Duncan Campbell Scott

Addresses‚ Essays‚ and Reviews




Who’s Who in Canadian Literature:
Archibald Lampman

 

The new edition of Archibald Lampman’s poems, to be called Lyrics of Earth, Sonnets and Ballads, will be published this season by the Musson Book Company.  My introduction will, I think, be an interesting supplement to the memoir which I wrote shortly after his death, and which was published in the Memorial Edition.  Apart from the critical portion, which may or may not be valuable, it contains matter which should throw new light on Lampman’s character.  In selecting the poems for the new volume, I endeavoured to omit all that seemed to interfere with a full appreciation of the distinctive qualities of the poet, and neither the Biblical drama, David and Abigail, nor the tale, The Story of An Affinity, will be found there.  Lampman himself considered them experiments, not entirely successful, and would no doubt have abandoned them cheerfully.  When everything that may be placed in this category was omitted, there remained an extremely fine body of poetry, one of our chief national possessions.
     Lampman had very high poetic ideals and made exacting demands upon himself in endeavouring to realize them.  From his early ‘teens he was interested in poetry, and as the years went by the interest deepened until in 1893 he felt that poetry had “seized and enveloped the whole field.”  The field was to be severely limited, as when he wrote these words he was not very far from the end of his life, and during the years remaining he was not to add very much to his store, although some of his latest poems are among his best.  I firmly believe that if years had been added to his life, he would have developed new powers and extended the boundaries of his province of poetry.  I base that faith on the quality of his mind, and on evidences of growth which are present in his later poems. Speculation [page 371] on that subject is idle, and in view of what he has left, might seem ungrateful, if we were on that account to neglect or underestimate the perfection of the completed work. He once wrote:

To have written a good stanza is the finest sensation on earth. If one has produced something really good one experiences a magnificent enjoyment.

Here we have a record of the zest with which his work was done and evidence of the valuable power of self-criticism. He knew what a good stanza was and labored to write it. His task was finished before the later "modernism" had taken hold upon poetic art, and I fancy he would not have had much sympathy with the insurgents. Walt Whitman was no favorite of his, and the small rebellion of Stephen Crane which, so far as I recall, was the only contemporary manifestation of unrest, left him cold. Lampman was loyal to the great traditions of English poetry. He found the established technique sufficient for his purposes, and his finest work was done within strict limitations of form. His assured control of the sonnet influenced his treatment of the stanza which approximates to the feeling of satisfaction yielded by the sonnet form. There are traces of imitation in his work, there are echoes of the great manners and the great cadences of the past, but imitation pervades all art, is in fact, the great nourisher, always and everywhere, of artistic effort. Alfred de Musset has it: "C’est imiter quelqu’un que de planter des choux"; true of all occupations, from that of poet to that of kitchen gardener. But, while we expect that all cabbage soup shall have the same flavor, we expect of our artists constant variations upon the texture of imitation; the more strangeness and variety, the more are we delighted. What Lampman has brought to mingle with the old methods is the joy of a new land, its vigorous climate and life, and the excitement of recording impressions of a beauty that is untroubled by human tradition. The product of this graft upon the old stock is fruit with a tang of native flavor to be compared to the fruit of his own ancestral Niagara district; the old form with the gust of a new soil.
     Lampman was master of the sonnet, and a group of his finest work in this form will stand comparison with the best. This is high but deserved praise. The variety of subject matter, the felicities of diction, the perfections of texture and cadence make his one his one hundred and more sonnets a treasure-house for the lover of poetry and [page 372] for the student who desires to discover the potentialities of the sonnet as a verse form.
     In all his poetry there is nothing feigned. It is inspired by true feeling and first-hand observation. It is the work of a realist in the best sense of that term. His task was to capture the essential in the object and not to obscure it with conventions. The pageant of the seasons, the stars in their courses, the birds in their haunts the flowers in garden and wood—he brooded upon it all and realized and interpreted nature in its relation to life. As for his creed, it is written large in the mass of his work and in its smallest details. Once he transcribed this ideal:

The main current of the human spirit through many changes and many falls, is setting eternally toward a condition of order and divine beauty, and peace. A poet may never have uttered this thought, may never perhaps have been even conscious of it, but unless the general body of his work is in some way accordant with it, unless his transfiguration of life has in some way tended to strengthen and glorify the universal yearning for order and beauty and peace, the heart of man will keep no hold of it.

     Here is a prose statement of Lampman’s creed. It makes plain the tendencies of his work and reveals the hope which sustained it. He desired to transfigure life and to strengthen and glorify the universal yearning for order and beauty and peace. The hope was high, but the task was accomplished.

 

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Bibliography.
By R.H.H.

 

The bibliography of Archibald Lampman, so far as regularly published books are concerned, is a brief one, as it contains but three titles; but when it comes to "collectors’ items"—that is, privately issued publications—the story is somewhat different. The number of such items amounts to about a dozen, most of them leaflets or tiny pamphlets, issued in association with his poet-friend, Duncan Campbell Scott, and containing one or two poems by each of the two poets. Interesting as these items are, however, there are two [page 373] other items, which if anything, are even more interesting. The first of these is the volume Alcyone, which, printed by Constable, of London, was to have been published in 1899, with the imprint of James Ogilvy, of Ottawa, but which it was decided, for some reason, after Lampman’s death, to cancel, only twelve copies being issued. The other item is a little volume containing a facsimile of an autograph poem, Little Book, Thy Pages Stir, which was discovered on the flyleaf of a copy of The House of the Trees, by Ethelwyn Wetherald, now in the possession of Lorme A. Pierce, and fifteen copies of which were privately issued by the Ryerson Press, Toronto, in 1923. These two items, like the leaflets and pamphlets above mentioned, are, of course, only prizes for the collector, but here for the information of the humble reader and admirer of Lampman’s work, are details of his regularly published books:

Among the Millet. Ottawa: J. Durie & Son, 1888.
Lyrics of Earth. Boston: Copeland & Day, 1895.
Poems, (Collected). Edited, with a memoir by Duncan Campbell Scott. Toronto:           Geo. N. Morang & Co., 1900.

 

Lampman Memorial Tablet

 

On the Memorial Tablet, erected by Lampman’s friends in St. Margaret’s Church, Eastview, a suburb of Ottawa, in connection with the inscription appears this line of Lampman’s:

“Life, O Life, I kept on saying, and the very sound was sweet.”

     This information comes to Canadian Bookman from Rev. George Bansfield, who was for many years rector of St. Margaret’s. [page 374]

 

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