The best-known photograph of Archibald Lampman—the frontispiece of his posthumous collected poems (1900)—shows him in dreamy profile, leaning on one elbow, resting his head on his hand. With brown locks falling over a broad forehead, a luxuriant mustache, and eyes downcast in apparent meditation, he looks like the stereotype of the romantic poet, fragile and a little other-worldly. Pensive he often was, as his poetry proves, but other photographs, showing an “almost obstinate set of the mouth,”1 reveal a side of his character that was made of sterner stuff, possessing what one acquaintance called “the strength of a good work of art.”2 In none of the photographs, however, does he appear very robust. With the benefit of hindsight, a viewer might see the look of someone unlikely to live to a ripe old age. He had not grown to rugged manhood, but the fault did not lie in his genes. He came from sturdy pioneer stock on both sides of his family.3
He could trace his paternal lineage back to Frederick Lampman, his great-great-grandfather, who immigrated to the wilds of New Jersey from Hanover, Germany, in 1750. Not surprisingly, the Lampmans remained loyal to the Crown during the American Revolution—remember, George III was a scion of the Hanoverian line—but after the war they fled for safety to Upper Canada with barely the clothes on their backs. Actually, one Peter Lampman, the future poet’s great-grandfather, was already in the Niagara region, having escaped there, like the American draft dodgers of many generations later, to avoid being conscripted into the rebel army. Carving a home out of the wilderness and marrying a bonny Scottish lass, Peter slowly prospered, eventually leaving a large property to one of his sons, also named Peter, who developed it into a thriving fruit farm. This second Peter could afford to send his son Archibald, future father of the poet, to Upper Canada College and later to Trinity College, Toronto, to prepare for the Anglican ministry. Several years after being ordained, the Reverend Archibald Lampman was called to Trinity Church in Morpeth, a small but flourishing community on the Canadian shore of Lake Erie. It was there in 1860, at the age of thirty-seven, he married Susanna Gesner, fifteen years his junior. Her father was one of the founders of the church in which he was preaching.
The Gesners traced their American origins back to Johannes Hendrick Gesner, born in Holland of German/Swiss descent, who arrived in New York on 10 June 1710. During the revolutionary war, his twin grandsons, Henry and Abraham, joined the King’s Orange Rangers and took part in several military engagements before being ordered to Halifax with their corps for garrison duty until the end of the war. Having forfeited their patrimony in the newly-formed United States, the brothers were awarded land grants of 400 acres each in Nova Scotia for their loyalty to the Crown. Henry’s grant was in the township of Cornwallis where he raised twelve children, the fourth of whom was David Henry Gesner, the grandfather of Archibald Lampman, the poet. Possessing a restless spirit, David Henry left his father’s orchard farm in Nova Scotia for Montreal where he taught school and later studied medicine for two years before giving it up to move to Upper Canada. Obtaining a grant of 200 acres on the shore of Lake Erie, he cleared land, built a comfortable home, and followed his father’s example by starting a fruit farm. His wife was the daughter of a nearby Scottish farmer, who had moved to the region from Digby, Nova Scotia. Of David Henry Gesner’s eight children, his daughter Susanna (usually called Susan) grew up to be known for her resolute disposition and her musical talent, especially as a pianist.
Duncan Campbell Scott, in his reminiscences of Lampman, comments upon the mingling of national strains in his friend’s personality:
... I think the peculiar blend in his temperament may be accounted for by the infusion of Celtic blood with the phlegmatic blood of the Dutch and German stocks. Six national strains met in his personality, French, Dutch, German, Swiss, Scotch and English, but it is noteworthy that both his grandmothers were Highland Scotch. Surely his nature must have been influenced by these Celtic origins. That melancholy which ever and anon settles upon the Highlander visited him and often colored his thoughts, and he had the Celtic shyness which is so often mistaken for pride, and he had also the aversion to material activities. Thrown in upon the more practical qualities of the Dutch and Germans, their power of merely bearing the pressure of life, these more visionary influences made him a sensitive stoic.4
Scott probably got it right, but being of Scottish Highland descent himself, he may have been inclined to stress the Celtic heritage too much. It might be safer simply to say that Archibald Lampman was more Gesner than Lampman. The Reverend Archibald Lampman was an intense, dogmatic man, apparently less able to handle pressure than his wife, who “would fight conditions [and] subdue them.”5 In build, he was tall and spare, in contrast to his only son, who had the moderate height and slight but compact frame typical of the Gesners. That the senior Lampman also tried his hand at verse we learn from his son’s dedication in Alcyone: “To the memory of my father, himself a poet, who first instructed me in the art of verse.” However, the father took epigrammatic lines like these from Alexander Pope as his model:
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring;
There shallow drafts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
An Essay on Criticism, Part II, lines 15-18.
It would seem, therefore, that his father’s instruction “in the art of verse” was not an important influence upon Archibald Lampman’s poetic style, which is distinguished by a “deep affinity”6 with the nineteenth-century Romantics rather than an eighteenth-century Rationalist like Pope.
“I think the poet inherited much from the distaff side of the house,”7 said a contemporary, who had known both of Archibald Lampman’s parents. As honourable and enterprising as his Lampman forbears had been, the Gesner line was more distinguished and generally better educated. Not only was his great-grandmother, Elizabeth Samson Gesner, directly descended from Myles Standish and John Alden of the Mayflower, but the Gesners who settled in Nova Scotia founded a family whose members were noted for their cultural and scientific pursuits. One of the poet’s great-uncles, Abraham Gesner (1797-1864), who studied medicine at St. Bartholomew’s and Guy’s hospitals in London, England, later became a prominent geologist in the Maritimes, capping his career with the discovery of kerosene oil. Since the poet’s mother, the musically-gifted Susan, came from a richer cultural background than that of her husband, it may have been mainly through her that their son gained his aesthetic sensitivity.
Archibald Lampman was born on Sunday morning, 17 November 1861. There is no record of how the event affected the Morpeth church services that day, but it is unlikely that they were cancelled. The first-time father probably preached his weekly sermon as usual, possibly with unusual discomposure. Later, at the christening, he bestowed his own name upon his first-born son, his only son as events would prove. Over the next seven years, he and Susan would have three more children, all daughters: Sarah Isabelle (born at Morpeth, 25 November 1863), Annie Margaret (born at Morpeth, 14 May 1866) and Caroline Stewart (born at Gore’s Landing, 31 March 1868). Being the oldest child and the only boy was enough in mid-Victorian Canada to give young Archibald special status among his siblings, but his early precocity was a hopeful sign that someday he might distinguish himself outside the family.
In 1866, the Reverend Archibald Lampman moved more than two hundred miles away to St. Paul’s Church in Perrytown, a backwoods village north of Port Hope. After six years in Morpeth, he obviously felt the time had come for a change, although it took his wife away from her family and girlhood friends and was certainly no way to advance his career. On the surface, Perrytown seems like a strange choice, one that he soon came to regret if one can judge by his readiness to move again. In less than a year, he accepted a call to Gore’s Landing, a scenic community on Rice Lake in the next county. His new duties began in October 1867 at St. George’s, a picturesque little church perched on a wooded hill overlooking the lake and its tiny islands.
The lakeside village was named after one of its founders, Thomas Sinclair Gore, a surveyor who had emigrated from the north of Ireland in 1841. Hired to improve the road from Cobourg to Rice Lake, he bought clergy lot 15 along the lakeshore where the Mississauga Indians had once hunted deer and harvested the wild rice that grew in profusion there. Since he pre-dated any laws about conflict of interests, there was nothing to stop him from making sure that the road passed through his own property. Although he did not live to enjoy his anticipated prosperity, dying at the age of thirty-six, he left a widow and eight children who would reap huge benefits from the sale of building lots in this picturesque area. For a time the village grew rapidly, but by 1867 a railway built at Harwood, a few miles farther east, had shifted trade away and left Gore’s Landing with few assets besides its scenery.
Life in their new parish did not begin well for the Lampmans. Gore’s Landing had no rectory, and the only accommodation available was the abandoned Rice Lake House, once a thriving inn with a popular tavern and an upstairs ballroom. In 1867, the derelict clapboard building was nearly uninhabitable, and the new rector had neither the means nor the aptitude to restore it. The leaking roof went unrepaired, the drafty windows were no protection against the penetrating damp air off the lake, and the plaster walls reeked from mould. Not only were the circumstances uncomfortable, they were unhealthy.
In November 1868, after barely a year’s exposure to those unwholesome conditions, young Archie fell victim to rheumatic fever. It was a serious and protracted illness, which caused lasting damage to his heart and precluded a robust life ahead. A more immediate alarm was raised when splinters of ankle bone broke through the taut skin on one of his emaciated legs, leaving him unable to walk and triggering fears that he might be crippled for life. As soon as he was well enough for a long journey, his mother took him to a prominent doctor in St. Catharines, only to be told that amputation would be necessary. Unconvinced, she consulted a relatively young physician in Port Hope, Dr. John F. Dewar. Instead of recommending amputation, Dewar prescribed fresh air, hearty food, exercise, and daily doses of cod liver oil. This simple remedy had the desired effect: the ankle healed, although it took four years for Archie to lose his lameness completely.
Two years later, life improved for the whole family when they were able to move into a spacious and comfortable brick house named Claverton, formerly the residence of Judge William Falkner, another of the village founders. Situated less than a hundred yards from the lake, with plenty of space for growing flowers and vegetables, it was a desirable location. Carl Y. Connor, in his 1929 biography of Lampman, paints an idyllic picture of summers spent by the children in or near the water, swimming and fishing—Archie excelling in both sports—picnics on the shore, and nature rambles in all seasons of the year. To supplement their income, the Lampmans converted the rectory into a school for small children. The furnishings were sparse, but the parlour contained a piano for Mrs. Lampman to give music lessons to her pupils as well as her own children, although by the time Archie was twelve he was no longer willing to practice. It was his sister, Annie, who would pursue music as a career, becoming “Canada’s first outstanding woman pianist.” 8
Connor also pictures the Lampman children visiting among the Rice Lake parishioners with their parents. “The most famous of these grown friends,” he claims, “were Mrs. [Susanna] Moodie and Mrs. [Catharine Parr] Traill,”9 two English sisters remembered today chiefly for their accounts of pioneer life in Canada West. However, Mrs. Moodie never lived at Rice Lake and it is almost a certainty that she never visited the vicinity while the Lampmans were there. Mrs. Traill and her husband Thomas had indeed lived at Rice Lake, but they left the area for Peterborough in the winter of 1858-59, long before the Lampmans arrived. After Thomas’ death on 21 June 1859, Catharine settled in Lakefield, sometimes living with her brother Samuel Strickland, sometimes renting rooms, until she was able to build a cottage nearby, aided by gifts from family and friends. Christened Westover, after the Traill ancestral estate, it was to be her home for the rest of her long life. The only one of the Traill children still at Rice Lake by 1867 was daughter Annie, Mrs. Clinton Atwood, with whom Catharine stayed from January until April in 1871 during the absence of Annie’s husband, who was in England visiting his elderly father, the rector of Ashelworth in Gloucester. This seems to have been Catharine’s only visit to the area during the period the Lampmans spent in Gore’s Landing. Whenever the occasion, the Lampman children “remembered her as a kind old lady with beautiful white hair worn in cork-screw curls under an immaculate white-frilled, long-stringed cap .... and [having] ‘such a literary style of speaking’.”10
It is doubtful whether the acquaintance was close enough to support Connor’s conjecture that Mrs. Traill’s renowned interest in botany “may have had considerable influence”11 upon the future nature poet. He was barely nine years old during the only period he is likely to have met her, too young, perhaps, for any meaningful exchanges. Besides, it was winter, a season when plant life and flowers were less likely to be a topic of conversation, even among adults. Undoubtedly, young Lampman was aware that Mrs. Traill wrote books, but there is no evidence that he ever read any of them. Like her, however, he was a born naturalist, and the Rice Lake countryside was ideal for his development. It would have a lasting impact upon the substance of his poetry, although, unlike Charles G.D. Roberts whose verse often celebrated his boyhood Tantramar, Lampman never wrote directly about the Rice Lake area except in two prose selections, one a Christmas piece in the Toronto Globe (1892) and the other an essay on fishing in Rouge et Noir (1882):
Rice Lake ... is a beautiful little sheet of water, embedded among hills gleaming in the autumn with yellow patches of matted rice, which lifts its thin stalks through five or six feet of water to a height o[f] two feet perhaps above the surface. Sprinkled with small islands, steep-banked and covered with dark, thick wood, reflected in the glassy surface, the lake seems on a calm summer’s morning like a little patch of dreamland dropped into the midst of the woody hills that gird it round.12
The person who had an indisputable influence upon Archie during his early boyhood was Frederick W. Barron, who ran a school at Gore’s Landing for boys aged eight years and up. Archie was a day boy, but most of the others were boarders (paying £40 per year), coming from various parts of eastern Canada and the United States. Barron was a Britisher who had studied for his Master of Arts degree at Cambridge, although it appears that he never sat for the examinations. After a brief stint of teaching in an English school, he arrived in Toronto as a young newlywed in 1834 and was hired almost immediately to teach at Upper Canada College. Nine years later, he became principal of the college, being chosen for his esteemed personal qualities over a colleague who had better academic qualifications. The latter remained on staff and set out to cause turmoil during the whole of Barron’s tenure. Three years after wife died in 1853, Barron resigned from the administrative headaches at the college, moving with three of his daughters to Cobourg where he eventually set up his own school.
Always a sailing enthusiast, Barron commissioned a yacht from a Rice Lake builder and spent his holidays at Gore’s Landing, only a short trip from Cobourg. It was there he caught the eye of Henriette, the fifty-year-old widow of the village’s founder, Thomas Gore. After her husband’s death, Henriette had bought an imposing home just up the hill from St. George’s, naming it “Glenavy” after the village in County Antrim, Ireland, where she and Gore grew up and were married. Barron, having decided that both the widow and Glenavy were desirable, married Henriette in 1869, and remodelled and enlarged the house to re-establish his school, which he ran until shortly before his death in 1886.
Although Baron demanded strict obedience and hard work from his students, he was not a martinet, and games and sports were an important part of the curriculum. Taking full advantage of the lake, he skated with the boys during the winter, and supervised swimming, boating and canoeing in the fall and spring. Before being allowed in a canoe, however, each boy was required to swim half a mile out to Sugar Island. Under this régime, young Archie, while never a strong athlete, became a fast skater and an expert swimmer. It has been said of Barron that he “was a bluff, hearty, decent man, a great athlete, but no great scholar,”13 but one has only to look at the lack of educational opportunites in most other rural areas of the time to appreciate Archibald Lampman’s good fortune in being able to attend a school where he could receive a solid grounding in the subjects leading to higher education.
Young Archie’s special bond with nature in the Rice Lake countryside was broken during his thirteenth year. A cryptic statement by Duncan Campbell Scott is our only authority on the circumstances leading up to the Lampman family’s departure in 1874 for Cobourg, a community of some six thousand residents on the shore of Lake Ontario: “Gradually during the last four years at Gore’s Landing Mr. Lampman’s health began to fail.”14 He had lasted longer at St. George’s than any of his predecessors, but he was not universally popular. Reginald Drayton, a young parishioner he had reprimanded for associating with a Roman Catholic, remembered him as being “very narrow and small in his religious views.” Drayton further recalled: “He and his wife seemed to me to disagree a good deal, at least in their own home.”15 For several years, Susan Lampman had been teaching a few local children at home, one of her pupils being the granddaughter of Catherine Parr Traill. With the uncertainty of her husband’s future, it probably seemed like a good idea to move to an area with more prospective students.
When they arrived in Cobourg, the town was suffering a depression. Possessing a magnificent harbour, it once had visions of becoming the commercial and political capital of the province, but the dream never materialized. Among its grandiose schemes was the building of an imposing town hall, designed by the renowned Toronto architect, Kivas Tully, whose wife was a niece of Mrs. Traill and Mrs. Moodie. Opened by the Prince of Wales in September 1860, “Victoria Hall” was a gem of a building; but, costing $110,000, it left the town bankrupt. Acknowledging its impressive grandeur, an American visitor scoffed: “That is indeed a splendid building, but where is the town for whose use it was built?”16 Luckily, despite the general hard times, there still were families who could afford to educate their children privately. A dozen students were enrolled at the Lampmans’ school, number 37 in a row of red brick houses (still standing today) on King Street East.
Carl Y. Connor mistakenly believed that Lampman’s father served as curate at St. Peter’s Church in Cobourg, but the Reverend E.C. Bowers held that position, although it is possible that Lampman senior assisted voluntarily at some of the services. The church was in such dire financial straits that there was no question of affording two curates; in fact, there were times when the vestry dispensed with the office altogether, not being able to pay the required salary of $400. Officially, the Reverend Archibald Lampman “retired in 1875, and was borne on the original commuter’s list of the Diocese of Huron”17 where he had served in his first parish. The nature of his “failing health” remains a mystery, especially since he was only fifty-three at the time of his retirement and lived for another twenty years. His son’s letters to Maud Playter in the mid-1880s contain references to his going out on errands, indicating that he was not suffering from a physical disability severe enough to keep him housebound. If the problem was mental rather than physical, it did not hinder him from teaching mathematics and the classics to the older boys in his wife’s school. “He was a man of strong opinions and scholarly attainments,” Scott recalled, “and to the last he retained his eagerness for discussion on all topics, sacred and profane, and was a worthy antagonist.”18 Although this statement does not preclude some form of mental fragility, there is no proven evidence of it.
The Lampman girls were taught at home, but Archie was enrolled in the Cobourg Collegiate Institute. Once again, he had the good luck to be in the right place for a sound education. The school maintained exceptionally high standards with the aim of preparing its students for Victoria University, established in Cobourg by the Methodist church. Archie’s good grades during his only year at the collegiate came to the attention of the Bishop of Toronto, A.N. Bethune (father-in-law of the rector of St. Peter’s), who secured scholarships for him to attend Trinity College School in Port Hope. This was the leading Anglican boys’ school in the province, and the principal happened to be Bishop Bethune’s son. Bethune added another benefactor in the person of John Robinson Cartwright, a successful Toronto barrister who had married Emily Boulton, the daughter of a prominent Cobourg family. It probably helped that Cartwright’s in-laws were staunch members of St. Peter’s and had always prided themselves on their benevolence towards needy families like the Lampmans.
Archibald Lampman would spend the next couple of years at the Port Hope school justifying the bishop’s confidence in him. Besides winning many prizes, he was awarded the position of Head Boy and Prefect during his second year. Assisted by eleven other prefects, he was responsible for after-school discipline, order in the corridors, and various other supervisory duties. Not having a strong authoritarian presence, he gained respect by his wit, tact and affability. Even though he was always more studious than athletic, he took an interest in school sports. Thanks to the early training at Barron’s school, he became known at Trinity as a good skater and the second best swimmer. After the commencement exercises in his final year, “he was chaired by his companions and carried in triumph and with much cheering through the buildings and school grounds.”19 He was the pride of the school, the acknowledged “golden boy” for whom there were high expectations.
Many of the graduates of the Port Hope school were destined for Trinity College in Toronto. That goal would have been impossible for Lampman if he had not succeeded in winning a Foundation Scholarship. G.B. Sage, a divinity student at the time, had this recollection of Lampman as he entered the college in September 1879:
I remember quite well the first time I saw Archibald Lampman. It was in the corridor of Trinity, Toronto. He was pointed out to me as the man who had won the most prized scholarship of the freshman year.... He may have been eighteen, not more at this time. He looked like a cherub grown to a man’s estate.... He was of medium size and quite well grown and there was nothing of the emaciated look of one whose health had been worn by long and close study.20
Sage also notes the characteristic levity that lurked beneath the surface of Lampman’s quiet demeanour:
I was two years at Trinity with Lampman. Being shut off in the Divinity corridor I did not come very much in contact with him, except in the dining-hall, chapel services, literary meetings and college debates. In his first term I thought him silent and retiring. That is how he looked; but looks are sometimes misleading. The innocent youth burst forth into one of the noisiest students in the college and delighted to disturb the quiet of the academic halls after lights were turned off. His clever humorous sayings were quoted and greeted with laughter throughout the college.21
Sage thereby calls attention to a striking aspect of Lampman’s personality: the contrast between his shy, serious manner and his surprising flashes of high spirits. Beneath the reserve, boisterousness was always ready to bubble to the surface. While he never attempted to be the life of the party—in fact, disliked most large social occasions—his circle of friends found him to be amusing company. In a few years’ time, however, these fluctuations between reticence and gaiety would become severe mood-swings, with periods of despair, self-doubt and hypochrondia becoming more lasting than moments of cheerfulness and optimism. His dejection would deepen as he became more and more frustrated in his personal and professional life and suffered from repeated bouts of ill health.
In Lampman’s first contribution to the Trinity college paper, Rouge et Noir, December 1880, he may have been identifying unconsciously with the poet Shelley in the introduction to his essay, “The Revolt of Islam,” which takes its title from Shelley’s lengthy narrative poem of the same name:
What a delicate thing to be entrusted to this stern world’s keeping is a poet’s nature, a nature like Shelley’s; gentle yet proud, boldly imaginative, deeply passionate, intensely sensitive, and ever striving to raise itself above the level of the world in its lofty aspirations. How easily it may be spoiled, embittered, and turned away from truth in an unaided struggle with the unsympathetic coldness and heartless oppression of society, and to what a sacred height may it attain, if it be nourished with the pure warmth of faithful friendship, and turned always towards the brighter side of life.22
In common with Shelley, he was “a pure worshipper of nature,” whose boyhood had often been “spent in solitary reading, rambling, and meditation.”23
Lampman’s essay on The Revolt of Islam, includes a discussion of Shelley’s Queen Mab, and quotes three stanzas from “The Sensitive Plant” to illustrate the characteristic charm of his shorter poems. While praising the “wonderful power and beauty” of Queen Mab, Lampman is careful to disassociate himself from its “blasphemous infidelity.”24 After all, with his upbringing as a clegyman’s son, he could hardly be expected to approve of its athesistic viewpoint. Furthermore, remembering that Shelley had been expelled from Oxford University for his atheism, he was probably cautious about alarming the Anglican hierarchy of Toronto’s conservative Trinity College. In style and substance, the essay displays creditable maturity for a student writer, but the most surprising aspect—at least from today’s standpoint—is its assumption that Queen Mab and The Revolt of Islam would hold the undergraduate readers of Rouge et Noir. Neither work, whatever its merits, is an easy read.The first expounds Shelley’s revolutionary views in some two thousand complex lines; the second consists of five hundred Spenserian stanzas of rather daunting allegory.
“Verses,” which seems to be Lampman’s first published poem, appeared in the February 1882 issue of Rouge et Noir. Although there is no way of knowing for certain, it seems likely that he was nineteen or twenty when it was written. It is not noteworthy as verse, but there are other reasons for quoting it in full:
As the wild murmuring waves
Of the resistless sea
Buffet the shifting sands,
So Fate may thee.
Some the strong billows hurry
Far onward in their flow,
Yet ever bearing many,
Back, back they go.
Then in thy might and splendour
Oh! man shut not thy heart,
Think of the sands: forget not
Still man thou art.
That should the stern waves drag thee
Down from the sunlit shore,
Thy memories may regret not
The days of yore.
This early effort “introduces a persistent secondary strain in his work: earnest didacticism yoked to the extended simile or metaphor,”25 which would never produce any of his best poetry. If one can judge from this one example, Lampman developed more slowly as a poet than Charles G.D. Roberts, who published Orion and Other Poems when he was twenty. Even the weakest poems in Orion are at least the equal of “Verses.”
Lampman contributed two more essays to Rouge et Noir while still an undergraduate, but his next poem did not appear there until November 1882, after he had graduated. Called “The Last Sortie,” it commemorates one of the battles of the Franco-Prussian War. He was only nine years old when the battle took place (19 January 1871), but he was fully aware that his family regarded France as the aggressor. Given the Lampman and Gesner heritage, their pro-German sympathy is not surprising. The French are a “sullen foe” while the Germans are “gallant souls.” The poem has an stirring martial swing, but its rhetoric, though more pleasing than the didacticism of “Verses,” sounds like an echo of the war poems of the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), whose work was likely well known to Lampman.
It appears that scholarships permitted Lampman to remain in residence during his three years at Trinity although the family soon followed him to Toronto, living in a series of rented houses. The Toronto City Directory for 1880 lists the Rev. A. Lampman at 260 Simcoe Street. By the following year, the family had moved down the street to 237 Simcoe. In 1882, they went farther afield to 255 Jarvis Street, which they left within a year for 338 Jarvis. In the next two directories, Lampman’s mother is listed separately as the mistress of a school of music, art and literature at 338 Jarvis, although it seems almost certain that she had been giving music lessons all along to cover the bills. She would be remembered in Toronto as “an excellent musician,” who “played, at times, at college functions.”26
It might have been better for Lampman’s academic success if he had lived at home. In his final year, his grades fell below top standing as he became too involved in extracurricular activities, boyish high jinks and the many convivial pastimes of residence life. His ability was never in question, however, and he was widely celebrated for his mastery of Greek. Once at a Convocation when he went forward to receive a prize, some of his classmates chanted from the gallery:
There goes Lampman, the first of the lot,
A walking edition of Liddell and Scott.27
The reference was to the standard Greek-English Lexicon (1843), co-authored by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott.
Right from his freshman year, he was a member of the Trinity College Literary Institute, which met weekly for debates, readings and music, and arranged an annual concert and a promenade. Besides writing for Rouge et Noir, he was involved with another literary venture: “The Episcopon.” This was an evening in which Father Episcopon, an imaginary deity, who purportedly lived in the Trinity belfry, supposedly delivered an annual message by means of a Scribe. A notice would be posted, not only announcing the date upon which the communication would be delivered, but also inviting anonymous sketches and lampoons that might be read as long as they avoided personal animosity. All these proceedings were to be duly recorded by the Scribe. Lampman, who was chosen to be the Scribe for the meeting in March 1881, performed his duties so successfully that he was elected Scribe for the meetings in November 1881 and March 1882. His reports were remarkable for the amusing drawings and caricatures with which he decorated the pages.
Outside college, he met Charles G.D. Roberts’ friend, (Joseph) Edmund Collins, then on the staff of the Toronto Globe and busy working on a biography of Sir John A. Macdonald. Lampman may have been referring to Collins in describing the May evening when “somebody lent me ‘Orion and Other Poems,’ then recently published.”28 An account of his reaction to Roberts’ little volume was later found among his papers by Duncan Campbell Scott. It is so revealing that no study of Lampman is complete without it:
I sat up most of the night reading and re-reading “Orion” in a state of the wildest excitement and when I went to bed I could not sleep. It seemed to me a wonderful thing that such work could be done by a Canadian, by a young man, one of ourselves. It was like a voice from some new paradise of art, calling to us to be up and doing. A little after sunrise I got up and went out into the college grounds. The air, I remember, was full of the odour and cool sunshine of the spring morning, The dew was thick upon the grass, all the birds of our Maytime seemed to be singing in the oaks, and there were even a few adder tongues and trilliums still blooming on the slope of the little ravine. But everything was transfigured for me beyond description, bathed in an old world radiance of beauty; the magic of the lines was sounding in my ears, those divine verses, as they seemed to me, with their Tennyson-like richness and strange earth-loving Greekish flavour. I have never forgotten that morning, and its influence has always remained with me.29
Lampman’s congratulatory letter to Roberts initiated a correspondence between the two young men, but they probably did not meet until after Roberts moved to Toronto in late September 1883 to become the editor of Goldwin Smith’s The Week. 30
Duncan Campbell Scott, whose “Memoir” of Lampman is the only available record by anyone who knew him well, explains his friend’s failure to graduate with first-class honours:
He graduated in 1882 with second-class honours in classics. This was hardly a matter of surprise to his class-mates or concern to himself. It was beyond question that he could have taken a first had he applied himself, but his final year had been spent in that general reading and social intercourse which he so greatly valued and which was a larger force in his development than many text-books devoured for examination.31
The examinations did not begin until the first of October. By that time, he had been employed for a month as assistant master at the high school in Orangeville, Ontario.
He was hired to teach Latin, Greek, German, English literature and history. Beforehand, it had seemed like a position for which he was admirably suited, but he would soon be disillusioned. “The Pedagogue, like the poet is born not made,” he wrote after a few weeks in the classroom. “I am beginning to realize that fact, and propose at the end of the year to make a strike for something more in my line.”32 The school, with its reputation for unruly students, was not the right place for someone, like Lampman, who had no knack for maintaining order. Most of the older boys were, in his words, “a head taller than I am, and able, if they choose, to pitch me out of the window, each one of them with his left hand.”33 However, he found the smaller boys to be even more unmanageable. Using the strap on them restored order for a hour at best before chaos broke out again: “the pupils did as they pleased, and the assistant master wished fervently that he might do the same.”34 His stamina—never very rugged—was taxed to its limit, leaving him without any energy for creative writing.
A letter to his college friend, John Ritchie, reveals his mounting desperation: “I mean to quit this teaching business as soon as possible. I can’t stand it any longer.”35 Relief came through the intercession of Archibald Campbell, another college friend, whose father was the Postmaster-General. He was offered a position as a clerk in the Savings Bank branch of the Post Office in Ottawa, beginning in mid-January. The appointment, being probationary, was not a sure solution to the problem of finding a better career, but he was like a drowning man clutching at any straw to scramble out of the maelstrom of teaching.
January 16, 1883, found him at his desk in the postal service. The work was monotonous, the same routine day after day, but it was not demanding, and the hours were good. “I go to work at 9:30, taking lunch with me,” he wrote to Ritchie, “get away at four.”36 The main drawback at the beginning was the necessity to learn shorthand, which he resented because it left him less time to dabble in poetry. On the 23rd of March his appointment as third-class clerk was made permanent, and Lampman settled into a daily grind—dull, perhaps, but not otherwise onerous—that would continue for the rest of his short life. During those years, he had an abundance of leisure time for poetry, and easily found stimulating friendships within a select circle of men in the arts and sciences. The facts do not support the popular myth that his spirit was deadened by bureaucratic drudgery and his mind starved for intellectual sustenance.
In spite of the shorthand, his first weeks in Ottawa produced a spate of poetry that gave him temporary satisfaction. “My verse is continually getting better, I am glad to say,” he wrote to Ritchie.... “I am belching forth like a volcano.”37 Then, typically, his mood would change: “I have a good many poems which I look upon every day with increasing DISGUST! .... My reading perpetually opens my eyes more deeply to the fact that my poetical impulse is of a very pale and ordinary kind—the same sort of thing that hundreds of young men have felt and imagined themselves poets....”38
His first poem to be published outside a college journal was “Winter Evening,” which appeared in the Montreal-based Canadian Illustrated News on 3 February 1883. Signed simply “A. Lampman,” it bears the subscription “Ottawa, January 22, 1883,” presumably indicating the date it was submitted to the magazine. Its prompt acceptance was a modest success for the aspiring poet, raising hopes that there might really be a market for his work. Although the poem is standard magazine fare, neither better nor worse that the average contribution to the Canadian Illustrated News, the opening lines
Westward the sunset is waning slow,
A far torn flame on the silent snow
contain an image (“torn flame”) suggestive of the startlingly original imagery often found later in his mature work.
His next contribution to the Canadian Illustrated News would not be poetry, but a four-column review of The Life and Times of Sir John A. Macdonald, recently published by his friend Edmund Collins whose “earnest advocacy of Canadian independence,” he says, “... whether we agree with him or not, cannot fail to impress us.” Using adjectives like “vivid,” “picturesque,” and “powerful” to praise the work in general, he finds the long chapter on “Thought and Literature” to be the most interesting section. “A great part of the chapter,” he notes, “is devoted to glowing and masterly examination of the works of the two first of Canadian singers, Roberts and Frechette, in his unbounded admiration of whom we entirely agree.”39
As soon as he heard that Roberts was arriving in Toronto in September, he wrote jubilantly to Ritchie:
I shall visit you in October for three weeks, and we
shall all be together there—IO TRIUMPHE! We shall
occupy one end of a table at St. Simon and St. Jude’s—
the four of us together for the oysters and the sherry and the
tobacco— and the schemes we shall hatch there.40
Besides himself and Ritchie, the other members of the foursome were undoubtedly Edmund Collins and Charles G.D. Roberts.
As a soon-to-be editor, already gathering material, Roberts was happy to accept a poem from Lampman for the first issue of The Week, which appeared on 6 December 1883. Called “A Monition,” it is a commonplace personification of the seasons: summer being vanquished by winter, “the slayer,” and the earth being cautioned to “make thy bosom and thy sad lips ready/ For the cold kisses of the folding snow.” Later, the poem would be be re-titled “The Coming of Winter” in Among the Millet, Lampman’s first book of verse (1888). Next, on 17 January 1884, The Week published his “Three Flower Petals,” a pleasant trifle about a little girl at the garden gate who hands him three petals from the “gold-rimmed face of a sunflower.”
“A Fantasy,” his third poem in The Week, the hectic brevity of life is mirrored by the swirl of the falling leaves with which the winds “make revel for a day and night.” Once again, the comparison is not original, but the poem succeeds in conjuring a mood of frenzy. It appeared on 7 February 1884, shortly before Roberts resigned from the magazine, exhausted by overwork and frustrated by Goldwin Smith’s editorial interference. During his short tenure, he had furthered Lampman’s reputation, not just out of friendship, but out of faith in his potential and a zeal for promoting Canadian literature. Thanks to his kindly espousal, Lampman was firmly established as a contributor to The Week, and his poems continued to appear in its pages long after Roberts’ departure. In fact, The Week has the destinction of being the best market ever for Lampman’s work, having published thirty-eight of his poems before it folded in 1896.
In the fall of 1883, since it seemed likely that Lampman would remain in Ottawa at least for the foreseeable future, his parents decided to join him, taking their three daughters with them. The girls were all gifted: Isabelle (Belle) was studying art; Annie, barely sixteen, had been supplying as organist at Trinity Church in Toronto; Caroline, the youngest, already showed artistic promise in her painting and the novelettes she liked to write. Yet, Archie was still the chief focus of the family, becoming the de facto head of the household. The small but “decidedly pleasant” frame house they moved into at 144 Nicholas Street was rented in his name, probably because he was paying the greatest share of the expenses, although both Annie and his mother were soon earning money by giving music lessons. “Here,” he wrote to Ritchie, “we shall smoke pipes at Christmas and make ourselves merry in a small room which I intend to appropriate to my special use.”41
After Christmas, Lampman was joined in Ottawa by his mentor, Edmund Collins, who was completing the research for his next book: Canada under the Administration of Lord Lorne. Connor’s speculation on the hours that “the two friends smoked and talked and walked together, busy with numberless schemes,” probably paints an accurate picture, judging from Lampman’s letters to Ritchie in Toronto. He mentions having written six chapters of a novel (never completed), adding that “Collins seems quite pleased with what I had done.” Referring to the literary aspirations of Ritchie and himself, he predicts “[W]ith Joseph Edmund to egg us on we shall surely do something.”42 Meanwhile, he was collaborating anonymously with Collins on the Lord Lorne volume by contributing scenic descriptions of Ontario and Quebec. Collins repaid the favour by mentioning his friend in a chapter on Canadian literature: “[W]e read with pleasure, frequently with enthusiasm, the verses that now and then appear from Mr. Lampman.”43 If that sounds like faint praise, it must be kept in mind that as yet, besides “Winter Evening,” Lampman had published only a half dozen poems, three of them in the college journal Rouge et Noir and the others in The Week with its limited circulation. Two years later, Collins would dedicate his novel, Annette, the Métis Spy, to “my friend Archibald Lampman whose beautiful and unaffected genius men will someday be delighted to honour with unvarying and inextinguishable love.”44 In turn, after Collins’ death in 1892 at the age of thirty-seven, Lampman would write of him:
Collins was almost the literary father of some of the young men who are now winning fame among us. [In particular, Lampman was undoubtedly thinking of Charles G.D. Roberts.] There are only a few people who know what Joseph Edmund Collins has done for our literature in this way, and perhaps all that he has done will never be known.45
While Collins’ encouragement was important to Lampman’s early development as a poet, it would fall to Duncan Campbell Scott to ensure that the poetry would outlive the poet, but that is getting ahead of the story. Scott had been a clerk in the Department of Indian Affairs for three years by the time Lampman joined him in the civil service in Ottawa. Not only were they the same age within a year, but they soon discovered that they were congenial spirits with similar artistic tastes, despite the differences in their personalities. In contrast to Scott’s sober reserve, only occasionally brightened by a dry and somewhat acid wit, Lampman’s lighter demeanor seemed almost high spirited. Coming under Lampman’s influence, Scott soon began to experiment seriously with verse, but poetry was not the only enthusiasm they shared. They both revelled in the out-of-doors. It was Scott who “introduced Lampman to the north lands of the Gatineau and the Lièvre and to camping and canoeing, a sort of life he had never known, and to the Lower St. Lawrence.”46
Meanwhile, at the age of twenty-three, Lampman had fallen in love, almost at first sight, with a tall, graceful young beauty he had met at St. Alban’s Anglican Church in Ottawa. She was Maud Playter, the fifteen-year-old daughter of Dr. Edward Playter, formerly a Toronto physician, who had recently moved to Ottawa to edit Man, one of Canada’s first medical journals. Maud was delicate and somewhat flighty, but very stubborn when it came to getting what she wanted, and she made it clear to her father that she wanted Archibald Lampman. Dr. Playter liked him—in fact, he published Lampman’s fairy tale, “Hans Fingerhut’s Frog Lesson,” in the first issue of Man -- but he had the foresight to see that a marriage between his privileged daughter and an impecunious government clerk had the makings of disaster.
Reared in a household where there was always one servant, sometimes more, there had been no need for Maud to learn how to cook and look after a house. She had learned to play the piano rather pleasingly, loved to dance, play cards, and visit, but had an aversion to domestic tasks of any kind. She enjoyed buying pretty clothes and keeping up with the latest fashions, and liked the family carriage to be available whenever she wanted to drive out to show off her finery. Understanding the irresponsible side of his daughter’s nature, and believing her still too young to know her own mind, Dr. Playter tried to discourage the romance by imposing restrictions. He began by limiting Lampaman’s visits to one evening a week, but this opposition only made Maud more determined and her young lover more persistent. Even the ruse of packing Maud off to visit friends or relatives in Toronto and elsewhere did not work. Absence apparently made the heart grow fonder even though Maud was sometimes too busy having fun to send her lover a letter. “I think you ought to write me a little oftener than you do,” Lampman complained. “You cannot be thinking of me when you write so seldom.”47 His own letters are full of playful pet names: “Puss” and “Chick” for her, and the extraordinary sobriquet “Spunk” for himself.
Lampman was under no illusions about Maud’s disinterest in intellectual pursuits, but during the heady days of their courtship he was too infatuated by her beauty and charm for that to matter. These lines from “The Growth of Love,” a sequence of eleven sonnets written between 1884 and 1885, explain his feelings:
My Lady is not learned in many books
Nor hath much love for grave discourses, strung
With gaudy ornament; for she is young
And full of many pranks and laughing looks;
And yet her heart hath many tender nooks
Of fervour and sweet charity; her tongue
For all its laughter, yet is often wrung
With soft compassion for Life’s painful crooks.
I love my Lady for her lovely face
And for her mouth and for her eyes and hair;
More still I love her for her laughing grace
And for her wayward ways and changeful air;
But most of all Love gaineth ground apace
Because my Lady’s heart is pure and fair.
He was too blinded by youthful passion to see that those qualities he most admired might be eroded by the grind of living in near-poverty as the wife of an underpaid clerk.
It is easy to see Maud as a frivolous creature, especially if she is pictured against Lampman’s sober streak. His prankish nature as an undergraduate has been well documented, but he was always something of a “stick-in-the-mud” when it came to social occasions. In contrast to his fellow-poet, Charles G.D. Roberts, who loved parties and dancing, Lampman once declared:
How painfully we take our amusements and how
many intolerable things are done in the name of
enjoyment. A room full of whist players is a
spectacle to make a philosopher weep, and a
progressive euchre party will turn the head of a
sensitive man grey in a single night.
More misery can be got out of a common
dancing party than from an hour’s outpour of
one of our popular preachers.48
In the winter of 1887, a few months before he and Maud were married, he was laid up with an ulcerated knee while she was enjoying a round of parties. When she wrote to sympathize with him for missing them, he replied: “What amuses me, O Strange Little One, is that you commiserate with me for having missed all these things. I assure you, Dear, I am heartily thankful that I had nothing to do with them. I would much rather be laid up with a sore leg any day.”49 This was another indication, if Maud had been mature enough to see it, that marriage to Lampman might not be much fun. For his part, he was still too smitten to heed any warnings that their personalities and interests were incompatible.
Once Maud turned eighteen, her father withdrew his opposition, despite his lingering reservations, and the young couple were married at St. Alban’s Church on 3 September 1887. The Ottawa Journal reported:
Mr. Duncan C. Scott acted as groomsman and Miss [Catherine] Playter as bridesmaid, and Rev. H. Pollard tied the nuptial knot. The ceremony was quiet, only intimate friends being present. The bride was attired in a gray travelling dress. The happy couple left on the 3:15 train for Prescott from which they take a three weeks tour through the States.50
Two years earlier, in one of his love letters to Maud, Lampman informed her: “I have written a poem called ‘Among the Millet,’ which, when I have done with it, I will copy and send you it tho’ I’m afraid it is very dry.”51 Perhaps he was only being modest, but he may have suspected that his fun-loving Maud found most of his poetry rather “dry.” Yet, unlike the wife of Charles G.D. Roberts who had no interest whatever in her husband’s poetry, Maud was proud of Archie’s talent, and who could blame her if she felt flattered for having inspired poems like “Perfect Love” and “Love-Wonder.” His rhapsodies about her “saint’s pale grace,” her “golden hair,” and “eyes like a prayer” were enough to turn her pretty head. When she came into a small legacy soon after their marriage, she handed it over to pay for printing a collection of his poems, which opened with this ingratiating apology:
To My Wife
Though fancy and the might of rhyme
That turneth like the tide.
Have borne me many a musing time,
Beloved, from thy side,
As yet, I pray thee, deem not, Sweet,
Those hours were given in vain;
Within these covers to thy feet
I bring them back again.
He must have thought highly of that “dry” poem after all—or perhaps its simplicity made it one of Maud’s favourites—for he chose to call his collection Among the Millet, and Other Poems. It appeared in 1888 under the imprint of John Durie, an Ottawa bookseller, although Lampman (or Maud to be more precise) had to foot the bill. Unlike many first collections, it is no slim volume. More than a quarter of its seventy-one poems are rather lengthy—one of them extending to 418 lines. There is variety in form as well: lyrics and sonnets that include some of his most memorable work; narratives and dramatic monologues that suffer from being too prolix. “Among the Millet,” a lyric based upon the stale simile of clouds being shepherded across the sky like sheep, is a rather feeble selection to introduce Lampman to his readers, but it establishes a theme he would repeat in much better poems:
The dew is gleaming in the grass.
The morning hours are seven,
And I am fain to watch you pass,
Ye soft white clouds of heaven.
Lying in the grass, daydreaming, was one of his favourite pastimes, but since he was not an early riser (according to his friend Scott52), it was unusual for him to be out as early as seven o’clock in the morning. He was more likely to be found in the fields “when the noon was turning” (“Among the Timothy”) into “the full furnace” of the day (“Heat”).
“Among the Millet” is followed by “April,” a longer and more ambitious poem, but hardly any more distinguished. From the opening stanza, addressing the month as a “Still priestess” and alluding the “green kirtled May,” it is mostly an imitation of Keats, redeemed by only a few fresh images such as the “tangled etchings” of maple branches mirrored on the water. It does, however, introduce another theme that would appear again and again in Lampman’s poetry: the soothing effect of nature over the city-weary spirit. Escaping to the countryside on an April day, he has
Wandered with happy feet, and quite forgot
The shallow toil, the strife against the grain,
Near souls, that hear us call, but answer not,
The loneliness, perplexity and pain,
And high thoughts cankered with an earthly stain;
And then, the long draught emptied to the lees,
I turn me homeward in slow-pacing ease.
“April” is closely followed by “The Frogs,” also very much in the manner of Keats. Comprised of five sonnets, it expresses the security Lampman feels in the unchanging ways of nature in an otherwise impermanent world:
Morning and noon and midnight exquisitely,
Rapt with your voices, this alone we knew,
Cities might change and fall, and men might die,
Secure were we, content to dream with you
That change and pain are shadows faint and fleet,
And dreams are real, and life is only sweet.
Perhaps it matters little that Lampman’s fluting frogs were really toads. Duncan Campbell Scott, who personally confirmed the fact with a naturalist, commented that Lampman “came to know that but found it impossible to be accurate.”53 After all, frogs were debatably romantic (in fairy tales they changed into princes!), but toads definitely were not.
There is nothing remarkable farther along until the reader is lulled by the sun-soaked landscape of “Heat.” Its mesmeric effect needs to be quoted in full:
From plains that reel to southward, dim,
The road runs by me white and bare;
Up the steep hill it seems to swim
Beyond, and melt into the glare.
Upward half-way, or it may be
Nearer the summit, slowly steals
A hay-cart, moving dustily
With idly clacking wheels.
By his cart’s side the wagoner
Is slouching slowly at his ease,
Half-hidden in the windless blur
Of white dust puffing to his knees.
This wagon on the heights above,
From sky to sky on either hand,
Is the sole thing that seems to move
In all the heat-held land.
Beyond me in the fields the sun
Soaks in the grass and hath his will;
I count the marguerites one by one;
Even the buttercups are still.
On the brook yonder not a breath
Disturbs the spider or the midge.
The water-bugs draw close beneath
The cool gloom of the bridge.
Where the far elm-tree shadows flood
Dark patches in the burning grass,
The cows, each with her peaceful cud,
Lie waiting for the heat to pass.
From somewhere on the slope near by
Into the pale depth of the noon
A wandering thrush slides leisurely
His thin revolving tune.
In intervals of dreams I hear
The cricket from the droughty ground;
The grasshoppers spin into mine ear
A small innumerable sound.
I lift mine eyes sometimes to gaze:
The burning sky-line blinds my sight:
The woods far off are blue with haze:
The hills are drenched in light.
And yet to me not this or that
Is always sharp or always sweet;
In the sloped shadow of my hat
I lean at rest, and drain the heat;
Nay more, I think some blessed power
Hath brought me wandering idly here:
In the full furnace of the hour
My thoughts grow keen and clear.
Desmond Pacey, in analyzing the structure of “Heat,” points to the effectiveness of its “circular movement” and use of “balanced opposites,”54 two devices that may not make an immediate impression upon the casual reader. What sticks in the mind are its choice phrases such as “thin revolving tune,” describing the glissando note of the thrush. Another arresting phrase, “the small innumerable sound” of the grasshoppers, became so deeply imbedded in the consciousness of Bliss Carman that he unwittingly appropriated it in the original version of his poem “The Eavesdropper.”
“Morning on the Lièvre” is noteworthy for several reasons. Looser in structure and rhyme, it stands out in a collection of otherewise conventional verse forms. It is also an interesting record of Lampman’s first camping trip with Duncan Campbell Scott. In late August 1884, the two friends ventured north-east of Ottawa to the Lièvre River in Quebec. These lines from the middle stanza picture them in their canoe as the “skirts of mist” lift from the river:
Softly as a cloud we go.
Sky above and sky below,
Down the river; and the dip
Of the paddles scarcely breaks,
With the little silvery drip
Of the water as it shakes
From the blades, the crystal deep
Of the silence of the morn,
Of the forest yet asleep;
And the river reaches borne
In a mirror, purple gray,
To the misty line of light,
Where the forest and the stream,
In the shadow meet and plight
Like a dream.
The scenes are depicted with such clarity that in 1961 David Bairstow of the National Film Board of Canada easily illustrated a voice-over reading of the poem with his camera, resulting in a prize-winning short film, “Morning on the Lièvre.”
“Sonnet writing is a fascinating exercise,” Lampman declared in 1892. “Every man who writes verse at all must write a sonnet.”55 Having followed his own injunction since early on, he had numerous sonnets ready for his first collection. Several, such as “Perfect Love,” were romantic musings inspired by Maud during their courtship. Several, with titles such as “Comfort,” “Despondency,” and “Gentleness,” reflect the fluctuation of his spirits. His sonnet on “Knowledge” concludes wistfully:
Oh, for a life of leisure and broad hours,
To think and dream, to put away small things,
This world’s perpetual leaguer of dull naughts;
To wander like a bee among the flowers
Till old age find us weary, feet and wings
Grown heavy with the gold of many thoughts.
The pictorial truth of “In November” makes it comparable to the best sonnets of Charles G.D. Roberts:
| The hills and leafless forests slowly yield
To the thick-driven snow. A little while
And night shall darken down. In shouting file
The woodmen’s carts go by me homeward-wheeled.
Past the thin fading stubbles, half concealed,
Now golden-gray, sowed softly through with snow,
Where the last ploughman follows still his row,
Turning black furrows through the whitening field.
Far-off the village lamps begin to gleam,
Fast drives the snow, and no man comes this way;
The hills grow wintry white, and bleak winds moan
About the naked uplands. I alone
Am neither sad, nor shelterless, nor gray,
Wrapped round with thought, content to watch and dream.
“To think and dream;” “to watch and dream.” The theme of thoughtful, watchful dreaming resounds throughout Among the Millet. Clearly, Lampman was a dreamer, but it came about as much through necessity as by choice. Given the restrictions imposed upon him by his frail constitution, it is hardly surprising that he was more disposed to meditation than action. On occasion, he was able to push his strength to surprising limits, especially during his camping excursions. For much of the time, however, his depleted energy made dreaming (preferably in the “comfort of the fields”) his happiest occupation.
His physical condition undoubtedly affected Lampman’s ambition to further his career in the civil service or elsewhere. Only for his poetry, the by-product of dreaming, did he cherish any ambition. Here, for a time at least, he was not to be disappointed. With the encouraging reviews of Among the Millet, even in some of the British and American periodicals, came evidence that he was impressing the critics. Among the enthusiastic reviews was one by Charles G.D. Roberts (now Professor Roberts of King’s College, Windsor, N.S.) in Progress, a Saint John weekly. No surprise there—Roberts had been his champion right from the start. The real surprise was William Dean Howells’ review in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, New York.
As the long-time editor of The Atlantic Monthly before joining Harper’s in 1886, William Dean Howells (1837-1920) had established himself as the leading arbitrator of American taste. Sinclair Lewis thought “he had the code of a pious old maid,”56 but that was the reaction of a later generation. His influence had already prevailed for nearly a quarter century when he declared that Lampman seemed “always to have the right word on his lips,” and that every page of Among the Millet contained “some charm of phrase, some exquisite divination of beauty, some happily suggested truth”57
Praise like that from Howells usually guaranteed a poet an entrée with magazine editors. It should have been enough to convince Maud that her inheritance had been put to good use. She probably needed assurance that her husband’s star was rising in some respect at least. As yet, there were no signs that he was on his way up in the civil service. His salary being only $700 a year, it was difficult even to rent a suitable house. For the first couple of years they lived at 381 Stewart Street, next door to the Playters, but found it more than they could manage and elected to move in with his family at 96 Queen Street. His parents, who were always needy, undoubtedly welcomed some help with their rent, but otherwise it was not an ideal arrangement, especially for Maud. She was inept at household chores and had little in common with her husband’s sisters. Isabelle, the eldest, having married the Reverend Ernest Voorhis in 1890, was living in New York, but the other two were still at home. Although Annie and Caroline Lampman were only slightly older than their sister-in-law (three years and one year respectively), they were so much more gifted and competent that they made her feel immature, inadequate, and apparently unwanted. In an undated letter to Archie, written while she was visiting in Toronto, Maud makes a trenchant reference to “the girls”: “I suppose they would rather do the work, and have me away....”58
In his letters to Maud after their marriage, Lampman sounds like a genuinely devoted husband. Even when he addresses her as “Madam,” it strikes the reader as intentionally whimsical. He was an affectionate man with an engaging sense of humour, but he was also introspective and moody. Duncan Campbell Scott, who protested (too much perhaps) that “The cast of Lampman’s nature was not towards melancholy,” blamed “his emotional storms and variations of mood” on his “brilliant” mind and “bad health which depresses anybody.”59 Unlike Scott, who saw Lampman’s mood swings only intermittently, poor Maud had to live with them on a daily basis. Furthermore, since Lampman lacked the drive of someone like Scott who was moving upward in the civil service, she could see them stagnating in Ottawa. She longed to move back to Toronto where she often visited with friends from childhood. “They are all crazy for us to come and live in Toronto,” she once wrote home to him. “Oh how I wish I could,” she prodded, “you must keep your eyes open for something here for my sake.”60
Lampman was never one to push for his own best interests, but Edward William Thomson, an editorial writer for The Globe (Toronto), argued publicly that the author of Among the Millet should receive some recognition from the federal government. His Globe editorial on 12 March 1890 appealed to the Prime Minister to give Lampman an easier goverment appointment at better pay, quoting precedents in the British government:
Sir John Macdonald is not all that we could wish in things
political, but he has often shown his possession of sound
literary taste and judgment. He is well able to understand
that Mr. Lampman is not merely a glory to his country-
men, but that his work is of material value in Canada as
raising the country’s literary repute abroad. We hope the
Premier will read “Among the Millet”, if he has not
already done so, inform himself of what the first critics
of England and America have said of Mr. Lampman’s
work, and then proceed as a British Prime Minister would
do in such circumstances.61
The editorial may not have taken Lampman completely by surprise. He appears to have been acquainted with the writer, at least casually, probably through Edmund Collins who had been Thomson’s colleague on The Globe. Just prior to the editorial’s appearance, Thomson had been in Ottawa where he had the opportunity to congratulate the author of Among the Millet in person. He made no secret of his fear that the poet’s creativity might be stifled in the tedium of an underpaid clerkship. His public proposal for a remedy “excited a good deal of attention,” but it came to nothing because Lampman, hampered by pride and shyness, took no initiative in the matter. “John A. thought of giving him something,” Thomson commented later, “[b]ut he rather expected Archie to solicit it in some way.”62 At the time, the aging Prime Minister had even more problems than usual on his mind, including another general election which would turn out to be his last. Exhausted from campaigning, he died three months after his re-election without having done anything for Lampman. However, although the editorial failed to achieve the desired results, Lampman’s life would be affected by it in a very significant way. His grateful letter to Thomson was the beginning of a correspondence that led to a warm friendship between the two men.
In many ways they were a study in contrasts, the robust Thomson being as active and decisive as the sickly Lampman was passive and hesitant. Born in York Township, Upper Canada, in 1849—which made him twelve years older than Lampman—he had led a colourful life before turning to journalism. Ending his formal education at the age of fourteen, he went to live with an uncle and aunt in Philadelphia where he found employment as an office boy in a wholesale mercantile house. The work was not to his liking, but one day before he quit he had a chance meeting he never forgot. A tall, impressive passerby, who stopped to shake hands with him, was none other than Abraham Lincoln, who became one of his great heroes. Before he was sixteen, he joined the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry as a trooper, seeing action at the two battles of Hatcher’s Run in Virginia and in the subsequent battle when General Grant took Petersburg and forced the surrender of the Confederate Army. After returning to Upper Canada in 1865, he joined the Queen’s Own Rifles the next year and fought against the Fenians when they attacked across Lake Erie. Obtaining his registration as a Professional Land Surveyor in 1872, he worked on the building of the Carillon canal in Quebec where he fell in love with the daughter of a wealthy French Canadian merchant in Point Fortune. Her father objected strongly to the match, probably on the grounds of nationalism and/or religion. Unlike Lampman, however, Thomson was unwilling to wait in the hope of overcoming parental opposition. Instead, he persuaded the alluring daughter to elope.
Just as the friendship between the two men began flourishing through letters, Thomson resigned from The Globe in 1891 in protest against the paper’s support of “Unlimited Reciprocity” with the United States. Soon after, he accepted an appointment to the editorial staff of The Youth’s Companion in Boston, whereupon he immediately invited Lampman to visit him in order to be introduced to Boston’s literary circles. When the visit, which took place in August, did not result in any job prospects, as he had hoped, Thomson kept an eye out for something else to liberate his friend from Ottawa’s civil service. He asked an acquaintance at Cornell to look for something at the university, but there was nothing available except a routine position in the library, which did not appeal to Lampman. Later, Lampman turned down Thomson’s offer to join The Youth’s Companion staff as a reader, probably suspecting that the work would make more demands on his mental energy than his routine job in the Post Office. Besides, he had recently been promoted to a second class clerkship with a modest increase in salary. It was not enough to provide any luxuries, but was sufficient to give him an excuse for not making any decisive moves.
In Thomson, Lampman found a new mentor, replacing Edmund Collins, who had been lured to New York to edit The Epoch, a weekly magazine devoted to the arts, sciences, and social issues. Collins lasted less than two years as editor, leaving The Epoch in 1889, likely being fired because his heavy drinking was affecting his work. Thereafter, he fell upon hard times, picking up only some occasional hack work. Sometime in 1890 he was taken in by Bliss Carman, who shared a New York flat with him and put up with his alcoholism for more than a year. Collins spent part of the summer of 1891 camping in a tent on Charles G.D. Roberts’ lawn in Windsor, Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, Roberts found him so changed by dissipation than he was no longer a congenial companion. Upon his return to New York, his condition worsened rapidly, ending with his death on 13 February 1892. Lampman’s lengthy eulogy in The Globe concluded:
The few who were his nearest friends—and one of the nearest was myself—will always tenderly remember his passionate constancy of friendship, his prodigal generosity, his contagious humour, his gift of story-telling, and all the strange whims of his emphatic personality.63
Outwardly, Thomson’s manner was bluff and hearty, but behind that façade was a sensitive and compassionate nature that invited confidences. With an openness Lampman could never display to anyone else, he found himself pouring out his feelings to this man, especially his nagging self-doubts and recurring despondency. In one of his dark moods of frank self-analysis, he wrote to Thomson:
I am not a great poet and I never was. Greatness in poetry must proceed from greatness of character -- from force, fearlessness, brightness. I have none of those qualities. I am, if anything, the very opposite, I am weak, I am a coward, I am a hypochondriac. I am a minor poet of a superior order, and that is all.64
In these moments of despair, he was bolstered by Thomson’s faith and encouragement. “Your letters always have an exhilarating and refreshing effect upon me,” he wrote back on one occasion. “I feel a rekindling of life after I have read them.”65
Right up until his death, Lampman’s emotional ups and downs (mostly downs) can be traced through his correspondence with Thomson. The letters also reveal his reactions to many of the major events in his personal life. His daughter, Natalie, born 11 January 1892, turned him into an adoring but fearful father. “She is fat and rosy and golden crowned, perpetually into mischief and never at rest from dawn to dark,” he announced by the time she was two years old. “She will be hopelessly spoiled, I see that. I have not the steadfastness and consistency of disposition necessary to make a good father and trainer of children, and my wife is too nervous.”66 He described his son, Arnold Gesner, born 12 May 1894, as “the most beautiful child I ever saw,” and was devastated when the boy died three months later of dysentry after “the natural supply of mother’s milk gave out.”67
Following Natalie’s birth, the Lampmans moved into a tiny house on Florence Street that had a claustraphobic effect upon Lampman and stifled his creative impulses. The quarters were all the more cramped because Maud could not cope without a maid. She was to have a succession of “hired girls” over the next few years since none of them ever stayed with her very long, but the fault may not have lain entirely with her. The Lampmans could neither afford nor attract the more stable and reliable type of domestic. During one interval between maids, Lampman complained to Thomson of having to help with the dishes. Having been reared in a Victorian household where his mother and sisters performed all the household tasks, he was a product of his time and environment with fixed ideas on what chores should be considered women’s work.
He was happier when they moved to a large row house at 169 Daly Street in the fall of 1892. It was expensive to rent, costly to heat, and therefore barely affordable, but at last he had a room where he could shut himself away to write in solitude. Two years later, he moved a few doors away to 375 Daly, but within a year he was reduced to finding quarters in the house of his father-in-law, Dr. Playter, at 383 Stewart Street. Meanwhile, his younger sisters, both music teachers, who had been contributing to the support of their parents, were now married and living in their own homes in Ottawa. For a brief period, the father and mother stayed with Caroline and her husband, Billy Ross, before moving into the Playter home with their son. For the last two years of his life Lampman rented part of a badly lighted three-storey brick house at the corner of Bay and Slater Streets. These frequent moves undoubtedly amplified the turmoils in his personal life—but more of that later.
In 1891, Wilfred Campbell, having become disillusioned as a clergyman, joined the civil service in Ottawa, albeit in a temporary position that paid a pittance of $1.50 a day. From the beginning, Lampman and Scott had mixed feelings about this fellow-poet in their midst. “He really can write some good poetry,” Lampman conceded later on, calling him “a man of infinite devotion, infinite ambition (and infinite conceit).”68 Out of pity for the financial straits of their new acquaintance, however, Lampman and Scott put their private reservations aside and proposed early in 1892 that he join them in collaborating on a column for the Toronto Globe. Thus began the weekly feature “At the Mermaid Inn” for which each of the three writers received the sum of three dollars regularly. Although the primary purpose had been to help Campbell support his wife and four children, Lampman also counted on those extra dollars each week.
Lampman, with eighty-seven contributions to the “Mermaid” column, outdid each of his partners by about twenty items. He writes engagingly about his preferences and convictions. He defends smoking as conducive to meditation—a feeling he shared with Thomson. He pronounces women to be intellectually equal to men—no doubt having the example of his mother and sisters in mind, not that of his wife. He chooses the King James version over later translations of the Bible, and prefers cremation over the burial of the body. The books he would want with him if he were marooned on an island or cast into prison are the Bible, Homer’s epics, Shakespeare’s plays, Wordsworth’s poetry, Goethe’s autobiography, and Cervantes’ Don Quixote. He finds Ottawa remarkable for its picturesque setting, not its commercial enterprise nor its political integrity, and he deplores its lack of an adequate art gallery. Characteristically, he declares “The man who is able at all times to find perfect and profound satisfaction in the contemplation of a tree, a field, a flower, or a ‘spear of grass,’ can never be bored save by his fellow creatures.”69
Some of his assessments of contemporary poets may seem less than sound today. He ranks Matthew Arnold as one of the three or four greatest English poets of all time. More surprisingly, although Alfred Austin, later Tennyson’s successor as poet laureate, was always the butt of jokes over his negligible talent, Lampman considers him to be a good poet. To three of his Canadian contemporaries—Roberts, Carman, and Frederick George Scott—he doles out generous though not unqualified praise. He is hardest on Roberts even while conceding that “When Professor Roberts undertakes anything seriously in verse he rarely fails to do it well.” He likes Roberts’ sonnets, ranking “at least one of them of a high order,” but finds his “patriotic outbursts” too “boastful” at a time when the political climate would make satire more appropriate. He acclaims Roberts’ “Ave!” in slightly contradictory terms (“beautiful and strenuous stanzas,” “sonorous pomp”) while many phrases are clearly negative (“a little heavy,” “wanting in flexibility”).70 F.G. Scott’s “In Via Mortis” is commended as “a continued advance upon the quality, already in some cases fine, of such previous work of this writer as we have seen.”71 Of his fellow Canadians, Bliss Carman receives the kindest treatment:
Many people will complain of his obscurity, and he is often—very often— obscure, because he does not aim at conveying clearly-cut images and ideas, but prefers, in obedience to a powerful impulse of his own mind, to steep his reader’s imagination in splendid moods through the agency of magnificent metrical effects and a vast and mysterious imagery. Whether obscure or not, for the true lover of poetry there is one presence that covers a multitude of faults— the presence of beauty. We cavil in vain at a man’s work if it is beautiful, and Mr. Carman’s work is exquisitively beautiful.72
“At the Mermaid Inn” made its final appearance in The Globe on 1 July 1893 with no contribution from Lampman. According to Scott, there were two reasons for its demise:
Campbell was a source of worry when we were doing
“At the Mermaid Inn”; in fact, the irritation of some
of his stuff on the public and the constant watch that
had to be kept upon his opinions went far to stop the
Series; but it was pretty well played out, simply because,
situated as we were, there was not enough material to
keep the thing fresh.73
Since the publication of Among the Millet in 1888, Lampman’s poems had been appearing regularly in popular magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Scribner’s, and (most frequently of all, thanks to Thomson’s influence) The Youth’s Companion. By 1892, he had enough material ready for a new collection. Hoping not to publish this one at his own expense—Maud not having any more legacies!—he sent it to a succession of five companies before it was accepted by F. Holland Day (Carman’s aesthetic friend and recent publisher) and his partner, Herbert Copeland. After considering various titles for the volume, including a stodgy “Pictures and Meditations” and an ambiguous “Virgin Limits,” he settled on Lyrics of Earth. Its copyright date is given as 1895, but its actual publication took place in March 1896.
Relying upon Thomson’s advice in preparing Lyrics of Earth, Lampman selected and arranged his poems to follow the sequence of the seasons from spring to winter. Thomson, besides being a journalist and editor, was a writer of short stories and occasional verse. The best of his stories are realistic portrayals of early Canadian life, but his poetry seldom rises above mediocrity. Nevertheless, as a critic of poetry, he could recognize and appreciate originality. Lampman had great confidence in his friend’s opinion, and indeed the seasonal pattern gives the collection greater uniformity than Among the Millet, but the content shows no advance in artistry and little change in attitude. He is still roaming the fields and dreaming in the grass, finding solace and inspiration in nature:
What would’st thou have for easement after grief,
When the rude world hath used thee with despite.
And care sits at thine elbow day and night,
Filching thy pleasures like a subtle thief?
To me when life besets me in this wise.
“Tis sweetest to break forth, to drop the chain,
And grasp the freedom of this pleasant earth,
To roam in idleness and sober mirth,
Through summer airs and summer lands, and drain
The comfort of wide fields unto tired eyes.
(“Comfort of the Fields”)
If anything, Lampman’s later work is more strident in voicing his disenchantment with the city:
I strayed through the midst of the city
Like one distracted or mad.
“Oh Life! Oh Life!” I kept saying
And the very word seemed sad.
I passed through the gates of the city
And I heard the small birds sing.
I laid me down in the meadows
Afar from the bell-ringing.
In the depth and bloom of the meadows
I lay on the earth’s quiet breast,
The poplar fanned me with shadows.
And the veery sang me to rest.
Blue, blue was the heaven above me.
And the earth green at my feet;
“Oh Life! Oh Life!” I kept saying,
And the very word seemed sweet.
(“Life and Nature”)
Occasional lines, like “The shore-lark drops his brittle song” from “April in the Hills,” are strokes of perfection, but the poet has nothing new to say about the healing powers of nature and the distress of urban life. Undoubtedly, these later poems are true expressions of his unchanging feelings, but sincerity without fresh variation is not enough. Besides, there was nothing original about the notion that city dwellers forfeited the wholesome conditions of country life. The ever-inceasing influx of people to urban centres was accompanied by a sentimental feeling that a simpler life, closer to nature, had somehow been better for the mind and spirit. It was a safe poetic theme to use as fillers in the popular magazines, but of itself it lacked the appeal to sell a whole book. The sales of Lyrics of Earth were disappointing and the only critical notices were four brief though favourable reviews. In size, the volume is slighter than Among the Millet—twenty-nine poems in contrast to forty-eight—and in quality fails to surpass the earlier work.
Lyrics of Earth appeared during a period of upheaval in Lampman’s personal life. In less than two years after his marriage, he became attracted to Katherine Waddell, an unmarried Post Office clerk whose desk was only a few feet away from his own. She was as plain as Maud was pretty, but she was nearer to his age (born 26 June 1865), and much closer to him in her interests and outlook. Their warm friendship developed into a romantic liaison that came to light in the 1970s through the revelations of Margaret Coulby Whitridge, although L.R. Early suggests that “Conjectures about his relationship with ‘Kate,’ especially about the extent of their intimacy and its duration, should be treated with caution.”74 However, there is no mistaking the depth of feeling in some of the poems she inspired:
There is no single hour for me, no place
Unhallowed by her presence nobly sweet.
The slender form so deftly made for grace,
From the pure forehead to the winged feet,
The beautiful broad brow so soft and full
Above the tender eye-lids and veiled eyes,
Where gleams of lovely laughter break and lull,
And sparkling tears and such deep mysteries
Of mind and spirit as the kind sweet lips
Leave speechless for the sense of love to learn.
To her forever like storm-stained ships
To the old havens, all my thoughts return—
Return and lie close moored—to rest a while
By some stored look or some long-treasured smile.
Finding a soul-mate in Katherine Waddell deepened Lampman’s dissatisfaction with his marriage. Maud was equally unhappy and became subject to various disorders that appear to have been triggered, in part at least, by her nerves. Occasional periods of separation were followed by shaky reconciliations because divorce was unthinkable to them both. The situation was not easy for Kate, either. As time passed, she found the role of “the other woman” increasingly untenable until she ended the affair sometime in either 1895 or 1896. A despondent Lampman continued to see her at work, of course, but had to be content with loving her from a discreet distance.
Adding to Lampman’s depression throughout the spring and summer of 1896 was the state of his father’s health. The senior Lampman, whose other afflictions remain a mystery, was now slowly dying of cancer. At the end of August, since it appeared that the sick man would linger indefinitely, Lampman felt he could risk spending his annual three-week vacation on a long-anticipated canoe trip with two of his brothers-in-law. With Lake Temagami in Northern Ontario as their destination, they travelled first by train and later by boat until they reached Lake Timiskaming on the border between Ontario and Quebec.
Launching their canoe, they set off for the Hudson’s Bay post on Bear Island in Lake Temagami, sixty-five miles distant. Travelling across a series of lakes, with numerous and occasionally arduous portages was exhilarating but fatiguing for the never robust Lampman. To make matters worse, early in the journey he caught a troublesome cold, which he was unable to shake. During the return trip, one of his brothers-in-law left the party early in order to keep an appointment, but Lampman and the other (probably Billy Ross, Caroline’s husband) continued on, Lampman rashly throwing caution to the winds by insisting upon shooting many of the rapids, including a challenging one at Mattawa. As a result of his vigourous holiday, he arrived back in Ottawa, deeply tanned, and refreshed in spirit, but suffering from alarming chest pains.
Unfortunately, there was no time to rest. Work had been piling up at the office during his absence, and almost immediately after his return he moved his household to 187 Bay Street, which was destined to be his final residence. His father’s steady decline was a further strain until the end came on 11 March 1897. The bereavement was undoubtedly distressing, although it is unlikely that Lampman enjoyed a close bond with his father like the one between Charles G.D. Roberts and the beloved Canon Roberts. The Reverend Archibald Lampman, besides suffering from some strange disability for more than twenty-five years, appears to have been narrow in outlook and disputatious in temperament. From the time of his early retirement, if not before, his wife became the driving force within the family. As Duncan Campbell Scott recalled, “She at least would ... have for her children what she considered their right, cost what it would of her own strength and energy.”75 Given the family’s financial circumstances, for example, it is truly extraordinary that she managed to take her daughter Annie off to Leipsig, Germany, for two years (1887-1889) to study piano with Martin Krause, a former protégé of Franz Liszt.
The spring and summer of 1897 was a busy period for Lampman. Happily, the ongoing frustration of trying to find a publisher for a new collection of his poems was alleviated by more relaxing activities. Having sub-let his house in May, he settled Maud and Natalie out in the suburbs at Britannia, about six miles from downtown Ottawa. He joined them there every Sunday for a short respite in the country, but lived with his in-laws in the city during the the rest of the week. In June, he travelled to Halifax for the celebrations commemorating the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s landing in the New World. The Royal Society, to which he had been elected in 1895, sponsored the event, offering low train fares and arranging free hospitality. “I had Wilfred Campbell for a travelling companion most of the time,” he told Thomson afterwards, “and he behaved himself very decently, which cannot always be said.”76
Although he had used up some of his vacation time on the trip to Halifax, he had nearly two weeks left for a trip up the Gatineau with Duncan Campbell Scott. The two men were still close friends despite the fact that their wives had nothing in common and did not socialize. Departing on 31 August, they travelled up to Maniwaki, a lumbering and pulp milling town on the Gatineau River in south-western Quebec. From there, they hired a team to take them nine miles through the woods to the Joseph River where they launched their canoe. Because the little river was full of obstructions, it was sometimes necessary to cut through fallen trees or carry the canoe over sandbars or push it through shoals. This activity might not have been too strenuous for a man in normal health, but it was risky for someone in Lampman’s condition. After twelve miles on the Joseph, they portaged into a small lake, inaptly called the Great Achigan, where they “camped and stayed and fed upon partridges and blackbass, and grew fat.”77
On 21 June 1898, almost nine months to the day after Lampman’s return from Quebec, Maud gave birth to a son, christened Archibald Otto. The pregnancy coincided with an alarming deterioration in Lampman’s health. Suffering from severe chest pains in January, he was confined to bed by the doctor and forbidden to leave the room. He obtained three months’ sick leave from the Post Office, but it had to be extended for another three months even after he was out of bed. As he explained to Thomson in mid-April:
While I am sitting about, or strolling very slowly I suffer no pain at all. My only trouble is that I am entirely helpless, unable to undertake the slightest exertion. A flight of stairs daunts me, and the least rise in the ground as I walk brings me to a halt. The doctors explained my case thus. There is a thickening or stiffening of the mitral valve of the heart through which the blood goes into circulation. This causes the valve to only partly open and open with difficulty at each pulse-beat. My heart therefore, when I am exerting myself has to work a great deal harder to supply the circulation than an ordinary heart has to. This thickening of the valve dates back they say to my childhood and all these years I have been overtaxing my heart in ignorance, making it work too much until the muscle is now relaxed and attenuated—worn-out in fact for the time being—so that when I do anything involving exertion and an increase of circulation is called for, the old engine cannot meet the demand—hence the pain and exhaustion. The only remedy for this, the doctors say, is absolute rest—total inactivity—both physical & mental.78
In the latter part of July, although he was still unable to return to work, he took a holiday trip for his health, aided by the generosity of some friends. He would be away for nearly three months, visiting acquaintances old and new in Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Boston—a surprisingly extensive schedule for someone in his condition. In Montreal, he was the guest of Dr. R. Tait McKenzie, a professor of anatomy and director of physical education at McGill, but remembered today chiefly as a sculptor. McKenzie’s bronze plaque of Lampman now hangs in Trinity College, Toronto. Various congenial Montrealers were ready to entertain Lampman, including Dr. William Henry Drumond, the “Habitant” poet, who invited him to relax at the lodge of the St. Maurice Club on the scenic shore of Lake Wayagamack. It was a restful interlude in his journey, but even there he failed to regain his strength, as he wrote to Duncan Campbell Scott on 21 August:
You see by my handwriting that I have deteriorated physically. I am hardly any good. I am improving in some ways. I am fatter and fatter blooded—in apparent health in face but nothing remedies the main trouble—the heart remains weak and inefficient. I do not think it will ever recover. I am gradually reconciling myself to the fact that I am an invalid and shall remain so as long as I live, which I imagine can hardly be long—not many years.79
At the beginning of September he was on his way to Nova Scotia, stopping in Quebec City to meet fellow-poet Frederick George Scott and do some sightseeing. He spent a month in the Annapolis Valley, mostly in the town of Digby, visiting Gesner relatives whom he was meeting for the first time. His journey home took him to Boston where he spent over a week with Thomson, feeling some guilt over his long absence from his family. “I grieved over your last letter,” he wrote to Maud, who was becoming understandably restive. Pointing out that every extra week would help some in getting him ready to resume work at the Post Office, he urged: “Keep up your spirits. It will not be long before I am back. Yours lovingly, A.”80
He was back to work by mid-October, feeling better than when he left Ottawa three months earlier, but still weak. Outside of the office, his main preoccupation was the final arrangements for his new collection, which he was publishing privately with James Olgivie of Ottawa through T. and A. Constable, Edinburgh, printers. He was still working on the proofs towards the end of January when he suffered an attack of influenza. After a week at home, he returned to work on the 8th of February. Unwisely, he took a long walk afterwards, feeling invigorated by the the cold winter air, but by the next morning he was unable to leave his bed. During the day his condition worsened steadily until his exhausted heart failed him completely. At one o’clock in the morning on 10 February 1899, Archibald Lampman died.
It fell to Duncan Campbell Scott to help with the funeral and arrange for the burial in Ottawa’s Beechwood Cemetery. Scott was also instrumental in finding employment for Maud in the Parliamentary Library. Her widowhood was embittered by near penury, the disclosure of the Kate Waddell affair, and health problems caused by angina pectoris. She was destined to survive her husband by less than a decade, being found dead at her desk on 23 November 1910 when Natalie was eighteen and Archibald Otto only twelve. The children’s minds were poisoned against their father by their mother and/or her sister, Catherine Playter, who assumed the major responsibility for them after Maud’s death. For the rest of her life, Natalie shrank from any mention of Lampman. Otto (never known by his first name, Archibald) responded in 1926 to a query about his father: “Yes, I am his son. Worse luck!”81
Instead of Lampman’s family, it was Duncan Campbell Scott who was foremost in preserving the poet’s memory and burnishing his reputation. As his literary executor, Scott ordered the printing of only twelve copies of Alcycone, the new collection that Lampman never saw off the press except in proofs. Scott was saving it for The Collected Poems of Archibald Lampman, which he was editing in the hope that its sale would provide Maud with some much-needed cash. Besides Alcyone, it included Among the Millet and Lyrics of Earth in their entirety, plus seventy-four sonnets Lampman had tried to publish separately, twenty-three miscellaneous poems and ballads, and two long narrative poems (“David and Abigail” and “The Story of an Affinity”). Published by Morang & Company of Toronto in 1900, it was a substantial tome—473 pages—and ran through several editions. Scott’s “Memoir,” which prefaces the volume, would prove to be an invaluable source of information about the poet’s life and personality.
Scott’s instincts were probably right when he incorporated Alcyone into the Collected Poems. By itself, it is unlikely that this third collection would have immediately enhanced Lampman’s reputation or helped Maud much financially. To begin with, it contains a smaller number of those purely descriptive poems that his admirers had come to expect from him. The title poem, “Alcyone,” is a rather unsatisfactory beginning, vaguely portraying the brightest star in the Pleiades as somehow representing the heights, remote and unobtainable, towards which humans should ever aspire. His reputation as “one of the leading socialists in the city,”82 as an anonymous tribute in the Ottawa Journal would have us believe, is supported in particular by “The City at the End of Things” with its apocalyptic picture of a society blighted by mechanism. Nevertheless, as Desmond Pacey points out, “beyond feeling that there was something radically wrong with unregulated capitalism, Lampman does not seem to have developed any clear social philosophy.”83
On the whole, the strongest new section in Collected Poems is not Alcyone, but the group of sonnets.Lines like this passage from “After the Shower” delight with their perfection:
And that small, dainty violet, pure and white,
That holds by magic in its twisted face
The heart of all the perfumes of the world.
“A Sunset at Les Eboulements” is a memorable sonnet like Roberts’ “The Potato Harvest,” which it resembles:
Broad shadows fall. On all the mountain side
The scythe-swept fields are silent. Slowly home
By the long beach the high-piled hay-carts come,
Splashing the pale salt shallows. Over wide
Fawn-coloured wastes of mud the slipping tide,
Round the dun rocks and wattled fisheries,
Comes creeping in. And now by twos and threes,
O’er the slow spreading pools with clamorous chide,
Belated crows from strip to strip take flight.
Soon will the first star shine; yet ere the night
Reach onward to the pale-green distances,
The sun’s last shaft beyond the gray sea-floor
Still dreams upon the Kamouraska shore,
And the long line of golden villages.
Duncan Campbell Scott’s dedication to the memory of Lampman and the welfare of his family continued for the rest of his life. He found a secretarial job for Natalie in the civil service, and later employed her husband, Loftus MacInnes (son of Canadian poet Tom MacInnes), in the Department of Indian Affairs. With Scott’s encouragement, Otto enrolled as a cadet at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. Later, when Otto turned to journalism, it may have been a letter from Scott that helped him find work as a reporter with the Toronto Star. Scott’s efforts to keep Lampman’s work before the public included another collection of his friend’s poems in 1925. He called the new volume Lyrics of Earth although it is not a re-issue of Lampman’s earlier collection with the same title. While the Collected Poems includes almost everything that Lampman had written, Scott argued that the time had come for a smaller, more selective edition, “a book ... that would contain the best of the poet’s work.”84 As late as the 1940s, in collaboration with E. K. Brown, he sorted through Lampman’s papers again, finding enough scraps among the chaff to compile At the Long Sault and Other New Poems. The editors had good intentions, but there is nothing in the book that adds substantially to Lampman’s reputation. Mostly, it is a faint repetition of old themes plus the curiosity of six love sonnets that Scott debated about publishing because Katherine Waddell is the unidentified woman with “the kind sweet lips.”
Lampman’s self-appraisal—“I am a minor poet of a superior order”—may strike some of his readers as being overly modest. A man who was capable of writing poems such as “Heat” and a handful of unforgettable sonnets will continue to attract admirers, like Raymond Souster, who accord him something more:
If we are content that he portrays honestly and to the best of his powers the life, beauty and sorrow that he finds in his own time, relating these to his life and circumstances, then Archibald Lampman must rank with the very best. And let us remember, too, that he was dead at thirty-seven.85