The Reception of The Huron Chief, and Other Poems
From The Vindicator, Montreal, February 26, 1830:
Mr. Kidd has sent into this critisizing [sic] and ungracious world the long expected volume of his works, in as chaste and elegant a form as Canada or any other country could produce. The external appearance of the work, unquestionably does credit to his taste and the anxiety he has shewn to please the public (he has we understand, superintended it himself through the press) and confers not a little portion of praise on the printer. The volume which consists of the Huron Chief and several minor poems is prefaced by a beautiful engraving of the warrior, which from its execution is worth more than half the price we understand charged for the entire. It is not an unpleasant thing to witness in this country the rapid improvement in this as well as in other department [sic] of taste and to know that the productions of genius can be clothed in a garb becoming its merits and suitable to its fame and preconceived character. With regard to the poem the dress of which we eulogize so much, we do not wish to offer a hasty opinion, we have therefore purposely avoided looking into it, until we can do so calmly and with due and impartial consideration. The minor poems contained in the volume have many of them already appeared before the public. In our last publication, we have given a specimen of Mr. Kidds complimentary powers and the simple form of sincere praise he is capable of bestowing; Our present number furnishes the admirer of the muses with a specimen of his style in a different metre. It pleases us very much; whether from the easy cadence of its verses, the fluency of the style and unaffected simplicity of the composition or from any other cause we cannot say. The reader, however may judge for himself. In our next we will say something on the Huron Chief
[Prints Rangleawe The Roving Bard from The Huron Chief and Other Poems, pp. 199-201.]
* * *
From the Montreal Gazette, March 4, 1830:
We have to express our grateful acknowledgements to Mr. Kidd for his little volume of Poems. We greet with pleasure any literary production, dating its birth in the Province, particularly when its pages are devoted to subjects of a local nature. Canada can scarcely be said to possess any literature whatever, or (what is worse) any desire for it; and any attempt to remove us from the reproach should be looked upon with a favourable eye.
* * *
From the Montreal Gazette, June 7, 1830:
To the Editor of the Montreal Gazette
Sir, As I was sitting at breakfast about eighteen months ago, a gentleman called and said he wished to see me.
After a short preamble my visitor unfolded some eight or ten yards of a long paper roll, covered with names, to which he requested me to add mine as a subscriber to a forthcoming Poem, to be entitled The Huron Chief. He added that the terms were half a crown, to be paid on subscription, and an equal sum on delivery of the work. The title being so attractive and many of the signatures respectable, I did not hesitate, but wrote down my name and paid the money. The Poet pocketed his two and sixpence, replaced his voluminous scroll under his arm, and made his bow and exit.
I heard no more of the Huron Chief until yesterday, when a friend put a copy into my hand.
The book is appropriately dedicated to Thomas Moore. Indeed the Author is not a little indebted to that eminent man.
We are all pleased, when in a lazy mood, to be saved bodily or mental exertion. Ideas already expressed, illustrations cut and dry, metaphors in bundles, and rhymes prepared for the novice, are therefore very convenient, when the power of composition flags, and the poor writer looks from Earth to Heaven, however fine his frenzy, without being able to make anything of the airy nothings he beholds. Under these unpromising circumstances, who can blame him if he takes a hint from a previous author, who had the good luck to write before him, and to develop an idea or two on the subject in hand.
Plagiarism we all know is quite a different thing, for what plagiarist ever dreamt of confessing his misdeeds in the beginning of his book. It is simple borrowing, against which there can be no objection, when it is acknowledged.
Acting on the principle of this distinction, the Author, to be sure, has plagiarized a little from other writers; but he has contracted a pretty considerable debt in the way of borrowing from Tom Moore, and honestly confesses it. Hence the pretty alliterative compliment to that most popular, most powerful, and most patriotic poet; from Adam his most ardent admirer. This is certainly neat composition.
The ardent admirer having discovered a jingle in the works of the popular poet minute rhyming with in it, finds it very apropos, and appropriates it without ceremony, but uses it, my friend thinks, a little too lavishly.
But it would be fatiguing to make any more extracts. After the above samples the deuce is in it if Mr. Kidd could have dedicated his book with decency to any other person than Moore.
The Author of the Huron Chief, having made the most of his little minute, indulges by the hour in such difficult combinations as mountain and fountain reposes and roses and around me and bound me all after the example of the most approved writers. He certainly evinces considerable ability in the adroitness with which he withholds any thing original, either as to thought or expression, in his work. After all, this is no common merit. Perhaps it may be done on purpose, and his own mental productions may be reserved for the book which his preface announces.
Mr. Kidd is, (to use his own stile), a little playful in his prosody. Having already ingeniously diluted one rhyme into nine, the task is easy to cut in two a helpless monosyllable. Accordingly hour and bower, (which are placed in juxtaposition every other page), fire and power, turn, world, girl, lyre, are to be pronounced as orthodox dissyllables, the Author not having the fear of Walker or Sheridan before his ears.
There are not a few hits at Lindley Murray, but these I have not leisure at present to count.
Examples of pure nonsense are not often met with in modern books. In these the Huron Chief is rich.
At page 165 [To May] we are favoured with a very striking geographical fact as yet unknown to Pinkerton. The deep Pierian rills, after a long and serpentine course from their native district in Thessaly, empty themselves into the River Bann in Ireland.
I am sorry to notice some personalities in the Huron Chief. However pointless the epigram on the Countess Dalhousie, the malice is the same as if it were true. The Author here should have imitated his Hero. Skenandow would never direct a poisoned arrow at a female still less behind her back.
Having thus noticed a few faint shades and trifling defects in Mr. Kidds Poem, I beg leave to inform the talented Author that I feel perfectly satisfied with the perusal of my friends book, and shall not give him the trouble of furnishing me with a copy. In these days of economy it is desirable to save even half a crown.
Montreal, May 30, 1830.
* * *
From The Vindicator, June 15, 1830:
Grant me patience, just Heaven! of all the cants which are canted in this canting world, though the cant of hypocrites be the worst, the cant of criticism is the most tormenting.
To the Editor of The Vindicator
The ass was a wonderful fellow when he put on the Lions skin; but his braying soon proved him to be an animal of the long-eared species. Mr. Q. in his criticism too, bears a striking affinity to that animal. I never saw one yet, when turned into the finest pasturage, that did not crop, with avidity, every thistle and prickly shrub which came within his reach. With what minuteness has Mr. Q. read the Huron Chief! but of all other animals, the ass has the greatest share of patience and perseverance.
Diomede was endowed with the power of discerning Gods from mortals. Mr. Q. is certainly very expert too in singling out the blemishes of a poet. As to the beauties of poetry, I must say he has evinced wonderful prudence in passing them unnoticed. A beautiful woman feels little pleasure upon hearing herself eulogized by a very ugly or a very rude man. Mr. Kidd is much in debt to Mr. Q. for his silence on this part. He who, instead of the matin of the lark, the thrilling voice of the thrush, the mellow notes of the blackbird, or the sweet and simple lay of the red breast, has never heard aught save the croaking of a bull-frog, or the hissing of a rattle-snake, cannot be a man possessed of a fine ear, or a fine taste. As to Mr. Q.s show off of wit, he is excusable for once. The Lion stoops not to the chattering monkey, nor to the snarling cur, nor does the eagle unbend his flight to feed on carrion. I am sure the author of the noble Huron is possessed of too much loftiness of soul to tread even on a wasp. To Mr. Q. he would say, as Steme says in My Uncle Toby, get thee gone poor thing.
I am by no means inclined to be captious with Mr. Q. concerning the number of minutes which have so much excited his curiosity. I do not assert that the Huron is without a blemish; but I have little hesitation in saying that any man possessed of the least particle of poetic taste must have observed beauties in the Huron Chief in the admiration of which every defect must have been completely lost sight of.
Mr. Q. has proved to the world that he is not only ver minute, but also very learned in his criticism. Observe, for instance, his remarks on these two lines:
Now, had this compound of conceit and stupidity ever received any instructions beyond the precincts of Noah Websters Spelling Book, he must, at the first glance, have seen that the defect here is in the printer, and not in the author, insert a comma at the word on, and not only is the sense complete, but the language perfectly consonant with the strictest rules of sound criticism.
Mr. Q. is like a traveller who refuses to take rest except where he sees a milestone; he looks, but not at the sentiment of the author tis only at the stop-watch my lord.
Mr. Q. is, as it would appear, a man deeply read in many wondrous books. He has read Pinkertons Geography. Prodigious Dominie Sampson. Has the fellow ever read an Eclogue of Virgil? If he has, he ought to be put in the pillory. Only read his observations on the following lines:
Quid nunc te, asine, literas doceam? non
opus est verbis, des fustibus.
Who is there that is properly acquainted with the term Pierian, would ever have thought of censuring any writer for applying it to the rills of Erin? of Erin, that sacred land of song Erin, in whose bosom an Ossian, a Hampson, a Goldsmith, and a Moore, were nurtured whose halls have reechoed with the oratory of a Grattan, a Phillips, and an OConnell. Who is there, I ask, that ever yet knew the poetical acceptation of the word Pierian, that could have read these very lines without feeling his bosom burning as he read them?
Mr. Q. in his conclusion, informs us that he is perfectly satisfied with the perusal of his friends [sic] book, and that in these days of economy, it is desirable to save even half a crown. This indeed was precisely what I expected; a man of Mr. Q. s kidney may find beauties on the face of half a crown infinitely more pleasing to him than any to be met with in the most classic author. Save your half crown. Mr. Q. these are times of heavy losses, so much so indeed, that I have myself lately heard of men who were not unable to enlarge their libraries, but have even said that they would be obliged to sell their present stock; whether Pinkerton was among the collections I am not altogether certain.
In taking leave of Mr. Q. I shall not Mr. Editor detain you by expatiating on the feelings which may have actuated either the writer or the publisher of the wondrous critique. To the former I beg leave to put one question. Did he ever see a volume of poems published last year by Mr. Hawley? If he ever wanted to cut a figure in his true sphere of criticism, what was he about then? When could he better have employed his pen than in cutting up that bundle of insipid nonsense? Perhaps he had not at that time read Pinkerton.
Before Mr. Q. again ventures into the field of criticism, I would advise him to take generous glass of Consular wine. I am sure he merits some little acknowledgement for his zeal, if not for his services. Moreover too, I think he has been rather sick when he was writing ipse aries etiam nunc vellera siccat.
From The Vindicator, June 18, 1830:
To enter the lists against scurrility to tilt a lance against heartless malevolence, is neither the motive for this article, nor the intention of its author. Our self-respect will not permit the one the other is unnecessary, for malevolence ever defeats its own object. However unwilling, therefore, we may be to demean ourselves, and how needless soever the task is of exposing the motives which have called the attacks of the petty scribblers, yet there is no one, we are sure, but will pardon our obtrusion, whilst we fulfil a duty which we owe to justice, and protect merit from the low, vile, and unfeeling attack of anonymous personality.
There is a certain ordeal, over the red hot ploughshares of which every author must pass a certain balance in which his work must be weighed before its character can be established, before fame or oblivion can be adjucated [sic] to him. Be it ours to examine whether justice has been rendered to The Huron Chief by his self-constituted judges in the columns of a contemporary.
A verdict to be just must be derived from a pure and impartial enquiry into the facts of the question at issue, and if a judge proposes to direct the public voice, he must fairly and candidly state what he has elicited from a thorough examination of both the merits and demerits of the case. But what confidence can there be reposed in the fairness and impartiality of that critic who takes up a book, and patiently pores over its pages, and as a result of his labours, offers all the imperfections of the author, unrelieved by even a solitary instance of isolated merit? We must enter our solemn protest against this mode of proceeding, alike unjust towards the reviewed, and unworthy of the reviewer. The writer whose prerogative it is to wield the pen of criticism in this country whose duty it is to wade through whatever black letter issues from the Canadian press, in order to apprize a lazy public of its qualities, and to direct them where to find the beauties of the author, and where be his faults, should recollect that duty does not consist so much in repressing presumption, and in extinguishing arrogant pretension, as in encouraging budding genius. We must confess that we are far from wishing to be censorious, and had much rather point Out a beauty any day, than exhaust our patience in culling out imperfections that we may set them before the reader in formidable array.
We are sorry to perceive that it has too often been the fashion with our critics, in the fury of their zeal against weeds, to tear up many beautiful flowers by the roots, and in pursuit of noxious plants, to tread down, and crush to destruction buds of the sweetest promise.
Lady Morgan, somewhere in her book of the Boudoir, states, that the reviewers treat with particular leniency the productions of aristocratic pens rari quippe and it would, in our opinion, be politic if those who assume a similar dictatorship amongst us, would follow, for a while longer, a similar rule of conduct in regard to works which issue from our press. Heaven knows the man of education and ability, who burns the midnight lamp in this country, weaving an intellectual web, has obstacles sufficient to contend against, and more than enough to damp his ardour before his subscription list is filled, and before a sun shines on his day of publication, and may well be spared the additional agony of seeing some vampire of a critic, puffed big with self-importance, feeding his savage appetite upon the offspring of his sleepless hours. Let ours be the more agreeable task of fostering the tender plant, and of gently pruning away those excrescent superfluities which betray, not its viciousness, but rather the richness of the soil.
The chief faults that are found with Mr. Kidds style are these two: first, that both it and his ideas are borrowed from Moore; secondly, that it is too alliterative. The first objection we shall dismiss very summarily. Assertion is not proof, and until evidence of the fact be submitted to us, we must decline proving a negative. That alliteration is a fault, and ought to be avoided, is what we were ignorant of, we confess it, until we read the Montreal Gazette. However, as our opinion on this subject is a leetle the converse of that which has arisen to the surface of the barmy noodle of the correspondent of that paper, we beg to be allowed to enter more fully on this subject.
Alliteration, we would request the liberty of informing our readers, consists in the repetition of the accented letter of a syllable, altho that letter does not begin the word, as in powerful patriot. Whoever has studied our ancient and modern classics, need not be furnished with quotations to prove how decorating a beauty this is throughout those standards of composition. To what is Virgils description of Camilla chiefly indebted for its beauty? Is it not to its (almost) excessive alliteration? and where is this more prevalent than throughout the whole of the Aeneid? Among our own Poets, Byron, Gay, Pope, &c. appear to study it; the first, in his dedication of his Corsair to Moore, says, I dedicate to you the last production I shall trespass on public patience. Examples need scarcely be further cited, but lest there may yet be some who doubt, we submit the following
To sum up our authorities in favor of alliteration, If two words offer of equal propriety, the one alliterative, the other not, we think, says the Encyclopedia Britannica, the first ought to be chosen, for it is a constant appearance as far as we have observed, that the Poets whose fame is highest, are most extensive dealers in this article.
But whoever would ascribe the malignant attack of the correspondent to the Montreal Gazette on Mr. Kidds Work, to its literary failings, would fall into a very egregious error. The motives of that attack lie far beneath the surface, and to be fathomed require an insight into the history of this province for some years past. It cannot be forgotten what a conspicuous part Mr. Kidd performed in the political drama which has been amusing us, until lately, for a sad length of time. Had that part been different, and consequently more congenial to the right divine of the powers that were and had he abstained from shewing off his epigrammatic wit at the expense of high and titled dames, we question much whether he would have ever aroused the drones from their dullness, or disturbed the cobwebs which so gracefully festoon their patrons Armour-y. If, as it is asserted, (and which we point blank deny) Mr. Kidd is under any obligations to the author of Lalla Rookh, as a writer, it must be conceded there is a strong resemblance between them as men, for they each run a most excellent chance of being damned for their politics.
We now dismiss these snarlers they have occupied too much of our time in refuting their silliness, and we shall proceed to pass our opinion on The Huron Chief. It is a dramatic poem, pourtraying [sic] the aboriginal manners of a people fast hastening to decay, and snatches, ere it sink for ever, a few rays from their setting simplicity to add to the glorious and ever varying Kaleidescope [sic] of English literature. The author has roamed through our primeval forests with a heart weeping over the misfortunes of its wronged, ill used, and misguided children, and has done much to interest our feelings for a race long a stranger to our sympathies. The philanthropist and lover of humanity, will ever deeply thank him for employing his pen in their behalf. Above the cant of criticism, we willingly and of a choice dwell over those parts nearest allied to perfection, and with the confidence of a sound judgement, submit the following verses to the reader, as a specimen, chosen at random, of rich and original poetry: [Quotes The Huron Chief, ll. 1411-1442, with ll. 1413-1414 italicized]
Did our space allow, or our time permit, we could offer various other quotations equally beautiful. We take our leave now of Mr. Kidd, recommending his work to every reader of taste, and are certain no boudoir or drawing room will be found hereafter without a copy of
THE HURON CHIEF.
* * *