Frank Yeigh has given us an opportunity of glancing
back at our provincial history, and of comparing what
Ontario now is with what she once was. The result is
inspiriting, and one is irresistibly led to make forecasts
of the future, to turn prophetic, and to promise a greatness
and a power for our beautiful province transcending
anything which she has at present reached. Mr. Yeigh's
book, "Ontario Parliament Buildings, 1792-1892,"
is an historical record of the four buildings which
have been successively occupied by the provincial house.
It is a valuable record; but it is more—it is
a readable one. Anything which Mr. Yeigh would undertake
to do would be well done, would be carried out with
spirit, taste and judgment, and his record of the many
interesting and important occurrences which have gone
to make our provincial history is written in a pleasant
and entertaining style. Moreover, there is a selection
of the things one would want to know, and, in very many
instances, notes and striking descriptions of the times
which went before our present civilization, and which
made it possible.
The book is
filled with pictures of the old buildings, which are
in themselves very important and well worth preserving
and making readily accessible. The portraits are for
the most part good and well-chosen, but, if such have
been available, portraits of some of the old worthies
would have rendered the collection still more valuable,
but there may have been difficulties in the way of obtaining
them which could not be overcome. The illustrations
of the new building are somewhat marred by the presence
of scaffolding and pulley-ropes, but they give a sufficient
idea of what must become a most beautiful structure.
I say must become, for every building needs time to
develop its beauties, and that the new building has
beauties, and great ones, no one can deny. I do not
think the word grand can be applied to it, but it has
a charm which satisfies and inspires—the view
of it gives delight and kindred impressions.
has gathered about it countless associations for every
Ontario man, it will seem the fitting centre of his
provincial life. The most interesting of Mr. Yeigh's
chapters may be "Famous scenes in the old chamber,"
and "Then and now." I say "may be,"
because my own reading has hardly satisfied me that
they are, and the reader of this review will have to
satisfy himself by reading the book, a process which
should involve buying it, and he will not regret doing
that. The book is well printed and bound by Hunter,
Rose & Co., and published by the Williamson Book
notice that the term, "quality" is used to-day
in connection with our current minor verse. And, while
I would object to it as an unfair and misleading expression
as applied to true poetry, yet it comes in very handy
as a sort of apology for the kind of pseudo-poetry that
is marking these times, and which, in the absence of
real poetic imagination and creative ability, has taken
to pensive musings and landscape painting in words.
The real critic when he meets this article, which is
as easy for some men to make as it is to whittle a stick,
he passes it over with the slight mention it merits.
But there is another class of critic, who, bearing the
same relation to true criticism that this kind of verse-maker
does to poetry, and stumbling up against a sort of poetical
miracle of this kind, he is dumbfounded. Of course,
it is a sonnet and is possibly called—
I sit me moanless in the sombre fields,
The cows come
with large udders down the dusk,
One cudless, the other chewing of a husk,
Her eye askance, for that athwart her heels,
Flee-haunted and rib-cavernous, there steals
The yelping farmer-dog. An old hen sits
And blinks her eyes. (Now I must rack my wits
To find a rhyme, while all this landscape reels.)
I forgot the sky. The stars are out,
There being no clouds; and then the pensive maid!
Of course she comes with tin-pail up the lane.
Mosquitoes hum and June bugs are about.
(That line hath "quality" of loftiest grade.)
And I have eased my soul of its sweet pain.
—John Pensive Bangs, in The Great Too-Too Magazine
critic stumbles, I repeat, on this remarkable effusion,
and this is what he remarks: "This is verse of
a high poetic quality. It is Millet-like in its terse
realism. Mr. Bangs is not one of your common flabgasters
in rhyme. He is a monk in literature, and wears the
hair-shirt of realism. Mark his delicate touches, his
firm hand. No laying on with a white-wash brush for
him. Oh! It is rare; it is restful. It makes me ——w——.
No, the disciple of realism and Arnold does not weep;
he only groans. I will hang on to myself." He then
consigns all of the other poets who may be standing
around stopping up Bangs' literary way to early poetical
graves, and black oblivion, while he notes the mellow
moon of this his particular poet radiating the heavens
with its beams, and rising higher and higher into universal
favor. But the funniest part is that the critic should
give Mr. Bangs so much praise for his realism. He surely
would not have Bangs make the cows drive the landscape,
the dog do the roosting, and get the hen, the maid and
the June bugs mixed up promiscuously. Hardly! John Pensive
Bangs has too much horse-sense for that since he went
to college, read Matthew Arnold, cut his hair and got
toned down a bit. Nor should the critic expect that
Mr. Bangs ever did sit thus, "moanless," in
the fields, a martyr to blackflies and damp grass, in
order to capture this most rare and fleeting glimpse
for the uplifting of his lesser human brethren. Not
by any means. John Pensive has a patent on this sort
of business, and ten to one he wrote it in his back
office, two flights up, with a cigar in his mouth, and
the spittoon two points on the weather-bow. Nor should
the critic think it anything remarkable to rig or hitch
such a landscape together, so as not to forget even
the June bugs. This is simple enough. We might give
him some more examples. They need no lofty thoughts
or wide knowledge of nature and man. This is another,
"Hitched to the waggon by the grimy hands
Of the horny-fisted farmer, stands the team,
Filling the drowsy air with languid dream
Of gone, last-winter oats. Aloft there stands
The lusty farm-hand, and he mops his brow,
And says, 'We'll hustle in this last load now.'"
these lines of "singular discernment," says
up the road, where once a waggon was,
Lies all deserted where the toilers sped,
leading to the dun cow's shed
Has but a solitary hobbling toad."
such a picture of desolation and bleakness, and so on.
We have no
space here to quote from many such landscapes as "Raking
Chips," "The Lonely Clam," "Morn,"
"Beetles," "Hoeing Potatoes," "Bunch-Grass,"
"Tadpoles," "Sharpening the Bucksaw,"
and other equally interesting and peculiar subjects
for word-landscape, and all found in John Pensive Bangs'
new volume of poems, called "Red Top and Radishes,"
and all containing that remarkable attribute called
"poetic quality" in a marked degree."
have just discovered a passage from Frederick Harrison's
article on the "Decadence of Romance," which
backs up my article of the week before last. Here it
then, to this, that for the first time during this whole
century now ending English literature can count no living
novelist whom the world consents to stamp with the mark
of accepted fame. One is too eccentric and subtle, another
too local and unequal, a third too sketchy, this one
too unreal, that one far too real, too obvious, too
prosaic, to win and to hold the great public by their
spell. Critics praise them, friends utter rhapsodies,
good judges enjoy them; but their fame is partial, local,
sectional." Not only in romance but in other branches
of art is there this dearth of genius, or even talent
of the first rank:—
a very high average of fairly good work, an immense
mass of such work, and an elaborate code of criticism,
the production of brilliant and inimitable successes
is usually arrested in every field. Having thousands
of graceful verse-writers, we have no poet; in a torrent
of skilful fiction, we have no great novelist; with
many charming painters, who hardly seem to have a fault,
we have no great artist; with mises-en-scene, make-up,
costumes and accessories for our plays such as the world
never saw before, we have no great actor, and, with
ten thousand thoughtful writers, we have not a single
genius of the first rank. Elaborate culture casts chill
looks on original ideas. Genius itself is made to feel
the crudeness and extravagance of its first efforts,
and retires with shame to take a lower place. We are
all so fastidious about form, and have got such fixed
regulation views about form, we are so correct, so much
like one another, such good boys and girls, that the
eccentricities and idiosyncrasies of the inventive spirit
are taught from childhood to control themselves and
to conform to the decorum of good society. A highly-organized
code of culture may give us good manners, but it is
the death of genius."
All the men
who have made the Victorian age of literature bright
with their names, had done their best work by 1805.
"We had already got all, or all that was best,
of Tennyson, Browning, Carlyle, Ruskin, Lytton, Thackeray,
Dickens, Trollope, George Eliot, Disraeli, Kingsley
and others who lived after that date." The trouble
to-day is that we have "overstrained our taste,
we are overdone with criticism, we are much too systematically
drilled, there is far too much moderate literature,
and far too fastidious a standard in literature."
We are so terrorized with the bugaboo of "correctness"
and "finish" that we sacrifice any originality
we may possess. Says Mr. Harrison:—
Dickens were to break out to-morrow with the riotous
tomfoolery of Pickwick at the trial, or of Weller and
Stiggins, a thousand lucid criticisms would denounce
it as vulgar balderdash. Glaucus and Nydia at Pompeii
would be called melodramatic rant. 'The House of the
Seven Gables' would be rejected by a sixpenny magazine,
and 'Jane Eyre' would not rise above a common 'shocker.'
Hence the enormous growth of the 'Kodak' school of romance—the
snap-shots at every-day realism with a hand camera.
We know how it is done. A woman of forty, stout, plain
and dull, sits in an ordinary parlor at a tea-table,
near an angular girl with a bad squint. 'Some tea?'
said Mary, touching the pot. 'I don't mind,' replied
Jane in a careless tone; 'I am rather tired, and it
is a dull day.' 'It is,' said Mary, as her lacklustre
eyes glanced at the murky sky without. 'Another cup?'
And so the modern romance dribbles on hour by hour,
chapter by chapter, volume by volume, recording, as
in a phonograph, the minute commonplace of the average
man and woman in perfectly real, but entirely common
situations. To this dead level of correctness, literary
purism has brought romance."
Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope lived full lives,
they 'drank with both hands from the cup of life'; but
'George Meredith, Robert Louis Stevenson, Howells, James,
look on life from a private box. We see their kid-gloves
and their opera-glass, and we know that nothing could
ever take them on to the stage. There is no known instance
of a great novelist who lived obscure in a solitary
retreat, or who became famous only after the lapse of
many generations.' Life is growing dull. 'Comfort, electric
light, railway cars and equality are excellent things,
but they are the death of romance.'"