Sunday, 31 July 2016
Literary History of Nova Scotia
From The Canadian Magazine XLV1II, No. 1, Toronto, November, 1916
Editor’s Note—The present essay and those to follow it will form the second series of historico-critical articles contributed to The Canadian Magazine by Dr. Logan The essays are based on his special series of lectures on the Literary History and the Literature of Canada, delivered in December, 1915, at Acadia University, Wolfville, N.S. The lectures had the distinction of being the first of the kind to be delivered at any university in the Dominion. They are in preparation for publication in book form. In the meantime, the material selected from them for publication in The Canadian Magazine presents re-views, that is, new and revised views, of some unrecognized salients in the literary history and the literature of Canada. The essays to follow the present article are entitled: Canadian Fictionists and Other Creative Prose Writers; The Second Renaissance of Canadian Nativistic Poetry; Canadian Poets and Poetesses as Lyrists of Romantic Love; and Canadian Poets as Verbal Colourists and Musicians. Either in theme, point of view, or treatment, or all three, the essays are novel and original.
IN historico-critical reviews or appreciations of literature, as distinguished from essays in belles-lettres, what excites intellectual interest and engages the fancy is not so much the persons and the times considered by a literary historian or critic as the novelty in his point of view, originality in his angle of vision in treating the poets and the prose-writers of a given country and period or periods. Until the publication of Mr. T. G. Marquis’s illuminating and genuinely constructive monograph, “English-Canadian Literature”, (Toronto, 1913), no systematic critical treatment of the origins, evolution, and æsthetic status of Canadian letters had been attempted. To be sure, Sir John Bourinot and Dr. Archibald MacMurchy had published excellent appreciative surveys of Canadian literature. But these surveys, as also the many magazine essays on the same theme by other critics, were annalistic, compendial, and quite without any philosophical, systematic, or even distinctive method of treatment. Moreover, the principal Canadian anthologists, Dr. Dewart, Mr. W. D. Lighthall, and Dr. Rand, have kept almost wholly to the annalistic method of reviewing the salient persons and themes in the poetic literature of the Dominion, as if these compilers and editors had not critically observed an evolution in it from bad or indifferent to good, from good to better, and from better to excellent and fine in imaginitive conception and in technical artistry. The magazine essayists, on the other hand, considered only individual Canadian men and women of letters, or discrete groups of them, without having any regard to their æsthetic origins, evolution, place and status in the corpus of Canadian literature or of literature in general. What the essayists wrote about the poets and prose writers of the Dominion was, for the most part, uncritical knocks or boosts, based largely on the critics’ personal antipathies or preferences. Until, then, the publication of Mr. Marquis’s monograph, indigenous literary criticism of Canadian poetry and prose was unoriginal in point of view, and unphilosophical and unsystematic in method. The present essay and those to follow it have nothing specially to recommend them, save that their point of view is original, their method philosophical and strictly critical, and that, incidentally, they attempt to remove certain stubborn superstitions which still persist, even in Mr. Marquis’s mind, regarding the literary origins, genius, place, status and distinction of notable Canadian men and women of letters.
Turning now to my theme in this essay, The Significance of Nova Scotia in the Literary History of Canada, I remark that Nova Scotia has always taken a leading—in some respects, the leading—part in promoting and developing the spiritual, including the literary, culture of the people of the Dominion. Somewhat from priority of colonization and propinquity to Great Britain and the United States, but more from the moral energy of her immigrant population and the loyalty of their descendants to the intellectual interests and traditions of their forebears, especially the Highland Scots and Irish, though the descendants of the English settlers and of the immigrants from New England, New York and Pennsylvania who came to the Province in the latter half of the eighteenth century also played their important role, Nova Scotia was the first of the English speaking Provinces which were eventually confederated into the Dominion of Canada to initiate and advance popular and university education. Also, in religious education, and in conceiving and carrying out big constructive movements in church organization and missionary enterprise, Nova Scotia took the initiative and has always been in the van of progress. Again, to her enduring glory, Nova Scotia has the distinction of being the home and inspiration of the first strictly nativistic literature produced in any of the four English-speaking Provinces that at Confederation formed the original Dominion of Canada; of being, secondly, the æsthetic, habitat and the inspiration of the leader of the First Renaissance of Canadian nativistic and national literature, chiefly poetry; and of being, finally, the homeland, if not always also the inspiration of the initiators, or the most gifted and conspicuous leaders, of the Second Renaissance of Canadian nativistic and national poetry—a literary movement, however, that has engaged at the same time the genius of the younger men and women of letters in all the English-speaking Provinces of the Dominion.
It will be observed that I have applied the epithets “nativistic” and “national” to different periods and phases of the literary history of Canada. I have employed this distinction for good reasons. In the pioneer and the colonial periods, in all stages up to, and even for a decade or more subsequent to, Confederation, there were in Canada many verse-makers and prose writers who were not born in any of the Provinces of what is now the Dominion of Canada, though some of them were bred and educated in one or other of these Provinces. Their poetry and prose, whether inspired by Canadian life and scenes or not, are rightly to be distinguished as colonial or British rather than as Canadian. On the other hand, while, prior to Confederation and for a decade or more after that event, there were writers who were born and bred in Upper Canada and the Maritime Provinces, and who now solely by virtue of historic retrospect in which the Canada that was once merely possible is seen made actual in the Canada of to-day, may be denoted Canadians, these writers got their literary themes and inspiration almost wholly from experience or phenomenon other than that which was (provincially) Canadian. So that to-day it is at least inept to categorize such poetry and prose as were produced in the Provinces of Canada, prior to Confederation, as Canadian in the authentic connotation of the term; and it is certainly absurd to apply to them, or to even post-Confederation Canadian literature, until the rise of the Robertsian group of poets and prose writers in the Dominion, the epithet national. This literature, produced in the nineteenth century from 1830 to 1887 (the year of the publication of Roberts’s “In Divers Tones”) by writers born and bred and schooled in the Provinces is strictly to be denoted as only nativistic provincial literature of Canada. It is nativistic, but not national, because the writers were natives of the as yet unconfederated Provinces, because either their subjects or themes, or their inspiration, or both, were chiefly indigenous to the writers’ respective homelands, and because what they wrote was really literature. On the other hand, the poetry and prose produced by the Robertsian group of native-born authors from 1887 to 1903, and from 1903 to the present, are both nativistic and national literature, and are to be categorized as strictly and genuinely Canadian in the inclusive connotation of the term.
Now, take a pen and on the geographical map of Nova Scotia draw an ellipse, beginning at Windsor, passing the line through Grand Pré and Wolfville, then across the western end of the Basin of Minas, next up to the Tantramar marshes, and back again to Windsor. That elliptical line and that ellipse of country embracing idyllic town, romantic village, valley-land, storied bluff and mount, haunted waters, misty marsh, and glamorous fields and skies, is the original Literary Map of Nova Scotia, and, by implication, of Canada. It all conscribes the pristine home, scenes, and inspiration of the first nativistic literature of Nova Scotia and the first national literature of the Dominion of Canada.
The first native Nova Scotian author of consequence and the first to make the beginnings of what, had he but inspired others or had followers, would have become an original and genuine nativistic literature in Nova Scotia, and thus in Canada, was Thomas Chandler Haliburton, born at Windsor, N.S., 1796. Now in that year, it happens, in the Niagara district there was born another creative man of letters whose writings are included in the corpus of Canadian literature, namely, Major John Richardson. Haliburton and Richardson were active in creative letters (prose-fiction) during the same period. Richardson published his romance, “Wacousta; or The Prophecy”, in 1832, and its sequel, “The Canadian Brothers; or The Prophecy Fulfilled”, in 1840. He is, therefore, to be regarded as “the father” of nativistic romantic fiction in Canada. On the other hand, Haliburton published his chief and most popular work of fiction, “the Clockmaker; or The Sayings and Doings of Sam Slick of Slickville”, serially in 1835-36, and in book form at Halifax and London in 1837, 1838, and 1840. Haliburton is, therefore, to be regarded as “the father” of the nativistic fiction of characterization and the criticism of society and manners, and also of nativistic humour in Canada. As Alfred Russell and Charles Darwin, working independently and apart, simultaneously formulated the law or principle of organic evolution, so Haliburton and Richardson, writing independently and a thousand miles apart, created at the same time the first nativistic fiction produced in Canada, but with this difference that Haliburton is the first and only creator of a unique and distinct species of fictional characterization and speech or humour.
To those who would, therefore, regard Richardson as entitled to the distinction of being, as it were, the contemporaneous co-creator of nativistic fiction in Canada, and to an equal place beside Haliburton, I must submit two counts that give Haliburton the chief position of honour in producing the first nativistic literature in Canada. Without question Haliburton was the more versatile and original genius. But aside from that fact, there is another important truth, the significance of which Canadian literary historians and critics seem to have missed, or not to have divined. Though synchronously, as noted, Haliburton and Richardson created, so far as Canada is concerned, two distinct species of fictional prose, Haliburton takes precedence over Richardson in time and in literary origination, by being the first systematic writer born in any of the old unfederated Provinces of Canada to see, with poetic vision, the romance in Nova Scotian ,that is, Canadian, history, and to tell, with the interest, colour and emotional appeal almost of a work of pure fiction, the pathetic story of the expulsion of the Acadians, as he did, in his “Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia”, published in 1829, or three years before Richardson’s “Wacousta”. At once real history and winning romance, though, of course, not an historical romance of fiction, this work by Haliburton was the essential beginning of what, had he had imitators and followers, might have proved to be a permanent and genuine nativistic literature of romantic history in Canada. As it is, it is the beginning of nativistic creative literature in Canada.
How abortive in laying the foundations of a nativistic creative literature—a literature in the three species of history, fiction and humour—Haliburton’s genius and writings proved to be is one of the “curiosities” of the literary history of Canada, and a phenomenon by itself in general literary history. Haliburton was one born out of his time, or born too soon, to have his gifts perpetuated by influencing creatively other Nova Scotian, or, later, Canadian men of letters. So far as creative literature in Canada is concerned, Haliburton simply happened.
It has been held, however, that by a trick of fate which has created a most astounding literary anomaly, Haliburton had considerable influence on American letters. He has been called “the founder of the American school of humour”, “the father of American humour”. That is a very uncritical belief and a superstition. For the present let the belief stand as sound. Now, if it be true, as some allege, that Longfellow and Parkman read Haliburton’s “Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia”, and that their reading of the work inspired the one to write in immortal verse the story of the winsome Acadian maid, Evangeline, and furnished the other with his singularly engaging method of writing history, then Haliburton may be called also “the father” of American romantic poetry and of American romantic history. Has any scholarly and reputable critic yet been found who has maintained such a thesis as that Haliburton influenced the creative genius and the methods of Longfellow and Packman? I can discover no such critic. Moreover, if Haliburton had really in anywise influenced American men of letters, poets, historians or humourists, we surely should expect to see the fact published in Professor Barrett Wendell’s supposedly inclusive and accurate “Literary History of America”. So interesting and significant a fact, if there were such a literary fact, would not have escaped the notice and acknowledgment of Professor Wendell. Yet not only does he not record any influence of Haliburton on American letters, but also he does not even mention the name of the Nova Scotian historian and humourist. But on this whole question, and particularly on the superstition that Haliburton is “the father of American humour”, I shall write more fully and critically in my later essay on “Canadian Fictionists and Other Creative Prose Writers”.
While indeed Haliburton’s genius, as expressed in “The Clockmaker”, was fitted to originate in Canada a nativistic literature of humour, the odd fact is that, virtually, there is no such literary species in the Dominion, that is, no published works of humour by native-born Canadian authors which have the quality of genuine literature. George T. Lanigan, had he lived, might have created a Canadian humour as such. Mr. Stephen Leacock is brilliantly striving—and for his part is succeeding in his endeavours—to create a Canadian literature of humour, but he is not Canadian-born, or is only, as Mr. Marquis puts it, “a graft on the Canadian literary tree”; and, besides, Mr. Leacock writes his humour considerably after the American manner—satiric burlesque, deliberate commingling of serious conduct and character with extravagant nonsense.
All, then, that can be said to give Haliburton his rightful place and distinction in the literary history of Canada is that, had the times and the culture of his homeland, Nova Scotia, been ripe to receive and to be inspired by his genius and literary works, he would have been “the father” or founder of a nativistie literature in the three species of romantic history, character fiction, and humour in Canada; and that, secondly, in spite of fate’s refusal to give his literary genius, labours, and vogue this glory, he has the greater glory of having been a creative writer sui generis—the first native son of any of the Provinces which now form the Dominion of Canada to produce original literary works that have enduring quality and a unique place not only in the corpus of Canadian literature, but also in that of English literature.
The first native-born Canadian constructively to make real and permanent a nativistie and national literature strictly as such was Charles G. D. Roberts. If, as a matter of fact, he was born in New Brunswick seven years before Confederation, and educated at the provincial university, it is much more, or altogether, significant that Roberts was spiritually reborn, æsthetically re-educated, and became imaginatively creative at Windsor. Nova Scotia. For ten years, beginning in 1885, or two years before the publication of his epoch-making volume of verse, “In Divers Tones”, while professor of literature at King’s College, he dwelt and communed with nature intimately, visited the haunts of earthly beauty, fed his senses with the pure delights of field and stream, lake and marsh, woodland and sky, tuned his heart to hear, with peculiar meaning and joy, the cries of the denizens of the wild-land, the murmurings, dronings, and shrillings of insects, and the myriad sweet songs of the birds, and lived over again in fancy and peaceful revery all the rare moments of choice sensation and spiritual ecstasy experienced in the gardens of happy existence. From and in Nova Scotia, then—from that lovely area of country conscribing Windsor, the Land of Evangeline, the Gaspereau Valley, the Basin of Minas, the Tantramar marshes, and the district round again to Windsor, Roberts produced the first and considerable of the best of his nativistic and national poetry, and began the systematic fluctuation of his genius in lyrism, romantic tale-telling, novel writing, and animal fiction which have given him international fame and vogue, and which have established for him a world-wide reputation as the most original, versatile and artistic—the very foremost—of living Canadian men of letters.
Besides being the first and most eminent of the systematic “makers” of a genuine Canadian nativistic literature, with national “notes” in it, Roberts is, in several other ways, to be regarded as “the father” of the post-Confederation, that is, the strictly Canadian, literature of the Dominion. As in Roberts’s own case, so, wholly through Roberts, Nova Scotia became the inspiration of Bliss Carman, the second most versatile and artistic of living Canadian men of letters. This happened because at the Roberts home in Windsor, Carman spent several of his growing, most impressionable, and most receptive years, coming directly under the pervasive influence—the aesthetic culture and the tutorship in poetic technique of the elder poet, and in company with him making from Windsor as a centre excursions over the lovely and glamorous scenes and haunts of beauty near and beyond the Roberts home. There young Carman’s senses and imagination began to discover the beauty and glory of land and sea; and eventually he was inspired to emulate the elder poet, and thus to begin the writing of the winning lyrism for which Carman has become noted as a poet sui generis. Roberts, then, is the literary father of Bliss Carman. Further, having been the first Canadian of consequence to recognize, in a practical way, the poetic genius of Lampman, by publishing in The Week, Toronto, the shy, young poet” first respectable verses, Roberts is to be distinguished as the literary sponsor of Lampman, and as having made the latter’s career in letters possible, just as he had, in another way, made Carman’s literary career possible. Finally, if Roberts had no formative influence on the genius of the other members of the post-Confederatian group of Canadian poets and prose writers whom I denote as the Robertsian group, he at least caused Wilfred Campbell, Frederick George Scott, Duncan Campbell Scott, and, possibly, Pauline Johnson and Miss Marshall Saunders, to care exceedingly, as he did himself, for fine craftsmanship, exquisite technical artistry, in what they wrote, whether poetry or imaginative prose. By his own fine artistry and by the influence of his example on his contemporaries, Roberts raised nativistic poetry and prose to a degree of technical finish that was never before reached, nor even attempted, by native-born Canadian men and women of letters.
Through Charles G. D. Roberts, then, and those of his contemporaries or confreres to whom, in one way or another, he was “the master”, a strictly Canadian literature—nativistic and national—began systematically to be developed in quantity and in aesthetic and artistic quality, until at length authoritative critics in England (Matthew Arnold, for instance) and in the United States (Clarence Stedman, for instance) were compelled to acknowledge that Canada possessed a really worthy corpus of original poetry and imaginative prose, beautiful or noble in spiritual substance and finely or exquisitely wrought in technique and form. As the inspirer, sponsor and leader of the first native-born group of systematic poets and prose writers of the Dominion, Roberts inaugurated the First Renaissance of Canadian letters, and is indubitably “the father” of Canadian nativistic and national literature strictly as such.
To Nova Scotia, therefore, directly through Charles G. D. Roberts and his poetry and imaginative prose, into much of which he has put the natural beauty and the romance of Acadian land, wild-life, legend, history and society, and indirectly through his formative and constructive influences on his contemporaries, belongs the unique distinction of being the original home and the inspiration of the First Renaissance of Canadian poetry and prose, and of the first genuine corpus of authentic Canadian literature. nativistic in origin and national in note.
To Nova Scotia, as I shall show in a subsequent essay, also belongs the distinction of having inaugurated the Second Renaissance of Canadian poetry. For a decade or more a school, or at least a group, of poets, unconscionable in moral and aesthetic taste and inartistic in technique, whom I have elsewhere called “The Vaudeville School of Canadian Poetry”, has had astonishing vogue in the Dominion. Their day has at length passed, and a renaissance, in the spirit of the elder Robertsian group, is now active and in the ascendant. The initiators and the most noteworthy leaders of the Second Renaissance of Canadian poetry are natives of Nova Scotia. Here, however, I may merely remark the fact, postponing the treatment of their work to a subsequent essay.
Meanwhile, to conclude: The significance of Nova Scotia in the Literary history of Canada may be signalized in a single sentence. Nova Scotia is the home and the inspiration of the first attempts to found a nativistic provincial literature in English-speaking Canada, and also of two movements which will leave to the Dominion the inestimable legacy of a genuine nativistic and national literature, aesthetically winning, artistically fine, and spiritually satisfying and elevating.
- The Amphibious Suburb of St. John’s
- Literary History of Nova Scotia
- A British Eskimo
- The Bombers and Snipers
- The Life Savers
- Hell at Hooge
- Dumb Talkies
- Introduction to The Fourth Dagger
- Salvage—A Canadian Idea
- The Women of The Magdalens
- The Credit System in the West
- The Perfect Ending
- Education and the War
- The Timber Wolf at Home
- Treating That Chilly Feeling
- Earmarks of Genius
- The Farmer and the War
- Labour and the War
- The Non-Combatants
- Woman and the War
- After Three Years
- My New Gardening Gloves
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.