"The Thing Is Found to Be Symbolic":
Elements in the Early Short Stories of Gilbert Parker, Charles G.D. Roberts, and Duncan Campbell Scott


It is a very simple matter. Find the idea in the thing in Nature and put the idea in the thing in Art, and the problem is solved.

—Richard Hovey, "The Passing of Realism" (1895)

In the essay entitled "Modern Symbolism and Maurice Maeterlinck" that serves as the introduction to the first series of his translations of Maeterlinck’s Plays (1894), Richard Hovey makes the bold but not untenable assertion that in their symbolic practices Bliss Carman, Gilbert Parker, and Charles G.D. Roberts are akin to "Mallarmé in France [and] Maeterlinck in Belgium." With an eye very likely on Mallarmé’s L’Après-midi d’un faune (which he had recently used as a basis for "The Faun. A Fragment" in Songs from Vagabondia [1894]) as well as on the poems and plays of Maeterlinck, Hovey defines "[t]he symbolism of today" as a literary mode characterized by evocative suggestion rather than explicit statement:

It by no means...involves a complete and consistent allegory. Its events, its personages, its sentences rather imply than definitely state an esoteric meaning. The story, whether romantic...or realistic..., lives for itself and produces no impression of being a masquerade of moralities; but behind every incident, almost behind every phrase, one is aware of a lurking universality, the adumbration of greater things. One is given an impression of the thing symbolized rather than a formulation. (5)

In Hovey’s view, Parker’s "The Stone" in Pierre and His People (1892) and Roberts’s "‘The Young Ravens that Call upon Him’" in the May 1894 number of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine are North American instances of a type of "symbolism [that is] suggestive rather than cut-and-dried": in Parker’s work "the Man and the Stone exist primarily for their own simple terrific story" but "are lifted up at the same time into Titanic primitive types" and, similarly, Roberts’s "tales of animals are symbolic...not with the artificial symbolism of ‘Aesop’s Fables’..., but by revealing in the simple truth of animal life a universal meaning. The symbol is not invented; the thing is found to be symbolic" (6-7). "[I]t promises well for the literature that is to be," adds Hovey, "that the strongest of the young writers of to-day have a tendency to myth-making" that reveals itself in their adherence to this modern "symbolic principle" (7, 8).

As motivated as they doubtless were by a desire to give European symbolism a local habitation and to publicize the names of some of his best literary friends (see Macdonald 157), Hovey’s remarks are nevertheless valuable for the light that they shed on the early short stories of Parker, Roberts, and—to substitute a third short-story writer for a friend and collaborator—Duncan Campbell Scott. If not quite as strikingly as Pierre and His People and Earth’s Enigmas. A Book of Animal and Nature Life (1896) (where "‘The Young Ravens that Call upon Him’" was first published in book form), Scott’s In the Village of Viger (1896) displays the symboliste "traits and methods" that Hovey admired (7), particularly the evocation of "esoteric meaning" and a reliance on "types." Nor should this be at all surprising, for In the Village of Viger, like Pierre and His People, Earth’s Enigmas and, of course, Hovey’s own preference for "primitive types" and naturally symbolic animals, participates in two of the discourses that shaped Canadian almost as much as American writing in the eighteen eighties and ’nineties: (1) the discourse of anti-modernity that valorized pre-and undercivilized spaces as realms of emotional and spiritual intensity anterior or adjacent to the materialistic and artificial world of the modern city; and (2) the related discourse of therapeutics that encouraged writers to produce books set in such spaces that would medicine the minds and nervous systems of the victims of modernity (see Lears, and Bentley "Carman and Mind Cure"). Hovey’s closing observation about his Canadian confrères carries the imprint of both discourses in its insistence that "[t]heir work is saner, fresher, and less morbid" than its British equivalents and that "[t]he clear air of the lakes and prairies of Canada blows through it" (8). A "romantic" or a "realistic" work set in the Northwest, the animal world, or a French-Canadian village, Hovey implies, would allow the reader to experience vicariously the health-giving properties of these environments. If such a work also contained evocations of "universal" and "esoteric" meaning, so much better (for) the reader.

Of the circumambient presence of these ideas in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Canadian literature there can be no doubt. As demonstrated elsewhere (see Bentley, "Carman and Mind Cure"), the Vagabondia volumes of Carman and Hovey (1884, 1896, 1901) are programmatically therapeutic, as are the collections of poems and essays that Carman published between Hovey’s untimely death in 1900 and the First World War. By 1885-87 in "Heat" and "Among the Timothy," Archibald Lampman was offering poetic renditions of what the Canadian novelist James Macdonald Oxley was calling "wise idleness"— "quietly absorbing something through the eye or ear that for the time at least drowns the petty business and worries of life" (56)—as a cure for minds disturbed by the enervating conditions of modern life. "I confess that my design for instance in writing in ‘Among the Timothy’ was not in the first place to describe a landscape," Lampman told Hamlin Garland in 1889, "but to describe the effect of a few hours spent among the summer fields on a mind in a troubled and despondent condition" (qtd. in Doyle 42).1 That Scott, who wrote and published the first of the Viger stories in the late eighteen eighties, shared his friend and mentor’s faith in "wise idleness" as a cure for—to quote "Among the Timothy"—the "aching mood" induced by "blind gray streets [and] the jingle of the throng" (Poems 14)—becomes very clear in the second of the two poems that preface In the Village of Viger, where the reader is invited to see the stories that follow as a therapeutic equivalent of "a few hours spent among...summer fields":

Whoever has from toil and stress
Put into ports of idleness,
And watched the gleaming thistledown
Wheel in the soft air lazily blown...
                     •        •        •
Might find perchance the wandering fire,
Around St. Joseph’s sparkling spire.
And wearied with the fume and strife,
The complex joys and ills of life,
Might for an hour his worry staunch,
In pleasant Viger by the Blanche.

As explicit as this about the therapeutic benefits of short fiction is Roberts’s account of the emancipatory effects of the modern animal story at the conclusion of his Introduction to The Kindred of the Wild. A Book of Animal Life (1902): "[i]t frees us for a little from the world of shop-worn utilities, and from the mean tenement of self of which we do well to grow weary. It helps us to return to nature, without requiring that we at the same time return to barbarism. It leads us back to the old kinship of earth....[t]he clear and candid life....It has ever the more significance, it has ever the richer gift of refreshment and renewal, the more human the heart and spiritual the understanding which we bring to the intimacy of it" (29, and see Lucas vi). Parker is silent on the therapeutic aspect of his short stories, but his insistence in his introductory Note to Pierre and His People that, despite the impact of the railway and other manifestations of modernity on the Canadian west, life in "the far north...is much the same as it was a hundred years ago" (1:xv)2 could well indicate his awareness of the regenerative properties ascribed to remote times and places by contemporary therapeutical discourse. Certainly, the extreme enthusiasm of W.H. Henley for the Pierre stories (see Adams 67-68) aligns them with the school of thought, soon to be espoused by Theodore Roosevelt, that strong doses of (masculine) strenuosity were needed to cure British and American culture of their (feminine) effeteness.3

Like their American and British counterparts, Canadian practitioners of literary mind cures may have disagreed about whether "wise idleness" (rest) or atavistic exertion (exercise) was the best prescription for the diseases of modernity, but none appears to have doubted that the writer and the reader’s capacity to see beyond "things" to "greater things" was crucial to the efficacy of book therapy. In his Introduction to the Imperial Edition of Pierre and His People, Parker claims that the text from the Bible that he quotes in the opening short story— "Free among the Dead like unto them that are wounded and lie in the grave, that are out of remembrance" (1: 24; Psalm 88.5)— "became in a sense, the text for all the stories which came after" and describes the collection’s unifying subject-matter as characters "wounded by Fate" and "The soul of goodness in things evil" (1: x-xi). In the prefatory poem to In the Village of Viger, "the wandering fire"—the Will-o’-the-wisp that distracts people from their work-a-day world—may be glimpsed "Around St. Joseph’s sparkling spire." And in the Introductory to The Kindred of the Wild, the modern animal story brings its richest gifts of "refreshment and renewal" to those who have the most "humane...heart and spiritual...understanding." To the extent that they invoke orthodox Christianity as an interpretive context, all of these statements are somewhat misleading, for situations and occurrences abound in the short stories of Parker, Scott, and Roberts that clearly intimate the existence of occult forces in the human and natural worlds and impress upon the reader a disquieting (and presumably, enriching) sense of the mystery of the universe. As discussions of each collection will quickly show, superstition, the supernatural, and an emphasis on the uncanny are common features of Pierre and His People, In the Village of Viger, and Earth’s Enigmas (which Roberts initially considered calling "Riddles of the Earth" [Collected Letters 183]). "As the visible world is measured, mapped, tested, weighed," wrote Andrew Lang in 1905, readers increasingly turn to literature to feel "the stirring of ancient dread in their veins" (qtd. in Lears 172, and see Bentley, "UnCannyda"). What more efficacious prescription for the rationalism, materialism, and "spiritual blindness" (Lears 173) of modern life than a dose of the immaterial, the inexplicable, and the affecting?

As Parker constructs "the Far North" in his Note to Pierre and His People and his Introduction to his Works, it is a veritable pharmacopoeia for the anaemia of modern life—a hinterland of "adventure," "isolation and pathetic loneliness," "poignant mystery, solitude, and primitive incident" salubriously remote from "cities...towns" and "the fertile field of civilization" (1: xv; 3: vii-ix). "In these...stories it was Mr. Parker’s good fortune to be first in an unoccupied field," wrote Carman in 1894; in "[t]he unknown vastness of the Canadian Northwest...[a] region stretching far away into the land of perpetual night and everlasting snow, touched with the glamour of uncivilized romance and the mysticism of an earlier race, he found...a canvas large enough for the elemental scenes he wished to portray" (qtd. in Adams 61).4 Since Parker’s main interest lay less in local colour and Jamesian portraiture than in types and archetypes, or, in his terms, "reincarnat[ions] [of] the everlasting human ego and its scena" (2: ix), the settings and characters of the short stories in Pierre and His People are usually presented through minimalist description and portentous allusions that invite the reader to consider their "symbolic" or "universal" significance. Encouraging this movement from "the thing" to "the greater thing" are anonymous and omniscient narrators who not only enter minds and appear simultaneously at different places, but also—and this is crucial to the evocation of "mystery" in the stories—contrive to be both knowledgeable and reticent about the hidden forces that appear to be shaping the "primitive incident[s]" and "elemental scenes" that they are describing. The result of this is that—to adapt an observation by James L. Kugel in The Techniques of Strangeness in Symbolist Poetry—many of the short stories in Pierre and His People exude "a certain aura of mystery...due to missing information which, it is implied, is necessary for full comprehension. In other words, the [narrator] creates...strangeness by not telling everything, or, more precisely, by implying that not everything has been told" (38).

A good case in point is "The Patrol of the Cypress Hills," the story that begins the collection and sets the tone of what is to follow in a variety of ways, including the incorporation of the text from Psalm 88.5 that seemed to Parker "to suggest the lives and the ends of the workers of the pioneer world" (1: x). Despite the geographical specificity of its title, the setting of "The Patrol of the Cypress Hills" is more suggestive than precise: the frontier is a realm of "breadth...vastness, and...pure air"; the "[s]now is hospitable—clean...restful and silent"; the "sun [comes] up like a great flower expanding. First the yellow, then the purple, then the red, and then a mighty shield of roses" (1: 7, 13, 23). The principal character, the Kiplingesque Sergeant Fones of the Northwest Mounted Police, is "part of the great machine of Order" and, according to his commandant "‘the best soldier on the patrol,’" but he is also described by the narrator as a "little Bismark" and, when mounted on his "stout bronco," likened by an Irish private to "the Devil and Death" (1: 8, 7, 11). Moreover, he is the subject of numerous unanswered questions: "But what of Sergeant Fones?...But was Sergeant Fones such a one?...What was Sergeant Fones’ country? No one knew. Where had he come from? No one asked him more than once" (1: 6, 7, 8). Compounding these ambiguities and uncertainties are allusions to the myth of the Minotaur (1: 12-13), gestures towards the parable of the prodigal son (1: 23), references to "unknown" and "unreckoned forces" (1: 19, 20), and a series of puzzling parallels or coincidences ("And Sergeant Fones in the barracks said just then... ‘Exactly’...What did it mean?" [1: 19-20]) whose cumulative effect is to surround the characters and events of the story with an "aura" of mystery and foreboding and, more than this, to suggest that they are fulfilling some unknown and unknowable design.

When Sergeant Fones is finally found dead on Christmas Day, "[m]otionless, stern, erect...upon his horse, beside a stunted larch tree" with "[t]he bridle rein...still in [his] frigid fingers, and a smile upon his face" (1: 23), the reader shares the bafflement of the narrator and the other characters, not merely because of the enigmatic nature of the Sergeant’s death and smile, but also because Parker has thwarted any single or straightforward interpretation of his fate by presenting him as neither a simple, allegorical figure with a specific meaning nor as a complex, rounded character with justifying motivations. If intentions can be judged by results, then the purpose of "The Patrol of the Cypress Hills" is to suggest that the events and relationships of human life are indeed governed by "unseen" and "unreckoned forces." In the pensive and incomplete "‘I felt sometimes’" that one of the characters utters "silently" to herself over the dead body of Sergeant Fones may perhaps be read a metonymy of the gnomonic qualities of a story that leaves the reader with an abiding sense that there is much in human nature that cannot be expressed in words, explained in rational terms, or reduced to materialistic laws of cause and effect.

Many of the qualities of "The Patrol of the Cypress Hills" are also present in the story that Hovey praises for its mythopoeic presentation of "Titanic primitive types." In the opening paragraphs of "The Stone," the reader is quickly inducted into a realm where human beings—in this case the inhabitants of a small settlement named Purple Hill—live in the shadow of "portentous" "Nature" in the form of a "mighty and wonderful" Stone that, according to "Indian legends" to which "white men pay little heed," "one whom they called The Man Who Sleeps" will one day dislodge from its "jutting crag" to crush those who have "dared [to] cumber his playground" in the village below(1: 205-07). From the outset, the narrator prepares the way for the inevitable fulfilment of the Indian legend by emphasizing the strange logic of The Stone’s relationship to the villagers: the terrain seems to have been designed to facilitate the prophesied catastrophe ("the hill hollow[s] and narrow[s] from The Stone to the village, as if giants had made...[a] path" [1: 205]); The Stone itself is uncanny in its appearance and apparent behaviour ("[a]t times...it...[seems] to rest on nothing....But if one look[s] long, especially in summer, when the air throb[s], it evidently rock[s] upon...[its] toe" [1: 205-06]); the "first man"—later The Man—who settled in the valley had "a strange feeling" about The Stone, and his daughter goes "mad, and g[ives] birth to a dead child" at the thought that it "would hurtle down the hill at her great moment and destroy her and her child" (1: 206-07). As to what force or power has created this portentous situation, the narrator offers only alternatives: "Nature," "God or Fate" (1: 207).

Of one thing, however, the narrator is certain: the destruction of the village is a consequence of the selfishness, cruelty, unjustness, and evil of its inhabitants, whose most heinous sins of omission and commission include the acts that drive The Man into exile in "a rude hut" near The Stone and, finally, provoke him to enact his revenge: the death of his sick wife by starvation "because none...remembered...her and her needs"; the "lynching" of his only son for a crime that someone else was found to have committed; and the attempted murder of Pierre by dropping him over "the edge of a hill" (1: 207-09). As Pierre wakens from "the crashing gloom which succeeded [his] fall," he is confronted by "a being whose appearance [is] awesome and massive—an outlawed god" who has grown in his long exile to resemble not just a "Titan" and a "god" but also an Old Testament prophet and the immense Stone with which he had come to be identified. "Indeed, The Stone seemed more a thing of life...: The Man was sculptured rock. His white hair was chiselled on his broad brow, his face was a solemn pathos petrified, his lips were curled with an iron contempt, and incalculable anger" (1: 209).

In the nights following his rescue, Pierre first hears and then watches as The Man chips away at the "toe" of The Stone with the "eagerness of an avenging giant" (1: 210). Initially resolving to be the "cynical and approving spectator" of an act of "exquisite retaliation," Pierre gradually comes to harbour doubts about the justice of destroying the entire village: "had all those people hovering about those lights below done him harm?...[A] few—and they were women—would not have followed his tumbril to his death with cries of execration. The rest would have done so,—most of them did so,—not because he was a criminal, but because he was a victim, and because human nature as it is thirsts inordinately at times for blood and sacrifice—a living strain of the old barbaric instinct" (1: 211-12). As he continues to think "now doubtfully, now savagely, now with irony" about what is about to occur, Pierre suddenly sees the "fitness" for his situation of Abraham’s final plea to God in Genesis 18.32 to spare the city of Sodom: "‘Oh, let not the Lord be angry, and I will yet speak but this once: Peradventure ten righteous shall be found there’" (1: 212). To this, The Man’s reply is a Jehovistic "‘I will not spare it for ten’s sake’" and a resolute "‘Now!’" (1: 212).With the moon temporarily behind a cloud, "a monster spr[ings] from its pedestal upon Purple Hill, and, with a sound of thunder and an awful speed, race[s] upon the village below. The boulder of the hillside crumble[s] after it" (1: 213). When "[t]he moon sh[ines] out again for an instant," Pierre sees "The Man st[anding] where the Stone had been but when he reache[s] the place The Man [is] gone. Forever!" (1: 213). Melodramatic though this is, it leaves the reader disquietened and querying. Has The Man fled the scene or jumped to his death? Was his destruction of the village just or unjust? Was its ultimate cause God, Fate, (human) Nature or some combination of the three? Which of Pierre’s attitudes to the event—doubt, savageness, or irony—is most appropriate, and what ethical weight should be given to the references to the "tumbril[s]" of the Reign of Terror and the persistence of "the old barbaric instinct" in his analysis of the villagers’ behaviour? It is not difficult to see why Hovey singled out "The Stone" for special mention: arguably more than any other story in Pierre and His People, it raises momentous questions and frustrates full comprehension, leaving the reader with something like the "strange feeling" that prompted The Man to pay his first visit to The Stone.

As their collective title suggests, the short stories in Earth’s Enigmas are also designed to generate feelings of mystery and puzzlement in the reader. In a Prefatory Note to the 1903 edition of the collection, Roberts both confirms this intention and emphasizes it by referring to the non-rational aspects of the bulk of the volume’s contents:

   Most of the stories in this collection attempt to present one or another of those problems of life or nature to which, as it appears to many of us, there is not adequate solution within sight. Others are the almost literal transcript of dreams which seemed to me to have a coherency, completeness, and symbolic significance sufficiently marked to justify me in setting them down.5 The rest are scenes from that simple life of the Canadian backwoods and tide-country with which my earlier years made me familiar. ([5])

While the stories in Roberts’s third category are not without interest as therapeutic conduits to a "simple life" remote from the vexing complexities of modernity,6 those that show the clearest affinities with the symboliste mode are the "problem" and "dream" pieces. "‘The Young Ravens that Call upon Him’" (which Hovey mentions) is here, as are the very similar "Do Seek Their Meet from God" (the first story in the collection) and the eerily supernatural "The Perdu," a story that Francis Sherman, probably primed by Roberts, pronounced "more symbolic than tales of realism are likely to be" (qtd. in Pomeroy 140). Almost half a century after their first appearance in book form in 1896, Roberts used Elsie Pomeroy’s "almost auto-biographical record" of his life and work (Collected Letters 629), to call attention to the "grim symbolism" of the "dream" stories in Earth’s Enigmas and to lament the "explanatory conclusion" and "practical explanation" that were added to two of them— "The Stone Dog" and "In the Accident Ward"—to satisfy "the market" (Pomeroy 140-41). He also has Pomeroy proclaim "The Hill of Chastisement" probably the most powerful of the dream pieces (141), very likely because its "grim symbolism" is not divested of its affectiveness by rational explanation.

"The Hill of Chastisement" may well have been generated by a dream, as Roberts claimed, but this does not prevent it from also being the product of literary influences. Of these the most obvious are the macabre poems and short stories of Edgar Allan Poe,7 whose influence Roberts would have felt both directly in any number of collections and anthologies and indirectly though the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and various other writers. Since "The Hill of Chastisement" was one of the stories added to Earth’s Enigmas in 1903, some eight years after Roberts informed Carman on January 8,1895 that he already had a copy of the first series of Hovey’s translations of Maeterlinck’s plays ("I have Dick’s ‘Maeterlinck.’ Fine essay, admirable translation" [Collected Letters 190]), those other writers doubtless included the playwright whose work Hovey explicitly likens in his introductory essay to "Poe’s ghastly tales" (11). A juxtaposition of excerpts from Hovey’s translations of the opening and closing stage directions of two of Maeterlinck’s most Poeian plays, Les Aveugles ("The Blind") and L’Intruse ("The Intruder"), with the equivalent parts of "The Hill of Chastisement" highlights their similarities:

An ancient Norland forest, with an eternal look, under a sky of stars.
   In the centre, and in the deep of the night, a very old priest is sitting, wrapped in a great black cloak. The chest and the head, gently upturned and deathly motionless, rest against the trunk of a giant oak.... The dumb, fixed eyes no longer look out from the visible side of Eternity and seem to bleed with immemorial sorrows and with tears. The hair, of a solemn whiteness, falls in stringy locks, stiff and few, over a face more illuminated and more weary than all that surrounds it in the watchful stillness of that melancholy wood.
                            •                            •                            •
The cave-mouth wherein I dwelt, doing night-long penance for my sin, was midway of the steep slope of the hill. The hill, naked and rocky, rose into a darkness of gray mist. Below, it fell steeply into the abyss, which was full of the blackness of a rolling smoke....
    In the heart of the sanctuary, far withdrawn, sat an old man, a saint, in a glory of clear and pure light....He sat with grave head bowed continually over a book that shone like crystal, and his beard full to his feet.
                            •                            •                            •
Here suddenly a wail of fright is heard in the child’s room, on the night; and this wail continues, with gradations of terror until the end of the scene....
     At the moment a hurrying of headlong heavy steps is heard in the room on the left.—Then a deathly stillness.—They listen in a dumb terror, until the door opens slowly, and the light from the next room falls into that in which they are waiting. The Sister of Charity appears on the threshold, in the black garments of her order....
                            •                            •                            •
     As I grasped my sanctuary, the air rang with loud laughter; the faces, coming out of the smoke, sprang wide-eyed and flaming close about me; a red flare shattered the darkness. Clutching importunately, I lifted up my eyes. My refuge was not a calvary. I was it clear. It was a reeking gibbet.
                                            (Maeterlinck, Plays 265, 258-59; Roberts,
                                             Earth’s Enigmas [1903] 197-98, 202-03)

Different as they are in certain respects, these passages share a common vocabulary of elemental space, pervasive darkness, terrified illumination, and religious types ("The Priest" and "The Sister of Charity" [Maeterlinck, Plays 263, 211], "a saint" and a penitent). It is, of course, impossible to state with absolute certainty that "The Hill of Chastisement" is primarily indebted to "The Blind" and "The Intruder" rather than to Poe or, say, Rossetti,8 but the many qualities that the story shares with the plays, not least the "master-tone [of]...terror—terror...of the churchyard" that Hovey sees as Maeterlinck’s distinguishing "mood" (11), do conspire with the external evidence to make this a distinct possibility.

But what about the animal stories in Earth’s Enigmas? Were they written, as Hovey also claims of the symboliste work of Carman and Parker, "without any communication from France of Belgium" (8)? As first glance the answer seems to be yes, for "Do Seek Their Meet from God" was published in Harper’s Monthly Magazine in December 1892 and "‘The Young Ravens that Call upon Him’" in Lippincott’s in May 1894, the former eighteen months before and the latter a month after Carman, in his role as literary advisor to the Chicago publishing house of Stone and Kimball, persuaded Hovey to translate the first series of Maeterlinck’s Plays in April 1894 (see Macdonald 155). Yet Roberts may have known Les Aveugles and L’Intruse in the original or in a translation that preceded Hovey’s, for both plays had been available in French and English since the early ’nineties9 and, as indicated by Lampman’s comments on "The Belgian Shakespeare" in his At the Mermaid Inn column for March 12, 1892 (34-35), their author’s fame had spread to Canada well before the publication of "Do Seek Their Meet from God." Perhaps Roberts’s attention was drawn to Maeterlinck’s plays by Hovey in September and early October 1892 when, after returning from a year and a half in England and France, Hovey wrote and holidayed with Roberts and Carman in Windsor, Nova Scotia. "I like [Hovey] immensely," Roberts wrote on September 11, "we get on most excellently together. We are both getting lots of work done" (Collected Letters 152). It is quite possible that "Do Seek Their Meet from God" and "‘The Young Ravens that Call upon Him’" (especially the latter) were written or at least revised at this time or later. Certainly, the Fall of 1892 was a productive time for Roberts in fiction as well as poetry: in early June he had complained of "not [having] turned the corner in short story writing yet" but by late October he was possessed of enough material and confidence to contemplate assembling the collection of stories that eventually became Earth’s Enigmas (Collected Letters 149, and see 155 and 159). "I am much gratified by your praise of ‘Do Seek Their Meat from God,’" he told James Elgin Wetherell on December 14. "I have a few more sketches of a somewhat similar scope and carefully finished; and these I hope to print soon in book form" (Collected Letters 161).

Whether by coincidence or indebtedness, the initial descriptions of "Do Seek Their Meet from God" and "‘The Young Ravens that Call upon Him’" resonate strongly with the opening stage directions of "The Blind." In the play, the initial directions concerning the "ancient Norland forest" and the "very old priest" are followed by instructions that specify the location of "six old men" and "six women" "[o]n the right" and "[o]n the left" of a set consisting of "stones, stumps...dead leaves...an uprooted tree and fragments of rocks" (Maeterlinck, Plays 265). "Tall funereal trees,—yews, weeping willows, cypresses,—cover [the old men and the women] with their faithful shadows," continue the directions, and "[i]t is unusually oppressive, despite the moonlight that here and there struggles to pierce for an instant the glooms of the foliage" (266). A similarly gloomy and blasted setting appears briefly at the beginning of "‘The Young Ravens that Call upon Him’" ("It was just before dawn, and a grayness was beginning to trouble the dark above the top of the mountains....The veil of cloud that hid the stars hung a hand-breadth above the naked summit....Just under the brow, on a splintered and creviced ledge, was the nest of the eagles" [Earth’s Enigmas (1903) 56]), but much more similar is the scene that opens "Do Seek Their Meet from God":

One side of the ravine was in darkness. The darkness was soft and rich, suggesting thick foliage. Along the crest of the slope tree-tops came into view—great pines and hemlocks of the ancient unviolated forest—revealed against the orange disk of a full moon just rising. The low rays slanting through the moveless tops lit strangely the upper portion of the opposite steep,—the western wall of the ravine, barren, unlike its fellow, bossed with great rocky projections, and harsh with stunted junipers. Out of the sluggish dark that lay along the ravine as in a trough, rose the brawl of a swollen, obstructed stream
     Out of the shadowy hollow behind a long white rock, on the lower edge of that part of the steep which lay in the moonlight, came softly a great panther. In common daylight his coat would have shown a warm fulvous hue, but in the elvish decolorizing rays of that half hidden moon he seemed to wear a sort of spectral gray. He lifted his smooth round head to gaze on the increasing flame, which presently he greeted with a shrill cry. That terrible cry, at once plaintive and menacing, with an undertone like the first protestations of a saw beneath the file, was a summons to his mate, telling her that the hour had come when they should seek their prey. From the lair behind the rock, where the cubs were being suckled by their dam, came no immediate answer. Only a pair of crows, that had their nest in a giant fir-tree across the gulf, woke up and croaked harshly their indignation. These three summers they had built in the same spot, and had been nightly awakened to vent the same rasping complaints.
                                                            (Earth’s Enigmas [1963] 11-13)

As is the case with the stage directions to "The Blind," the interplay of darkness and moonlight contributes strongly to what Hovey would call the "impression" (5) created by this description: at first the moon is a portentously "orange disk;" then its "slanting" rays "strangely" light the "western wall of the ravine;" and, finally, its "elvish decolorizing rays" turn the panther’s coat "a sort of spectral gray." As in "The Blind," Roberts’s setting is elemental, apparently blighted, and shadowed by trees that, if not exactly "funereal," are certainly ominous in their appearances and associations— "great pines and hemlocks" "stunted junipers" and "a giant fir-tree." To judge by its lighting and flora, Roberts’s "ancient unviolated forest" could easily be an adaptation of Maeterlinck’s "ancient Norland forest." Of course, Roberts’s characters are not people but animals (or, as Misao Deane calls them "(m)animals"), though even here the tone of terror and foreboding so central to Maeterlinck’s plays has its equivalent: the cry of the panther is "shrill, terrible,...plaintive and menacing," and it is ominously answered by "a pair of crows"—twa corbies, so to say—that have been nesting in "the same spot" for, in the words of Pierre in "The Patrol of the Cypress Hills"— "the magic number" of "three summers" (Parker Works 1: 17). As Sherman observes of "The Perdu," "Do Seek Their Meet from God" is "more symbolic than tales of realism are likely to be." "It is one of Roberts’s most notable contributions to Literature," Hovey would maintain, for in it "[t]he problem of the struggle for existence, of the preying of life on life, is treated with an inexorable fidelity to fact, a Catholic sympathy, a sense of universality and mystery, and a calm acceptance that reaches the level of ‘pathos’ in the highest Greek usage of the word" (qtd. in Pomeroy 107).

As any reader of Roberts’s short stories well knows, the portents that darken the beginnings of "‘The Young Ravens that Call upon Him’" and "Do Seek Their Meet from God" are amply fulfilled: in the former, the eagle kills a new-born lamb to feed its starving young, leaving its distraught mother remote from her flock and susceptible to a similar fate; and, in the latter, the panthers attempt to kill a small boy to feed their starving cubs but are shot by the boy’s father, who later finds the "rapidly decaying" bodies of their cubs in their lair (Earth’s Enigmas [1903] 27). As any reader of Roberts’s short stories also well knows, such plot-lines are unsentimentally Darwinian and Spencerian in their depiction of the struggle for survival and the survival of the fittest. But "‘The Young Ravens that Call upon Him,’" "Do Seek Their Meet from God," and other stories like them in Earth’s Enigmas and subsequent collections do not merely provide their readers with a simple evolutionary explanation of occurrences in the human and natural worlds; rather—to quote Roberts’s Prefatory Note to Earth’s Enigmas again, this time with some interpretive inflections—they strive "to present one or another of those problems of life or nature to which, as it appears to many of us, there is no adequate solutions within sight." Both "‘The Young Ravens that Call upon Him’" and "Do Seek Their Meet from God" have biblical titles10 that work with the spatial and temporal patterns and coincidences of the stories to suggest that the solution to their enigmas, the answer to such questions as why did the ewe drop her lamb where and when she did and what made the father, despite his selfish instincts, heed the cries of the child that turns out to be his own, may lie out of sight, beyond full human comprehension in an "immaterial reality" whose intellectual or theological expression is such terms as Fate and God and whose emotional or "poetic expression" (or so Hovey argues) is "modern symbolism" (4-5).11

Although the animal stories of Earth’s Enigmas differ from the pastoral tales of In the Village of Viger in offering vicarious atavism rather than "wise idleness" as a cure for the ills of modernity, the dream pieces and Canadian "scenes" that constitute the remainder of Roberts’s collection have a considerable amount in common with Scott’s short stories. Perhaps the most striking commonality lies in the geographical settings and contingent spiritual assumptions that are present in "The Perdu" and the village of Viger. By Roberts’s own description, "a mystic psychological thing" (Collected Letters 144), "The Perdu" is set somewhere in French Canada beside the "narrow, tideless, windless, backwater" of its title, a stretch of river whose name seems to strangers to have a certain "occult appropriateness" and whose remoteness from "modern noises" and "the stream of modern ideas" has encouraged the persistence in the local people of "superstitions," "strange and not-to-be understood" mysteries, and a "sense of unseen but thrilling influences" (Earth’s Enigmas [1903] 124-36). Akin to fantastic realism in its accreditation of two radically different epistemes, the story centres on a couple of visionary children, one of whom, Reuben, learns the ways of the modern world while the other, Celia, remains by the Perdu and, fulfilling the couple’s earlier vision of "‘a pale green hand’" sinking in the water (140), drowns as he is returning to marry her. None of Scott’s stories is quite as uncanny as "The Perdu" but In the Village of Viger is, of course, also set in a part of French Canada where "modern noises and...ideas," though increasingly perceptible, have yet to alter the local ways ("on still nights...you c[an] hear the rumbles of...street-cars and the faint tinkle of their bells" and the time is coming for "Viger to be named in the city papers[(1996) 3], and, as a result, many of the village’s inhabitants, particularly the elderly, retain such "pre-modern" characteristics as a belief in ghosts and a capacity for second sight. Indeed, the further the reader travels into the collection (and, thus, away from modernity), the more the stories demand an acceptance of the irrational and the inexplicable: in "Sedan," Paul Latulipe knows without being told that the French have been defeated at the battle of 1870 for which the story is named ([1996] 37-38); in "The Tragedy of the Seigniory," Louis Bois is "as superstitious as an old wife" and gradually comes to believe that a dog is a human "spirit in canine form" ([1996] 57, 59); and in the final paragraphs of the final story, Paul Farlotte, an eccentric school teacher who lives in a cottage that has "the air of having been secured from the inroads of time" and is frequently "greeted with visions of things that had been, or that would be, and s[ees] figures where, for other eyes, hung only impalpable air" ([1996] 79, 81), learns from a "vision" of his mother’s death in France:

He saw a garden much like his own, flooded with the clear sunlight[;] in the shade of an arbor an old woman in a white cap was leaning back in a wheeled chair, her eyes were closed, she seemed asleep. A young woman was seated beside her holding her hand. Suddenly the old woman smiled, a childish smile, as if she were well pleased. "Paul," she murmured, "Paul, Paul." A moment later her companion started up with a cry; but she did not move, she was silent and tranquil. Then the young woman fell on her knees and wept, hiding her face. But the aged face was expressably calm in the shadow, with the smile lingering upon it, fixed by the deeper sleep into which she had fallen
                           •                           •                            •
     Later in the day he told Marie that his mother had died that morning, and she wondered how he knew. ([1996] 89)

When Hovey wrote in "Modern Symbolism and Maurice Maeterlinck" that "[i]t would be interesting to trace the connection between English Pre-Raphaelitism and the new movement" (8)12 he was probably not thinking of "The Perdu" and certainly not of "Paul Farlotte," but both short stories would have confirmed the line of descent that he suggests, Roberts’s with the debt of its "orange lilies" and "nameless spell" (126, 132) to such poems as "The Wind" and "The Blue Closet" in William Morris’s The Defence of Guenevere, and Other Poems (1858)13 and Scott’s with its echoes of the vision in which the artist Chiaro is visited by his own soul in the form of a beautiful woman at the climax of Rossetti’s "Hand and Soul" (1850).14

When viewed chronologically on the basis of their publication in magazines and newspapers between 1887 and 1893, the stories in In the Village of Viger not only show the increasing emphasis on supernatural themes that is discernible in the sequence of the collection, but also suggest that, like Hovey and Roberts, Scott may have felt the impact of Maeterlinck at the time of the meteoric rise to fame that Lampman recorded in At the Mermaid Inn early in March 1892. All of the Viger stories published in Scribner’s Magazine in October 1887 and March 1891— "The Desjardins," "Josephine Labrosse," "The Little Milliner," and "the Wooing of Monsieur Cuerrier"—depict a world of realistic material and psychological causes and effects, but those published in Scribner’s in October 1893— "The Bobolink," "The Pedler," and "Sedan"—contain events and characters that are symboliste as well as supernatural. Two further stories in the collection— "The Tragedy of the Seigniory" and "Paul Farlotte"—anticipate and fulfil this movement from realism to spiritualism: the former was first published in April 1892 in the Boston periodical Two Tales, and the latter did not appear prior to its publication in 1896 in the Viger collection itself (see Groening 501-02). It is in two of the short stories first published in 1892— "The Bobolink" and "The Pedler"—that Scott first employs the two hallmarks of the symboliste mode—evocative suggestion and character types—that three years later would stamp his poetic masterpiece, "The Piper of Arll," as an unmistakable product of Hovey’s modern "symbolic principle."

Perhaps reflecting the direct influence of Les Aveugles, the central characters of both "The Bobolink" and "The Pedler" are blind and mysterious. In "The Bobolink," the questions of "the little blind daughter of...Moreau" often leave the "old man" who calls her "‘my little fairy’" at a loss for words and "mystefied" and, in "The Pedler," the "inscrutable" "green spectacles" of the blind pedlar who once brought his "magical baskets" to Viger every spring are as much a source of consternation to the villagers as his furious behaviour when by accident they are removed during a wind storm ([1996] 76-78). At the conclusion of "The Pedler," its central character disappears with the storm, leaving suspicions that he was a thief or the Devil and providing a basis for "tradition" and fantasy since "there are yet people in Viger who, when the dust blows,...see the figure of the enraged pedler, large upon the hills, striding violently along the fringes of the storm" ([1996] 74, 78). Consistent with the medicinal purposes of In the Village of Viger, this is more quaint and distracting than uncanny or terrifying. By the same token, the decision of the old man and the blind girl to release their caged bird at the conclusion of "The Bobolink" leaves the reader, like the old man himself, pensive and saddened by the evidence of change and loss rather than shocked or deeply troubled by the enigmas of life and death:

     "He’s gone," she said, "....Where did he go, Uncle?"
     "He flew right through that maple-tree, and now he’s over the fields, and now he’s out of sight."
     "And didn’t he even once look back?"
     "No, never once."
     They stood there together for a moment, the old man gazing after the departed bird, the little girl setting her brown, sightless eyes on the invisible distance. Then, taking the empty cage, they went back to the cabin. From that day their friendship was not untinged by regret; some delicate mist of sorrow seemed to have blurred the glass of memory. Though he could not tell why, old Etienne that evening felt anew his loneliness, as he watched a long sunset of red and gold that lingered after the footsteps of the August day, and cast a great color into his silent cabin above the Blanche. ([1996] 54)

Whether or not "The Pedler" and "The Bobolink" were written under the influence of L’Aveugles, they certainly reflect a sensibility that would find the essays in Maeterlinck’s Le Trésor des humbles (1896) congenial and inspirational (see Bentley "Duncan Campbell Scott and Maurice Maeterlinck") and, in 1904, would praise their author to Pelham Edgar as "the modern Mystic" who is constantly "endeavouring to awaken the wonder-element in a modern way" by "expressing the almost unknowable things which we all feel" (More Letters 24; emphasis added).

In the final analysis, it may not be possible to locate precisely the points of intersection and the sets of parallels that enmesh the symboliste aspects of the early short stories of Parker, Roberts, and Scott. Perhaps, as Hovey argues, the Canadian writers arrived at "the symbolic principle...without any communication with France of Belgium." Perhaps the (social) landscape and (intellectual) climate in Canada in the ’nineties did, indeed, generate independent manifestations of "modern symbolism." Such views have their appeal, but against them stands a good deal of evidence that, thanks in part to Hovey himself, the work of the French and Belgian symbolistes, particularly Maeterlinck, was far from unavailable or unknown to Canadian writers from the early ’nineties onwards. There may not be conclusive proof that the stories of Roberts and Scott were written under the influence of Les Aveugles and L’Intruse, but there is certainly enough internal and circumstantial evidence to allow this to stand as a plausible hypothesis. But what about Parker’s stories? Published as they were in periodicals and book form in the very early ’nineties, are they at least an independent manifestation of "modern symbolism," or do they, too, reflect the work of Maeterlinck, and was Parker himself, like Hovey, a channel though which symbolisme reached Canadian writers? Some support for this second proposition can be gleaned from the fact that Parker was living in London, writing the Pierre stories, and attempting to embark on a career as a playwright at precisely the time of Maeterlinck’s rise to prominence in the English-speaking world. A fervent admirer of one of the presiding doyens of British theatre in the ’nineties, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Parker was unlikely to have missed the opportunity of seeing the production of Gérard Harry’s translation of L’Intruse that opened at the Haymarket Theatre with Tree in the leading rôle on January 27, 1892. Nor did he. "Mr. Tree’s playing of the Grandfather in ‘L’Intruse,’" he recalled in 1895, was "subtle,...poetic...fanciful and deep...for here came out" the "eerie quality" that is "entirely his own" ("Herbert Beerbolm Tree" 121, 118). Since Parker wrote quickly and had an eager publisher in W.H. Henley, "The Stone" could easily have been written between the end of January and its appearance in Henley’s National Observer on February 20, 1892. (Parker would later recall that he sent an earlier story, "Antoine and Angelique," to Henley "almost before the ink was dry" and that "The Stone" "brought a telegram of congratulations" [Works 1: xi].) To secure the net of influence with such tight knots is not essential, however, since the Henley circle within which Parker moved included several artists and writers, such as James McNeill Whistler, William Butler Yeats, and Henley himself, who had produced works imbued or consistent with the symboliste aesthetic by the early ’nineties. Pierre and His People may not be of the same stature as The Wanderings of Oisin (1889) and The Countess Cathleen (1892), but it resembles Yeats’s early work in its application to local and resonantly national subjects and settings of an increasingly international mode of writing, a set of "traits and methods" with roots, not only in France and Belgium, but also, like the French and Belgian symbolistes themselves, in Poe, the Pre-Raphaelites, and American and British transcendentalism.

On the other side of the Atlantic, it was the local and national elements in Parker’s work that assured his quick rise to prominence in Canada. In a letter to Carman on March 19, 1892, several months before the appearance of Pierre and His People and probably on the basis of the five Pierre stories (including "The Patrol of Cypress Hills") that were published in The Independent between January 1891 and March 1892 (see Adams 230), Roberts told Carman of his liking for "Parker’s work" and within the year he was asking his cousin for Parker’s address in England and wondering whether he could be persuaded to review Songs of the Common Day, and Ave: an Ode for the Shelley Centenary (1893) in a British periodical (Collected Letters 144, 159, 163).15 When Parker paid a brief visit to Canada in the late Fall and early Winter of 1892 to spend time with his family in Belleville and to gather material for more Canadian stories and "‘a novel on Quebec,’" he was warmly received in Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec by John Bourinot, William Van Horne, and James MacPherson LeMoine (see Adams 72-74). Among those who met him in Ottawa was Scott, who reported in his At the Mermaid Inn column for January 7, 1893 that "Pierre and His People ha[d] gone into its second edition" and that Parker was sure to meet similar success with a forthcoming novel (Mrs. Falchion [1893]) and stage production (The Wedding Day [n.p.]) (227). Neither Roberts nor Scott appears to have been as enthusiastic about the other’s fiction as about Parker’s but they certainly knew one another’s short stories both before and after their appearance in book form and may well have been engaged in a process of mutual influence: perhaps it was the presence of Scott’s "The Tragedy of the Seigniory" in one of the copies of Two Tales that Carman sent him in May 1892 that prompted Roberts to send a story to the Boston periodical (see Collected Letters 148) and perhaps it was the presence of two of Roberts’s poems, "Her Fan" and "Her Glove Box," in the May 18 and July 13, 1895 issues of The Truth (New York) that led to the appearance there on December 14 of the same year of "The Piper of Arll." The famous line that led from Roberts’s Orion, and Other Poems (1880), through Lampman and Scott, to John Masefield is surely more sinuous and tangled than it might first appear.

These days it is extremely unfashionable to attend to the sorts of literary-historical issues raised by the relationships among the short stories of Parker, Roberts, and Scott and between this ensemble of short fiction and the symboliste movement. To cast an eye over the lines and intersections and parallels that connect and divide the French, Belgian, English, American, and Canadian practitioners of Hovey’s "modern symbolism" is not only to perceive part of the web that constitutes Canadian literature, but also to uncover some of the Canadian tendrils of the root-system from which Anglo-American Modernism was already beginning to grow as the nineteenth century waned into the twentieth. Pierre and His People, Earth’s Enigmas, and In the Village of Viger are all minor works, but individually and collectively they grow in richness if not in stature with an awareness of the background, functions, and presentiments of their symbolic practices.


An earlier version of this essay was published in Dominant Impressions: Essays on the Canadian Short Story, ed. Gerald Lynch and Angela Arnold Robbeson (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1999), 27-51. I am grateful to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the University of Western Ontario for their generous support of my research and teaching and to Jonathan Stover and J.M. Zezulka for valuable discussions of ideas contained in the essay.

  1. The two fairy stories, "Hans Fingerhut’s Frog Lesson" and "The Fairy Fountain," that Lampman wrote in the mid-to-late eighteen-eighties are also therapeutic in nature, as are several of his other "nature" poems. In a letter of January 25, 1892 concerning "Comfort of the Fields," which eventually appeared in Lyrics of Earth (1895), Carman told Lampman that "it comes with tender, enduring, and most intimate solace; taking on itself the office of hands that are no longer near to soothe. It is a very sweet and wise thing and has fallen on my heart with abundance of relief beyond the requital of words. May the dear wood-gods give you ten-fold reward...for this gentle service rendered to an unworthy fellow vagrant" (Lampman Papers). [back]

  2. It is just possible that this statement was in Scott’s mind when he concluded the opening verse paragraph of "At Gull Lake: August 1810" (1935) with the lines "All proceeds in the flow of Time / As a hundred years ago" (Selected Poetry 96). [back]

  3. In his Introduction to the The Lane that Had No Turning (1899) in the Imperial Edition of his Works, Parker contrasts the "almost domestic simplicity" of the later stories, a quality "in keeping with the happily simple and uncomplicated life of French Canada," to the "more strenuous episodes of the Pierre series" (9: ix). Many of Carman and Hovey’s Vagabondia poems offer vicarious strenuosity as a mental medicine, as do most of the pieces in The Rough Rider, and Other Poems (1909), which Carman dedicated to Roosevelt. [back]

  4. Carman’s comment that the Canadian Northwest "furnished [Parker] with good hunting, only to be equalled in...Kipling’s India" (qtd. in Adams 61) brings into view the imperialistic dimension of Parker’s claim in the Introduction to Pierre and His People in the Imperial (!) Edition that "what Pierre did was to open up a field which had not been opened before, but which other authors have exploited since with success and distinction. Pierre was the pioneer of the Far North in fiction" (1: xiii). For a discussion of a much earlier instance of the imperial and literary appropriation of the Canadian Northwest, see the chapter on Henry Kelsey’s "Now Reader Read..." in Bentley, Mimic Fires 13-24. [back]

  5. One of the "dream" pieces in Earth’s Enigmas, "The Stone Dog," is also one of Roberts’s earliest stories (see Pomeroy 140). In a letter of January 31, 1892, Roberts tells Carman that he has "taken to writing in dreams once more" because "the Muse ha[s] deserted [his] waking hours" (Collected Letters 144). [back]

  6. There is a good deal of evidence to indicate that for several years beginning in the summer of 1890, Roberts suffered from bouts of weariness and depression of the sort usually attributed at the time to the effects of modernity but, in his case, apparently the result of domestic tension and excessively hard work on such projects as The Canadian Guide-Book (1891). "Now th[at] book is done," he told Carman on May 7, 1891, "I am setting myself to rest and recuperate for a week or two" (Collected Letters 133). In subsequent letters to various writers he appears to have diagnosed himself as a victim of the "nervous exhaustion" or "neurasthenia" that one of the principal theorists of the mind-cure movement, Dr. George Miller Beard, ascribed to modern American civilization. See, for example, his letter of August 8, 1891 to William Morton Paine: "[y]our last letter came while I was away in the wilds, with birch and paddle, trying to recuperate. As I was utterly used up, very nervous and miserable in every way, I went quite out of reach of all work....[F]or the last twelve month I had been dull and oppressed (with a sort of nervous prostration, the after effect of Grippe)....Thank you for being interested in my poor guide-book, written in the midst of great depression" (Collected Letters 134, and see also 139, 144-45, and 153). On May 20, 1893, he would describe his recent stay with Hovey’s parents in Washington, D.C. as "sick leave" and on October 10 of the same year he would write that he was "feeling better, but...still far from being out of the wood[s]" (Collected Letters 173, 186). [back]

  7. Roberts may have been thinking of Poe’s well-known formal strictures when writing to Carman in April 1892 of the "absolute unity of effect" and the "unity complete in all respects" that he felt he had achieved in "A Tragedy of the Tides," a short story published in The Independent on May 26, 1892 and in Current Literature in July 1900 (Collected Letters 146). [back]

  8. Rossetti’s "The Orchard Pit" and "St. Agnes of Intercession" had been available since 1886 in the two volume of his Collected Works. [back]

  9. Roberts’s first reference to Hovey is in a letter to Carman on May 24, 1892: "[g]lad to hear of Hovey. Shall do him up one of these days in ‘Modern Instances’" (Collected Letters 148). None of the "Modern Instances" columns that Roberts published in the Dominion Illustrated in February, April, May, and August 1892 deals with Hovey, but in "The Genius of Richard Hovey" in the commemorative issue of The Criterion that was published shortly after Hovey’s death he provides an astute and generous assessment of his friend’s work. [back]

  10. Mary Vielé’s translations of Les Aveugles and L’Intruse were published in 1891 in Washington, D.C., where Hovey was born in 1861 and his parents still lived. (Roberts, in fact, stayed with them during his "sick leave" in April and May 1893 [see Collected Letters 168-74].) The one translation of a Maeterlinck play other than Hovey’s that almost certainly came to Roberts’s attention, albeit after the publication of "Do Seek Their Meet from God," was that of Les Aveugles by Charlotte Porter and Helen A. Clarke in the 1893 volume of Poet-Lore (Boston). Among the contents of the four issues of the magazine in which Porter and Clarke’s translation appeared are two vignettes, "In Great Eliza’s Golden Time" and "The Mistress of the Red Lamp," by Archibald MacMechan, a correspondent of Roberts since at least the Fall of 1892. By 1893 the two were exchanging poems, short stories, and encouraging comments: on May 30, Roberts thanked MacMechan for sending him a lyric that he "like[d] greatly" and for his "kind words of the ‘Perdu’" and on November 24 he thanked him "for sending...Poet-Lore, with that thoroughly exquisite pastel," adding that "Carman thinks it the best English pastel he has seen" (Collected Letters 173, 177). (The OED cites the April 22, 1893 number of The Critic (New York) for the use of "pastel" as a literary term: "[t]he French pastel is really a little study [without a definite beginning or end] of a trifling topic which lacks complexity, and needs little more than a moderate space.") In addition to anticipating Hovey’s "The Blind" both technically and chronologically, Porter and Clarke’s "The Sightless" is prefaced by an essay by Charlotte Porter that not only conveys a sense of Maeterlinck’s importance for many of his contemporaries (his "work...stands...at the doorsill of that change in world insight and impulse which means a new era"), but also provides an astute analysis of the symboliste mode ("the worn literary words of the past...[are] symbols fresh-minted for new offices and strange effects" such as the use of "suggestion" to awaken the "inward intelligence" of the audience) (151-54). [back]

  11. The former alludes to Job 38.41 ("Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat") and the latter to Psalm 104.21 ("The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God"). See also Job 38.39 ("Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion, or fill the appetite of the young lions...?"), Psalm 147.9 ("He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry"), and Luke 12.24 ("Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?"). It is not fortuitous that most of these quotations raise large question about the relationship among humans, animals, and God. [back]

  12. Hovey’s distinction in "Modern Symbolism and Maurice Maeterlinck" between "the natural,...the ethical, [and]...the poetic mind" (4) reflects his Delsartean or unitrinian belief that human beings consist of three components—body, mind, and spirit—that need to be brought into harmony to assure well-being (see Macdonald 62-79 and 75-78, and Bentley "Carman and Mind Cure"). See Gerald Lynch, "The One and the Many: English-Canadian Short Story Cycles," 97-98 for an excellent discussion of the formal characteristics setting in In the Village of Viger and the same author’s "In the Meantime: Duncan Campbell Scott’s In the Village of Viger" for another excellent discussion of the work as a cycle and as a reflection of Scott’s attitudes to progress and community. [back]

  13. Roberts recommended "The Wind" to Carman in a letter of October 25, 1884 and, a month later, endorsed his cousin’s opinion of "The Gilliflower of Gold" ("[i]t is splendid") and "Concerning Geffray Teste Noire" ("[a] curious and to me very touching though confused thing") (Collected Letters 47). Almost needless to say, the "pale green hand" that emerges from the water in "The Perdu" echoes the "arm / Clothed in white samite" that takes Excalibur in Tennyson’s Morte d’Arthur (1842) (Poems 592). See also Bentley "William Morris" 32-24. [back]

  14. Chiaro’s soul appears to him in a pulsing "light" and dressed in "green and gray raiment, fashioned to that time." After she has finished likening his career to a "garden," he falls "slowly to his knees....The air brooded in sunshine, and though the turmoil was great outside, the air within was at peace. But when he looked in her eyes, he wept." As he works later to fulfill his soul’s instructions, Chiaro’s face "gr[ows] solemn with knowledge" and, "[h]aving finished,...[he] lay[s] back where he s[its] and slips into a sleep that is death" (Rossetti Works 553-55). [back]

  15. In his letter of November 30, 1892, Roberts also asks for the address of William Sharp (Collected Letters 159), a writer and editor with whom he had corresponded since the late ’eighties and to whom Hovey would pay the compliment in "Modern Symbolism and Maurice Maeterlinck" of linking his Vistas (1894) with Oscar Wilde’s Salomé (1893) as English manifestations of the symboliste mode. (Of course, Roberts made much of the fact that he caroused with Wilde during his visit to Fredericton in October 1882 [see Pomeroy 42-43]). On January 7, 1895, Carman responded to Hovey’s suggestion that Vistas and Salomé "might perhaps not have been written had the authors been less familiar with the contemporary literature of the Continent" (8) with his own assessment of Maeterlinck: "[y]es, I see Sharp’s indebtedness to Maeterlinck....But Maeterlinck himself does not get me yet. It is trying to make literature without the use of the adjective. One Stevensonian adjective, one Meredithian phrase gives more effect, more shiver than all of The Intruder. This method of iteration omits the use of surprise in getting its effect. A child could drill me into madness by asking questions, but I only find Maeterlinck tiresome. It does not take hold. But, mind you, this is only a first opinion. I will have to try him again and tell you how he works" (Letters 83, and see 91). Sharp’s review of Gérald Harry’s The Princess Maleine and The Intruder in the March 19, 1892 number of The Academy (London) reveals a thorough knowledge of Maeterlinck’s works, influences, and critical history in Belgium, France, and England. "A new method is coming into literature," Sharp asserts, "and Maeterlinck is one of those who deserve honour as pioneers in a difficult path" (271). An earlier review by Sharp, "Ruysbroeck and Maeterlinck" in the March 16, 1892 number of The Academy, discusses both Maeterlinck’s translation of Les Ornamentes des noces spirituelles by Ruysbroeck L’Admirable and Ruysbroeck and the Mystics, a translation of Maeterlinck’s work by Jane T. Stoddart, whose "An Interview with M. Maurice Maeterlinck" precedes Roberts’s "Three Good Things" in the May 1895 number of The Bookman (New York). See also Helen A. Clarke’s "Maeterlinck and Sharp." [back]

Works Cited


Adams, John Coldwell. Seated with the Mighty: a Biography of Sir Gilbert Parker. Ottawa: Borealis, 1979.

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