than the audible voice of high standards all but taken for granted.  It is a sign that slippage in quality will be noticed, and it is one voice of many now supporting toilers for the last perfection in this country’s literature.  After Archibald Lampman died, where was Scott’s support?  He had intermittent editorial advice about poetry from Pelham Edgar over the long years of their literary friendship, and Edgar may have looked at some of his stories as well, but who helped Scott with his prose?  Who pushed him?  No one that I know of.  Few writers sustain high standards in isolation, and in many ways Scott was a lonely writer.
     Scott was a puritan.  He always rose to a sense of duty.  His very success as Indian Affairs ant — he did excellent work by civil service standards — was what eventually made his name hated among Indians.  The more successfully Indian Affairs pushed its now-abandoned cornerstone policy of assimilation, the worse things were for the First Nations.  To this policy, most of the administrative evils now generally recognized as such — suppression of Native ceremonies, rending of Native families by the imposition of residential schools; in short, the concentrated attack on Native cultures and languages and institutions — can be traced.  Scott was for many years the glue of assimilationist policy.  He may have lacked access to legislative power, but he was the efficient civil servant who kept the racist policy focused.  No wonder he is now, and always will be, the focus of blame for it.
     One thing his essays make clear is that Scott the bureaucrat is consistent with Scott the cultural worker in at least one respect.  I have said that Scott’s essays show working towards a “national [page xv] life” for Canada.  That phrase or a variation on it appears in several of the essays on Indian subjects.  It shows up often when the subject is assimilation, the policy intended to make Indians more and more invisible on the way to complete absorption into “the national life.”  This statement about the reserve system, charged with contradiction as it is, is typical:

This system was designed to protect [the Indians] from encroachment and to establish for them a sort of sanctuary where they could develop unmolested, until advancement had rendered possible their absorption with the general citizenship.  The Reserve System was intended to insure the continuation of the tribal life and the life of the individual as an Indian, as well as to render possible a continuous and consistent administrative policy directed toward civilization. (“The Aboriginal Races,” q.v. 323)

Isolation to produce absorption?  Issuing from the pen of a smart man, this nonsense is a cautionary paradigm of cultural blindness (what nonsense are you and I now holding to be true?) but the point is that the theme of assimilation is not separable from Scott’s general thinking about Canada, about the making of a nation that he knew had to be forced, as a narcissus is forced into bloom; transplanted culture draws the hothouse treatment and the treatment is indiscriminately and damagingly applied to indigenous peoples.
     But damage is not all that Scott should be remembered for.  If settler culture in this country matters, and of course it does, then Scott is a Canadian cultural hero.  What we have inherited, Scott worked all his life to build.  In the last year of that life, John Coulter put this rhetorical question to Scott in a letter: “Do you mind me telling you to your face that if I were asked to name one writer whose work most fully holds what, for me, a comparative stranger here [Coulter was Irish], is the authentic ‘feel’ of Canada, I should name Duncan Campbell Scott” (July 6, 1947).  The remark is not isolated.  Coulter’s respect was shared by other members of the new generation of Canadian writers, particularly poets who were also editors and anthologists: Ralph Gustafson, Earle Birney, E.J. Pratt, A.J.M. Smith.  Many letters to Scott over the years, letters from Canadians in all walks of life in fact (and many non-Canadians as well), carried the homage of those who saw him as a national institution to be treasured.  Scott earned that homage from people who found it easy to separate his Indian Affairs work from his cultural work, and those [page xvi] of us no longer willing to accept the split need to remember the good in his legacy.  But nowadays, looking at Scott, I always see double.  I can no longer celebrate his cultural heroism without understanding what it means to people like this Cree woman uncomfortably attending a reunion of her non-Native husband’s family:

They are scattered throughout Turtle Island.8
They marvel at the trek of their ancestors.
The click of wine glasses echoes through the arbour
of this large family gathering.  And five Indians.
I the eldest, my children and two other Indian youths.
They are not yet aware how this affects their lives.
Who are we?  Adopted.  I gather inward.
How many of my relatives were cattled
onto the reservation during their settlement?  How
much of my people’s blood was spilled for this
migration? (Louise Halfe 61)

There is no innocent work” (222) says the disillusioned Dean Jocelyn in William Golding’s The Spire.  “The shadow’s afoot with the shine” (100) in Scott’s “Labour and the Angel,” and they are inseparable in his legacy.  Celebrating his positive contributions exacts an embrace of darkness.  Naturally, then, this introduction swings between the now-familiar extremes of opinion about Scott, just as his essays, chronologically arranged, alternate between Indian and other topics.  Embracing an irresolvable tension, perhaps we can eventually surprise something new in it.


•     •     •


Turning to the context for Scott’s non-fiction on subjects other than Indian Affairs, we do not find him engaged with work that he could always put his heart into.  “I am working away at an address on G.B.S. for the drama league,” he writes to Pelham Edgar on January 6, 1914, “—this public life is highly distasteful!  Then I have a [?] job for a course of public library lectures on the younger British poets— in March.”  The Shaw lecture has survived, while the talks on younger British poets, like many other speeches Scott mentions in his letters over the years, have not.  Scott complained privately about the public speaking invitations his prominence brought him, [page xvii] but he often accepted them nonetheless.  It was more likely shyness than incompetence that made him so reluctant.  On the occasion of his eightieth birthday, Sydney Webster wrote remembering one of Scott’s talks (another that has not survived) many years past.

I have often great pleasure looking back over the years during which I was president of the Montreal Young Men’s Canadian Club, when we were so fortunate to entertain so many who have made their place in Canadian life and history by their contribution in their varied fields of influence.  At that time you gave us an address on Indian Affairs which was most interesting and the only one factually informative information that I have ever heard.  However, you did digress somewhat and took us on a side trip into the realm of Canadian poets and poetry.  (August 1, 1942)

Webster’s letter is all that remains of the Montreal talk, so we don’t know in what spirit Scott approached it.  It was friendship for Lucile Gagnon, together with decades of devotion to the art of her husband, Clarence Gagnon, that made him agree to introduce a talk by Jean-Marie Gauvreau, Gagnon’s biographer.  Scrupulously respecting the poet’s sensitivity, Mrs. Gagnon addresses her letter of thanks to Elise Scott: “I did not see you to tell you, that as you and Gauvreau.  I was very touched, because I know that usually Duncan refuse anything of that kind, I did appreciate very much.”  (January 4, 1943; Mrs. Gagnon’s epistolary English is usually sounder than this.)
     Scott believed in the Royal Society of Canada’s work in building intellectual Canada, and he did more than his share of that work.  He seems to have made himself so indispensable to the institution that it would not release him when he wanted a break.  “I do not know,” he wrote to Lorne Pierce on May 22, 1925,

whether you observed that [the Royal Society] elected me honorary Secretary very much against my will, but I promised to take it for a year.  As you know, I held this position for eleven years, and then the office of Vice President and President, and I thought that I would be allowed a rest, but the condition of the society at present, particularly in the scientific sections seemed to require that I should come back and moderate certain difficulties and the scientists were particularly urgent, so against my better judgement I had to accept. [page xviii]

Well into the 1940s Scott was still corresponding with Royal Society members regarding membership and other matters like the Lorne Pierce Medal, Willingdon Arts Committee competitions, the awarding of the Flavelle Medal.  He was also an executive with the Canadian Author’s Association, the Canadian Writer’s Foundation, the Ottawa Drama League, the Ottawa Little Theatre—even his country club.  This is clearly a man who could get things done, even though his letters show how tedious he often found the work.  That the Royal Society’s scientists pushed for his re-election (Scott’s membership was in the Humanities division) also suggests that he could rise above narrow partisan interests.
     Scott’s introductions to the art of Walter J. Phillips and Clarence Gagnon, collected here, also have their admirable context.  In the last year of his life, Scott laboured to produce a monograph on Phillips’ life and work.  The book is an odd one, and no classic of Canadian art criticism, but it was sincerely meant and showed the endurance of a commitment to Phillips that produced the earlier introduction to 10 Colour Prints.  “Clarence Gagnon: Recollection and Record” is a tiny reflection of Scott’s years of service to the Quebec artist he met in 1919 at the home of fellow artist, Horatio Walker.  Scott was Gagnon’s friend until the artist died in 1941, and he remained in touch with Lucile Gagnon until his own death.  For the many years during which the Gagnons were abroad, Scott acted as agent for Gagnon’s paintings and etchings.  He used his connections with the rich and famous, like Vincent Massey, to place these works, though he was not always impressed with moneyed Canadians.  He could see in them the colonial spirit or mentality that E.K, Brown in On Canadian Poetry (13) and Northrop Frye in “Canada and Its Poetry” (Bush Garden 133) were both to describe.9  “These Canadians with money are a bad lot,” Scott said to Gagnon;10 “They would rather spend $5,000 on an inferior Dutch picture than $700.00 on a Canadian masterpiece!”  Scott was of and not behind his time in greeting with open arms real and permanent Canadian accomplishment in the arts.  He wrote to Ira Dilworth on December 31, 1945 that “We [Scott and Elise] had prolonged visits to the Emily Carr Exhibition [in the National Gallery].  We always knew she was a genius and we are confirmed in that opinion and we now hold that some pictures in this show are among the great pictures of the world.”  Emily Carr paintings hung in Scott’s house, as did pictures by Gagnon, Lawren Harris, and Pegi Nichol Mcleod.  The Ryerson [page xix] Press designer with whom Scott corresponded about the reprint of his In the Village of Viger and the Archibald Lampman selected was J.E.H. MacDonald’s son, Thoreau, whom Scott wrote on February 15, 1945, saying that “your father was the animating member of the Group; always so full of life.  I knew him but we did not meet often and I regret that; Harris and Jackson I knew best; but I was sympathetic with the whole group.”  Perhaps this sympathy explains why when Scott wrote welcoming A.J.M. Smith’s News of the Phoenix, the poem he singled out for praise was “The Lonely Land,” a rather imagistic free verse poem originally subtitled “Group of Seven.”  He welcomed Birney’s “David” in much the same spirit:

I remarked to a friend some time ago that it was on Poems like David and my own Veronique Fraser that the future of Canadian Poetry depended; I meant, I suppose, that there is such a wealth of Living in our country that can be developed intensely and dramatically, that such poems might stand as examples. (To Earle Birney, January 17, 1947)

•     •     •


To anyone even casually acquainted with Scott’s career, his interest in writing and art in this country, and in music as well, come as no surprise.  (His letters give ample evidence of his knowledge of the other art form he practiced, as a pianist, though he regrettably left only poems—no essays—on music.)  But one might not expect so many essays on historical subjects.  As civil servant, Scott was obliged to be something of an historian of Indians and Indian Affairs in Canada, but he was independently interested in Canadian history, or perhaps became interested in it during the period when he and Pelham Edgar were editing the significantly-named Makers of Canada series of biographies in the early years of this century.  His own John Graves Simcoe was written for the series, partly to fill a gap and so cure one pain in a headache-ridden general editorship.  E.K. Brown says of this book that it “misses being a good biography because of the extreme incompatibility between author and subject” (xxi).  Scott simply called it, writing to R.H. Coats, a “potboiler.”  Scott and Edgar, poet/bureaucrat and English professor, were not the obvious general editors of this many-volume series of doubtful value, but they did bring it into being, perhaps in the process providing the model for Lorne Pierce’s Ryerson Press Makers of Canadian Literature series.  The ground of all this hard work for the [page xx] series was Scott’s conviction that Canadians needed to know their past.  “The Tercentenary of Quebec” makes the theme explicit.  “Especially for such a young people as ours,” Scott says, “it is wise to perpetuate old deeds and to treasure what is, after all, our chief possession—the actions of those who were all unconsciously framing our destiny” (Circle 154).  “We begin to be civilized,” he goes on, “when we celebrate and cherish the past, and allow the recurrence of anniversaries and centennials to have their will of us, and revivify our national life” (155).  He thinks of Canada, he says in a brief statement written for The Week in 1892, “not as a geographical unit, or as a political entity, but as a State of Mind, a Dominion to which all the writers who have expressed the deeds and aspirations of times past have contributed...” (369).  “[T]he Literature of Canada,” accordingly, “is a term more inclusive than Canadian Literature.”11
     Scott was born in 1862, before Canada had ceased to be a colony.  His first job, a clerkship in Indian Affairs, was a patronage appointment from Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.  He lived close to the politics of Ottawa all of his adult life.  His whole life was spent in the making of Canada, and he occasionally felt privileged to be near the sources of that making.  “It is our good fortune, perhaps,” he says in “The Tercentenary of Quebec,” “that the past of heroic adventure looks nearer to us than it will to others, our descendants, who may enjoy mastery of the air” (156).  Not all Canadians felt so blessed.  A man passionately involved in “the absorbing task of nation-building” might in fact feel like a prophet without honour in his own country “when everyone seems drugged with the idea that material progress means every desirable thing” (“Tercentenary” 154).  When everyone, in terms of the old fable, is living as an ant.
     Scott worked hard, often against the grain, to make Canada into a nation in the true sense: he wanted this country to have a soul.  His obsession with “the national life” gave him one of the most enduring Canadian themes: the making of the country.  Early Canadian long poems such as Alexander McLachlan’s The Emigrant and Isabella Valancy Crawford’s Malcolm’s Katie trace the emergence of a country out of a wilderness.  Scott sketches a version of this story in the “Memoir” of Archibald Lampman when he writes about pioneers on both sides of Lampman’s family.  The physical making is what he admired about Lord Strathcona and the other fur traders, the explorers, and the Jesuits that he linked as part of a Canadian [page xxi] heroic age, early agents of what he called “Canada as a state of mind.”  With revisionist distance and irony, this is the story still being told in contemporary long poems like Margaret Atwood’s The Journals of Susannna Moodie and Robert Kroetsch’s matched pair, The Ledger and Seed Catalogue.  Such different novels as Sara Jeanette Duncan’s The Imperialist and Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion are literary documents marking early and later stages in the development of Canadian urban life.  In a native metaphor drawn from the carrying of canoes from lake to lake, Ondaatje says that Canadian writing is marked by “the preoccupying image of figures permanently travelling, portaging their past, still uncertain of where to settle...” (From Ink Lake xvii).  In this insistent theme of making there has been an “enharmonic change,” to borrow the phrase in which Scott swivels from lament to consolation in his elegy for Claude Debussy: the theme is the same, that is, but the approach has been utterly transformed.  The frustration of living in a country that Scott called “unformed” (writing to William Arthur Deacon, October 20-5, 1926) has become, for many, the exhilaration of living in an unformed country.
     It was crucial to Scott that the Canadian story be told, and that it be told in credible terms.  As an amateur historian, he made good use of historical documents, and the hands-on approach of research no doubt stimulated his interest in all institutions of preservation.  He was squarely behind the multidisciplinary pursuits of the Royal Society (which reflected the multidisciplinary nature of his own interests).  He begins his presidential address with a nod to disciplines not his own, touching also on a conception of history that was relatively new in his time:

The former story-telling function of History and the endless reweaving of that tissue of tradition which surrounded and obscured the life of a people has given place to a higher conception of the duty of the Historian and the obligation to accept no statement without the support of documentary evidence.  The exploration and study of archives and the collation of original contemporaneous documents are now held to be essential, and the partisan historian fortified with bigotry and blind to all evidence uncongenial to his preconceptions is an extinct being. (Circle 126)

Perhaps Scott’s mother had told him, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  Some sense of public decorum, at [page xxii] least, or perhaps some idealizing tendency, permitted him to blank out those historians who had plagued him during the making of The Makers of Canada. Blind and bigoted historians had not been extinct then, and a specimen or two might still be identified in 1999.  With his very Canadian stress on the documentary over the mythic (in this case undervaluing the power of myth), and without the further wrinkle in thinking about history that became meta-history, Scott overestimates the objectivity of the new historian.  His faith in the factual solidity of document dovetails with his faith in a nation whose citizens of the future would share a uniform outlook.  Stuck in the early 20th century, he lacks an ideology of multiplicity.
     Stuck in the early twenty-first century, many of us hold the equally idealized notion that a true nation boasts the ability to hear the voices of all of its citizens, whatever their origin.  Robert Bringhurst’s lovely formulation in The Black Canoe, asserts a manyness that must be listened to, including the “voices” of those who cannot speak for themselves:12

I could be wrong, but I have the impression that what wants to be in Canada at present is a complex multiplicity of things, not all of which are provided for or dreamt of in colonial and immigrant institutions and traditions.  I have tried to trace a single one of the threads, one of the voices, in this inconclusive, polylingual music—one which begins with the creation of the world in a North Pacific archipelago and fetches up for now on the Atlantic, mindful of the ease with which such worlds have been damaged and destroyed.  From beginning to end, that thread insists on its own integrity, all the while linking many things. Like a weaver’s yarn or a sailor’s line, it is made of many strands in its turn. (10)

The single braided strand Bringhurst has been following is Haida, one of the Nation-voices, for which Scott had cloth ears.  Scott might have been able to grasp Bringhurst’s vision in theory, though.  He saw the Lampman genealogy as made up of many strands:  “Six national strains met in his personality, French, Dutch, German, Swiss, Scotch and English” (“Introduction” 20).  Of course Scott is assuming that essentialized national character will explain personality, and this permits him to say that the Celtic in Lampman accounts for his melancholy and his shyness and his “aversion to material activities” (20).  Good thing Lampman had a little of “the more practical qualities of the Dutch and Germans, their power of [page xxiii] merely bearing the pressure of life,” since, like it or not, he had to put up with the post office.13  Here is not commitment to a truly democratic multiplicity, but metaphor winging away from the plausible into folk psychology.  Scott refers in “Notes on the Meeting Place” to the “loyal and determined efforts of Simcoe to begin the national life with an impulse which should make it British to the core...” (175).  When the Indians have been “absorbed into the ordinary life of the Provinces,” he says in “The Red Indian,” they will have “reach[ed] their destined goal, full British citizenship” (q.v. 288).  Well, my first (1966) passport insisted that “A Canadian citizen is a British subject.”  The imperialistic strain in Scott was at least a sentimental strain in most Canadians of his time.
     Scott’s Canada was European, British.  His essay on the Indians for the British magazine Canada begins with a reference to the upcoming Royal visit for which the CBC commissioned him to write “a special poem for us to broadcast throughout Canada, the United States, and possibly the rest of the British Empire as well, to mark the end of the Royal Tour” (Gladstone Murray to Scott, May 5, 1933).  Scott obliged with “A Farewell to Their Majesties,” and the poem provoked an outpouring of affection for poet and royalty alike.  The British Empire, any empire, now looks like a model of cultural variety crushed in a single squeezing fist.  The post in the word postcolonial declares the independence of once-colonial nations and hints at the dispersal of centres in present-day thinking about culture and politics.  Former satellites have grown planetary.  But in Scott’s era the British Empire grew into the British Commonwealth with no resistance from the likes of him.  Scott was revolutionary in no phase of his life.  Even the language he uses about poetry, about literature in general, issues from his stance of moderation in all things.  Of Lampman he says, for instance (in one example of many), that “his task was finished before the later ‘modernism’ had taken hold upon poetic art, and I fancy he would not have had much sympathy with the insurgents.  Walt Whitman was no favourite of his, and the small rebellion of Stephen Crane which, so far as I recall, was the only contemporary manifestation of unrest, left him cold” (q.v. 372; my italics).14
     So we should not expect Scott to have envisioned a future for Canada in which one might approvingly say, with Kroetsch, that “we [in Canada] survive by working with a low level of self-definition and national definition.  We insist on staying multiple, and by [page xxiv]that strategy we accommodate to our climate, our economic situation, and our neighbours” (28).  Such a relaxed expectation for the nation would make any push for assimilation irrelevant, and, incidentally, might hasten the process.  Populations and cultures inevitably merge in multicultural societies and the process is reprehensible only when brutally and unilaterally accelerated.  Even that “melting pot,” the United States, fosters intellectual resistance to homogenization.  “[I]t is in the resistance to any singular unity of identity,” Charles Bernstein says,

that the impossibility of America, of Poetics of the Americas, may be said to dwell.  The cultural space of this impossible America is not carved up by national borders or language borders but transected by innumerable overlaying, contradictory or polydictory, traditions and proclivities and histories and regions and peoples and circumstances and identities and families and collectivities and dissolutions—dialects and ideolects, not National Tongues; localities and habitations, not States. (1)

     As poet and nation-builder, Scott the temperamental moderate had few ideological resources for envisioning anything but a uniform Canada purged of a distinct Native population.  He could usually accept French Canadian difference, but that was civilized.  Never forgetting how easily nationalism clamps down on difference and manyness, nor the enormous pressure towards uniformity exerted by “transnational consumer culture” (Bernstein 1), we need passionately to contemplate other choices.  But I am intermittently drawn to an unfashionable desire for wholeness and unity that I honour, the better to resist it at need.  I doubt that I’m alone in this, but I stand to be corrected.  So what if we think along with Scott for a spell, dropping the racist ideology of forced assimilation and exclusion but searching still for a national whole that one might love cleanly.  Is there something to be said for such a Canada?  If thinking it were nothing more than a rebuke of multicultural tourism, pale orthodoxies of polyvalency, the effort would already be worthwhile.
     In “The Provinces,” A.M. Klein metaphors his way across the country, personifying each province and territory on his way to deciding that what they have in common is “the family feature, the not unsimilar face” (3).  The poem enacts a dynamic of thinking in which variety and identity are compatible—family ties, at least in [page xxv] the ideal family, do not dissolve difference but hold it in suspension—and it lends the pull to unity a better showing than it gets in recent theory:

But the heart seeks one, the heart, and also the mind
seeks single the thing that makes them one, if one. (3)

The mind, when asked, can handle the one and the many.  Why should the extremes not cohabit in a relationship of dynamic harmony something like that Gayatri Spivak envisions between a centre thought of as masculine and a feminist periphery:

By pointing attention to a feminist marginality, I have been attempting, not to win the centre for ourselves, but to point at the irreducibility of the margin in all explanations.  That would not merely reverse but displace the distinction between margin and center.  But in effect such pure innocence (pushing all guilt to the margins) is not possible, and, paradoxically, would put the very law of displacement and the irreducibility of the margin into question.  The only way I can hope to suggest how the center itself is marginal is by not remaining outside in the margin and pointing my accusing finger at the center.  I might do it rather by implicating myself in that center and sensing what politics make it marginal.  Since one’s vote is at the limit for oneself, the deconstructivist can use herself (assuming one is at one’s own disposal) as a shuttle between the center (inside) and the margin (outside) and thus narrate a displacement. (107)

     It may be that Scott offers a useful example in two senses, then.  First, we can recognize and resist, in his thinking, the one-way flow of margin to centre.  Second, we might once in a while (with the necessary irony) embrace the idea of dominion that Scott was pursuing all his life—a nation that is single in ways that can be felt and valued by people from widely-scattered cultural stances.  This is not the place to articulate that nation, but I sometimes think it could grow around such very moderate and passionate claims as those made in Al Purdy’s “Home Thoughts”:

Sometimes it seems that people of nations
outside my own country’s boundaries are dancing
and shouting in the streets for joy
at their great good fortune in being citizens
of whatever it is they are citizens of— [page xxvi]
And at other times it seems we are the only
country in the world whose people
do not dance in the streets very much
but sometimes stand looking at each other
in morning or evening as if to see there
something about their neighbours
overlooked by anthropologists
born of the land itself perhaps
what is quietly human and will remain so
when the dancing has ended. (361)

Regarding as satisfactory neither the dominion nor its discontents, keeping unitary and polyvalent mindsets active at all times, we might have a dynamic model of Canada capable of comprehending its micro-identities, with their own stresses between heterodoxy and orthodoxy, like the Shamsi Muslim community of Toronto in M.G. Vassanji’s No New Land.  In fact, Vassanji’s title, drawn from a poem by Cavafy, ought to make us think: is there no such thing as a new land, but only replications of old ones?
     It depends how much emphasis is placed on the land, the physical environment.  Canada is physically little like East Africa, where Vassanji comes from.  But the unrest and racism that Vassanji’s characters have been fleeing does show up in the new world.  Scott wanted the (British) old world in the new; he didn’t expect anything else.  On the other hand, he did think that the new environment causes subtle changes.  About the derivative in Archibald Lampman he writes:

There are traces of imitation in his work, there are echoes of the great manners and the great cadences of the past, but imitation pervades all art, is in fact, the great nourisher, always and everywhere, of artistic effort.  Alfred de Musset has it: “C’est imiter quelqu’un que de planter des choux”; true of all occupations, from that of poet to that of kitchen gardener.  But, while we expect that all cabbage soup shall have the same flavour, we expect of our artists constant variations upon the texture of imitation; the more strangeness and variety, the more are we delighted.  What Lampman has brought to mingle with the old method is the joy of a new land, its vigorous climate and life, and the excitement of recording impressions of a beauty that is untroubled by human tradition.  The product of this graft upon the old stock is fruit with a tang of native flavour to be compared to the fruit of his own [page xxvii] ancestral Niagara district; the old form with the gust of a new soil. (q.v. 372)

Throughout his life, Scott believed in the adequacy, even the necessity, of the old forms—even when he himself was stretching poetic form in the poems featuring what Gordon Johnston calls “the variable line” (254).  Is Canadian content all that makes a Canadian poem then?  In Scott’s thinking, form seems like the stable element.  What would he have thought of Robert Kroetsch’s Seed Catalogue, had he lived long enough to read it?  Seed Catalogue may naturally come to mind in the context of a kitchen garden with cabbages in it, but I’m thinking especially of Seed Catalogue’s exploded form.  I dare say Scott would have disliked that, and he would have had trouble with Kroetsch’s lowbrow sources as well, but he would have read the poem, because he did not close himself off from the new.  “My mind keeps its eager curiosity of youth,” he wrote to W.A. Deacon (October 20-5, 1926), “and I have never felt prejudiced against new ideas or forms.”  He ordered T.S. Eliot’s “East Coker” “from curiosity,” he says (to Pelham Edgar on October 29, 1940), “as my affections are for other forms.”  Maybe Scott was a little like Mutt Carey in Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter.  Perhaps Scott is a “father” both drawn to and repulsed by new mutations of form, a Mutt Carey “bitching at new experiments, the chaos, but refusing to leave the table and go down the street and listen to captive jazz he himself had generated” (96-7).  A father, in Buddy Bolden’s world, is a teacher, someone you respect and learn from—and then leave behind.


•     •     •


One of the most interesting phrases in the passage about Archibald Lampman just quoted is “untroubled by human tradition.”  The word “untroubled” is especially provocative in the context of the “gust” of a new land.  In his valorization of inherited forms, in his deep feeling for Britain, in his work to establish Canadian institutions of all kinds, Scott was always convinced of the value of tradition.  In “Poetry and Progress,” he quotes Matthew Arnold’s specifications of the cultural background in which high poetic art thrives: “The poet lived in a current of ideas in the highest degree animating and nourishing to the creative power; society was, in the fullest measure, permeated by fresh thought, intelligent and alive; [page xxviii] and this state of things is the true basis for the creative power’s exercise” (Circle 127).  When Scott says in “A Decade of Canadian Poetry” that the Canadian poet is obliged to make “bricks without straw” (158), he is quietly lamenting the absence in the Canada of his time of that exciting and nourishing milieu.  He is talking backwater.  He worked all his life to join the provincial “bay” of “The Piper of Arll” to the universal “heart of the ocean far away” (Poems 35).15
     And yet, in one of those threads of contradiction that runs through Scott’s life and writing, a more apostate attitude towards tradition sometimes appears.  Look closely at those Ottawa Journal pieces, most of which he drew together as “Wayfarers.”  These are literary pilgrimages to places sanctified in the literary mind because literally and metaphorically trodden by writing forefathers and foremothers.  Scott makes (or at least writes) no literary pilgrimages in Canada.  The closest he gets to this sense of sanctification by association in the new world is in New England, Emily Dickinson territory.  But something in him, some new graft on the old plant, also drew back from these ancient lands with their layer upon layer of human association.  Each time he pulls back, in the “Wayfarers” sequence, it is to Canada.  Here are three such passages:

Why [on the way to the haunts of Robert Herrick] does Dartmoor give one such a sense of loneliness?  I have been in regions of our own northland where no human life had ever existed and felt less remote from civilization.  Here we were but a few miles from urgent life and felt the desolation of an ancient world.  Was it by reason of the primeval remains scattered on the hills—stone hut-circles, the houses of a folk forgotten centuries ago? (Circle 88)

You gather, from the fact that every little coign and corner [of Allermuir and Caerketton—Robert Louis Stevenson country] has its name, that the land is weary of human association.  With us not farmer has his house on the map, and his cross-roads called with names of high and romantic sound.  But there, Fairmilehead is but a house in the trees; Bowbrig is a culvert with a trickle of water below; the trickle is Lothianburn, and it is the same as far as you may wander. (94)

If the gods are kind [to visitors to Haworth and the Brontës] they will have brilliant sunshine and be reminded of the clarity of Canadian skies and the rolling, unconfined fields of North Saskatchewan where the wheat is ripening.  At Knaresborough they will find nothing to [page xxix] remind them of the West.  Over the deep glen through which the river Nidd flows, dark and silent, under the ruins of John of Gaunt’s Castle a change has come into the sunlight.  It may be just as bright but it falls on a landscape which takes its interest from associations that crowd out any thought of a country innocent of events greater then sowing and reaping. (95)

Europe is rich and weary with associations, Canada is innocent and empty.  There is enough oxymoron here to power a sentence of Alice Munro’s.  The framing poems of Scott’s New World Lyrics and Ballads (the title of which, with its Canadian graft onto a Wordsworthian stalk, is itself a balance of new/old, here/there) also enact an indissoluble tension.  “The waves are weary of hiding pearls” (1), says “The Sea by the Wood”; “the pines are weary of holding nests” (68) says “The Wood by the Sea.”  Personified sea and wood each wish to dissolve in the other, to be forgiven its own weary responsibilities; the single-minded stance of each cancels that of the other; longing for singleness and stasis is unsatisfied.  The wood-sea force-field of irresolution is the yearning tension at the heart of Scott’s thinking when his thinking is poetry.
     Scott does not feel the ancientness of human tradition in Canada, because he cannot place himself for long in an aboriginal position.  Also, he is a print person, with little connection to oral tradition.  Describing the north in “Wayfarers” as a place “where no human life had ever existed,” in its implicit association of the human with a “civilized” population narrowly constructed as European, is thoughtlessly insulting to Native occupants of this “wilderness.”  The Canada innocent of association is a myth which depends on excluding aboriginal peoples from consideration.  Particulars can be inimical to myth, and in the process of creating Canada in the familiar image of Britain Scott could overlook vast bodies of Indian particulars that he actually knew.  But he didn’t think “civilization” was all it was cracked up to be either, and he needed a contrasting image of escape from it to hold on to.  He needed a wilderness-refuge.  This helps to explain his depopulation of aboriginal land in poems like “Indian Place-Names” (“The race has waned and left but tales of ghosts,/ That hover in the world like fading smoke/ About the lodges...” Poems 22) or “The Height of Land,” in which the Indian guides grumble around the campfire for awhile and then fall “dead asleep” (46), leaving the meditating speaker to work out the meaning of life in perfect undisturbed solitude. [page xxx]
     Scott has set aside the “story” in “history” as mere ignorance; cutting-edge moderns have a new access to the truth, he thinks, so he doesn’t recognize his own version-making.  In fact his version of the way things are and the way things should be is scattered and so never has the force of a worked-up system, a myth in the Frygian sense of “an integral meaning presented by ... metaphors, images and symbols” (Bush Garden ix).  I would have liked to see Scott pushed by the strong cultural milieu that he himself longed for, or else by some tough-minded acquaintance, to think through and connect the often interesting ideas that flash out here and there.  A real hard push would have drawn aboriginal affairs into the picture, of course, and then, I suppose, either Scott or the system would have broken.
     What was driving Scott’s efforts to establish tradition in Canada is more than his sense of layers of human association thickening over time and attaching us to the land.  It is something of enduring value that he finds neither in the civilized part of his corner of the new world nor in the modernism that is another word for western civilization early in the twentieth century.  At the end of the Haworth essay there is a purplish passage that carries images important to Scott’s thinking: “A light ethereal in quality, but of eternal significance, it was the very light of Imagination transfiguring the sordid foreground of the material world and of present time, never faltering, never lost it flowed on seeking the future with its eternal message” (Circle 100).  Another name for the light of the imagination is Poetry, as we can see by comparing this more sober and more eloquent passage from “Poetry and Progress”: “But when so often calling on the name of poetry, I am thinking of that element in the art which is essential, in which the power of growth resides, which is the winged and restless spirit keeping pace with knowledge and often beating into the void in advance of speculation...” (137).
     Gordon Johnston comments in passing on “the surprising number of angels in Scott’s poetry” (267).  He sees the angel as a “mediating figure” between ordinary and transfigured worlds, but I tend to see them on the transfigured and transfiguring side of a continuum.  Like Johnston, I could do without the greeting card dimension of some of Scott’s angels, even when they are flighted representatives of virtues like hard work.  I find the angel in Scott’s work most compelling when unnamed, when it appears in [page xxxi] metaphor—or synecdoche: only the wings, as in the passage from “Poetry and Progress” just quoted.  I think the most compelling line of association goes this way: Poetry=Imagination=Angel=Beauty.  In “Ode for the Keats Centenary,” Beauty flees “from the toil and press” of the present to the wilderness on the “deathless wings” of the “Spirit of Keats”:

For Beauty has taken refuge from our life
That grew too loud and wounding;
Beauty withdraws beyond the bitter strife,
Beauty is gone, (Oh where?)
To dwell within a precinct of pure air
Where moments turn to months of solitude;
To live on roots of fern and tips of fern,
On tender berries flushed with the earth’s blood.  (Poems 156)

I have never been convinced by Scott’s attempt to graft Keats into the new world, but I am fascinated by the appearances in the poem of hints of thinking about deficiencies in the new / contemporary world that are also threaded through the essays in this book.  The word “sordid” appears in the Keats ode, for example (now is “the whirl of Time’s most sordid hour” 154), and it makes a fairly regular appearance in other contexts that connect it firmly with the present (modernity) and with things material (as opposed to spiritual).  Interpreting one of Clarence Gagnon’s prints (Mont St. Michel), for example, Scott wonders why it was one of the artist’s favourites: “[D]id he recognize an imaginative intention fully realized; the sordid foreground and beyond that the vision of the ‘Mont’ appearing far removed from the earthly in a timeless atmosphere?” (q.v. 471)
     “Sordid” is an unusually strong word in this context (Gagnon has devoted great care to an eloquent foreground—cottages, ducks, a pig—which I would simply call realistic), as it is in the essay on George Bernard Shaw, where it once again stands for the present.  Discussing a Pinero play, Scott finds no character “who rises to any height of resolve, who is actuated by a single fine impulse, whose character is in advance of the sordid surroundings of the immediate day and hour” (q.v. 224).  In this same essay Scott invokes Bergson as a writer who helps him to understand “why our growing knowledge of the physical laws of the universe is so readily confused with human progress” (q.v. 227).  Scott writes to W.A. Deacon on May 7, 1925 that “I have been furiously busy & forget that I am a writer or [page xxxii] have any other interests than the effort & petty concern of this routine life.  But a lull will come & then I shall be able to consider again the things of the spirit.”  The material=the physical=the routine=the sordid.  The angel of Poetry is in retreat from all that.  Its sphere is the past and the future.  Scott did not expect to feel it or hear it in the Ottawa of this time, but it was nevertheless the mainspring of his deepest cultural ambitions.
     Whether one approves or disapproves of Scott’s splitting of the temporal and the eternal, the material and the spiritual, and the rest, one might still be taken aback to find the bureaucrat boasting about Indian progress towards civilization in material terms that he elsewhere rejects as sordid.  “[T]he result [of efforts towards Native assimilation] has been, upon the whole, a success which can be measured by millions of bushels of grain poured into the elevators and thousands of cattle marketed or consumed by the Indians” (“The First People,” q.v. 467).  It is true that any bureaucrat learns to speak the language of the so-called “real world” (as distinct from the—false?—world of Poetry or the Ivory Tower where of course the word “money” is never breathed), learns how to say what book-balancing masters want to hear, and one would like to think of Scott as the “pragmatic idealist” (in the words of Pierre Trudeau) that E.K. Brown said he was.  According to Brown, he “strove with that mixture of guile and idealism that is the mark of the highest sort of civil servant” (xxvi).  Maybe the boaster is not the real Scott.  Maybe the real Scott has fled to the wilderness in search of Beauty.  You can see the problem with this argument.  If that is where he went, in search of aesthetic satisfaction, he left behind him one hell of a human mess, sweeping it under a carpet of doublethink about Indian Affairs civilizing Indians through agricultural training.  Scott retreated further and further from Indians the higher up the administrative ladder he climbed.  He moved from the margins of his Department to the centre of power, becoming a mouthpiece for power in the process, and clearly demonstrating once again why centralized concentration of power is so insidious: the further from the center, the less understanding and the more abstraction one is contented with.  Assimilation is an abstraction; it worked beautifully on paper, and it worked faster and faster on paper the longer Scott’s career lasted.


•     •     • [page xxxiii]


“One wanted fifty pairs of eyes to see with,” reflects Lily Briscoe on Mrs. Ramsay in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

Fifty pairs of eyes were not enough to get round that one woman with, she thought. Among them, must be one that was stone blind to her beauty.  One wanted most some secret sense, fine as air, with which to steal through keyholes and surround her where she sat knitting, talking, sitting silent in the window alone, which took to itself and treasured up like the air which held the smoke of the steamer, her thoughts, her imaginations, her desires. (198)

None of these pairs of eyes is cradled in the eye-sockets of the skull.  Each of them is a perspective, a stance, a view, each focusing a multitude of personality factors.  One step away from Mrs. Ramsay, Lily’s observation articulates the mystery of personality in general and underpins the need for multiple perspectives in fiction and biography.  A further step might identify Mrs. Ramsay with any problem, any knot of dilemma that will not loosen.  The Poet and the Indians—the title of James Cullingham’s admirable film about Scott—is such a knot.
     “I’m wary of any attempt to make it easy,” Fred Wah says about the writing in his Music at the Heart of Thinking (“Notes” n.p.), and so am I—suspicious of myself, that is, of the urge in myself to simplify, to resolve, to choose either this or that (Canada, for example: one or many?), as if deeply complex problems could ever be solved.  I have written a book about Scott that gathers together the factors bearing on the Poet/Indian question but deliberately keeps the question open.  The illusion of closure forecloses on learning.  Still, it may not be hard to explain why the Scott of Indian Affairs could be diametrically opposed to Scott the poet—looking though one pair of eyes only, and not even directly at Scott but at writers in general.  What is true of them, about the creative process, may be true of him.
     Artists are no different than people in general in containing multitudes.  But artists are gripped by the hidden.  They hone their craft with a secret sense to surprise the hidden into intelligible shape.  In the case of a poet, the hidden is lured into language, form, story—into a riddle that the poet, of all people, is least equipped to analyse.  S/he was not herself during the retrieval.  The analytical eyes were closed so that others might open to knowledge guarded by the muse.  The muse is no mere literary convention.  Stroking the muse, explicitly or not, is reaching out (like a bee) or (spider-like) reaching [page xxxiv] in to other eyes.  The process is mysterious, but natural and familiar.  Writers of many degrees of accomplishment know what it is to feel, obeying rather than ordering the words, compelled by a force they barely control.  Ask the many writers of abuse narratives how they finally surprised out of concealment the trauma that was wrecking their everyday lives.
     Between Scott and the Indians, then, there is no mystery.  Being a poet, he could know and not know at the same moment.  He could at times surface his darkest or his dearest impulses in verse, because he had the inspiration and the craft to express them in a lyric or a narrative voice that both was and was not his own.  “The Water Lily,” that vessel of sensuality and creation (not all of Scott’s good poems have to do with Indians) distills the process on the page:

Listen, listen, there should be a voice
Dulcet as odour and flush;
The flying yellow of the gold finch
Sparkles with notes
Blown on a gold-black flute,
There is no reason why a lily should be mute,
Moored languourously by the lotus leaves. (Poems 198-9)

When Margaret Atwood writes Susanna Moodie into the twentieth century, the modern Moodie hears her own “double voice.”  She hears both what she says and what she means.  Passing through Margaret Atwood onto the page, she has picked up the eyes of hindsight she lacked in her own time, as do we all.  In my prosaic way, I imagine a Duncan Campbell Scott who doubles and hides his secret self in poems.  This may explain how the same man could refer to Indians as “savages” and write wonderful poems about human beings who happen to be Native, like Keejigo in “At Gull Lake: August 1810.”  The explanation excuses nothing, of course, neither Scott from his guilt nor the reader from taking Scott’s lapse in humanity to heart.
     Tradition would carry Scott when, within or without himself, he could find some new gust of energy to renovate it and push it forward.  He couldn’t always do that.  He didn’t always have the personal confidence and he lacked the support and resistance of a vibrant cultural community.  He wrote many forgettable poems that anyone steeped in tradition and possessed of a certain amount of craft could have written.  Those poems, like most of Scott’s short [page xxxv] stories and almost all of the prose in this book, are fascinating mainly because Scott wrote a few other poems that can stand in any company.  At least that is the strict way to look at it, the aesthetic way, but a warts-and-all cross-section of any intelligent man’s thinking over fifty years is bound to be interesting to scholars and intelligent laypersons.  You have such a compendium in your hands.





The source of unpublished letters to and from Duncan Campbell Scott is the R.L. McDougall-D.C. Scott collection slated for eventual deposit in the National Archives of Canada.  For permission to draw unpublished material from the Scott / Aylen Papers, National Archives of Canada, the kindness of John G. Aylen is gratefully acknowledged. [back]


Looking back four decades on At the Mermaid Inn, Scott doesn’t seem to think much of it.  On February 16, 1939, at least, he wrote to discourage Pelham Edgar from introducing it into an article on Canadian criticism: “You must not mention The Mermaid Inn, that would be too absurd.” [back]


See Stan Dragland, Floating Voice, 58-9. [back]


One of A.J.M. Smith’s letters to Scott contains a much stronger endorsement of the Lampman Memoir that I can manage: “I have been re-reading your first memoir of Lampman in the large collected edition, and have been deeply touched by it.  If you will permit me saying so, I think it is worthy to stand beside the Lives of Walton.  I wish it could be reprinted in some compact and convenient form, or best of all, perhaps, accompanied by a selection of 30 or 40 of Lampman’s best poems” (12 August, 1942). [back]


Scott was not above basking in the light reflected from the glory of John Masefield, Poet Laureate (Masefield’s steadfast claim was that Scott’s “The Piper of Arll” had made a poet of him), but he was not uncritical of everything Masefield did.  “O the market how many good things it spoils!” he exclaimed to Pelham Edgar (February 16, 1913) about a Masefield poem he thought was hurriedly written.  “It’s a great temptation but the poet who knows and loves his art will be distrustful of the sound of the money boys & the cries of the editors and will refrain & compose his poems before he utters them.” [back]


Along with variations like “vital,” “manly,” and “masculine,” virile is one of Scott’s favourite words of commendation, whether of Keats’s poetry or the northern spirit of Canada.  Some sort of gendered description appears in no fewer than thirteen of his essays and can be traced in his correspondence as well.  In general, Scott valorizes the masculine over the feminine, but there are more complexities in his attitudes than can be adequately probed here.  The female is not always feminine, for example, and vice versa.  In “A Decade of Canadian Poetry,” we find that “Miss [Pauline] Johnson’s virile touch and strong imagination may be contrasted with the delicacy and shyness of Miss [Ethelwyn] Wetherald’s genius” (q.v. 64).  Of Archibald Lampman, Scott says in his “Memoir” that “His genial, tranquil temperament lent a quietness to his manner that gave not a hint of his virile spirit” (xxii), but that is not the whole story.  In the Introduction to Lampman’s Lyrics of Earth the influence of E.W. Thomson is described thus: “The contact with a mind like Mr. Thomson’s was specially valuable to him.  He found there something that his own mind lacked— a robust quality, knowledge and experience of life, and he found there sympathy that was broadly based on actualities, as sensitive as a woman’s, as charitable and [page xxxvi] as tender” (10). [back]


Here is a crucial moment in the invocation of A.R. Ammons’ Tape for the Turn of theYear:


help me!
a fool who
plays with fool things:

so fools and play
can rise in the regard of
the people,
provide serious rest
and sweet engagement
to willing minds....  (2)


At Blue Skies Music Festival in the summer of 1997, Carolyn Stewart, a hard-working fiddler, presented a version of the Ant and Grasshopper fable re-written to stress the mutual value of worker and artist. [back]


Turtle Island is the earth, grown on the back of a turtle from mud retrieved by Muskrat beneath the waters of the great flood.  Turtle Island is a world defined by indigenous creation story, and First Nations use of the term is reappropriative. [back]


Brown and Frye were placing in their own thought a concept they had not invented. J.G. Bourinot had written as follows in the same issue of The Week that contains one of the first of Scott’s essays in this book: “Literary stimulus seems to be more or less wanting in a colony where there is in some quarters a want of self-confidence in ourselves and our institutions, arising from that sense of dependency and habit of borrowing that is a necessity of a colonial condition.  The tendency of insufficient self-assertion is to cramp intellectual exertion” (368). [back]


The Foreword to the catalogue of the 1920 first group show of the Group of Seven similarly denounces art collectors who “prefer to enrich the salesman than accept the productions by artists native to the land, whose work is more distinctive, original and vital, and of greater value to the country” (Reid 133).  The members of the Group are working under the same assumptions as Scott.  They “are all imbued with the idea that an Art must grow and flower in the land before the country will be a real home for its people” (133). [back]


We still annex pre-Confederation writing to Canadian literature.  Germaine Warkentin updates Scott’s sense of Canada as a state of mind in the Introduction to her Exploration Literature.  Her sense is that all we now are was implicit in the period of exploration: “Rupert’s Land is a concept as much as a place.... It persists, too, as a state of mind.  For English Canadians it is the first great unimagined space in our national consciousness.... Within the vague, immense boundaries of Rupert’s Land, as Richard Davis has rightly pointed out, the problems that as Canadians we still attempt to solve today were first posed...” (xii). [back]


D.G. Jones was among the first to suggest the turn in Canadian writing towards respect for the non-human environment: “a generation of younger writers,” he says, “insist that the voice that now needs to be heard must be the voice of the land and that the new pioneer must stock his log houseboat with all the animals, even the wolves” (10).  He is borrowing lines from Margaret Atwood’s [page xxxvii] The Journals of Susanna Moodie. [back]


Essentializing assumptions about national character were common in Scott’s time.  In a draft of his Dalhousie Review article, “Duncan Campbell Scott,” Pelham Edgar does for Scott what Scott does for Lampman: “No doubt from his mother, rich in all wisdom gathered from the islands of the highland sea, there came his music and poetical gifts.  From his father perhaps the great capacity of taking pains, his powers of management, his ability to get things done” (Pelham Edgar Papers). [back]


Scott was not as hidebound as he makes Lampman sound here.  He certainly liked Whitman, and he may not have shared Lampman’s opinion of Crane. [back]


Thinness of culture may help to explain a tone of lassitude that sometimes creeps into Scott’s letters.  Yes, he was always too busy to write freely, but he was also conscious of wasting the time that he did have, and often wishful that someone would set him a task.  Of his 1937 newspaper columns he wrote that “The [Ottawa] Journal got me (after pressure) to do Burrell’s column when he was away ill and I did five weeks, 2400 words each.  Now he is home and takes it up and I miss the compulsion.  I feel that if I had a task I might do some more work but I haven’t one—so!” (To Pelham Edgar, August 8, 1937). [back]




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