The Lampman Symposium,
edited and with an Introduction by Lorraine McMullen University of Ottawa Press $4.80
Much is lost and much is gained when the proceedings of a symposium like the butterflies and sonnets moving towards their final stiffness in Margaret Avisons poem, are translated into book form. This certainly holds true of The Lampman Symposium, edited and introduced by Lorraine McMullen in the University of Ottawa Press Reappraisals of Canadian Writers series.
What is lost is the colourful give and take of characters and ideas that took place at the University of Ottawa early in May, 1975. Those of us who attended the Lampman Symposium are unlikely ever to forget the, at times, heated exchanges between the members of the Biographical Discussion Panel which opened the proceedings or, indeed, the witty vituperation of Michael Gnarowskis lead-off paper which, none-too-gently, inveighed against the removal of a large quantity of Lampman material to the obscurity of a mountain on the West Coast. None of us will forget either the gentle authority with which Carl Klinck delivered his paper on The Frogs later that morning or, that afternoon, the vigorous discussion surrounding the papers on Lampman and the sonnet by Louis Dudek and Louis MacKendrick. Above all, none of us will forget the readings of Lampmans poems by various poets attending the Symposium which took place on the evening of the first day. The second day, which had characterful presentations of papers by, particularly, Barrie Davies and Bruce Nesbitt and hard-hitting comments by members of the Panel on Lampmans Achievement also had its memorable moments. These and other aspects of the Lampman Symposium are, necessarily absent from the present volume. The cyanide jar, alas, does seal life.
What remains, however, is to quote Avisons poem again the patience, learning and the frill/precision can effect. Assembled here with sweep-net skill by the editor (and, behind her, the organizers of the Symposium), is an exciting collection of essays which touch upon, in the words of the Introduction a wide variety of topics of concern to Lampman scholars, from biographical and textual problem to Lampmans place in the context of English literature generally and Canadian literature specifically. Whatever the critical, scholarly, and yes, political biases of the reader, there will be something here to interest, amuse, and, perhaps, anger him: Margaret Whitridge mainly on Lampmans love for Katherine Waddell or Carl Klinck on Lampman and New England transcendentalism, or Barrie Davies on the topography of Lampmans universe or Bruce Nesbitt on the unpublished Lampman or Robin Mathews and Jim Steele on, respectively, Lampmans place in the Canadian cultural milieu and in the Canadian class structure. Also of value here is A Brief Guide to Lampman manuscripts by Margaret Whitridge and the brief but useful Introduction by Lorraine McMullen, not to mention the other papers in the collection by Sandra Djwa, Ralph Gustafson, Dick Harrison and Doug Jones. (Not present in the volume, it should be noted, is John Nauses symposium paper entitled Lampman the Theory and Practice of Craft.)
To anyone interested in doing work (preferably, at this point in time, research) on Lampman the Symposium volume opens up possibility after possibility. The several mysteries mentioned by Michael Gnarowski Lampman and the city, Lampman and Dyonnet, and, not to mention Lampman and Katherine Waddell, the mystery of all those tidbits excised . . .from . . . Lampmans extant letters would repay the attention of diligent, scholarly sleuths, as would the question raised, and partly answered, by Gnarowski himself about Lampmans critical reception and its bearing . . . upon his history as a published writer. Another question raised in the Symposium volume, Bruce Nesbitts question about whether J.H. Browns Poems: Lyrical and Dramatic (1892) was an attack on Among the Millet (1888) leads into the larger question, aggressively articulated by Robin Mathews in his note on Lampmans Achievement of Lampmans relationship to his own social and cultural context . . . the Ottawa of the eighties and nineties with its Literary and Scientific Society, Fabian Society and so on. On Lampmans Canadian milieu and the poets place in it all too little work has been done, but the essays in this volume provide many hints about the directions in which such work should proceed. There can be little doubt that, to borrow and redirect a sentence from James Steeles piece on Lampmans Achievement, that the poet will seem all the more remarkable when seen in the context of the social and ideological forces which were dominant in late Victorian Canada.
Turning to Lampman and the sonnet, to the papers of Carl Klinck, Louis Dudek, and Louis MacKendrick, it is clear that in the Canadian poets masterful use of the sonnet form and the sonnet sequence there is a topic of sufficient magnitude and complexity to justify a monograph or a doctoral thesis. No English writer of sonnets, wrote Duncan Campbell Scott, can show finer examples of what the form can achieve than Archibald Lampman. This truth, coupled with the fact that, as has often been pointed out, more than half of Lampmans published poems are sonnets makes it hardly surprising that three papers in the Symposium volume deal directly with the content and form of Lampman sonnets and that several others touch upon the same subject, albeit tangentially. It is to be hoped that the various discussions of Lampman and the sonnet in this volume, coupled, of course, with other essays such as Louis Untermeyers Archibald Lampman and the Sonnet (1909), will prompt the important and necessary study that needs to be done in this area. Margaret Whitridges Lampmans Sonnets, 1884-1899 (Ottawa, 1976) might have been a major contribution to such a study but, unfortunately, a trite Introduction (sample: Like Lampmans life, the sonnet is brief) and some curious editing (sample: mountains for moments in The Frogs, I) make this Complete Sonnets disappointingly undependable. Louis K. MacKendricks Sweet Patience and Her Guest, Reality: The Sonnets of Archibald Lampman, however, points in the direction of a thorough, detailed, and responsible examination of a major topic; anyone interested in Lampman and the Sonnet could hardly do better that to begin with MacKendrick.
The two major papers from the second day of the Lampman Symposium, Barrie Davies discussion of Some of the Philosphical and Aesthetic Bases of Lampmans Poetry and Bruce Nesbitts rehearsal of the problems of editing Lampman offer fascinating insights for the Lampman critic (Davies) and tantalizing hints to the Lampman scholar (Nesbitt). Lampmans debt, not only to the Greek philosophers and poets, but also to the hellenism of, amongst others, Arnold and Roberts is surely . . . in view of the Canadian poets training in the classics . . . a major area of investigation. Besides Plato, Emerson and Thoreau, are names which occur more than once in Barrie Davies urbane and lengthy examination of Lampmans view of nature. As the editor points out, Bruce Nesbitts paper is to some extent a development from his address to the 1972 Conference on editing Canadian texts. Nevertheless The New Lampman was interesting to hear and remains interesting to read: it is written with a certain swashbuckling panache and it covers a lot of ground, starting many hares and, perhaps, pursuing too few. In its very suggestiveness, however, the essay has value: and it certainly whets the appetite for the definitive edition of Lampmans poems on which Nesbitt is working. Three sentences from the (optimistically titled) New Lampman may in effect, sum up what is established by the Lampman Symposium, volume: First, Lampman is undeniably Canadas finest nineteenth century poet. Second, the evidence by which we can judge his importance to Canadian literature is at the moment grossly inadequate. . . . Third, Canadian universities, with only three or four exceptions, have been scandalously neglectful in failing to encourage study which are essential to our understanding of nineteenth-century Canadian literary and intellectual history. The Lampman Symposium volume and, behind it, the Lampman symposium itself, is to be commended for confirming the first of these propositions, mitigating the second, and giving us cause to think about the third. In this case symposium papers, like butterflies and sonnets, prove / strange certainties.