"An Intimate Picture of Wilfred Campbell"

by Faith L. Malloch


 

Chapter II


We were four small children very close together, there being not much more than five years between us all. Margery was the eldest, then Faith, then Basil the only boy, and Dorothy the baby. Our early childhood was spent in a small cottage, enclosed in a smaller garden, under the brow of a hill near the banks of the Rideau River. Those were very stirring and happy days for all of us, full of dreams and visions of great things that were to be one day accomplished by our family, for we lived with a poet called Wilfred Campbell who painted these visions for us in bright and startling colors. When certain things came to pass we were to go and live in England— the land of dreams and promises, such things for instance as the acceptance of one of the poet’s plays by Sir Henry Irving, or perhaps one of his novels being a financial success. These triumphs were to be the means wherewith more visionary things were to be accomplished. Spring succeeded spring and we did not go, but there was always hope that the next one would see us all in England. I remember each year making new outfits for the dolls to wear on the ship going over, for I was the family dolls’ dress maker. I also remember telling, as a great secret, the mother of a baby I greatly admired (for of course we were told not to say anything about it) that we were all going to England the following Spring and that I was getting the dolls’ clothes ready.

There was a very attractive Irish girl who had certain gifts for the stage and hoped one day to become an actress. She had a most enchanting voice, and used to recite for us as we sat round the fire in the evenings and after we had been sent to bed we would steal to the top of the stairs to listen to her reciting certain passages from my fathers poems or dramas.

Then there were days when certain dear old friends such as Alexander McNeil a member of parliament for North Bruce, Dr. Weldon and Mr. Dicky, members from the Maritimes, would come to the house and there would be great discussions. We children loved all these men. Mr. McNeil was a most interesting Irishman of the old school, and every inch an aristocrat. He had very fine Irish terriers and used to bring some of them to Ottawa every session.

My father was a great believer in ancient civilizations, and believed rather that the races were on the decline, than that we evolved from monkeys. The idea of a man being descended from a beast hurt his conception of God in us, or that part of us that is called the soul. All myths and legends arise from some truth, and he believed that the idea of the Greek Mythology, when the Gods and Godesses came down from heaven and mixed with man, had its origin in some great truth centuries back, when perhaps we were closer to God and more divine. This is all so vague and very questionable, most people would say, but it was one of his beliefs, I heard him lecture once on the subject. He called it "The Dual Origin of Man," and he always meant to write a book about it. His Creator was very real to him and he was always searching for the truth in life as he says in his poem,— "Truth"

"When first I trod in wistful gropings lonely
And felt for God in crude impassioned youth
I longed to know thee and thy spirit only
Thou great clear-orbed Truth.

"For Thee alone I sought mid earth’s confusions
By Thee and Thee alone I measured life.
Mighty or petty; drew its deep conclusions
Plumbed its abysses, felt its ebb or strife."

Also in "My Creed" he says:—

"This is my creed in face of cynic sneer
The cavilling doubt, the pessimistic fear;—
We come from some far Greatness, and we go
Back to a Greatness, spite of all our woe."

There was a great deal of the Celt in the poet, and he was a firm believer in family traditions, and had a tremendous pride in his Scotch origin. My mother’s family were mostly Scotch too, and he had every member of her family for generations back at his finger tips. He was a great genealogist and could tell you the history of any Scotch family and a great many other families in England and this country. "Burke’s Peerage" accepted more than one of his corrections for some of their family trees. His position here in the Archives enabled him to study a great deal about Canadian families. We were made to look at family trees and listen to all sorts of legends, and tales of second sight, and travellings in far countries. For Scotland, and Argyllshire in particular he had a most romantic love, and if it were possible he would have restored to the old Scottish chiefs all their original prestige and power. I have never known him to scoff at tales of second sight or ghosts. When he was still at college he met the Marquess of Lorne, who was Governor General of Canada at the time, and there sprang up a friendship between them that lasted all their lives, and on my father’s part at least meant a great deal to him, for the Marquess was "The Campbell, The MacCallum More," hereditary chief of his clan. Then the Marquess of Lorne was also a poet and a man of high literary standing.

When I was quite a small girl, I remember waking up one morning just as it was beginning to get light. The night nursery had a door at each end, and there was a long low window running parallel with my bed, through which I could see the pale grey light beginning to break. As I lay there looking at the window, I suddenly heard somebody walking in the stillness and the sound of the steps kept coming closer and closer. I was terrified and presently the steps came so close that I could feel their presence as a little lady in a poke bonnet passed by bed. I could see her profile quite distinctly against the light of the window. Even now it makes me shudder as I write about it. I never mentioned it at the time, but some years later, I told it in my father[’]s hearing, and he was very much excited about it, and said my grandmother had seen a similar apparition.

Another thing that influenced my father very much was the fact that his maternal grandfather was a son of one of the Georges or of one of their brothers the Royal Dukes. His mother, who was the youngest of four or five children, said her father Major Francis Wright was sent out to this country, when she was quite a small child, and was given a large grant of land to settle on. He had been in one if the smart English regiments and was a godson of the Duke of York who gave him letters to the Governor General, and leading men of his time in Canada. My grandmother remembered walking in Kensington Palace gardens with Queen Caroline. I am not able to verify any of these facts, but I am telling them as they were told to us as children. My grandmother had an older brother and sister who never married and lived together in Toronto. They kept very much to themselves, and had very little to do with the rest of the family. When my father was a student at the university in Toronto this aunt Mary showed him a partiality that she did not show the others. She would not discuss the family with anybody, but admitted to him that her father was a son of one of the Royal family, but would not say who, as the matter was much better forgotten in a new country. The place they had lived at in England was Wallworth Manor in Surrey. The mystery of this intrigued the poet. My father was quite impressed at being descended from some of these super beings as he thought them. He was a great Imperialist and lived very much in the past glories of ancient Kings and their times. It was not only the worldly side this poet thought of, but he tried to paint visions of super beings in gilt crowns and velvet robes in high places of honour and responsibility governing a great Empire wisely and well. To him this was the religion and duty of British Kings and Statesman. As the years went by and he perceived the clay feet of some of his idols he feared for the safety of the Empire. This feeling coloured much of his verse during this phase of his experience, as for example in:—"Show The Way England." Then again he expressed his love for his mother country Scotland in:—"The World Mother." As time went on and the Prophets and Kings heeded not the voice of the Poet weeping and pleading for his country, he cries bitterly at their inattention in:—"A Present Day Creed"

"What matters down here in the darkness
Tis only the rat that squeals
Crushed under the iron hoof
Tis only the fool that feels.

"Tis only the child that weeps and sorrows
For the death of a love or a rose
While grim in its grinding soulless mark
Iron, the iron world goes.

"God is the artist, mind is the all
Only the art survives
Just for a curve, a tint a fancy
Millions on millions of lives.

"If this be your creed, O late world poet
Pass with your puerile pose;
For I am the fool, the child that suffers
That weeps and sleeps with the rose."

We as children were so imbued with the idea of making ourselves worthy of our ancestors, but as the years went on, and we were faced more with the realities of life the ancestors lost a great deal of their importance.

My father had a very simple nature, and though lacking in much real humour he had the simple joyousness of a child in the genuine beauty of nature. The colour of a flower, or the note of a bird would make his heart sing with happiness. You see it expressed in such poems as:—"A Wood Lyric" "Glory of The Dying Day," "A Northern River," "The Mystery of The Wind Danau," "Snow," [and] "The Dryad’s House." Thus we spent our childhood among a poet’s dreams.

The Poet[’]s first dream came true when we were still quite small, my father and mother went to England without the children but whether their anticipations were realized or not I can’t say for I don’t remember, except that they made the acquaintance of some of the Scotch cousins.

Archibald Lampman and Duncan Campbell Scott were contemporary brother poets of my father’s and great friends of his. I remember spending one if not two Xmas days at Duncan Scott’s house when we were very small. Archibald Lampman did not live very long and I still remember the dreadful tragedy of his early death, and even see the gloom of that winter day in February when we heard of it. There was a snowstorm and I sat and watched in out of the window. Archibald Lampman died on Feb. 10th. 1899 of pneumonia, leaving a young wife and two small children. My father mourned his loss in:—"The Bereavement Of The Fields"[.] In appreciation of my father’s book "The Dread Voyage" published in 1893 Mr. Scott says—

"This second volume shows a great advance upon the first in maturity of thought and mastery of technique. The subjects are taken from the human life and are identified closely with the aspirations of the race. Mr. Campbell’s rare imaginative gifts have found adequate expression in such poems as "The Mother" and "The Last Ride" and one of the main characteristics of his genius is its power of presenting abstract ideas and images in the fullness of their conception. This is indeed a high power and one of the highest attributes of the poet."

Here is a touch of Lampman as a brother poet. During some literary controversy in which my father was concerned he writes in a letter in July 1895 to my father:—

"There is never anything to be gained by getting up a row. Let each of us silently possess his own soul and develop whatever is brightest and best in it, and give the product to the world, when we can and as we can after moulding it to the fairest shape possible."

William Henry Drummond the Habitant poet was also my father’s fellow friend. He too died on April 6th. 1907 and my father commemorated his death in the poem, "William Henry Drummond." In a letter written to Wilfred Campbell in Dec. of 1899, Henry Drummond says:—

"Many thanks for remembering me—your book is a beautiful one—there isn’t a weak thing between the covers. All Hail Sir Wilfred Campbell I bow to you as the premier poet of the Dominion and easily too. I say this for two reasons: One is it is deserved, and secondly, yours is not the head to swell under such treatment."

One of the greatest and truest friends my father ever had was Dr. Thos. Gibson, a man of rare insight and sympathy. He is a fine musician and has an artistic temper[a]ment that is keenly sensitive to all beauty at the heart of things. Such a man it is needless to say my father loved, and there was a great understanding between them. There is a little poem my father wrote as a surprise to be read at a dinner party he was invited to at Dr. Gibson’s house on the Doctor’s birthday, Oct. 27, 1914 "To Dr. Thomas Gibson"

"Two deities presided at his birth,—
Apollo and that healing one, divine;
Who with their spirits mixed his Scottish earth
Melting all to generous human wine.

"The Surgeon’s skill and music’s magic gift
Upon his hands were laid that natal morn,
When those rare powers to heal or to uplift
Twin geniuses were in one being born.

"Tonight, we meet to keep that rare event
To celebrate the glad auspicious day,
When strength and skill and tenderness were blent
With godlike music, crystallized in clay."

In 1901 my mother and father went to England for the second time taking Basil with them. He was a dear little red haired boy. It was quite a happy successful visit, and the poet visited his Highland chief for the first time in the home of his ancestors, and sold his first novel, "Ian of The Orcades," which ran as a serial in "The Gentlewoman" in London.

In 1899 "Beyond the Hills of Dream" was published, and "The Collected Poems" in 1905. In these early days William Lyon MacKenzie King, a grandson of William Lyon MacKenzie, came to our house a great deal. He was then the Deputy Minister of Labor. Mr. King was very much interested in his work, and was a great friend of the people, and hoped in his position to be able to do something for them. After he left the university he was in London for a time doing social settlement work at Toynbee Hall. It was after this that he was connected with "The Labour Gazette," and came to Ottawa. Mr. King was very sincere, and a dreamer and idealist like my father. It was this that was the great bond between them, for their politics, and some of their ideas were entirely different. Mr. King was an orator of ability, and had great personal magnetism, and he was able to settle many strikes and questions of arbitration. As deputy minister he realized the scope of his opportunities, and under his regime the work grew so that they created a separate portfolio for the Minister of Labor which was given to Mackenzie King. Previous to this the work had not been of sufficient importance, for a separate portfolio, and was combined with some other ministerial post in the cabinet. Mr. King was quite a lion, even in those days, and the young hope and protégé of Sir Wilfred Laurier and the Liberal party. They said that one day he would be Prime Minister of Canada and his dream and their prophecy has come true. As minister of Labor he was by far the youngest man in the Cabinet. There are people who say King is a sentimentalist, if so he is a sincere one, for I listened to him talking to my father in the old days, when I was old enough to gather impressions. He shows this in his friendship for Henry Harper when he wrote the little book about him "The Secret of Heroism" and had the statue of "The Young Sir Galahad" erected in his memory of Wellington Street. It is far better to have a sincere and sentimental vision that keeps one in touch with the higher things of life, than it is to have no vision but the daily grind for money[:] "Tis the visionaries, and idealists who live with God[.]" Many were the evenings after Mr. King had dined at Government House that he would come to us on his way home, and he and my father would talk far into the night. At the outbreak of war there was some difference between them with regard to Canada’s responsibility to the mother country. Such questions were very vital to my father, but is was all forgotten in their true affection for each other, and Mr. King has proved to be my father’s true and generous friend even after death.