Joseph Edmund Collins.

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

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from the shades, he sojourned on Circe's island ; and when
he again set forth, he had to pass by the strait of Scylla and
Charybdis, where the sirens sang their luring songs. These

( Srce's words of warning to the reckless prince in Pope's
mechanical strains :

... M 1R 01 dwell you plough the seas

Their Mug tl death and makes destruction please."

Aj tor you, said the goddess to the king, I know your love
for me will be proof i the witching music of the sirens ;

but stuff your row e rs 1 ears with wax, lest the son«js might over-
come them. hat before you reach the charmed coast,

your rowers hind you to the mast. Ulysses then set out,
and submitted to the instructions of the goddess. The poem
'-pen- off PelOTUS, the Cape named (rout the pilot of Annihal.
The sea is drowsy, the sirens sing, the rowers labour at the oar,
the kin - is bound to the mast :

Icimson swims the sunset over far Pelorus ;

Burning crimson tops its frowing crest of pine,
Purple sleeps the shore and floats the wave before us
Eachwhere from the oarstroke eddying warm like wine."

Let rid read on. Circes precautions were not ample; for what

tin rowers see intoxicate them:

" Soundless foams the creamy violet wake behind us ;
We hut 101 the croaking of the laboured oar ;
We have stopped our ears — mad were we not to blind us,
Lest with eyes grown drunken sail we hence no more."



478 LIFE OF SIR JOHN A. MACDONALD.

The sirens lived on this enchanted coast ; and while their
song took captive (he ear. the Luxuriousnesp of bheii abode
intoxicated the eve. How matchlessly Mr. Roberts has grasped
the spirit of the Legend and wrought it into a picture moving

with life. Hear this stanza, and say it* even Mr. Roberts may
not he proud of it :

" Idly took we thought lot still <>ur eyes betray us. —

Lo ! the white limbed maids with beckoning arms divine,

<ng bosoms bare, loose <i <huj >(.*,

ThruaU nth rob with song across the channel brim"

And here also Lb a matchless stanza :

" Seethe king he hearkens, — hears their song — strains forward, —
As some mountain snake attends the shepherd's reed ;
Now with urgent hands he bids us turn us shoreward : —
Bend the groaning oar now, give the king no heed ! "

How admirably does not the movement of the first line pic-
tuiv thf action of the mountain snake in the second Ferae on
hearing the shepherd's pipe. — moving in jerks. It is the com-
munity of thought and feeling among the rowers we receive
This, after Mr. Roberts' skilful and harmonious weav-
ing, is the song of the hiring charmers on the shore. They
h out their " t^eckoning arms divine," as they sing it — and
imagine such a song floating across that gorgeous summer sea :

** Much enduring wanderer, honey-tongued come nigher,
Wisest ruler, bane of Ilion's lofty walls ;
Hear strange wisdom to thine uttermost desire,
Whatsoe'r in all the fruitful earth befalls."

A siren truly might not have been ashamed of such verses.
The song bewilders the poor king, and he struggles to free him-
self from the mast. Then the rowers tell us :

" So we rise up twain and make his bonds securer :

Seethes the startled sea now from the surging blade,
Leaps the dark ship forth, as we, with hearts grown surer,
Eyes averse and war-worn faces made afraid,



THOUGHT AND LITERATURE. 479

O'er the waste and warm reaches drive our prow sea-cleaving

Past the luring death, into the folding night : —
Home shall hold us yet — and cease our wives from grieving —

Safe from storm, and toil, and flame, and clanging fight."

Surely now it is plain to all who have followed us that a singer
has risen in Canada of whom any nation, or any literature,
might be proud. Let us with such glorious verse as this hear
no more of " hog wash," or be told again that " native liter-
ary fruit is wrapped yet in the future." Space forbade us to
show our reader anything of " A Blue Blossom," the " Epistle to
Bliss Carman," the "Ode to Drowsihood," the latter perhaps
containing a subtler and intenser note than any other poem in
the book,"One Night," "A Ballad of Three Mistresses." "Launoe-
lot and the Four Queens," "Sappho," " Ballad of the Poet's
Thought/ 1 and various other delightful things, We have been
student for many yean of our modern English singers,

and we now say without fear of refutation that we have in Mr.
Roberts a poet who has a note as int- ■ \\< <t,as high and

as varied as any singer in the Ilritish choir. In strength he
ifl rally the equal of Browning; and in lyrical How and passion
— his fire is not a Bptuttering blase, hut a sober, intense
glow — he is not surpassed by Swinburne, Sometimes we find
that "lyrical cry," that sad sweet note that marks such poems
as Marguerite" and "The Forsaken Merman " of Matthew-
Arnold ; while in the curious felicity of expression, such as
H i ping grass " for an expanse of sedges and weeds fretted
by the wind, the " winnoiuing soft gray wings of marsh owls
v^c, he is not surpassed, if equalled, by any of our modem
potts. How Mr. Roberts would adorn one of our universit)
chairs of English literature I Surely, if his services are avail-
able, Trinity, which has wakened from her sleep and feels a new
life and impulse in her veins, and decided to endow a literature
chair, might seek his services. He would, in such a place, draw
all the aspiring and better ones among our young men around
him; or might not our more comprehensive institution, Uni-



LIFE OF SIR JOHX A. MACIXJXALD.

versity College, add t<> its excellent faculty this adorning star

of native talent, this example of Canadian possibility?

We may observe that the genius possessed by Mr. Roberts
extends t<> his sister Hias Jane E. G. Roberts, and we judge
bv contributions of hers we have Been ID the Canadian
Monthly and the Illustrated Canadian .v e, verse, though the
product of a young lady only sixteen, which is not unworthy
of Jean [ngeloWj and equalling lira Hemana at the l&tter's
wry best. When the next reviewer of our literature takes up
the pen, Miss Roberta, we doubt not, will be a poetic star on
which the eves of no small portion of our people will be turned.

Next in Older of merit as a Canadian poet we take M. Louis
Eonore Frechette to whom the exclusive doors of the Institute
of France were opened, and from which he bore away the lau-
above all the brilliant writers of the nation for Les Fleurs
Boreales, and Les Oiseaux de Keige. M. Frechette's writings
al a depth of poetic instinct, a soaring and exuberant ima-
gination . while he brings to his aid a style so graceful and ar-
tistic that his very excellences in this respect are sometimes
accounted a fault. It is certainly true that the thought of this
brilliant singer is sometimes frivolous, and decked out in quite
too gaudy a dress; but this fault forms but a rare exception to
a rule of high excellence. We have chosen La Liberie* as the
best representative of M. Frechette's intensity of feeling, his
subtle quality, and his gift of luxurious imagery. We give
this poem in the original :



" Enfant naif, j'ai mis ma levre a vide

Aux coupes d'or d'enivrantes amours.
Helas ! ma soif n'a trouve' que du vide,

Et la tristesse a plane sur mes jours.
Quand les mondains promenent a la ronde

Le tourbillon de leur folle gaiete',
Reveur, je songe a l'avenir du monde ;

Je n'ai plus qu'un amour, c'est pour la Liberie' !



THOUGHT AND LITERATURE. 481



•J'ai tout chante ; la jeunesse frivole,

L'amitie sainte, et mes reves aime?,
Les fleurs des champs et la brise qui vole,

L'etoile blonde et les bois parfumes.
Mais le cceur change, et notre ame s'emousse

Au froid contact de 7 a realite' ;
Et maintenant, connne les nids de la mousse,

Je n'ai plus <iu'un refrain, e'est pour la Liberte !



" De saints espoirs, ma pauvre ame s'inonde,
Et mon regard monte ver3 le ciel bleu,
Ouand j'apereois dans les fastes du monde,
Comme BO eclair, briller le doigt de Dieu.
<pielquefois, incline sur le gouffin
l'hoinine rampe a rimniortalite,
En cotitemplant riiumanite qui s.unTre,

Si je piie, en pleurant. e'est pOVf la Liberie !"

We have been fortunate in finding a masterly translation of
this poem in the Quebec Chronicle', by our Kurdish-Canadian
poet, Mr. Roberts, which, besides giving bhe flavour of the
original, is a delightful bit of work in itself But let the reader

compare and judge. He will Bee that while Mr. Roberts doea
not adhere to a literal rendering, he has melted the French
poem down in his brain, and given it to us instinct with a new
life exactly like the original.



" A child, I have set the thirsting of my month

To the gold chalices of loves that craze.
Surely, alas! 1 have found therein but drouth,

Surely has sadness darkened o'er my days.
While worldlings chase each other madly round

Their giddy track of frivolous gayety,
Dreamer, my dream earth's utmost longings bound:

One love alone is mine — my love is Liberty.



I have sung them all : — Youth's lightsomeness that fleet?,
Pure friendship, my most fondly cherished dreams,
EE



189 LIFE OF SIR JOHN A. MACDONALD.

Wild blossoms and the winds that steal their iweetl,
w od-odours, and the star that whitely gleams.

But our hearts change; the spirit dulls its edge
In the chill contact with reality;—

These vanished, like the foam bells in the s<
I sing one burden now— my song is Liberty.

jii.

"• I drench my spirit in ecstasy, consoled,

And my (Ml trembles towards the azure arc,
When in tin- wide world-records I behold

Flame like a meteor God's linger thro' the dark.
But if, at times, bowed over the il

Wherein man crawls toward immortality,
l'.eholding here how sore his suffering is,

I make my prayer with tears — it is for Liberty. "

In commenting upon this translation, Mr. Roberta says ; "In
tbove lints, which are a feeble attempt to fix in English
verse some fragment of the imperishable beauty of M. Fre-
chette's poem, La Liberie, I have been willing in one or two
instances to make a sacrifice of verbal fidelity for the sake of
a closer approach to the spirit and motive of the original. I
have not dreamed of a possibility of doing justice to this poem ;
1 have merely sought to render a faint copy of its grace and
its splendid lyric fervour. In some of M. Frechette's lines, as,

for instance, f

11 — ' incline* sur le gouffre
Oil l'homme rampe a 1'immortalite ' —

: that perfect fitness of expression, that note of calm power,
of serious and profound compassion, which may be looked for in
the work of the finest genius only. The untranslatable and
inimitable quality in verses of Francois Villon —

' Ainsi le bon temps regrettons
Entre nous, pauvres vieilles sottes,' —

in passages of Keats, and in some of Shakespeare's and of Ro-
se tti's sonnets, may be perceived also, here and there, in the
best of M. Frechette's lyrics ; but it is so subtle a flavour as



THO U GET A NJ) LITER A TV RE. 483


to bear no handling. My hope is that the above paraphrase

may retain sufficient likeness to its original to tempt more

English readers to seek acquaintance with M. Frechette's

genius at first hand."

Charles Heavysege, among our native poets, let us see
next. His chief work is, "Saul: a drama, in three parts;
Boston: Fields, Osgood & Co., 1869." Saul is the most notable
production, in the way of dramatic verse, that Canada has
produced, by very long odds, and is a work of which we may
well be proud. It displays a vast range of vigorous thought
and imagination, with dramatic insight and originality. The
blank verse is strong and flexible, though sometimes harsh and
unpolished, and the language is quaint, striking and suggestive.
Some of Mal/ali's demon songs are wonderful, for the manner
in which they hold one, through all their demoniacal grotesque-
nen and wildaeas of fancy. The vocabulary is closely studied
from the Elizabethans, Heavj i wrote ./< phthn's P tugh-

b work immeasurably inferior to Saul, and some sonnets,
which, while possessing passage* of imaginative insight and
eloquent utterance, are apt to fall into turgidity and bombast.
His genius, if justice is to be done it. must 1m judged only after
careful consideration of his masterpiece, Saul.

In point of merit i very high place should be given to Mr.
Charles Pelham Mulvany, who comes here, too, with other
poetic laurels than those won in Canada. Heavysege and Mrs
Maclean who come nearest to him are only a distant second.
He is the only one of those two mentioned of whom we may
onquestioningly predicate genius; a wild and erratic genius
perhaps, but genuine. He is the only one, too, of these who has
gained an entree into European poetical society ; because he
writes as a master, not tentatively. He is unaffected with the
taint of provincialism, the only one of our poets, Roberts ex-
cepted, who is. His " Messalina," " In Nero's Gardens," and
'* Theodora," are dramatic lyrics of wonderful power of penetra-
tion, displaying an accurate comprehension of the tone, temper



484 LIFE OF SIR JOHN A. MACDONALD.

end atmosphere of the times in which their scenes are laid.
Their descriptions have the exact flavour of Imperial Rome, in
itfl earlier and later days, and prove the widest familiarity with
poet-Augustan Latin literature. But one or two of contem-
porary poets could have produced them — Browning perhaps, or
l>aute Rossetti. They combine what are BO difficult well to
combine — dramatic fora and lyric fore, Mr. Mulvany is a
lyrical arti>t. He is capable of an exquisite and unerring
note, though this he does not always attain, by any means. He
baa DO rival In Canada SS a writer of kern, witty, polished, yet
path- Se has ihori fugitive poems with the

flavour and grace of Heine, and finely original. Such a lyric

Some on i the master's hand undisputably ;

containing as it does deep passion, bitter yearning, music of
utterance, and what Matthew Arnold calls " the lyrical cry.
Witness I srses: —

"lam Love, whom years that vanish
Still shall find the same!"

Still : as when in Southern sunshine

First the phantom came ?
With a fond word, long unspoken —
rgotten name !

"lain Death, I only offer

Peace — the long day done.
Follow me into the darkness" —

Welcome ! Friend, lead on —
Only spare my dog ; let something

Grieve when I am gone !"

Mr. Mulvany is one of the very few poets who can wield
successfully the hexameter line. His translations in hexame-
ter verse from the Iliad and the ^Eneid are masterly, both for
their faithful rendering cf the original and for the beauty and
sweetness of the language. He has done but little in sonnet -
writing, but that little is of rare value. " Troy Was " may
well stand for perfect sonnet ; and that one commencing, " O
weary current of life's languid tide" is only second to it. Mr.



THOUGHT AND LITERATURE. 485

Mulvany's Latin verses, by the metrical skill and the fine
Latinity displayed, prove not only his broad culture, and his
familiarity with that language in its classic purity and ele-
gance, but also his intimate acquaintance with the curious
monastic poetry of the middle ages. Some of his poems, how-
ever, are not up to the mark in polish. He is capable of
exquisite finish, but does not always give it us. Sometime,
too, he is guilty of very bad rhymes; and in several of his
poems both motive and method undergo a complete revolution
before the poem reaches its completion. These are faults of
carel and cannot be excused.

Mrs. Kate Seymour Maclean Lb equal to Mulvanv in original
inspiration, perhaps, and also in depth of feeling, and sensitive-
ness to rhythm and music. Her poems possess the singing
quality, the haunting lilt, more uniformly than do Mulvany's,
but she Lb not by any means the Literary artist thai be is.
She is far inferior to him in strength and dramatic insight, in
accuracy and wealth of culture, and in all technical qualifica-
tions. Her work neither calls for nor will heir such close
study as Mulvany's It will always be more popular, but
never of one-tenth part the value of his to the poet, the stu-
dent, or the m m of Letters. Her work does not escape the
influence of provincialism as wholly as hi^ verse does. But
she possesses the singing voice, and the seeing eye ; her poetry
is true to nature and the human heart. She has a vast com-
mand of pathos; her feeling is simple, direct and healthy ;
and her whole tendency is sweet and natural. She has also at
her command a ringing trumpet note, and some of her verse is
markedly sonorous and inspiriting. The " Burial of the Scout"
i> in all respects a powerful poem, imaginative, touching, and
virile in its strength :

"Along the reedy marge of the dim lake

I hear the gathering horsemen of the North ;
The cavalry of night and tempest wake, —
Blowing keen bugles as they issue forth
To guard his homeward march in frost and cold, a thousand spear-
men bold."



486 LIFE OF SIR JOHN A. MACDONALD.

This poem calls to mind that of Mrs. Heman's on the "Laud-
ing of the Pilgrim Fathers," which it equals for eloquence,
while far surpassing it in poetic feeling and reach of Imagina-
tion. There have been some very beautiful Easter poems writ-
ten in America, by Mrs. Thaxt< t and others, but Mrs. Maclean's
■• Marguerite " stands easily at tin* head of them all. Then
what a deep utterance is "The Voice of Many Waters," the
music and language of which are great: —

u But I bet! thy v>>iee at midnight, uniting the awful silence
With the long suspiration of the pain suppressed ;
And all the blue lagoons, and all the listening islands
Shuddering have heard, and locked thy secret in their breast ! "

Mm, ftfaclean'a rolume is entitled TJte Coming of tkt Princes*,
from the initial poem, whieh is not one of her best, though con-
taining some imaginative passages. The general tone of the
atith >ur of half-realiaed republicanism, which

peril unts for some lack of inspiration on this subject

which should be of such supreme and engrossing importance to
every loyal Canadian heart. Mi in's admirable little

volume is badly disfigured in ^pots by hopeless rhymes, and
a that refuse to be scanned. She makes " chrism " rhyme

with "arisen," "sp 1 with ' ; feeds," and has other slips which

are hard to account for among so much work that is often
artistically and skilfully wrought.

Mr. John Reade's work will offend the reader's taste even
more rarely than it will carry him away with enthusiastic
delight. Mr. Reade's muse is chaste, quiet, discreet, and some-
what reserved. Such verse always gives pleasure, but is not
likely to compel admiration. It will always command re-
spect ; and at times the reader pauses to admire the scholarly
taste exercised in the composition of these poems — the wealth
of dainty and sweet fancy, and the extent of restrained feelino;
lying under the serenely dignified calm of this language. But
occasionally the singing impulse gets its way, and a musical
and tender lyric such as " Sing me the songs I love," is the



THOUGHT AND LITERATURE. 487

result ; — a song whose sweet cadence and tender depth grows
upon one while it is as delightful to the artist as to the lay
reader. Or we have a graceful little thing, simple, delicate and
unstrained, such as " Apollo dropt a seed of song; " or an out-
burst of fluent and luxurious melody (reminding us of some of
Moore's beet work), in the lines,

11 Thalatta ! Thalatta ! "
" In my ear is the moan of the pines — in my heart is the song of the
sea,"—



in the rock where I stand t.» the sun is ■ pathway of sapphire ami
gold,
Like a waif of those Patmian visions that rapt the lone Mev oi old, — ''

******

in.

Westward ho ' Far away to the East is | OOttage that looks to the

si lore —
Though each drop in the sea were a tear, as it was I can M6 it do more;
F'>r th<- heart of its pride with the flowers of the ' Vale of the Shadow 1

Unci,

And — hushed is the song of the sea and hoane Si tin- moan of its pines."

The Prophecy of Merlin,* 1 i- a specimen of creditable blank
. generally fluenl and musical, and clear in expression; but
ibjeci is merely laudation of Prince Arthur, which might
have been quite as successfully accomplished without all the
elaborate preliminaries \ while there is nothing in the poem to
leave a lasting impression upon the mind. One simply feels
after perusing it, that he has not been offended by awkward or
ungrammatical writing, and is content to refrain from a 9 «ond
reading. " Balaam " is a much more meritorious poem, con-
taining many strong and vividly imagined passages, carefully
wrought out, with an effective and rememberable ending. It
is a dignified and stately poem. Mr. Eteade's work, altogether,
Lb lacking in originality to some degree, has no strong lyric rush,



188 LIFE OF sin JolIS A. MACVOXAI.P.

fails to impress or move <>ne potently ; bat it is earnest, cultured,
sweet, dear-cat, contemplative. These qualities show to best
advantage in the Bonnets, of which Mr. Reads has given us
ral For general evenness ol merit, thoughtfulness, inge-
nuity of fancy, and well-balanced expression, these sonnets
will stand as Mr. Reade's host work : and they entitle him to the
position of our leading sonnetteer. One or two others may have
reached higher ground than Mr. Reads in an individual sonnet
or so, but the uniform high quality of the hitter's, leaves his
title bo superiority unquestioned.

M - M. Ifachar, is ■ clever, thoroughly educated,

cultured writer, who now and again writes thoughtful and
geetive poems in periodicals, she has not published in
book form, therefore it would not be fair to judge her work
conclusively. But to decide from fragments, her work is quite
out of sympathy with the modern school, and with modern
feiling. She points most of her poems with a moral, which,
however, is always well put and forcible. Her verse is medi-
tative and pleasing, rather than strikingly individualistic'
But she is a thinker, has something t » say, and her work will
always repay perusal. Some time ago, there appeared in Scrib*
'i M agazine, a poem of hers on the Whip-poor-will," which
aled a power of lyric speech and a command of haunting
cadences hardly to have been expected from her other work.
Mis> Maehar writes under the nom dt plume of ■ Fidelis."

John Hunter-Duvar is a Prince Edward Island dramatic
poet. He has published "The Enamorado," a clever but un-
even piece of work founded on a mediaeval Spanish tale of chi-
valry. Like Heavysage, Mr. Hunter-Duvar gets his vocabulary
largely from Shakespeare. '* The Enamorado," necessarily by
its subject, and also by reason of the author's manner of treat-
ment, is lighter and more airy than " Saul." It displays less
dramatic insight and power of analysis, and less rugged
strength than the latter poem, which is distinctly a greater and
more notable work. But Mr. Hunter-Duvar is a finer and



THOUGHT AND LITERATURE. 480

truer poet than Heavysege; his mind is richer stocked and
mellower, his imagination more sensuous, his colouring warmer,
hifl music more alluring. This drama contains many brilliant
and poetical passages, much sharp dialogue, and a vast deal of
wit and Hashing fancy. Some of the repartee is admirable. It
abounds with puns and nuaint conceits, after later Elizabethan
fashion, and the personages pelt each other with similes unin-
termittingly. This has the flavour of the olden days:

D'Erdlla. u Is the Queen stirring ? "

iv, how should 1 know I I am not the king :
But an' thou ask me I should say, ' not so ! '
My lady stirs not lest she shame the sun :
Tin daw I see, but not her dewy eyes ;

b reat h but ■ephyr'i breath makes balm the air ;

I only hear the hir Ts awakening notes ;

And, therefore. I should say my lady stirs not."

The clown in this play is i witty and discerning fool, and
fiends bv quitting his abeiirdity, even when delivering
himself of the wisest matter. To bis query : — " Perpend, —
what is a queen

Sancho replies profoundly — "A queen is —a queen!"

And thus the clown :

"A imean with - tsill. One th.it with fcheroej nail ol ber Utile fore

Pellow l do this, •and whan 'tis done looks blank beyond and sees

you a

And again —

D : -'• I >Ms t ever see a pearl, Master Sancho ?"

ho : - "Aye, and an oyster too. Why our Clara ii called the pearl of "

Clown :—" Pur-r-r-r -aroynt the man ! Sir, oyster is ■ (-nature given us for
tod, and pearl be but oyster scab. A pearl doth not walk abroad and w.-ai-



Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 40 of 57)