Non-Fictional Prose

by Charles G.D. Roberts

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley and Laurel Boone


 

THE WORLD OF BOOKS: 'At last it seems...' [Untitled]*


 

"The Young Seigneur, or Nation Making", by Wilfrid Chateauclair. [1888] Montreal: Wm. Drysdale & Co.

 

At 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.

The 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:—

     "I have heard", began De La Lande, "that Grandmoulin has commenced to raise the issue of French patriotism."

     "You are right", said Zotique.

     "Well, 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.

     "Because", 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 to Picault!"

     "But, my chief, the positions of the French and the English!—we who were first, are becoming last!"

     "Come 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!"

     A 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.

The next is from a scene upon the river, where Haviland gives Chrysler a brief outline of his national ideals:—

     "First of all", he said, "as to ourselves, there are certain things we must clearly take to mind before we begin:

     "That we cannot do good work without making ourselves a good people.

     "That we cannot do the best work without also being a strong and intellectual people.

     "And that we cannot attain to anything of value at haphazard; but must deliberately choose and train for it."

     "Labors worthy of Hercules!" ejaculated the old gentleman.

     "Worthy 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.
     "Next, the 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 of learning.
     "But especially, 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.’
     "The principle of government was to be ‘Government by the Best intelligence.’

*                   *                    *

     "Again, 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. ***
      "Think", 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!"

 


"The World of Books: 'At last it seems...,'" Progress 1:27 (Saint John, N.B.), 3 November 1888, 2 [back]