Three Early Canadian Poets
by Mary Lu MacDonald
The three best known Canadian poets of the 1825-45 period were probably John Howard Willis, William F. Hawley, and John Hawkins Hagarty. Certainly, the works of these three poets appeared more often in the newspapers of Upper and Lower Canada than those of any other resident authors. Willis' poems usually appeared first in the Montreal Gazette, Hawley's in the Montreal Herald, and Hagarty's in The Church of Cobourg and Toronto. From these sources they were ''borrowed''1 by other newspapers, so that each poem would be fairly widely circulated within the two Canadas. For example, Hagarty's poem "Arise, arise" appeared in at least nine newspapers within six months of its first publication, while Willis' "Boat Song" was reprinted at least six times over a seven year period. In addition to their newspaper and periodical publications, Willis was the author of Scraps and Sketches of a Literary Lounger, and Hawley of The Unknown, or, Lays of the Forest, and Quebec, the Harp, and Other Poems. Hagarty's poetry was never formally collected perhaps because he soon turned his attention to politics. Both Willis and Hawley also circulated prospectives for other works, but these do not appear ever to have been published.
When they are mentioned at all today, Willis and Hawley are usually considered only in the context of their books, which were published when they were in their twenties. Hagarty, with no collected record of his youthful poetry, is remembered in biographical dictionaries as a Chief Justice of Ontario. Nonetheless, his early works, written in response to the fevered political atmosphere of the rebellion and post-rebellion period, were enormously popular, particularly with that segment of the public which shared his immigrant, Anglican, Tory views. Most of his poetry is about loyalty to the mother country and her state church. Both Willis and Hawley, particularly in their later works, often went beyond conventional subject matter to look at their native Canada and its people with a clear, direct gaze. Thus the content of their work is more interesting to modern Canadians, even though they tended to record what they saw within the framework of the accepted diction and forms of the time. Many of the works listed in these bibliographies were produced at a later date by a more mature individual and, hence, are superior to those published in the books. Certainly, wider the wider canon of their worlds, so popular in their own day, deserves to be better known today.
The objective of the following bibliographies is to make uncollected works accessible. Consequently, items which first appeared in newspapers or periodicals, but which eventually were included in books, have been omitted. All extant periodicals from the 1817-1851 period have been examined, as well as all extant newspapers with a run of at least a year. Since, as far as can be determined, only scattered copies of the Montreal Herald have survived, it is likely that some poems published in that paper are missing from the lists. Fortunately, the poets were popular and probably moat of Hawley's Herald poems were borrowed by other newspapers. There are gaps in other newspaper series as well. Because pseudonyms were the most common form of literary signature in this period, it is entirely possible that other works by the three poets exist, published over an as-yet-unrevealed noms-de-plume.
John Howard Willis; b. 1803 in Lower Canada [?]; d. 2 July 1847 at Quebec.
We do not know where or when Willis was born. In a number of poems2 he referred to Canada as his native land, so we can only take him at his word. His father, Robert, was Barrack-Master at Lachine at the time of his death in 1826.3 J.H. Willis worked as a civilian clerk in the Commissariat Department in Quebec City. In the one year, 1833, for which detailed Commissariat staff and financial records exist in the Public Archives4 Willis is listed as a "conductor" that is, the trustworthy person who accompanied shipments of stores and provisions and who was responsible for verifying the contents of the shipment at the beginning and end of the journey. Willis' wife, Julia Hannah, died on August 4, 1845. There was no mention of children. His own obituary5 does not mention the cause of death, but we do know that Quebec was in the midst of a typhus epidemic in July 1847. The obituary, very brief after the manner of the time, does not mention his writing. It ends, curiously, with the comment "He possessed scientific attainments of a superior order."
In addition to his name or initials, Willis used two pseudonyms:-*H*, and "Long Tom Coffin". We know about the former because works signed that way in the Canadian Review and Literary and Historical Journey were later printed in Scraps and Sketches. "Long Tom Coffin'' was connected to Willis by the editor of the Montreal Gazette in the course of his editorial comments about the January and February 1833 series of works. In 1828 Willis had circulated a prospectus for a book to be called The Woman Hater", but it never appeared.6 Scraps and Sketches of a Literary Lounger (Montreal: 1831), his only book, was published anonymously, but contemporary reviewers all referred to it as Willis' work. The book has one additional claim to fame. The Montreal printer and bookseller, H.H. Cunningham, purchased the copyrighted from Willis and produced the book for his own profits7--an arrangement unique the history of early Canadian publishing, and a tribute to Willis' popularity with the public. How much the author was paid we do not know.
William F. Hawley; b. 1806 [?] Lacolle, L.C.; d. 14 January 1855 at Laprairie, C.E.
Traditionally, Hawley's place of birth has been given as Laprairie and his birth date as 1804. It is possible that the year of birth was determined at a later time by subtracting the age given in obituaries (51) from the year of his death (1855). It should be noted, however, that in the 1851 census returns for the Village at Laprairie his "age next birthday" is listed as 45 - which makes some time around 1806 the year of his birth. From the same source we learn that he was born in Lacolle. His middle name was given by H.J. Morgan in Bibliotheca Canadensis as "Fitz". Hawley always signed himself as W.F. or William F. The only evidence I have found for his middle name gives it as "Fitch".8
There is no evidence as to his occupation, although it was probably not one of the liberal professions. In 1828 and 1829 he was resident in Quebec, advertising himself as a teacher of penmanship.9 At the time of his death he was Registrar of No. 1 District of the County of Huntingdon.
Among the Canadian writers of his day, Hawley is unique in having published two books, rather than one: Quebec, the Harp, and Other Poems (Montreal: Printed at the Herald and New Gazette Office, 1829), and The Unknown, or Lays of the Forest (Montreal: J.A. Hoisington, 1831). He began to publish poetry in newspapers in 1826, and almost all of these early works appear in Quebec, The Harp. He continued to publish in newspapers until the late 1840s. Despite the high quality of the fiction framework of The Unknown, all but one of his later works are in verse. In 1830 he let it be known that he was writing a poem in six cantos to be called "The Legend of Niagara"10,-- and in 1837 a prospectus for a "History of the Canadas" was circulated. Neither work ever appeared. Since he had collected a number of 5 shilling subscriptions for the latter, there were periodic calls in "letters to the editor"11 for him to produce the book or return the money. A letter from Hawley to the editor of the Quebec Mercury, published on January 3, 1846, gives the author's final12 view of the affair, namely that, having expended the subscription money on research, ". . . I had not the means of publishing; and after exhausting every resource, I was driven to the necessity of abandoning my intention for the moment, and of seeking such honourable preferment in other pursuits as might, eventually, enable me to redeem my pledge to the public." It would appear that Hawley's name may be added to the list of early nineteenth century Canadian writers who failed in their attempt to earn a living with their pen.
John Hawkins Hagarty; b. 17 September 1816 at Dublin, Ireland; d. 26 April 1900 at Toronto.
Hagarty attended Trinity College, Dublin, but is not on the list of graduates. Emigrating to Toronto in 1834, he articled as a lawyer and was called to the Bar in 1840. During the 1830s and '40s he was active in Toronto literary and political circles, was probably editor of the Patriot for a time around 1842-4 ,13 and served as a city alderman in 1847.14 He became a judge in 1856. Eventually he became Chief Justice of Ontario and was knighted in 1897, the year of his retirement. He was an ardent Tory and supporter the Church of England. Rose's Cyclopedia of Canadian Biography15 contains a fulsome entry on Hagarty.
Hagarty's three earliest works were published over his initials, J.H.H.; fbr the remainder he used the signature "Zadig". Although the identity of "Zadig" seems to have been an open secret at the time, Rev. Henry Scadding appears to have been the first to make the connection definitively in print.16
Sanuel Thompson's Reminiscences of a Canadian Pioneer for the last Fifty Years 17and the biography in Rose both refer to Hagarty as a major contributor to the Maple Leaf annuals. The authors of works in these three books were completely anonymous; however, a copy of the Maple Leaf for 1849 in the University of British Columbia Library contains cryptic, handwritten identification of some of the authors of works in that volume. Most are by "H". One of the items so identified is the poem "The Funeral of Napoleon" which is printed in Rose as an example of Hagarty's work. It is therefore possible that all the works of "H" belong to Hagarty's canon.18They are listed separately at the end of this bibliography. Hagarty would have been the author of some of the works in the Maple Leaves for 1847 and 1848, but we do not know which ones.
Works by "H" in the Maple Leaf for 1849