Charles G.D. Roberts
by D.M.R. Bentley and Laurel Boone
WORLD OF BOOKS: 'At last it seems...' [Untitled]*
"The Young Seigneur, or
by Wilfrid Chateauclair.  Montreal: Wm.
Drysdale & Co.
last it seems as if one might really claim that
a grand and distinctive motive is beginning to
inspire our literature. This motive is such a
one as has ever been the inspiration to noblest
achievement—a national and patriotic motive.
In greater or less degree, yet distinctly and
appreciatively always, we find our poems, our
stories, our histories, our pictures, our intellectual
life generally, awakening to a loving concern
for Canadian themes and scenes, thrilling to Canadian
aspirations. The growth of this national enthusiasm
is the safeguard of our future.
brief romance which forms the subject of this
notice is a work of deep significance. Its ideal,
presented with force and persuasiveness, is that
of a united Canada working on distinctive lines
to the highest and purest national development.
The work is impressive, not only by virtue of
this splendid motive, but by its fervent sincerity
as well, its fresh enthusiasm, its faith, its
impulse. Of a most unconventional form, slight
in structure and written in curiously diminutive
chapters, scarcely longer than some men’s paragraphs,
the work nevertheless attains a high degree of
literary excellence. The incommunicable charm
of a native gift pervades it. In the opening chapters
there is a certain stiffness of expression, which;
however, wears off as the work proceeds. It strikes
the critical reader as the effort of one not yet
quite certain of his style. Such a defect is a
natural but temporary accompaniment of earnest
literary purpose. The story purports to be written
by a French Canadian. Its scene is laid chiefly
in Montreal, and is an idyllic French-Canadian
seignorial village on the banks of the St. Lawrence.
The studies of French-Canadian life are charming
in their vividness, fidelity and delicacy. Whether
it be in the city or the village, the life observed
is always that of the two races in contact, and
the author’s ideal evidently is that each race
should supply the deficiencies of the other—
each find the other necessary to it in the effort
toward its highest development. The Canadianism
of the work embraces not only our race and its
aspirations, but to our splendid landscapes as
well. Over these—and who can wonder that it
should be so—the author broods with passionate
delight; and his descriptions live, for his heart
is in them. In a word, with my eyes fully open
to certain defects of crudeness and of what might
almost be called utopianism, I regard the work
as a veritable "Book of Gold" for all
Young Canada; and Young Canada, we may declare
with pride, is a term which now embraces most
of Canada’s older and wiser sons. One or two brief
extracts will illustrate a portion of what I have
said. The first is from the scene in the Institute
of Dormilliere, on the eve of election, when the
business before the meeting is the plan of campaign.
Haviland is the Young Seigneur himself. "The
Ontarian" is Chrysler, a Dominion M.P., who
is the guest of the Young Seigneur, and who represents
throughout the work of the English-Canadian element:—
have heard", began De La Lande, "that
Grandmoulin has commenced to raise the issue
of French patriotism."
are right", said Zotique.
then, why can we not use a like word, that shall
go to the heart of the people? Give us a nation
cry! Let the struggle rest on our fundamental
emotions of race! Why can we not"—The
face of the impetuous schoolmaster began to
flame into eagerness and fire.
interrupted Haviland, firmly, "we are in
this particular country. Would you have us enter
upon a campaign of injustice and ill-will. Leave
that and the glory of it to Grandmoulin and
my chief, the positions of the French and the
English!—we who were first, are becoming last!"
here, if you please, sir," Haviland said,
turning to Chrysler, who arose and advanced
to him surprised. Haviland took him, and passing
over to De La Lande placed the hand of the Ontario
gentleman in that of the high-spirited schoolmaster,
who accepted it, puzzled. "There",
cried Haviland, raising his voice to a pitch
of solemnity, "say whatever you can in
that position. That
is the position of the Canadian races!"
shout rose in the hall, and every man sprang
to his feet. Cheer rose upon cheer, while De
La Lande shook the hand in his with feeling;
and the cheering, smiling and handshaking lasted
nearly a minute.
next is from a scene upon the river, where Haviland
gives Chrysler a brief outline of his national
of all", he said, "as to ourselves,
there are certain things we must clearly take
to mind before we begin:
we cannot do good work without making ourselves
a good people.
we cannot do the best work without also being
a strong and intellectual people.
that we cannot attain to anything of value at
haphazard; but must deliberately choose and
train for it."
worthy of Hercules!" ejaculated the old
of God", the young one replied. The difference
of age between himself and the Ontarian seemed
to disappear, and he proceeded confidently:
"The foundation must be the Ideal Physical
Man. We must never stop short of working until—now, do not doubt me, sir,—every Canadian
is the strongest and most beautiful man that
can be thought. No matter how utterly chimerical
this seems to the parlor skeptic who insists
on our securing only the common-place, it cannot
be so to the true thinker who knows the promises
of science and reflects that a nation can turn
its face to endeavors which are impossible for
a person. Physical culture must be placed on
a more reasonable basis, and made a requisite
of all education. **** We must have a nation
of stern, strong men—a careless people can
never rise; no deep impression, no fixed resolve,
will ever originate from easy-going natures.
most crying requirement is True Education. The
source of all our political errors and sufferings
is an ignorant electorate, who do not know how
to measure either the men or the doctrines that
come before them. **** A man is being truly
educated when his training is exactly levelled
at what he ought to be—first of all a high
type of man in general, and next, a good performer
of his calling. Let him have a scheme of facts
that will give him an idea of the ALL: then
show him his part in it. ****Seek for him, in
fine, not learning so much as wisdom, the essence
let every Canadian be educated to see The National
Work, and how to do it.
"It is an
Ideal character, however, a character perfectly
harmonized with his destinies as a soul, and
his condition s a citizen, that is the most
important armor in the panoply of the Canadian.
**** After the equipment of the ideal Canadians,
Chamilly proceeded to describe their work. Among
themselves a few great ideas were to be striven
for: ‘We must be One People;’ ‘Canada must be
perfectly independent;’ ‘there must be No Proletariat.’
of government was to be ‘Government by the Best
* * *
we must stamp our action with the Spirit of Organization.
The nation must work all together, as a whole.
The public plan must be clearly disseminated,
and especially the aim ‘To do preeminently well
our portion of the improvement of the world.’
Consecrated by our ideal also we must seek to
draw together and foster a national distinctiveness.
Canada must mean to us the Sacred Country, and
our young men learn to weigh truly the value of
such living against foreign advantages. For there
is no surety of any excellence equal to a national
atmosphere of it. They have always been artists
in Italy; they have always been sternly free in
Scotland; for a word of the glory the French rush
into the smoke of battle; the Englishman is a
success in courage and practicality; the German
has not given his existence in vain to thoroughness;
nor the American to business; let us make to ourselves
proper customs and peculiarities, like the good
old New Year’s call, the winter carnival, the
snow-shoe costume and a secular procession of
St. John Baptiste. Tradition, too! Why should
we forget the virtues of our fathers,—or perhaps
still better, their faults? Let the man who was
a hero—Daulac, Brock, the twelve who sortied
at Lacolle Mill; our deathless three hundred of
Chateauguay,—never to be forgotten. Have them
in our books, our school books, our buildings.
Make a fund for Tablets, so that our people may
read everywhere:—"Here died McGee, who
loved his nation." "Papineau spoke here."
"In this house dwelt Heavysege." So
might all Canada be a Quebec of memories. ***
cried he finally, "of a country that lives,
as I am suggesting, on the deepest and highest
principle of the seen and the unseen—what has
been the aspiration of the lonely great of other
nations, the clear purpose of all in this; what
have been the virtues of a few in the past, determined
here to be those of the whole; and every citizen
ennobled by the consciousness that he is equally
possessed of the common glory!"
World of Books: 'At last it seems...,'" Progress
1:27 (Saint John, N.B.), 3 November 1888, 2 [back]