LYRICS

—ON—

FREEDOM, LOVE AND DEATH


By

GEORGE FREDERICK CAMERON




Preface.

———


TO THE CRITIC.



     In accordance with the last wishes of the author, the first portion of his manuscript is here submitted to your judgment. This volume represents about one fourth of his life work. If it is well received, the rest will follow in due course. This is a Canadian contribution to our common literature, and I hope that it may be thought by the old world a worthy interpreter of our younger and broader national life.
     Of the Lyrics on Freedom, those on Cuba were written between the ages of fourteen and nineteen, on France about his eighteenth or nineteenth year, and on Russia between then and the time of his death, The verses prefixed to each are from an address written by the author while a student of Queen’s University, and inserted as an introduction to that which follows.
   In its issue of Friday, Sept. 18th, 1885, the Montreal Witness contained, as its first item of Canadian News, the following:— [Page xv]
    On Thursday night, George F. Cameron, late editor of the Kingston News, died suddenly. He was a graceful writer and a prominent Canadian poet.
     This was the sum of the story of his life, so far as the world could tell it. The high position which he took in Canadian literature he won almost in a day, on a few lyrics published in his own paper and in the columns of the Queen’s College Journal. The preface to this conclusion you will find here.
     Young, as the world counts time, at thirty years of age he had run the whole gamut of its pleasures and its pains. There was to him a terrible sameness about it all.—

          Golden prospects and ominous clouds:
               Impassible walks and level drives:
          Glittering silks and colorless shrouds:
               Flattering records and shattered lives,

These were the elements of its every change, and to his eternal quid novi? it had nothing further to answer. So that he who had begun life by being an enthusiast has almost finished it by becoming a cynic.

          All heartsick and headsick and weary,
               Sore wounded, oft struck in the strife,
          I ask is there end of this dreary
               Dark pilgrimage called by us life? [Page xvi]
          I ask, is there end of it—any?
               If any, when comes it anigh?
          I would die, not the one death, but many
               To know and be sure I should die.
          To know that Somewhere—in the distance,
               When Nature shall take back my breath,
          I shall add up the sum of existence
               And find that its total is—death!

     It was impossible, being what he was, that his poetry should be free from occasional pessimism. This was the natural product of the circumstances of his life. It was necessary from the character of the age in which he wrote: it was inevitable from the quality of his own mind.
     It is not without meaning that he sings in the last Springtime of his life,

          We reach for rest, and the world wheels by us
               And leaves us each in our vale of tears;
          Till the green sod covers and nought comes nigh us
               With hopes and fears.

     Nor that in its last month we hear him say, as he looks out into the unknown,

          For we shall rest. The brain that planned,
               That thought or wrought or well or ill, [Page xvii]
          At gaze like Joshua’s moon shall stand,
               Not working any work or will;
          While eye, and lip, and heart, and hand
               Shall all be still—shall all be still!

     The truest life of a poet is written in his songs. Why then, go further? If they hear not Moses and the prophets,—You know the rest.
     From the Present he asked nothing: and from the Future—but, let him speak for himself:—

          We only ask it as our share
               That, when your day-star rises clear,
          A perfect splendor in the air,
               A glory ever far and near,
          Ye write such words as these—of those who were!

     I have one favor to ask of the critic, and one only. Read him, before you review him.
     Remember that he is with the dead, and do him justice. I ask no more, and the editor of these songs needs to ask no more.
     How will the world receive him? With coldness, may be: it may be with pleasure. In any case it will matter little to him, who, as I pen these words, sleeps peacefully beneath the daisies in the land which gave him birth.

128 Union St., Kingston,
     October 6th, 1887.
[Page xviii]