Duncan Campbell Scott

Addresses‚ Essays‚ and Reviews

Archibald Lampman [1924]

Archibald Lampman was born at Morpeth on the morning of Sunday, the 17th of November, 1861. His father, Rev. Archibald Lampman, had been appointed in 1858 Rector of Trinity Church in that village, which is situated in the County of Kent, Ontario. It is possible to claim for certain Canadian families a descent which entitles them to special place as Canadians. While people of later migrations share the honour of Canadian nationality, and have borne and yet carry their share of the national development, it is to the ancient pioneers of Quebec and to the United Empire Loyalists that belongs noble distinction as our national forebears. Archibald Lampman’s ancestors were of the last mentioned group; upon both sides of his house they were United Empire Loyalists of the first migration. Research has left blameless the motives of these earliest colonists of a new wilderness, the people who, led purely by their ideals, left settled comforts and established relationships for all the uncertainties of a pioneer existence. They were assured only of the certainty of British institutions, and that was sufficient for them. In new countries some sort of unblemished pride inures to families who first let the sunlight into the forests and who sowed the ancient grain upon virgin soil, and Archibald Lampman had in full measure this store of honour.
     The history of the families of Lampmans and Gesners is full of interest for the student of the poet’s character and personality. It is noteworthy that they both came to America from Holland, although the Lampmans were originally natives of Hanover in Germany, while the Gesners were of Swiss descent. Frederick Lampman, the ancestor of the poet landed in New York with his wife and family in 1750. He settled in New Jersey, but when the Revolution broke out, he and his sons at once took their place among the adherents of the King. After many hardships and strenuous adventures they reached Canada. Peter Lampman, the eldest son of Frederick, [page 327] and great grandfather of the poet, received a grant of seven hundred and fifty acres as recorded in the Land Books of Upper Canada. The estate, which was called Mountain Point, was situated between Thorold and St. Catherines. Archibald, the father of the poet, was educated at Upper Canada College and Trinity College, Toronto, where he graduated in Arts in 1857. He was ordained in the ministry of the Church of England, and was appointed incumbent of Trinity Church at Morpeth, where he met and married Susannah Charlotte Gesner. The poet’s mother was the daughter of David Henry Gesner and his wife Sarah Stewart. He was a Nova Scotian by birth and like the paternal progenitor of the poet, he also was of United Empire Loyalist stock. His father, Colonel Henry Gesner came with the loyalists from New York, where his ancestor John Henry Gesner had landed from Holland in 1710. The family had extensive estates near Tappen, N.Y., where the old Gesner burial ground is still of local traditional interest. Colonel Gesner fought with the King’s forces throughout the revolutionary war, at the conclusion of which he received a grant of four hundred acres in the Cornwallis Valley, Nova Scotia, as a compensation for the loss of his patrimony through loyalty to the British cause. His wife, Sarah Pineo was a direct descendant of Myles Standish.
     It will be observed from this brief outline that Archibald Lampman’s descent was chiefly from Teutonic stock. Other strains, however, may be traced with interest by the student of heredity. Both the poet’s grandmothers were of highland Scotch origin, and the influence of Celtic ancestry is often manifest in his temperament.
     The Rev. Archibald Lampman continued to reside at Morpeth until 1867; there was a short sojourn at Perrytown, near Port Hope, in the County of Durham, and in October of the year just mentioned the family moved to Gore’s Landing, a little town on Rice Lake. Morpeth is inland, and the change of scene to an outlook upon lake water was agreeable. The climate there is salubrious, the winters are not too severe, and the people of the County of Durham are of good old stock with comfortable family traditions. Seven years of the poet’s life were spent at Gore’s Landing, but unfortunately five were years of ill health and even of positive suffering. For some time the only available house for the rectory was damp and therefore insanitary, and in November of 1868 Archibald was stricken with rheumatic fever, suffered acutely for months; and it was not until spring that he could walk. For four years he was lame, and [page 328] during part of that time was compelled to use crutches. This serious early illness may have contributed to the general constitutional weakness noticeable in after life, a tendency to contract severe attacks of LaGrippe and a condition of the heart, which in the end proved fatal. He was deprived during those years of the activities which strengthen the muscle and sinew of a growing boy, and in a part of Ontario suitable for a free, open air life, he was too much confined to walls. The insanitary house was abandoned in 1870 when his father bought a house in the village. In that year Archibald had his first experience of school life. Before that his father had directed his studies at home, and in the year just mentioned, when he was nine, he entered the school conducted by Mr. F.W. Barron, M.A., of Cambridge, formerly Principal of Upper Canada College. In this school he received a thorough training. Mr. Barron was a strict disciplinarian, who believed in a generous use of the rod, and he was able to control and influence boys that others had pronounced intractable. He had a special liking for young Lampman who required no chastisement, but rather protection, and he developed his taste for the classics and taught him a beautiful handwriting which at its best was like a fine Greek script. He spent four years at this school; his health gradually improved and in 1872 he could take part in the school sports. His associations at Gore’s Landing and particularly at the school were happy enough, and he could look back upon them without regret.
     It became necessary owing to his father’s impaired health for the family to move once more and the change was again beneficial. He was appointed Curate of St. Peter’s Church, Cobourg. Cobourg is one of the pleasantest towns on Lake Ontario, and it was even then a much more important place than Gore’s Landing, both socially and educationally, with all the advantages of an Old Country settlement by a class of people who had brought with them standards of conduct and social worth. It was after this change of residence that Archibald’s mother began to control the destiny of her gifted son. She had to plan and to a great extent find the money for his education, and accomplished the task with amazing resource. I was honoured with her friendship from our first meeting until her death, and would here bear witness to that indomitable will and that cheerful, humorous courage which had borne her through many difficulties. She had her reward in enjoying the admiration her son’s genius had excited and in knowing that he felt a due [page 329] appreciation of what her labour had meant to him. In the dedication to Lyrics of Earth he has given the peculiar quality of the relationship:—

Mother, to whose valiant will
     Battling long ago,
What the heaping years fulfil,
     Light and song, I owe;
Send my little book afield,
     Fronting praise or blame
With the shining flag and shield
     Of your name.

Those early years had been, in truth, a battle, and when the lines were written the son still could think of the mother as the source of inspiration and defence.
     In Cobourg, where the family resided at 37 King St., East, Archibald first attended the Collegiate Institute, and after a year went to Trinity College School, Port Hope. His talents and his necessities had alike begun to attract attention, and his expenses at the school were very nearly met by scholarships, owing to the interest taken in the lad by Bishop Bethune and John Cartwright, Esq. He proved himself worthy of this interest, and during his last two years at Port Hope he won distinction, many prizes, and in the last year was Prefect of the school. At the school he was studious and much preoccupied with the responsibilities of his position of Prefect. The interest which he showed in the boyish trials of his companions was remembered there when he had left for Trinity College, Toronto, where he entered in September 1879. He took life more leisurely at Trinity than he had done at Port Hope, and entered fully into companionship and the community life. The literary activities of the College attracted him inevitably and the established paper Rouge et Noir, named after the college colours, came under his editorship. A manuscript journal Episkopon was also an institution in which he took great delight, and of this he was "Scribe," a position of much mysterious importance. He by no means applied himself rigorously to the course of study, and no doubt stole much time for the things he was interested in,—miscellaneous reading, scribbling impromptu lampoons, midnight discussions, and occasional attempts at verse. At college a new side of his nature developed and we find him quite a young man of the world, prominent in typical undergraduate [page 330] escapades and even a recognized leader of good fellowship. At the fine old residential university a commodious padded coal box by the big stove was a favoured sitting place for the elect. Hire, as recalled by his contemporaries, Lampman was a familiar figure, seated at his ease and comforting the cold winter nights before the warm fire with philosophic discourse, a well coloured meerschaum pipe and sometimes a stein of the good amber ale that flowed in those tolerant days. The men of his year, both the deep students and those who were inclined towards a pleasant lax view of college life, agreed that there was some unique quality that set Lampman apart from them. Their feeling was not weakened when he took only second class honours in classics; the belief was general that he could easily have taken first had he applied himself and the Intuition prevailed that he would some day be distinguished.
     It was necessary that Lampman should immediately apply himself to the practical problem of earning a living, and as he had no professional equipment except what might be used in school-teaching, he took up that vocation at once. He had meagre qualifications for that calling; scholarship, perhaps the least of them he had, but as for the greater, the temperament that gives control and that exerts influence, patiently and constantly, it was absent. His first and only attempt as schoolmaster was at Orangeville, where he was Assistant Master at the High School for a term, and it took no longer to make plain the fact that he could not succeed in that profession. His friends, and he already had not a few influential friends, thought of the Civil Service as an immediate opening and a future career. His mother, who as we have seen was the power behind all effort for his welfare, began to interest those who held the political patronage. In those days the power of influence was the only factor in competition for place, and the only thing to be appealed to was the personal inclination of Ministers of the Crown. The public service has always been lauded as a refuge for literary men, probably on account of the childish notions that both employments having to do primarily with the use of the pen, the official text should merge with the creative effort, and that one should sustain the other. If there were any sinecures in our public service, sinecures in the nature of pensions given as a reward for work done or in the hope of stimulating future effort, there might be firmer ground for the notion. But there are none, and there is a deadening influence in routine work even more dangerous to the artist than the struggle [page 331] with society for existence. In Lampman’s case, the case of a man without any very strong aptitudes for earning money, without a shadow of worldly ambition, the Civil Service did offer positive advantages. Compared with the ever present and distasteful occupation of schoolmaster with its annoying responsibilities, it was a fair haven. One of his friends at college had been Archibald Campbell, son of Sir Alexander Campbell, who was then Postmaster General. This influence no doubt made his appointment easy, as it added personal influence to political influence which had been exerted on his behalf, and on the 16th of January, 1883, he joined the Post Office Department as a temporary clerk. His position was made permanent on the 23rd of March 1884. I am certain that his appointment did not come as a reward for any literary achievement or from any idea of fostering genius, and from the moment he set foot in that crowded and hard-working Department, he was merely one of group of clerks. There he served until his death, and he received his annual increments of salary and his sole promotion as a matter of routine and seniority not as reward for adding lyrics and sonnets to our literature, not for discovering the beauties of the native scene or for giving us reflections of his own mind. He was, be it said, an excellent clerk, valuable in his office to those whom he assisted, and he was appreciated for this reason and for the higher reason of his poetry for several of his colleagues were men of reading and culture. His immediate superior in office, Dr. William Dawson LeSueur, the Secretary of the Department, was a scholar and a high-minded man. He was a fearless thinker and an excellent critic, and anyone who wants to know what fine prose style was at his command may sample it in his presidential address to the Royal Society of Canada on "History: its nature and method," delivered when he was President in the year 1913. He had much close and friendly intercourse with Lampman, although their intellectual lives were of a different substance and intensity. I do not think he had any direct influence on the poet’s work, but the presence of one who was so absorbed in things of the spirit was a constant example that intellectual work might be accomplished and high thinking be enjoyed in freedom from routine. Dr. LeSueur was impartial as an official, but he had special interest in Lampman, and befriended him whenever possible. The Civil Service of those days differed greatly both in personnel and in regulation from the Service at this time of writing. The officials of Province of Canada days were just [page 332] disappearing, and as yet the expansion of the country had not demanded an increase in the clerical staff. Office hours were shorter and regulations had not been standardized. Each Department was ft law unto itself. There was, I must say, a more comfortable feeling in the Service than there is at present. Lampman spent sixteen years of his life in this milieu, but began to feel the presence of new conditions before he died. Considering his temperament and his real joy in life, which was centered in poetry, I cannot think that he could have been more fortunately situated unless a private fortune had been his. His talk and his letters were full of whimsical diatribes against his "bondage" and his "taskmasters" who as years went by intensified his "torture," but when he had offers to change his estate he reflected. There was a tentative offer from Cornell University in 1893; there was a suggestion for a readership in The Youth’s Companion offices in Boston in 1892; but he hesitated. He doubted his academical fitness for the first and as to the last he wrote: "Here my drudgery is apart from my literary faculty. In that Boston office my literary powers would be brought into actual employment which would require of me abnegation of all that is original in my bent of mind." This sentence holds a wise judgment, but he never ceased to think of the service as a prison house; until the last his ideal was a modest one: "a little cottage in some sunny mountainous land with nothing to do but cultivate a small garden and make a few poems now and then." His possible future superannuation, when this dream might come true, was a vision hanging before him all shot through with golden promise. There is as marked a contrast in the Ottawa of then and now as there is in the Civil Service. In 1883 the population was about 30,000 and the place had the appearance and the social life of a large town. There was no great necessity for a street car system, although a single line existed, and the country was almost part of the town. All that is changed now, but the spirit of the city, the almost breathing personality that pervades certain places, that is unchangeable. The variety of the landscape, the vigour of the rivers, and the comradeship the city has through them with the wild country of their sources, and then the vision of the city itself seen from all quarters of the environs as something exalted, an ideal or an inspiration, these remain; the wildness is a little pushed back, more remote, but the beauty of situation can never be destroyed. [page 333]
     I first met Lampman in the winter of 1884. The family had moved to Ottawa and were residing at 144 Nicholas Street. That house has disappeared and a shop has taken its place. It had a pleasant lawn and garden around it, and Archibald’s room had a window that looked to the west, a sunset window with a view of the old tower of the Parliament House and within sound of the bell that told the hours. During the next summer, as we both were fond of the fields and woods, we began those walking tours and canoe trips which took us near and far over the country. Much of what was seen and experienced went into his lines, and I might even now localize and identify the references, the point of view, the itinerary. In the great balance of the seasons, August the month of intense heat, and January the month of intense cold were his favourites, but the extreme of heat was most congenial to him. He loved the utmost rigour of the sun. What he liked about winter was the hard weather, the sense of strife, the severity and danger of it. In his winter poems there is hardly a reference to shelter, no "red fire roaring and ingle warm," but only the beauty of stinging frost, storm and snow and the conflict with them.
     He continued to live at 144 Nicholas Street until September, 1887, when he married Maud, the youngest daughter of the late Edward Playter, M.D., of Toronto. She was tall with a frail, blond beauty, never very robust, and after the birth of her children gradually failing in strength as her heart-weakness developed until her death. But when she was left alone with her two children she faced the world with wonderful sweet courage and earned and planned for them with method and perseverance, and triumphed amid all her perplexities and difficulties. Their first child, Natalie, now Mrs. Loftus Maclnnes, was born in 1892; their second, a boy, was born in 1894, and died in a few months. This was a source of great grief to his father, and its poignancy may be traced in the poems "White Pansies" and "We too shall sleep." Another son, Archibald Otto, was born in the spring of 1898. He was educated at the Royal Military College, Kingston. During the Great War he served in France first as a private in the infantry and later as an officer of the Royal Canadian Dragoons. He married Miss Winifred MacKenzie of Lakefield, Ontario, where he resides at the time of this writing.
     In 1895 Lampman lost his father after a long and painful illness. That was the end of an intellectual companionship, for the father wrote verse in what might be called an old-fashioned eighteenth [page 334] century style, which came natural to an admirer of Pope and the writers of the Augustan Age. He was a man of strong opinions and a ready disputant on all topics, sacred and profane. In the son’s boy-hood he had directed his studies and given him his first training in prosody. To quote his favourite, Pope, it might be said that he taught him "to lisp in numbers for the numbers came." Archibald dedicated his volume Alcyone "To the memory of my father, himself a poet, who first instructed me in the Art of Verse."
     From those early beginnings our poet had developed a way of looking at things and a style that was individual. From the year 1884 his poems began to be published, first in Canadian journals and then in American magazines. The Week, a Toronto weekly, long since defunct, printed his first published poems: "The Coming of Winter," and "Three Flower Petals." Both The Century and Scribner’s Magazine and The Atlantic were hospitable to many of his finest things. In 1888 these had accumulated and he resolved to publish them in book form. Mrs. Lampman had just then received a small legacy which she gave towards the expenses of publication, generously and devotedly facing the risk of loss in the interest of wider publicity for her husband’s work. Lampman would, I think, have preferred always this method of publication. He found distasteful the offering of his manuscript to publishers. Only one of his books Lyrics of Earth was issued by an established firm, Messrs. Copeland & Day, Boston, 1895; and when, just before his death, he decided to publish again, he arranged to bear the expenses himself and chose to have his book Alcyone printed by Constable, of Edinburgh, and issued by an Ottawa bookseller, James Ogilvy. His first book Among the Millet was printed and bound in Ottawa. The edition was one thousand copies. No plates were made, and the books were bound as required. The whole edition was sold in a short time. One of the first appreciations of this book was written by Edward William Thomson at that time one of the editors of The Globe. A little later William Dean Howells wrote enthusiastically in Harper’s Magazine of the fresh quality and fine spirit of the poems. He found on every page of the book "Some charm of phrase, some exquisite divination of beauty, some happily suggested truth," and he continued to be an admirer of the new work as it appeared in current periodicals. The friendship which arose between Thomson and Lampman was of importance to both, but was of peculiar value to the younger man. Thomson was himself a poet, and a sensitive critic; he was [page 335] never afraid to praise with enthusiasm or to blame with courage, delicacy and due argument. He and Lampman visited one another but never lived in the same town, and their interchange of letters was a fruitful source of pleasure. I have quoted freely in my introduction to Lyrics of Earth from Lampman’s letters to Thomson. They are intimate, often careless, and thoroughly characteristic productions, dashed off for the most part at odd moments in his office. What Thomson’s letters were to him he expressed himself: "You have a way of comforting me with letters better than flagons. When I get into one of my dark stretches I feel a strong desire to fish a new letter out of you." In material things as well as in spiritual Thomson was a good adviser, and after Lampman’s death he transferred his devotion to his children and constantly befriended them. This must be of necessity only a passing reference to a personality as it influenced the life of the poet. The record would expand unduly for this context if I were to touch in detail and exhaustively upon the elements of that unique character. Not long before he died, March 6, 1924, he wrote me, as he said, a new confession of faith as to Lampman’s high poetic excellence and his abiding joy that he had known and loved him.
     In his Early Memories John Butler Yeats says, the poet "must have tears and laughter and romance and vision and relaxation and ease, otherwise his soul for poetry and beauty withers and dies away." How many of these desirable things Archibald Lampman possessed and in what degree, may be apprehended by the reader, yet until the last his soul for poetry and beauty had not died away. The intensity of his creative force was weakened by ill health. His way of life with the absence of "relaxation and ease" had done its deadliest. In moments of dejection he could say "I am bound. I am suffocated. If I had the genius of Milton I could do nothing." But he had virtually triumphed in his bondage. It is idle to speculate upon what a life approximating to the ideal of Yeats would have given to the genius of Lampman. If he had lived longer he might have attained even to his modest ideal of "relaxation and ease." He looked forward to superannuation and retirement; "on a pension of six hundred or seven hundred dollars I shall go to some small quiet country place and give myself up to poetry." [sentence deleted: He wrote in 1893 that poetry had occupied the whole field, that he cared for nothing but poetry and it was so until the last.] The end of his physical life came all too soon. One is now able to understand [page 336] the causes which led to so early a death. I have noted the attack of rheumatism which in boyhood caused so much suffering. There was the clash between inherent weakness of the heart and a desire intense physical exercise if that might be taken in woods or on rivers. He was ill advised as to violent exercise. In 1894 he writes "I take a run across fields every day after four and so work myself into a perspiration. I come home and take a cold dip." In July 1897 he writes "I am somewhat sore bodily this morning. I rode a bicycle yesterday morning, and going down a steep place at a good speed got pitched over an embankment head first—bicycle and all—into a mass of raspberry briars; after that I paddled ten miles and portaged the canoe on my sole shoulders a couple of times, besides doing various other scrambling and hauling. As I said I am sore, but have a good conscience." It was on this very occasion that he felt the first premonition of that affection [sic] of the heart which proved fatal. In less than two years he was dead. In that short period of nineteen months he made a brave struggle for life, he took a long absence from official work; his friends gave him enough money to travel and rest. In the summer of 1898 he went to Lake Wayagamac, Digby and Boston. He returned to his desk in October, but as winter came on he became weaker. Early in February of 1899 he took a severe cold and the dangerous condition of his heart was much aggravated. On the evening of the eighth of February his symptoms became alarming; he died on the 10th in the first hours of the morning. On Saturday the 11th he was buried in Beechwood Cemetery. He had continued to work until the end. His last poem, the sonnet beginning, "The frost that stings like fire upon my cheek," was written on the evenings of the 29th and 30th of January, 1899. He read many books during those last months, but his greatest solace was in reading Homer, Euripides and Sophocles. His note books contain many quotations from these writers in his beautiful Greek script. They seem to have been chosen for their fitness to his own circumstances and condition. Under the draft of the sonnet just mentioned he pencilled line 360 from the XIX. book of the Odyssey—"For men quickly age in evil fortune," and again a passage from the XVIII. book—"But when again the blessed Gods have wrought for him sorrow, even so he bears it as he must with a steadfast heart."
     It would not be wise for me to attempt after twenty odd years a new pen portrait of Lampman, although his aspect and manner are still vivid. In 1900 the impression was yet instinct with life. Let us [page 337] read it again: Memoir P. xxi-xxii—"Archibald Lampman was of middle height, and of a slight form. In the city he walked habitually with a downcast glance, with his eyes fixed upon the ground; in the fields and woods he was alert and observant. His manner was quiet and undemonstrative. His voice was mellow and distinct. The portrait preceding this memoir gives an idea of his features; before the camera the lines of his face hardened, and the lovely spirit in his eyes departed. It would explain the fascination of his personality if that deep, bright, lucid glance could be preserved, if it could look out upon the old and new readers of his poems with the shadowed sweetness that charmed and attracted in life. Although his face and its expressions were in harmony, the index of his character was written in his brow, candid and serene, and in his eyes sincere and affectionate. His brow was finely moulded and over it fell the masses of his brown hair, that glowed with a warm chestnut when the light touched it. His eyes were brown, clear and vivid." Were I to redraw the portrait, I could add no new lines. It might be altered in tone, for time adds richness to memory; imagination might invade with some heightened colour and light, but I am sure that the essential fact would not be better conveyed.
     His photographs are not very characteristic; something is lacking in all of them. A painter of genius might have caught his charm which lay about his brow and eyes. The portrait here given has not been published before. He usually had a mustache which hid a rather stubborn upper lip. Sometimes his face was bare, as in the portrait I like best; occasionally he grew a full beard. Having such disguises of expression at command, he changed them not infrequently. His manner varied with his mood; he might be absorbed and reticent, but never petulent [sic] or irritable, or he might be ready in chat about unimportant affairs, or he might discourse in a lofty fashion, holding the floor with words of singular force. He was often merry; he loved the humours and amenities of life. He was fond of good tobacco and sound beer and wholesome and vigourous living. He was never garrulous, and never persecuted his friends with chatter and small talk. He was, therefore, never "tedious as a tired horse, a railing wife, worse than a smoky house." He had the opposite rare quality of radiating a feeling of companionship that required expression by no flood of speech. My own best memories of our intercourse are of walks eloquent with silence. We could even look forward to them when, as Rossetti says "Each [page 338] Shall for the other have in silence speech, and in a word complete Community." He was quite free from affectation, simple and direct; in the society of his friends and acquaintances he never asserted himself, but he was always discovered. He had the charm, as I have said once, that Isaac Walton reports of Donne, a winning behaviour "which when it would entice had a strange kind of elegant, irresistible art." He was free from all petty jealousy, literary and otherwise, and if he had been engaged in the full activities of a literary career, I cannot not imagine him influenced by the petty friction which often accompanies it. Even in the most restricted area of his literary province there were opportunities for the indulgence of fretfulness and pique, but he refused to be influenced by them. He was saved from all such pettiness by his noble view of literature. In fact Matthew Arnold’s fine reference to Arthur Hugh Clough in the closing paragraph of his essay "On Translating Homer" applies line for line to Archibald Lampman, even to the last word,—"The Homeric simplicity of his literary life." When we chose a headstone for his grave in Beechwood we brought there a boulder from the fields and had his name cut into it. There are flowers ever before it, the offerings of the summer, or the offerings of winter, sifted snow of the purest; and the union of the simple strength and beauty of natural things, the strength of the stone and the recurrent beauty of aspiring leaves and flowers and of protecting frost and snow, are typical of his work and his characters. [page 339]


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