VII

 

143 Dunn Avenue, 
Toronto, Canada    
June 2, 1928          


Dear Mr. Smith:

     I have not your reason of a change of address for being dilatory, so must apologize.1 I was much interested by your move to Eaurope [sic]. Leo Kennedy told me that you were going to Germany, and would contribute German Letters to The Canadian Mercury. Frankly I am not keen about that title; it suggests one more Canadian version of something American or English.2 But perhaps they'll change it. I have full sympathy with such an undertaking, and possibly the time is ripe, and the young generation will really get a hearing. I can think of nothing just at the moment to give them, but I expect to contribute.3

     Your article in The Canadian Forum was admirable; cogent and very well-put.4 It was a little surprising that they printed it. I don't mean that they are wilfully obstructionist. They just omit to see people outside their clique. I may as well admit the feeling is based on their rejection of some of my stuff -- stories later printed in those foreign periodicals, and a group of poems which appeared in This Quarter and were praised by The New Criterion of London. However, they did print one tale, and I'd forgotten about them until your article. They are pretty well what they are, at least, and I'm glad you get on with them.5

     Hugh Eayrs (Pres.[ident] Macmillans in Canada) says that he can't print your book of poems this year, but I have no doubt that unless you'd rather get an American publisher, he will want them later. He really wants the best Canadian stuff he can find, the diffculty is telling him what is the best -- no difficulty in your case, with your list of American magazines.

     Your scheme of an anthology of Canadian Poetry is a good one. I had considered such a thing, but given up the idea of doing it alone; but if you would like to do it, there's no one I'd rather be associated with in it, and I think it is a case in which two editors would be better than one. My idea would be a small collection of pure poetry, old and new, a decided contrast with Garvin's6 and the other anthologies. Eayrs was indefinite about that, but I have no doubt we could get a publisher, and probably him. He is thinking of a series of Pocket Canadian books -- his own of course. Such a series probably would begin with Maria Chapdelaine, go on to one of Mazo de la Roche's, W.H. Blake's fishing essays, possibly my Canadian Short Stories when it goes out of print in the regular edition -- and I should think our anthology would come in well.

     I have been seeing your work in The Dial and other magazines, and find it always interesting. Your two-year stay in Europe will be broken by vacations in this country, I suppose? My wife and I intend to take a motoring trip into Quebec this Summer, and may make our headquarters Montreal.7 I have just come back from New York, where I thought I sold a Chicago novel8 no contract was signed as the other partner was away. They want to back out but I expect someone else will publish it eventually. Why authors get grey (not that you won't know). This for your private ear.

Sincerely,                        

RAYMOND KNISTER  


VII TLS Trent Univ. Archives.


  1. Smith was in Europe while he held a Fellowship in Education at Edinburgh University and was a graduate student and lecturer from 1927 to 1929. Smith was to visit Allan Latham by Easter of 1928 in Berlin to discuss Smith's proposed book on "The Future of Canada." Smith was Edinburgh correspondent for The Canadian Mercury. He received letters from Leon Edel (at the Sorbonne, engaged in research about Henry James, and Paris correspondent) and Allan Latham (on a Moyse Travelling Fellowship for one year of advanced study at Berlin and German correspondent.) Their letters reflect the enthusiasm of these youthful expatriates for European culture. Leo Kennedy described the situation in "The Future of Canadian Literature," The Canadian Mercury, Dec. 1928: "Having as yet no worthwhile tradition of their own, the young men are inclined, and wisely, to look abroad for that which will influence them. After a three-or four-year apprenticeship to the English classics, they are concerned usually with the work of moderns . . . of men who unchronologically are little older than themselves, and whose writing reveals their own wounds and echoes the cry which they have not yet managed to utter." Other graduates joined them. Among these were John ("Buffy") Glassco and Graeme Taylor. The "restless, dissatisfied and on the whole sceptical young people" mingled with the coterie of the avant-garde but kept in touch with one another by letter or visits during university holidays. The Canadian Mercury became a focus for the McGill alumni. Smith's poem "Souvenirs Du Temps Perdu" was indeed composed during a Paris visit, as confirmed by Leon Edel in discussion with me last winter at the University of Calgary.

         Smith alludes to the Dme (a favourite meeting-place for expatriate writers -- Mordecai Richler would seek it out eventually) and borrows from contemporary song, menu lists, lavatory signs, as well as G.K. Chesterton, T.S. Eliot and others for this early found-poem. The reference to the Montreal Daily Star identifies him as a Canadian expatriate, as distinct from other writers of the period.[back]

  2. Knister objects to the Fortnightly, The Forum, The Mercury and The American Mercury as American and British models for Canadian journals.[back]

  3. Leo Kennedy praised Knister in "The Canadian Writers of Today Series: of The Canadian Forum, Sept. 1932, pp. 459-61 the typescript of which Knister read. Kennedy published "Lake Harvest," "Stable Talk," "Boy Remembers in the Field," "October Stars," "The Hawk," "The Plowman," "The Roller," and "The White Cat" previously published in American journals.[back]

  4. A.J.M. Smith, "Wanted -- Canadian Criticism," The Canadian Forum, April 1928. The stories were "Elaine," "The First Day of Spring," and "The Fate of Mrs. Lucier", the poems were " A Row of Horse Stalls" praised by Herbert Read in "Exiles," The New Criterion (London), 4 (April 1926), 403-4.[back]

  5. In "Canadian Literati," Knister refers to rejection by The Canadian Forum of indigenous work due to "a sort of clique of the younger generation of Toronto University -- assistant professors, and visiting Oxford dons" who "founded and controlled it." Of work by outsiders Knister could only recall some poems of A.J.M. Smith and "a story, obviously derived from Poe, of mine." "The Strawstack" was published in The Canadian Forum, Oct. 1923, pp. 18-22. In contrast to Smith's call for criticism first, then art in "Wanted -- Canadian Criticism," Knister wrote: "We have sometimes fondly cried out for Canadian criticism, but helpful as such would be, it could do no more than clear the ground. Art must be produced, then criticism may come along and explain it. Often criticism arises from mere sense of deficiency...." (about January 1929) Journal of Canadian Fiction, No. 14 (1975), pp. (160-68) 166; 167.[back]

  6. "Garvin's. . ." John W. Garvin, editor of Canadian Poets (Toronto, 1916; rev. 1926)[back]

  7. Smith does not recall meeting with the Knisters until 1931 or 1932 when they resided in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec. When Knister was in Montreal he met with Leo Kennedy, Frank Scott, A.J.M. Smith and went to McGill to meet Stephen Leacock.[back]

  8. The "Chicago" novel may be "Innocent Man."[back]