I: O’Grady Identified


“Standish O’Grady” arrived in Canada on May 22, 1836, on board the Ocean, commanded by Captain Bellard and owned by Price and Co. of Waterford, County Cork, Ireland.1 The crossing had taken forty-four days, an average duration for the trans-Atlantic journey at that time. O’Grady’s claim that the ship left on April 3, not 8 as indicated by the Quebec Gazette for May 24, may be the result of a compositional error, or it may signal Bellard’s prevarication as to the length of his journey. The captains of Irish emigrant ships were under scrutiny at the time for their tendency to extend the journey for their own profit, and a crossing closer to seven weeks than six (if O’Grady’s record is correct) might have been rather suspect.2 At any rate, the voyage appears to have been without incident.
     The Ocean carried thirty-four other emigrants; the number of passengers processed at the port of Quebec that week was to surpass a thousand (580 men, 269 women, 297 children). O’Grady’s ship arrived just a week after the opening of the port for the emigration season, so he apparently made his decision to leave Ireland in the preceding winter and hurried on board one of the first ships bound of the Canadas in the following spring. Statistics for the year record a sudden increase in emigrants arriving in the Canadas; the total for 1836 would be 27,728 up from 12,537 in the preceding year. A.C, Buchanan, Agent for Emigration in Canada for 1836, had

. . . much pleasure in stating, that, generally speaking, they landed in good condition, and, with the exception of a few from the south and west of Ireland, were possessed of sufficient means to make their way to their respective places of destination.3

Some of O’Grady’s fellow Corkonians apparently arrived rather worse off than the average emigrant, but he is not likely to have so suffered; his own references to the voyage suggest that he was singled out by the captain of his vessel as a gentleman of worthy attention.4
    From Quebec O’Grady would probably have taken a local steamer to the village of Sorel, located on Lac St-Pierre where the Richelieu River empties into the Saint Lawrence. Sorel was the country seat of the Governor-General of the Canadas, whose duties were intermittently performed in the late 1830s by Sir John Colborne, 1st Baron Seaton; a lively social circle had formed around his residence and his family. Perhaps O’Grady anticipated the company of this genteel and sophisticated circle, and Sorel appealed to him because of it.5 His initial glimpse of the village from the riverboat must have been cheerful enough; as described by diarist Henry Taylor in 1840, Sorel was not without a practical picturesqueness: [page xi]

This is a handsome little Village situated on the junction of the river    Richelieu or Chambly with the St. Lawrence. Col. Well’s cottage, is at the mouth of the Richelieu. There was a Camp of Indians at the River’s edge, and the sight of many neat and white habitant farm Houses up the river looked delightful. There is a ship yard with several decayed Steam Boats opposite the Village…The Village is well laid out on a dry level spot, and has a neat looking Fort for its protection. The Governor’s Country residence a little distance up the Chambly with a farm attached [sic]. The Blue Mountain opposite the Village has a good effect on the Landscape.6

Francis Evans’s The Emigrant’s Directory, published in Dublin three years before O’Grady’s departure from Ireland, places William-Henry (briefly the British name for Sorel after the Conquest) among the chief four towns of Lower Canada, with two thousand inhabitants; the book also notes that during the season river steamers stopped daily at Sorel, bringing both passengers and necessaries.7 If O’Grady encountered Evans’s guide in Ireland he might well have been drawn to such a country village, of obvious appeal to the colonial gentry and offering regular means of transport to other parts of the province.
     To say more here of O’Grady’s Sorel career would be to treat the poem as biography, and since very little of The Emigrant can be corroborated by other sources of information such speculation is in any case largely pointless.8 The more pressing task is to identify O’Grady with some recorded historical personage, and thereby to extend our understanding of the assumptions and conditions of the religious, political and cultural context in which his creativity was nurtured. Few who have read O’Grady have troubled with such concerns, his personal life having little to do, they have probably felt, with the essential meanings of the literary text at hand, and few records having survived in which to “discover” his identity. The effort has more impact on the poem and its interpretation, however, than one might imagine; the prevailing idea that O’Grady was a Protestant minister in Ireland (based on an understandable misreading of one of O’Grady’s Notes to the poem) has appeared at the root of the few treatments The Emigrant has received, so when biographical research reveals that he was nothing of the kind, significant re-interpretations become possible and necessary.
     In fact such re-interpretations were called for more than forty years ago, when Stewart Wallace noted in his Dictionary of Canadian Biography a peculiar inconsistency arising from the autobiographical details provided by O’Grady himself. O’Grady claims in his Notes to The Emigrant to have been a class-mate of the Irish patriot Robert Emmet (executed in 1803) at Trinity College, Dublin; in keeping with this information, the title page of The Emigrant announces the author to be “Standish O’Grady, Esq. B.A., T.C.D.”. Wallace accordingly perused the pages of the Alumni Dublinenses, and found that no Standish O’Grady appeared to have attended Trinity [page xii] College with Robert Emmet.9 Clearly either the poet’s proximity to young Emmet was a fantasy or (a conclusion to which Wallace did not proceed) the name of the poet of 1841 was not the same as that of the obscure young Protestant Dubliner at the end of the eighteenth century.
     The latter suggestion need not sound dramatic, especially in the context of the chaotic Irish surname. The clan prefix “O” was used irregularly at the time—not retained, now dropped according to the context of any given recording of an Irish name. Edward MacLysaght in his Surnames of Ireland suggests that the prefix was particularly unpopular “during the period of the submergence of Catholic and Gaelic Ireland which began in the early seventeenth century,”10 so it would be entirely natural for our O’Grady, a Protestant, to drop the ostensibly “Catholic and Gaelic” form of his name when entering the great University of his country. A second look at the Alumni Dublinenses turns up a “Standish Grady” who took a B.A. in 1800 and an M.A. in 1803; his entry in 1796 provides for two years of mutual attendance with Emmet, who departed in voluntary disgrace in 1798.11 He was born in 1780 in County Tipperary, close enough to the Counties Cork and Limerick which form the setting of the Irish recollections in the Canadian poem. This particular “alumnus Dublinensis” will prove, I think, not to be our man; but he presses so close to the borders of our inquiry that I will treat him, in light of the following evidence, as a real possibility, lest he appear later to haunt my identification of a different “Standish O’Grady.”
     The real Standish O’Grady can be traced by moving forward, not backward, in the poet’s life. It has perhaps been common to suppose that the dates supplied for O’Grady by the National Union Catalogue (“floruit 1793-1841”) drew on biographical information to which most of us were not privy. The NUC’s 1793 dating is presumably based on Emmet’s entrance into Trinity College in that year; the 1841 date merely records O’Grady’s last known activity, the publication of The Emigrant. But O’Grady’s path through Canada can be adumbrated after that date by a careful perusal of various newspapers and literary publications of the period from 1841 to 1846, when he died in Toronto. Our ignorance of these records has left the poet’s biography open to such abuses as Lawrence Lande perpetrated in Old Lamps Aglow, in which he claimed that O’Grady, after his failure as a farmer, “packed up and returned post-haste to [his] native soil.”12
     O’Grady’s first Canadian appearance was in John Lovell’s Literary Garland, which reviewed a preview copy of The Emigrant in August, 1841. Apart from its laudatory opinion of the poem13 (quite to be expected, since Lovell was also O’Grady’s publisher), the review is interesting for its sketch of the poet in Sorel society: “by the gentry and public of his neighbourhood,” the reviewer observes, “he seems to be held in high esteem, and to be very generally sustained. The reviewer’s next comment, seeking similar support for all such “aspirants for literary fame,” suggests that O’Grady’s “sustaining” should be taken in the financial sense: the Sorel community would appear to have gathered funds for O’Grady, or at least kept [page xiii] him in food and shelter, after the failure of his farming venture. Such generosity would corroborate the poet’s own acknowledgements, in the body of The Emigrant, of a number of friendly local supporters.
   In late 1841 The Emigrant appeared. In the first months of 1842 it was reviewed in the Montreal Transcript,14 and a portion, entitled “Indians,” was excerpted in the same newspaper.15 The title pages of certain extant copies of The Emigrant indicate a second issue of the volume in this year; the pages are themselves unchanged, but Lovell is no longer acknowledged as O’Grady’s publisher. Instead, the volume was “Printed for the Author. / 1842.” As it is inconceivable that the book sold out its first issue (if it had, John Lovell would not I imagine have let it slip away), the probable explanation for the 1842 issue is the common one of the day: the unsuccessful poet purchased the unsold copies from the publisher, inserted one title page for another, and tried to promote and sell them with his own resources.  In any case, by 1842 O’Grady may well have been in Montreal himself, overseeing the re-issue and busily encouraging the Transcript’s notices. The next trace of him may be found in March, 1843, when the Transcript printed, in an account of the Lachine Riots, the following acknowledgements:

Among those who were active in putting an end to this disgraceful tumult, in addition to Mr. Phelan, whose great influence over his countrymen was as heretofore exerted on the side of peace and good order, were Messrs. Holmes, Driscoll, Dunn, Evans, Lett, Collins, Curley, Tully, Murphy, Casey, and O’Grady. This last gentleman, the author of ‘The Emigrant,’ and other poems, mainly contributed to the success of the mission, by bringing several hundreds of the Corkonians to the spot, where a reconciliation was effected. He received the warm applause of his countrymen.16

(The Corkonians were the chief party of strikers, many of whom had proven violent. O’Grady’s “bringing them to the spot” should not be construed as a sharing of their radical opinions; the plain conservatism of The Emigrant makes such sentiments unlikely. He seems merely to have urged the strikers, perhaps by appealing to his homeland common with theirs, to have come to truce talks.) So in early 1843 O’Grady was alive and active, despite his advanced years, on that side of Montreal furthest from Sorel. The motives of his journey are lost, but considering his failure in Sorel it might have seemed natural to him to drift towards a larger colonial city in search of encouragement and notice.
     He did not stop in Lachine. On September 9, 1843, he wrote a joint letter to Major John Richardson, then editor in Kingston of the Canadian Loyalist, & Spirit of 1812, and to the editor of the Kingston Chronicle and Gazette, thanking them for publicizing “extracts” of his poetry (apparently “taken from the Press”)17 and offering a second passage of thirty-two lines, treating of the beauties of Bytown (Ottawa) — “Rideau’s heights, and Chaudière’s vast fall.”18 (No earlier or later [page xiv] publication by the Chronicle and Gazette of O’Grady’s poetry has yet been found.) He was indeed in Kingston at the time; the previous issue of the Chronicle and Gazette advises “Standish O’Grady” (among others) of a letter being held in his name at the Post Office, so he must have directed his correspondents to contact him there.
     The end in Toronto of this gradual journey westward was an unhappy one. On November 19, 1845, O’Grady appears in a sarcastic commentary in the Toronto Examiner, which savages the editors of its rival British Canadian for seeking public funds for the relief of the “poor old O’Grady, the poet.” The Examiner quotes the Canadian’s appeal on O’Grady’s behalf:

Descended, as we learn, from a highly respectable Irish Protestant family, with the chill hand of poverty pressing heavily upon him, his grey hairs may truly be said to be descending in sorrow to the grave; and yet his tongue is silent—his wants unknown—while those who have infinitely less demand upon the generous and kindhearted are too often unceasing in their clamors and importunities. Poor fellow!19

The Canadian added that, for those who wished to help him, “Mr. O’Grady may be heard of at this office.”20 After citing this pathetic appeal, the Examiner, more thorough in its political economy, asks, “We should like to know if the Editor of that paper wishes the name of Poet O’Grady to be put on the pension list of this Province. . . . Really, a life of dissipation deserves something.”21 The savagery of the Examiner’s language indicates a fair degree of hostility to the Canadian’s appeal, hostility which assumes that O’Grady deserved his sufferings because of his “life of dissipation.” If there were any evidence to support that attractive image of O’Grady I would now offer it, but I can at present see no other signs of dissipation in O’Grady’s history.  
     The assistance called for, if it came at all, came too late, unfortunately. On February 17, 1846, another Toronto newspaper, the British Colonist, published the following obituary:

In this city, on Saturday morning last, after a painful and protracted illness, Mr. Standish O’Grady Bennett, formerly of Tankerville, County of Cork, Ireland, aged 70 years.22

The addition of the surname will encourage some to treat this obituary as mere coincidence, but the coincidence is a strong one. Just three months after “poor old O’Grady” had been noticed by the Canadian as “descending to the grave,”23 and in the same city in which that notice pictured him, and deriving from the same county of Cork to which our poet makes such detailed reference in his poem and notes, and of approximately the same age as our man, this “Standish O’Grady Bennett” is surely no mere coincidence. I will suggest that this is indeed our poet, and answer [page xv] the immediate question: why the sudden use of his “real” surname? Perhaps a death-bed sense of realism of filial devotion; perhaps he had never ceased, in private, to use the full name, and “O’Grady” was merely a recognized pseudonym; perhaps someone who knew him intimately wrote the obituary, and was not aware that he wished to conceal his real name.24
     The real test comes, of course, when we return to the Alumni Dublinenses, for we still need to place this man with Robert Emmet at Trinity College, Dublin in the late 1790s. There was a Standish Bennett in attendance, one who entered the College in 1796 at the age of nineteen, but who apparently never took a Bachelor of Arts; at least none is noted in this usually reliable listing.25 Bennett of Trinity College  was born, then, in 1776 or 1777, and therefore matches perfectly our Standish O’Grady Bennett who died in Toronto in 1846 at the age of seventy. Thus we have a triangle of reliable information: a Standish O’Grady who attended Trinity College in the late 1790s, published The Emigrant in 1841, appeared in Toronto in poverty in late 1845, and disappeared; a Standish O’Grady Bennett, son of James Bennett, Esquire, born in County Limerick in 1776 or ’77 and studying with a Mr. Buckley prior to his entrance into Trinity College in 1796.
     That there should have been a “Standish Grady” in company with Emmet at the College, as well as a Standish Bennett, is a small irony of literary history. The degrees they took and did not take create wrinkles in either identification, however. The poet announces on his title page that he holds a B.A. from the College; Alumni Dublinenses enters no such degree for Standish Bennett. On the other hand, Standish Grady took not only a B.A. but an M.A. as well; our poet’s proud acknowledgement of his degree bespeaks his desire to be recognized for his academic successes, and the tone of the various personal meditations in The Emigrant—I will not as yet substantiate the point with quotations—reveals a mind deeply concerned with establishing place and priority in the intellectual and artistic world. In short, our poet would not have let slip an opportunity to advertise his second degree, which his title page so temptingly presented. If he is Standish Bennett, was eh lying about the B.A.? or did Alumni Dublinenses slip up? If he is Standish Grady, why the uncharacteristic modesty about the higher degree?
     Considering the necessary skepticism which must still surround either identification, another body of information must be brought to bear: the supposed holy orders of our O’Grady. His critics and biographers have assumed that he was a minister in the Church of Ireland, largely because of a reference in his Note 8 to The Emigrant which laments his suffering of “the tithe question,” and details his borrowings from a government fund set up in 1833 to relieve the Irish clergy (of which more later). This assumption has encouraged at least one highly Christian [page xvi] reading of the poem, with distortive emphasis on the narrator’s paeans to Providence.26 If O’Grady was indeed ordained and an active minister before his departure for Canada, there will be parish records to confirm it: but such records are difficult to come by until one knows the parish to which he ministered. There is meanwhile a manuscript in the National Library of Ireland (MS 1775-76) which is very useful to any Canadian researcher whose subject may involve clergymen in Ireland prior to their emigration: “A typescript list, with manuscript annotations, of the clergy of the church of Ireland to the twentieth century, arranged in alphabetical order of surname and giving biographical details . . . compiled by Canon James B. Leslie.”27 Gerard Lyne, Assistant Keeper of the National Library of Ireland, has kindly informed me that a Reverend Standish Grady was vicar of the parish of Carrick-on-Suir from 1803 to 1829, and also held the rectories of Killeely (1802 to 1816) and Traddery (1803 to 1829). This is certainly the Grady of Alumni Dublinenses, who graduated in 1803. Grady occasionally added an “O” to his name (or, alternately, dropped one); the Leslie list creates a ghost by referring as well to a “Standish O’Grady” who was rector at Carrick during the same twenty-six years. Mr. Lyne adds that “No entry occurs for the surname Bennett.” This is momentous information. If Grady is our poet, then our poet was indeed a clergyman, but why does his service to the Church end in 1829, rather than in 1836 with his departure for the Canadas? And how could he have availed himself of government funds in support of the clergy which were only offered in 1833? What could a forty-nine year-old ex-clergyman (uncommon as such a phenomenon was) have done with the intervening seven years? On the other hand, if Bennett is our poet, why does he not show up on Canon Leslie’s list?
     Other records of the Church of Ireland are available for further clarification, largely because the British Parliament of the period was becoming concerned with the so-called “Catholic Question,” and because the Act of Union of 1801 had amalgamated the formerly separate Irish and English parliaments into a single body in England. To deflect possible criticism that England not only wanted to take Catholic money for its Protestant objectives but also wanted to do so at a safe distance, the Parliament inquired into the tithe system frequently in the first decades of the nineteenth century. The most useful of the resulting reports give the name of each clergyman then in service in the Church of Ireland, arranging these by diocese and parish; these are contained in the British Sessional Papers of the period.28 The earliest of these, A Return Respecting the Several Dioceses of Ireland, was printed for Parliament 1807, and shows Standish Grady just where he ought to be, as rector at “Carrick”; here he is at first identified as the Reverend Standish O’Grady.”29 Carrick-on-Suir was in the old Diocese of Lismore; in the Diocese of Killaloe, Grady’s other holdings are listed, this time under “the Rev. Standish Grady.”30 Again, Bennett is nowhere to be found in this list. In a similar survey of 1824, Grady appears again;31 Bennett fails to, again.
     Other documents of interest in the proceedings of these Parliamentary inquiries [page xvii] concern the loan made by the British government to the Irish Protestant clergy, caustically acknowledged by O’Grady in his Note 8 to The Emigrant:

The clergy were thus left of r a period of four years in the most abject state of mendacity; at length one half million only was granted them as a loan, for the payment of which they were applied to, when perfectly unable to collect their revenues, either for the present or the past. I myself was among the sufferers; disgusted with the government, and unable to exist at home, I sailed for America with a small competency, and abandoned the tithe question altogether. My revenue amounted to £382 currency, which is now owing to me these seven years, with very little prospect at present to be arranged.

The loan was carefully supervised by the British government, with the assistance of two lists in particular: A List of Those who have Applied for Monies out of the Consolidated Fund Set Aside for the Irish Clergy (1833),32 and a Return , Stating the Manner in which the One Million Voted for the Irish Clergy has been Appropriated, Specifying the Name and Residence of each Borrower, and the Amount Advanced. . . . (1836).33  With these lists our plot thickens, because they obviously bring us very close to our poet’s own predicament. As we should expect, Reverend Standish Grady appears on neither list; as already observed, the Clergy List from the National Library of Ireland suggests a termination of his ministry in 1829, whereas the List and Return detail financial exchanges of the 1830s. One Standish O’Grady Bennett, however, did receive “monies” to cover the shortfall in tithe payments, and is noted to have done so on the second list mentioned, the list of 1836.34
     We are now at the heart of our problem of identification, and again both possibilities may seem to have been defeated. How can Grady be our poet if his ministry terminated before the monies were advanced? How can Bennett have taken monies from the fund and yet not appear on previous lists of Irish clergymen? One may toy (as I did) with the possibility of a legal change of name, but this is defeated by the enrolment of both men at Trinity College; there is in fact a far less dramatic explanation. The answer lies—as does the answer to O’Grady’s obscure history—in the concept of “lay impropriation,” a distasteful system whereby the revenues of a particular benefice in the Church of Ireland could be transferred to a private citizen who had nothing (at least nothing spiritual) to do with the Church; the clergyman who served the given parish had nothing to say in the matter, and simply had to live on tithes from other parishes which he was not serving. The right to lay impropriation was usually in the disposal of a particular member of the gentry or aristocracy; Bennett would probably have been given the rights to a parish’s tithes as a means of supporting himself without working, and must thereby have fulfilled  someone’s expectations for his life as a gentleman. That his living should have been extorted from Catholic peasants, and that at the expense of the clergyman himself, is [page xviii] not an abuse we should associate with Bennett in particular; the odium of this situation must be laid at Britain’s imperial doorstep. Bennett appears in the separate column of the 1836 Return reserved for “lay impropriators,” so this explanation of his manner of living is a secure one.
     It is crucial to realize that “lay impropriators” had exactly the same right to their tithes as the impoverished clergyman had to his; indeed, given their roots in the shabby gentry, the lay impropriators had a good deal more political clout than the clergy when the “tithe question” was raised. It is entirely plausible, therefore, for our “lay impropriator” Bennett to grumble in his notes to The Emigrant about having been forced to leave Ireland because of abuses of the tithe system; it would never occur to him that he had no more right to a Catholic peasant’s money than the Protestant clergyman who worked for Bennett’s wages. This is why, of course, Bennett does not appear in any of the various clergy lists consulted earlier: he never was a clergyman.
     Indeed, that various critics have thought he was one is not due to any prevarication on the poet’s part. He never claims in Note 8 to have been a clergyman; he merely claims to have received tithes and, when the payments trickled down to nothing, to have borrowed money from the government fund. His first critics naturally enough concluded that he must have been a minister in the Church of Ireland, but, as the Parliamentary records make clear, he need have been no more than a lay impropriator of tithes; once Standish O’Grady Bennett has come into view, it is difficult not to chuckle at the previously received image of an Irish Protestant minister flinging vestments aside and leaping aboard ship bound for a newly secular life in the Canadas.
     This seems to settle the issue of Standish O’Grady’s identity. Standish Grady disappears in 1829—we may presume into the grave—and Standish Bennett only appears in Church records in the 1830s, when the tithe question begins to empty his wallet. Bennett borrowed from the government fund, Grady did not. Given our earlier triangulation and this fourth premise, we may conclude with real confidence that Standish O’Grady, author of The Emigrant, was born Standish Bennett in County Limerick in 1776 or 1777.35 The reader should note that this would make the poet sixty years old when he emigrated, alone, to a farm in Sorel in 1836. He died in Toronto in 1846 at the age of seventy, apparently after a protracted illness and in abject poverty, no doubt overwhelmed by the transition from relaxed Irish gentleman to penurious Canadian farmer-poet that had been forced upon his late middle life.36
     It will always be tempting to flesh out this skeletal biography with speculations based  upon information contained in the poem. O’Grady Bennett’s apparent familiarity with the intricacies of the law could be used to suggest that he was a lawyer, but since much of this reference has to do with lawsuits in chancery it may indicate no more than an involvement in a legal contention at some point in his life. His reference to ungrateful children (1603-13) is one of the most tantalizing in the [page xix] book, and it is difficult to imagine the poet interpolating it if it had no biographical validity at all; but until O’Grady’s will or letters or family tree is discovered, the information rests perforce in its poetic context, and cannot be presented as fact. His lamentations over “faithless Maria” are suggestive if only because of a possible connection between “Maria” and Ethelind Sawtell, his neighbour and fellow poet (see my explanatory not to line 722 of The Emigrant); but to turn them into matter for the biographer is to run some obvious risks. The safer course is to rely only upon the skeletal biography when speaking of the poet’s life, without discouraging the reader of the poem from responding sensitively to its apparently subjective content. The volume suggests in its very title, after all, that it is a pseudo-personal record of one man’s experience, and to proscribe all response to it as such is as distortive as to mine it for details of the poet’s biography.
     O’Grady’s identity established, then, there is really only one major biographical question left to the researcher. This concerns O’Grady’s connection with the O’Grady clan of County Limerick, keeping a family seat at Kilballyowen, near Kilmallock. He claims kinship with them, and this would be worth knowing about because the O’Gradys produced one very notable scion, a Chief Baron of the Exchequer who was (by another irony) the famous and infamous prosecutor of Robert Emmet in 1803. This man was (to complicate the nomenclature) actually born Standish O’Grady, but because he was made “Viscount Guillamore” at his retirement from the bench, I shall refer to him for clarity’s sake as “Guillamore” hereafter.37 By thus raising a family of the Irish gentry into the ranks of the aristocracy, Guillamore made the O’Grady name common currency in the south-west Ireland of the time; few would fail to have heard of the young local lawyer who had risen to the highest stature from relatively humble roots.
     Only two general facts about the O’Grady clan are worth remarking here. First, the given name “Standish” was and is maddeningly common in the family, because of the linking by marriage of two important Irish families of the seventeenth century, the O’Gradys and the Standishes.38 The marriage produced three sons, the second of whom was named “Standish O’Grady” and thus set the pattern for the clan’s male names for centuries. The second fact to be noted is that the clan’s Protestantism was relatively fresh in our poet’s time, a great-uncle of Guillamore’s having blazed the way of conversion in 1723.39 This would account for some embarrassment over the clan-prefix to the family name (associated with the Catholic roots of the O’Gradys), and might have encouraged some of them to drop it on occasion.
     Our poet O’Grady makes frequent and extended reference to this family:

Alas! my kindred, valued friends, and you,
De Courcy, honoured name, illustrious, who
Though not with potent arm of might, in blood,
Art still conspicuous for an heart as good
As he, whose ancient privilege well known,
Derives his deathless honour from a throne; [page xx]
Whene’er I pause, in gratitude to thee,
How shall the tear of sorrow rest with me;
And thou, O’Grady! son of learned lord,
And chief, and baron, in each vast record,
Who didst unmisticate these subtile laws,
That gained from learned counsel just applause:
Accept, brave soul, thine heart can’st ne’er refuse,
This humble tribute from the distant muse,
Who though remote, not this wide world can chill,
Though far we part, an heart that’s with thee still.

There is some difficulty in these lines. The O’Grady latterly addressed is identified as a “son of [a] learned lord,” and the “learned lord” in the family at this time was Guillamore. The poet would thus appear to be claiming an acquaintance and kinship with Guillamore’s son, perhaps with the second Viscount Guillamore, but just as possibly with one of several younger brothers. The difficulty is that he goes on to describe the apostrophized O’Grady, in the same archaic second person, as one who “unmisticated” the “subtile laws” of Ireland; this jurist can only be Guillamore himself. Guillamore’s own father was hardly a “learned lord”; he was briefly High Sheriff of Limerick, but did little with the “subtile laws” of his country. The second-person “didst” that attends “unmisticate” suggests that Guillamore is also the O’Grady directly addressed, but since this is a paradox we must assume instead that “didst” is a grammatical slip, and that our poet indeed addresses one of Guillamore’s sons.
     The Notes (Nos. 33 and 34) that correspond to this passage in The Emigrant tell tall tales of “De Courcy,” an heroic ancestor to “the present O’Grady, of Kilballyowen,”40 and record some of Guillamore’s witty judgments from the bench. They are not rooted in such intimate knowledge that O’Grady the poet must necessarily have been a family member; but we may conclude at least that he was pleased to claim a “kindred” blood when he referred to the O’Gradys in the poem, and that he wanted to appear to have some intimacy with them. The question is, then, was he indeed allied by blood with one of the most important families of Ireland at the time? and if he was, how close was the connection? Indeed, if we can answer these questions, we may have a very real reason for Bennett’s use of “O’Grady” as a pseudonym; since that family had always represented power and worldly success to him, he may have adopted the surname proudly after entering an entirely new life and world in 1836.
     Tracing the O’Grady family tree is relatively easy, given the prominence of the family; it receives fairly full treatment in Burke’s Irish Family Records and Landed Gentry of Ireland,41 two works that can assist greatly our attempt to discover the poet’s connection to the family. We must first work backward from Viscount Guillamore. His father was Darby O’Grady, whose father was Standish O’Grady, [page xxi] whose father was John O’Grady of Kilballyowen (known as “The O’Grady” because head of the clan). This John O’Grady married twice, in fact, and the line just traced is the result of his second marriage, to one Honora Alen. His first marriage, in 1698 to Catherine Quin, is of more present interest. It produced an eldest son, Thomas (later “The O’Grady,” because first-born; Guillamore’s is a junior branch) who was the first known convert to Protestantism in the family. Thomas had five sons, the first of whom, John, was to become “The O’Grady” in his turn; but at this point we must break with primogeniture and look at this John’s youngest brother, Standish.
     This Standish O’Grady married Elizabeth Deane in 1750, and had two children, John and Eliza. Information on this branch of the family is sparse in Burke’s, since they had no part in carrying the blood-line forward; but Eliza is noted to have married one James Bennet of Ballinstona, County Limerick.42 Dates are not supplied for the marriage, but since Eliza’s parents married in 1750, let us imagine that she was born (after her brother) circa 1752-1754, and let us suppose that she married somewhere between eighteen and twenty, as would be common. She and James Bennett, then, would have married somewhere between 1770 and 1774, and would have been in child-bearing and rearing in the middle and late 1770s. Only one child is recorded, a daughter Mary, who was to marry George Gough Gubbins of Maidstown Castle, Limerick; Mary’s marriage suggests that this very junior branch of the O’Gradys could still pull an impressive match together. Was Mary indeed the only offspring of this marriage? Or is it possible—I speculate openly here—that there was another child, a boy, who, to honour the maternal grandfather (whose name, we recall, was Standish O’Grady), was christened Standish O’Grady Bennett in 1776?43 Our Standish Bennett’s father was James, as we recall from Alumni Dublinenses: were there two James Bennetts in County Limerick at the time, or are the two men one and the same? That our poet is not recorded in Burke’s is not utterly undermining of such a theory: Burke’s is notoriously terse about junior branches, and often relied on records provided by the families in making up its listings; a first child is often recorded merely to indicate that an insignificant branch of the family continued into posterity. Perhaps our poet’s grandfather, the fifth son of a past O’Grady, was not worth tracing beyond a second generation of descendants; or, and this is not impossible, perhaps the family had some later reason for excluding other descendants of Eliza O’Grady and James Bennett.
     The case of one Samuel Bennett—in fact of several possible Samuel Bennetts—casts instructive light on the above identification of the author of The Emigrant. Standish Bennett had by all appearances a brother Samuel; at least the Alumni Dublinenses mentions a Samuel, also son of James and also born in Limerick, who enrolled at Trinity College in 1793 at the age of fifteen. He would therefore have been a year or two younger than the poet. Another Samuel Bennett enrolled at Trinity in 1829 at the age of twenty-two; he was the son of “Samuel, defunctus,” and was also born in Limerick, and my guess is that he was the nephew of Standish Bennett. These probable family ties cannot be verified without more [page xxii] exhaustive research than the information would be worth, of course, but cautious speculation proves revealing. The “nephew” Samuel went on to take a medical degree at the University of Glasgow in 1834 (at least, a Samuel Bennett from Limerick born in 1807 took such a degree); and this Dr. Samuel Bennett came from “Bruff, Co. Limerick.”44 Bruff is three miles from Kilballyowen, the ancestral seat of the Limerick O’Gradys appealed to in The Emigrant. If this young medical man is indeed the son of our poet’s younger brother, then our poet did have close ties to the area around Kilballyowen, which suggests further that the “James Bennett” who married Eliza O’Grady in the early 1770s was actually the “James” who fathered Standish and Samuel Bennett and sent them to Dublin for a university education.
     Just as revealingly, there are a number of Samuel Bennetts evident in Canada during O’Grady’s years there. In fact a Samuel Bennet bought land in Sorel in 1832.45 (The different spelling may indicate that he bore no relation to our poet, or may be a slip of the registrar’s pen.) A Samuel Bennett was living in Ontario in 1835;46 perhaps the Sorel Samuel moved on to the upper Province, or the two are different men. Neither of these men has any probably relation to the poet, but their existence is suggestive. Since the poet’s “brother” was dead by 1829, and the poet’s “nephew” was in medical training until 1834, the only possible alignment of our Old World figures with these New World men is to suggest that the Samuel in Ontario in 1835 could conceivably have been the Samuel who graduated with a medical degree in 1834, but no real evidence supports this claim. The Canadian Samuel Bennetts are interesting primarily because they may have had some relation to the Samuel Bennetts of Ireland and Scotland, and hence to the Standish O’Grady Bennett who came to Sorel himself in 1836; they may indeed have encouraged his own emigration by their example.
     My identification of the poet as the son of Eliza O’Grady who was herself the niece of the O’Grady of the day is sound, but it is not of course incontrovertible; the evidence is circumstantial, and the conclusions necessarily cautious. If this is not our poet’s point of connection to the O’Gradys, however, I am at a complete loss to account for his interest in the family and his claim of kinship with them. Any alternative identification of another “Standish O’Grady” will have to take that claim into account. If the above is indeed a factual accounting of his descent, then a fascinating dimension is added to one of the most intriguing, albeit painfully obscure, lives in Canadian letters. If he is in fact so descended, further research may make other cryptic references in the notes to The Emigrant more intelligible: he recounts, for instance, the story of the courtship of one Miss Waller. (Note 22); Viscount Guillamore’s wife had been another Miss Waller.47 O’Grady’s Miss Waller married a penurious Mr. Jackson; in 1811 one Joseph Henry Jackson of County Cork had his surname legally changed to Bennett.48 Are these coincidences? Probably not, but coincidences they must remain in an official account of O’Grady’s life, until more information is available. Descent from the O’Gradys might also account for Bennett’s having received tithes as a lay impropriator; a private [page xxiii] a gentleman to gain that capacity needed powerful friends or family. Finally, descent from the O’Gradys might account for his surprising departure from the “sustenance” of colonial Sorel for the difficult life of Toronto, since a nephew of “the [then] O’Grady, of Kilballyowen,” one Bolton Waller O’Grady, was eventually to settle in Canada, and his marriage to be recorded in 1852 in Toronto.49 The date of his emigration is unknown, but there was certainly a John O’Grady living in Toronto in early 184650 when our poet lay dying and destitute there. Was Standish O’Grady Bennett seeking out his or Bolton O’Grady’s support, or that of other distant relatives, when he left Sorel for Toronto in 1842? Another of the many unanswerable questions lurking in the O’Grady story; but so many “coincidences” make it difficult not to assume that the author of The Emigrant could claim descent from a noteworthy Irish family of his day. Nevertheless, because he was also a Bennett, the scion of another male line, he could not apparently claim a close enough kinship to prevent his enforced departure from Ireland for the uncertainties of life as a farmer in the Lower Province, at the startling age of sixty.


II: The Emigration Narrative: Fiction, Digression, Fragmentation


Standish O’Grady’s The Emigrant is typical of its period in Canada in its choice of a neoclassical form, style and structure as a vehicle for the poet’s experiences and reflections in a new and difficult creative environment. While readers who are largely unfamiliar with the poetry written in nineteenth-century Canada will probably find O’Grady’s choices curiously delayed beyond the European norm, those familiar with the general belatedness of the early Canadian tradition will know that O’Grady’s neoclassical models were still being adopted by Canadian poets publishing a half-century after his volume appeared. It is, however, unfortunate that such a greater knowledge of O’Grady’s contemporaries usually leads critics of early Canadian poetry to avoid questions of international belatedness that must be acknowledged in a neoclassical poet published in any part of the world in 1841. In fact the puzzlement of the first kind of reader is essential to a complete response to O’Grady’s poetry; we must balance our sense of exculpatory local and historical conditions with a concomitant sense that no work of art should be judged or considered in a light so purely Canadian that it casts the rest of the literary world into shadow.
     It is certainly more than scholastic cartography to note that The Emigrant was published not only after the Lyrical Ballads, but also during that period when the elderly Wordsworth was revising The Prelude for the last time; not only after Keats, Byron and Shelley had emerged, but two decades after their deaths; not only after the original Romantic refusal of Johnsonian poetic and aesthetic taste, but after the first volumes of Tennyson and Browning, the great early works of Carlyle, and the Tracts [page xxiv] of the Oxford Movement. That this neoclassical narrative should be produced not one but three literary generations “late” is a striking and inescapable phenomenon. To deny its usefulness in understanding O’Grady’s literary conservatism, which reflects a political and psychological conservatism of equal weight, is atomistically to deny the value of literary-historical contexts altogether in the analysis of any individual work. To be sure, when we read Goldsmith’s The Rising Village (1825), Kirby’s The U.E.: A Tale of Upper Canada (1859) or Howe’s Acadia (1874), O’Grady’s neoclassical manner slips quietly into its place in the Canadian tradition, but this does not render insignificant the sources of that tradition, which lie so visibly in the English poets of a century earlier.
     O’Grady’s belatedness in relation to the nurturing English tradition and his typification of the distinct Canadian offshoot of that tradition in the Nineteenth century are not presented here merely for their interest as historical generalities. The tension between these two present means of illuminating nineteenth-century Canadian poetry would not have been unfamiliar to O’Grady, and might have helped him to describe the difficulties he had faced in the structuring of his poem. Indeed, The Emigrant reveals that tension on a more profound and abstract level than any other Canadian poem of its period: at the heart of O’Grady’s creativity lies the gulf between inherited established conventions and the enormity of unfamiliar personal experience which can render those conventions obsolete. His formal belatedness is significant because his poem reveals strikingly the limits of his chosen form, and records his own struggle, probably half-conscious at best, to break beyond them. One cannot read The Emigrant, in fact, without a clear neutral sense of the poet’s dated models, or without a strong evaluative reaction to those points at which his models cease to function.
     The opening lines of The Emigrant, with their confident masculine rhymes, immediately assert the poem’s Augustan intentions. The weak chiasmus of the second line (“Our main sails flutter, and our ships set sail”) signals the presence of a speaker who intends to show both a mastery of English syntax and a pleasing rhetorical wit. The “bold intrepid tar” of the third line bespeaks the poet’s tendency to generalize and categorize human behaviour and personality, and to express those categories via a familiar albeit grandiose lexicon. The zeugma of the forth line (“Crews of the Ocean, and the Bolivar”) relies on a syntactical parallelism which will emerge as a habitual means of organizing extended pieces of thought; here the first phrase will be briefly construed as a metaphor for the sailor’s way of life, until the second bursts in as a literal and local example of that life, on board the specific ship the “Bolivar.” Similarly parallel syntax dominates his fourth couplet, when O’Grady notes that Ireland had been “too rudely swayed / By new raised patriots, and their sons betrayed.” This last phrase stands in parallel relation to “swayed / By . . . patriots,” and its sense (“swayed / By new raised patriots, and [by] their sons betrayed,”) is only comprehensible once we submit to the governing conventions of O’Grady’s language and style. [page xxv]
     Once we do become acclimatized in this balanced and structured rhetorical world, O’Grady’s manner becomes less difficult. It can be turned to effect in elaborate and highly-structured passages:

Ye venial tribe, ye mercenary few,
False to your soil, yet to your interest true,
Whom Britons spurn, when blended in debate,
As some love treason, though the traitor hate;
What have ye gained, a rabble council brought
To plunge the state, alas! too dearly bought;
Too late ye mourn, the conflict what it cost,
When all your boasted suffrage is lost!
What have ye done, ye batten as ye roam,
And leave fell feuds and poverty at home?

It can give bite and point to a single couplet as it turns honourable military death into cowardly suicide: “The state may claim an Anthony or Cesar, / These felt the sword whilst others used the razor” (418-419); it can imply a judgment of a character in O’Grady’s love-story with relatively little intrusive comment:

Lord Gifford came, and all his charms displayed,
Wealth, pomp, equipage, with all its train,
A cumbrous nuisance waiting on the vain;
Here came his suit, six Lords composed his van,
Six noble Peers all graced his wise divan,
Squires, Esquires, Knights, all men of high degree,
In modern pomp and pride of pageantry,
The ill manned pack, obstreperous and shrill,
The babbling hunters more discordant still;
Pads, spaniels, guns, and dogs of different race,
But ill arranged as worthless in the chace. . . .

The carefully ironic symmetries in the passage indicate the poet’s temper: his sarcastic alignment by rhyme of “train” with “vain,” “degree” with “pageantry”; his juxtaposition of the “pack” of dogs with the pack of men, the resulting comparison in the canines’ favour; his elaborate structuring of the Lord’s “train” on the coattails of “six Peers,” whose attendance on Gifford’s “divan” strikes a strongly Moslem and hence (to O’Grady’s contemporaries) a pejorative note; the appositions in the first three lines quoted, suggesting an alignment of Lord Gifford’s “charms,” his “Wealth, pomp and equipage” (that is, he has no personal charms) and “A cumbrous nuisance” —that is, his claim to Sylvia’s love on the basis of his financial power is no more than a burden to her sincerer sensibilities.
     As the quotations suggest, O’Grady tends to call up his high neoclassical manner for the more satiric moments in The Emigrant—when he speaks, for [page xxvi] instance, of the Irish situation, of English indifference to her foreign subjects, of Papineau and Napoleon, of the United States and (as we have just seen) of false-hearted and shallow lovers. When he merely relates the picturesque and attracting details of his Canadian emigration, he sheds his stylistic elaborateness: he simplifies his diction, and his verse unit tends to match more exactly his syntactic unit, as in his first glimpse of the new world:

Avast! avast! see Scotia’s land in sight,
I view her pinnacles ’neath yonder light;
The listening crew all eager crowd to view,
The land of promise, and explore the new.
High on each summit towering forests stand,
Above, beneath, immeasurable land;
Not e’en a vista strikes the straining eye,
Impenetrable woods each space supply. . . .

Despite the persistent balance and decorous progress of the sentences, the occasionally striking parallelism (“land of promise . . . explore the new”), the manner of the passage is relatively restrained: effects of witty equivocation and ironic juxtaposition are avoided. This restraint allows the vision of “Scotia” a tangible force which it would not have had if we were also responding to the dominant linguistic and syntactic power of our poet at the same time. O’Grady intuits that his vision of the emigrant world is a sufficient source of poetic interest, requiring little adornment.
     His best passages tend therefore to be his most strongly visual and tangible, and these are usually stylistically subdued and unobtrusive descriptions of locations and incidents in the New World. The reader’s taste must of course judge, but no none will deny a striking difference in flavour (even if not in quality) between the passages of The Emigrant which drift back to Ireland for a review of politics and economics in that country and those passages which quietly and humbly record the striking incidents of O’Grady’s voyage. His contemplation of the ocean-scape and its inhabitants (91-102), his description of the falls at “Morency” (670-693), his relation of Indian burial rituals against a backdrop of violent snowfall (1052-1087)—these subdued observations are among the better pleasures of The Emigrant, and they show O’Grady’s understanding that an elaborate poetic may intrude upon the sensitive evocation of a new and at once appealing and disturbing landscape. 
     If on the simplest level, that of style, The Emigrant exemplifies a tension between English conventions and their modulation by Canadian realities, on the larger level of structure the tension becomes profound and eventually damaging. O’Grady’s largely random patterns of digression and his adamant incorporation of various sub-genres into the poem—travelogue, emigrant guide-book, personal confession, pastoral elegy—will no doubt frustrate the reader in search of decisive structural unities. But we must be careful to distinguish such idiosyncratic structures [page xxvii], unfamiliar as they may be, from the truly subversive incoherence which only enters the poem at the mid-point and completely shatters the organized randomness achieved in the poem’s first half. It can be all too tempting to respond to his early digressions by suggesting that O’Grady was unsure of his form, that he padded his poem of emigration with elaborate reflections upon political Ireland because he had no governing aesthetic vision of the new world in which he found himself. In such a reading, The Emigrant is incoherent from the start, passing no more than six lines in the company of the Emigrant himself before retreating to an initial lamentation for the “fall” of an ideal Ireland. From such a perspective, ensuing passages would only confirm the poem’s apparent incoherence through a lack of “Canadian” focus and unity.
     To lay such charges is to ignore, however, the tradition in which O’Grady obliquely places himself: that of the eighteenth-century travel narrative, with its bewildering conventions of random observation, continual digression and narrative freedom. Charles Batten’s treatment of this prose genre reveals astutely the modern tendency to judge such narratives in relation to Romantic appeals to subjectivism, organicism and unity, and to ignore the fact that “An eighteenth century reader, expecting neither anecdotal subject-matter nor thematic organization in a travel book, would probably only laugh at such blatant disregard for generic convetion.”51 Batten demonstrates that the eighteenth-century reader would on the contrary “condemn travel books that seem[ed] too autobiographical,” because the traveler “should never play an important role in his own book.”52
     Needless to say, the author who attempted to describe his personal journey without personalizing his account faced some difficulty: his understandings and sentiments, indeed his very movements, gave coherence to his narrative, but these had to be minimalized so as not to offend the generalizing taste of his readers. In one modern solution to the problem, the travel-account presented a fairly neutral panorama of foreign cities and citizens, permitting limited subjective comment only when such comment rose naturally from the descriptions:

By reflecting on the moral, political, economic or cultural implications of various foreign and domestic scenes, the eighteenth-century traveler often characterized himself as a philosophic, splenetic, or sentimental traveler without resorting to detailed autobiographical narratives. But since reflections—like aquatints—do not form an essential part of every travel book, the amount of space devoted to such matters varies greatly from one account to another. Nevertheless, the traveler who chose to include reflections usually strove for four essential qualities: his opinions should not be too numerous, they should arise naturally out of the places described, they should be original, and they should not prejudicially conflict with accepted moral or political opinions.53 [page xxviii]

The agile travel-writer who could introduce “reflections” into his narrative within such constraints had also to prevent them from overwhelming his narrative structure: “the presence of at least a minimal narrative was one of the necessary attributes of the genre.”54  To ignore this imperative was to risk the censure that Dr. Johnson passed on traveler Jonas Hanway’s accounts, in which “digression starts from digression, and one subject follows another with or without connexion.”55 O’Grady’s readers will soon discover the pertinency of the censure.
     Of course, O’Grady makes no explicit appeal to the conventions of travel-literature in The Emigrant. We should not be exclusive, however, in our post-facto definitions of the “emigration” genre. A poet of O’Grady’s day who had chose such a subject had, in effect, no conventions within which to operate, and must either have gone ahead in a vacuum, or have turned to some vaguely cognate genre for the structure of his work. Certainly the genre that Batten describes illuminates the structures of O’Grady’s poem, and to some extent forecasts its difficulties; and it permits O’Grady’s elaborate digressions to be explicated in relation to generic conventions which are otherwise invisible in the poem. It is still striking, for instance, that O’Grady’s first digression begins at the seventh line of the poem, but one may now defend the aptness of a meditation on Ireland which begins quite naturally during a scene of departure from Ireland, and point out that the poet’s political views are just “original” enough to leave them safely acceptable to a Protestant and Tory audience, whether in Ireland or Canada.
     O’Grady’s reader must accept from the beginning, then, that this emigration-narrative will be interrupted regularly by the author’s social, political, economic and religious opinions. To treat these legitimated digressions as intrusions on the “unity” of The Emigrant is to demand an entirely different kind of poem. The only evaluative standards we should apply to this pattern are the standards of the genre, and on that basis I will have more to say about the success of O’Grady’s generic imitation later. His attempt, however, was to relate the story of one emigrant’s experience, from his departure from Ireland to debarkation in Québec, by means of extended description, and to intersperse within that narrative a series of reflections upon the political and economic climate in the Ireland and England of his day. These reflections are not extraneous to his Canadian experience; they are of the essence of that experience, since to O’Grady to be “Canadian” meant little more than to be an exile from Ireland. The flowering of our own cultural nationalism should not blind us to the sensitivity of the poet’s predicament as a man withdrawn from the sustenance of an established and familiar culture. A more unified “Canadian” narrative would have been a dishonest narrative; indeed, it is not going too far to suggest that O’Grady’s turn-and-turn-about travelogue is the more appropriate form for a poet caught, as it were, between two cultures, neither of which had a defined place for him to fill.
     By extension, we should not respond to O’Grady’s set-piece romance of Sylvia and Alfred as intrusive and irrelevant material; on the contrary, in its bridging of [page xxix] Ireland and Canada it reflects directly the effort of narrative synthesis which O’Grady’s structure implies. To question the set-piece’s integration into the travel-narrative is another matter, because that is to evaluate O’Grady’s control of his own conventions; but we must recognize, and to some degree submit to, those conventions if we are to respond to The Emigrant appropriately. A useful comparison may be made to Goldsmith’s The Rising Village, which contains, by way of parallel, the story of Albert and Flora. Goldsmith’s lovers are as superfluous to his initial structure as are O’Grady’s, but they are united with it by careful narrative integration (see Explanatory Notes, 530ff.). Goldsmith’s manipulation of the set-piece is skilled and craftsmanlike, whereas O’Grady’s is clumsy and abrupt, but the validity of the insertion of the romance cannot be at issue in The Emigrant. For that decision, however intrusive the result to our contemporary taste, O’Grady had extensive authority.
     In matters of structure, form and poetic style, then, O’Grady’s reader should be prepared for a fairly traditional eighteenth-century travel-narrative with interspersed digression, in a verse form shaped by the later neoclassical tradition. The greater a reader’s comprehension of the principles of arrangement, digression, balance, description and meditation relied upon in that tradition, the more complete his response to The Emigrant is likely to be. Although O’Grady himself is unable to sustain an Augustan spirit of order and harmony, especially in the latter half of the poem, it is present throughout The Emigrant as a standard of cultural achievement to which the poet consciously and unconsciously appeals in his every turn of thought. In the light of such a standard, The Emigrant must be evaluated and criticized, not so much because the poem betrays its author’s ignorance of contemporary developments in literature and the arts at the time of his departure from Ireland in 1836, but chiefly because on its own belatedly Augustan terms its author is not always completely in control of his materials.
     In considering O’Grady’s success within his chosen conventions, the heroic couplet provides an appropriate point of departure. The dangers of the form in the hands of an unskilled practitioner are obvious, and O’Grady is not without his moments of rhythmic monotony and absurd rhyme-forced inversions. O’Grady is in fact unable to keep to the metre; he regularly abandons its constrictions by leaving out a requisite foot (“The way impervious to the eye,” 1.1116; “If I be eat by worms or by flies,” 1.1278) or by adding one (11.1789-1790). In one startling passage he throws his metre over altogether:

. . . Whose frozen air, on one bleak winter’s night
Can metamorphose dark brown hares to white!
Whose roads are rivers, o’er your fountains
See icebergs form your shining mountains,
And drifted snow, from arctic regions,
Gives sure employment to Canadians;
Here roads ne’er known for many a summer, [page xxx]
Are now passt o’er by each new-comer,
All wrought one night, nor made of stone or gravel,
Complete withal and next day fit to travel. . . .

(It is a sign of our modern myopia about O’Grady’s eighteenth-century models that this entirely uncharacteristic section should have been excerpted from the whole for Carl F. Klinck and R.E. Watters’s Canadian Anthology; the reader of this anthology will meet an O’Grady with an attractively spontaneous sense of rhythm, an O’Grady who is in fact deviating from his own sense of poetic taste.) To note such aberrations is merely to imply that O’Grady was not the master of his verse rhythm, but his attention to the couplet brings him into still hotter waters when he struggles to establish a pleasing rhyme:

The sun went down, yet I almost forgot
What Poets say: that rosy roving sot. . . .

Beamed forth each ardent glance as lovers do
From sparkling eyes who slily wish to woo. . . .

Nor use like other fiercer tribes Mohawk
The torturing Torments of the tomahawk.

In these examples, O’Grady is forced by his sense of rhyme to appear absent-minded, sentimental, and syntactically profligate. He insults the sun as a “sot,” inserts a needless auxiliary and an absurdly liquid alliteration (“slily wish to soo”), and tortures English syntax with his “fiercer tribes Mohawk.” The bulk of his rhymes are, to be sure, competent and controlled, but these errors of taste are frequent enough to signal to the reader a poet whose attention to form is entirely distinct from and stronger than his attention to subtlety and clarity.
     One should not presume too quickly, however, that O’Grady was merely a third-rate poet whose productions would necessarily reflect a lack of even minor genius. O’Grady’s occasional inabilities with the verse form are related to larger structural difficulties that he seems to have experienced with the entire project of the poem, and those structural problems in turn reflect not only a lack of requisite skill but also a personal condition of anguish and isolation which interfere with the poet’s formal intentions of harmony, order and balance. In effect, an examination of The Emigrant with an eye to its inability to maintain its own structural and narrative premises reveals a contrasting sensibility—a painful emotionalism, a tendency to histrionic outburst, a determinedly confessional and intimate spirit—which continually intrudes upon the refinements of the verse form, and reveals its dated qualities, doing so, not abstractly, in relation to our sense of the appropriate pace of [page xxxi] the English tradition, but in the concrete and practical obstacles that sensibility presents to the successful conclusion of a polished and consistent neoclassical narrative.
     The first half of The Emigrant adheres to the structural conventions of eighteenth-century travel narratives described above. In the opening scene, the poet describes the day of departure from Ireland, and proceeds to a consideration of the various corruptions and injustices in Ireland which force such exiles. There follows a sympathetic description of the emigrants and an elaborate reminder to England that these men and women, now “spurned,” had in the past laid down their lives in her defence. Such considerations concluded, the poet returns to the emigration-narrative at line seventy-five, and treats of various subjects: the curious fact that the two emigration-ships in convoy were commanded by two brothers, the picturesque animal life of the sea, the setting of the sun and brightness of the moon, and so on. A brief meditation on the planet “Georgium Sidus” (Uranus) discovered in 1783 does not so much break from the emigration-narrative as effectively ironize it, and upon the conclusion of the meditation the narrative is smoothly resumed. It continues uninterrupted until line three hundred and forty, at which point another treatment of the Irish situation emerges, with a new focus on the subjugation of the independent Irish parliament to the English in 1801. The political point is made for some hundred lines, a lengthy treatment, certainly, but one whose conclusion (422) nevertheless returns the reader to the reassuring orderliness of the emigration narrative. This structure of narration and digression continues in a controlled and regular manner until the poet’s debarkation at Quebec (941).
     The only significant break from the pattern is in the initiation of the love-story of Sylvia and Alfred (530-657). The set-piece is not smoothly integrated; its only connection with the preceding material is that O’Grady had been speaking of “those to wretchedness consigned,” and the climax of Sylvia’s and Alfred’s love near the end of the poem will indeed be wretched. The poet makes no introductory effort to situate Sylvia and Alfred within his own emigration-narrative, apparently preferring for now to present a romantic fiction by way of interesting digression. In the middle of the first portion of their story, however, the set-piece and the emigration-narrative are fictionally integrated: Sylvia and Alfred were “alike revered the darlings of our crew” (587). With that single line (and with no other) O’Grady asserts the “reality” of Sylvia and Alfred and draws their fictional romance into the realm of his own dramatized “fact.” The achievement of that integration leads to the conclusion of the first portion of the love-story, in which Sylvia and Alfred, to escape the wrath of her forbidding father, themselves emigrate from Ireland; their embarkation occurs at line six hundred and forty, and echoes quite ingeniously the embarkation of O’Grady himself in the first line of the poem (see Explanatory Notes 640-641).
     The story of Sylvia and Alfred temporarily concluded, the poet contemplates the splendour of the Falls of “Morency” and of the Ile d’Orléans, digresses briefly in a tribute to the bards of Ireland, depicts the harbour at Quebec, meditates upon the [page xxxii] history of the Plains of Abraham, and debarks at line nine hundred and forty-one. This debarkation effectively signals the end of O’Grady’s governing emigration-narrative, although forty-odd lines (1006-1051) with their depiction of the “tin clad” churches and the “convert Indian tribes” who pray in them, are arguably continuous with that narrative. Beyond that passage, however, the poet rejects his original structure. Rather than provide a linear narration of his first journeys through Lower Canada to his land-purchase in Sorel, indeed rather than extend that narrative to include the difficulties of farm establishment, O’Grady at debarkation abandons the emigration-narrative and begins a series of fairly random observations of colonial scenes, still interspersed with frequent considerations of the Irish question. After his description of the “convert tribes”, for instance, he relates a new fictional in which his emigrant-persona can have played no active part, an Indian burial-ritual in a winter landscape (1052f.). In thus rejecting the soundly-established structure in which an emigrating speaker recounts his own experiences, O’Grady clearly risks losing the focus of his poem. Digression, as Samuel Johnson warned, can only be defined within a consistent structure from which one digresses. After the debarkation, O’Grady digresses not from a governing narrative but from a previous digression or fiction which has no equivalent structuring power. Thus, the burial-ritual concluded, the poet begins an admonition to fellow Irishmen to stay at home rather than brave the “vicissitudes” of the Canadas (1098-1169), which is followed in turn by a tribute to Sir John Colborne. By free association the Colborne tribute then calls up a meditation upon “a just imperious sway,” and then—by ironic contrast—a consideration of the dangers of ambition in this world.
     Indeed, if it were not a term loaded with psychological implications, I would offer “free association” as a governing structural principle in the later part of The Emigrant. The transition from his treatment of Indians taken away from their native soil (1088-1097) to Irishmen emigrating from theirs (1098-1125), for example, is based on such an associative structure; there is no reason, however creative and inspirational the reasoner, to return to the question of emigration at this point, and it can only be accounted for by noticing that O’Grady’s images of expatriated Indians and expatriated Irishmen involve parallel sentiments of regret and exhortation. In turn, the tribute to Colborne that follows (1170-1193) arises only because his warning to potential emigrant Irishmen have led him to denounce the lack of wisdom in the colonial administration (1168), and the poet fears that such a denunciation might conceivably offend his possible patron. O’Grady’s flattering treatment of Colborne next leads him to claim that a noble title must be backed up by military valour (1196-1199), which gives rise to a consideration of misguided military valour, in relation to Napoleon (1200-1205). But before the treatment of Napoleon is even under way the speaker is praying to be spared a similar worldly ambitiousness (1206-1217); that prayer completed, he realizes that there is a kind of ambition which is acceptable, and a discourse on such ambition follows, as a rejoinder to the prayer (1218-1223). At this point The Emigrant is a poem very [page xxxiii] much in process before our eyes, a poem whose structure is determined more by response and counter-response than by determined creative vision.
     One must not be too linear, of course, in one’s critical principles, especially not when dealing with a poet of such determined lateral tendencies. To be sure, the various passages noted above have in common a root dichotomy of worldly power versus powerless Stoicism which strives to unify them on an other than structural level. But O’Grady’s tendency to move forward by association becomes more severe as The Emigrant continues; he is not always so easily defended by the critic’s location of implicit thematic unities. I will not rehearse at length the random structure of the second half of O’Grady’s poem; suffice to say that it comprehends a sarcastic and bitter treatment of Louis-Joseph Papineau, patriote leader in 1837, a poignant consideration of the immortality of the soul, a prayer for Christian stoicism, a description of one or two military incidents during the various Rebellions of 1837 and 1838, a tribute to Thomas Sawtell (the poet’s supportive neighbour and friend in Sorel and husband of Ethelind Sawtell, poetess), another tribute to the O’Grady family at home in Ireland, a few descriptions of the bleakness of the Canadian winter, a sarcastic treatment of French Canadians, the second episode of Sylvia and Alfred, and a final vision of hapless squirrel and rook during a typical Canadian tempest. These various parts of the poem generally bear little relation to one another; they do not cohere within any governing fiction or narrative; there is no visible principle of balance in their treatments, minor incidents receiving equal elaboration to major. By the time the reader thrashes through them to the end of the poem, there awaits no effective closure whatsoever of the poem’s structure.
     Indeed, the concluding lines of The Emigrant present nothing more than a desperate and flailing attempt to gather together the varios random strands of the poem’s second half and generate from their mutual friction sufficient energy to conclude dramatically:

Thus doomed to serve six winter months at least,
The day’s repast or each contingent feast;
Exhausted nature sullen at the sight,
Combines each gloomy object to affright;
Rebellion raging, ruthless is the foe,
Urged by Mackenzie and vile Papineau,
Who stand aloof, whilst suffering Britons chide
A Gosford’s politics, a Durham’s pride;
Yet cheering hopes their absence best supplies
Whilst mighty Wolfe in Colborne till survives.

Thrown together are the horror of the Canadian winter, the horror of war, the vileness of Papineau, the problem of maladministration in Canada and the brilliance of Colborne. Their apparent alignment is deceptive; there is no logical or syntactical relation at all between the first two lines of the concluding passage; rebellion now [page xxxiv] rages once more, although the bulk of the poem relies on the fact that the Rebellion of Papineau has collapsed utterly; the pronoun reference in the second-last line (“their”) is profoundly obscure (the “absence” of Gosford’s politics? of Durham’s pride? why would the “absence” of two clearly negative figures necessitate the “cheering” up of “suffering Britons”?); and finally—the most dramatic condemnation one can make of the poem’s conclusion—the last line is lifted bodily from the song of tribute to the Glengarry Volunteers included by O’Grady in his Note 28. One can only conclude that in his desperate effort to close the poem on a resounding note—aware moreover that he required a vague rhyme for “supplies”—O’Grady fell on the other poem and seized a line from it for the end of the first canto of The Emigrant. The rhyme is triumphantly inaccurate, and the sudden invocation of Colborne makes little sense as a conclusion to O’Grady’s poem of emigrant experience.
     My reading of the poem’s conclusion reveals my conviction that the randomness and incoherence of O’Grady’s structures in the second half of The Emigrant cannot be attributed to authorial intention. One may grant that the debarkation at Quebec permits a relative loosening up of the emigration-narrative—that after this point it becomes possible to treat in turn various aspects of colonial existence without asserting the governing fiction of a traveling emigrant to attest to them. But to extend such poetic license to the abrupt discontinuities of the poem’s second half is to be gullible, rather than open-minded, about the poem’s intelligence. In my view, O’Grady quite lost control of his focus on his material: beginning to compose in a more occasional manner a series of verse fragments which he intended to integrate into the poem, he finally—and for reasons I will not guess at—failed to so integrate them, instead merely tacking them on one after another in a cumulative (and unconvincing) poetic structure. It would be charming to attribute, as one might in a modern work, the fragmentation of the poem to the fragmentation of the poet’s consciousness, and to suggest that he deliberately refused closure in the poem because his experience as a Canadian had similarly resisted interpretive closure. One could then respond favourably to the second half of The Emigrant by assuming that O’Grady deliberately broke it up into incoherent portions because his own experience became fragmented and disorderly upon debarkation at Quebec. But this would be to ignore the obvious effort in the first half of the poem to sustain a coherent and orderly structure in which fiction alternated regularly with limited digression, and, moreover, would grant to O’Grady more benefits of the doubt than I, for one, am prepared to give him. To put it bluntly, in my view The Emigrant eventually collapses as a poetic structure, and in its second thousand lines is interesting primarily as an exemplum of colonial artistic failure.
     That failure must be understood in relation, however, to the increasingly confessional and intimate focus of the later portions of the poem. Batten’s claim that the eighteenth-century travel-writer attempted to suppress anecdotal and autobiographical reflections that would be considered irrelevant to the matter at hand [page xxxv] reveals the pre-Romantic recognition that one may respond sensitively to land and people without elaborating one’s own personality in depth or detail. In his interpretation, modern attitudes to travel-literature of the eighteenth century are distortively preconditioned by (for instance) Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, where the speaker’s sensitive evocation of external curiosities is carefully balanced by an equally sensitive exploration of the moods of his own wandering soul. In Batten’s interpretation one must overcome such preconceptions before approaching “travel” as the stuff of literature in pre-Romantic writing. In such a cautious mood one responds to the first half of The Emigrant without expecting confessionalism or personalized meditation, and indeed is given little of these; the Emigrant who crosses the Atlantic is a generalized figure, a reasonable and educated man who records his observations in a relatively neutral manner.
     The fragmentation of this structure in the second half of the poem is matched, however, by a series of increasingly confessional digressions in a particularized and personal tone. The first hint of this transition occurs relatively early:

Here would I rest where ceaseless billows keep,
Where love lies plaint and shepherdesses weep. . . .
Assist, my Muse, inspire my secret soul!
Such sights congenial kindred glooms bestow,
Indulge my mind and mitigate my woe.
                               (704-705, 712-715)

The pastoralism of this passage keeps us at a distance, however, from its suddenly weary speaker, who dramatizes his pain in a familiar and conventional context, and appeals just as conventionally to his Muse to “mitigate his woe.” The “woe” is abstract (as yet), but later passages specify it and hence reduce the aesthetic distance between poet and speaker. The story of “faithless Maria” which follows close upon the above passage is the first to present us with a speaker whose specific emotions are a subject of the poem; this bitter and trite tale of unrequited love (for a possible explanation of which see Explanatory Notes, 722) forces us to accept a more personalized and dramatized character than the faceless emigrant-narrator we have been accustomed to since the opening. That the “two” are one is made clear by the tribute to “Rollo” (757-781) which is ironically juxtaposed with the censure of Maria. Rollo was the dog who crossed the Atlantic with our original speaker, so his “death” in the interim brings a puzzling temporal reality to our new speaker, whom we must no longer treat as a neutral recorder but as a being with emotions, with a past (when Rollo was alive) and a present (now that he is dead). Since Rollo plays a consistent part within the narrative, we have to decide whether “Maria” is to be treated as a “real” being as well, and then (the most difficult issue in all of this) decide how far O’Grady’s new narrator is to be identified with O’Grady—that is, decide whether these suddenly intimate reflections are the result of O’Grady’s powerful emotions bursting through the fabric of the poem, or are merely [page xxxvi] fictionalized incidents intended to give depth to the first speaker’s character.
     This complicated transition is furthered by the speaker’s imminent acknowledgement of himself as poet:

Or trace the mansion of some peaceful Bard,
Where lowly sunk, his harp may still recline,
Unknown, unstrung, as this lone harp of mine,
Which even yet might wake to fancy song. . . .

The relation between speaker and poet is thus blurred even more as the one claims identity with the other. My concern with this blurring is not meant to suggest that the poem is autobiographical and that O’Grady may be identified closely with is adopted pose in The Emigrant. I merely wish to show that the decreasing coherence in the structure of the poem’s second half is inversely proportional to the increasing personalization of O’Grady’s speaker, and that it is difficult not to conclude that O’Grady’s personal experience, powerfully bitter as it was, played a role in his inability to sustain the calm impersonality of his original model for the poem.
     The poet is briefly assertive of his original manner after the above moments of intimate talk; some hundred and fifty lines treat of the approach to Quebec, and then the crucial debarkation takes place (941). O’Grady now contrasts himself with the rest of the emigrants; they pursue various fortunes, “impelled by different views,”

Whilst I a cheerless wanderer seek to find
Some peaceful spot, sequester’d from mankind,
There in secluded loneliness to dwell,
And bid the world’s gay residents farewell. . . .

This is our first indication that a general disillusionment with life in Ireland has contributed to our speaker’s departure from his native country; the political, economic and social treatises of the opening pages contrast starkly with this gloomily individual explanation of his reasons for exile. The ambivalence thus created between the two ways of looking at exile motivates his next personal meditation:

There should I rest, yet why thus linger here,
To fret and freeze a winter in despair,
Perchance to die like mysticated slave. . . .
Why when to lands remote, have I not strayed
Where summer smiles and flowers never fade,
And nature seems in loveliness arrayed?
There might I rest, take thoughts from scenes sublime,
Nor fall the hapless victim of a clime.
                                           (995-997, 1001-1005) [page xxxvii]

Our weary speaker re-enters the impersonal relation of Canadian scenes and customs, and (disarmingly) considers that he might have had a kinder treatment from a Bahamian winter. We are forced to deal, at this point, with a speaker with a personality, a man with preferences based on private experience with which we have not as yet been made acquainted.
     Perhaps more important, a considerable rupture has occurred within the poem’s original structure: The Emigrant opens within a fiction of present-tense experience, so that we embark in Ireland and witness a series of incidents as if the emigration were taking place before our eyes. In the above speaker, however, we are forced to come to terms with an experienced emigrant, one who has felt the pangs of a Canadian winter and feels a need to relate his suffering to those who might be considering a voyage to the Canadas. We are thus made to shift from one temporal context to another because the poet is allowing a present-day perspective, circa 1840, to intrude on his fiction of a present-tense unfolding of the emigration experience in 1836. This shift is in keeping with the abandonment of the emigration-narrative half-way through the poem, and explains (if not justifies) the series of inchoate meditations and denunciations which pepper the second half.
     Since we are now in the hands of a poet trying to make some sense of his emigration-experience post facto (of the progress of which I shall have more to say in Section “III”), the second half of The Emigrant is full of personal and often obscure references which can only have meaning in their relation to O’Grady’s personal experience—that is to say, the usual critical caution which distinguishes between poet and speaker is harder and harder to maintain because O’Grady seems determined to shatter it. His tributes to Colborne (1170-1193), to Sawtell (1542-1553) and to Dr. Carter (1554-1559) signal the complete collapse of the fiction of the just-arrived emigrant-speaker; we can now only react to the voice of The Emigrant as O’Grady’s. The passage dealing with Sawtell is particularly revealing in this regard, as it provides yet another wrinkle in this complicated narrative fabric. The tribute is followed almost immediately by the following startling obituary:

Even now must I, attendant on his hearse,
Commute my strains to elegiac verse!
Thus doubly doomed, in sadness to deplore
My valued friend, loved Sawtell, now no more!

In Note 32, appended to this section, O’Grady explains the curiosity:

…whilst engaged in the writing of this poem, at the very critical period when at that stage he found this tribute incumbent on him, he had the mortification to hear of the death of his beloved friend, than whom no better man existed; how painful at that period became his sufferings, the commutation of verse, as expressed in [page xxxviii] page 97 [11. 1558-1577], continues the subject from a living character to one now no more, whose memory is still cherished in the extreme bitterness of sorrow.

O’Grady’s Note creates an astonishing fiction of creative immediacy. He claims that he wrote the passage of tribute (1542-1553), paused in the composition of the poem having completed the passage, learned of the death of his friend, and was forced to incorporate the fact of his death into the lines quoted above. We do well to be skeptical of such claims, but I confess an inclination to believe O’Grady in this case. The image of a daily period of composition into which would be incorporated the day’s experiences, whether or not they accorded with the plan or apparent flow of the poem, seems to me to chime perfectly with the randomness and incoherence with which I have charged the second half of The Emigrant. I can see no reason O’Grady’s claim if it were not true; it so disingenuously confirms the absence on his part of a governing conception of the poem’s structure that one can hardly imagine that he inserted it in a spirit of self-flattery. The Note strips naked, in effect, the pattern of composition implied by the incoherence that mutilates the latter half of the work.
     Further examples of this personalized speaker who is in all respects equivalent to O’Grady himself will be discerned by the reader. The poet meditates upon the possibility of his verse’s survival (1584-1591), remembers social pleasantries in Ireland (1598-1600), curses his “Ungrateful offspring” (1603-1613; a reference which makes no sense in relation to our impersonal speaker and can only have meaning in relation to O’
Grady himself), refers obliquely to prominent members of the O’Grady family (a passage treated in Section “I” above), integrates himself and his own residence in Sorel into the second episode of Sylvia and Alfred (1865-1871), and works up to his conclusion with a smattering of flattering references to men of local influence in Sorel (2121-2124). These various personal meditations provide the grounding (such as it is) in the second half of The Emigrant, where the treatments of Ireland, of Papineau and of rebellion in general, and of French-Canadian social life are now part of a fabric of personal confession rather than digressions from a linear fiction of emigration and exploration. This mode of confessionalism accounts in large part for the randomness of the poem’s second half; once O’Grady allows into his structure an occasional personal expression or lamentation, he loses touch with the controlling fiction of present-tense discovery which underpins his first thousand lines.
     The Emigrant begins, then, as a conscious effort on the part of a neoclassically trained and educated Irishman to relate his experience as an emigrant within a familiar travel-fiction that transmutes memory into immediate fictive experience, but concludes in a wide deviation from that structure, a deviation seemingly brought about by an equally powerful desire to come to terms with a variety of (usually morbid) personal experience which began after emigration. This deviation must be [page xxxix] considered, given the clear literary models which govern the first part of the poem, a failure on O’Grady’s part to sustain his belated neoclassical conventions in the face of an overwhelmingly disorienting, isolating and embittering experience as a failed farmer in the Lower Province in he years from 1836 to about 1840. The fascination of the poem lies in precisely this failure, this clash between reliable models of old-world creativity and a new-world empirical reality which renders those models inoperative.


: Views of the Emigrant: Ambivalence and Contradiction


O’Grady’s patterns of intellectual analysis and his treatment of various contemporary matters reveal an analogous tendency toward dualism and ambivalence. Just as the poem’s form and structure come to crisis and break down under the pressure of an increasingly confessional mood, so too O’Grady’s political, cultural and religious doctrine is presented at first with an effect of logic and reason, but is soon confounded and contradicted by painful feelings which arise out of his emigration experience. One source of this duality is O’Grady’s eighteenth-century and Enlightenment tendency to conceptualize human life as a fruitful tension between harmoniously opposed forces kept in a carefully structured balance by a Providential deity. But it is also his personal habit to waver in his loyalties, to espouse an idea and then denounce it, and speak passionately for its antithesis. Our response to such tendencies must be relative to their context; the poet’s vacillation may be a sign of open-mindedness and a spirit of fair play, or it may signal unconsidered contradictions in his thinking which necessarily weaken the force of The Emigrant. It becomes a part of the critical task, therefore, to separate enriching ambivalence from destructive contradiction in the poem, and it is a sensitive task, for the poet presents his dualism without providing many clues as to how they are to be interpreted.
     The symmetries of O’Grady’s neoclassical syntax, for example, have a necessary impact on his patterns of imagery. He rarely allows a single brief image to symbolize a concept, preferring instead to balance each image with its opposite or complementary image:

And truant debtors sought no rules to plead,
And good men smiled, and still more promptly paid.

It was no mist ethereal from a cloud,
But formed from earth, its coverlet a shroud,
Extending far that dimmed the ample plain,
Yet left the spacious firmament serene. . . .
                                                                  (215-218) [page xl]

There tyrant man extends no despot rule,
Nor seeks new worlds for conquest and control.
No artful tools polemic schemes devise,
A rude wrought booth all dignity supplies,
None seeks aggression, each withal maintains
The right succinctly of his just domains;
None battle awes in rightful deeds approved,
Each mighty chieftain militates unmoved. . . .

Perhaps to the modern reader the elaborate antinomian imagery of the latter passage (for instance) will seem forced and unnecessarily deliberate; to O’Grady, however, such careful balancing of one’s concepts reflects appropriately the attention of God to a similar balancing of Indian against European social intercourse. It is not enough for him to assert “no despot rule, / Nor . . . conquest and control,” nor “polemic schemes”; he must also assert the “dignity” of “a rude wrought booth,” the “right. . . of. . . just domains” and the impassive justice of the “mighty chieftain.” He thus lays claim to the apparent attractiveness of Indian life and at the same time ironically counterpoints it with the (implicitly European) brutality of political man.
     Such tendencies in O’Grady’s imagery, when coupled with the habitual parallelism of his sentences, create a rhetoric of logical analysis to which he may appeal when he discourses upon the practical issues of his day. A case in point occurs when, in an address to Britain, the poet contrasts, for instance, Ireland and England, benevolent administration and exploitation, reform and rebellion, in a superficially logical structure leading to a conclusive demand for change:

Still canst though aid thy nation’s strength secure,
Nor spurn the humble annals of thy poor;
Thy desert tracts can all their wants supply,
Link nature’s bonds and then a world defy.
Give Erin’s sons that boon they humbly crave,
And form a fond alliance with the brave,
Your generous sons, with no degenerate pride,
Will hail the act, just government abide;
With fond affection (angry thoughts repressed:)
And help the hand gave happiness its rest.

O’Grady’s instinctive dualism insists that England’s security can be compatible with a beneficent poor law, that the open untenanted lands of the British Isles can be first re-populated and then exploited, that the Irish are “generous” not “degenerate,” “fond” and not “angry,” and that a liberalized British policy towards Ireland would create, not a rambunctious child, but a dutiful and fulfilled son. The appeal of the passage is of course emotional rather than logical—it is promised, in its Irish context, on a love of England’s institutions and culture that only an Irish Protestant [page xli] would have felt (and then only rarely)—but O’Grady’s elaborate oppositions create an effect of reasonableness which restrains and hence gives point to that emotionalism.
     In their most immediate effect such patterns of imagery create a profound dualism at the heart of O’Grady’s every idea in The Emigrant. Whatever his subject, however sound his logic and consistent his interpretations, the reader attempting to come to terms with O’Grady’s thinking on the various issues treated in the poem—Irish politics, Canadian rebellion, religious faith—must necessarily enter a world in which every concept has an antithesis that must be treated (or sublimated) in turn. In the passages above, such dialectical tendencies enrich the treatment of Indian culture and Irish aspiration. In their more general application the same tendencies create striking counterpoints of interpretation in which O’Grady’s habitual means of describing certain experiences fall into analogous dichotomies of imagery and manner.
     The most revealing of these dichotomies is the opposition of O’Grady’s memorative treatment of Ireland and the old world to his dramatic presentation of Canada and the new. When he digresses, in keeping with his travel-literature paradigm, to assess the Irish question, O’Grady’s mentality becomes more abstract, his thoughts more philosophical and general, and his imagery less concrete; Ireland emerges, in effect, as an intellectual problem, its pressing reality having been left behind:

Land of my fathers, oft too rudely swayed
By new raised patriots, and their sons betrayed;
How changed from virtues of the good old times,
When precept left no precedent for crimes,
When word was sacred, hence no mystic flaw,
And honour bright promulgated the law;
When word was deed, and kind successors found
A sacred trust, by obligations bound;
No local scribe, so technical to tell,
Where scarce one scrivener was known to dwell;
Yet all prescribed, and faithful to the fact,
In simple language, bound them to the act.

Again, not the elaborate symmetries (“When word was sacred. . . / When word was deed . . . “), the careful oppositions (“sacred, hence no mystic”), and the poet’s sense of an innate justice in the human makeup which requires no correction by political and judicial institutions such as those imposed on Ireland by the English articulates the conscious problem of the Irish, but makes no effort to visualize Ireland—a land he misses passionately—in concrete and accessible imagery.
     Lest this sound like a demand for Imagism from an eighteenth-century [page xlii] gentleman, contrast the empirical immediacy which enriches the following description of a Canadian thunderstorm:

Down rolls the torrent from the headlong steep,
Wide foams the gulf where fractured barriers sweep
In ruptured fragments o’er the boisterous rill,
That drowns the desert’s moan, tempestuous still
The waving pines their fastnesses forsake,
And blend their antique honours with the brake;
Now falls the mighty monarch of the brook,
No more protected by its neighbouring oak,
The turbid stream seems by the tempest stayed,
To check the ruin that itself hath made;
All nature seems convulsed, forked lightning flies,
The raging tempest cleaves the angry skies!

Clearly the Canadian reality forced a change in O’Grady’s vision. Canada is not the topographical embodiment of a series of indecipherable political issues, but a vast malign wilderness as yet uncontrolled by human government. Certainly Canada has its political troubles, its heroes and scoundrels, but these have not yet taken their place in relation to larger political and national questions, as they have in Ireland. The allusion to Daniel O’Connell (429), the Irish “Liberator,” for instance, is brief and incisive in large part because O’Grady can take O’Connell as a recognizable symbol of a certain political movement in Ireland. To be against O’Connell is to be against (as I shall soon argue) the movement for Repeal, and to be for the continued amalgamation of the old Irish with the English parliament. But O’Grady’s treatment of a Canadian rebel, Papineau, requires greater explication and narrative. Much of Papineau’s story is told in various parts of the poem and in O’Grady’s Notes, because the poet evidently feels no community of experience with his audiences that would allow him to allude to Papineau as briefly as he had to O’Connell. The Rebellion of 1837 is taken, furthermore, as the petty self-indulgence of a single man, not as a reliable symbol of French-Canadian political aspirations. O’Connell, for all his sins, receives no such denigration.
     Canada emerges, then, as a territory whose political struggles lie on its surface, and do not cut deep into the heart of its identity. As an independent entity it is realized most forcibly in its landscape, whereas Ireland is realized most forcibly in its abstract political tensions. It may be objected, naturally, that a poet describing his immediate surroundings is likely to give them a greater reality than he would the scenes of a far-distant land, and no doubt that factor accounts to some extent for O’Grady’s two different manners. But one may respond by pointing out that Canadian scenes only a little closer to home than the Ireland of his memory are realized with the same concrete vigour and immediacy, so factors of distance and time are not sufficient to explain the passages’ differences. The wreck of the [page xliii] Caroline, for instance, described with visual splendour towards the end of the poem (1453-1462), occurred in 1837, only one year after O’Grady’s last glimpses of Ireland. Since it is unlikely that he saw it himself—he thrusts the rebel ship over the falls, whereas it in fact ran aground on a small island above them—we are forced to admit that the poet could give a concrete and urgent reality to scenes which he held only in the memory and, perhaps, only in the imagination.
     The different manners are in keeping, of course, with O’Grady’s chosen form; the travel-narrative encourages exactly such an alternation between presentation of immediate visual detail and meditation upon more abstracted topics. The Emigrant, at any rate, is none the weaker for the immediate and concrete realization of Canada that it offers; nor should O’Grady receive less than full credit for that virtue of the poem. Such curious tensions add to the comprehensiveness of O’Grady’s vision and give the reader a vivid impression of the divisiveness in the poet’s own responses to his emigration and its results. Other results of that divided responsiveness, however, are not so fortuitous. O’Grady’s symmetries of syntax, imagery and apparent logic are often relied upon rhetorically to disguise points of inconsistency and contradiction which do damage, rather than contribute richness, to the poem as a whole. The line between rich ambivalence and enervating contradiction is fine and unfocussed, and precise location of it inevitably subjective, but no reader of O’Grady will long endure without a sense of that line and a willingness to respond to different dualisms in the poem in relation to it. The more flagrant contradictions in the poem have to do, not with technique (as do, for instance, the Ireland-Canada mannerisms), but with theme, and hence with O’Grady’s inability or unwillingness to impose a consistent interpretation on any vital issue.
     For instance, any attempt to sort out O’Grady’s political beliefs will be frustrated by his tendency to conceive of the Irish question as two distinct and mutually contradictory problems: the first the problem of “freedom” for Ireland (that is, Protestant Ireland), and the second the problems of Catholic insurgency. O’Grady’s appeals to a spirit of liberty and democracy when he treats the first problem are awkwardly undermined when he turns to the second, which is only to be solved by Catholic submission to the goals of imperial Britain. The root of the problems as O’Grady saw it was the forced amalgamation of the Irish parliament with the English by the Act of Union of January 1, 1801, largely in response to the 1798 uprisings of the United Irishmen in concert with Revolutionary France (see Explanatory Notes, 349ff.). This action castrated the Protestants’ attempts to administer and suppress the Catholics, who outnumbered them by nine to one. O’Grady’s treatment of the Act of Union is typically ambivalent: on the one hand he seeks the reinstatement of an independent Parliament for Ireland under Protestant Catholic rebellion. Such a rebellion would be an anathema overwhelming all other considerations; the problem of an amalgamated parliament would have paled into insignificance in his mind in comparison with the other, bloodier possibility. [page xliv]
   In the liberal mood he demands from Britain a treatment of Ireland not as“vassals to a throne” (361) but as “proudest patriots” (350) whose “Lost freedom” (377) is all that stands between them and “The love [they] bear a Briton from [their] heart” (386). Repeal of the Act of Union will be “just” (372), because the Irish “want not words to grace [their] nation’s dome, / Nor foreign tongues to legislate at home” (383-384). Those few Irishmen, especially the Earl of Clare, who participated in the amalgamation of the legislatures and who expected British preferment as a result, were soon revealed as a “mercenary few” (394) who merely created “a rabble council . . . / To plunge the state” (398-399). From these and other references in the poem, it may be concluded initially that O’Grady was firmly anti-Union, and considered the Act of Union the clever imperial machination of a few greedy Anglo-Irishmen.
     Other treatments of the problem do not permit such a conclusion, however, particularly this from Note 11:

At that period, when the legislative union was first imposed, no doubt can be entertained, but the measure was a most unpopular one in Ireland. It was then gained by all the energies of Britain, directed by the ablest minister, who ever graced the councils of the then Monarch, George the Third. There seemed to be a necessity for the alliance. . . . England at war as she was with half the population of the civilized world, threatened with a French invasion, and besides with her Irish subjects, for the most part in a state of heartless rebellion,—how was she to act?. . . the measure might have been avoided, however, had those then in office checked the growing evil, had the Earl of Clare and such influential characters, destroyed the canker in its origin, it never could have blighted the bud, much less the tree.

O’Grady’s desire for a Repeal of the act of Union clearly does not shake his belief that the Union was indeed necessary at the time because of the mismanagement of Irish affairs by the “mercenary tribe” who should have been looking to her welfare. He thus transfers the burden of blame for the Union onto Irish shoulders, and exonerates the English; Pitt the younger, Prime Minister during the Union period, was “the ablest minister” of George III, and (as he adds in the same Note) “Never was there a more glorious reign than that of George the Third. . . .” The climax of this diffident piece of political analysis is O’Grady’s claim that “if the people will only unite with a proper cordiality, I feel confident Ireland would have no reason to blush when amalgamated with the proud banners of Britain.” In other words, the poem’s loud cries for “just repeal” are entirely contradicted by the Note appended to them. Thus the Catholic leaders of the Repeal Movement, despite the “justice” of their cause, are “factious leaders” whose “fierce appeal / To foreign climes” (371-372) reveals them as traitors and mercenaries. As long as the Repeal [page xlv] Movement is in the hands of such Catholics, O’Grady will argue for the soundness of the amalgamation, whatever his more abstract distain for a Protestant Ireland clinging to the nipple of the Mother of Parliaments.
     The subordinate political judgments deriving from or cognate to this root problem of Union are, naturally enough, equally inconsistent. For example, O’Grady feels an evident disdain for the United States: he mocks it as a “new-formed state” (1179), scorns it for harbouring Papineau in exile (1421-1426), and decries the “vaunting Yankees” (1191) who people it. Yet he admires Washington (1384) and Kosciuszko (1385), both of them American Revolutionary generals, and calls them “men of valorous might” (1385). Thus he repeats his Irish conundrum: liberty is a good in the abstract, and men who can be idealized as having fought purely for liberty are canonized, but in practical terms liberty ends in despotism: O’Grady predicts that “A Yankee sway in monarchy must end” (1382), just as revolution ended in monarchy in “fickle France” (1205).
     No such ambivalences complicate his treatment of a Canadian revolutionary, Papineau. As a Catholic, as a rebel against British domination and as a pseudo-general who fled from his own soldiers to the safety of the United States and then to “Monarchic France” (1426), Papineau is the ultimate O’Gradian villain, not to be redeemed  by the poet’s diffident attachment to loose principles of liberty. Papineau’s abandoned followers are treated, however, with a curious tenderness; despite their exactly equivalent Catholicism, rebelliousness and violence, they bravely stuck to their cause when their leader fled, and were slaughtered. The description of a fallen patriote (1395-1416) is unadulteratedly sympathetic; the fact of the dead man’s cause cannot counter the bravery with which he pursued it. Charles Steele considers this treatment on O’Grady’s part evidence of “an established [Tory] tactic of interpreting popular political disruption as the responsibility of a few self-seekers who had managed to delude some otherwise honourable citizens.”56 Other individual rebels are treated with similar tenderness, as witness the “high-minded Pole” (1498) and the always-respected Robert Emmet (1517), whose rebellion against the British administration in 1803 must have been redeemed for O’Grady by his courage and candour, and by his Protestantism as well.
     It is difficult indeed to reduce such varied and inconsistent attitudes to an essential political ethic. To some extent O’Grady is a conservative in the Burke tradition, one whose belief in human dignity and the rights of the individual did not clash (at least not in theory) with a devotion to traditional authority, centralized power and carefully administered public order. (Note that O’Grady shares with Burke an abstract sympathy with the American Revolution and a cautionary distaste for the French.) His own best summation of his political doctrine appears as a result of his tribute to Colborne: “And thus I prize a just imperious sway, / Whose rights confirmed all subjects will obey” (1194-1195). In my view, O’Grady would want to emphasize each word in this formula: the central power should indeed be “imperious” but must be “just” as well; it is to be “obeyed,” but such obedience [page xlvi]must be earned by its “rights confirmed’ to administer the law. As regards emergent situations in which individual rights and the “imperious sway” are brought into contradiction, The Emigrant would seem to indicate O’Grady’s feeling that the central power’s integrity must be maintained at the expense of individual freedoms. Nevertheless, in its ideal form O’Grady’s political wisdom reflects the same harmonized dichotomies that govern all aspects of his creative process.
     Because the contradictory political attitudes in the poem can be brought close to such a first principle, O’Grady’s reader might wish to conclude that the poet is in conscious control of these inconsistencies, and records them as such, without distortive re-alignment through logical revision after the fact. This I think would be a charitable construction that would proceed too far to the acquittal of O’Grady on charges of lack of control. To my ear the outright contradictoriness of his expressions about the Act of Union is not reduced or dismissed by a sense of the historical context of such contradiction. Such a sense merely illuminates the oddities of O’Grady’s mind, and does nothing for the quality of his poem. The contradictions in his political attitudes must never have been brought home to the poet, at least not in time for final revisions of the manuscript of The Emigrant; they remain on the thematic surface of the poem, glaring at the reader who would have a more consistent body of political digression.
     The kind of contradiction just examined does not strike at the heart of The Emigrant, however; no treatment of the Act of Union in Ireland in 1801 could do serious and central damage to a poem whose subject is emigration to Canada in the late 1830s. O’Grady’s ambivalence on the issue is local and restricted; it irritates, but it does not shatter, the soundness of his creative effort. But this is not the case with O’Grady’s treatment of other, more essential issues: when he considers, for instance, the practical value of emigration, or attempts by way of religious meditation to reconcile himself to his Canadian fate, contradictory sentiments do cut deep, and threaten the entire project of the poem. At these points we step across our fine line and are forced to read not as a record of fruitful tension but as a pathetic embodiment of an unintegrated and deeply pained sensibility.
     The most profound cause of these divisions has been explicated structurally in Section II of this Introduction, where I noted a shift from a travel-narrator who affects to experience, in present-tense, the incidents of the narrative for the first time, in company with the reader, to a persona who remembers his emigration experiences after the fact and struggles to come to terms with the isolation and hardship he has undergone. Translated to the thematic level, this central structural schism emerges in a tension between a narrator in the neutral process of “discovering” an experience, and a persona struggling to recover from that experience by re-ordering and interpreting it, and altering it when necessary. The deepest contradictions in The Emigrant depend on this dichotomy. The tension between the two is exemplified in the following passages: [page xlvii]

Here on the chrystal waves the dolphin glides,
The seabird hovers and the porpoise rides,
The nimble squidhounds gambol to our view,
Around our poop their playful course pursue;
The mighty monarchs from the Greenland sea,
Proclaim their strength and navigate their way. . . .
All seems serene, Old Ocean heaves on high,
Smooth as the azure tint of evening sky,
When zephyrs sleep, and on earth’s balmy breast
The dew drops fall, and nature seems to rest.
                                               (91-96, 99-102)

But ye, mistaken men, whose competence
Gives airs and sloth and self prized consequence,
Tread not this soil where equal rights they scan,
And none in birth exceeds his fellow man;
Here all is liberty and few scarce known,
Beyond that private circle of their own. . . .
Here adverse custom mixed with men unknown,
Who add to this a language not your own,
Forbid that converse social minds impart,
And makes you foreign to the alien’s heart. . . .
                                      (1140-1145, 1154-1157)

In the first passage the poet aggressively asserts his presence among a group of emigrants who have not yet arrived in Canada. His first-person plural presentation (“our view,” “our poop”) and his present-tense dramatization of incidents on and around the ship creates a fiction with clear rules: the speaker of The Emigrant will unfold the emigration experience as if he were himself new to it. That is the dramatic fiction with which O’Grady began the poem. But the speaker of the second passage has become a keen assessor of the Canadian situation and of the chances of various Irishmen to survive their emigration. He has learned the particular difficulties which face men of some “consequence,” and has had time to develop some animosity towards the existence of the French language in the Lower Province. We cannot attribute this knowledge to experience gained since the fictive debarkation, since we have not been engaged with our present-tense narrator in experiences which could account for such knowledge. The initial fiction of the poem must therefore be broken if O’Grady wishes to impart—as he clearly does—warnings about emigration to his audience. It is so broken, and entirely, for the second half of the poem is spoken by a man with a wide range of Canadian experience who remembers and generalizes that experiences, not by a man whose experience unfolds before him and before us as if at the same time.
     The reasons for this first speaker are obvious: he provides a fiction of immediacy which gives point and impact to O’Grady’s descriptions. The reasons for the shift [page xlviii] are less obvious, but the following passages, typical of the second speaker, hint at them:

Yet ill I speed, adversity my doom,
To seek a shelter in some kindred home,
Exalted notions crowding on each sense,
I fondly traversed half a world’s expanse;
Still even here I feel some secret gloom,
Some sad presage prophetic of my doom!

Bleak, barren spot, ah! why should I forsake
A fertile land to thread thy worthless brake?. . . .
O, land! that’s slothful, miserable spot,
Ungracious sandbank, may it be my lot
Remote to dwell ’mong happier kind abodes,
And leave to grasshoppers a land of toads!
                                  (1670-1671, 1676-1679)

Only a penchant for understatement could lead one to conclude that O’Grady was “not fond” of Lower Canada. The poet clearly detested the colony and every aspect of its political, social and economic life, as well as its sadistic climate. Charles Steele considers O’Grady’ antipathy “almost the only negative estimate of Canada offered by a Canadian verse writer during the period under consideration [1830-1850]”.57 The singularity of O’Grady’s loathing for Canada gives it a refreshing bite for the modern reader, but in its very intensity the same loathing burdened the poet himself with an immense bitterness which demanded expression. His outcries, whether or not his initial structure countenanced them, provided him with a vehicle for the articulation of that bitterness. Probably they were also attempts at alleviation, the very force of whose rhetoric re-asserted the poet’s creative power and reassured him that he had controlled his experience at least enough to dramatize it. The rhetorical question that lies at the heart of these outcries (“why should I forsake / A fertile land”), although it could have no satisfying answer, at least satisfied the poet’s urgent need to contain and interpret his emigration in verse. Thus it was that The Emigrant moved away from its initial purposes, becoming a struggle to recover equanimity and resolution where once it had been an attempt to present a “discovery” of Canada by a narrator equipped with sufficient resolution to survive the country’s difficulties.
     O’Grady’s original conception of a long poem detailing the cause and the course of his progress from Ireland to Canada must have presented itself as an attractive means of reviewing his choice of the emigrant life and his excitement at the undertaking. The first half of the poem therefore resonates with a wonder and pleasure in the “new” scenes presented to his eye, a pleasure which suggests that the poet did not begin in a spirit of venom and indignation but in a fairly warm-hearted [page xlix] effort to piece together a difficult portion of his life. The bitter tone of the second half of The Emigrant may have been caused by intervening experience—the death of Sawtell, perhaps the Rebellions of 1837—which made it difficult for the poet to remain urbane and reasonable in his presentations; conversely, it may have simply emerged as O’Grady thought long and hard about his plight. But once it emerged, the fiction of open-minded discovery had been shattered, and in a counter-attempt the poet—perhaps in an effort of self-renewal and re-integration—struggled to subsume within already established poetic premises an impulse to interrogate his own embittering past and the ugly realities of colonial life. Unfortunately, such efforts if successful could only have relieved O’Grady’s private bitterness; they cannot now redeem the poet’s structural and thematic inconsistency. The contradiction opened on all levels of The Emigrant after the central debarkation episode is no longer mere ambivalence and cannot be applauded as illuminating ambiguity; the discrete interpretations of the Act of Union and the strikingly different imagery of Ireland and of Canada are comparatively insignificant ripples on the surface of a poem whose deeper waters are a maelstrom of duality and indecision.
     O’Grady’s effort of recovery is typified by two major themes of the second half of The Emigrant: treatments of the ultimate value of emigration, and meditations upon God, faith, Providence, and the immortality of the soul. In the former effort, he tries by assessing the general causes and consequences of emigration to make sense of his individual experience; in the latter he struggles to reconcile himself to that experience by interpreting it variously as the dispensation of an inscrutable God or as merely mundane suffering in anticipation of life everlasting.  It is typical of the poems difficulties that these two responses to the problem of recovery are themselves treated contradictorily; no clear idea of emigration or of God emerges and, as a result, the effort of recovery (itself a contradiction of the poem’s original premises) is not much furthered by their consideration.
     O’Grady’s moments of prayer and his supposititious Irish ministry have led Kathleen O’Donnell to read The Emigrant as a paean to Providential faith, and she has obliterated thereby its most painful and powerful elements. In fact O’Grady’s appeals to God are as divided as the rest of his thinking. In keeping with his tendency to speak for liberty and the rights of man so long as those do not contradict the wielding of authoritative power, O’Grady can speak frankly of the need for religious freedom:

Let each sectarian argue for the best,
Yet all agree the monitor’s the breast!
To different tenets left what will befall
Instinct points out one Diety to all. . . .
Mysterious studies! still the more we dwell,
Who best informs, best Providence can tell,
Yet all to him give universal praise;
To all alike inscrutable his ways, [page l]
Whose holy Decalogue all else apart,
Can strike conviction on the vilest heart. . . .
                                 (1353-1356, 1361-1366)

This belief that Providence makes clear to all men the existence of a single God and illuminates the moral code of that Deity in part inspires O’Grady’s sympathetic response to the North American Indian, whose sensitivity to “nature’s law by pristine precepts given / Points with the Indian’s faith his way to heaven” (973-974). O’Grady is still, of course, a firmly Christian man; the “Decalogue” of his faith is to be followed, not just by Anglicans but by all—“Friend, Turk, Reformer, Methodist or Jew” (1357). He has time neither for Deism (1360) nor for its attackers (1359), believing as he does that elaborate intellection stands in the way of faith:

I own I’m not of Theological mind,
Nor aught subscribe to doctrines so refined,
Perplexing study to confound the will,
The more we read the less instructed still;
God’s holy Decalogue, all else apart,
Enough’s for me engraven on the heart.

Given his asserted confidence in busy Providence, it would seem that faith in a single God and acknowledgement of a basically Judeo-Christian morality is all O’Grady would require of the sensitive believer. Such free-form religiosity may appeal to the modern sensibility, but in a mind as divided as O’Grady’s it comes with potential contradictions. He apparently believes that God will judge individuals at the time of their resurrection in soul and body (1574-1577), but he also makes frequent appeals to Providence that indicate his belief in a more earthly system of rewards and punishments:

How dost the soul, in life’s delusive hour,
Pervert its greatness, mock the sovereign power,
As if no God with vigil eye attends,
To punish vice when flagrant man offends;
I’ve often noted, ’midst this world’s gay round,
And ever faithful precedents have found,
That he, self-raised by perfidy and vice,
At length lay branded with his true device;
His projects all to ignominy rent.
And fickle Fortune smiling as she went,
All-seeing Providence all-wise endows
The just with joy, the guilty with their woes. . . .

Such a retributive Providence will appeal to O’Grady because under its dispensation the good are rewarded both in heaven and on earth. This is the Providence that saw [page li] the Ocean and the Bolivar safely across the Atlantic:

Rude winds may rage and blustering billows blow;
Yet no rough wind nor tide can sever those
Whose trust confined in Providence repose.

This kind Providence should also, of course, soften the blow of O’Grady’s emigration, provide him with ease and friendship in Canada, and lead him to a calm deathbed. The danger of such faith emerges when the believer confuses the good generated by providence with his own individual good; from a traditional Christian perspective the dispensations of God are not to be muddled with the needs of the world, but O’Grady reveals his tendency to so confuse them with a bit of British patriotism that follows the above tribute to the justice of Providence: “So fell Napoleon, object of his hate,— / There stands a Nelson’s monument complete” (1254-1255). If the dispensations of God can be so closely matched with the political will of Britain, then it is natural that the French should cease to believe in Providence; or, to put the matter another way, if O’Grady’s life in Canada turns into a series of oppressive experiences, his comfortable faith in God’s working hand is bound to be disturbed.
     The poet’s recognition of such tensions emerges in prayer, where he struggles to reconcile himself to a Providence that does not live up to his expectations and realizes that his own best hopes may now lie in a future life:

Teach me through life to shun that dangerous plan,
Ambition forms to scourge insatiate man,
With glutted fame perchance whose worthless wreath,
Replete with thorns adds sorrow to his head. . . .

Instruct me, Lord, enforce thy precepts given,
In life’s short stay fix all my hopes in heaven;
In thee I trust, thou mighty Lord forgive,
And let my weary martyr’d spirit live!

These moments of Christian stoicism are powerful enough, and the speaker’s arrival at such resignation might be taken to signal a clarification of his spiritual condition. The difficulty with this argument is that the passage quoted earlier praising a mundane Providence that dispenses “joy” to the “just” and “woes” to the “guilty” is still two hundred lines away, and,  moreover, once encountered contradicts O’Grady’s stoicism with delusive promises of worldly comfort.
     O’Grady’s Christian faith is of little assistance, then, when he struggles to recover the resolution and coherence with which he initially approached his emigration-narrative. He cannot arraign Providence for his troubles if the true [page lii] Christian renounces this world in expectation of the next. Nor can he focus his hopes on the next world without losing a conception of God’s earthly dispensation which had given him his former spiritual coherence. This profound and spiritually crippling ambivalence prevents the second half of the poem from resolving its inconsistency and fragmentation, and leaves the poet in need of other means of bringing coherence to his narrative. Such means as he finds are, unfortunately, equally subject to the prevailing ambivalence of his nature.
     O’Grady’s attitude to emigration is obviously key to the problem. In order to accept the burden of his own experience, he must be prepared to acknowledge that emigration is necessary in some cases and appeared to have been in his own. But the poet is unable to clarify and maintain such an attitude; from the first allusion to the value of emigration to his last, O’Grady is either vague or uncertain. Indeed, even before the poem is underway, he expresses in the “Preface” a most unclear opinion: “As nothing is more remote to my purpose, let none imagine me an enemy to emigration; nothing, from my heart, do I desire more.” The explanatory note to the ‘Preface” suggests possible readings of this difficult sentence; suffice to say here that although its tenor is clearly favourable to emigration, the ironic or garbled addition (which should surely read, “nothing do I desire less”) reveals an author who is ambivalent even as he defends himself from the charge. More than likely, O’Grady’s felt need to defend himself signals a quality in the poem which he wishes to counteract.
     Early treatments of emigration (41-74, 341-348) acknowledge its hardships but dwell on the injustices in Ireland that necessitate the Atlantic crossing. They thereby set at rest whatever doubts author or reader may have had as to the efficacy of such a dramatic change of life. Immediately after the central debarkation episode, however, a new tone enters O’Grady’s treatment of emigration:

Whilst I a cheerless wanderer seek to find
Some peaceful spot, sequester’d from mankind,
There in secluded loneliness to dwell. . . .
Yet vain the thought, e’en here ambition’s sway
Proclaims a right the vanquished must obey,
Each subject chastened by the conqueror’s hand,
Decrees submission in a foreign land. . . .
                                     (947-949, 959-962)

Again, our debarking narrator suddenly knows a great deal more about Canadian culture than is possible within the rules of his fiction. The poet now seeks to express disdain for the tendency of political animosities in Europe to spill over into the “new” world, so that even in a new country like Canada there are the “vanquished” (presumably the Indians and the French) and the “conquerors.” (Given O’Grady’s general distaste for the French Canadians these difficult lines probably do not indicate a sudden sympathy with them; his sympathy is with the destitute human [page liii] spirit seeking surcease of political hostility, and finding it rampant wherever he turns.) The negative undercurrent of such comment emerges with increasing power in the subsequent treatment of the issue, in which he complains about poverty, friendlessness and the bitter cold (995-1000) and out of which he emerges with a new general attitude to emigration:

Ye cheerful sons of Erin’s virtuous land,
Ye hardy Scots, ye conquering Highland band,
And ye proud Britons, why thus brave the seas
To combat sad vicissitudes like these?. . . .
Your fenny moors, your rocks, your mountain brows,
Endear each peasant to each stately dome,
And best engage your husbandry at home.
                              (1098-1101, 1104-1107)

In a typical effort to balance his praise of Ireland, O’Grady then appends a passage detailing the horrors of the Canadian winter, which concludes similarly: such landscapes of snow and death “Alike conspire to paint the dangerous gloom; / And keep your hardy venturous sons at home” (1124-1125). Notice that in order to speak forcefully against emigration, O’Grady has to idealize Ireland (it is no longer a place of petty barristers, corrupt coroners and vicious landlords, but a romantic landscape of “bubbling streams,” “fragrant heath” and “neglected hills”) and, concomitantly, caricature Canada (a place in which “the night fast gather[s] ere chill morn appears”). In short, he turns against emigration by evading the reality of the Irish situations, and by considering his personal and emotional experience in isolation from the political, social and economic concerns which have impinged upon it.
     Despite such evasions. O’Grady still realizes at this point in the poem that emigration is not always a free choice, and so in the next passage he responsibly warns the reader against an arrival in Canada with exaggerated expectations (1126-1149). He insists that workers come with “strength” and produce “generous sons” to take on some of the labours in the new land and to reap the long-delayed profits; and he tells gentlemen that they have little place in Canada (a warning deriving from bitter personal experience). In spite of such generous warnings, which imply his acceptance of emigration’s necessity, the poet cannot resist a slap at Lower Canada (1150-1169): it is no place for the emigrant, with its “French taught law,” its foreign tongue, its absurd delicacies, and its “seven long months’ of winter. Here one can see the poet’s ambivalence laid bare: the long passage begins with an explicit denunciation of emigration, modulates into a warning about the practicalities of emigration, and concludes by savaging one of two possible destinations in Canada.
     The Emigrant proceeds from this point, as we have seen, in a random compilation of verse treatments of various subjects, none of which deals explicitly with emigration, but most of which, in their tone of bitterness and resignation, [page liv] suggest a brooding poet with a keen sense of his own indignities. This subliminal lamentation is obliquely confirmed nearer the end of the poem, when O’Grady admits that he has been dreaming of a return to Ireland:

Sweet land! no hopes have I, then why recall
These youthful, happy, social hours, and all
These past endearments, though far hence I roam,
That link me captive to my native home?
Yet to return, what boots my anxious will?

The poet abruptly reveals (as usual, the passage bears little, if any, relation to that preceding it) that he has been dreaming of an end to his emigration and a return to Ireland. He apostrophizes the absent land, and then castigates himself for such daydreams. If in a moment of nostalgia he longs for Ireland, the longing appears in the poem; if a moment of harder realism follows, it follows in the poem. The Emigrant’s apparent purpose—to present the experiences of an emigrant and implicitly to rule upon them—is undermined by such struggles of a poem-in-process, and the final references to the issue of emigration in the text do nothing to assist in their clarification.
     O’Grady continues to curse Canada (“Thou barren waste, unprofitable strand” [1680]), and to feel ambivalent about Ireland (“Land of my fathers! Green and fertile soil! / Ill fated spot . . .”[1750]) until he appears to come to a resolution:

In this drear soil, what though its deserts vast,
Be chill as death, and bleak the wintry blast;
Its humble poor more happiness can share,
’Mong scenes like these than in the great man’s glare;
Devoted Ireland, now by faction led,
Far, far from thee I’ll slumber with the dead. . . .

One assumes that O’Grady has made a final assessment: Canada is indeed unbearable, but it is slightly less unbearable than an Ireland led “by faction.” He would not choose to live in Canada, but since choice has bee effectively denied him he reconciles himself—at least in death—to an existence in the colony. If The Emigrant ended on that note, one would be able to applaud in the poem a reasoned process of self-doubt and resolution which led to an open-eyed synthesis of the tensions between Ireland and Canada, and one would understand the claim of the “Preface” that O’Grady was no “enemy to emigration.”
     Such straightforward assessments are rendered impractical, however, by the ultimate treatment of emigration, the prominent placement of which in the last hundred lines of the poem accords it a conclusive force:

Let Erin pause, and well reflect in time, [page lv]
And ere her sons seek transatlantic clime,
Brave storms and seas true wretchedness to share,
And seek for shelter in a northern sphere;
Let Erin pause, and ere her venturers go,
Far better still to bear the ills we know;
And who such strange infatuations sees,
To force the poor to famish or to freeze.
Her faction’s leaders yet may lend an ear
And aid their poor to find subsistence near;
Religion’s chieftains one day may relax,
And bounteous nobles grant the good they ask,
Wisdom restrain and goodness overawe,
Give labour recompence, and mend the law.

Canada is now a place of “true wretchedness” which must be compared, presumably, with the merely seeming wretchedness in Ireland, and Ireland is a possible Utopia whose political, religious and economic divisions may soon be wafted away with a kindly wave of the hand. Whatever straits the poor man has fallen into, he will do better to grind out his life patiently in Ireland than to “famish” and “freeze” in Canada. Emigration is therefore a mistake.
     This crucial passage reveals not only that the seeming synthesis offered earlier in the poem is no more than an effort of rhetoric, but also that O’Grady never had a conclusive attitude to emigration. Both nostalgia for and hard-headed assessments of Ireland inspired O’Grady to treat the question of emigration, and the two impulses led in contradictory directions. His claim in the “Preface” that he was no “enemy to emigration” is a meaningless defence-mechanism, no doubt prompted by a recognition that he had entirely failed to come to terms with the issue in the course of the poem.
     O’Grady’s contradictory treatments of faith and emigration deepen the structural collapse that damages the second half of The Emigrant. Once the neutral and essentially pleasurable fiction that begins the poem collapses with debarkation, we are left in the hands of a poet who struggles to come to terms with a dramatic re-ordering of his life—a poet who seeks to recover a sense of purpose and coherence by meditating in verse upon the causes and results of his own emigration. O’Grady’s inability to come to terms with the question of  emigration in the abstract seriously inhibits that effort of recovery, with the result that the poet’s reasoning cannot provide him with a sense that his own life took a direction which was not only necessary, but potentially meaningful. In the absence of such rational solace he turns to God, but his ambivalence about Providence and the nature of the Deity’s concern for the just man leaves him baffled and uncertain. Lacking such assurances, the best The Emigrant can do is move at random from observation to observation; it cannot present a fiction of restructuring—which is its underlying intention—because [page lvi] the poet himself has clearly failed to discover a sustaining structure in his new world. O’Grady was thus left with a collection of alogical and inchoate verse fragments, largely at odds with the fiction with which he began the poem. The best he could do with these fragments, short of starting over, was to tack them on in some semblance of order and let the poem stand or fall under their weight.
     The fundamental dualism of The Emigrant ranges, then, from patterns of syntax and imagery, through O’Grady’s ambivalent treatment of various supererogatory issues, to self-contradictory interpretations of a few central themes, and emerges in a profound schism which lies at the heart (and occurs at the centre) of the poem’s structure and purpose. Poems are often, of course, built on such profound contradictions, and we can often appreciate works of literature in relation to those contradictions without requiring a resolution of them. But O’Grady’s contradictions are profound only in relation to The Emigrant itself: they cut at the thematic heart of the poem, but they are not contradictions of an order to expose the ambiguities and complexities of human life, just as his attempted structure, his fiction of emigration, is not of an order to comprehend the deeper aspects of his experience. The structure cannot include the private experience, nor the private experience submit to the structure. Although The Emigrant dramatizes forcibly the depths of O’Grady’s painful experience, it is thus unable to come to terms with its own (and its author’s) implicit contradictions, and for this reason fails to attain the profundity of art.


IV: “The Chance Protector”: Isolation and Control in The Emigrant


The most poignant moment in The Emigrant, in light of the above considerations of its structure and themes, occurs when O’Grady recognizes, implicitly at least, the shortcomings of his genius:

I’ll court death’s frowns, his majesty defy,
For something still the Muses may supply;
Methinks my monument, some feeble praise
May yet survive eternal in my lays;
Some future critic yet may kindly say
He never sought to crowd his brows with bay,
Though modern Poets all expect the tree,
Yet still the muse may spare one sprig for me. . . .

Kindness in not the initial critical task, of course, but this is not to say that O’Grady does not deserve his “one sprig” of bay. The very drama of creative agony played out in The Emigrant can be affecting if one yields to it as a drama. Yet such drama cannot be a source of praise for the poet, whose effort clearly tended instead towards [page lvii] cohering fictions and synthetic intellectual attitudes.
     O’Grady’s “sprig” should be awarded, instead, for two major achievements. The first of these is readily apparent and requires little articulation: his verse descriptions of Canadian landscape and life, if isolated from the difficulties of the poem as a whole, are vivid and immediate, and contain a germ of realism which is hard to come by in other poets of the period. The depictions of the Falls of Montmorency (670-693), of the Ile d’Orléans (700-715), of ice-floes on the Saint Lawrence (897-912), of Indian burial-rituals (1052-1087), of the Canadian winter (1680-1717), of rivers and river-navigation (1759-1796), and of the final desolating tempest (2021-2056), reveal Canada in the 1830s with relatively little literary distortion, with a straightforward and detailed observation which reaches out to the modern reader and demands admiration. The unfortunate fact that these strong passages occur at random, and without subordination to any larger or deeper vision, should not be allowed to obscure their contribution to our understanding of colonial Canada and of the men and women, artistic and otherwise, who struggled to comprehend its sometimes dangerous variety.
     O’Grady’s second “sprig” may be awarded for his sustaining a profound mood of isolation in the poem, not just in relation to his own separation from family, friends and homeland, but also as a part of a larger governing paradigm which does much to determine the themes and characterizations of the various anecdotes he relates. O’Grady’s personal isolation requires no explication; he reminds the reader of it often enough in the course of The Emigrant.58 Its most interesting manifestation has to do, not with such explicit complaint, however, but, rather, with what we might call intertextual isolation: The Emigrant is a poem startlingly free of other literary works. Whereas the task of the editor of most pre-Confederation poems includes a careful annotation of the echoes and borrowings made by its author, O’Grady’s idiosyncratic creative individualism has resulted in a relatively substantial poem which is little explicated by reference to other texts. Brief borrowings from Shakespeare, Goldsmith, Thomas Gray and Thomas Campbell, and arguable echoes of Milton and Johnson, detailed in the Explanatory notes, constitute the whole of O’Grady’s body of allusion; his odd blend of travel-narrative and abrupt confessional is not much illuminated if placed in relation to other poems of the period, whether from North America or elsewhere. Either O’Grady was not a very well-read poet or he did not conceive of such literary reverberation as an acceptable or necessary part of his task. As a result, The Emigrant strikes the modern reader, accustomed to Goldsmith with his grand-uncle in the distance, or to John Richardson with his Byron, or to Thomas Cary with his Pope and Thomson, as a singularly unliterary product, a work conceived in an isolation that was not only physical and spiritual but cultural as well.
     Our response to such creative isolation must be cautious. It would be academic in the extreme to assume that this relatively non-echoic and unliterary quality in The Emigrant was related to or was a source of the difficulties that O’Grady had in [page lviii] attaining a unified structure or in maintaining a consistent vision of the emigrant’s reality; even a poet entirely unschooled (which O’Grady was not) need not automatically have suffered such trials. On the other hand, it would be pedantic to deny that the unliterary flavour of The Emigrant bears some relation to the poet’s formal and stylistic decisions. One concludes, for example, that a poet writing heroic couplets in 1840 either did not read the great Romantics or rejected them so whole-heartedly that he deliberately excluded their voices from the province of his own work. Perhaps the most neutral response to O’Grady’s literary reticence, one which obviates the need for an evaluative assessment of that reticence, is to realize that, whatever its causes, it contributes to our sense of the author as a man cut off from the sustenance of a vital cultural tradition, one who finds in his emigration to Canada an obliterating isolation which prevents contact, spiritual intellectual or literary, with the kind of human beings with whom he felt an instinctive affinity. The Emigrant’s refusal to draw into its phrases the imagery and cadences of other poets bespeaks the author’s bitter loneliness, and contributes to one’s impression of the poem as a work completed in severe isolation, although it may have its source in more mundane matters such as the limitations of O’Grady’s reading or his conscious desire to exclude such allusions.  
     What I have called the paradigm of isolation in The Emigrant operates, then, not only on the level of confession and theme, but also on the level of allusion and echo: it governs the poetic language of the persona through whom the author has chosen to disclose his meanings. The paradigm casts a still wider net than this, however for, just as O’Grady’s speaker is a man betrayed by his nation, rejected by his kindred and isolated by his economic fortunes, so his anecdotes and tales focus on men and women whose destinies have followed a similar course.59
     The “Dedication”, for instance, tells the story of a would-be poet who sent a first volume to Jonathan Swift, only to have it “rectilinearly embellished with black strokes”—that is, scratched out with ink—and returned without comment. The hapless poet thus learned the pain of rejection, not as most of us do, from our peers, but from one of the greatest writers in the canon, and the obliterating force of Swift’s judgment must have haunted O’Grady’s unconfident mind when he presented his own volume to the public. From this symptomatic anecdote to the poem’s initial presentations of the dispossessed of Ireland, whose lives have also been “rectilinearly embellished” into poverty, starvation and emigration, O’Grady has not far to leap.
     On board the Ocean—which is itself full of the rejected and the forcibly isolated—a death occurs. O’Grady draws from the incident a symbol of his prevailing mood:

See how he waves his suppliant hands on high,
No favouring friends, no fond connexion nigh,
He breathes, and scarce a suppliant tear can blend,
Faint rolls the eye that vainly seeks a friend. . . . [page lix]
’Tis done! death comes, and darkly rolls the wave,
The billows press and shroud his traceless grave. . . .
Thus in the eddying deep they heedless roll
An ill stretched corpse, and unbefriended Soul!
                              (446-449, 456-457, 462-463)

The gloom and loneliness of this death are driven forcibly home by the poet; indeed, the chief events of the Atlantic crossing are the tempest (of which more later) and this death and burial. Once the voyage ends, therefore, we might expect celebration, but the first sight of the new land is provided through the eyes of one who sees it as a sentence of isolation:

A vast expanse, an unknown world appears;
The pathless desert all alike confounds
A dreary waste with solitary grounds;
The weary eye looks o’er the wide expanse,
New prospects crowd and fill a world immense,
A cheerless sight to awe the restless mind,
Perchance to those to wretchedness consigned.

The “solitary” mood of the new world overwhelms its depiction; the “eye” is “weary” with gazing before it has even begun, and the land is transformed by it into a penal colony for the “wretched.” No doubt because of such ineluctable pessimism, the story of Sylvia and Alfred intervenes, the romantic fiction providing a buffer between the European emigrant and his forcibly Canadian existence.
     Indeed, the relatively exciting and cheerful first episode of Sylvia and Alfred’s story seems to have such a reconciling effect; at its conclusion (657), the speaker looks again to the land and concludes that it now “invites the eye and bids the wanderer rest” (669). But Sylvia and Alfred will not be allowed to remain in that cheerful state; in their second episode (1833-2020) we discover Sylvia surrounded by seven hungry children, dressed in a “light raiment” in the heart of a Canadian winter, and now the widow of Alfred, a victim of the Canadian countryside. Their story thus reflects the transition in the large poem: at first they flee from an Ireland that has become repressive, and are rewarded in their love; then they are drawn into the poem’s governing isolation paradigm, which kills Alfred and leaves Sylvia near starvation. If she is rescued in the end it is only to be shipped back to Ireland, a fantasy which was also dominating her creator’s imagination at the time.
     In the interim between the episodes we have also been presented with the speaker’s betrayal by “faithless Maria” (716-756, the death of his faithful dog Rollo (757-781, and the crash of a barge on the Ottawa river (871-896) which leaves its sailor a “grim corpse float[ing] buoyant with the wind” and its merchant-owner a “lonely Bankrupt of the wreck.” We have watched an elderly Indian left in the dead of winter to dies (1052-1087), and have seen winter claim white men as well: [page lx]

The frozen friend ill fated to expire;
The youth the solace of his distant sire,
With all surrounding horrors of the sight
Exposed to perish ’neath the northern light. . . .

O’Sullivan, a famous Irish bard, who awakes after a carouse to find himself kidnapped and well on the way to the new world, and shoes tears are affectingly described; Note 38 provides a translation of the story of Deirdre, who passionately laments the murder of her lover, Naoise, and his two brothers, and is about to die herself; and in Note 42, the final statement made by the printed text, O’Grady admits that “A Canadian stud horse with one miserable cow were the only remnants of my stock which survived the winter.”
     One may not claim that these anecdotes of isolation are the best in the poem—although many of them are stronger, in their caustic realism, than the daydreams of Ireland and the auto-dramatics of the speaker—but their consistency with one another, and with the literary isolation that silences the allusive possibilities of the text, enforces a central premise of The Emigrant, as if by accident: that emigration leads to a morbid isolation of mind and heart, that it is a dispossession and a punishment, and that only the dispossessed have a place in a narrative of Canadian life. Such force and evocativeness as the poem achieves arise from this mood of dispossession and its symbolism in O’Grady’s characters, and for them, as well as for its vivid Canadian landscapes, his poem deserves a re-reading from contemporary perspectives. These virtues are, perhaps, small sprigs for a major effort like The Emigrant, but they are as much to be valued in their way as the smoother, more ideal virtues of O’Grady’s contemporary competitors for modern attention.
     O’Grady would not, however, be flattered by these handfuls of praise from the “future critic” he anticipated. He attempted an epic treatment of emigration on the grand scale, an epic whose unity would be self-evident and whose parts would be powerful in themselves and would reveal detail and depth in the larger vision. The collapse and subsequent fragmentation of that vision, out of the ruins of which we may now choose better and weaker passages for consideration, was not treated by the poet with equanimity. His obsession with “control”—one of his favourite words—symbolizes the need he felt to organize and unify the scattered materials of [page lxi] his poem, and (to my mind) suggests his at least subliminal awareness that he was failing to do so. Ironically, however, the full force and interest of The Emigrant for the modern reader arise from O’Grady’s very inability to control the contradictory structures, emotions and interpretations which crowd into its pages.
     “Control” is inevitably invoked in The Emigrant as a means of balancing and subordinating potentially dangerous forces. His distrust of the leaders of the Repeal Movement, for example, arises from their inability to “control” the results of their efforts (374); his vision of Nature is satisfied by the thundering falls of “Morency”, because “Absorbing nature acts by strict control” (676) to keep them in check; his idea of Orphic music, the highest symbol of his own art, is premised on an ability to “raise to extacy the soul,” but only by a careful artistic “control” (823-824); Indians who are, to his contemporary poets, ideal embodiments of literary terror, are, to O’Grady, “controlled by [the] mandatory sway” of “nature’s law” (972-973); and he waits for a time when “wisdom may control” the misguided government of Canada (1168).
     If I am right that the poet had some sense of the fragmentation that plagued both his consciousness and his creativity, then the antithetical control to which he so frequently appealed was an uneasy response to it. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the episode of the storm at sea (227-312), which bears the hallmarks of an elaborately self-justifying literary fiction. In the course of the tempest the ship’s masts are “shivered” and its sails “rent”; as they snap free the sails sweep the decks, carrying to their deaths “weeping maids” and “lonely strangers.” O’Grady’s imagery of a nightmare at sea is fairly powerful, but it is also highly literary. That the entire episode is fictional is suggested by the Ocean’s recording an uneventful journey when it arrived in Quebec on May 22, 1836. The reasons for O’Grady’s interpolation of the episode are various: it provides an abrupt tearing away from the fabric of Irish memory, it expounds his themes of death and desolation, and it permits him—and this is the point—to dramatize himself as a ship’s master, one who can control the pitching and tossing of a vessel with the skill of a mighty tar:

I sprang aloft, disposed in time to see,
Then through the mist protruding rocks appear,
Scarce three short cables forward as we steer.
With eager haste I glide and seize the helm,
Steer back our course whilst fractured waves o’erwhelm. . . .
Whilst all regard with kindness as they view
The chance protector of a dexterous crew.
                                       (232-236, 243-244)

O’Grady’s ethereal verb (“glide”) emphasizes the dream-like quality of this self-aggrandizing vision. With vivid imagination he pictures himself—at the age of sixty—scrambling into the rigging, leaping down again and reaching the helm just in time to save the Ocean from treacherous rocks. Not only do the grateful eyes turned [page lxii] upon him at the end contribute to his sense of distinctiveness and power, but the entire episode betrays his need for such distinction.
     O’Grady’s metaphorical efforts to control the pitching ship symbolize powerfully his greater battle in The Emigrant to control a poetic structure which was under creative pressure and which would eventually collapse as a result. As he approaches the new world, the initial narrator, dramatized in his present-tense fiction of discovery, feels a massive conflict in his own memories and emotions, but is for the time being able to “seize the helm” and restore his position as the focus of admiring eyes. Once he arrives in the new world, however, the realities of suffering, loneliness and failure overwhelm him, and later sections of the poem, though they adumbrate a further effort at control, reflect a breakdown in the poet’s governing narrative and a concomitant abandonment of purpose. O’Grady’s firm and rational devotion to control—to a good government of the poem, in keeping with nature’s law and God’s Providence—simply could not stand up to the sense of isolation, bitterness and grief which dominated his life in Canada. As a result he concluded The Emigrant not in harmony and calm and successful cultivation, but in a  gallimaufry of complaint, venom, nostalgia and cautionary outburst.
     O’Grady eventually published The Emigrant without having attained the structural control to which he was dedicated by his literary education in the late eighteenth century. Whatever the forces of storm and disorder evoked in the poem—Irish injustice and poverty, Papineau’s rebellion, the severities of a Canadian winter, isolation and lonely death—the poet struggled to subsume those forces within a controlling and distancing narrative. But no matter what symbols of control he happened upon—an enlightened Irish administration, Colborne’s staunch defence of Canada, the coming of spring, Christian resignation, a handful of friends in Sorel—he was unable to quell his bitterness at the entire struggle, unable to lose his feeling that such tensions within are an injustice to a man who had maintained throughout his life a decent bearing and a quiet faith in God. The struggle between these two forces and the bitter resentment O’Grady feels as a result, motivate, by explicit treatment or implicit metaphor, by intention or by accident, most of the mediations, analyses and incidents of The Emigrant; therein lies as much “unity” as the poem offers its reader, and as much aesthetic value as it presents to its critic. If we are ourselves in search of the order, balance and consistency which O’Grady himself admired, we must read the other Canadians of his period; but if we wish to expose the shock, bafflement and contradiction which had to be subsumed within those outmoded aesthetic ideals, we need O’Grady. We will deny him his crown of bay because such tensions dominate and overwhelm the poem; we should grant him his single sprig or two because at certain moments he presents us with particularly vivid symbols of his own suffering spirit in a new world, and because in the poem as a whole he chose to fail in a struggle for true unity rather than succeed in imposing a merely literary faith. [page lxiii]


The Present Text


The copy-text for the present edition is the 1842 re-issue of The Emigrant, which is identical in all respects except the title-page with the 1841 edition.60 The 1841 and 1842 volumes contain the whole of Canto I of the poem, O’Grady’s Notes to that Canto and thirteen short lyric poems, most of them satirical. The Notes are included in the present edition as an integral part of O’Grady’s Emigrant, but the thirteen lyrics, which bear no appreciable relation to the longer poem, are omitted. All other changes to the first edition of The Emigrant in the present text are contained in the list of Editorial Emendations that follows O’Grady’s own Notes to the poem. The principles governing my editing of the first edition are discussed briefly in the headnote to that section. An Appendix lists the dozen variants of a purely typographical nature that appeared in a portion of The Emigrant that was published in the Montreal Transcript on February 3, 1842. [page lxiv]


Notes to the Introduction


A number of references to O’Grady in Canadian newspapers (1841-1846) were brought to my attention by Mary Lu Macdonald of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Michael Williams, Research Assistant at the Centre for Canadian Poetry, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, unearthed the obituary of Standish O’Grady Bennett which became instrumental in this edition’s identification of the poet. The success of that identification must be credited in large part to the energy and generosity of these researchers.



O’Grady identifies the name of the vessel at line 4 and in Note 14. The Quebec Gazette of May 24, 1836 lists under “Entrés en Douane” for May 22 the “Baroque Bolivar, Bellard, 8 do Waterford, Nelson and Jones do” and the “Ocean, Bellard, 8 Avril Aterford, W.Price and Cie, do, 35 émigrés.” The references confirm O’Grady’s claim in Note 6 that the two vessels that left Waterford that day were commanded by brothers, but contradict his statement in that Note that he left Waterford on April 3. [back]


Emigration guide-books of the day warned of the abuse of emigrants by their captains and crew: “Poor emigrants have hitherto been exposed to serious inconvenience and risk from the roguery of captains of ships, principally those from ports in Ireland; they advertised their vessels to sail on a certain day, and stated that they were of considerable size, but they did not sail for weeks after the day fixed; in the mean time, the emigrants consumed their sea stock of potatoes and meal on shore. . . .Water and provisions would fail the emigrants when some time at sea, and the necessaries of life would then be disposed of at a high price, by the mercenary and unfeeling commanders” (Sir James Edward Alexander, Transatlantic Sketches [London: Richard Bentley, 1833], p.217).[back]


A.C. Buchanan, “Report from the Agent for Emigration in Canada for 1836,” British Sessional Papers, 1837, vol.XLII, p.15. The statistics in this paragraph are Buchanan’s.[back]


See O’Grady’s Note 6. Warnings to gentleman-emigrants are standard fare in the emigration guide-books of the day. William Watson in his Emigrant’s Guide to the Canadas (Dublin: G. Bull, 1822), notes that “those who enjoyed the politeness and advantages of Irish hospitality, its intercourse and conviviality, must feel very solitary; no matter what merits or good conduct distinguished them heretofore, they are the little valued or respected, but are obliged to associate with the most illiterate, unpolished and worthless sort” (p.22). Canada in the Years 1832, 1833 and 1834; Containing Important Information and Instructions, by “Ex-Settler” (Dublin: P.D. Hardy, 1834)—a guide O’Grady should surely have encountered—warns that “Canada is pre-eminently a [page lxv] country for the labourer,” and that a gentleman emigrating thereto “will certainly not rise” in station, although he “can eat, drink, and sleep, and be clothed in a plain manner” (p.6). Some such popular conceptions is visible of course in Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart [New Canadian Library], 1970), which suggestively details the conflict between members of the shabby gentry of the Old World and the rough-hewn commoners of the New. In a telling image Moodie disdainfully describes a number of Irish emigrant-labourers leaping with joy upon arrival in Quebec and crying, “Shure we’ll all be jintlemen!” (p. 27). My identification below of a Standish O’Grady with a genteel background renders such warnings particularly relevant to The Emigrant. [back]


O’Grady may indeed have established himself on the periphery of the vice-regal circle; his friendship with the Sawtells (for which see below) no doubt earned him the occasional invitation, since Ethelind Sawtell was the recipient of the favour of Lady Colborne, as the dedication to her volume of poems makes clear. Nevertheless, Colborne’s papers in the Public Archives of Canada include “Letters from various individuals seeking favours”; none of these is from O’Grady, so whatever his familiarity with the Lieutenant-Governor he did not seem to feel it strong enough to impose upon even in the coming days of crisis. [back]


Henry Taylor, Journal of a Tour From Montreal, Thro’ Berthier and Sorel, To the Eastern Townships. . . . (Quebec: Cowan and Son, 1840), p. 6. [back]


Francis A. Evans, Esq., The Emigrant’s Directory and Guide to Obtain Lands and Effect a Settlement in the Canadas (Dublin: William Curry Jun., and Co., 1833), pp. 18, 22. [back]


Mary Jane Edwards’s research into the parish records of Christ Church (Anglican) Cathedral in Sorel has recently shown that during their residence in Sorel O’Grady and his wife had three children (Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vii, 659-661). The first child, a boy, was born in June, 1836, so O’Grady’s wife made the Atlantic crossing while seven to eight months pregnant. This boy died at the age of six months; the son and daughter who followed (September, 1837; March, 1839) appear to have survived infancy. This information is of particular interest in that O’Grady will berate in The Emigrant those “ungrateful offspring” he left in Ireland—presumably grown children, since still-dependent children could have little opportunity to be grateful or otherwise. As I remark in the explanatory note to the passage (II. 1603-1613) and below, O’Grady could have had little reason to invent a previous family, and although it would be incautious to assert the reference’s biographical validity, it may well be that the Sorel children were the result of a second marriage. If that was the case, their father was probably older than the forty-five year old [page lxvi] O’Grady Professor Edwards identifies. (For a fuller treatment of the reasons for my differences with Edwards’s identification, see below, note 36.) [back]


Steward Wallace, Dictionary of Canadian Biography (Toronto: Macmillan, 1945), vol. 2, p. 496. [back]


Edward MacLysaght, Surnames of Ireland (Shannon: Irish University Press, 1969), p. 10. [back]


Dictionary of National Biography, VI, 780-781. [back]


Lawrence Lande, Old Lamps Aglow (Montreal: The Christian Brothers 1957), p. 181; on the next page Lande claims that noted Irish writer Standish James O’Grady was “a direct descendant of our author,” again without offering evidence. [back]


“Some of the parts of the poem itself which we have read, are very beautiful, and highly indicative of genius, and the respectable names which the subscription list already presents, with the highly flattering notes addressed to the author, afford evidence that the work is of no inconsiderable merit.” The reviewer adds (revealingly, given the information treated below) that “Mr. O’Grady, the author, has devoted a considerable portion of a long life to literary pursuits” (emphasis mine). The Literary Garland, III (August, 1841), p. 432. [back]


The Transcript went well beyond the Garland in its praise: “The language is terse, descriptive, and sometimes brilliant—rivaling the sweetness of Moore, the vividness of Byron, the grandeur of Milton, and the comprehensiveness of Pope or Shakespeare!” (January 27, 1842, p. 2). “Messenger,” pseudonymous author of the review, has a gift for hyperbole. [back]


Feb. 3 1842, p. 3. [back]


Montreal Transcript, March 11, 1843, p. 1. [back]


This may suggest that a second Canto of The Emigrant was accepted and intended for publication—note that O’Grady’s “Preface” to the poem promises a second Canto dealing with Upper Canada—but no other evidence corroborates the possibility. [back]


I am grateful to Mary Lu Macdonald for sharing her discovery of this reference with me. [back]


The British Canadian, date unknown; quoted in The Toronto Examiner, November 19, 1845, p. 3. [back]


A notice of The Emigrant which appeared in the relatively neutral Toronto Mirror on June 14, 1844 may indicate that O’Grady was already in Toronto for a year when the Canadian made its appeal on his behalf. The Mirror cryptically refers to the book’s having “been put into [their] hands,” but they decline to review it in the present issue for lack of time. They promise a full review in their next issue, but no subsequent review can be found in the newspaper. It is not easy to imagine who would be promoting the book in this manner two and a half years after its appearance if not O’Grady himself, newly arrived in [page lxvii] Toronto. [back]


The Toronto Examiner, November 19, 1845, p. 3. The Montreal Gazette was relatively sympathetic in its response to the Canadian’s appeal; on November 19, 1845 it noted briefly, “We are sorry to learn from the Toronto Canadian, that ‘O’Grady, the Poet,’ is in a very destitute condition. . . .” [back]


The British Colonist, February 17, 1846. “Saturday morning last” was February 14; but the Montreal Gazette and the Montreal Witness, which picked up the obituary, give the date of death as the 8th, while the Quebec Gazette supplies the 7th. Given the rough agreement between the latter three papers, we may assume that O’Grady Bennett died on Saturday, February 7, 1846, and that his obituary notice was phrased before Saturday the 14th had elapsed, but was not printed until after that date. If indeed he died on the 8th, a Sunday, the phrase in the original obituary in the Colonist is inexplicable. [back]


Unfortunately no obituary for O’Grady or O’Grady Bennett can be found in the Canadian itself. It would probably have appeared on February 14, 1846, the date of that week’s issue, but the only collection of the Canadian to which I have found access is missing this very issue. If any reader of the present volume is aware of the existence and location of the issue I should be most grateful to hear of it. [back]


This suggestion is supported by the remote possibility that he had distant relations in Ontario; see below. [back]


G.D. Burtchaell and T.U. Sadleir, Alumni Dublinenses (London: Williams and Norgate, 1924), p. 59. [back]


Kathleen O’Donnell, “Standish O’Grady,” Le Chien d’Or / The Golden Dog, 3 (February, 1974), pp. 1-9. [back]


Reference to this valuable list may be found in an equally valuable compendium, the Manuscript Sources for the History of Irish Civilization, 11 vols. (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1965). [back]


None of these materials would be known to me without the exhaustive study of the issue made by Donald Akenson in his The Church of Ireland: Ecclesiastical Reform and Revolution 18-1855 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971); his bibliography offers a wealth of information on the Irish ecclesiastical practice of the period. [back]


A Return Respecting the Several Dioceses of Ireland, British Sessional Papers, 1806-7, vol. VI, p. 507. [back]


Return Respecting the Several Dioceses of Oreland, p. 554. [back]


A List of the Parishes in Ireland, with the Names of their Respective Incumbents, British Sessional Papers, 1824, vol. XXI, p. 278. [back]


British Sessional Papers, 1833, vol. XXVII, p. 493. [back]


British Sessional Papers, 1836, vol. XL, p. 51. [back]


British Sessional Papers, 1836, vol. XL, p. 53. [back]


He must therefore have been lying about the B.A., unless the usual reliability of the Alumni Dublinenses is to be questioned in his case. [back] [page lxviii]


Mary Jane Edwards’s identification of an entirely different Standish O’Grady for The Dictionary of Canadian Biography clearly contradicts much of the evidence on which the present treatment has relied, and must be addressed here. Three fairly reliable pieces of biographical information may be derived from the text of the poem itself: that the poet was at Trinity College, Dublin, with Robert Emmet, hence somewhere between 1793 and 1798; that he was supported by the receipt of tithe; and that when the tithe wars reached their peak he borrowed from a government fund in order to meet his expenses. Each of these pieces of information may be corroborated, as I have shown, by external documentation, and neither the original information in the poem nor the external documents support Edwards’s identification. (It is possible of course to deny the truth of the poem’s biographical details, but they cannot be merely ignored. Edwards refers neither to the Emmet coincidence nor to the relief-loan to the Irish clergy.) Her Standish O’Grady was born in 1789 or 1790, and entered Trinity College, Dublin in 1807, nine years after Emmet’s departure; he was a clergyman in 1817, but he turns up on no clergy list after 1818; no Parliamentary list shows him as a receiver of tithe; he is not among those who borrowed from the government fund. He was “collated priest of Tullybracky” in the diocese of Killaloe.” But a new cleric was appointed Prebendary of Tullybracky in April of 1818, only eight months after O’Grady’s appointment there, and the latter did not go on to any other benefice or appointment within the church of Ireland (“A Return. . . containing a list of the several DIGNITIES, BENEFICES, and PARISHES in Ireland. . .[with the Names of the several Dignitaries and Incumbents in 1812]; adding thereto, An Account of all Promotions and Alterations made and . . .stating the Name and Time of Admission of each Dignitary and Incumbent so promoted and removed,” British Sessional Papers [1830-1831], vol. VII, pp. 91ff). In fact, according to the Leslie clergy list cited earlier, the “rector of Kilnasoolagh” in Killaloe diocese was the Standish Grady dealt with and dismissed in my discussion above. He was ordained and granted the benefice in 1803, a full seven years before Edwards’s O’Grady was even taken his baccalaureate. With that conflation of two different men eliminated, Edwards’s O’Grady disappears from the clerical and Parliamentary records by 1818. He may have been defrocked, or willingly have left the Church of Ireland altogether, but he would not therefore have Irish tithes to collect and complain of. It seems more likely that Edwards’s O’Grady died in 1818: an outbreak of typhoid fever in the city of Limerick—his place of residence—was reported in the London Times as having crowded the hospitals and carried off dozens of its residents in April, 1818, the very month in which he [page lxix] disappears. He may have died by other means, or he may not have died at all; the evidence at this point permits nothing more than speculation. It is at any rate incumbent on the O’Grady biographer to make the connection forward from the Trinity College days to the departure for Canada, and it seems to me the essential error of Edwards’s identification that all the documents permitting such a connection turn up blank for this O’Grady. Until his absence from church and Parliamentary records after 1818 can be accounted for by some reasonable means, and some feasible reason for his lying about the time at Trinity College with Emmet can be  offered, Edwards’s O’Grady must be set aside in favour of the Standish O’Grady Bennett who satisfies every logical demand made by the poem’s evidence and the corroboration of the public record.
      Those who would go on to read The Emigrant itself as a “document” in this biographical reconstruction will find some of its concerns noteworthy. While literary-generational distinctions cannot be made with much assurance, certainly not in Canada, it would seem curious for a poet with such eighteenth-century ideas of literature, society, and religion, whose references are almost exclusively to the great men of the eighteenth century, whose memories of glorious battles derive almost entirely from eighteenth-century warfare (for all of which see the balance of this Introduction), to have been only ten years old at the turn of the new century. Would the Act of Union of 1801 be such a clearly articulated focus of the political venom of a young Irish Protestant who was only eleven when the act was passed—as was Edwards’s O’Grady? Would that same young man be able to speak with such detailed energy and warmth of the speeches of the great Irish parliamentarians of the previous century? Why would the glory of Waterloo, fought when he was twenty-five, be so eclipsed in his mind by the various Reliefs of Gibraltar from 1779 to 1783? These concerns of The Emigrant, insofar as they may be read historically, would seem to point more suggestively to a sixty-year-old emigrant than to a man fifteen years his junior; and since external documentary evidence points exclusively to a Standish O’Grady Bennett born in 1776 or 1777, I must conclude that the “poor old O’Grady, the poet” whose “grey hairs” were “descending in sorrow to the grave” in Toronto in 1845 was the man I have identified, a man of some seventy, not fifty-five, years. [back]


More may be learned of Viscount Guillamore in the Dictionary of National Biography. [back]


Burke’s Irish Family Records (London: Burke’s Peerage, 1976), p. 913; one Darby O’Grady married a Faith Standish in 1633. [back]


Edward MacLysaght, ed., “O’Grady Papers,” Analecta Hibernica, 15 (November, 1949), pg. 52. [back]


The “De Courcy” mentioned in the passage itself is a contemporary [page lxx] personage descended from the heroic DeCourcy of the footnotes. This personage may be a member of the families of the Barons Kingsale, surname DeCourcy, of O’Grady’s time—another family which married into the O’Gradys of Kilballyowen—or it may be one of various “Decourcy O’Gradys” resulting from this union. [back]


A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Ireland(London: Harrison and Sons, 1912), pp. 530-31. [back]


Burke’s Irish Family Records, p. 913. [back]


Significantly, when Standish O’Grady’s third child in Sorel proved to be a daughter, he named her “Eliza”—perhaps thereby continuing the family tradition in which children were christened with the given name of their grandparents. [back]


The Roll of Graduates of the University of Glasgow, compiled by W. Innes Addison (Glasgow: J. MacLehose and Son, 1898), p. 42. [back]


Sorel Papers, Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario (MG 8. F89, C-14032), pp. 1799-1802. [back]


Noel Montgomery Eliot, ed., People of Ontario 1600-1900: An Alphabetized Directory of the People, Places and Vital Dates (London, Ont.: Genealogical Research Library, 1984), p83. [back]


Burke’s Irish Family Records, p. 1176. [back]


W.P.W. Phillimore and Edward Alexander Fry, An Index to Changes of Name Under Authority of Act of Parliament or Royal Licence and Including Irregular Changes from 1 George III to 64 Victoria, 1760-1901 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1963), p. 24. [back]


Burke’s suggests that this Bolton Waller joined a general family emigration to the United States, but he may be found in The Canadian Churchman of September 1852, when his marriage to Miss Helen Coffin is announced; Bolton Waller O’Grady is at that time of “Hazelbank, Peterboro,” and the Churchman carefully notes his relation to “the late Lord Chief Baron of Ireland, Viscount Guillamore.” Was he in Toronto six years earlier? He would have been twenty at the time of the poet’s death, certainly old enough to be carving out a place for himself in the colonies and to be of interest to a desperate relation from Sorel. [back]


The Toronto Star of January 17, 1846 notes that one John O’Grady had been assaulted by John and Margaret Falone. [back]


Charles L. Batten Jr., Pleasurable Instruction: Form and Convention in Eighteenth-Century Travel Literature (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1978), p. 6. [back]


Batten, Pleasurable Instruction, pp. 38-9, and passim. [back]


Batten, Pleasurable Instruction, p. 110. [back]


Batten, Pleasurable Instruction, p. 36. [back]


Quoted in Batten, Pleasurable Instruction, p. 110. [back]


Charles Reginald Steele, “Canadian Poetry in English: The Beginnings,” (Diss., University of Western Ontario, London Ontario, [page lxxi] 1974), p. 209. [back]


Steele, “Canadian Poetry in English”, p. 223. [back]


The recent announcement that he had a wife and family in Sorel with him does not so much contradict or undermine this aspect of the poem as it reveals the astonishing degree to which male writers of the period could describe their personal circumstances without allusion to the women whose duties contemporarily conceived made those circumstances more bearable. [back]


Farley has noted the images of betrayal and infidelity that “crowd Standish O’Grady’s The Emigrant” in Exile and Pioneers: Two Visions of Canada’s Future 1825-1975 (Ottawa: Borealis, 1976), p. 39. [back]


The title page of the first edition reads: “THE EMIGRANT, / A POEM, IN FOUR CANTOS. / [Rule] / BY STANDISH O’GRADY, BSQ. B.A., T.C.D. / [Rule] / Montreal: / PRINTED AND PUBLISHED, FOR THE AUTHOR, / BY JOHN LOVELL. / 1841.” Collation: 12° {} in half-sheet: A B6-R6 [$1 signed, 3rd leaf signed $2, misprinting F2 as “E2”]; 102 leaves, pp. i-xii, 13-204 [misnumbering 49 as “47”; pp. i-iv, ix, 13, 131, 192-193 unnumbered]. The copy of the 1841 edition held in Special Collections in the Douglas Library, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario has an unnumbered p. 97; this copy was reproduced by the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions. A copy of the same edition in the Baldwin Room of the Metropolitan Toronto Public Library has p. 97 numbered, however, as does the copy of the 1842 re-issue held in Special Collections at the Weldon Library, University of Western Ontario, London Ontario. The difference therefore between the copy held at Queen’s and all other copies of the volume I have seen, whether from 1841 or 1842, suggests that the unnumbered page is a freak of that single copy resulting from the weakness of the paper at the pagination point, and so does not indicate any correction to the plates for the 1842 re-issue (a conclusion borne out by my own collation of the two editions). Only the title-page of the 1842 edition was, as I have noted, altered from the original; it reads: “THE EMIGRATION, / A POEM, / IN FOUR CANTOS. / [Rule] / BY STANDISH O’GRADY, ESQ. B.A., T.C.D. / [Rule] / Montreal: / PRINTED FOR THE AUTHOR. / 1842.” The paper bears no watermarks or chain lines, and was probably a wove paper commonly used for cheap publications; the size of the leaves (17.3 x 10.5 cm) is roughly consistent with a duodecimo folding of demy paper (See Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography [Oxford: Claredon, 1972], pp. 65-66, 72-77, 86-87). My thanks to Craig Ferguson of the Department of English, Queen’s University, for his assistance with the bibliographical details of the volume. [back] [page lxxii]