Poems in Early Canadian Newspapers


All material copyright Canadian Poetry Press.


 Quebec Mercury



For many years after it began publication on January 5, 1805, The Quebec Mercury served as an hospitable home for poems written in English by residents of the Canadas.  The reason for this, of course, is that the newspaper's owner and editor, Thomas Cary (1751-1823), was himself a poet, the author of Abram's Plains: A Poem (Quebec, 1789) and the "Occasional Prologue" that appeared in the inaugural issue of the paper (see "Thomas Cary's 'Occasional Prologue' and its Contexts," ed. and intro. by D.M.R. Bentley, Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 41 [Fall/Winter, 1997]: 102-111).  Not only were poems a regular feature in The Quebec Mercury, but they were usually assigned a relatively prominent position in the top left-hand corner of its back page: as both a poet and as an editor, Cary must be accorded a position of similar prominence in the early development of English poetry in Canada.

A lover of "pleasantries, in the stile of [E]nglish papers" who saw himself as occupying "a central situation between high and low; establishment and non-establishment; profession and trade," Cary went on record in the early issues of The Quebec Mercury as eschewing materials that might "hurt any man's feelings; or, in any degree,. . .lessen that respect for men and things, which the peace and good order of a well-regulated society require" (editorials, January 5 and 19, 1805).  In accordance with these precepts, he rejected submissions of a sectarian nature and pieces likely "to provoke. . .personal altercation" (March 2 and December 23, 1805) and frequently engaged in playful banter with poets who had sent him material for consideration, as, for example, on March 9, 1805:

The Old Maid, from Montreal, shall appear, at the risk of our being cited before the court of hymen, for a grave and virulent libel on his sacred torch, but we trust that we shall stand acquitted, when we plead, that we publish it in the confident hope that some votary of the offended God, will come bravely forward, and draw the teeth and nails of this ancient Virgo, alias Virago.

As the following examples attest, however, Cary's brief critiques and editorial decisions mainly stemmed from aesthetic and technical considerations:

The Fire Side is under consideration.   It is tediously long, and wants the liveliness with which we wish to fill our poet's corner.  The ideas, however, we cannot find fault with, nor have we anything to say against the versification.

(March 2, 1805)

Lawrence Lively, we hope, will excuse our publishing his Poetry, as he terms it, or the greater part of it, in a different dress, from the one he sent it in.  We must be allowed to apprize him that all rhime is not poetry.  The greater part of his lines, tho' the whole are but few, are not only unpoetical, but they offend in the measure; and more so in the incongruity and flatness of the last two lines.

(March 9, 1805)

K. Zickabuk shall not appear.  He has doubly taxed us for the worst trash we ever have been condemned to read.  First by a loss of time in reading it.  Secondly, by a loss of pence, for postage.  We would ask the writer whence he derives the right of putting us to the expence of 9d. for an unasked for and an unwelcome spoiled sheet of paper.  We have already said, and we now repeat, that we will insert nothing, good or bad, for which we are put to an expence.

Alcanor's verses shall appear, tho' he makes the lady he represents look up to that perfection in her choice, which, we are afraid, she will scarcely find amongst mortals.

Florio's verses inscribed to Miss _____ shall appear.  The other four lines are too prosaic, and the conceit too trivial for this paper.

(March 23, 1805)

 In the course of time, Cary's comments on poets and poetry became less frequent, but there is no reason to doubt either that his editorial principles remained consistent or that he lacked for poems to publish.  "Our poet's corner is generally filled early in the week," he wrote on February 16, 1806 and, as the index to Poetry in Early Canadian Newspapers amply attests, it appears to have remained so well beyond The Quebec Mercury's first years of publication.

- D.M.R.B.



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