Duncan Campbell Scott

Addresses‚ Essays‚ and Reviews




Introduction, Archibald Lampman, Lyrics of Earth, Sonnets and Ballads

 

This book is the realization of a plan that I formed shortly after the publication of the Memorial Edition of Archibald Lampman’s poems. That volume was put together and issued after his death for the purpose of giving immediate financial aid to his widow; happily it was successful, owing to the co-operation of his admirers and to the reduction of the cost to a minimum. The project was aided by a generous gift of one thousand dollars from George Iles, Esq., of Montreal and New York, the Linotype Company of Montreal set up the book free of charge, and the paper and binding were given at cost price. But there was never any doubt in my mind that while serving that purpose it would also establish his fame as a poet. It has done so and the quality of the poems, deeply sincere and affectionate, have already gained from his countrymen a regard for his name which is likewise sincere and affectionate. In this first book almost everything that he had written was included. The critical faculty was in suspension. The aim was to produce a book attractive from its bulk, and considering the prime object of the publication, that idea was laudable enough. But after an interval the critical faculty asserted itself, and the desire arose to make a book some day that would contain the best of the poet’s work—a book that would be smaller and that would leave an unblurred impression of poems highly imagined and nobly wrought. The single motive of Lampman’s life was poetry. Writing of himself in 1893 he said "Poetry has seized and enveloped the whole field. To speak vernacularly, I do not care a hang for anything but poetry." He meant the practice of the art of poetry, the determination for self-expression through that art; and the very singleness of that purpose, the intensity of the desire to produce led him not infrequently to deal with matters and to adopt methods that were far from the [page 340] natural bent of his genius. He recognized this himself, and there is no doubt that he would have excluded the longer poems which merely served to add pages to that first volume and doubtless he would have outgrown a liking for many of his youthful verses if his life had been longer. I am convinced that his mind was developing and maturing rapidly. There is evidence of it in his later poems, composed before any physical weakness had overtaken him. In 1893 he wrote of himself "There is one kind of work I can do— nature work, as they call it—to go afield, out of my line, will only involve me in bitter disappointment and the sense of failure, which is the worst hell the human soul can know!" I doubt that he would have been so sure of his métier three or four years after that date. He never lost his joy in the emotional portrayal of nature but there were strains of human feeling in his later work that would have compelled him to modify that earlier statement; he had gone afield, out of his native line and had suffered no sense of failure. It would be an unprofitable task, no doubt, to endeavour to select from the work of a dead poet the things which he himself would have chosen had he matured. The growth of his mind and the development of his critical faculty must of necessity be imagined. Browning, it will be remembered, made a selection of his own poems and strung them "on the thread of imaginary personality." He found it necessary to have some plan to follow or some centre of criticism to depend upon and he chose his own characteristic method. The poems remain, but discernible neither in their choice nor in their sequence is the thread of the imaginary personality. I have neither endeavoured to think of what our poet would have preferred nor have I indulged in any fanciful or rigid method of selection. I remembered that he once wrote "To have written a good stanza is the finest sensation on earth. If one had produced something really good one experiences a magnificent enjoyment." I determined to use this pronouncement as a touchstone and judge each poem by its content of delight, by its essential appeal to the author first, so far as that might be imagined, and second to the reader, remembering Matthew Arnold’s cautionary lines on the connection between the pleasures of creation and contemplation. No doubt the absolute pleasures of creation as touched upon by Lampman are rare, and correspondingly rare are the raptures of contemplation, and no one would expect merely the quintessence of feeling gathered up and brought together. That would be too severe a method for any poet [page 341] to withstand. But the poems I have chosen on this principle of selection will be found each to contain in degree a feeling of creative delight that will be communicated to the reader.
     In arranging the poems I have adopted three main divisions. Under Lyrics of Earth will be found the poems that refer purely to nature, and not at all or hardly to life and conduct; under Poems and Ballads are those pieces in which there is a mingling of nature and life; under Sonnets, all that he wrote in this form is given.
     Lampman, no doubt, began to make verses when he was a lad. He dedicated the volume Alcyone, which was ready for publication when he died "To my father who first instructed me in the art of verse." None of these attempts have been preserved; they must have been youthful, for Lampman left home for boarding school when he was a mere boy, and the literary influence of the father could not thereafter have been exerted continuously. There is always a flow of doggerel at schools and colleges, doggerel breaking now and then, not infrequently, into flashes of real poetry, and without any strain of the imagination we may fancy the father and son comparing their inventions during holidays or at other times. The father was able to instruct by example; he had a gift for versification and a true delight in poetry, the sort of worshipful delight that accompanies an admiration for the productions of the Augustan age of English Literature. Minds that are strongly influenced by these writers take on a sort of serene surety which makes them proof against criticism. They transfer the golden calm of the ancient classics to the day of Dryden and the glow pervades the time of Addison and Pope and lingers down through Collins and Gray to die out with Crabbe. The mind of the elder Lampman was rooted in such a critical serenity, a certainty of faith in Pope, for example, which was proof against the loose and unorthodox attacks of the rebel admirers of the extravagant Shelley and Keats. In these Parnassians was a body of perfection that could not be successfully assailed or broken up and the "instruction" given the pupil by the teacher was based on that tradition. Even technically this was all to the good and most valuable was the ideality that pervaded the home, the unusual atmosphere that made artistic effort both in music and poetry a matter of importance. Beyond that home influence there was little or nothing in the Canada of that day to stimulate a developing genius. Lampman could not feel that he was surrounded by those artistic tendencies, that give confidence and [page 342] glow to creative effort. But happily when he was at Trinity College, probably in 1881, he did experience a shock of surprise communicated from outside his dull environment which was of great importance just at that moment of his development. An enthusiasm then flamed up and afterwards never died down. It was rooted in sudden admiration for the work of an individual, and in pride that the enkindling cause was native. But he should be allowed to tell of it in his own words:

It was almost ten years ago, and I was very young, an undergraduate at college. One May evening somebody lent me Orion and other Poems then recently published. Like most of the young fellows about me, I had been under the depressing conviction that we were situated hopelessly on the outskirts of civilization, where no art and no literature could be, and that it was useless to expect that anything great could be done by any of our companions, still more useless to expect that we could do it ourselves. I sat up most of the night reading and re-reading Orion in a state of the wildest excitement and when I went to bed I could not sleep. It seemed to me a wonderful thing that such work could be done by a Canadian, by a young man, one of ourselves. It was like a voice from some new paradise of art, calling to us to be up and doing. A little after sunrise I got up and went out into the college grounds. The air, I remember, was full of the odour and cool sunshine of the spring morning. The dew was thick upon the grass, all the birds of our Maytime seemed to be singing in the oaks, and there were even a few adder tongues and trilliums still blooming on the slope of the little ravine. But everything was transfigured for me beyond description, bathed in an old world radiance of beauty; the magic of the lines was sounding in my ears, those divine verses, as they seemed to me, with their Tennyson-like richness and strange earth-loving Greekish flavour. I have never forgotten that morning, and its influence has always remained with me.*

     This is a noteworthy episode in the record of Canadian letters, and it is plain now for those who will to read it. Needless to say that Charles G.D. Roberts was the author of Orion and that it was his first book of poems. Perhaps Lampman’s chief delight was that the book was written by a Canadian; the fact gave him confidence in himself and from that day forward his life was occupied with poetry. A literary friendship between the two men followed, and to [page 343] this friendship was added others until Lampman was assured of a small group of auditors who were filled with like enthusiasms and whom he could count upon for quick response. Some of them were writers, others were men of wide reading and sound taste.
     One of the very nearest of these friends was the late Edward William Thomson, a poet and fiction writer of distinction and power. He was a prince of friends whose helpfulness was inexhaustible and whose courage often understayed Lampman’s ship when it was in stress of weather. This friendship arose just after the publication of Among the Millet. Mr. Thomson was the first to write of the merit of the book; he could speak with authority, as he had a sure sense for poetry. His discriminating praise pleased Lampman, and he always found the criticism helpful and the praise stimulating. 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 as tender. I am certain that Lampman made full use of this friendship and that it was of peculiar influence and comforting effect. Most of the letters he wrote were addressed to this friend, who has generously given them to me, and I shall quote freely from them. They are intimate letters, carelessly written, self-revealing in their lack of literary prose, and, in their moderation, altogether characteristic. In every line one can feel the quality of understanding friendship that called them forth. The value of such a correspondence is evident. The letters arriving from Toronto, Boston and otherwhere had, as he said, an exhilarating and refreshing effect:

I feel a rekindling of life after I read your letters. Perhaps you yourself will not be able to see why this should be so; but you may take my word for it that it is so and I hope you may have an happy sense of having done a good deed when you have written them.

     Mr. Thomson was a discriminating admirer, but when he praised, there was praise of no doubtful quality. Lampman enjoyed it all and endeavoured to discount it to meet his too modest estimation of his own powers:

I make allowances, [he writes] for a certain bias of disposition which enables you to get out of my verses all the charm there is in them, and [page 344] a good deal more that perhaps isn’t in them. It does one good to be roundly praised once in a while, i.e., if one is a sane man and knows himself. It acts like wine—like clear wholesome wine—stimulates and a little intoxicates, but does no harm. I do not often get praise that pleases me. Most of what comes to me is echoed praise and is, therefore, worthless. It has no intoxicating property, and is like the common claret we get from a second rate grocer—stale and unprofitable.

     Lampman was thus provided with that intimate circle that is essential for creative effort. The poet invents and creates in the first instance to satisfy an impulse, purely for his own pleasure, and in the second for those minds that have immediate contact with his own; he is making "great verse for a little clan," the little clan of his friends. The public, when he comes to have a public, intrudes and unless he can shut out their importunities, they trouble his genius and affect its development, for the worse not infrequently.
     Lampman never worked in loneliness or without appreciation. He might feel that his spirit was parched by routine, but he never felt that other desolating consciousness that no one heeded or comprehended him.
     Another sure and certain friend was his brother-in-law, Rev. Dr. Ernest Voorhis, who at the time of his marriage with Archibald’s eldest sister was resident in New York, but who afterwards moved to Canada. He proved himself always a noble-hearted friend, a true companion by his scholarship and character.
     I am indebted to the diligence of Dr. Voorhis for the information here given as to the ancestry of the poet. A full monograph on this subject was compiled by him for the Royal Society of Canada, and will be found in the Transactions of Section II, 1921. The poet’s mother was a Gesner, a descendant of a family that was celebrated for its intellectual attainments and its high qualities of character. The Gesner family originated in Switzerland, whence some of the branches moved into southern Germany which probably offered them a larger field and better advantages for the pursuit of their favourite studies. One branch, from which the poet was descended, moved into Holland at an early date. During the past four centuries the family has produced many celebrated scholars and scientists whose labours are recorded in history.
     JOHN HENRY GESNER (1681-1745), the progenitor of the American and Canadian branches, when twenty-nine years old left his home in Holland and with his wife Anne Elizabeth and infant [page 345] daughter Margaret came to London, whence he sailed by the ship "Lyon" arriving in New York June 10th, 1710. He settled at Tappan on the Hudson, about thirty miles north of New York. He resided there until his death in 1745, a man of pious life, member of the Lutheran church, and respected by his neighbours. A second child, whom he named John, was born to him in 1724.
     His son, JOHN HENRY GESNER (1724-1811), inherited his father’s estate, to which he made considerable additions. He lived continuously at Tappan and in 1811 was buried in the old Gesner burying ground, his grave and that of his wife being marked by tombstones still legible. The site of his house and the family burying ground may still be seen about a mile and a half southeast of Tappan village. In 1744 he married Famitcha Brower, daughter of Adolphus Brower and Jannette Ferdon. Seven sons and two daughters were born to them, the eldest in 1745 and the youngest in 1768. Canadian history is interested in only two of these sons, the twin brothers HENRY and ABRAHAM GESNER.
     During the Revolution the brothers, then eighteen years of age, joined the King’s Orange Rangers, a loyalist corps, raised mainly in Orange county, New York, by Lieut. Bayard. Both boys were with the forces of Sir Henry Clinton in his northern expedition and were present at the storming and taking of Fort Montgomery. After seeing active service in several engagements the Rangers were ordered to Nova Scotia and embarked for Halifax in October 1778. They remained in garrison duty until 1783 and were then disbanded. In consequence of their loyalist sympathies, Henry and Abraham suffered the loss of all their patrimony, in lieu of which the British Government granted Henry 400 acres in the Cornwallis Valley, and Abraham a tract of similar area near Annapolis Royal in the Annapolis valley.
     COLONEL HENRY GESNER, the great-grandfather of the poet, after receiving his grant of 400 acres of primeval forest, began the life of a pioneer and, before his death, had developed his property to a high state of cultivation. In 1786 he married Sarah Pineo, daughter of David and Rebecca West Pineo of Cornwallis. He survived his wife eight years, dying in 1850 at the age of 94 years, and both were buried in the churchyard of the English Church at Cornwallis. His wife’s family, the Pineo, or more correctly Pineau, were French Huguenots, descendants of Jacques Pineau, who came to Bristol, Rhode Island, in 1706. After remaining some years in Connecticut [page 346] they went to Nova Scotia before the American revolution. Elizabeth Sampson, the grandmother of Henry Gesner’s wife, was directly descended from Myles Standish and John Alden. Twelve children were born to Henry Gesner and his wife Sarah Pineo, all of whom were baptized in St. John’s church, Cornwallis. This present narrative is concerned with the life and adventures of one of the sons, DAVID HENRY GESNER, the grandfather of Archibald Lampman.
     He was born at Cornwallis in 1793. When twenty-seven years old he left Nova Scotia for Montreal, where he taught school for two years. He then studied medicine for two years, but not finding either occupation to his liking and being drawn by a love of adventure and a great fondness for nature, he decided to join the ranks of the pioneers who at that time were beginning to migrate from Lower Canada and the Maritime Provinces to Upper Canada. About the year 1825, in company with other pioneers he arrived at Port Talbot on Lake Erie. Thence he journeyed a few miles westward and took up land in the township of Orford, County of Kent. The Book of Land Grants in the Archives at Toronto records a grant to David Henry Gesner of 200 acres south on Talbot Road on the shore of Lake Erie, 7th June, 1825. Clearing a small space in the forest Gesner erected a comfortable log house in which he dwelt alone for nearly two years. By incessant labour and perseverance he hewed down the forest, cleared his fields, built himself a comfortable home, planted and developed a fruit farm rivalling in some degree his father’s estate at Cornwallis.
     Companionship was not far distant, for at Tyrconnel Gesner met and wooed Sarah Stewart, daughter of Captain John Stewart who with his wife and ten children had moved to Tyrconnel from Digby, Nova Scotia, in 1820. The Stewarts were a Scotch family who had emigrated from County Tyrone, Ulster, in the north of Ireland, to Nova Scotia. Captain Stewart had been educated for the Church of England ministry, but had chosen to follow the sea; his wife Sarah was a member of the Culver family who had emigrated from Holland. Their married life covered a period of fifty-two years. He survived his wife but a few months, dying in 1879 at the age of 86, and both were buried in the churchyard of Trinity church, Morpeth, which Gesner in company with other gentlemen had built and maintained. Eight children were born to them, of whom the last surviving died in 1915. Of his eight children only two married, his [page 347] eldest son John and his daughter Susannah Charlotte, mother of the poet.
     About the middle of the 18th century three brothers, JOHN, CASPAR, and FREDERICK LAMPMAN, left their native town Hanover, and emigrated with their families to the American colonies coming by way of Holland. The Lampmans in leaving Hanover and coming to America simply transferred themselves from one portion of British territory to another, without change of allegiance to the British Crown.
     The youngest of these three brothers, FREDERICK LAMPMAN, the ancestor of Archibald Lampman, was about thirty years old when he arrived in New York in 1750 with his wife Katharine and one or two children. He settled in New Jersey not far from New York and there he lived for thirty-four years. In 1784 when about sixty-five years old he came to Canada and being a U.E. Loyalist was granted 400 acres by the Crown at Stamford, Lincoln County, District of Niagara. Frederick Lampman and all his sons and sons-in-law were strong loyalists. There was no hesitation on their part in siding with the King’s adherents. With the exception of a few horses and cattle and some personal effects, which he was able to bring into Canada, all his property was seized by the Americans and he entered the country almost destitute. His family consisted of seven sons and five daughters.
     PETER LAMPMAN, the eldest son of Frederick and great-grand-father of Archibald Lampman was born in Hanover in 1749. He was twenty-seven years old at the beginning of the revolution. In 1777 he married Elizabeth Haynes of an English family which after the war settled as U.E. Loyalists in the township of Newark, District of Nassau. Soon after their marriage Peter was compelled to flee from their home to escape impressment with the American forces and the young couple were separated for about five years. His eldest child Catharine was born during her father’s flight. If Elizabeth received any news of her husband during those five years, it must have been a most unusual circumstance. Alone and on foot, hunted by the Americans, always in peril of his life, he travelled up the Hudson valley to the city of Quebec, where he arrived in 1779.
     In the spring of 1780 he proceeded west by the St. Lawrence river to the Niagara peninsula where he took up a claim at [a] bend of the Niagara escarpment called St. Anthony’s Nose. [page 348]
     From the autumn of 1780 to the spring of 1782 Peter Lampman was busily engaged in preparing his new home in the wilderness, cutting down the forest, and building a log house.
     In the spring of 1782, having made sufficient preparation, he set out alone for New York to fetch his wife and child. Although peace had been declared in that year, news was slow in travelling, and his return to New York was probably as dangerous as his flight from the town had been. His route this time was by the Mohawk valley through the country of the Five Nations. At some time during the summer of 1782 he found his wife and the little child Catrina then about four years old whom he saw for the first time.
     We do not know where they lived for the next nine or ten months, but in the following spring of 1783 Peter returned again to Niagara bringing his wife, Catrina, and an infant son but a few weeks old. It is related that he procured a horse, on which his wife and children rode while he walked by their side. They arrived in Niagara in safety and began life in their forest home where though privations were severe, there was security under the British flag. Peter Lampman’s grants were extensive, altogether about 750 acres as recorded in the Land Books of Upper Canada which are preserved in the Archives at Toronto. The estate, which he named Mountain Point, was situated between Thorold and St. Catherine’s, and under his care a beautiful fruit farm was developed. Here he lived for fifty-two years. In 1834 he died at the age of eighty-five, having survived his wife fourteen years. They were both interred in the graveyard of the old Lutheran church at Thorold. This historic log church was recently taken down to make room for the new Welland canal.
     Ten children were born to Peter Lampman, five sons and five daughters.
     His third son, who was also named Peter, the grandfather of the poet, inherited the family estate at Mountain Point. He married Agnes Ann McNeal, daughter of Archibald McNeal who had come to Canada from Baltimore. Their family consisted of ten children, of whom seven were sons. The third son, named Archibald, father of the poet, was born in 1822 and died at Ottawa 1895. He was educated at Upper Canada College, graduated Bachelor of Arts from Trinity College, Toronto, 1857, and was ordained in the ministry of the Church of England 1857. He was appointed incumbent of Trinity [page 349] Church, Morpeth, in 1860 and in May of that year married Susannah Charlotte, daughter of David Henry Gesner.
     From these interesting notes it will be seen that the poet’s descent was as follows:—

  Frederick Lampman John Hendrick Gesner
       1719-1789      1681-1745
  and Katrina and Anne Elizabeth
 
Peter Lampman

John Henry Gesner
       1749-1834      1724-1811
  Elizabeth Haynes Famitcha Brower
       1757-1820      1723-1788
 
Peter Lampman

David Henry Gesner
       1787-1870      1793-1879
  Agnes Ann McNeal Sarah Stewart
       1795-1879      1802-1878
 
Archibald Lampman

Susannah Charlotte Gesner
       1822-1895      1837-1912
  Susannah Charlotte Gesner Archibald Lampman
       1837-1912      1822-1895
Archibald Lampman
1861-1899

I have given this much space to his forbears because I find the mingling of national strains in Lampman’s descent highly interesting and I think the peculiar blend in his temperament may be accounted for by the infusion of Celtic blood with the phlegmatic blood of the Dutch and German stocks. Six national strains met in his personality, French, Dutch, German, Swiss, Scotch and English, but it is noteworthy that both his grandmothers were Highland Scotch. Surely his nature must have been influenced by these Celtic origins. That melancholy which ever and anon settles upon the Highlander visited him and often colored his thoughts, and he had the Celtic shyness which is so often mistaken for pride, and he had also the aversion to material activities. Thrown in upon the more practical qualities of the Dutch and Germans, their power of merely bearing the pressure of life, these more visionary influences made [page 350] him a sensitive stoic. He often seems less responsive to beauty by intuition than by conscious approach, refining away the elements of lesser value by fine criticism. There is always sensitiveness, but always critical sensitiveness which results in a realism shot through with spiritual loveliness. Such poems as "Heat" and "Among the Timothy" are examples of the resultant. But I must not just now be tempted into literary criticism.
     It is not my intention to repeat here in detail the incidents of Lampman’s life. They are of record in the Memoir which I wrote in 1899, which appears in the complete edition of the poems and may there be read.
     He was born at Morpeth, Kent County, Ontario, on the 17th November, 1861. His father was rector of Trinity Church there. Afterwards he lived at Perrytown, Gore’s Landing and Cobourg. At Trinity College school, Port Hope, he was prepared for Trinity College, Toronto, where he entered in September 1879, and graduated in 1882, with second class honors in Classics. He attempted to teach in the High School at Orangeville, but the task was uncongenial and he entered the Civil Service as a temporary clerk in the Post Office Department, Ottawa, on January 16, 1883. On the 23rd of March, following, his position was made permanent. He married in September 1887, Maud, the youngest daughter of Edward Playter, Esq., M.D., of Toronto. In 1892 a daughter was born to them and in 1894 a son who only lived a few months. In June 1898 another son was born. There had been a gradual decline in his health from 1897, and he died on the 10th of February, 1899; on the 11th he was buried in Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa.
To add another portrait to the one I penned twenty-three years ago would be futile. There are memories of course,—"Time he taketh all away, But them he cannot take." Yet the whole memoir, then written with emotion, stands. My aim in this present writing is to treat the life and character in freer mood, and to give, not a different but a more intimate expression of what was a varied, as well as a lofty personality.
     The portrait which I have chosen for this book was taken in 1891. It is quite different from his other portraits, and, although it may not be the best, I prefer it to all others. If the sunlight had only given us more of the glow of the eyes, it would have been just so much the better, but here we have the shape of the head and the flow of the hair, and a sort of stern, almost obstinate set of the mouth, which are [page 351] all quite characteristic and are foils to the too great mildness and pensiveness of the other portraits. His character was by no means free from the sternness which the sunlight has preserved for us. Without a blend of that quality he would not have been able to hold out with courage. He had material desires, but they were not longings for riches or ease. When he thought of a happy future it merely took the form of an escape from routine. He wrote in 1895:—

I intend to stay here in the Civil Service about four years longer until I reach the head of my class. Then by hook or crook I propose to get myself superannuated. If they will do that (and I think they owe it to me) and give me all the advantages that the law allows, I can retire on a pension of $600 or $700. I shall go to some small quiet country place and give myself up to poetry. I can make a few hundreds a year by the pen, and there is no reason why I should not be comfortable and above all—free. It is freedom that I want. I am bound. I am suffocated. If I had the genius of Milton I could do nothing.

     In February of the next year, he has made up his mind to put up with conditions as they are:—

I find myself for the first time in my life approaching a condition of philosophy. In a little while I shall no longer care whether people pay any attention to me or not, whether those I love return my affection or not, whether publishers accept my books, or whether anyone reads them when they are published. When I have actually reached that point I believe I shall be happy. I have already well begun the process of self abnegation. I no longer grumble at the Civil Service, for I have given up for good and all the notion of writing anything large and important. Hereafter I shall be well content to produce such things as the nature of my gift and the circumstances of my life permit.
     All our troubles in reality proceed from nothing but vanity, if we track them to their source. We form an ideal of ourselves and claim what seems to be due to that ideal. The ideal of myself is entitled to love and approbation from my fellow creatures: but the love and approbation does not appear, and I fret and abuse the constitution of things. To the ideal of myself money and power and practical success are no doubt due, but they do not come, and again I abuse the constitution of things.
     It is necessary for every man when he reaches maturity of understanding to take himself carefully to pieces and ascertain with pitiless scientific accuracy just what he is; then he must adjust his attitude to [page 352] life accordingly and adhere to it. If we would only do that we should suffer infinitely less. That is what I am trying to do now.

     It required courage to extract any comfort from such stark philosophy, but the real comfort was in being able to express the immediate feeling; the moment it was expressed it was conquered. It was a relief to write as he did in 1895:—

I am getting well weary of things. I was so far gone in hypochondria on Saturday last that I had not the spirit to go to my office at all. I went straggling up the Gatineau Road, and spent the whole day and most of the next under the blue sky and the eager sun; and then I began to perceive that there were actually trees and grass and beautifully loitering clouds in the tender fields of heaven; I got to see at last that it was really June; and that perhaps I was alive after all.

His letters show a constant stress of this strong feeling; but the happiness he undoubtedly had in living manifested itself indirectly. His letters are filled with joyous domestic items, his love of children and animals, his thankfulness for old and new friends, glad acknowledgment for kindness, his admiration for fine writing of all kinds, and his solace in the classics, particularly in the Greek language. In June, 1894, he writes:—

I have taken to reading Greek lately and have been plodding through some plays of Euripides—intend to read some of Sophocles and Aeschylus next. There never was and never will be another language like the Greek. It is worth while giving two or three years of one’s life even to get a moderate knowledge of it. Those who possess an intimate and discerning knowledge of Greek literature have an enormous advantage over all other people. They survey modern literature from a certain solid standpoint of breadth and beauty, and, if they have the creative gift, are able to use the material in modern life, and cast it into new forms, without being disordered and carried astray by modern ill-regulated fads and crazes.

     He thought the greatest poets those who were men of affairs as well as poets, and had least admiration for those who were only poets. I have so far quoted from the letters; the next quotation written by Lampman is taken from the column called "At The Mermaid Inn," which ran for a year and a few months, until the summer of 1893 in the Saturday issue of the Toronto Globe, Wilfred Campbell, [page 353] Lampman and I wrote the contents. I suggested the title and wrote the motto credited to an "Old Play" in five minutes one night in Lampman’s study in his house on Florence street:

It is a noticeable fact that the greatest poets, those few who are eminent above all others for dignity and majesty of tone, have been men of affairs before they were poets, and that those men who have been poets only have belonged, however illustrious, to the second class. Æschylus was a soldier and an active patriot before he was a poet. The speech that came naturally to his tongue was not the mere utterance of the brilliant playwright. Active participation in great national efforts and the experience of battle and victory were necessary to awaken and confirm in the poet of Agamemnon that mood and note of rugged, sustained sublimity. The mind of Dante, trained in the great cares of statecraft, studying and experiencing the vicissitudes of an active and dangerous time, became capable of the Divina Comedia. Our own Milton could never have written Paradise Lost had he not first been the friend and assistant of Cromwell and concerned in the mighty cares and the proud cause of the Commonwealth. The mood of soul that he learned in those full years of thought and labor and intense experience is the mood of Paradise Lost—grand, ingenuous, austere. If the youth of Byron could have been bred in the hardening atmosphere of great affairs instead of being given over to foppery and dissipation, if the Greek revolution had called him earlier, or if he had lived longer and passed through periods of strenuous deeds and important purposes, he might have given to England a poet more splendidly fruitful, if not so mighty of tongue as Milton.

     There is some self-criticism here for he undervalued his critical powers and his practical endowments, probably because he disliked exercising them. He had an increasing interest in world politics and would express himself on questions relating to human conduct with wisdom and sometimes with daring.
     The following extract contains his views on the social position of women:—

Of the many inspiring phenomena that make this teeming age wonderful and noteworthy, the most hopeful and the most significant is the change which is so rapidly taking place in the social position of women. The sentimentalist of the old school looks askance, and pictures to himself with disgust and dread the "masculine" woman of the future. The rest of us need have no fear. Most of the frivolity, the vice, the sordid brutality that have characterized too much of human [page 354] society in the past have been due to the condition of comparative social inferiority in which women have been forced to live. Give them perfect independence, place them upon an exactly even footing with men in all the activities and responsibilities of life, and a result for good will be attained which it is almost beyond the power of the imagination to picture. In the first place the effect upon the institution of marriage will be in the highest degree wholesome and beautiful. The degrading necessity for marriage, which is one of the wretchedest curses of society as we see it, will be removed. The woman will marry from choice, and the intellectual and moral training derived from her improved condition will enable her to choose rightly. The man will no longer choose a wife; it will be the woman who will choose her husband. Who can follow out in all their many branches the beneficent results of this one gain alone. The high standard of excellence which the woman will certainly look to in making her choice, cannot but ensure the elimination or repression of a great part of the fool and the brute that is in men. Then as to those vices and dreadful degradations which many of us pass over in ashamed silence when we speak of the conditions of life, what will the effect be upon them? Assuredly it will be great. Women, no longer weak and dependent, no longer kept in an emotional atmosphere of frivolity and sentimental irresponsibility, but strong, active and self-reliant as men, will not be subject or exposed to the same temptations, and above all they will not be at the mercy of men. When the moral and intellectual emancipation of women is fully effected many a cloud will be lifted from human life, and no sensible man will believe that the sex will have sacrificed one whit of that grace and beauty which we think to be its chiefest charm; rather there will be added to these a power, a beneficence, a dignity which are only the exception now.

     Like Elia, "Lampman was temperate in his meals and diversions," but, unlike Elia, he always kept a little on the other side of abstemiousness. There is a passage in one of his letters describing with all vehemence his disgust at the taste of rye whiskey. "By the doctor’s direction, I am drinking whiskey and water at intervals of three hours. I had swallowed rye before, but never realized till now what a crude, soulless, beastly unendurable drink it is. Holland’s gin, vile as it is, I think preferable. How did man ever get it into his head to manufacture and absorb so hideous, so brutish a liquid?" Wine was a beneficence, but it was a rare and precious experience, too precious to be celebrated, too rare to leave a trace on the imagination.—"Only in the use of the Indian weed he might be thought a little excessive.” He thus whimsically defends the habit:— [page 355]

I admit that it injures the digestion, that it weakens the will power, that it causes a man to waste valuable time that might be more meritoriously employed in boxing or doing hurt to his fellow-creatures, and then I adjust myself comfortably and fill another pipe. I find tobacco very conducive to prolonged meditation. It allays the disturbance that the mind is in, owing to the competition of too many subjects of thought. Out of the condition almost approaching reverie, which it produces, the subject which is actually most momentous gradually emerges; and at the end of a little time we find ourselves pursuing some single line of steady and effective thought. This result, as it seems to me, is not wholly due to the influence of tobacco as a stimulant, but is largely caused by the sort of gentle occupation that the act of smoking affords—an occupation not pronounced enough to draw the mind’s attention, yet sufficiently an occupation to keep the nerves at rest....I have sometimes obtained a similar result from fishing—especially on a tepid and motionless summer day and in waters, J where, as I subsequently ascertained, there were hardly any fish.

     As the delusion of fishing was infrequent, I think I may say that smoking and pedestrianism were his chief aids to composition. His pipes were many, but his favourite pipes few and of strange aspect, cherished not for their beauty, but for their "sweetness," a word, misapplied in this connection, that conveyed the idea of special wealth of contentment. He smoked a celebrated Montreal brand "Brahadi’s" until at last it shared his affection with H.B.Co. mixture. His pedestrianism was routine, from his home to his office, forth and back, back and forth, cage-like peripatetics, but many lines and whole stanzas and sonnets were invented and perfected in that treadmill. This monotony of movement, no doubt, allayed the competition of too many subjects of thought. This routine walking was something to the good, but the real joy of walking was in the woods and fields or on the way there. On these expeditions he gained his knowledge of nature by sympathetic observation and stored his impressions for future refining or transmutation. The following is a specimen of the material of nature poetry gathered in this way and also one example of a delicate prose style which he practised too seldom:—

April and May are the months of wood flowers; June the season of blossoming in the inner recesses of the forest; August the time of perfume and color in meadow and field. He who journeys homeward from the woods on one of those quiet, murmurous April evenings [page 356] when the light still lingers in the clear, greenish west, bears with him a handful of the tenderest and most delicate of all our flowers. Here are the hepatica, white, violet-blue or tenderest pink, plucked with the last year’s rusted leaves; the adder-tongue, drawn cool out of the moist earth, with purple-spotted leaf-blades and white, slender root stem, curling joyously back its yellow petals under the noonday sun; the little striped blossom of the frail spring beauty; the dicentia or squirrel corn, with its pink-stemmed wreaths of tremulous creamy drops, springing from the midst of an abundance of delicate and intricate leafage; most exquisite of all, the bloodroot’s clear waxen bloom, set between its half-opened irregular grey leaves. He will have also perhaps a bud or two, just beginning to open, of the splendid white-winged trillium, or some of the blue cohosh, that mystic-looking plant with its strange and dusky but very beautiful blossoms. By the way, I should think that this last plant would be an inexhaustible treasure to the decorative artist. I know of no plant in bloom which has so peculiar and mysterious a hue and shape. When June comes we shall get the rare and beautiful lady’s slippers out of the deep wet woods, and many another surprising blossom far hidden and seldom sought; but for the present let us be content with the brave little first-comers, the happy denizens of the less secluded wilderness. These, as with the race of poets, are indeed the fairest and freshest of all.

     No portrait of Lampman would be complete without the lines of gaiety it should contain. There are, maybe, high poets without a sense of humour, but he was not one. He could be as grave as a dull function required, and in his ordinary relations he seemed a trifle preoccupied—well,—a bit remote, and when he gave his full attention one recognized it, as if his mind had come from a far country, roused up from contemplation there; and it would seem just for a moment, as he looked at you, that he was about to give you a message from that far strange country. But no matter what was his degree of gravity or shyness or preoccupation, when he laughed one was convinced that he was simply hiding behind that manner to surprise the humour of a situation. The laugh was really larger than any vocal expression of his sober side; there was all the enjoyment of the physical in it. He had delight in the incongruous and absurd, and rejoiced in the crystals of fun which came to him in the grist of everyday official correspondence. He would bring to me when he discovered them these artless efforts of unknown correspondents to express their complaints or desires. [page 357]
     He was capable of laughing at himself occasionally and of making fun of his own inveterate ideality and his faculty of extracting: beauty from common things. This sonnet called "Reality" is an example:—

I stand at noon upon the heated flags
At the bleached crossing of two streets, and dream
With brain scarce conscious now the hurrying stream
Of noonday passengers is done. Two hags
Stand at an open doorway piled with bags
And jabber hideously. Just at their feet
A small, half-naked child screams in the street,
A blind man yonder, a mere bunch of rags,
Keeps the scant shadow of the eaves, and scowls,
Counting his coppers. Through the open glare
Thunders an empty wagon, from whose trail
A lean dog shoots into the startled square,
Wildly revolves and soothes his hapless tail,
Piercing the noon with intermittent howls.

Here we have the bare, sordid facts of life with no relief or mitigation. The artistry is there and the keen observation, but no hope.
     He had a gift, too, of knocking off amusing impromptu stanzas hot on the occasion.
     He could be very deeply impressed by music, but Brahms was a composer he did not appreciate, even the lovely Sonata for Piano and Violin in G was a closed book to him.—

When you hear this Sonata of Brahms
Go immediately down on your hams
And utter a couple of damns
Long drawn in the manner of psalms!

I used to argue with him about those lovely bird-tunes in the sonata and the rhythmic life that seems so like the heart-beat of natural things. But there is no use arguing about music; "Pour not forth words where there is a musician"; certain music he could enjoy; about other music he would write satirical quatrains.
     There are amusing flashes in his letters, and highly coloured exaggerations. In February, 1895, he wrote:—
     "I have been furnishing a winter carnival for two hundred billions of grippe bacteria, and they have eaten me out of house and [page 358] home. I feel like an old worm-eaten cheese, or a dry cod-fish, which has hung for ten years over the door of a rural grocery shop. I am reminded of Herod Agrippa in the New Testament, you remember, who died eaten of worms. I guess it was only grippe germs and they called him agrippa on that account." He signed this letter: Archimbaldus Agrippa.
     That is an example of the sudden improvisations which he threw off in happy mood. He indulged in the humorous writers, but the wits were not so congenial. Smollett was preferred over Sterne, Dickens over Thackeray, and he valued the humour of George Eliot’s characters above all the subtle wit of George Meredith’s. Writing in April, 1894, of some early work of his which had come under criticism for its derivation from Keats, he says "The Keats at the beginning of the poem was very natural, for I could not write anything at that time without writing Keats. I am only just now getting quite clear of the spell of that marvellous person and it has taken me ten years to do it. Keats has always had such a fascination for me and has so permeated my whole mental outfit, that I have an idea that he has found a sort of faint reincarnation in me." This is merely a tribute to the fecund nature of the work of Keats, who by his influence on modern poetry has had many reincarnations and is to have many more. It may be noted that these poets were both children of autumn. Keats was born within one day of November, and Lampman on the 17th of that month. They may also find room in their memories for the fact and its over-quaint interpretation that at Lampman’s funeral on that bitter February day, nature that he had so loved was represented there as a mourner by one of the least of her creatures, a church mouse, that moved about the coffin-head for certain moments, and circled slow with cold under the bier, animated marvellously amid the frozen and foodless desert of the Cathedral to creep forth, to pay tribute and to disappear, unconscious of its office.
     The Keats influence on Lampman is at its best in the ever present desire to perfect the atmosphere of the poem, to translate the feeling for nature and life experienced keenly into correspondencies in the mind by devices of imagery, of verbal beauty and of cadence. These new flowers from the genius of Keats are not slavish imitations. They are kindred inspiration, of like felicity, without cunning or premeditation. They derive from the early marvellous inventions of "Endymion" rather than from the later perfections of the Odes. The [page 359] sound arises in such lines as, "How tremulous-dazzlingly the wheels sweep around their axle!" And the echo comes to us, "The’ grasshoppers spin into mine ear, A small innumerable sound." There is nothing here of the Rossettian search for "stunning words" for poetry or even the desire for le mot juste. It is the Shakespearean concept of a humbler art which may be elevated to the art of poetry.—"This is an art, Which does mend nature, change it rather, but, The art itself is nature." The influence of Keats was succeeded by other influences less powerful and traceable less clearly in his workmanship. Wordsworth and Arnold both exercised some influence, and latest in his life there is a curious harking back to Tennyson. Wordsworth was less of an influence than might be expected when we consider how much the master poet was concerned with nature. Nature set up moral reactions in Wordsworth’s mind, more definite than any effects that can be noticed in Lampman. They were as one in speaking of nature as a refuge, but the greater poet used the shelter to recreate his interest in life, and not as a nook for reverie. Their methods of describing nature seem to me essentially different. Wordsworth’s descriptions are often such pictures as were painted by the landscapists of his day, in truth he may have been influenced by them. Glorious they are with their piled up colour and form, but there is no suggestion there of anything more than the thing seen. By comparison Lampman was an impressionist, he was more concerned with the sensation of a view or an action than with ideas that might be derived from it. Lampman did not attempt the lofty address to nature, “Ye breezes and soft airs—ye waves—ye groves”; but one might expect influences and correspondencies in the sonnets that one does not find. Compare Lampman’s sonnet "Winter Evening," that Robert Louis Stevenson admired, with any of Wordsworth’s nature sonnets, and the difference of method becomes plain. I am almost certain in fact that Lampman was influenced more strongly as a sonneteer by Rossetti than by Wordsworth, an influence exerted rather in a certain clinching force and final stroke than in choice of subject or imagery. Arnold he valued supremely. In his opinion “It is not the brilliancy, the versatility, the fecundity or the ingenuity of a poet that makes him ‘great’; it is the plane upon which his imagination moves, the height from which he looks down, the magnitude of his ideas.” Holding this opinion he could write of Arnold:— [page 360]

We are apt almost to pass by a poet who in this last age occupies the clearest and noblest plane of all. I mean Matthew Arnold. Arnold is not so triumphantly the poet as Tennyson, nor is he so various or so clever as Browning, but he looks from a grander height than either, his imagination has its natural abode in a diviner atmosphere. The whole range of life, time and eternity, the mysteries and beauties of existence and its deepest spiritual problems are continually present to his mind. In his genius is that rare combination of philosophy and the poetic impulse in the highest degree, which has given us our few solitary poets. The only test by which we can measure the greatness of a verse writer is the quality of the effect which he produces upon the mind of the reader. He who has been reading Browning till his head spins with the multitude of subtleties and splendid tours de force, or he who is even weary, if such a thing may be, of the rounded perfections of Tennyson, betakes himself to Matthew Arnold, and then he seems to have reached the hills. With a mind blown clear as by the free wind of heaven he surveys the extent of life. He passes through an atmosphere where only the noblest emotions, life, beauty and thought possess him. He becomes gentle and majestic as the mind of the master who commands him. I believe that the time will come when Matthew Arnold will be accounted the greatest poet of his generation, and one of the three or four noblest that England has produced.

     With this critical aid one can distinguish the influence of Arnold in choice of subject and in the plain resolve to deal "with the noblest emotions of life, beauty and thought."
     There are certain years in the life of every poet when he has greatest delight in creation, and these years for Lampman lay between 1883 and 1887. During those years he fixed his style and employed it upon a new landscape in a sort of half-leisure that enabled him to observe and reflect in almost untroubled joy. His intimates could feel in those years that he was absorbed in poetry. "Among the Timothy" was written in 1885; "Between the Rapids" in 1886; "The Frogs" in May, and "Heat" in July of 1887. These are typical poems and his subsequent work did not vary in manner, but developed with wider observation of life and nature.
     An attempt to fasten on our poet any system of philosophy or any argument for the gloomy outlook on modern life will be unsuccessful. Apart from the joy of living and dreaming, and the pure excitement of transmitting his delight in the drama of nature there is happily no system of thought that can be detached and nominated. The characteristic Lampman is in such a poem as "The [page 361] Sweetness of Life," and in such phrases as "Thou dream’st and art strangely happy, But thou canst not answer why" and "O Life! O Life! I kept saying, And the very word seemed sweet." This is the pure Mozartian strain, untroubled by any desire for analysis, without perplexity or inward brooding, but yet sufficient unto itself, like a melody that tells us nothing, but that is more significant than an adage or an aphorism. Lampman is full of touches that end in the sufficiencies of dreaming and of the loss of personal identity in thought, but when we ask what dreams, what thought, he cannot answer. While this may be the characteristic Lampman, this melting away into nature that has no thought but only vibration, it would be unjust to let the criticism rest there. If he were to leave us without ideals, the poet would indeed be limited, no matter how great the beauty he had gathered up with which to seed the world. And in many of his poems he has told us what his thought was, what was the substance of his vision. The trance was one thing; the interpretation was another; whatever was the dream, "he awoke and found it truth." This habit of reverie was fostered by his environment. He was conscious that the Canadian scene was not stimulative to the production of poetry, that its votaries had to depend too greatly on their native endowment without aid from the excitements that arise in a literary army on the march or in camp. He expressed it very well:—

Those who do accomplish anything in literature in this country have, at any rate, the grim satisfaction of knowing that if it is not what they might have done under more favourable circumstances, it is at least the product of sheer natural talent. The Canadian litterateur must depend solely upon himself and nature. He is almost without the exhilaration of lively and frequent literary intercourse—that force and variety of stimulus which counts for so much in the fructification of ideas. The human mind is like a plant, it blossoms in order to be fertilised, and to bear seed must come into actual contact with the mental dispersion of others. Of this natural assistance the Canadian writer gets the least possible, and, if out of the poverty of his opportunities he accomplishes something, let him not be blamed for being, perhaps, a little boastful and inclined to rate himself at a little more than his actual worth.

     We are, no doubt, apt to lay too great a stress on the seeming quietude of such lives as Lampman’s. The day’s routine is invariable, [page 362] broken in upon by a little unadventurous travel, a new acquaintance or two, a change of domicile; these things follow on with a slow persistence till the man is abraded by the monotony of every day fact and there appears to be no opportunity for the life of poetry. That is merely "How it strikes a contemporary." The life of poetry is in the imagination, there lies the ground of true adventure and though the poet’s imagination may be starved and parched by the lack of variety in life, he persists nevertheless to make poetry out of its dust and ashes, out of its lets and hindrances and even creates poetry out of the small frets and sorrows that he shares with all mankind.
     There are evidences in the poems and the letters of spiritual adventures and perturbations that were not apparent even to the closest companion. In February of 1894 we find him writing, "I become more sensitive, more excitable, more nervously alive with every year, but another thing must be said, you used to credit me with a certain peaceful serenity of thought and vision—if I had it, it is dying out—I am becoming morbid, subject to dreadful moods and hypochondria." In the next month he is saying "I suppose I am passing through some spiritual revolution; in fact I know I am; and some things have caused me unusual agonies. But it is a good thing after all to be able to feel, to find that one is human and not a mere leather thing of common use and convention." In letters of the two next years the stress of feeling is apparent, "I have gone through so much inward trouble that it has somewhat broken me and I do not take wing, so to speak, very readily." "To tell the truth I have been under such a heavy strain of feeling during the last year or two that I have come to look on the matter of publishing and fame, etc., as of very little importance at all." These quotations will prove the existence but not the plot of an intense personal drama. In January, 1897, it tends to disappear and he writes "There has followed an unusual feeling of peace, peace that was not bright, but rather leaden-hued with sorrow; but it was peace, and I seemed to feel an immense rest after the years of fever and torture I had been through. Then a delightful sense of power, very likely a purely fictitious sense, got hold of me, and I wrote quite a lot of poems, sitting at them, evening after evening, for ten days or so, more than I ever wrote in the same space of time before." When he wrote these words he had only two years of life left and they were two years of a fight for life, not two years of health and happy devotion to work. The sense of creative [page 363] power which he writes of doubtfully was genuine enough, but it was undermined by physical weakness and every desire to create was met by a prohibition of all mental effort. But in spite of these things the passion persisted to the end, and his note book of 1898 bears traces of many things attempted, and a few beautiful things accomplished. The last lines he wrote, the sonnet "Winter Uplands," which he finished on January 29,1899, shows no diminution of power; the tonic feeling of frost, the wonderful nearness of winter stars, the cold friendliness of the moon, the old delight in human activity and the shadow of beauty thrown upon the soul,— these are intensely realized by the man who was so very near the end of all sensation. The critical power was also awake and as watchful as ever. He first wrote the last two lines—

Though the heart plays us false and life be bare
The truth of Beauty haunts us everywhere.

But he substituted the realistic thirteenth line,—

The crunching snowshoes and the stinging air.

And in the approved fourteenth he rounded the sonnet with a touch of the eternal loveliness of nature,—

Silence, frost and beauty everywhere.

Below the final draft of the sonnet he pencilled, in his beautiful Greek script, line 360 of the XIX Book of the Odyssey.—

For men quickly age in evil fortune.

     Before I touch upon the ideals that support and vivify the poems, I would quote an utterance of Lampman’s which conveys a faith that he held most firmly and which in truth actuated his thinking and influenced his outlook on human affairs.—

Someone has said that life is one long disease, and this world nothing but a gigantic hospital, and Heine added that the great doctor is death. This is one of those terrible sayings that may be uttered either by the egotist who has pursued life’s pleasures to the utmost, and in the end found nothing but emptiness and spiritual annihilation, or by [page 364] the philosopher who has sat all his life long with a raw and sensitive soul in the midst of the concourse of men, and brooded upon the desperate obliquity of human institutions and the hopeless ineptitude of human character, the vileness and the instability of the average and the hideous blackness of the worst.

Then as a contrast to this gloomy view of things he formulated his own belief in a new hope for the vexed human spirit.—

But, patience! Even in a time when these things are becoming most apparent to us may we not perceive the dawning of a new hope? Have we not already noted the beginning and spreading of a new conception of the higher life—a conception which has not yet reached the masses of mankind, but we certainly hope may do so eventually, though not in our day? This conception is the child of science, reinforced by the poetry that is inherent in the facts of the universe and all existence. Thus reinforced, the conception is a religious one. It is independent of the ancient creeds, for it does not trust for its effects to any system of post-mortem rewards and punishments. It is different from the old Stoic virtue of the philosophers, which at bottom was merely prudence, a utilitarian quality. This modern conception is not a materialistic one, although at first it may seem so; it is, as I have said, poetic and intrinsically religious. It comes to those whom the new knowledge has made acquainted with the vast facts and secrets of life, arming them with a breadth and majesty of vision which withers away from the soul the greeds and lusts and meannesses of the old, narrow and ignorant humanity. The small ambitions and petty passions of this world seem infinitesimal indeed to him who once enters into the new conception and lives, as it were, in the very presence of eternity. As yet this new spiritual force only acts upon the few, for it is a modern thing, but its growth is sure. Spreading downward, with the steady extension and dissemination of culture, from mass to mass, it may in the end work its way into the mental character and spiritual habit of all mankind. Then, indeed, the world will become less and less a hospital, and the old cankerous maladies gradually decline and disappear.

This outlook on life and the universe founded upon science is of high vision, nobler and surer than the vision which led to the writing of "The Land of Pallas," a poem which the reader will not find in this book. That poem is a tribute to the tenderness of the poet’s heart and to its sensitive revolt against the cruelties and crimes of our society, but the dream-pastoral society which he imaginatively [page 365] substituted for the present is as passionless as a wall painting by Puvis de Chavannes. An Utopia where physical pain and mental struggle are non-existent and where all human effort is slowed down to gathering the fruits of perfection may be momentarily attractive as a contrast to our perilous existence but cannot serve the ambitious heart as a goal or the eager mind as a logical resting place. This poem is a trace of the thinking in which Lampman indulged in 1894-5, when he belonged to a group of friends who were playing lightly with socialistic ideas which he translated into poetry.
     The view of life through the lens of science will not enable us to reconstruct society, but, as Lampman felt, it will give us breadth and majesty of vision and will in the end alter our mental and moral relations. This is the creed that takes form in the lines of "Alcyone" in which life is held to be negative unless the spirit can be—"Something radiant and august as night, Something wide as space."
     It is present in many poems where the cosmic feeling transcends the restricted idea of our planet as the sole reason for the existence of the universe, and of our destiny, as a formalized system of "post-mortem rewards and punishments" in such a poem as "The Clearer Self," where life is only thought to be actual if one has proved:— "What greatness there can be in man, Above the measured and the known." and in that enigmatic poem "To the Prophetic Soul" where there is a contrast between the materialistic "bustlers at the gate of now or yesterday," and those who have vision of the large and the true. The idea is developed with exceeding beauty in the three sonnets: "The Largest Life." The strangeness of the soul and its part in "The dark march of Human Destiny" is cleared and lightened by its community with the universal creative forces of beauty and of love, and we are called upon to "address our spirits to the height and attune them to the valiant whole." The negative side of this scientific creed is woven into the poem "The City of the End of Things"; it shows the result of mechanistic ideals and the worship of the material. This extraordinary poem is ruthless in its implication. If humanity deserts the spiritual and ceases to look beyond the round of this little foothold of ours into space, into infinity, its doom is slow and certain. Developed in pride, "The City of the End of Things" comes to be inhabited by a race of figures who "obey a hideous routine," clanking and mechanical, they are not of flesh and bone. Of the prodigious race who fashioned them, four only [page 366] remain; three are still masters of the mechanism; they disappear and silence falls on the soulless, mindless energy. But the fourth, "the grim idiot at the gate. Is deathless and eternal there,"—a brain and nervous organization adapted to high destinies but ruined, the nadir of personality, a human body without a soul. The poem is powerful, dramatic, and ruthless. I do not think Lampman had read Erewhon; Capek and his play R.U.R came after his day; but neither of these developments of the theme are so concentrated in sardonic bitterness or so unrelieved of hope. This cosmic feeling, this sense of awe is persistent throughout the poems and often we find in his faithful and minute dealings with nature, that the admiration for any special beauty leads into a wider and more general beauty. The wood-violet holds, "in its twisted face, the heart of all the perfumes of the wood."—A few pine trees "unfurl a nobler influence."— "Time and all the pine groves of the world" enfold his spirit.—"The wind, the world-old rhapsodist" reminds him of the mysterious spirit that calls to human hearts "until we dream ourselves immortal and are still." The voices of earth awaken within his heart "thoughts bedded there empearled—Before the birth and making of the world."
     These ideals are not only present in the aphoristic sayings about humanity and its passions, they permeate the poems which are purely descriptions of nature. The life of nature is as varied and complex as the life of the spirit, and it is for this reason that man finds in nature infinite correspondencies with his spiritual states. He finds over against his perturbed and ecstatic existence another activity to which he lends emotion and from which he borrows the most telling images for his own inner experience. As each desire dominates the life and fills it full, it can be compared with no other feeling, but it can be compared with the wind on the ocean or the consuming fire in the tree or the ruthless force of water, turbulent and unconfined. By this constant reference to nature since the world began the poets have lent so much to nature that it seems now to have an emotional existence of its own. Amiel said "A landscape is a state of the soul," and in the apprehension of some such truth lies the sole excuse for poetry in which nature is described; it is only tolerable if it brings with the vision of the world some harmony of the spirit:—"Entering again into the eternal mood, In which the world was made," as Lampman himself has it. His work abounds in successful poems of this kind wherein there is perfect fusion of the [page 367] observed fact, the imagined epithet and the appropriate music. As we have read, he thought it his special métier and trod that domain: with assured freedom, being a lord of that country. When the book is before the reader there is no need to choose examples. The firm masterly tone is captured in that early poem, "April" (May, 1884), and is maintained with but slight faltering till the last.
     The sonnets are filled with absolute impressions of the scene and the hour, vignettes of pure colour and pure music, painted and composed with fidelity to fact and interfused with that state of the soul which conditioned the landscape. In perfection the majority of these sonnets take their place with the best in English literature, and bring a new train of beauties into the catalogue, beauties of our own fields and forests, cultured and familiar, untamed and remote. Coleridge said "In poetry it is the blending of passion with order that constitutes perfection," and how frequently have we in these sonnets that blend of pure passion for the thing seen with consummate order and progression. No beauty is sacrificed to confusion, there is nothing approximate; everything is distinct, alive and surrounded; with air. We can gather from these technical perfections what Lampman would have thought of vers libre in its present-day forms and of the claims that are made for it as a new mode of expression, as a door of escape from the prison of old verse modes into the freedom of the fields and the sunlight. There is a passage in one of his letters that deals with a subject that was not so pressing in his day. The Black Riders, by Stephen Crane, came in his way and he did "not like the author at all. Is he not simply a very degenerate development of the spasmodic school? It seems to me that it would be easy to write that sort of thing." And a few days after, on March 23, 1896, he gives a specimen of that “sort of thing”:—

There was once a man
He sat in a world of things that seemed to be shadows
Some of them radiantly beautiful,
Yet with a certain striving
Because they saw a light,
Not theirs, but something they desired unspeakably to attain,
Others bitter and foul,
Yet also with a certain perversity,
Because they saw a gloom
A gloom that drove them to madness
And the man rose from among the shadows and shouted [368]
Tearing open his heart:
“Lo! I will be myself,
I will utter myself.”
And one of the radiant ones turned to him and whispered:
“Friend! It is probably fated that thou shouldst be thyself,
But is it worth while to utter thyself
If thyself be an unseemly thing?”

But if one wishes to be convinced that there is a true power in free treatment of rhythm and therefore a place in art for such experiments, let him read "Personality," a poem in which Lampman proved that he could be free of rhyme and stanza form and yet Create perfection.
     While the greater number of the poems may be classified under three or four general titles, there are a few which seem worthy of special mention by reason of some unusual quality, for instance, "War," "The Moon Path," "The Wood-Cutter’s Hut," and "Between the Rapids." The last-mentioned poem, I remember, came in for special praise in an early notice of Among the Millet in The Spectator, January 12, 1889. The writer compared it with Clough’s poem, "Ite domum saturae, venit Hesperus," with discrimination, I think. The feeling of regret pervades both poems, a regret for happiness that was not to be. The reality and beauty of Lampman’s Canadian scene is equal to the beauty and reality of Clough’s Swiss landscape. "Between the Rapids" was written in June, 1886, when the novelty of the northern scenery was fully upon him and when he had experienced his first canoe voyage. The actual scene is on the River Lievre, near the Iroquois Farm; another record of that time and place is "Morning on the Lievre" and the sonnet "A Dawn on the Lievre." Not many poems in the language are so filled with the feeling that may be called native, in which the human emotions are so closely woven with the incidents and the landscape that they seem all of a piece. There is a touch of the romance of the old voyageurs in the poem, as if the heart uttering itself had descended from the coureur de bois and had been reared in a tradition of primeval loneliness. There is something of the same quality with less emotion in "The Wood-Cutter’s Hut," where "The animal man in his warmth and vigor" is set perfectly once for all in his natural surroundings. The absence of intellectuality from the poem is remarkable, the individual seems no higher in the scale of being than the bear that prowls around his hut; he cleans his rifle and fells his pine [page 369] tree by instinct, and when he leaves the forest it is but the thought less migration of one of its denizens. Of a different quality is the fanciful "Moon Path" and the resounding poem "War." These poem and others are invented, one might say, with a certain artificiality, but written with proved skill; there are certain sonnets with the like genesis—such as "Dead Cities" and "Thamyris." But admirable as much of this work is, including the few ballads and the poems of light fancy or dark musings on happy or sorrowful personal incidents, the true heart of this poet lies in his marvellous interpretations of nature and the breadth and serenity of his outlook through nature upon human life and destiny.
     The nature and the life he saw was the Canadian scene and it may well be said of him as was said long ago of Theocritus "His Muse is the Muse of his native land. [page 370]

 

 

* Extract from an unpublished essay. [back]

 

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