I first met these seven Confederation Poets as a youngster growing up in Nova Scotia. Not in the flesh—four were already dead and three were old men who lived far away. I met them in spirit as they spoke to me through the poems I found in my school readers and elsewhere. In the case of Sir Charles G.D. Roberts, it was also through a little book called More Animal Stories, written in prose that often read like poetry. I formed an early fondness for these poets—a feeling I have never lost. In the following pages, although I acknowledge the many shortcomings that were not apparent to me long ago, I have tried to show why my lifelong affection is not entirely misplaced.
There are others who qualify as Confederation Poets, but I was scarcely aware of them in my school days. Back then, the dominant figures seemed to be Roberts, Bliss Carman, Archibald Lampman, Duncan Campbell Scott, Wilfred Campbell, Frederick George Scott, and Pauline Johnson, all born in the early 1860s. They were the ones who were credited with giving special voice to the impulses that followed Confederation. I have since come to respect the work of two slightly older poets, Isabella Valancy Crawford (1850-1887) and George Frederick Cameron (1854-1885), but neither of them reflects the same stimulus of Confederation nor did they have the same impact upon their time as the aforesaid group of seven.
The readers of Confederation Voices will note that, after a brief introductory chapter, each of the seven central chapters is a miniature “life and works.” I have taken this “cradle-to-grave” approach for two reasons: first, I believe the full story of these poets’ lives to be illuminating and engaging; secondly, it provides a solid framework for constructing an informed analysis of their achievements. While these central chapters in turn allow each poet something close to an equal hearing, the concluding chapter cautiously indicates the ways in which time seems likely to pass judgement on the quality of the individual “voices.”
My evaluation of these Confederation Poets has been refined by pondering over the insights of many earlier critics. The spade work of several biographers has been invaluable in saving time and providing leads that I might otherwise have missed. On the occasions when I have corrected their work and/or supplied new information, it is often because I have had the benefit of resources that were not available to them. The complete list of critics and biographers to whom I am indebted is almost too lengthy to enumerate in a preface. My obligation to them will be apparent in the number of times their names appear in the text, the notes to the chapters, and the list of sources.
I greatly appreciate the assistance I received from various librarians, archivists, and curators. In particular, I wish to thank Heather Home, Queen's University Archives; François Cartier, McCord Museum; John Jakobson, North York Central Library; and Paula Whitlow, Chiefswood Museum. I am also especially grateful for the advice and encouragement of Ross Kilpatrick and David Staines, who read portions of the manuscript. I am deeply indebted to D.M.R. Bentley, who suggested this online edition and arranged for the efficient team of Dany Horovitz, Katherine Atkinson, and Jenna Hunnef to work on it. Above all, I acknowledge the devoted support of my wife Mary, who assisted in the research, checked and re-checked every chapter, and helped in so many other ways.
J. C. A., Toronto, 2007