THE MANY-MANSIONED HOUSE
AND OTHER POEMS


By
EDWARD WILLIAM THOMSON




 

PETER OTTAWA

(CANADIAN NATIVIST)



HE was a mighty rover in his prime,
And still, though bearded white as Father Time,
Content and restless, strong and curious, he
Roams over Canada from sea to sea.

To gaze on all his native love possest—

5

That impulse urged, for years, his wandering quest;
To achieve some truthful vision of the whole
From Welland’s orchards to the circumpole;
To know all tribes and races of the land,
Such was the joy his youthful ardor planned,

10

And still the yearning holds him, while he smiles
To think of how the Impossible beguiles.

Oft as he turns to share his wealthy home,
So oft, insatiate, hastes he forth to roam;
And in the region round about Quesnel

15

His ever-wondering farmer-neighbors tell;—
“He’s off again!  God knows by what he’s led!
Old Peter Ottawa’ll never die in bed!”

That pseudonym he took in youth, they deem
Perchance in pride to boast his native stream,

20

Or p’r’aps to signify, so some declare,
Himself too nativist to wish to wear
His patronymic of one Old-World race,
Since he four glorious ancestries can trace.

“I roam by right of Scottish blood,” he’ll say,

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“My father’s grandsire roved till his last day,—
Roderick the Red, who strode with kilted thighs,
The highland light of battle in his eyes, [Page 8]
Where many a stream of spirting life was spilt
Before, with Wolfe, a claymore’s basket hilt

30

Gript in his iron fist, he climbed with frown
More dour than high Quebec could darkle down.”

“Roving is in my blood from Gerald Foy
Who charged the English line at Fontenoy
With wild-heart memories of the home he fled;

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Tradition tells that while he thrust and bled
My visioning Irish ancestor could see
His emerald hills, his boyhood’s ‘fairy tree,’
His native glen, with family roofs aglow,
His stacks red-lit, his mother’s wailing woe,

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His children staring vengeful on the groups
Of half-ashamed, half-stolid English troops,
Whose ranks of oak ne’er learned a foe to rue
Till Ireland’s banished bayonets charged them through.”

“And yet, praise God, the English heart I share,

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The steadfast blood that held the steely square
That broke the cuirassiers at Waterloo,
Firm, for the Iron Duke, as at review;
The blood that bided cool that dread advance—
The veteran, Old, immortal Guard of France

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Who charged, yet knowing well they charged in vain—
If vain be death-contemptuous Glory’s gain—
Charged to end there th’ emblazoned valor scroll
That Fame can never utterly uproll;—
Or so my Grandsire, Pierre Deschamps, would say,

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Old Pierre, who charged at Hougomont with Ney.”

In filial love he boasts his Gallic part,
His half-French mother gave him half his heart;
But Pierre of Waterloo is less his pride
Than Pierre’s Canadian grandsire, Jean, who died

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In seventeen-sixty, hard by Fort Levis,
Where Pouchot’s braves renewed Thermopylae. [Page 9]
There he, with scarce four hundred, held at stand,
For nineteen days, stout Amherst’s whole command,
Eleven thousand, balked on ship and shore,

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Till Pouchot’s muster fell to thirteen score.

“Militiamen remember,” Peter says,
“Just habitants, like ours of later days,
Farming their little clearings by the stream
That floated Amherst down its August dream.—

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And who dare say the least among them all
Was not a very Paladin of Gaul?
Go to—our Canada from France retains
A strain as staunch as pulses British veins!”

French, English, Irish, Scotch he reconciles,

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Boasts them alike, and with his boasting smiles;—
“That’s me—that’s Canada—a fourfold flame
Of mighty origins surrounds the name.—
Lives there a man in all the land to-day
Can wish one pioneering race away?

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His heart’s an immigrant.—I say no more;
We chide no stranger entering at our door,
But bid him welcome, bid him share the meal,—
His children yet the native sense shall feel;
And what care we if twenty races blend

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In blood that flows Canadian at the end?”

Our painted Autumn sets him roaming wide,
As if his lifelong yearning could not bide
To watch his own Laurentian mapled range
From pomp to pomp magnificently change.

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But he must up and forth with every dawn,
Through aisles of glamorous color following on,
Mid golden-showering leaves, a viewless trail,
Through rustling corridors a voiceless hail,
Over what vista-mirroring lakes a guide

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Whose beckonings misty distance scarce can hide,
Beyond yet one more rapid’s murmurous song [Page 10]
The enchanting call of follow, follow long,
Which ever sang, and ever sped before,
And ever led his Fathers one day more,

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Until at last, beyond the enormous plain,
And past the eternal snow-peaks’ ranging chain,
The imperious western surges ordered STAND,
And turned them back to claim the traversed land.

And turned them back to axe, and scythe, and plough,

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Toil, thrift, long patience, and the thoughtful brow
Inspired to rear on Earth what He commands—
The House that is not builded up of Hands.

“Which is,” says Peter, “ancient England’s dream,
Though oft she be distracted from the theme

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By Viking children, and by threatening voice;
’T is still the dream in which she doth rejoice,
(Even as any whirling human soul
Is glad when toiling toward the heaven-goal),
She doth rejoice to rear for Man’s behoof,

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Her hospitable, many-mansioned roof,
Wherein the immemorial Laborer yet
Freely shall eat the bread of his own sweat.
It’s when we muse on English greathearts’ aim,
And muse how true our laws pursue the same,

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Then, then we exult about our Mother’s throne,
And love her ideal Empire as our own.”

Dreaming a better Britain rising here
Mid winter forests lovely and austere,
His creaking snowshoes track what vaulted miles

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Where towering pines uprange converging aisles,
When neither shrub nor shadow checks the gaze,
But one white undulation floors the maze
Of colonnades so tall they seem to lean
Inward before they branch the roof of green

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Whose rifts, at times asway, disclose the blue,
At times let aimless snowflakes wander through [Page 11]
To waver down, as if they hesitate
Lest merest motion be to desecrate
That subtle stillness, where the high-head grouse

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Treads three-toed, wondering, and the forest mouse
Meandering timid, dots a tiny track
Whose every swerve denotes a fear Attack
Were hovering in the Mystery all around—
So much more threatening Silence is than Sound.

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The reverent rover, chancing to intrude
Within the borders of such Solitude,
Worships in natural piety sincere
A holy spirit quiet brooding here,
Within a fane whose ministrants are none

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Except the chanting Winds, the wheeling Sun,
The patient Seasons’ alternating train,
Their potent servitors of Shine and Rain,
Ordained by Something, kin to Time and Space,
Regnant and immanent throughout the place,

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Which urges apprehension on the soul
That its own being merges with the Whole.

No less he worships where some Western throng
Of pioneers moves sturdily along
The hurrying, half-built streets of plains he knew

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When buffalo ranged round all the circling blue.
There every face declares some inward tune
Of Hope and Happiness at plenilune,
The eyes shine keen, on Enterprise intent,
As if that every west-Canadian meant

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To realize some visionary State
Surpassing good, and glorious, and great.
So strode, be sure, the Viking race of old,
Elate though arduous, kind and shrewd and bold,
Scanning the future, as they faced the gale,

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With no misgivings lest their strength should fail,
Assured the World was made for them who DO,
And God would see his active children through. [Page 12]

He did, by Heaven, and still our kin fare forth
Beneath all galaxies of South and North,

170

Degenerate only where, by vested Wrong,
The money-mongers crowd, and rot, the throng.
Give them but land and air, then not the best
Of all the broods that flew the ancient nest
More pleased the All-father by their works and ways

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Than His adventurers of the latter days.

In treble ribbons see the prairie run
Black from their ploughshares in the westering sun,
Whose shine the yearning sod-hut settler sees
Gild children’s wealthy roofs through future trees,

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And, patient joyful, deems the vision fair,
Which his own eyes may never witness there.

Behold rude hamlets, every one with School,
With Church, with Council-hall for lawful rule,
The wind-bronzed, hard-hand Fathers giving free

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Their little leisure, that the New Land be
So set for Order in its early years
That Time’s long talk shall bless the pioneers.

Or, clearly vision some September plain
Where one sole Reaper shrills in harvest grain

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Before the whirring grouse takes morning flight
Till the long gloaming deepens into night
That lets the Stalwart, freed from labor’s dues,
Plod shackward, blessing God that sleep renews
His power to lift the morrow’s heavy gage,

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And day by day the lonely battle wage,
Until at last, with all his wheat well saved,
A haggard victor from the strife he braved,
He eyes the stacks that prove his manhood sound
For her who shall emparadise his ground,

200

And sternly knows, within his secret heart,
That never Warrior acted higher part. [Page 13]

It seems to me a blasphemy immense
To imagine God the foe of common sense,
And not a Power of sanity complete,

205

Who surely holds an arduous useful feat
Of resolute labor something over par,
Compared with deeds of War, which ever are,
At best, but just a fate-defying stand
Made, since the World began, in every land,

210

For hate, or hope, or pay, or love, or lust,
But mostly just because the soldier must
Obey the officer, who must obey
In turn the ordered order of the day,
Himself a sort of slave to slaves who trade

215

Is just to get Stupidity obeyed;—
The cruel, dense stupidity of Pride,
Callous to wholesale murder on each side,
And loathe to arbitrate, lest Judges wise
Settle some trivial point by compromise.

220


Poor World, insensate bred, and deep possest
By febrile Fear pretending warlike zest!
Could your bedevilled peoples see arise
The kindly Sun of west-Canadian skies
Over the solitudes of perfect Peace,

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Surely might blustering forever cease;
Then all your unencited multitudes,
Calmed into love of calm, might still the broods
Who rave, persuasive in the Music Hall,
That Man must arm and kill lest worse befall;

230

Would trust the common wisdom of the heart,
Which purely whispers that all combats start
From that Yahoo suspicion which insists
Peace cannot be, even while peace exists;
Would resolutely reason—God’s fair world

235

Was given all kindly, and by Hate is whirled
Into those horrors which shall henceforth end—
So vast the earth, with room for all to wend
In labor’s honest ways, their fellows’ friend. [Page 14]

To share the western work, to smack its taste,

240

Old Peter hies him often to the waste;
One year, with thirty wagons in his train,
He took the Athabasca trail again,
Adventurer, trader, settler all in one,—
Reapers, provisions, disc-ploughs, cartridge, gun,—

245

Sure, as of old, his proper gain to find
Though every market-place were far behind.

It chanced he saw six hundred acres spread
Golden and ripe, where one sole reaper sped.
“Alone?” called Peter.
                                    “Quite.” the settler cried,

250

Halting his horses in their sweating stride.—
“This wheat all yours?”—
                                            “Well, that I hardly know.
Although I paid its planting months ago,
The blackbird swarms may get the larger share,”
The youth was blue-eyed, ruddy, Saxon fair;—

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“My name is Brown—I’m English—green as grass—
And no one warned me what a thundering ass
I was to buy, at Home, a section here,
Pay cash to have it broke and sowed this year;
It was n’t till I came across in May

260

I learned my ‘farm’ is two long days away
From railways, neighbors, markets, help from man.—
But greenhorns just must do the best they can.—
Go on!”—He chirruped gayly to his pair,
Once more the reaper’s whirring held the air.

265


Old Peter laughed and swore;—“Absurd young fool!
English as English!  Eight-year-olds at school
About Quesnel would be too sharp for that!
And yet, tort dieu, he smiles beneath his hat
Good-humored, game!—I like the fellow fine!

270

What’s more, the lad’s an Ancestor of mine!”
Turning he faced his plodding wagons then;—
“Halt!  Halt!  Arrête!  Pull up!  Unhitch, my men! [Page 15]
Unload the reaper-binders—rig ’em quick!
Pitch all the tents—right here a week we’ll stick.

275

Who ever saw a prettier spread of wheat?
Dashed if my English blood shall taste defeat!”

Ten days went by—the grateful settler saw
Great stacks enroofed—his acres stubble straw—
His fourteen thousand bushels safely stored,

280

And Peter’s wagons winding past the ford.

“Talk me no pay,” the oldster laughed him down,
“Call it a wedding gift for Mistress Brown,—
Scotch, Irish, French, her strains of blood must be—
Mixed with your English, Lord the brood we’ll see!

285

Fathered and mothered on the surest plan
To make ’em through and through Canadian!”
So Brown reports Old Peter’s joke to-day,
Roared as he whipt his team, and raced away.

Ten days of thirty men and thirty teams!

290

Well—Peter’s often shrewder than he seems.
The veteran’s thirty teamsters settled down
On homestead blocks about the land of Brown,
While Peter bought the Railway Lands between.—
Two years—a branch line hastened to the scene!

295

He saw that finish clearly from the start;
He’d picked out settlers that he knew by heart,
Furnished them all supplies till next year’s Fall,
Horses, machinery, wagons, shacks, and all;
No note, no mortgage, not a scratch of pen

300

’Twixt him and them—old Peter knew his men.
To-day they farm his boughten tracts on shares,
And half the township’s his, and half is theirs.

“It’s square,” he says.  “But fair?  I have my doubt.
Yet, when old Peter Ottawa peters out,

305

The lads will find him at the latter end,
As at the first, a pretty steady friend;— [Page 16]
Thank God my children are not money-mad!
Meantime, I hold the Landlord system bad.
Oh yes, it’s been my profit many a year,

310

And owning property is a kind of cheer.
It’s handy, too; for if your fellow man
Is needing help, it’s good to know you can.
Of course it grits my Irish many a night
To know a Landlord’s just a parasite;

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But take the world the way it’s made we must.
Meantime I’ll hold myself a Landlord-Trust;
Two hundred tenants get one fourth my ground
When Peter Ottawa’s finished out his round.
That kind of saves my Irish fourth from shame,—

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The rest—my Scotch-French-English—stand the blame
For landed property they can’t let go,
It’s God Almighty makes Canadians so!”

Easy in dogma, Peter holds all creeds
Sufficient unto true religion’s needs;—

325

‘Do unto others as you would they should
To you,” he says, “sets out the whole of good.
The life that’s guided so, its Lord is He
Who savored anguish in Gethsemane;
No matter if such Christian be a Turk,

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He’ll get what’s justly coming for his work.
Methodist, Catholic, Shaker, Theist, Jew,
Buddhist, it’s all according as they DO.
No need to name the seven score creeds enrolled
Equal in Canada, and each extolled

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By true-believing seekers after God
To be preëminent as Aaron’s rod;
In what they hold alike is surely found
The essential elemental Truth profound,
And that’s—there’s something heavenly in the plan

340

Of dealing gently with your fellow man,
And something hellish in the heart that sates
Its cruel greed and domineering hates.” [Page 17]

For worship Peter’s never in the lurch
In any place, or any kind of church,

345

Cathedral glorious built, or chapel rude,
He finds in each his spiritual food;
Ever he enters reverent, with one prayer:—
“Oh!  Father, grant thy wandring child to share
The blessing sought by them who built this shrine—

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A sense of nearness to the Soul divine”;—
And from no congregation could he part
Without a benediction in his heart.

“Good will,” he says, “is true Canadian growth,
And Toleration is a word I loathe,—

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It comes from times when every theolog
Hankered to persecute, as some fierce dog
Chained to a staple, winks with wicked eyes,
Shows snarling teeth, and still quiescent lies,
Angry and devilish from tail to jaws,

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Because he’s clamped—as bigots by our laws.
To hearken brag of ‘Toleration’ here,
Where all are equal, makes me kind of rear,
And, if I swore, I’d launch my biggest curse
Against such insolence.  Can one be worse?

365

Except, perhaps, that brawling arrogance
Which roars opinion that our strain from France
Should dumbly bear to have its mother tongue,
Creed, laws, and customs trampled into dung,
Because one set of soldiers long ago

370

Climbing a hill by night, surprised their foe!
Be hanged to conquerors’ right!  Our monarch’s claim
Is broadly founded on fair Freedom’s name,
And half the liberties which we entrench
Came from the patient struggle of our French.”

375


As Scots hold Scottish customs unco sound,
As Erin is by Erin’s sons renowned,
As France’s children celebrate her praise,
As English folk are staunch for English ways, [Page 18]
So Peter guides him by his native light;—

380

“Whatever is Canadian, that is right!
And if we change it of our own free will,
It’s right again, because Canadian still!
By this great dogma, and by this alone
Can native-born Canadians hold their own

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Against the meddling, not ill-meaning crew
Of immigrant advisers What to do;
By this alone the sound Canadian stands,
Like all his forbears in their native lands.”

Squared to this dogma he’ll philosophize

390

Smilingly contra to the imported Wise,
Or Wiseacres, who rail at Separate Schools,
Two tongues official, all the liberal rules
Our Fathers made, by compromise benign,
To ease the creeds, the races, and incline

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All native hearts one patriot sense to share
That here mankind is freer than elsewhere.

“Homo-gen-e-ity,” he drawls.  “Absurd
To make a fetich of the long-tailed word!
And then proceed to allege that its command

400

Is Christian creed from public schools be banned;
A plan in puritanic zeal evoked
Mainly to keep one Christian creed provoked,
And force its children to a double tax
For schooling, lest their children’s faith relax.

405


“A sillier tyranny no country shows—
It’s somewhat as if every youngster’s nose
To be snipt off were by an edict doomed,
Because some few small noses were presumed
Likely to relish incense if they grew

410

To know its scent as parent noses do—
Then every youthful nose were snipt—save those
That went apart for incense when they chose!” [Page 19]

“To teach the children reverence for a creed,
No matter what, which duly taketh heed

415

Of God’s perennial miracle, the World
And all the lives about its orbit whirled,—
To teach them conscience, duty, love, and awe,
Respect for righteous ethics and for Law,
But one sure way the Wise have ever found

420

Since our first Fathers spaded up the ground,—
And that’s to impart, in childhood’s earliest schools,
A sense for guidance by religious rules.

“Give me a Methodist that’s methodist,
A true-blue Lutheran, true-blue Calvinist,

425

An Anglican who is all anglican,
Or catholic Catholic,—then I’ve got a man
Who’ll stand for genuine Right through thick and thin,
And help guard Canada from rotten sin.
Even a Chinaman who fears his Joss

430

And burns a stick before his moral Boss,
Is fitter far to help us run the State
Than those greed-sodden empty-hearts who prate
That plants, and beasts, and men must share one fate,
Material atoms all, enlivened clod,

435

Dust unto Dust, and nothing raised to God.

“A greedy public victimized by greed,
Women who wed determined not to breed,
Virtue defined as wishy-washy cant
Where long-haired men and short-haired women rant,

440

That’s what they get, and get it more and more,
Who oust all creeds from Education’s door;
That’s what they get, a populace dead at heart
To Him who still performs His chastening part,
Whose mills still grind exceeding small, if slow;—

445

Look at the grist our neighbors have to show;—

“A Nation which, like Hope’s bright star, arose
To flash long fear on Man’s oppressive foes, [Page 20]
Now seeming destined to be ruled at last,
Controlled, directed contra to its past,

450

By them whose teachers ever hold on high,
’T is Heaven’s command, Increase and Multiply.

“Homo-gen-e-ity!  And why should we
Ignore the blessings of Diversity?
Where several tongues and many creeds prevail,

455

Though equal all alike in Freedom’s pale,
No sudden general madness strikes the throng
And sweeps the whole to foolishness or wrong.

“We saw the solidarity of France
For war, betray her to the devil’s dance;

460

We saw the solid States rise up in rage,
An inconsistent, tyrant war to wage
For domination over brown allies
Who’d served them faithfully, for Freedom’s prize;
We saw the solid English slowly worked

465

Against their nature, to a war that irked
Their inward, temperate sense that, largely, right
Lay with the freemen whom they wrought to fight;—
And many and many a woeful slaughter more
Must Truth lay at the Homogeneous door.

470


“Count up the dead by fever, shot, and shell,
Count up the cripples, count all tears that fell,
Count up the orphan children of the strife,
Count the long-yearning heart of parent, wife,
Count the vast treasure, count the labor’s waste,

475

Count all the cost of passion’s headlong haste,
And then you’ll know what solid Nations pay
When common impulse sweeps good sense away,
Flushing the millions madly all at once
With Wisdom down, and up the truculent Dunce!

480


“Give me to live where public matters wait
The careful issue of the long debate, [Page 21]
Where steady champions of divergent creeds
And differing races urge their various needs,
Where naught of serious consequence is done

485

Unless approved as fraught with wrong to none,
Where every honest man of every kind
(Though momentary party passion blind)
Shall know full well, within his secret heart,
The adopted course is common-sense’s part,

490

Expedient in its time, and therefore sound
For all alike within the Nation’s bound.

“In such a land, though many a year we go
So patient-cautious, neighbors call us slow,
We shun the abyss, we move by Reason’s light,

495

We march as brothers, and we climb the height
Where yet our flag shall gently be unfurled
Symbolic of a federated World,
Whose problem do we daily solve while we
Climb upward, peaceful in Diversity.”

500

————


So Peter Ottawa lives, full well content
To bide the lot he deems as Heaven-sent;
Keeping his glorious ancestries in mind,
To all traditions piously inclined;
He’ll plod, and laugh, and hope, and boast, and roam

505

About the enormous tracts he calls his Home,
And thank the Lord that things are as they are,
And glad his soul with dreams of futures far,—
Whereby, perchance, full many a time he stands
Within The House not builded up of Hands. [Page 22]

510