The Letters of Lampman to Lighthall (1888-1898)

Arranged and Annotated by
Michael Gnarowski and Helen Lynn


The material in this group1 of letters represents one of a number of extended footnotes2 to the richer document of Lampman's life offered so much more amply in the two major collections of his letters edited by Helen Lynn and Carol Marie Sommers respectively.  The first of these began its life as a Master's thesis presented at Carleton University in 1979, and was published in Ottawa in 1980 as, An Annotated Edition of the Correspondence between Archibald Lampman and Edward William Thomson (1890-1898).  In addition to the main body of letters, it contains some appended material having to do with Thomson's efforts to secure preferment for Lampman.  The second, an unpublished Master's thesis, was presented at Simon Fraser University in 1979 under the title, "The Letters of Archibald Lampman in the Simon Fraser University Library", and consists mainly of Lampman's letters to his wife, Maud Playter Lampman, written between the years 1885 and 1896, and a series of "Appendices" comprising letters from Maud Playter Lampman to her husband; letters from Archibald Lampman senior to his son; some family correspondence; several letters written to Lampman by his more noteworthy literary con temporaries such as Bliss Carman, Charles G.D. Roberts and Duncan Campbell Scott; and a few business letters.

     William Douw Lighthall (1857-1954), Lampman's correspondent in this instance, was a slightly older member of the poet's generation who had been born in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada West), but who spent most of his full and involved life in Montreal.  His father was William Francis Schuyler Lighthall (1827-1920), notary public of the City of Montreal, who had been born in the Ten Eyck Schuyler mansion at Troy, N.Y., and whose own father, Douw K. Lighthall, had crossed the border into Canada in 1829 to look after the family's business interests in the Chateauguay region of Quebec.  The Lighthalls belonged to the family circle of the Schuylers and Van Rensselaers, names that are prominent in American colonial history.  Lighthall's mother was Margaret Wright of Wright's Village (Cha teauguay) Quebec.  William Douw Lighthall was a graduate of McGill University (B.A. , 1879; B.C.L., 1881; M.A., 1885).  He achieved prominence in the anglophone community of Montreal as a practising lawyer and member of the firm of Cahan, Lighthall, Lighthall and Henry, later becom ing head of the law firm of Lighthall & Harwood.  As a member of Council, and later as Mayor of Westmount (1900-1903) Lighthall distinguished himself as a particularly enlightened municipal official, and helped found the Union of Canadian Municipalities in 1901.  He was an accomplished writer of verse which he gathered in 1922 under the title, Old Measures: Collected Verse, and which he dedicated to "The Poets of Confederation [,] My Friends and Companions".   He had some success as a novelist, publishing The Young Seigneur; or Nation-MakingA Romance in 1888 under the pseudonym of Wilfrid Châteauclair, and then The False Chevalier or The Lifeguard of Marie Antoinette in 1898; Hiawatha the Hochelagan in 1906 and The Master of LifeA Romance of the Five Nations and of Prehistoric Montreal in 1908.  Lighthall was a member of the Royal Society of Canada to which he was elected in 1905, and of which he became president in 1918.   In 1890, he married Cybel Charlotte Wilkes, grand-daughter of the Reverend Dr. Henry Wilkes (1805-1886), founding pastor of the First Congregationalist Church in Montreal, sometime principal of the Congregational College in that city, and generally considered the founder of Congregationalism in Canada.  The Lighthalls had three children: Alice Margaret Schuyler Lighthall, born in 1891, who went overseas as a nursing sister with the British Expeditionary Force during the First World War; Cybel Katharine Schuyler Lighthall, born in 1893; and William Wilkes Schuyler Lighthall, born in 1896, who served in the Great War from 1914 to 1918 in France, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Salonica and Palestine, ending his service with the rank of Captain and having won the D.F.C.

     Now hardly remembered except as the editor of Songs of the Great Dominion, and given only passing mention in Carl Klinck's Literary His tory of Canada, during his lifetime, Lighthall enjoyed a not inconsiderable reputation and some success as a man of letters.  Although primarily a novelist and poet, he attracted attention as an amateur historian, a cultural conservationist, and as a thinker who moved comfortably amongst profes sional philosophers, and who left a respectable body of philosophical writ ing which has attracted serious scholarly interest in recent years.3  In the role of the conserving historian, Lighthall was instrumental in helping to preserve the heritage of Montreal by authoring, among other things, his still highly readable touristic essay about that city, entitled Montreal After 250 Years (1892), which was re-issued in 1907 as Sights and Shrines of Montreal, and by lending his support to local and national literary and historical societies.  He was a member and president of the Canadian Authors' Association; a member of the Art Association of Montreal and of the International Congress of Philosophy; vice-president of the Canadian Historical Association; and a member and honorary president of the Antiquarian Society of Montreal, to name some of the more distinguished societies with which he was connected.

     The present correspondence between Lighthall and Lampman appears to have had its origins in the fact that Lighthall had been given the task of assembling a collection of representative poems for an anthology of Canadian verse being planned by the English man of letters, William Sharp4, for his "Canterbury Poets Series".  Once the business of agreeing on a suitable selection of Lampman's verse for the prospective anthology was got out of the way, Lampman and Lighthall settled into their friendly but sporadic and distant exchange which, while it does not provide for particularly rich substance in the letters themselves, is, nevertheless, obliquely revealing of some of Lampman's comings and goings in that last and most important decade of his life.  Lighthall, it should be added, remained a loyal admirer of Lampman after the latter's death.  In January 1903, he published Lampman's, "The Land of Pallas" in his magazine, The Horizon, and he prefaced this with a tribute in which he called Lampman "One of the greatest poets of the century", and ended his remarks with a forward-looking and eloquent plea for the recognition of Canadian writers and their work in their native country.  He said: "If Canadian universities paid the attention they should do to such men, he would have been with us yet, for, as a professor of literature, he would have been an ornament to any seat of learning.  That it was not so is another proof that these institutions are largely out of touch with the living movements around them."

A Note on Methodology and an Acknowledgement

The texts of the letters offered here have been transcribed as they appear in their original manuscript form without editorial intervention of any kind, and fully recognising that Lampman, on occasion, could be idiosyncratic in his phrasing.5

     The list of sources at the end of this document provides bibliographical citation for the titles of works principally employed in the preparation of this correspondence.  Reference to any of these works in the footnotes occurs, usually, in an abbreviated form, unless, intelligibility or the context of the reference dictates otherwise.

     Thanks are due to Dr. Richard Virr of the Rare Book Department of the McGill University Libraries for his kindness and assistance in making this material available for examination and, ultimately, to McGill University for permission to publish.

Letter 1

Letter 2

Letter 3

Letter 4

Letter 5

Letter 6

Letter 7

Letter 8

Letter 9

Letter 10

Letter 11

Letter 12

Letter 13 Letter 14 Letter 15
Letter 16 Letter 17 Letter 18

Notes to the Foreword

  1. The letters in question are drawn from the W.D. Lighthall Papers MS216, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University Libraries.  They are recorded as item A21 in George Wicken's compilation, "Archibald Lampman [:] An Annotated Bibliography" which forms the third section of The Annotated Bibliography of Canada's Major Authors / Volume Two, edited by Robert Lecker and Jack David.  The entry states that there are fifteen letters.  We have been able to find eighteen.[back]

  2. The three collections of material edited by Arthur S. Bourinot and issued in 1956 1957 and 1959 respectively come to mind immediately as pioneer efforts in this regard.[back]

  3. For example, see "The Self-Transcendence of Reason, and Evolutionary Mysticism [:] Richard M.  Bucke and William D. Lighthall", in Leslie Armour and Elizabeth Trott, The Faces of Reason [:] An Essay on Philosophy and Culture in English Canada 1850-1950 (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1981).[back]

  4. William Sharp (1855-1905), the Anglo-Scottish "person" of letters (he had a distinct and impressive life as the novelist Fiona Macleod) and celtic revivalist, was the General Editor of the Canterbury Poets Series and the Windsor Series published by Walter Scott in London.  It was Sharp who gave the commission for Songs of the Great Dominion to W.D. Lighthall, and, in general outline, the volume owes something to him.  For example, he thought of calling the collection "Songs and Poems of the Great Dominion", and offered directives and advice to Lighthall on the makeup of the anthology.

         William Sharp had a lively connection to Canada through Charles G.D. Roberts whose critical opinion he respected, and through Bliss Carman whose work he admired and promoted.  He also became an admirer of Lampman's verse.  Sharp, who was, variously, a friend and familiar of Robert Browning, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, George Meredith, Walter Pater and many others prominent in the late Victorian world of letters, first visited North America in 1889.  In Canada he was the welcome guest of Charles G.D. Roberts, and, in New York, of Clarence Stedman (who anthologised Lampman's "City of the End of Things"), and of William Dean Howells, another admirer of Lampman.  He also had a memorable visit with Walt Whitman in Camden, New Jersey on this occasion.[back]

  5. For example, in Letter 16, Lampman says, "Life in Ottawa is heavy strain on a man's patriotism;" which has been transcribed [in the interest of felicity?] as, "Life in Ottawa is a heavy strain on a man's patriotism;" in L.R. Early's, Archibald Lampman, 13. [back]