Joseph Edmund Collins.

Life and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada online

. (page 39 of 57)
Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 39 of 57)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


lieve that the editors of these papers oars three straws for
British connexion : at least we know the MaiF* loyalty has its
price, and just what the figure i> ? for tor hen somebody cried out,
" The N.l\ IS had j it discriminates against Knglish merchan-
dize, and menace^ British connexion/ 1 that newspaper very
promptly replied. " Then BO much the worse for British con-
nexion." And in the very national policy, as in its name, we

unconsciously indicated our news with regard to our obliga-
tions to the parent National is, at all events," says By*
. * the adjective correspond fag to nation; and if the
treason axe can eat between the adjective and the substan-
tive, its edges must be very keen." Very keen, truly! Jt is
a hopeful sign for this can-.- of our hearts, that some journals
are springing up amongst us with Canadian independence for
their motto. Mr. W. McLean is one of the young men who has
cast his energies into the struggle, and his journal, the Toronto
World, is a vigorous exponent of the independence view.

Of our native Canadian IMUraJU yond any comparison

the palm belongs to some of the writers of our song; yet noth-
ing of Canadian effort has received so chilling a reception as our
home-made verse. Some coarse-minded writer in the Qlob<
once said that M. Frechette might have a career, but he would
not find it on this continent. Every Saturday the Globe and
Mail each gives three or four columns of literature, embracing
selections from prose authors, interspersed with snatches of
foreign song, a large proportion of which has as much wood as
spirit in its composition. They use translations sometimes of
the most worthless of fugitive French verse ; but never will
print a stanza from the incomparably superior verse of Fre-
chette, who is living amongst us, and whose song is redolent of
our woods and lakes, and of everything Canadian, while suit-
able for all seasons ; and though they cram in sonnets and bits



THOUGHT AND LITERA TCUE. 465

that have appeared in the corner of some magazine, into the
never will they use a line of our own Roberts, of whom
no doubt some of them have never heard, but whose song is the
equal of Matthew Arnold's, or of Browning's, or of any other
of oar great English poets' verse, world-wide too, in its sym-
pathy, and ample enough in its range even for season or festi-
val application. It is our intention now to take a brief review
of OUT Canadian singers and their important songs, in the order
of their merit.

Beyond any comparison, our greatest Canadian poet — we
have already ranked him with Matthew Arnold, and Browning
— is Mr. Charles G.D. Roberta, of Fredericton, New Brunswick.
Besides Mr. Roberta' surpassing gift of song, he is one of the

most accomplished of our native scholars, and the master of a

marrowy delightful prose that La not surpassed by that of any

other Canadian writer. Be is a graduate of the university of

Brunswick, where he took the classical scholarship in his

man year, the alumni gold medal in the junior year, gra-
duating, in L879, with honours in mental and moral science, and
political economy. The first volume of Mr. Roberts' verse, Orion ,
and Other Poems, Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co., and dedi-
cated to his father, Rev. G. Goodridgo Roberts, M.A., rector of
lericton, New Brunswick, appeared in 1880. Of this volume,
says a discriminating critic, in ;i lengthy and almost rapturous
review, in the New York / ncU indent: "The author has not
rushed before the public with a great bundle of all kinds in his
hands, but he has given us a little book of choice things, with
the indifferent things well weeded out. Orion is a poem which
Morris might not disdain, and which has this advantage over
that'poet's treatment of classic themes that it is not dependent
for its interest on a sensuous imagination. * * * Fine as this
is, there is more as fine in the little book. The ' Ballad of the
Poet's Thought ' is an uncommon piece of work, turning on a
deep and subtle thought, which nothing not akin to genius could
raise so high above the commonplace form in which we are

DD



466 LIFE OF SIR JOHN A. MACDOXALD.

familiar with it. Very different is the 'Ballad to a Kingfisher.'
But how simply and easily in these lines a common theme
I unique creation — a thing apart, like itself alone ! "
We have read from time U) time a large number of reviews of
this volume in the Kurdish and American press, and one and
all have hailed in Mr. Roberts the appearance of a poetic star of
the first magnitude i we shall of ourselves now give to such of
our readers as have not seen Orion, a glance into some of the
incomparable beauties of that volume. First let us take hifl
invocation of the Spirit of Song. Surely a grander roll of
music has never come from pen of English poet :

" White as fleeces blown across the hollow heaven,

Fold op fold thy garment wraps thy shining limbs;
Deep thy gaze as morning's flamed thro' vapours riven,

Bright thine hair as days that up the ether swims.
Surely I have seen the majesty and wonder,

Beauty, might and splendour of the soul of song ;
Surely I have felt the spell that lifts asunder

Soul from body, when lips faint and thought is strong ;
Surely I have heard
The ample silence stirred
By intensest music from no throat of bird : —
Smitten down before thy feet
From the paths of heaven sweet,
Lowly I await the song upon my lips conferred. "

Here we have all the strength, and the richness, and the sen-
suous music of Swinburne, — not a3 one picture is painted after
another, but as one strong, grand soul resembles another ; — here
too, we have confessed to us the faith and the humility of
genius. If, then, we find at the threshold such a glorious out-
burst of song as this, when we get inside we shall not wonder,
while we may be astonished, at what may come. The first and
longest poem in the collection is Orion, whence the volume
takes its name. In the steep-shored Chios, the same island,
shattered with earthquake about three years ago, once lived
the king (Enopion, who had a daughter of wondrous beauty,
named Merope. Orion, a great hunter, seeing the princess >



TUO UGIIT A ND LIT ERA TUBE. 4G7

became smitten of her wondrous charms, and demanded her
hand of the king ; but CEnopion, who secretly hated and feared
" the son of three gods," refused the request unless upon the
condition that the suitor should rid his island of wild beasts.
The compact was ratified, and Orion went into the jungle.
The poem opens with a description of the island ; and at the
f sun ( Knopion

" Stood praying westward; in his outstretched hand
The griding knife, well whetted, clothed with dread,"

preparing for a sacrifice. And then came youths, " chosen of
ChifW fairest race," bearing the victim. But let the reader
hear this description of the intended offering: —

* * "A tawny wolf,
Blood-stained, fast-hound in pliant withes, fed fat
On many a bleating spoil of careliss folds,
His red tongue lolling from his faDgod jaws,

His i-yrs iniliiiu'd, shrinking with fettXOf and hate,

His writhen sinews st ruined convulsively. "

The high-water mark is touched in the three last-quoted lines,
which, as a piece of description, we have never seen excelled
in English song, lint while the kin^ offers sacrifice, the hun-
ter, who has been among the mountains destroying the wild
•turns; and here is how Mr. Roberts tells of his com-
ing through the golden glow of the sunset, and the mien the
comer wears :

" Meanwhile, from out a neighbouring gorge, which spake
Rough torrent thunders through its cloak of pines,
Along the shore came one who seemed to wear
The grandeur of the mount, ii„ for fl rube,
The torrent's ttrmffth f<>r <iir<tte, and for crown
The sea' 8 calm, for dread fury capable."

It thrills us, as we make this extract, to think that we have a
native Canadian who can write such verses as these — song that
would add a lustre to any living English poet. More powerful



468 LIFE OF SIR JOHN A. MACDOKALD.

lines than these three given in italics we have never anywhere
■MIL Yet. in this poem all is of such astonishing merit, that
it is with difficulty we can discriminate in making the ex-
tracts. The hunter now approaches tlu- king, and tells him

that he has done his best in ridding the inland of the beasts

that infested it :

" The inland jungles shall be vexed n<> nn>iv
With muffled roarings through the cloudy night,
And heavy splashings in the misty pools.
The echo-peopled crags shall howl no more
With hungry yelpings 'mid the hoary firs.
The breeding ewe in the thicket will not wake
With wolves' teeth at her throat, nor drinking bull
Bellow in vain beneath the leopard's paw.
Your maidens will not fear to <juit by night
Their cottages, to meet their shepherd lads."

The king received the tidings with feigned gladness, and filled a
cup of sullen wine, in which he poured a Colchian drug, which
he bade the hunter drink in pledge

u Of those deep draughts for which thou art athirst ; "

and, departing,

* * " he went
Up from the shore and in among the vines,
I "mil his mantle gleamed athwart the lanes
Of sunset through the far, gray olive-groves."

The hunter went apart " by the sleepless sea," for the drug
had begun to work its spell, " and his eyes were dim and his
head heavy ; "

" He guessed the traitorous cup, and his great heart
Was hot, his throat was hot ; but heavier grew
His head, and he sank back upon the sand ;
Nor saw the light go out across the sea,
Nor heard the eagle scream among the crags,
Nor stealthy laughter echo up the shore,
Nor the slow ripple break about his feet * * *
The deep-eyed night drew down to comfort him,
And lifted her great lids and mourned for him." * * * * >



THOUGHT AND LITERATURE. 4G9

And as he lay by the shore in the silent night, stealthily out
of the fog appeared the king, accompanied by a torch -bearer,
and poured a burning poison into the eyes of the sleepy hun-
ter, who knew not his woe till the dawn, when "the maids
beloved of Doris," cam.' out of the sea weeping for the w god-
begotten" and sinking upon their lyres, while " their yellow
hair fell round them." The lyrical interlude here is worthy of
quotation in full, but we must tear ourselves away if we would
have the reader Bee other phases of this gifted writer's song.
Following the command of the sea-maids,

11 Then get thee op bo the hills and thou theft behold the morning,"

the hunter rise-, and groping his way to where

* * "a sound
Of hammers rise behind ■ jigged OBp<

one comes forth to meet bun, " to be to him for eyes," on the
journey to the hills, where the radiance of tin- morning sun
would restore his sight. And when he reached the top, what a
picture of surpassing loveliness does not the -rand imagination
ox author give us: what a scene for the sight of the hun-
ter to whose eyes night had clung because of the treacherous
poison :

• ' " All the morning's majesty
And mystery of loveliness lay bare
Before htm ; all the limitless blue sea
Brightening with laughter many a league around,
Wind-wrinkled, keel-uncloven, far below ;' . . .

and here Eos awaited him.

11 Now Delos lay a great way off, and thither
They two rejoicing went across the sea."

And listen to the bridal following that our poet gives them:

* * " And every being
Of beauty or of mirth left his abode
Under the populous flood and journeyed with them.



170 LIFE OF SIR'JOHK^A. MACDOKJLD

Out of their deep green caves the Nereids came
Again to do him honour, . . .

With yellow tre3ses streaming. Triton came
And all his goodly company, with shells
Pink-whorled and purple, many-formed, and made
Tumultous music . . .

• * "And so they reached
Delos and went together hand in hand
Op from the water and their company,
And the green wood received them out of sight."

So enda the poem, not anything like a just idea of the won*
droufl beauty, richness, grace and strength of which we have
been able to give by these few en tracts. We noticed in a
friendly and appreciative critique of this poet lately by a Can-
adian writer the statement that Mr. Roberta is under the influ-
ence of the English lyrical poets. This is not correct. Mr.
Roberts, who shows not the faintest touch of provincialism,
writes as a master and not tentatively, and while his thought
is in harmony with the modern poetical school, — of Swinburne,
Mattlnw Arnold, Morris, Rossetti, — there is nowhere a trace
of imitating the manner of any one of these. Mr. Roberta has
a graceful, sustained strength, and a thoroughly classic spirit
aflame with the old Greek religious fire, that no other li ving
poet surpasses ; he has a wealth of language and happy epithet
that is unrivalled, and is in lyrical rush and intensity the equal
of Swinburne himself, though he never runs into the riotous-
ness of passion and phrase, and never mars a line or a thought
with a mannerism, as does Swinburne. There is certainly a
striking resemblance between ^Ir. Roberts and the English
singers who are masters, and who appeal to the wide world, un-
like Cowper who sang only to England. And here comes the
opportunity for us to state in opposition to the opinion of a
writer for whom we have ftie deepest respect, and who is the
friend and benefactor of most of our poets and writers, thatCana-
pian poetry should be Canadian wholly in matter, manner, and



THOUGHT AND LITERATURE. 471

everything else. And why pray should this be so ? The
whole world, surely, is as much open to the Canadian singer as
to writers in Great Britain or anywhere else. Tom Moore
wrote Lallah Rookh, a poem of the East, though an Irishman,
and now Edwin Arnold sings of "The Light of Asia." No one
blames Englishmen for ranging heaven, and earth, and hell for
subjects; and why should we be required to set a limit to our
soaring, to tie our imagination to one country, a country with
all its glorious 'dawn of promise, still raw, and unfertilized with
the life and death of great names of humanity \ No; we should
-orry to see the transcendent genius of Mr. Roberts cage
itself within the bounds even of this ample Dominion; and
though he may tind in our wondrous forests, and our rushing
rivers, ashe has found, inspiration, and harmony as high as has

yet been wakened by human hand, yet if he wish to go beyond,

and sing to all <iuarters of the world a note thaj, posterity will

not Lei die, as he will, fox his teems to be the ambition, and his
power is supereminent, then shall we gladly let him go, bid-
ding him God speed. For whether he win laurels at home, or
in Other lands, >inee he i> uins, with him we shall share the
glory.

\j A us take :> Stanza or two from "Ariadne." The classical
story is familiar to the reader, and in brief runs thus : This love-
ly Cretan, who was the daughter of Minos, and ardent in her pas-
sion, fell in love with Theseus, who had come with the offerings
of the Athenians for the Minitaur. But the heart of the beau-
tiful stranger was false, and, sickening of his 1. ride, he left her on
the lonely shore of Naxos, and pursued his way. It so happened
that Bacchus, once having occasion to pass along the solitary
strand, saw the maiden as " she lay face downward on the sigh-
ing shore ;" and went away smitten of her loveliness, resolving
to return again to woo her. The maiden saw not her divine
suitor, but still lay cast down where her heartless love had
hft her, and "clenched the ooze in mute despair." The poem,
from which we have taken the two last-made extracts, opens



478 LIFE OF SIB JOHN A. MACDONALD.

in the evening, the moon looking '• like a ripe pomegranate o'ei
the -fa." Something the maiden hears in the still, silvery air
makes her start. Let us hear Mr. Roberts:

•• A many-throated din came echoing
Over the startled trees confusedry,
m th' inmost mountain folds hurled clamoring
Along the level shore to droop its wing :

She blindly rose and oVr the moon-tracked
Toward Athens stretched her hands : — ' With shouts they bring
Their OOnquering chieftain home ; ah me ! ah DM

And hear too this next not less lovely stanza:

" Bid clearer came the music, zephyr-borne,

And turned her yearnings from the over-seas,
Hurtled unmasked o'er glade and belted bourne, —
Of dinning cymbal, covert -r. .using horn,

Soft waxen-pipe, shrill-shouted Evoes :
Then sat she down unheeding and forlorn,
Half dreaming of old Cretan melodies."
Anon

" The thickets rocked ; the ferns were trampled down ;
The shells and pebbles splashed into the waves ; .

for god Bacchus with his " hoofed sylvans, fauns, and Batyra
had come to woo his love :

. . " And straightway by the silver waste of brine
They laid them gently down with gesture mute,

The while he twindd his persuasions fine

And meshed her grief-clipt spirit with his lute.

And so with silver-linked melodies,

He wooed her till the moon lay pale and low ;

And first she lifted up her dreaming eyes

And dreamed him her old love in fairer guise ;
And then her soul drew outwards, and a glow

Woke in her blood of pleasure and surprise,
To think it was a god that loved her so."

Hear then this stanza impregnate with that soft, delicate sensu-
ousness to be found alone in Keats, and in that poet only at his



THOUGHT AND LITERATURE. 47S

very best, that deep breathing of what may be called the re-
finement of intense passion, touched with a master hand. The
maiden's heart becomes at last captive to the god, and she toss

and

" . . Went with him where honey-dew distils

Through swimming MI to odorous mists and showers,
Where music the attentive stillness fills,
And every scent and colour drips and spills

From myriad quivering wings of orchid flowers ;
And there they dwelt deep in the folded hills
Blissfully hunting down the fleet-shod hours."

Lei us then go away from classic story with our poet into the
Qwood, and hear him sing of the maple. We make nc
apology for quoting in full:

■■ Oh, tenderly deepen Um woodland glooms,

And merrily sway the PQtohl

Breathe delicately the willow blooms,

And the pinet iv hearse new speeches ;
The high till they brush the sky,

■atkin.s the yellow lurch launches,
Bnft the tree I love all the greenwood above,

Is the maple of sunny branches.

Let who will sing of the hawthorn in spring,

Or the late-leaved linden in summer ;
There's a word may be for the locust tree,

That delicate, strange new-comer ;
Bvt thi ui'ij,!. it gtou* with the tint of the rose

Whk a />ale are the spriiKj-iiim mjions,
And its towers of flame from afar proclaim

Tki / H nit, r\ h'jums.

And a greener shade there never was mule

Than its summer canopy sifted ,
And many a day, as beneath it I lay,

Has my memory backward drifted
To a pleasant lane I may walk. not again,

Leading over a fresh green hill,
Where a maple stood just clear of the wood —

And oh, to be near it still ! "

We cannot, for our space is growing small, speak the admi-
ration here of which we are so full ; and Can call attention to



474 LIFE OF SIR JOHN A. MACDONALD.

those tour surpassing lines only by italics. A short quotation
OT two must content us from the ode " To Winter," a poem
which we would compare to the Allegro in charming vignette,
and the rivulet-like hrie-llow. The poet has apostrophized
winter in I succession of master touches, but, turning, chal-
Ompftrison with the milder season. Hear these verses \

"But what magic melodies
As in the bordering realms are throbbing.
Hast thou Winter F— liquid sobbing
Brooks, and brawling waterfalls,
Whose responsive-voiced calls
Clothe with harmony the hills,

Jing meadow-threading rills,
Lakdd»Utfim§ l imttlfti tapfimg
fi - f nild ducks nappiiuj,

And the rapturous-noted wooings,
And the molten- throated cooings,
I If the amoffooi multitudes
Flashing through the dusky woods,
When a veering wind hath blown
A glare of sudden daylight down t "



-And turning again to Winter:



Less the silent sunrise sing
Like a vibrant silver string,
Whan its prisoned splendours first
O'er the crusted snow-fields burst.
But thy days the silence keep,
Save for grosbeak's feeble cheep,
Or for snow-birds busy twitter
When thy breath is very bitter.

So my spirit often acheth
For the melodies it lacketh
'Neath thy sway, or cannot hear
For its mortal cloaked'ear.
And full thirstily it longeth
For the beauty that belongeth
To the autumn's ripe fulfilling ; —
Heaped orchard baskets spilling



THOUGHT AND LITERATURE. 475

'Neath the laughter-shaken trees ;

Field* of buckwheat full of hi

Girt with ancient groves of fir

Shod with berried juniper ;

Beech-nuts mid their russet leaves ;

Heavy-headed nodding sheaves ;

Clumps of luscious blackberries ;

l'urple-clustered traceries

Of the cottage climbing- vines ;

Scarlet-fruited eglantines ;

Maple forests all aflame

When thy iharp-toogoed legate! came."

Here tin- reader is do leas sensible that a master hand is
painting nature, and what is more, making so intensely a Cana-
dian picture thai be who has ever seen our fields or wilds in the
autumn or winter, at once recognises the portrait, than he
stands to wonder at this very lyrical rush, and the wealth of
phrase that waits upon the warm, rich imagination of the poet.
And here also h< in the real of Mr. Roberta 1 work, the

wrought art the author brings into the service of his verse
highly the com} bnicaJ mastery, and the firm grip of

the subject; and al>ove all the contained enthusiasm and the
well-regulated flow of the thought

We are sure the reader will not be tired, but rather delighted,
if we make an extract from "Aleninon," h poem which firsi
appeared in Seribm r*s magazine. A traveller,

" Weary, forsaken by fair, tickle sleep,"

and as the moon hangs low over the desert, standing
before his tent, is startled to hear an image of stone,

* * " Prostrate, half en wound
With red, unstable sand- wreaths,"

utter words of musical anguish. Memnon was the son of
Tithonus, and Aurora the goddess of the morning. When he
died, the ^Ethiopians or Egyptians over whom he reigned,
erected upon the bleak sand a monument to his memory; and
this statue, tradition relates, had the wonderful property of



M LIFE OF Sri; JOHN A. MACDOSALD.

littering a melodious sound every day at the rise of the sun,
* like that which is heard at the breaking of the string of a harp
when it is wound up." And the figure W*B ^aid to be possessed
of all the feeling that belongs to man — to Buffer pain, and heat,

and cold, and the tortures of the Band-blast, This is the story

which Mr. Roberts' fervid imagination seizes and shapes into a
thing of8uch imperishable beauty. And dow

•lit streaks quietly creep
l*p from the east, into the dusky sky ;
iron's yellow hair, that op the itfcep

IBM t<> the rear of night full breezily. "'

This Is tin- mother of the tortured figure coming. Hear the

plaint :

" Sweet mother, stay; thy son requireth thee!

All day the sun, with massive, maddening glare,
Beats on ray weary brow and tortures me.

All day the pitiless sand-blasts gnaw and wear

Deep furrows in my lidless eyes and bare.
All day the palms stand up and mock at me;

And drop cool shades over the dead bones there,
And voiceless stones that crave no canopy:
O beautiful mother, stay; 'tis thy son prayeth thee.

Hyenas come ami /.o/<//< mto my eyes;
The weak D I with ffcstr small, .shrill cries,

And toads and lizards crawl in slimy glee.

Oh, dewy dipped mother, stay; thy son desireth thee."

And this surely may pass for a stanza not exc3iled in our

literature :

" Soon will for me the many-spangled night

Rise, and reel round, and tremble toward the verge;

Soon will the sacred Ibis her weird flight

Wing from the fens where shore and river merge,
With long-drawn sobbings of the reed- choked surge.

The scant-voiced ghosts, in wavering revelry
For Thebes' dead glory, gibber a fitful dirge:

Would thou wert here, mother, to bid them flee!

O beautiful mother, hear; thy chained son calleth thee.'*



THOUGHT AND LITERATURE. 477

We have made the italics occurring in these extracts ; for again
we cannot wait t<» say what our enthusiasm suggests, of the
Verses SO marked. At one other of Mr. Roberts' poems we can
only glance before closing our review, and that "Off Pelorus, '
which doea not appeal in the volume before us, but which we
rind in a number of the ( kinad 'hi i) Monthly, under Mr. G.
Mercer Adam's editorship. This poem is founded on one of the
incidents in the wanderings of Ulysses. After the return of the



Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 39 of 57)