The Uncollected Short Stories of Duncan Campbell Scott

By Duncan Campbell Scott, edited by Tracy Ware



Introduction



    Duncan Campell Scott (1862-1947) is best known as one of the “Confederation poets,” the group that achieved international prominence in the last years of the nineteenth century, and as an administrator and ultimately (from 1913-32) the Deputy Superintendent General of the Department of Indian Affairs. His prose has received less attention, though In the Village of Viger is an important early instance of the story cycle (see Lynch; New, Dreams 177-86); “Labrie’s Wife” has been singled out by anthologists (Knister; Lucas; New) and critics (Waterston; Dragland, Floating 143-53); and W.H. New calls Scott “the chief short-fiction writer in Canada at the turn of the century, the one writer who turned the genre into its modern form” (History 129). Of a total of forty-five stories (Groening 501-03), Scott collected ten in In the Village of Viger (1896), twelve in The Witching of Elspie (1923), and ten in The Circle of Affection (1947). Because Glenn Clever and Stan Dragland draw exclusively from Scott’s collections in their editions of his short fiction, these thirteen stories are collected here for the first time.
    All of these stories were published between 1887 and 1907, when Scott was most active, when his attention was almost equally divided between prose and poetry, and when American literary journals were more interested in Canadian writing than they have ever been since (Brown 79). In 1887, he published a story in Scribner’s before he published his first poem, which appeared in the same journal in the following year (Doyle 104). Writing in 1895, Allan Douglas Brodie expected Scott to turn increasingly to fiction:

I understand he intends in future to devote more time to prose work than he has hitherto done, and, though he will always live in the hearts of the Canadian people as one of their first poets, as a short-story writer he will be thrice welcome.   (339)

Brodie knew what he was saying, for Scott published In the Village of Viger and five new stories in the following year. Although he did not sustain [Page ix] that pace, he published stories regularly until 1907. As Dragland writes, Scott’s life “almost bends in two” because of the death of his daughter that year (Floating 68). He would not publish another book for ten years (Floating 85). No story appeared until Scott collected twelve in The Witching of Elspie in 1923, and seven of these had appeared in periodicals before 1907.
    Dragland argues that Scott’s best stories, like his best poems, “almost fall into two categories along a North-South axis” (Floating 132). That generalization works well for the familiar selections in anthologies, but it is less helpful with Scott’s canon in its entirety. Only four of these stories qualify as Northern, and two only in a trivial sense. A better approach is suggested by Dragland when he writes that an “interesting study might be made of the pressures of popular genres on Scott’s fiction, collected and uncollected” (Floating 133). The uncollected stories can be divided into five groups: four romances, which tend to be set in the past and / or Quebec (“The Ducharmes of the Baskatonge,” “The Triumph of Marie Laviolette,” “Their Wedding Eve: A Story of the War of 1812,” “A Sacred Trust: A Story of the Upper Ottawa”), two tales of the supernatural (“Coiniac Street,” “Sister Ste Colombe”), three detective stories (“The Mystery of the Red Deeps,” “John Greenlaw’s Story,” “The Nest of Imposture”), two psychological studies (“John Scantleberry,” “Ends Rough Hewn”), and two comic stories in rural dialect (“The Stratagem of Terrance O’Halloran,” “How Uncle David Rouse Made His Will”). As Dragland writes, “in the variety of subjects and fictional stratagems Scott employed, one might detect a search for a fictional niche that he never quite found” (Introd. 10). More charitably, we can say with Gary Geddes that Scott is a “piper of many tunes” whose fiction needs to be approached in various nineteenth-century contexts (165).

Scott discusses the uses of romance in his Mermaid Inn column of April 9, 1892. Aware that Dollard Des Ormaux may not have been as heroic as he once seemed to be, Scott nonetheless argues that “the story in its romantic form has come to live with us, and it is well. There is probably as much foundation for it as there is for the majority of the romances of history, and these are amongst the dearest possessions of the race” (Davies 49). In “The Tercentenary of Quebec 1608-1908,” he contrasts past and present: we look up from the absorbing task of nation-building when every one seems drugged with the idea that material progress means every desirable thing; we try to cast the film from our eyes and reconstruct the older, romantic time . . . . It is well to do so, for a bit of play now and then in the midst of work sweetens the work and puts heart into it. Especially for such a young people as ours, it is wise to [Page x] perpetuate old deeds and to treasure what is, after all, our chief possession— the actions of those who were all unconsciously framing our destiny.
(Circle 154)

All four of Scott’s romances participate in what D.M.R. Bentley calls a “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” (28). Thus the pioneer stage that Scott celebrates in “The Ducharmes of the Baskatonge” has vanished with the wilderness: “The stalwart trunks have gone to cover homes in the south, and to shelter the heads of happy children from the storms which they learned to resist on their native hills in the north.” The Laviolettes (in “The Triumph of Marie Laviolette”) have fifty acres of land, “but most of it was covered with timber,” and “there was not a happier home on the Lievres than Gabriel Laviolette’s.” “Their Wedding Eve: A Story of the War of 1812,” is told by “a dignified old man” who turns out to be the son of the hero and heroine of his story. And “A Sacred Trust: A Story of the Upper Ottawa” makes another contrast between the urban and the wilderness when a Toronto doctor seems “strange to the woodsmen, strange with the hint of a life unknown, turbulent, weary, out there beyond the storm.” It is noteworthy that the two Quebec romances appeared in the first issues of Scribner’s, in the company of such writers as William James, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Robert Louis Stevenson; as James Doyle writes, Scribner’s made a “particular specialty” of the “local colour story” and published several stories and articles on “French Canada” (104-05). As both Gerson (Purer 130-31) and New (Dreams 48) argue, Scott’s best Quebec stories provide much more than “local colour,” but in these four romances, “all is written more to satisfy a taste for grand gestures than out of any commitment to their credibility” (New, Dreams 46). Nonetheless, those who share Misao Dean’s interest in the construction of a “national community” and how “this community has constructed its racialized other” (xiv) will find some suggestive material here, although they might be surprised that “Their Wedding Eve” is the only story in this collection with a Native character.
    The two stories that I have designated, with some misgivings, as “supernatural” are the slightest in this collection, and it is revealing that both appeared in the Toronto Globe. Neither story would have been likely to elicit interest from more prestigious and lucrative journals. Their existence reminds us that an interest in the occult pervades Scott’s early work (Bentley 30). In “Coiniac Street,” the story of Elise’s enchantment of Alexander is vitiated by lame dialogue: “I’m a perfect killjoy,” says he; “I’m a [Page xi] bit of a witch,” says she. The emphasis on her supernatural powers clashes with her involvement in counterfeiting, and the story moves to an abrupt ending. “Sister Ste Colombe” tells two simple anecdotes of an angelic Québécoise nun, in contrast to the Viger stories, which “quite pointedly downplay” the presence of the Catholic Church, as New argues (Dreams 179).
    Perhaps the biggest surprise among these uncollected stories is the three detective stories, all from the “short-lived” Massey’s Magazine in 1896 (Gerson, “Piper’s” 138). Sherlock Holmes first appeared in 1887, and by 1892 he was so familiar that he was parodied in Robert Barr’s “The Adventures of Sherlaw Kombs” (Knight x). With Holmes apparently drowned according to a story published in 1893, and not revived until 1902, Scott addressed a demand that Arthur Conan Doyle was not meeting. His three stories evince a wide reading in the genre and a preference for a less cerebral detective. “The Mystery of the Red Deeps” may be slightly marred by its initial dependence on Nicholas Thompson’s dream, as Gerson argues (“Piper’s” 140), but otherwise the conventions of detective fiction are used well: after the confusion caused by the switched identity of the two sisters, the madness of Alberta Westwick, and the enigma of the secret room, the story moves to a violent climax and a postscript, in which Oliver Arahill reveals that he ended his apprenticeship by marrying his “fair pupil.” “The Nest of Imposture” is less successful. Although Oliver Prest is called a “young man who can find out things,” he spends most of the story recovering from falling off his horse. The trick of the switched sibling identity is used again, but less happily, since the reader sees through it before Oliver does. The mystery of the Savona family, shown in the “intricate spirals” of the handkerchief design that represents the generations, is solved, but not by Oliver, and his client is murdered. If Scott was growing uncomfortable with the genre, he found a way to modify it in the other uncollected story from Massey’s. Combining detective fiction with another genre that “flourished” in the 1890s (Leithauser 142), “John Greenlaw’s Story” is an unusual ghost story. Perhaps it is suitable that a detective’s failure occurs in such a story, for as Brad Leithauser argues, “the reader comes to the ghost story for that uncertain, skittery sensation that arises when the laws of science no longer seem to apply but nobody can say what has supplanted them” (130). As a man who is in his own words “loath to this day to place a supernatural interpretation upon the facts which I vouch for,” Greenlaw is puzzled by the deaths of Harriet Westbrook and Mrs. Mannix. He ends by “unconsciously” adopting his client’s [Page xii] belief in a supernatural agency, and the story never resolves the question of who is really responsible for the murder of Harriet.
    Gerson places “Ends Rough Hewn” with the detective stories, which she calls “undistinguished” (“Piper’s” 140). I have grouped it with “John Scantleberry,” which both Gerson (“Piper’s” 141) and New regard as “the best of the uncollected stories” (Dreams 46). Because both stories bring a critical perspective to an urban setting, they are exceptions to what Gerson calls the “virtual absence of the contemporary city and its problems from pre-modern Canadian fiction” (Purer 142). And both stories are of more than sociological interest. In “Ends Rough Hewn,” we follow the Pangmans in their move from the picturesque village of Sedgeford to the growing city of Toronto. But instead of contrasting rural virtue and urban vice, as the opening paragraphs encourage us to do, the story traces the consequences of the crime the father commits when he was the village postmaster. That crime is the source of the family’s wealth and the cause of the son’s absence after he is framed by his father. Convinced of her brother’s innocence, the daughter slowly realizes that her father must be guilty. Gerson is uneasy with the way the daughter achieves her insight in a series of visions, but Scott is careful to state that the visions are aided by memory and deliberation. After he is confronted by his daughter, the father is torn between his conscience and his greed: “The horrid life he had led stood beside him like a character in a play. He knew the part was hateful, but he loved the character he had made.” In a final twist, Pangman decides to confess, but dies before he can do so. The ending becomes all the more unsettling when the narrator muses on the “bright power” that holds out “the cup of expiation” and then “snatches it away, and hides his face darkly.” In writing this account of a man whose public charity conceals a private hell, Scott has moved from romance to what he once called “the outcome of the old stern laws of life” (Davies 3).
    In the opening paragraph of “John Scantleberry, Working Merchant Tailor, Great Specialty of Pantaloons,” Scott writes that the protagonist’s sign “embodies in an obscure way the peculiar cast of his personality.” Noting that “scantle” means “small portion” or “to make scarce,” “’tailor’ suggests ‘cutter,’ ‘pantaloons’ derive from the Italian ‘mask-wearer,’ Pantaleone,” New argues that “the mask Scantleberry wears is that of reclusiveness and passivity when in fact he harbours an extraordinary impulse to violence” (Dreams 47). In New’s fine analysis, Scott modifies “the sketch of character, this time making the drama internal, and requiring the form of language itself, more than the intricate twists of intrigue and adventure, to establish the tensions of narrative” (Dreams 47). [Page xiii] Scantleberry is not as purely monstrous as New implies, however; another aspect of his internal drama involves an impulse to kindness that is more unexpected than his “impulse to violence.” Foreshadowed by Scantleberry’s obscure and fleeting memory “of some moment in childhood,” the impulse to kindness flourishes when he takes an interest in the poor girl in the courtyard, as Silas Marner takes an interest in Eppie in the novel that Scott called “a work of genius” (“To Brown” 201). Again Scott focusses on language when he writes that this memory leads Scantleberry to “throw off the only simile that ever occurred” to him. Scott then juxtaposes the antithetical impulses: “So, strangely enough, a sweet human feeling had taken root there [at his heart], and was striving for life; while in the gloom of his mind he was nourishing that noxious pallid plant.” After the benevolent impulse and the death of his tormentor free Scantleberry from his violent obsession, “he sank into his old lethargy.” At the end as at the beginning of the story, the tailor’s “mental scenery” is as oppressive as his various residences: “he walked from one room of life into the next, and knew only the four walls and the floor.” He lives in a world of “obscure brokers’ dens” and predatory bailiffs, and Scott makes no attempt to locate it outside of Canada.
    It is not surprising that Scott did not collect his two stories in comic dialect, since he did not collect his comic verse either, not even the fine “Byron on Wordsworth” (Dragland, “Byron”). He may have been diffident about his own and his contemporaries’ work, but Scott was certain that comedy held an enduring value: “If it be a fact that humour in literature is on the decline, there is certainly no doubt that this world is as anxious to laugh today as ever it was” (Davies 277), according to his Mermaid Inn column of March 18, 1893. “The Stratagem of Terrance O’ Halloran” has its moments, but it is partially vitiated by an excessive use of dialect and a reliance on ethnic types. It is therefore a relief to end both this introduction and this edition with “How Uncle David Rouse Made His Will,” a tale of the deception of a selfish couple told in the voice of Mutton Corners: “It was never much of a place for things to happen, anyway; everybody was that set in their ways, a scandal would have got starved out before it got started, our people was naturally so inquisitive.” Here the passage of time since the original publication of the story has enriched its language by defamiliarizing it, as in these two descriptions: “Jake was mean enough to get up in the night and bite his mother”; Dave “looked about like the last run of shad.” Of course Dave is as far from a fortune as he is from a Tory vote in this Liberal stronghold, and so his will is purely a comic ruse that comes at the expense of the humourless couple and the young lawyer. As [Page xiv] the narrator explains, this lawyer “had just come to Mutton Corners and didn’t know much of anythin’, and you couldn’t expect him to, as he hadn’t been riz here.” Looking back to Twain and ahead to Leacock, “How Uncle David Rouse Made His Will” is the last story that Scott would publish for sixteen years.
    I have printed these stories as they appear in their original publications, following the style of the time and the journal. Only the most obvious errors have been corrected, with square brackets where possible. The stories are arranged chronologically, and they are followed by notes that provide bibliographical details and explain obscure references and allusions. [Page xv]

 

 

Works Cited in the Introduction

Bentley, D.M.R. “‘The Thing is Found to Be Symbolic’: Symboliste Elements in         the Early Short Stories of Gilbert Parker, Charles G.D. Roberts and Duncan         Campbell Scott.” Dominant Impressions: Essays on the Canadian Short         Story. Ed. Gerald Lynch and Angela Arnold Robbeson. Reappraisals:         Canadian Writers. Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1999. 27-51.

Brodie, Allan Douglas. “Canadian Short-Story Writers.” The Canadian         Magazine of Politics, Science, Art and Literature 4 (1895): 334-44.

Brown, E.K. “To the North: A Wall Against Canadian Poetry.” Saturday Review         of Literature 29 Apr.: 9-11. Responses and Evaluations: Essays on         Canada. Ed. David Staines. New Canadian Library. Toronto: McClelland         and Stewart, 1977. 78-82.

Clever, Glenn, ed. Selected Stories of Duncan Campbell Scott. The Canadian         Short Story Library. Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1972.

Davies, Barrie, ed. At the Mermaid Inn: Wilfred Campbell, Archibald         Lampman, and Duncan Campbell Scott in The Globe 1892-93. Literature         of Canada: Poetry and Prose in Reprint. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1979.

Dean, Misao. Introduction. Early Canadian Short Stories: Short Stories in         English before World War I. Ed. Dean. Canadian Critical Editions. Ottawa:         Tecumseh, 2000. xi-xvii.

Doyle, James. “Duncan Campbell Scott and American Literature.” The Duncan         Campbell Scott Symposium. Ed. K.P. Stich. Reappraisals: Canadian         Writers. Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1980. 101-09.

Dragland, Stan. “Byron on Wordsworth: Light and Occasional Verse in the         Scott/Aylen Papers.” Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 22         (1988): 49-67.

——. Floating Voice: Duncan Campbell Scott and the Literature of Treaty 9.         Concord, ON: Anansi, 1994.

——. Introduction. In the Village of Viger and Other Stories. By Scott. Ed.         Dragland. New Canadian Library. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1973.         9-16.

Geddes, Gary. “Piper of Many Tunes: Duncan Campbell Scott.” Canadian         Literature 37 (1968): 15-27. Duncan Campbell Scott: A Book of Criticism.         Ed. Stan Dragland. Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1974. 165-77.

Gerson, Carole. “The Piper’s Forgotten Tune: Notes on the Stories of D.C. Scott         and a Bibliography.” Journal of Canadian Fiction 16 (1976): 138-43.

——. A Purer Taste: The Writing and Reading of Fiction in Nineteenth-         Century Canada. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1989.

Groening, Laura. “Duncan Campbell Scott: An Annotated Bibliography.” The         Annotated Bibliography of Canada’s Major Authors. Vol. 8. Ed. Robert         Lecker and Jack David. Toronto: ECW, 1994. 469-576.

Knight, Stephen. Introduction. The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont, by Robert         Barr. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. ix-xxiii.

Knister, Raymond, ed. Canadian Short Stories. Toronto: MacMillan, 1928.

Leithauser, Brad. Penchants and Places: Essays and Criticism. New York:         Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Lucas, Alec, ed. Great Canadian Short Stories. Toronto: Dell, 1971.

Lynch, Gerald. “‘In the Meantime’: Duncan Campbell Scott’s In the Village of         Viger.” Studies in Canadian Literature 17:2 (1993): 70-91. [Page xvi]

New, W.H., ed. Canadian Short Fiction. 2nd ed. Scarborough: Prentice Hall,         1997.

——. Dreams of Speech and Violence: The Art of the Short Story in Canada         and New Zealand. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1987.

——. A History of Canadian Literature. Macmillan History of Literature. London:         Macmillan, 1989.

Scott, Duncan Campbell. The Circle of Affection and Other Pieces in Prose         and Verse. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1947.

——. “To E.K. Brown.” 2-8 Sept. 1947. Letter 182 of The Poet and the Critic: A         Literary Correspondence between D.C. Scott and E.K. Brown. Ed. Robert         L. McDougall. Ottawa: Carleton UP, 1983. 199-201.

——. In the Village of Viger. Boston: Copeland and Day, 1896. Toronto:         McClelland and Stewart, 1996.

——. The Witching of Elspie: A Book of Stories. Toronto: McClelland and         Stewart, 1923. [Page xvii]

Waterston, Elizabeth. “The Missing Face: Five Short Stories by Duncan         Campbell Scott.” Studies in Canadian Literature 1:2 (1976): 223-29.