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An Abridged History of Canada
History of Canadian Literature By G. Mercer Adam


The story of human life on this continent is a brief because a recent one : the same may be said of the record of its literature. Unlike the Old World, we have had no longer centuries of rich and varied culture, and but few periods of bitter passion and strife to call forth, in intellectual expression, the energies, the heroism, and the national pride of the people. The field for the display of these national qualities has hitherto not been literature. On this side the Atlantic we lack even the diversified physical structure of the Old World continents, with the differentiation which a strongly-marked geography produces in mental and other racial characteristics. On the European continent men necessarily fell into variety, either from the isolation imposed by geographical barriers, or from the separating influences of climate, language, or creed. In the New World, accident,
caprice, or local attractiveness in scenery and climate, have led to settlement here and there, and to the growth of the communities which now inhabit it. But with the exception of the Province of Quebec, the various colonies- that have planted themselves from time to time in the northern portions at least of the New World, though they have retained no little of their original characteristics, have not perpetuated them in their alien aggressiveness. In great measure, these communities have become assimilated and taken on more or less of a common type. This is perhaps accounted for by the fact that the members composing them came here in the main as peaceful colonists, and not, as in Old World instances, as conquering peoples, with a well-marked and dominating national force. The blending of nationalities in peaceful pursuits on this continent is one of the happiest circumstances in its history, and with the adoption of a common language, with the traditions as well as the civilization which that language represents, this fusion must in time greatly contribute to the dominion of the race and have a powerful influence on its literature.

The physiography of North America, though it has its regional diversities, is characteristically as simple as the European continent is varied. In this respect it is better fitted for man, though it must fail in creating those rich and diversified physical and mental types which we see in the Old World. With the exception of the mediterranean seas which lie between Canada and the neighbouring States, the continent is undivided,, and, save on its western flank, is marked by little physical variety. The lack of variety in physical conformation of the inhabited portions of the continent has its counterpart in the people. The human types are little diversified, and the mental characteristics; if not altogether uniform, correspond very closely to the same model. Nor have the political divisions produced . much contrariety, and the little that has existed is every day yielding to the influences of travel and social and commercial intercourse. Even when the communities were isolated and far apart, there was not much divergence in habits and thought, beyond that which differentiates inland communities from maritime, and marks off a provincial and rural people from those that live in towns and acquire cosmopolitan manners and tastes. Nor among the aboriginal
inhabitants of the continent do we find much mental diversity,- save that which distinguishes the forest from the prairie Indians, or is connected with minor variations from the general structural affinity of the tribal languages.

Almost the sole exception to the prevailing mental uniformity on the continent is to be found, as we have hinted, in Lower Canada, now the Province of Quebec. There circumstances, the result in the main of the racial and religious privileges granted to French-Canadians at the Conquest, have created and maintained a distinct—we might almost say an alien—people, cherishing their peculiar habits and customs, with their own national aspirations, language, and creed. Proud of their French origin, of their descent from the old noblesse, of the days of the Grand Monarque, or from the hardy seamen of Normandy and Brittany, and inheritors of the fame and the traditions of the original discoverers and first colonizers of the country, they cling tenaciously as a people to their own institutions, their language, and their laws. Their sectional isolation, we can hardly disguise from ourselves, is an untoward thing for Canadian Confederation, and the unifying and welding together of the various British communities which twenty years ago set out on a nationward path under a Federal Government. Nor is the evil rendered less noxious by racial jealousy, religious cleavage, and intermittent sectional hostility ; though Party and a Party Press is perhaps more responsible for this than are our French-Canadian compatriots. Ominous in a national sense as the fact is, however, this survival of Old France in the New World is a rather pleasing break in the racial monotony of the American continent, and gives the charm of variety to the mental habits and national characteristics of the people. But a more important and not less gratifying feature in the case is this, that it has given to Canada a distinctive, as well as an early, literature,—all the more interesting as it has preserved an Old World flavour, and, while drawing its inspiration in large measure from the Motherland, has made fresh distillations of culture and civilization in the colony.

The volume and wealth of French-Canadian literature are facts too little known to English-speaking Canada, and, it is to be feared, are but little noted by our literary men themselves. Were its resources as well as its merits better known and recognized, the fact could hardly fail to excite a friendly and helpful rivalry in the domain of letters, and aid in promoting that entente cordiale between the two peoples, without which there can be no national fusion, and but little material, and less intellectual, advancement. Nor would the least of its influence be felt in the sphere of politics, and in the wider and more beneficent fields of social and commercial intercourse. What a mine the historian Parkman has found in th6 early history of Canada, and how replete it is with all the materials of romance, there is to-day no need to point out. In our indifference other American writers are entering upon the field; and already many of the localities in Quebec and the Maritime Provinces, with their rich histories and fascinating legends, are fast passing into literature through the medium of a foreign pen. It is perhaps not too much to say that it is from the pages of Ho wells "Wedding Journey" and "A Chance Acquaintance" that our people are first apprised of the beauties of Quebec and the St. Lawrence; while of the local writers, Hawkins and Le Moine, they probably never have heard. The same may be said of the liquid chasm of the Saguenay, of the rude GaspS coast, and of historic Cape Breton, the Isle Royale of Louis Quatorze, and the long-contested prize of Britain and France. What we know of Grand Pre and the fateful story of the expulsion of the Acadians we know from Longfellow's Evangeline and the historical corrective of Parkman's "Montcalm and Wolfe." So with other dramatic incidents in the whole region of Acadia, and with those delightful descriptions of scenery with which American writers, such as Charles Hallock in "The Fishing Tourist," Charles Dudley Warner in "Baddeck and That Sort of Thing," and Henry D. Thoreau in "A Yankee in Canada," have made us pleasantly acquainted. It is to the poet Stedman (see his Lord's-Day Gale) we turn to read the stirring account of the terrible storm which swept the Cape Breton coast and the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, in August, 1873, and wrecked hundreds of the fishing craft of Gloucester, Maine. To Whittier, also, must we look for the poetical version of that old legend of the Massachusetts coast, which gained for Skipper Ireson the maledictions, with tarring and feathering, of the irate women of Marblehead for deserting a sinking fishing-smack in the Bay of Chaleur.

"Small pity for him!—He sailed away From a leaking ship in Chaleur Bay,— Sailed away from a sinking wreck, With his own town's people on her deck! 'Lay by! lay by!' they called to him; Back he answered, 'Sink or swim! Brag of your catch of fish again!' And off he sailed through the fog and rain."

Gradually, however, our writers are directing their attention to the rich stores of history, legend, and adventure in their own country, and are more and more seeking in native fields themes for their pen and the inspiration that should come, and must best come, from local sources. Already we have no little to boast of in the literature of both languages; and were public appreciation of native literary undertakings more hearty and pronounced, and the pecuniary rewards more substantial, the field would be still more fully occupied. Each year the area widens which is treated of by native writers, historical and descriptive ; and each year, also, sees the various interesting periods of the native history more fully discussed, and the social and political questions of the past made subjects of keener criticism and of ampler elucidation. In proof of this, we might point to the single instance of our great North-West domain, which has attracted the pens, we are quite within the mark in saying, of at least a hundred writers, who have published as many treatises and brochures on the country and its resources, since the region passed from out the gloom and desolation of the period of the Fur Traders into the brighter day of colonization and settlement. Like gratifying facts- might be adduced with regard to the older Provinces, their past history and social and industrial development; while various phases in their intellectual and moral progress are now becoming subjects of interesting study and of critical examination. The number of works is now large, and is yearly increasing, on such incidents in our history as the Conquest, the War of 1812, the period of the rule of the Family Compact', the Rebellion of 1837, the later story of Confederation, with the politics, local and general, of recent times. The national biography is also being annually enlarged, and the interesting portraiture of those who have patriotically devoted themselves to the public service of the young nation, has become, or is fast becoming, both more familiar and more real to us. ISTor into the sterner field of science have our students and writers been slow to penetrate. A glance through the four volumes of the "Transactions" of the Royal Society of Canada, or through the "Journals" and annual publications of the various other scientific institutions of the Dominion, not to speak of the many important separate treatises by our local savants, will emphasize this fact. A like industry and public spirit characterizes our literary workers in other fields; though our people are slow to recognize the fact, and chary in their acknowledgment of it. What is wanted to help our nascent Canadian literature is a greater infusion into it of patriotic feeling, and, among the people, a wider diffusion of national sentiment. Through no influence more potent than literature and the literary spirit can the nationalizing of the Dominion effectively operate. Nothing will better contribute to the welding process, or be more efficient in bringing about homogeneity, and the consolidating influences the country so urgently needs, than a healthy native literature and an ardent national sentiment. With these, and due encouragement to their exercise, we may see the various Provinces of the Dominion knit more closely together in the bonds of a common nationality, and sectionalism and disruptive influences dispelled as things of alien growth.

But we must not conceal from ourselves our weakness. We are a young and, as yet, far from a self-reliant people. For our own good, it is to be feared, we have been too long in a state of pupilage and of dependence, intellectual as well as political, upon others. This has bred not only distrust of ourselves, but disesteem of our literature. There is no need to quarrel with the pessimism which affirms that Canada has no literature. In a sense, the statement is true; for of a distinctively native literature, on its English side, it has as yet little. We do not say this as a concession to popular ignorance or prejudice, but as a fact, the frank admission of which may be helpful to native letters. Yet the number of books written on and in Canada is large; how large it would surprise many people to know. The present writer has had frequent occasion to compile a list of Canadian publications and works relating to Canada, and in his time has made many more or less ambitious collections. The extent of the list has always been a marvel to him, and he may be permitted to say that no Canadian, at least, should be unfamiliar with much that it comprises. There is scarcely a department of thought in it that is not represented, though it is specially rich in the materials for history; and the current additions to the list are by no means meagre. While this is the case, we constantly hear the statement that English Canada has no literature; and before going further it might be well to see just what it has. What is it, then, we classify in our libraries under native authors, and why give it so much space if it does not rank as literature 1 We shall best answer the question by taking a look at our book-shelves, or by directing the reader to the pages that follow. Here is one devoted to Canadian history and travels. True, the French portion overshadows the English; but it is no less national or lacking in the literary quality. But if objection is taken to its citation, we shall pass by our Champlain, Charlevoix, Lescarbot, Sagard, La Hontan, Hennepin, and Le Clerq, with their modern congeners Garneau, Ferland, Faillon, Tasse, Turcotte, LeMoine, Chauveau, Suite, Yerreau, Casgrain, Tanguay, and St. Maurice—names that confer distinction upon Canada, and whose authors have earned the right of admission into the temple of literary fame. But before leaving tliis section let us note what a field there is here for the translator, and how much profitable work might be done in rendering into English those interesting records of early French travel and discovery which, so far, have not been translated—despite the plums Parkman has abstracted for his brilliant historical narratives. It is not creditable to Canadian literary industry that, as yet, we have no English translation of the Relations des Jesuites, of Sagard's or Lescarbot's works on Nouvelle France, or of many other instructive histories and monographs of the French period.

Let us now turn to the English division of the same department. And here every section of the country, and almost every period of its life, are dealt with. A mere string of names will convey little; but those familiar with the work which the following list of authors represents will admit that it counts for much in the sum of our Anglo-Canadian literature:—Auchinleck, Bouchette, Bourinot, Bryce, Canniff, Christie, Coffin, Collins, Dawson, Davin, Dent, Fleming, Gait, Gourlay, Gray, Grant, Haliburton, He riot, Hargrave, Head, Hincks, Howison, Hind, Hodgins, Howe, Kirby, Leggo, Lesperance, Lindsey, McGee, Martin, Morris, Morgan, Murray, Macoun, Mackenzie, McGregor, MacMullen, Machar, Rattray, Ryerson, Reade, Sandham, Scadding, Smith, Stewart, Talbot, Taylor, Thompson, Todd, Watson, Withrow, Wilson, and Young.

In this obviously incomplete list, we make no mention of authors outside history and kindred topics, who have published works in other departments, or graced Canadian literature by minor contributions from their pen. Nor have we cited authors in the professions—of education, journalism, law, medicine, science, and theology—who have issued text-books, treatises, manuals, works of practice, etc., or made important contributions to the journals, periodicals and transactions of their respective professions. Nor have we referred to our poets and writers of fiction, or to the mass of printed matter, in pamphlets and brochures, which claims recognition as "Canadiana," and a respectable amount of which, as fact or criticism, we hold, belongs, if not to literature, to something closely akin to it. Yet with all this material, it is slightingly said that Canada has no literature—and no history. When, may we ask, shall we get rid of this denationalizing habit of discrediting the past 1 No Canadian history 1 Why, the past is full of it; not, it may be, on any great scale, with "blare of trumpet and beat of drum," but^in that grander movement of the country's industrial and social life, which has made of the wilderness a cultivated garden, and brought peace and plenty to a thriving and enlightened people. No literature 1 With poets such as Reade, Roberts, Sangster, Mair, Phillips Stewart, and George Martin among men, and McLean, Machar (Fidelis), Crawford, Duncan (Garth Grafton), Harrison, (Seranus), Rothwell, and Wetherald among women. With novelists such as Kirby and Lesperance. With scientists such as Logan, Dawson, Wilson, Bell, Selwyn, and Sterry Hunt. With orators, publicists, essayists, and miscellaneous writers, such as McGee, Howe, Haliburton, Grant. Todd, Lindsey, Griffin, Stewart, Le Sueur. Rattray, and Gold win Smith. Have these men and women laboured in vain, and given nothing to the intellectual life of their country that is tit to be called literature ! Only ignorance will dare assert that.

But the truth has to be qualified. We hac-e a literature, or, to be critical, the fair beginnings, at least, of one. How much of it is known to those who ought to know it, we shall not dare say. If there is ignorance of it, let us not be told that it doesn't exist. It is bad enough to hear the question asked, " Who reads a Canadian book in England!" but how much more discouraging is it to reflect how few are the readers of a native work in Canada. And here is the trouble : if we have not the literature we desire and might have, it is because to such as we have we extend scant favour. This attitude, if maintained, can only retard its progress, dwarf the national spirit, and depress the literary calling. On the other hand, were Canadian literature encouraged, it would take a more prominent place among the intellectual agents of the higher life in Canada; interests and sympathies, now dormant, would be aroused; and a more distinctively national and higher literary work would be created. To this end, let us first silence the depreciators, and pay fitting respect to the literary toilers of the past. To the young Canadian who wants to know his country's history and light the flame of his patriotism, we would ask him to become acquainted with his country's authors and take stock of their literary achievements. When he has got that length, it will be time to hear of limits and defects.

And now, briefly, for the qualifications, which, however, do not excuse the prevailing lack of interest. That the latter exists is shown by the comparatively few readers even Parkman has among the Canadian public. If this brilliant writer, dealing with the most dramatic incidents in Canadian history, can command but a select body of readers, what chance, it may be asked, has the average Canadian writer! Yet the truth must be told, that, with all the writers we have enumerated, we have little either of an attractive or of a distinctively native literature. It we except Parkman, the written records of our history familiar to the Canadian reader are few and uninviting. Nor is the reason far to seek; for, in large measure, if the material of these records is interesting, the style is bad. The ground, admittedly, wants going over again, and our history re-presented with the graces of modern literary art. But two essentials are necessary to this being done—the qualified writer and the appreciative public. For lack of these—and both we might have—how much is being lost! Men and events of the greatest national interest are suffered to fall into oblivion, for want of the skill and industry to transfer them to the modern canvas, and the public spirit to reward the toiler when he has performed his task. Nor is it in the field of political action alone that we want the writers; but rather in that of Canada's social and industrial life. Here is our romantic material, and the source from which we might draw our picturesque narratives, and the makings of a literature that shall be distinctively national.

And how abundant is the material! Every township has its rich tale to tell of early settlement and toilsome pioneering work, and every section of the country its own chequered annals and distinctive life. Yet few are the gleaners in the field, while the elder folk are fast passing away from whose lips the story might be taken down to pass into some famous epic, drama, or history. With a little more public encouragement, what possibilities are before our Canadian writers, and how much our literature might be enriched ! In the past history of Canadian thought and action, we have been sowing but the seed-grain of a harvest that shall bear good fruit, and in which the labourers, we trust, shall not be few. To hasten that coming time, let us take greater interest in the intellectual past and present, and hold its product in more esteem. Then there will be no question of our having a literature, and no lack of writers, racy of the soil, whose work shall bring grace and repute to Canadian letters.

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