That Far River:
Selected Poems of
Theodore Goodridge Roberts

Edited by Martin Ware



Preface


I can still see him striding up Queen Street, bent slightly forward from the hips like a horseman readying for the jump.  Indeed there was a good deal of the Cavalier in Theodore Goodridge Roberts—in the mien and in the very make and marrow of the man.  No Roundhead Theed!  What a figure he would have cut with the King’s Horse at Marston Moor.  And some of his verse (as Martin Ware’s collection proves) suggests a kinship with the earlier and archetypal chivalry of the Table Round.  So it seemed to me when I was very young.  So it seems to me now.
     For a bookish young lad who lived inside the books he read, it was no small thing to get to know a real, live writer whose books were there to see on the shelves of Hall’s Bookstore right here in Fredericton!  How vividly I remember some of those books—The Golden Highlander, The Fighting Starkleys, The Red Feathers, The Harbour Master.  I remember buying his little poetry chapbook The Lost Shipmate early in my first year in High School and waiting eagerly every week for T.G.R.’s column “Under the Sun” in the Saint John Telegraph-Journal.  But it was not until my first year at the University of New Brunswick that I actually met the man.  His youngest child—a daughter, Teddy—was a classmate and early in our freshman year she had a party for some of her friends at her home on Saint John Street.  Somehow (I am sure it was accident) I found myself in a far corner talking my head off to T.G.R..  And, to my undying gratitude, he not only listened but seemed interested in the questions that tumbled out of me about his books, about his brother Charles, and about Bliss Carman whose poetry I had first come to love even before my High School days.
     I heard of those fabulous canoe trips on the Saint John, of Charles and Bliss and Richard Hovey at King’s College, Windsor, in high summer, of the art of story-telling and something I never forgot about, literary style: “Style may be the man or it may just be a gift from heaven.  But it always has something to do with finding the correct but unexpected word.” [Page xiii]
     After that memorable evening there were many more talks.  I learned much about writing in Canada past and present, and about what amounted to the martyrdom of those daring and dedicated people who tried in this hesitant young nation, still half-colony, to live by the pen.  Or, for that matter, by the brush.  I am sure that T.G.R. was terrified at the prospect of his son Goodridge trying to make his way as a painter (he would, if he could, have spared his son the pain of his own long struggle).  So I’ll never forget T.G.R. rushing toward me one spring day on Queen Street with the exultant cry “Goodie is to be Professor of Art at Queen’s University.  And—you won’t believe it—he’s to get three thousand dollars a year! (In those “dear dead days beyond recall” that was a lot of money.)
     It is not my intent to invade Martin Ware’s territory and attempt to introduce these poems or T.G.R. as a poet.  Once upon a time I had thought seriously about editing a new collection of the poems.  But Martin Ware came to Dalhousie and wrote a Ph.D. dissertation under my supervision.  His chapter on the poetry of Theodore Goodridge Roberts was the best critical appraisal of the work I had ever read and in his research Ware had uncovered many poems I have never before seen.  Without doubt, Martin Ware was the man for the job and I know that this volume will ensure for Theodore Goodridge Roberts his rightful place in our literary history.
     I began with a hint of the chivalric strain in T.G.R..  I shall conclude with a story told to me by someone who was present (alas, I was not) at a dinner party in Fredericton in the mid-thirties.  The hostess was one who liked to collect and count persons of distinguished lineage and on this occasion she begged her guests to say a word about their ancestors.  Several obliged with tales of Loyalist dignitaries—a Judge in Vermont, a Colonial Governor in New Hampshire.  One guest claimed to come from a titled English county family; still another referred to her collateral descent from the Princess Eugenie.
     The hostess, now all a-twitter, turned to Theodore who had been sitting silent and with darkening brow.  “Tell us, Captain Roberts,” said she, “tell us something about your ancestry.”
   With one eyebrow raised and with a sardonic melancholy in his tone, Theodore replied “Really, you know, Mrs., really we haven’t been much since the Wars of the Roses….”
     I am told that there was no more talk that night of the noble past.  And it is said that never again did Mrs. talk of ancestors, her own or anyone else’s. [Page xiv]