In the literary product of the year in Canada what
we notice first is the increase of genuine national
feeling. This spirit pervades a large part
of the most important work of the year, and is
big with promise of an era of true literary activity
which shall have its roots in a fuller and more
ambitious national life than Canadians have yet
attained to and shall reach out fearlessly to
every age and clime for material to nourish its
growth. Intellectual and national development
are going hand in hand, nor need we ever expect
the former to far outstrip the latter. In
this connection we may quote the words of an uncompromising
on this subject let us say that as well may we
hope for 'roses in December, ice in June' as look
for a literature without a nationality.
But in the awakening of that national life for
which we yearn, we may count on a creative period
in our literature; the time when our young nation
will put on the intellectual blossoms of romance
and song." The cry for a literature
that shall be distinctively and exclusively Canadian
in its characteristics has been so pertinaciously
raised, however, that we may as well bear in mind
the possible peril of falling into a narrow provincialism,
both of subject and treatment. A similar
demand on the part of American critics called
forth interminable epics and romances celebrating
the sometimes imaginary virtues and not always
agreeable particularities of the Red Indian.
These certainly smacked of the soil, to the critics'
heart's desire, and were as a rule received quite
rapturously. For the most part they have
by this time been relegated to the vast but half-forgotten
catalogue of the injuries which the unfortunate
Indian has been compelled to endure at the hands
of his white oppressor. In America the cry
has died away, self-convicted of its own inutility.
National individuality in our literature can not
be procured by merely turning our pens to Canadian
subject-matter; it must be the outcome of a potential
national existence, and springing from such a
source it will make itself visible in the productions
of our writers though they range time and space
for subjects. One of our literary workers
lately spoke to the following effect:—"Let
me say a word concerning that perpetual injunction
to our verse-writers to choose Canadian themes
only. Now it must be remembered that the
whole heritage of English song is ours, and that
it is not ours to found a new literature.
The Americans have not done so, nor will they.
They have simply joined in raising the splendid
structure of English Literature, to the building
of which may come workmen from every region of
the earth where speaks the English tongue.
The domain of English letters knows no boundary
lines of Canadian Dominion, of American Commonwealth,
nor yet of British Empire. All the greatest
subject-matter is free to the world's writers.
Of course the tone of a work, the quality of the
handling, must be influenced by the surroundings
and local sympathies of the workman, in so far
as he is a truly creative and original workman,
not a mere copyist. To the assimilativeness
and flexibility of genius it is as impossible
that its works should lack the special flavour
of race and clime, as that honey from Hymettus
should fail to smell of the thyme-slopes.
By all means let our singers preserve to the sweetness
which they gather a fragrance distinctive of its
origin. It is true we have much poetical
wealth unappropriated in our broad and magnificent
landscapes, in our seasons that alternate so swiftly
between gorgeousness and gloom, in the stirring
episodes scattered abundantly through parts of
our early history; but let us not therefore think
we are prohibited from drawing a portion of our
material from lands where now the very dust is
the important field of history and biography the
year has produced valuable work. Mr. J.E.
Collins' Life and Times of the Right Hon. Sir
John A. Macdonald is in effect what Mr. J.C.
Dent's work is in name, a history of Canada during
the "Last Forty Years." The same
may we think be said of the Hon. Alexander Mackenzie's
Life and Speeches of the Hon. George Brown.
This work is of much value on account of the prominence
and authority of its author and the interest of
its subject. It contains a wealth of material
for the future historian, and furnishes abundant
food for reflection to the student of the present.
The work of Mr. Dent is a comprehensive, orderly,
and fairly impartial survey of the events of the
last four decades of Canadian history. The
literary workmanship is never slovenly, and whoever
consults this work for information will feel grateful
to the author for his clearness of statement and
fulness of detail. But the book is not likely
to be as widely read as it deserves to be, for
the reason that its style, though easy and well-balanced,
is on too uniform a level, has too little verve,
too little imaginative warmth or stimulating pungency,
to maintain a long hold upon the reader.
Neither is there anything of that penetrative
insight which brings to light new truths, or discovers
new relations between old and known facts.
The volume by Mr. Collins, on the other hand,
when once taken up will be read through for its
own sake. In spite of some slight unevenness
and occasional marks of haste, this is a work
which is likely to take a prominent position in
Canadian literature. It was thus spoken
of in the columns of the St. John Telegraph:—"The
dullest matter would become readable under the
spell of Mr. Collins' vivid and picturesque rendering.
Here the attention is held from the first sentence.
Every page is delightfully readable. A strong
and sympathetic imagination has so grasped and
mastered the whole subject, that the narrative
proceeds with the unobstructed swiftness of good
fiction, while dry but needful details are so
skillfully woven in as apparently to heighten
the interest. This is indeed a chief triumph
of the biographer's art. If the author can
throughout maintain the unfailing freshness and
verve of these one hundred and twenty-eight
pages, then his work will have an audience far
beyond the borders of Canada, as one of the most
brilliant biographies of the day."
Mr. Collins is now, we believe, preparing for
press a history of the administration in Canada
of the Marquis of Lorne.
our French compatriots we note the issue of a
new and worthy edition of Garneau's great history
of Canada, accompanied by a biographical essay
from the pen of the Hon. P.J.O. Chauveau.
It would be superfluous to speak here of Garneau's
splendid work; and of his biographer it would
be hard to speak with more emphatic commendation
than we do in saying that he proves himself fully
adequate to his task.
in contrast with such a work as this is the biography
of Sir Charles Tupper, by Mr. Charles Thibault,
a gentleman enjoying a wide reputation as a political
speaker and writer. This work was published
in the French language and an English translation
subsequently appeared from the pen of Mr. Foran.
Mr. Thibault is an enthusiastic admirer of his
subject whose remarkable career he sketches to
the best of his ability.
French Canadian colony at Fall River, Massachusetts,
was fortunate in its historian. Mr. Dubuque's
account of the origin and progress of the little
colony is a well-considered piece of work, doing
justice to a class of Canadians, which has suffered
much misrepresentation. In M. Xavier Marmier's
latest work, A la Maison, we would refer
particularly to an interesting study of La
history of French Canada, wider in scope than
that of Garneau, and somewhat different in method,
is that by M. Benjamin Sulte, now issuing from
the press in parts, of which we believe seven
have appeared. This work covers the ground
from the middle of the 17th century to the present
day, and is corrected by the latest researches.
It is also a general study of the French Canadian
people, and represents an enormous amount of original
investigation on the part of the painstaking author.
Some of M. Sulte's statements and deductions,
particularly with regard to the early work of
the Religious Orders in Canada, have been subjected
to sharp attack by certain extremists. But
the historian's mastery of his subject has enabled
him to meet his critics with triumphant success
in a Réponse aux Critiques lately printed, which is in itself
a valuable contribution to historical literature.
the North-West comes a brochure by the
Reverend M. Dugast, of the Diocese of Saint Boniface.
It is entitled: La prémière Canadienne du Nord-Ouest,
and narrates the life of Marie Anne Gaboury, who,
emigrating in 1807, was the first of her countrywomen
to dare the North-West wilderness.
small biography is M. Stanislaus Drapeau's sketch
of the life of Sir Narcisse F. Belleau, first
Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Quebec.
This little work is readable and well-executed.
autobiography of great importance and wide-reaching
interest is Dr. Ryerson's Story of My Life,
brought out under the editorship of Dr. J.G. Hodgins,
Deputy Minister of Education of Ontario.
Dr. Ryerson's career was one which brought him
vitally in contact with the most important events
of late years, and what strong influence his earnest
and aggressive nature was able to exert upon the
course of these events is well known. Dr.
Hodgins, not unnaturally, has performed his part,
in bringing this work before the world, with the
enthusiasm almost of a disciple. His continual
effort is to avoid self-obtrusion, and to present
the most unobstructed possible view of his subject.
very masterly biography is the Life of Sir
William Logan, by Prof. B.J. Harrington, of
McGill University. This work is entirely
different from the others that have been passing
under our review, in that it is wholly unconscious
of the turmoil of politics and the muddle of party
issues. It is concerned only with science
and with the life of the greatest of Canadian
scientists, the father of Canadian geological
research. Prof. Harrington's work calls
for cordial praise, displaying fine literary and
constructive ability, and close sympathy with
ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica
now in course of issue, contains some important
work from Canadian pens, notably the article on
Montreal, by Dr. Daniel Wilson.
centennial year of the landing of the Loyalists
and the founding of St. John, N.B., has produced
in that city a little volume full of the raw materials
for history. The work is entitled, Footprints,
or Incidents in the Early History of New Brunswick,
and is by Mr. J.W. Lawrence, president of the
N.B. Historical Society. In the same connection
must be mentioned the first instalments of an
important work by Mr. George E. Fenety, of Fredericton,
which is being issued under the auspices of the
same society. The volume is entitled, Parliamentary
Reminiscences, and will continue the history
of New Brunswick from the point where Mr. Fenety's
previous work, (Political Notes, Fredericton,
1867) left it, up to the date of Confederation.
turn from a province to a county, The History
of the County of Brant, Ontario, claims a
word of notice. This work represents an
enormous amount of patient investigation, and
is creditable alike to writer and publishers.
The chapter devoted to intellectual progress is
specially deserving of praise. The author
is understood to be Dr. C.P. Mulvany, of Toronto.
In contrast with this, both for subject and scope,
is a Topical History of England, by Mr.
James Hughes, Inspector of Schools for the City
of Toronto. This is an unpretentious little
compilation, which must prove a valuable aid to
teachers as well as pupils.
important and in some respect unique addition
to our biographical literature is Dr. R. Maurice
Bucke's, Study and Life of Walt Whitman.
This work is full of interest, being we believe
the only source from which can be obtained accurate
and full information concerning the Poet of Democracy.
It abounds in apt and well considered criticism,
though written from the standpoint of an ardent
partizan, an enthusiast; and is still further
enriched by a gathering together of the many eulogies
which Whitman has called forth from the finest
spirits of the age.
must not omit mentioning that the translation
into English of Pierre Boucher's Histoire du
Canada (1664), upon which the late Mr. E.L.
Montizambert was engaged at the time of his death,
made its appearance during the year.
of the works in this department, announced for
1884, is a History of Liberalism in Canada,
by Dr. C.P. Mulvany.
and the Drama.—In poetry the year has not
been fertile, though in this it does not greatly
differ from other years. An adequate quantity
of tolerable verse has, as usual, been written,
but there is little before us to call for special
comment. The only really remarkable poetical
achievements are M.L.H. Fréchette's play of The
Thunderbolt, and his poem Notre Histoire,
which appeared in an issue of Soirées Canadiennes.
The Thunderbolt is a strong and original
creation, full of movement, spirit, and surprises.
That it did not meet with the success expected
for it upon the New York stage is said by those
who saw the representation to have been owing
to causes entirely outside of the play itself,
which is admirably adapted for the boards.
Next in importance to the writing of a drama by
M. Fréchette we must regard the issue of a complete
edition of the poems of Octave Crémazie, whose
lyric genius, of great power and intensity, may
now meet with the recognition it deserves among
us. Crémazie's was, perhaps, in many respects,
the finest poetical genius which Canada has yet
new volume by the Marquis of Lorne, Memories
of Canada and Scotland, will have a strong
interest for Canadian readers apart from such
purely literary excellence as it possesses.
Filled as this verse is with the wholesome manliness,
the genial warmth, and the earnest love for Canada
which characterized Lord Lorne, Canadians are
not likely to be censorious in their judgments
upon it. It cannot be claimed that this
is in any way remarkable or strongly original
poetry; but it displays technical skill and respect
for the art of verse, sincerity of feeling, love
of nature and sympathy with her varying moods,
and a pleasant lack of the tendency to verbal
gymnastics so prominent in the weaker members
of the modern school of song.
English Poetical Works of Mr. Evan MacColl, of
Kingston, were issued at the very last of the
year. This is a garnering of sheaves.
The limitation of the title by the word "English"
refers to Mr. MacColl's work in another field
more exclusively his own, that of Gaelic verse.
Mr. MacColl has been named the Highland Moore;
but the simplicity of purpose, the absence of
artificial sentiment, with some carelessness as
to points of technique, make the comparison in
some respects go lame.
New Song, and Other Poems, by Mrs. W.H. Clarke,
of Toronto, is a real addition to our young literature.
This little volume is a first effort, and as such
must be regarded as pregnant with promise.
These poems have genuine inspiration. There
is command of rhythmical expression, an occasional
mastery of very sweet and subtle cadences, imaginative
insight, and here and there an evidence of marked
the only other production of any importance is
the Song of Welcome, written by "Seranus"
(Mrs. J.W.F. Harrison, of Ottawa), in honour of
the coming of Lord Landsdowne. As is usually
the case with these vers d'ocassion, the
poem hardly does justice to its author's powers.
Nevertheless, it contains passages of that intense,
forcible, and fervent lyrics quality which is
characteristic of Mrs. Harrison's best work.
these, must be mentioned Zenobia, a poem
in rhymed heroics, by the Rev. Æ McD. Dawson;
The Mission of Love, and Other Poems, by
Caris Sima; Marina, an Operatic Romance,
by the late Mr. William McDonnell, of Lindsay,
Ont., the music of which calls for a word of hearty
commendation; Lorenzo, and Other Poems,
by J.E. Pollock, B.A., of Keswick, Ont.; Recreations,
by Rev. E.A. Stafford; Caprices Poetiques et
Chansons Satiriques, by Rémi Tremblay, of
Montreal; Miscellaneous Poems, a volume
of translations from the French and Italian, by
A.A. Nobile, B.A.; North Mountain, near Grand
Pré, by "Mileta"—(Miss Jennings;)
and a brochure of four poems, printed for private
circulation, by Mr. James Penny. Mr. F.G.
Marchand, M.P.P., well known as a dramatic author,
produced a vaudeville during the year, which was
published in pamphlet form.
Mr. J.E. Collins. [back]