In the ranks of Confederation Poets, his standing is often “the other Scott”1 to distinguish him from Duncan Campbell Scott, who was not related. If, in reference to his poetry, the phrase is taken to mean “lesser Scott,” that would be a fair assessment. Nor, as a poet, is he the equal of Roberts, Carman, Lampman or perhaps even Campbell and Johnson. The pressures of his active public life—busy clergyman, World War I padre, dedicated activist—do not account entirely for the spotty quality of his work. Because poetry was his favourite form of self-expression, he was never too rushed to practice his craft. His reflective response to nature and humanity is always earnest but only occasionally distinctive, Nevertheless, those fugitive moments suffice to warrant our attention.
Even though Canada was the land of his birth, Frederick George Scott was thoroughly British in heritage and inclination. His paternal grandfather, John Scott, born in 1791, was a lieutenant in the 4th Regiment of the local militia in Surrey. He married a London girl, Caroline Neate, on 15 January 1818. Just prior to the marriage, Caroline’s brother, John Neate, wrote her an affectionate but rather stuffy letter, instructing her on how to be a proper wife and issuing a gratuitous reminder that her husband-to-be was “a man and not an angel.”2
Caroline diligently fulfilled at least one of her wifely duties, producing nine children over a period of thirteen years. Eight of those children were born in England, but three had died before the family immigrated to Montreal in 1831. The youngest child, Emily, born in 1834, may have been posthumous since John Scott is believed to have died before 1835. Although the cause of his death is unknown, he may have been another victim of the cholera epidemic that swept through Montreal in 1834.
When Caroline was left a widow, her oldest surviving son, also named John, was likely only fifteen. Next in age was William, two years younger, who would one day become the father of Frederick George Scott. Since Caroline’s family were people of property, some women in her circumstances might have returned to them with her fatherless children, but she elected to remain in Montreal. Undoubtedly, there were many hardships, but she was aided by her father’s generosity, which included an annual income of £28. Upon his death, she received a legacy of £300 and a property that was eventually sold for about £400.3
Likely it was his mother’s legacies that enabled William Scott to study medicine at McGill. John Neate, upon learning of his nephew’s career plans, wrote approvingly to Caroline: “With respect to your proposition for William to commence business in the joint profession of Physician Surgeon and Chemist, I must confess I think it would be a good way to begin.” In a brotherly lecture, he cautioned that William should be established in his profession for five or six years before thinking of marrying, unless he should choose “a girl of good property.”4 William had his own ideas about that, however, having fallen in love with Elizabeth Sproston, the nineteen-year-old daughter of recent immigrants from England. Not only was Elizabeth without “property,” she was a delicate girl, who may have been “the unwitting carrier of the ‘galloping consumption’, ”5 which would later cause the deaths of so many of her children. An early indication of her fragility appears in an anxious letter from William to his “dearest Lizzie,” written in 1846, before their marriage, expressing relief that she seemed to be “gaining in health.”6
In the beginning, William ran his apothecary shop by day and tended patients at night. Later, he was appointed a lecturer in forensic science at McGill where, in 1852, he was promoted to a professorship in anatomy, a post he would hold for the rest of his life. While he prospered professionally, his domestic life was clouded by the early deaths of all but one of his first six children. The lone survivor was their daughter Emily (named for her aunt), born shortly before an orphaned Englishwoman, Matilda Preddy, joined the household in 1857. Right from the start, this newcomer seems to have been regarded as a member of the family, not as a servant. Known affectionately as “Aunt Tilley” to Emily and the three boys who were born after her arrival, she became a second mother to them. Indeed, they may have owed their survival to the fact that they were more directly under her care than that of the ailing Elizabeth.
Frederick George Scott, the first of William and Elizabeth’s sons to survive childhood, was born on 7 April 1861. He was followed by brothers Frank, born on Christmas Eve, 1862, and Charles (nicknamed “Boots”) born in 1866. Along with Emily, they were doted upon by their parents, being especially precious after the loss of so many previous children. Emily, affectionately called “Emsie” by her brothers, was a devoted older sister. Impulsive young Fred had a winning personality that usually concealed the stubborn side of his nature. Frank was a straightforeward lad, who developed a habit of saying what he thought without mincing words. Charles remained the pet of the family, often being referred to as “dear little Boots” even after he became an adult.7
Fred grew into a lively teenager—perhaps too lively since, although he was brainy enough, he failed his freshman year at McGill and was not allowed to return. Later, he was sent to Bishop’s College, Lennoxville, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, where he redeemed himself by doing well in all his examinations. His graduation from Bishop’s with a B.A. in 1881 was not his only cause for jubilation. By then, he was deeply in love, but his happiness was fated to be shortlived. Within a year, he was grieving over the death of his sweetheart in poems like “On the Cliff,” which concludes:
The loving sky can ever kiss the sea,
The ripple and the zephyr never part;
Then why—oh why—should thy sweet loving heart
Be torn from me?
Continuing to brood on death—“The demon form that stalks beside my path” (“A Mood,” written in March 1882)—he turned increasingly to poetry to express his melancholy thoughts. While the resulting poems are of biographical interest, revealing the young Scott’s state of mind, they contain no memorable passages and make for dreary reading. Mostly, they were not cheerful enough for magazine fare, but “Rest,” one of the less doleful pieces, was published on 15 October 1882 in The Youth’s Companion, Boston.8
During this emotional crisis, Fred Scott resolved to devout his life to the Church. From childhood, he had attended the Anglican church of St. George’s, Montreal, but its Low Church practices no longer satisfied him. He felt drawn to the Church of St. John the Evangelist, where the rector, Father Edmund Wood, had challenged the Anglican diocese of Montreal by introducing Roman Catholic rituals that had been revived by the Oxford Movement, including daily mass and private confession. As Fred set off to study theology at King’s College in London, the rest of the Scott family hoped he would get this “popery” out of his system.
After a stormy winter crossing of the Atlantic, Fred disembarked at Liverpool on 7 January 1883. Two days later, he was in Sheffield visiting relatives before setting off to London. In his first letter home after arriving at King’s, he could not “thank dear Father enough” for letting him come. He promised “to make the best use of my opportunities both in the College and without,” but having just paid his fees, he worried that the year was going “to cost a great deal of money.” His first disappointment in London, he reported, had been St. Paul’s Cathedral. To him, Wren’s masterpiece was “a great big ungainly sort of building, that is for a church, I dare say it would make a good Post Office.”9 Later, in a letter to Emsie, he called the city “a frightfully wicked place,” declaring that “People who only come on visits don’t know anything of it, but I always go for my walk in the slums that I may see all sorts of people....”10 That disclosure alarmed his mother more than his expenses. “We do not think dear boy that you are extravagant,” she wrote back, but cautioned: “I do not like you to go so much among the poor wretched people of London. I think it is dangerous.”11
While taking in the sights and enjoying occasional excursions outside London, Fred kept his promise of applying himself to his studies. By the end of term, he would be able to report good grades in all his examinations. However, his letters to his family smack of homesickness. “It has done me a world of good coming over here,” he admitted on the 17th of May in what was destined to be his last letter to his father, “but one cannot enjoy oneself much so far from home.” Unaware that William Scott was already in the final stages of Bright’s disease, he expressed the hope that warmer weather would bring improved health. “I look forward to my letters so eagerly, my darling father,” he added, “you don’t know how much I love you.”12 Ironically, on that very day, his dying father told the family: “If it is the will of the Almighty, I should like to see my dear boy again. I should like to have a talk with him before his ordination.” Clearly worried about Fred’s High Church inclinations, he said: “I wish him to be moderate in his views and Church Rituals and not to do anything to displease the Bishop who will get him a position in this Diocese.”13
Upon receiving a telegram that his father had died on the 24th of May, Fred wrote home: “Oh my darling Mother, how I wish I could be beside you now, to help and support you, but I don’t know that I should be able to do either.... Sweet, sweet Father, how I wish I could have seen him again, if only for a moment, but the consciousness that I was following out his wish by remaining over here, has comforted me more than anything else.”14 The endearments, “darling Mother” and “sweet Father,” were not prompted solely by grief. They are typical of the expressions the Scott family members habitually used in addressing each other.
One of Fred’s memorable excursions outside London was a visit to Harrow in February to have lunch with R. M. Ballantyne, the popular author of adventure novels for adolescent boys. The meeting was so cordial that he visited Ballantyne again in July before sailing for home. Nearing sixty then, this prolific Scottish writer had been only sixteen when he left his native Edinburgh to spend several years working for the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada. His experiences there provided the background for The Young Fur Traders (1856), which was so successful that he kept churning out similar tales for the rest of his life. Fred had undoubtedly read The Young Fur Traders and many of Ballantyne’s other books, including The Coral Island (1858), which has never been out of print since it was first published. Ballantyne’s heroes, always courageous and resourceful, possessed those qualities Fred regarded as the model of manliness. Eternally boyish himself, he never outgrew his relish for adventure on the scale he found in Ballantyne’s novels. His own grand adventure would come later in the Great War of 1914-1918.
A trip he took to Edbaston, on the outskirts of Birmingham, in the spring of 1883, was his most gratifying experience in England. It was a pilgrimage—no other word can accurately describe the way he felt about it—to the Oratory where its founder Cardinal (John Henry) Newman granted him an interview. Newman’s famous hymn, “Lead kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,” had been written many years earlier while its author was undergoing a crisis of faith that would see him abandon the Church of England to convert to Roman Catholicism. The words of the hymn “kept going through” Fred’s thoughts as he listened to the frail old Cardinal whose “eyes ... told of a pure soul within.” The “kindly Light” had shown this godly man the stand he should take amid the changes that “were sweeping across English Christianity.”15 It was more extreme than any stand Fred would ever take, but he came away from the Oratory feeling reassured that Anglo-Catholicism could offer him something not unlike the spiritual comfort Newman had found.
In the second week of July, after learning he had been successful in all his examinations, he treated himself to a brief holiday in France on the theory that he might never have a chance to see it again. Stopping overnight in Amiens, he visited its “glorious cathedral,” unable to foresee the day when he would find it damaged by enemy guns. Arriving in Paris on the eve of Bastille Day, he became a busy tourist for the next two days, impressed by the “clean streets and many-fountained parks.” That would be a poignant memory for him in wartime, some thirty years later, when the city “looked very shabby” and “the fountains no longer played.”16
Sailing for home on the 19th of July, he hoped to be ordained an Anglican priest within a month or so after his arrival. Unfortunately, his theological views clashed with those of William Bennett Bond, the aging Bishop of Montreal. As the rector of St. George’s from 1862 to 1878, Bond had watched Frederick Scott grow up and may already have been aware of the young man’s predilection for High Church practices, a trait that did not meet with his approval. When Fred’s Anglo-Catholicism was still evident in his answers to the pre-ordination questions, the outcome was exactly what William Scott had feared. The Bishop turned down his application.
The months ahead were difficult. Hardly knowing what to do next, he returned to Bishop’s College where he studied for his M.A. degree until called home by the illness of his mother, who died on the 21st of November. Floundering in grief and indecision, he elected to remain in Montreal to complete his degree extramurally. As a stopgap measure, he began teaching at St. John’s School (later Lower Canada College) on the 17th of January under the principalship of Father Wood, the school’s founder. He would spend a year there, still uncertain of the direction his future should take, but spiritually sustained by Father Wood, who became his cherished mentor.
Merely a week after he began teaching, he was desolated by another bereavement, the fourth he had suffered in two years. It was noted tersely in his diary: “Jan. 25 - Dear Emsie died.”17 Devoted “Aunt Tilly” was now the lone family bulwark for her “boys,” the three young men who had yet to find their way in the world. Frank was still merely a clerk in the treasury department of the Grand Trunk Railway although he would advance to become vice-president of the company. Charles, little “Boots,” starting out as a minor clerk with the Canadian Pacific Railway, would transfer within a few years to the First National Bank in Duluth, Minnesota. Fred, looking for peace of mind, was toying with the idea of entering a monastic order.
Feeling ready to share some of the verse he had written as an emotional outlet, Fred arranged to have a small collection, Justin and Other Poems, privately printed in 1885. The tone ranges from melancholic to religious. In the lengthy title poem, a homily in blank verse, we follow Justin’s spiritual journey until
he saw the Christ
Come towards him thro’ the mist of dying creeds
That once had shrouded Him. And thus they spake;
And Justin learned how suffering here and sin
Resisted were but powers to try the soul,
And forge it out more strong for this hard life,
More bright for that hereafter, and that Christ,
Informing all the soul with His great love,
Can purge the thoughts and bend the stubborn will.
The best that can be said about Justin and Other Poems is to acknowledge its lofty thought and language. Bishop Bond would not have faulted its earnest intent, but anyone hoping for quality poetry would need to wait.
In the summer of 1885, Amy Brooks, a winsome miss his own age, caught Fred’s eye. Or it may have been the other way around. At twenty-three, Fred Scott was the embodiment of the romantic hero: tall, dashingly handsome in spite of his beaked nose, and full of charm. Either way, the attraction soon became mutual and a warm friendship developed. Equal to Fred intellectually and socially, Amy was the well-educated daughter of George Brooks, a church organist in Barnet, a suburb of London, England. At the age of seventeen, after the sudden death of her father, she had been sent to live with her mother’s childhood friend, Jane Hutton, whose husband was a successful businessman in Montreal. Not only was Amy attractive and spirited, she was widely read, skillful at needlework, a gifted pianist, and spoke passable French. These assets may have struck Fred as being highly desirable in a minister’s wife. He began to have second thoughts about the monastic life.
His conscience whispered that retreating into monasticism showed a lack of courage in facing the problems of the world. It was a soothing phantasy to picture himself leading a contemplative life in seclusion, but was it wrong to think only of himself? Increasingly, as he pondered the dilemma, a more courageous and selfless course seemed to be active service as a clergyman. Having come to that conclusion, the next step was to seek ordination; but, given his theological convictions, it was unobtainable in the diocese of Montreal and possibly elsewhere in Canada. His solution was to accept the post of curate in the Anglo-Catholic parish of Coggeshall in Essex, England, and prepare for ordination there. Before he sailed, late in December, he and Amy became engaged to be married.
Writing to Fred on New Year’s Eve, 1885, after his deparature for Coggeshall, Amy confessed the normal appprehension of a prospective bride: “It positively makes me quake to look forward to the end of ’86 and allow myself to contemplate all the changes that may have taken place before then.” Somewhat teasingly, she added:: “Don’t you shrink a little from the thought dear Fred and look back longingly to the superior joys of life in a brotherhood?” Then, turning serious, she echoed the thinking that had led to his final decision: “There always appears to me a kind of moral cowardice in entering an institution of that sort as it takes away so much of the feeling of individual responsibility attached to this life.”18
Fred was among a group of candidates ordained at Romford, England, on 21 March 1886. For the time being, he remained a curate at Coggeshall with the expectation that the chances of finding a parish of his own were better in England than in Canada. Another possibility was to return to St. John’s School, but Amy, ever the more practical of the two, was not in favour of that from the beginning. “I can’t see that it would be very desirable for you to go back to St. John’s School,” she told him, “even if they could find you enough to live on, which appears very doubtful, so if we have to look elsewhere, I was thinking that England would be by no means an unpleasant place to go.”19 Her tone indicates that she was eager to join him wherever he might be located. Absence was making her heart grow ever fonder and filling her thoughts with happy anticipation. “For several years,” she declared in a later letter, “I have been longing for a congenial companion with whom to share my favourite occupations & I never fully realized it in any of my girl friends. Even if I had there would have been a certain amount of excitement lacking, & which I fancy we shall find in each other’s society dearest.”20
Meanwhile, fate intervened in the person of J.W. Williams, Bishop of Quebec. Upon learning that the parish of Drummondville was soon to be vacant, the bishop let it be known that “I am very fond of Scott, he is a great friend of my son, & if he would like Drummondville, he can have it if he writes to me ....” Aunt Tilley, who conveyed this message, sent Fred a jubilant letter urging him to apply:
You cannot think dear boy what a pleasure this news was to us & I do feel that the way opened out to you in answer to our prayers. Mr. Fothergill says it is such a nice parish, he considers it one of the best in the Diocese & where you could do a lot of good. There is a nice little stone church there & parsonage & near enough for the boys to see you often and have your influence. Amy seemed so pleased at the thought of it & said it seemed almost too good to hope for.... so do write to the Bishop at once about it, as I think it will be vacant in Dec., but from what was said, I think it will be kept open for you.... I suppose Mr. French has written to you before this, he said it was a hard letter to write for he must tell you there was not the least prospect for you in St. John’s School.21
Aunt Tilley’s plea was followed the next day by a forthright letter from brother Frank, extolling the advantages of settling in Drummondville. “Besides,” he added, “for your Amy’s and your comfort it would be well to get away from Mrs H[utton]. If you are in Montreal she will be trying to boss you two and one day you will lose your temper....”22
The letter to the bishop was duly written and favourably acknowledged. The spiritual journey, which led to this commitment, is the subject of “The Soul’s Quest,” an allegorical poem Fred completed at Coggeshall on 12 November 1886. The soul is pictured as a woman wandering in distress and uncertainty until she stumbles upon the blood-stained cross upon which Jesus was crucified. In this symbol of self-sacrifice, she finds comfort and purpose, which she must share with others:
Through daily rounds of deed and psalm,
She moves in silent strength and calm,
The cross her solace and her balm.
She bears it round from door to door.
And lonely hearts that ached before,
Find joy and peace for evermore.
The poem is lengthy, consisting of sixty-two three-line stanzas, but short on any merit other than the sincerity of the writer’s piety.
Bishop William’s certification of Frederick George Scott as the Anglican priest at Drummondville is dated 27 February 1887. It was a charge that would last nearly ten years despite occasional protests against Scott’s Anglo-Catholicism. He was an impressive figure in the pulpit with his aesthetic face and strong presence that radiated youthful energy. Outside the pulpit, his manner was remarkably ebulient, full of kindliness and cheerful good humour. If there was one thing amiss, at least for some of his congregation, it was his determination to conduct the services according to High Church practices, which struck them as “too close to Rome.” The matter came to a head on 27 March, barely a month after his arrival, when he preached a sermon promoting an Anglo-Catholic position on the role of the elements in holy communion.
While the church wardens complained to Bishop Williams, another group petitioned in support of their new rector. The bishop chided Scott gently: “There may be principles upon which a man cannot give way, but the multiplying of all his own predilections into such principles is neither very wise or very Xtian.”23 To the church wardens, he wrote: “I have no doubt that Mr. Scott will perceive the force of these observations and act upon them in good faith. And I trust that his ministry in Drummondville will be a long and fruitful one.”24 The dissidents were left with the impression that Scott had the support of his bishop and let the matter drop for the time being.
Poor Amy, soon to be the rector’s wife, felt “nearly distracted” by the controversy. “The only thing that saves me from derangement,” she wrote, “is that the comic side of the situation strikes me so forcibly at times that instead of sitting down to weep as I otherwise might, I go into uncontrollable fits of laughter over it.”25 Conversely, his brothers, saw no humour in the matter. Mild-mannered “Boots” worried: “It seems to me you trust a little too much in your own ability, but I don’t know.”26 Frank was caring but blunt in expressing his views:
For heaven’s sake my dear brother should you get over this row let it be a lesson to you. I cannot pitch into you much because I love you too deeply but I have grown up with you and therefore know something about your nature, and can say that there is a portion of it which is of a most undesirable type. It was that which asserted itself when you were a boy and which you nobly suppressed when you got older. This it is I am afraid which crops up occasionally and manifests itself in the stubborn bigotry which characterizes some of your actions. Forgive me if I have said too much and let me have an answer straight from the shoulder.... You may rest assured that you have our prayers. I will always uphold true catholic principles but popish rites are most abhorent and if they have been practiced at D’ville, I sympathize with the people.27
With the controversy still simmering, Scott married Amy in Montreal on 17 April 1887 and returned to the approval of his congregation in Drummondville. Although Amy had cautioned her husband-to-be that “I don’t want to delude you with the idea that you will find me as clay in the hands of the potter,”28 she adapted to her new role with poise and grace, becoming one of his chief assets as a clergyman. Devoted but never subservient, just as she had warned, she could be forceful whenever she disagreed with him. The story is still told of a parishioner being present when she delivered an ultimatum in no uncertain terms before sweeping out of the room. Scott, sounding more amused than chastened, remarked to his visitor: “Lot’s wife turned to salt, but mine is full of pepper.”29 However, this anecdote should not be taken to indicate a lifetime of domestic bickering. Theirs would be a long and loving union in which Amy’s practicality often served as an antidote for her husband’s improvidence. While he liked to think “the Lord will provide,” Amy took the attitude that the Lord was more likely to help those who helped themselves.
Just short of a year after their marriage, on 7 April, when Scott turned twenty-seven, he had a special reason to celebrate. That same day, Amy gave birth to their first child, a son, named William after his paternal grandfather, but always called Willum by the family. The Scotts would be blessed with four more children before they left Drummondville. Henry, nicknamed Harry, was born 8 April 1890, missing the anniversary of his father’s birth but just one day. Mary, destined to be the only daughter in a family that eventually included six boys, was born in 1892. Elton, born in 1893, at a weight of only four pounds, seemed almost too delicate to survive, but he would grow to be a sturdy adult, just a quarter of an inch short of six feet. Charles, named after his uncle, “little Boots,” was born in 1895.
Meanwhile, Scott was seeking recognition as a writer. The Soul’s Quest and Other Poems, published by Kegan Paul, London, 1888, is a reprint of Justin and Other Poems with twenty-two new poems added. One reviewer called him a “poet of excellent promise,” citing a number of poems that “breathe true Christian feeling and expression.”30 Charles G.D. Roberts complimented him on the title poem and a half-dozen others, but singled out the sonnet “Time” as being “boldly original”31:
I saw Time in his workshop carving faces;
Scattered around his tools lay, blunting griefs,
Sharp cares that cut out sharply in reliefs
Of light and shade; sorrows that smooth the traces
Of what were smiles. Nor yet without fresh graces
His handiwork, for oftimes rough were ground
And polished, oft the pinched made smooth and round;
The calm look, too, the impetuous fire replaces.
Long time I stood and watched; with hideous grin
He took each heedless face between his knees,
And graved and scarred and bleached with boiling
I wondering turned to go, when, lo! my skin
Feels crumpled, and in glass my own face sees
Itself all changed, scarred, careworn, white with
This sonnet, written in 1886 when Scott had reached the hoary age of twenty-five, reflects his anxiety during that period. In his youthful insecurity, he saw time passing relentlessly while his future still remained uncertain.
Scott was also turning to prose, writing moralistic short stories, which appeared in the Dominion Illustrated Monthly and elsewhere. Unfortunately, like much of his high-minded poetry, his fiction is earnest but disappointing. His short novel, Elton Hazelwood, about a noble man passing unscathed through many trials, was published in 1892 by Thomas Whittaker of Bible House, New York. A harsh notice in The Athenaeum is typical of its negative reception. “One hardly likes to be so severe on the book,” the reviewer finishes, “as it is evidently written with such good intentions; but the zeal is rendered nugatory by the author’s inability to make his subject interesting.”32 A year later, the publisher reported: “We regret to say that ‘Elton Hazelwood’ is not selling at all; it seems impossible to breathe any life into it.” 33
My Lattice and Other Poems (1894) shows Scott shifting occasionally from Christian travail to historical and mythological subjects. Overall, the volume is superior to most of his earlier work although the longer poems, such as “Thor” (350 lines), become tedious in their prolixity. “My Lattice”—archaic wording even in Scott’s day!— is a weak introduction to the collection, being as ill-chosen for a title poem as Lampman’s “Among the Millet,” which it faintly resembles. It is followed by a far better poem, a powerful monologue called “Samson,” laying bare the tortured soul of the biblical strong man in twenty-two stanzas, beginning:
Plunged in night, I sit alone
Eyeless in this dungeon stone,
Naked, shaggy and unkempt,
Dreaming dreams no soul hath dreamt.
Charles G.D. Roberts wrote to J.E. Wetherell, who had included this poem in his anthology Later Canadian Poems: “I don’t think any of the rest of us have done lyric work as mighty as those Samson verses.”34
The volume concludes with “Out of the Storm,” written in St. Luke’s Hospital, Duluth, on 17 May 1894 as he kept vigil by the bedside of “A brother whose life is slipping fast away.” Charlie, who inherited his mother’s fraility, had suffered recurring lung problems that were acerbated by the chill winds off Lake Superior. In April, his wife Stella wrote that he was in hospital again. A few weeks later, as word came that his condition was deteriorating rapidly, both of his brothers rushed to Duluth to be with “little Boots” at the end. With his death, Fred and Frank, still in their early thirties, were the sole survivors of the large family of William and Elizabeth Scott. Blessed with longevity, they would live to be octogenarians.
“In Memoriam,” included in My Lattice and Other Poems, is a tribute to James William Williams, Lord Bishop of Quebec, who died 20 April 1892. He had been a good friend to Scott, being too easy on his young rector’s Anglo-Catholicism to please the three or four remaining dissidents in Drummondville. The latter, headed by a local blacksmith named Jones, did not wait long before taking their complaints to the new bishop, Andrew Hunter Dunn, a middle-aged former vicar from South Acton, England. Dunn took a logical approach, reminding Scott that “the Wafer Bread—the Walking out in Cassock—the Erecting a Crucifix ... the Eucharistic Vestments—the use of a sign of the [Patée cross]—Genuflexions, prostrations, etc.” could not “be said to be Essential.” Pointing out that these practices were not followed in any other church in the diocese, he reasoned that now might be a good time for Scott to start giving them up before he wanted to move to another parish.35
Upset by the bishop’s letter and fearful that he might be asked to resign, Scott sent back a strongly-worded defence, insisting that he had conducted his services according to the Book of Common Prayer and calling some of the accusations exaggerated. The supportive tone of the bishop’s next letter prompted a grateful response from Scott: “Perhaps I should not have written as I did, but I do not regret it as it has drawn such a kind reply from you.... I suppose I have gone through so much badgering in the past that it has made me a little morbid on the subject.” He reported that he had resolved the matter “pleasantly” with three of the complainants. “I will continue the policy of ‘consideration’,” he promised, “and I hope for really great spiritual gains in every way as a result of our present settlement.”36
There the matter rested for the time being, but Scott never knew when the controversy might flare up again. Consequently, when the Reverend Lennox Williams, son of the late Bishop Williams, was looking for a curate to assist him at St. Matthew’s parish in Quebec City, Scott saw an opportunity to leave Drummondville before any more trouble started brewing. “Look no further,” he told Williams, “I am your man.”37 It seemed a happy solution to his problems—not only was Williams a long-time friend, but St. Matthew’s was agreeably High Church. Thus, in a relaxed frame of mind, he assumed his new duties in May, 1896. Three years later, he succeeded Williams as rector at St. Matthew’s when the latter was appointed Dean of the Cathedral and Rector of Quebec. It was a position he would hold until his retirement, thirty-five years later. His Anglo-Catholicism would cause no further problems and his congregation got used to his preference for a long, black ecclesiastical cape. In fact, he could almost be mistaken for a Roman Catholic priest as he strode through the town with his mongrel dog Jack at his heels.
At last, he found himself in circumstances for which he was particularly suited by personality, predilection and conviction. If ever a clergyman was beloved, it was Frederick George Scott, not only by his own congregation, but by the community at large. Revering him for his kindliness as much as his righteousness, people of all religious persuasions turned to him for comfort and guidance. He was especially comfortable with the Roman Catholic population, firmly believing that the day would come, though perhaps not in his own lifetime, when their faith and that of the Anglicans would again be one and the same. One of his favourite pastimes was to drop into their churches to revel in the religious trappings and smell the incense. Aside from his general ecumenicalism, his interest in people as individuals was personal and utterly sincere. Not least among his many special qualities was his irresistible bonhomie, which redeemed minor eccentricities such as the habit of stopping acqaintances on the street to thrust copies of his poems upon them.
In just over a year after arriving in Quebec City, Scott was being hailed as a hero for plunging into the river one cold October night to save a drunk who had fallen beneath the Point Lévis ferry. “God bless you my brave old brother!” Frank wrote from Montreal. “We are all so proud of you.”38 His bishop’s congratulations concluded: “And to think you did it for a French Canadian.” Scott replied: “My Lord, I did it for a fellow Canadian.”39 The Humane Society awarded him the Sanford Gold Medal for the bravest act during the year.
His heroism created a bigger stir than The Unnamed Lake and Other Poems, the collection he published in 1897. Yet, there is reason to agree with Duncan Campbell Scott, who wrote: “I think it is your strongest work so far ....”40 For one thing, he abandons his sermons in verse, which, however earnest, were never good poetry. The title poem, he tells us, was
Written one lovely day in September, 1897, when taking my children for a hay-cart drive towards the “Little Saguenay” behind St. Raymond [thirty miles northwest of Quebec City]. On ascending a hill we saw before us a sheet of blue water nestling among the mountains and the two lines:
“It sleeps among the thousand hills
Where no man has ever trod;”
flashed upon me. As I walked on beside the hay-cart, enraptured by the scenery, I elaborated the poem into the form it now bears, remembering to embody the cry of the fish-hawk which we heard later on over a piece of water.41
“The Unnamed Lake,” which appears to have been a personal favourite of his, is the poem by which he has been most frequently represented in subsequent anthologies. It has a picturesque setting even though the descriptive details lack the vividness of Roberts and Lampman in their best work. The closing stanzas are typical of the blandly mellifluous lines that precede them:
Among the cloud-capped solitudes,
No sound the silence broke.
Save when, in whispers down the woods,
The guardian mountains spoke.
Through tangled brush and dewy brake,
Returning whence we came,
We passed in silence, and the lake
We left without a name.
Arguably the most successful poem in the collection is “Eothen” (called “Dawn” in later printings):
The immortal spirit hath no bars
To circumscribe its dwelling place
My soul hath pastured with the stars
Upon the meadow-lands of space.
My mind and ear at times have caught
From realms beyond our mortal reach,
The utterance of Eternal Thought
Of which all nature is the speech,
And high above the seas and lands,
On peaks just tipped with morning light,
My dauntless spirit mutely stands
With eagle wings outspread for flight.
The Scotts’ last two children, jokingly dubbed “the dregs” by their father, were born in Quebec City: Francis (always called Frank) in 1899 and Arthur a couple of years later. As each son came of age, he was given a signet ring, identical to one that Scott himself wore. Engraved on a black stone was a stag’s head, which supposedly represented the Scott family crest. The only son never to receive a ring was Charlie, who died of “pneumonia or some lung ailment”42 in 1904 when he was only eight years old. The others, all of whom reached adulthood, wore their rings proudly for the rest of their lives. Harry’s ring, as we shall see in due course, was to play a dramatic role in a family tragedy.
St. Matthew’s rectory, which housed this large brood, was located at 5 Simard Street above the historic Lower Town. Its northern windows looked down upon the St. Charles Valley; in the distance rose the Laurentian Mountains, the inspiration of some of Scott’s poetry. In his own home, the rector was a benevolent despot, demanding high standards of conduct and emphasising the need to excel in all things. Yet, he was cavalier about daily details, depending upon Amy to make sure that the household ran smoothly. As Willum grew older, he took over some of the responsibilities from his mother and became too “bossy” with his younger siblings to be as popular as the easy-going Harry. Fun-loving Mary was a vivacious girl, who learned out of necessity how to cope in a household full of boys. Elton, Frank and Arthur formed an adventurous trio, whose escapades sometimes ignited their father’s wrath, notably on the occasion when he caught them conducting a masturbation experiment.43
In his spare moments, when the seasons permitted, the spacious, woodsy garden behind the rectory was Scott’s favourite retreat. To many, it looked neglected because he preferred its natural state and would never allow any landscaping. There were no flower beds, the trees were never pruned, and the tangle of shrubbery was never trimmed. In the leafy shade stood a rustic bench where he communed with nature, composed many of his poems, and sometimes entertained visitors, including Charles G.D. Roberts, Archibald Lampman and William Wilfred Campbell. It was also an ideal playground for the children, having plenty of room for romping and no flowers to trample. Sometimes their father would join them in a game of croquet.
Of the sixty selections in Scott’s Poems:Old and New (1900), only a dozen had not appeared in any previous volume. Regrettably, most of the new poems are disappointing and do not merit much attention. His next volume, A Hymn of Empire and Other Poems (1906), contains a half-dozen patriotic efforts that are almost as stridently imperialistic as those Wilfred Campbell was writing at about the same time. Its twenty nature poems range in quality from a stately sonnet, “The Laurentians,” to commonplace little lyrics and the artlessness of “The River,” reminiscent of Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses:
Why hurry little river,
Why hurry to the sea?
There is nothing there to do
But to sink into the blue
And all forgotten be.
There is nothing on that shore
But the tides forever more,
And the faint and far-off line
Where the winds across the brine
For ever, ever roam
And never find a home.
While none of the nine memorial poems in this 1906 volume rises above conventional levels, several of them have biographical interest. The most poignant are three sorrowful lyrics written after the death of his son Charlie (known as “Little Friend” in the family) to whose memory the volume is dedicated. Also heartfelt is “A Sister of Charity,” a tribute to Matilda Preddy, his beloved “Aunt” Tilley, who had made “a nunnery of her life” in the service of the Scott family. His quatrain in memory of Pope Leo X, who died in 1903 (“Servant of God, of thee the world had need”), is another of his ecumenical statements. The following year, he met Leo’s successor, Pope Pius X, in Rome, but the occasion was not widely acknowledged. The only record of his Roman holiday is “By the Grave of Keats,” written after visiting the Protestant Cemetery at sunset one August evening, accompanied by his friend, Canon A.J. Balfour, rector of St. Peter’s, Quebec City.
The publication of A Hymn of Empire in 1906 coincided with two other milestones in Scott’s career. In recognition of his dedicated service to his parish, the Bishop of Quebec named him a canon of the Anglican church, a welcome indication that his Anglo-Catholicism had now been deemed acceptable. He was equally pleased to be appointed chaplain to the 8th Royal Rifles of Quebec with the honorary title of captain. This latter role seemed little more than a ceremonial position at the time, but it would lead to greater renown than his reputation as a poet.
The Key of Life (1907), which Scott dedicates to his old mentor, Edmund Wood, is a play in five scenes, originally presented in St. Matthew’s parish hall. Written entirely in verse with musical settings by William Reed, it re-tells the story of the nativity. Enacted with elaborate scenery and costumes, it had two successful runs (1906 and 1913), each extending for four nights. On both occasions, Scott himself delivered the Epilogue and Prologue. As a verse drama, proclaiming the message that Christ is the Key of Life, it is a satisfactory pageant for church performances. As poetry, it is not distinguished.
An article by Melvin O. Hammond in the March issue of The Canadian Magazine, 1909, saluted Scott as “The Poet of the Laurentians.” At that point, only two of his poems had been specifically inspired by those picturesque mountains in Quebec, but the label would stick. Hammond, a young Globe journalist and amateur photographer, had requested an interview with Scott the previous autumn. He promptly received an invitation to join the Scott family at luncheon on 20 October at one o’clock. Arriving on time, he was greeted by Mrs. Scott and the children, but he notes in his diary that the meal was well under way before the rector “came romping in .... jolly, impulsive in manner & good natured.” The diary entry continues:
After luncheon, he took me to his den, while he smoked a cigarette & we talked. He told me Lampman was his favourite Can. poet. Lampman visited him once and he found him a gentle, lovable man. Lampman was ill and despondent one day & S took him on a car to the citadel. On the way his heart became so weak S feared he would die, & he yelled to the motorman to go more slowly.
Then we went into the garden, a wild unkempt place, with a stone seat overlooking the gorgeous Laurentian hills. Here we revelled in the view while he exulted & grasped me by the arm & walked along, crying “By Jove, Hammond, I’m glad you called.” I photographed him 3 or 4 times.
Hammond’s next reference to Scott occurs in the diary entry for 21 April 1909, recording the latter’s surprise visit to the Globe in Toronto:
He was exuberant with good nature. His face was wreathed in smiles and his whole body and spirit bouyant with pleasure. The cause was he had practically arranged for the publication of a complete edition of his poems by John Murray of London through Briggs [head of the Methodist publishing house in Toronto]. “And they are to be bound in soft calf,” he kept repeating, half whimsically and half in irrepressible joy. “& when I come back to see you I shall be bound in soft calf.”44
Poems, Scott’s lengthy collected edition (297 pages), appeared in 1910, but not exactly as he had expected. It was published in London by Constable & Company (not John Murray) and distributed in Canada by The Musson Book Company (not Briggs). It is a handsome edition, but bound in blue cloth, not soft calf. It contains most of the poems from his three previous volumes with the addition of twenty-four new selections, which vary in length from quatrains to his ambitious “Milton” (202 lines). The latter is a dignified invocation, having the same theme, but not the same memorable impact, as Wordsworth’s famous sonnet on London (“Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour”). Pride of first place in the collection is given to “The Temple of the Ages,” which extols the majestic durability of the Laurentians effectively in spite of some vague imagery (“bluest heights,” “mighty walls”).
As Scott set out for Sunday service on 28 June 1914, he was unaware that a shot fired in faraway Sarajevo just a few hours earlier would set the world in turmoil and have drastic repercussions for his own family. Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria, had been assassinated by a Serbian extremist while riding in a motorcade in the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The area had been annexed by Austria six years earlier and it was feared that once Francis Ferdinand succeeded to the throne he would continue or even increase the persecution of Serbs living within its borders. The ensuing chain of events saw Austria, supported by Germany, declaring war on Serbia on 28 July with the likelihood that various alliances would draw Russia, France and England into the conflict.
On the evening of 31 July, Scott joined a crowd in front of the newspaper office in Quebec City to read the news bulletins being posted. With the announcement that Sam Hughes, Canada’s Minister of Militia and National Defence, had offered a force of twenty thousand men to England in case war was declared against Germany, he reacted impulsively. As chaplain of the the Royal Rifles, he felt compelled to volunteer for service despite being fifty-three years old. Two days later, Sunday afternoon, he telephoned the militia headquarters and was jubilant when they accepted his offer. He felt like a knight of old, ready to join in a crusade against forces that threatened his country. It was an attitude he would never lose even after witnessing the carnage that was to follow.
The day after Scott volunteered, Germany declared war on France and prepared to attack its borders by way of Belgium, which Britain had agreed to protect. When Germany ignored the British ultimatum that Belgium’s neutrality must not be violated, Britain reluctantly delared war, thereby thrusting Canada into the conflict as well. Scott and young Willum, who enlisted as a private, joined the military camp that had been set up hastily at Valcartier, a lovely valley surrounded by the Laurentian hills, where they spent a month before sailing for England on 29 September with the First Canadian Division. Twenty days later, the Division was encamped on the Salisbury Plain where it remained for four months, being trained by British regular troops during one of the wettest English winters on record. The conditions at Valcartier had been chaotic and uncomfortable, but the mud and cold of the Salisbury Plain made life a daily misery. Scott took all the hardships in stride, including the scourge of lice, gloating that he could match the endurance of younger men.
On 11 February 1915, the First Canadian Division, about 30,000 men in all, departed for France. The 14th Battalion, to which Scott and Willum were attached, sailed with the 3rd Artillery Brigade in a crowded little vessel called The City of Chester, landing at St. Nazaire on the French coast five days later. The crossing, which should have taken only a day, had been delayed by U-boats and stormy weather in the Bay of Biscay. From St. Nazaire, the Canadians travelled by train— officers assigned to passenger cars and regular troops jammed into boxcars—on a roundabout journey of five hundred miles to Hazebrouck in French Flanders. There, on the front lines, they were initiated into the discomfort of trench warfare for which even the Salisbury mud had not been sufficient preparation.
Early in March, they had their initial taste of fighting when the British First Army engaged in a disastrous battle at Neuve Chapelle. The Canadians, on the left of the British line, saw only minimal action. Nevertheless, there were casualties, among them Private William Scott, young Willum, who had been surveying the battle scene when a German sniper shot him through his field glasses, splintering his face and destroying one eye. With that incapacitating wound, the war was over for Willum. One of his father’s painful tasks was to put him on a train that would bear him away on the first stage of his journey back to Canada.
The First Canadian Division had its first major trial under fire during the Second Battle of Ypres, which began on 22 April 1915 and lasted for several days. “Ypres! the very name sends a strange thrill through the heart,” Scott wrote later. “For all time, the word will stand as a symbol for brutal assaults and ruthless destruction on one hand and heroic resolve and dogged resistance on the other.”45 While the battle raged, his care was for the wounded and dying, who were sent back from the lines. Tending equally to their spiritual and physical needs, he gave them communion and whatever comfort was possible. Although appalled by the suffering and terrible loss of life, he felt it was a great day for Canada: “Young Canadians,” he exulted, “new to war, but old in the inheritance of the blood of British freedom were holding the line.”46 Describing his return to Ypres, galloping across the fields from the front, he wrote: “It was an exciting ride, and I must confess, looking back upon it, a thoroughly enjoyable one, reminding me of old stories of battles and the Indian escapes of my boyhood novels.”47 While he was horrified by the atrocities of war, he was also exhilarated by the adventure. Later in the year, he was promoted to Senior Chaplain of the 1st Division with all the added responsibilites and limited privileges of that position.
In early September, 1916, the three Canadians Divisions were sent to the Somme, a fifteen-mile front in northern France. The British had gone into action there two months earlier, suffering staggering casualties without making any significant advances. Their only successes could be counted by the the equal number of German casualties and the pressure taken off the French who were holding the Germans at Verdun to prevent them from pushing on to Paris. With the First Canadian Division assigned to a front of 3,000 yards, Scott was billeted in nearby Albert where he took his turn in the dressing-station, helping with the steady arrival of casualties when he was not on missions of mercy elsewhere. It caught him by surprise one evening at a dressing-station at Courcelette when he suddenly realized how accustomed he had grown to the bloodshed of war. “I was able to eat my meal in a place where rags saturated in human blood were lying on the floor,” he marvelled. “Two years before it would have been impossible.”48
On the 10th of October, the Fourth Division, the latest to be added to the Canadian Corps, arrived to take over from the other Divisions. One of the young officers in this new fighting force was Captain Henry Scott of the 87th Battalion. Scott senior was overjoyed to have Harry near him for the next six days before the First Division moved out of the Somme sector. Four days later, at Roellencourt, he was handed a letter bearing the news that Harry had been killed in action. The next morning the General sent his car to take him to Albert where he learned that Harry had led his company in an attack on Regina Trench, a rather meaningless objective which, in spite of many failed attempts, the British command still insisted must be reached. While Harry knelt in a shell hole, waiting to give the signal for another charge, a machine gun opened fire, hittng him in the head and killing him instantly. It was not until the second week of November that the latest of several subsequent attacks finally captured Regina Trench. Among the costs of this prolonged offensive were 24,000 Canadian casualties.
As soon as he heard that the Germans had retreated, Scott was determined to undertake the journey to Regina Trench to locate Harry’s body. The distance was nearly fifty miles and he had no authorized transportation, only his renowned faith that “the Lord will provide”—now a byword in the Division. Setting off on foot, he had gone only a short distance before being picked up in a car that took him to Albert. In the early morning hours of the next day he set off for the headquarters of Harry’s Brigade. With the permission of the commanding officer, a volunteer runner with a shovel accompanied him to the Regina Trench where they came upon a cross bearing Harry’s name. The runner dug up the ground in front of it, but found no trace of a body. He tried again nearby, but still found nothing. In a third attempt, he had dug only a few moments before uncovering a hand. Scott gave a cry of recognition: on one of the fingers was the signet ring he had given Harry on his twenty-first birthday. Later, the body was removed to Albert to be buried in the little cemetery on Tara Hill where father and son had walked together such a short time earlier. Six years later, Scott and Amy, accompanied by Elton and Frank (both attending Oxford as Rhodes scholars) would visit the grave to hold a private service and lay a wreath.
The first major engagement for Scott’s First Division was the part it played in the taking of Vimy Ridge. “In spite of the numbers of wounded and dying men which I had seen,” he recalled, “the victory was such a complete and splendid one that April 9th, 1917, was one of the happiest days of my life....”49 Afterwards, he would say: “At the front ... death did not seem such a terrible thing—it was part of our life and something to be expected and met uncomplainingly.”50 He was proud, too, that his third son, Elton, a gunner in the siege battery, had arrived at the front in time to take part in this engagement.
With the same patriotism that motivated his father and older brothers, Elton had joined the army as soon as he reached the age of eighteen. Before he left Quebec, his younger brother Frank organized some fireworks in his honour. The celebration turned into disaster when the gunpowder exploded in Frank’s face, filling both eyes with metal fragments. Only one of them could be saved and Frank Scott would go through life wearing a glass eye. After this ominous beginning, Elton would survive the war, but not before becoming the victim of a gas attack, which took him out of action for a considerable period of time. Scott got a dose of gas himself, but suffered only a temporary burning in his throat.
Although the war would last for another six weeks, it ended for Canon Frederick George Scott on 29 September 1918, exactly four years after he sailed from Quebec with the 1st Division. The Canadians had crossed the Canal du Nord, ready to advance to Cambrai, a railway centre that had been held by the Germans since 1914. Because it provided a lifeline for the Kaiser’s armies, its capture would spell disaster for them. Early on the morning of the 29th, Scott and a major of the Engineers stood on a little rise peering through their field glasses at the distant spires of Cambrai:
Very distinctly we saw the town, looking peaceful and attractive. Suddenly there was a tremendous crash in front of us, a lot of earth was blown into our faces, and we both fell down. My eyes were full of dirt but I managed to get up again. I had been wounded in both legs, and from one I saw blood streaming through my puttees. My right foot had been hit and the artery in the calf of my leg was cut. I fell down again with a feeling of exasperation that I had been knocked out of the war.... The bitter thought for me was that I was going to be separated from the old 1st Division. ... I knew that the great adventure of my life among the most glorious men the world had ever produced was over.51
Although amputation was not necessary, as was feared at first, his injuries left him dragging one foot for the rest of his life. Sent to London to recuperate in the Endsleigh Palace Hospital near Euston Station, he was still there when bells rang out over the city on 11 November, announcing that an armistice had been signed, ending the war. One Sunday morning the following May, he arrived back in Quebec with a shipload of troops on board the Empress of Britain. While his “boys” waited to disembark, he stood on the gangplank for an emotional farewell:
I told them what they had done for Canada and what Canada owed them and how proud I was to have been with them. I asked them to continue to play the game out here as they had played it in France. Then, telling them to remove their caps, as this was our last church parade, I pronounced the Benediction, said, “Good-bye, boys,” and turned homeward.52
Homeward to a hero’s welcome. He came already full of honours, having been created a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1916, and awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1918, but nothing was more gratifying than his reception as he stepped ashore at home. All of his family and much of Quebec City were at the docks to greet him. Later, at a special ceremony, he was presented with a Nash motorcar as an expresssion of affection and gratitude.
Shortly after returning home, he began working on The Great War as I Saw It, which was published in 1922. While not a definitive history of events, being full of anecdotes without an overall perspective, it is a moving account of the heroism and horror he witnessed. His admiration for the courage of his “boys,” and his selfless devotion to their needs, shine through the pages. He sees the war as a Holy Crusade against the forces of evil and the Canadians as young knights, ready to “play the game” and sacrifice their lives for the cause if necessary. However, beneath this fanciful notion of chivalry, as M. Jeanne Yardly has pointed out, there is a “subtext, an ironic undermining of this interpretaton of war.”53 The “ghastly sights in the war, and hideous forms of death”54 belie the romance.
It is evident from The Great War as I Saw It that Canon Scott, Senior Chaplain of the 1st Division, did not take himself as seriously as he took his mission. With a self-deprecating sense of humour, he acknowledges his eccentricities and foibles. Possessing a poor sense of direction, he frequently gets lost, especially while prowling about at night. Besides having numerous close calls with nervous sentries, his other misadventures include stumbling into a cesspool in the dark. On the frequent occasions when he recited his poetry, he notes with wry honesty, the men showed a remarkble lack of literary appreciation. Their reaction is not altogether surprising, however, when one examines his collection of war poems, In the Battle Silences (1916), containing lines like these:
They saw the wider vision
The Empire and its need,
And came with swift decision
To do the utmost deed.
He was not blind to the shortcomings of the men with whom he served, but he had an idealistic faith in their esential goodness:
In the life at the front, no doubt there was much evil thinking, evil talking and evil doing, but there was, underlying all this, the splendid manifestation in human nature of that image of God in which man was made. As one looks back upon it, the surface things of that life have drifted away, and the great things that one remembers are the self-sacrifice, the living comradeship, and the unquestioning faith in the eternal rightness of right and duty which characterized those who were striving up to death for the salvation of the world. This glorious vision of the nobility of human nature sustained the chaplain through many discouragements and difficulties.55
And how did the men see him? Twenty years after the war ended, one veteran recalled how the young soldiers were often bemused by his seeming naiveté and paternal good intentions:
And yet, then, and increasingly so as we view him from the perspective of maturity, there are thousands of Canadian War veterans who, when they think of Canon Frederick George Scott ... are positive they have seen and been touched by the personality of a man whose indomitable spirit has inherited the stuff of which saints and martyrs are made.
Even then all who knew him respected him. Most of us loved him. Today ... as the thinning lines of Great War veterans close ranks, we endow him with a halo. But we do it with a smile—for we know the canon would wear even a halo at a rakish angle.56
Not needing to lecture, Canon Scott brought out the best in his “boys” simply because his belief in their finer instincts was so unmistakably genuine and difficult to disappoint. There was never any doubt in their minds about the high value he placed upon them as individuals. They knew, too, that this godly man would always be on their side, come hell or high water. Nor, as they would learn, did his concern decline with the end of the war. In less than a month after returning home, he was off defending the rights of Canadian war veterans.
Beginning on 15 May 1919, the city of Winnipeg was crippled for six weeks by a general stike of approximately 30,000 industrial workers and government employees (federal, provincial and municipal), who were demanding wages in line with the soaring costs of post-war living. Matters turned increasingly militant during the second week in reaction to the intransigence of all levels of government and the decision to dismiss anyone who remained on strike. When Scott realized that some of his “boys” from the 27th Battalion were among those affected, he headed West to lend them whatever support he could muster.
On the evening of 8 June, he was greeted with resounding applause as he rose to address a huge gathering at Winnipeg’s Victoria Park. He reminded the strikers that the objections of business and government to collective bargaining were unconstitutional and urged them to hold on until they got their just rights and the dismissed workers were reinstated. There was prolonged cheering as he concluded. Hundreds pressed forward to clasp his hand. Later in the week, his efforts as a conciliator ended when military officials, apparently under orders from the federal government, escorted him to the train and sent him back to Quebec. He was compelled to watch from a distance as financial stress forced the strikers to abandon their demands ten days later and go back to work. However, his experience inspired a new resolve: “I am getting old, but I am going to dedicate the rest of my life to fighting labour’s battles.”57
From the pulpit, he began attacking economic and social injustices even when the church hierarchy was not inclined to take a strong stand on such matters. He gained special notoriety for his outspoken support of the Cape Breton steelworkers and miners in 1923 during their strike against the British Empire Steel Corporation (BESCO) of Nova Scotia. It was largely through the publicity he created that two Royal Commissions, one federal and one provincial, were appointed and recommended improvements in the living and working conditions of BESCO’s employees. In 1930, he served on a Royal Commission appointed by the Quebec government to inquire into and report on matters of social insurance. Also noteworthy was his position on the riots at Kingston Penitentiary in 1932. Appalled by what he considered inhumane treatment of the prisoners, he stressed the necessity for penal reform. Agnes MacPhail, speaking later in the House of Commons, credited “Canon Scott’s preaching about it” as one of the factors in getting “to the stage where remedies were applied.”58 While Scott was not a member of any organized group pushing for social and economic restructuring, the evidence supports the claim that he “deserves to be remembered, not only as the ‘beloved padre’ and as a poet, but as an activist in the cause of social and economic justice.”59
The development of Scott’s activism progressed from wanting a fair deal for war veterans to upholding the principles of justice for which the men had fought. He was fulfilling what he saw as his duty to honour their sacrifice. His volume In Sun and Shade (1926), a mixture of war and post-war poems, dedicated to Harry, contains this plea that the feeling of being your brother’s keeper, forged in the trenches, should not be forgotten:
Let us not lose the exalted love which came
From the comradeship with danger and the joy
Of strong souls kindled into living flame
By one supreme desire, one high employ.
Let us draw closer in these narrower years,
Before us the eternal visions spread:
We who outmastered death and all its fears,
Are one great army still—living and dead.
(“The Unbroken Line”)
The war still reverberates in his next collection, New Poems (1929). Of all the disturbing scenes he had witnessed at the front, none had affected him more deeply than the death by firing-squad of a young deserter whose pardon he had failed to obtain. Haunted still by this execution, he wrote “The Penalty,” thirteen stanzas of chilling understatement that come as close as he ever would to questioning the military system:
A shuffling in the mire,
He falls, and one man more
Has vanished from the war.
Yet, however much he deplores the human costs, he has an unshakeable faith that the Allies waged a necessary war against the forces of evil. God was with them and would always be on the side of those who defended His laws:
Over the broken dead,
Over the trenches and wire,
Bugles of God rang out—
Woe to those nations of men
Who in their heat or desire.
Break that stern order of God—
During the next decade, he issued three collected works: Collected Poems (1934), Poems (1936), and Selected Poems (1938). Collected Poems, with its series of notes explaining the circumstances under which each poem was written, is of special interest to the literary biographer. Poems, published by the Society for the Promoting of Christian Knowledge (London, England), is a reprint of his 1910 collection with the addition of forty-two later poems. Selected Poems --ninety-four in all—is not a rigorous winnowing of the chaff, but it omits those long-winded sermons in verse like “Justin” and “The Soul’s Quest.” Since none of the volumes arrange the poems in chronological order, it is difficult to trace any stylistic development or changes in attitude and outlook.
His last collection, a small brochure called Lift Up Your Hearts (a title borrowed from The Book of Common Prayer), was published in 1941 by Lorne Pierce of the Ryerson Press, who also authorized a companion volume, Canada Speaks of Britain, by Sir Charles G.D. Roberts. Each book was a patriotic undertaking with a stipulation that the publisher’s profits and the author’s royalties should go to wartime charities. Lift Up Your Hearts includes most of Scott’s World War I poems (“The Penalty” being a noteworthy exception to the chivalric tone) plus a dozen similar exercises written between 1939 and 1941. It was loyally promoted by the Canadian Legion and sold a quarter of a million copies at sixty cents each, enough to achieve its patriotic goal— which is not to be equated with critical success.
Although he had been appointed Archdeacon of Quebec in 1925, he was still remembered best as “Canon” Scott when he retired in 1934, especially by the “boys,” whom he continued to visit in various Canadian Legion branches across the country. In July 1936, the “beloved Canon” returned to France with some 6,000 of them for the unveiling of the Vimy Ridge Memorial, one of the few official acts performed by King Edward VIII during his abbreviated reign of 325 days. Less than five months after this ceremony, Edward would be forced by the British government to choose between the crown and marriage to Mrs. Wallis Simpson. His abdication—not wanting to be king “without the help and support of the woman I love”—temporarily distracted imperialists like Scott from a much greater crisis that was already looming across Europe.
As soon as war was declared in 1939, Scott rushed to Ottawa to offer his services, ironically at the same time that his pacifist son Frank was in the city to take part in an anti-war conference held by the CCF. Nearing eighty, he was still vigorous and willing to speak at rallies supporting the war effort or to undertake whatever else might be asked of him. Not only respected but revered, he was a man capable of stirring any audience just by his presence. When Prime Minister Mackenzie King chaired the historic Quebec Conference in August, 1943, he invited Scott to meet privately with Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Always ready with a poem or two, Scott seized the occasion to recite “To England” and “The Alliance,” the latter in celebration of the united front of Britain and America:
Brothers in blood, brothers in mind and soul,
Your phalanxed strength in one long battle roll
Is herald of the dawn that ends the night
And phantom forms of evil puts to flight.
Given the mood of the meeting, the lines may have impressed his listeners by their timeliness if not by their artistry.
Meeting Churchill and Roosevelt was one of the few bright spots in what had recently become a cheerless existence for Scott. Just a month earlier, on 13 July, Amy died in hospital from injuries suffered from a fall in their apartment on the Grand Allée, where they had lived ever since Scott’s retirement. Without her, he was a lonely old man, bereft and no longer feeling self-sufficient. Arthur, a notary, was the only one of his children still living in Quebec City. Mary, married to Canon A.R. Kelley, lived in the Eastern Townships. Elton, the only son to follow his father into the ministry, was a professor of theology at the University of Bishop’s College, Lennoxville. William, a prominent lawyer and “a pillar of Quebec Anglophone establishment,”60 was living in Montreal as was Frank, now a law professor at McGill, but the two brothers were not speaking to each other. Willum was incensed by Frank’s anti-war stance as national chairman of the CCF. Their father could not understand Frank’s attitude either, although he sympathized with the underlying social conscience. He took great pride in the knowledge that he had four grandsons doing their bit for their country.61
On Christmas Eve, 1943, he was taken to the Jeffrey Hale Hospital in Quebec City, suffering from influenza, which developed into pneumonia over the course of the next three weeks. Growing steadily weaker, he lapsed into unconsciousness during the final hours, rallying only slightly to ask how the war was going. The end came for the old soldier on 19 January 1944. A military funeral, held in Montreal three days later, was attended by hundreds of war veterans and leading figures from the military, church, and state. William, Elton, Frank and Arthur, in top hats and morning coats, led the funeral procession, followed by his “boys” from the Canadian Legion, through the city from Christ Church Cathedral to the family plot in the Protestant cemetery near the top of Mount Royal. A bugler played the Last Post, the gunners fired a military salute, and Frederick George Scott was laid to rest, surrounded by the graves of four generations of his family.
One afternoon in mid-April 1944, members of the New York Post of the Canadian Legion paraded up Fifth Avenue to a memorial service for Scott at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. “He was no mere sentimentalist, blind to the follies and weaknesses of men,” declared the pastor, John Bonnell, himself a Canadian veteran of World War I. “But his great human heart was full of sympathy and understanding, and by the nobility of his own life and example he won men to a higher level of living.”62 No other tribute could have been more appropriate for a man whose conduct reflected his communion with God:
The hills may crumble into dust,
The earth may swallow up the sea,
But nought can shake my living trust
In Him whose firm hand molded me.
For when I draw myself apart
From things which make my vision dim,
Deep in the silence of my heart,
He meets with me and I speak with Him.
Frederick George Scott was a rare human being whose personality was more luminous than his poetry. In particular, his sermons in verse, his devout hymns, and his patriotic panegyrics lack the incandescence of insight and originality. Even his better poems are conventional in thought and expression. Nevertheless, there are a few (like “Samson,” The Unnamed Lake,” and “Dawn”) with a singular appeal that is not easily forgotten.