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


The narrow limits of this sketch, it is a matter of regret to the writer, call for rigid compression in the treatment of the present and the two following sections. It is a long cry from Charlevoix to Garneau, Ferland, and Faillon, in the field of history, or, in the descending line of poets, from Lescarbot to Cremazie, Le May, and Frechette. But within the space of time that divides these names literature in Canada may be said to have folded its wings and slept. In the long interval, the fortunes of France in the New World had suffered change. The race of doughty discoverers and explorers had either died out, or its survivors had betaken themselves to trapping and trade. The missions of the Church, in the dire enmity of the Iroquois, had been exterminated or withdrawn. Then came the struggle with Britain for the prize of the continent, and after the Lilies of France had fallen, a long period of an alien military occupation brought upon the broken colony bewilderment and discouragement. Upon the smoke of the contest literature did not open its eyes, and when it did, though the clouds had cleared, it was long before it recovered heart.

With the union of Upper and Lower Canada, when political strife for the time being was hushed, the long silence of literature in Canada was at last broken, and the voice of the modern group of French-Canadian writers began to be heard. The place of honour must be assigned to the historians; and the first to venture into the field was Michael Bibaud (1782-1857), a Montreal magazinist, who, in 1843, published a sober narrative of events entitled "Histoire du Canada et des Canadiens, sous la domination Francaise." A second edition was issued in the following year, with a new work, dealing with the history under the English regime. Between the years 1845 and 1848 appeared a work of conspicuous merit, which the French-Canadians accept as their national history. We refer to " l'Histoire du Canada," par Franyois-Xavier Garneau. In 1882 appeared at Montreal a fourth and revised edition of this great work, edited by the author's son, with an introduction by M. Chauveau; and an English translation was published by'Mr. John Lovell, in 1866, by Mr. Andrew Bell. The latter, it should be said, has taken some liberties with M. Garneau's text to suit it to English readers. During the sixties, two learned priests entered the field of French-Canadian authorship as historians; but their works, though extremely valuable, are both incomplete, death in each case having arrested the writer's labours. The first in point of time to appear was "Cours d'Histoire du Canada," par l'Abbe J. B. A. Ferland, continued to the con- quest by l'AbbS Laverdiere, who is said to have been one of the ablest scholars in the Canadian priesthood. The second of these two works is the " Histoire de la Colonie Fran§aise en Canada," by the Abbe Etienne M. Faillon, a rather partisan Sulpitian priest from Old France, who spent a number of years in Canada, and whose great abilities and untiring industry impart a high value to his work. Both of these writers were men of great accomplishments, and as such had access to all available ecclesiastical documents, in and out of the country, which shed light on the civil and religious annals of Canada. r Abbe Ferland's narrative is in two volumes, and was published at Quebec in 1861-5. Of Abbe Faillon's work but three volumes appeared, which were issued in Paris in 1865-6.

To the other French-Canadian works of note in the department of history, with the kindred branch of biography, we can here refer only by their titles. They are as follows: "Histoire de Cinquante Ans," par M. Pi&rre Bedard; " Histoire des Canadiens-Fra^ais," par M. Benjamin Suite, F.R.S.C., a richly furnished and comprehensive history by a competent writer; "Le Canada sous l'Union," par M. Louis P. Turcotte, an instructive work—from a thoroughly French point of view, however—dealing with the political history of the two old Provinces of Canada, from the Rebellion to Confederation; " Les Canadiens de l'Ouest," a series of portraits of French pioneers in the West, par M. Joseph Tasse; " Histoire de la Rebellion de 1837-38," par M. L. O. David, and an interesting work by the accomplished philologist and scholarly priest, l'Abbe Tanguay, entitled " La Geneal-ogie des Families Canadiennes." In this department, perhaps, should also be noted the writings of another French-Canadian cleric, who is deeply imbued with the literary spirit, and whose artistic and scholarly work has won for him enrolment among the members of the Royal Society of Canada. We allude to l'Abbe R. H. Casgrain. This writer's chief productions are "L'Histoire de 1'Hotel Dieu de Quebec;" " Histoire de la M6re Marie de l'lncarnation," and "Les Opuscules," a work which deals entrancingly with incidents, historical and legendary, connected with early pioneering life in the Lower Province. Another delightful contemporary writer is M. Faucherde Saint-Maurice, whose " Promenades dans le Golfe St. Laurence," " Les Provinces Maritimes," and other works of travel, have won for him a high place in the literature of French-Canada.

Arthur Buies, one of the bright band of essayists and chroniqueurs, whose work makes recent French-Canadian literature so attractive, has written an entertaining book on " La Saguenay et la Vallee du Lac St. Jean." This region, long dear to the Church, and now the great resort of tourists, is charmingly described by M. Buies. Of the great repertoire of local and national history in the Quebec. Province, Mr. J. L. Le Moine, above all men, seems to hold the key. Using his pen in both languages, Mr. Le Moine has the advantage of most of his contemporaries, and numbers of English-speaking Canadians are familiar with his work as an annalist and antiquary. He has done for Quebec what Dr. Scadding has done for Toronto—given us not so much a history as the materials of history; and to few men is Canada more indebted than to Mr. Le Moine for preserving from oblivion many of the most interesting legends and forgotten facts in our early history. His chief published works are a triple series of "Maple Leaves: a Budget of Legendary and Historical Intelligence," and two volumes respectively entitled, " Quebec : Past and Present," and "Picturesque Quebec." He has also published numberless brochures in French dealing with the early history of the country. The name of Oscar Dunn, an accomplished journalist and well-informed writer, cannot be omitted from a list of French-Canadian authors. He has published two volumes of collected papers, entitled "Lecture pour tous," and " Dix ans de Journalisme;" also, a useful "Glossaire Franco-Canadien."

Of the novelists and romancers of the province, a few prominent names must suffice. The field, rich as it is in all the materials of romance, it seems to the writer, should be more fully occupied than it is. There is no lack of sketches and studies in the literature of the sister province, but there are few works of fiction of ambitious scope and sustained merit. "L'Intendant Bigot" is the subject of one, and perhaps the best, of the historical novels of M. Joseph Marmette. Two others of his works, "Francois de Bienville," and "Le Chevalier de Mornac," have been dramatized and have found favour with his countrymen. "Les Anciens Canadiens," by M. Philippe A. De Gaspe, is a typical story of pioneering life in the early days of the Quebec Province. "Jean Rivard," by M. Gerin-Lajoie, and "Charles Guerin," by the Hon. Pierre J. O. Chauveau, are good examples of French-Canadian fiction; as are also M. Tache's "Forestiers et Voyageurs," and "Trois Legendes de Mon Pays." Much more imaginative, and written with a pleasing grace of style, is "Jacques et Marie," by M. Napoleon Bourassa, a story which deals with the expulsion of the Acadians. "A Mes Enfants," by M. Napoleon Legendre, is a charming collection of children's stories.

All literatures have usually their beginnings in song, and this may truly be said of Canada. M. Suite, in an article in Nouvelles Soirees Ccinadiennes (1882) on "La Poesie Frangaise en Canada," enumerates a list between the years 1740 and 1880 of 175 French-Canadian authors of note, 67 of whom are known to have written verse. Much of the work of these writers is ephemeral in its character, but not a little of it is entitled to take high rank as poetry. As a rule, its themes are Canadian, and from native subjects it takes its colour and its life. Occasionally we find an invocation to the muse of the Gallic motherland, and frequently the models of Old France are perhaps too closely followed. But, in the main, it is largely imbued with the genius of the soil, and its subjects are drawn from the national history, with pictures of its religious and social life, and its political and industrial pursuits. With their characteristic lightheadedness and joyous temperament, much of the verse of the French-Canadian people is set in song. Three collections of this delightful species of verse have been published; these are "Recueil de Chansons Canadiennes et Frangaises" (1859); "Chansons Populaires du Canada," edited, with the music, by Ernest Gagnon (Quebec, 1865); and "Songs of Old Canada," translated by William McLennan (Montreal, 1886).

The number is legion who have written anonymous verse and single poems, many of which are of great beauty. The numerous serial publications of the Quebec Province, and the continuous succession, from 1820 to the present time, of French-Canadian magazines have afforded vehicles for the publication and preservation of these poetical contributions. The chief of the minor poets may be said to be Bibaud, Garneau (father and son), De Gaspe, Marchancl, Prudliomme, Routhier, Gingras, Chauveau, St. Aubin, Cartier, Lenoir, Fiset, Poisson, Evanturel, Lajoie, with two English names, Chapman and Donnelly. The list of the poets of the first rank contains the names of Painphile Le May, Octave Cremazie, Louis Honore Frechette, and Benjamin Suite. The first is best known, perhaps, as the translator into French of Longfellow's poem Evangeline. This production is to be found in his "Essais Poetiques," published in 1865, which was followed by a university prize poem, entitled, La Dtcouverte du Canada; by his Ilymne Rationale, by Les Vengeances, by a volume of Fables, and by a collection, Une Gerbe, of fugitive verse. All these works are characterized by true poetic feeling and literary grace. Of the other writers named, of the first rank, Cremazie is said to be the Hugo, Frechette the Lamartine, and Suite the Beranger of Canada. Cremazie's verse has the ring of genius. Though lofty in tone, it is marred, however, by the evil influences of a disappointed life. Suite's more serious occupations have left him little time to woo the Muses, but his songs have a fine national stamp, and in his volume, entitled Les Laurentiennes, he has given his countrymen justification for placing him high among the recognized poets of French-Canada. Frechette, however, holds the place of honour. His published collections of verse are entitled Mes Loisirs, Pel Mel, Les Fleurs Boreales, and Les Oiseavx de Neige. The two latter works gained him the laurel crown of the French Academy. His themes are incidents taken from the national history, cast in various forms, with one or two dramas, many sonnets, and a profusion of lyrics, of great sweetness, dealing with nature and life.

In this section of our brief sketch of native literature, we must not omit to note "l'Histoire de la Litterature Cana-dienne," by M. Edmond Lareau, published at Montreal in 1874, which essays the task of presenting the French-Canadian public with a manual of Canadian literature from the earliest times. To this work we are somewhat indebted, as well as to Mr. H. J. Morgan's " Bibliotheca Canadensis," to Dr. Bender's "Literary Sheaves," and to articles on Canadian literature in the Transactions of the Royal Society, by the Hon. P. J. O. Chauveau, and Mr. John Les-perance. Nor must we fail here to acknowledge our indebtedness to the collection of historical essays, contributed to the Canadian Monthly, by Dr. J. G. Bourinot, the Clerk of the House of Commons, Ottawa. In this thoughtful little volume, entitled "The Intellectual Development of the Canadian People," the author has made a useful and interesting addition to the meagre list of works available to the English reader in the field of Canadian bibliography and the record of Canada's intellectual life. In the same field, with a good deal of intellectual acuteness and a fine literary discernment, though marred occasionally by the writer's self-willed predilections, Mr. J. Edmund Collins has given us in his "Life of Sir John A. Macdonald" a bright chapter on native thought and literature, which the student of Canadian letters will find pleasant, and on the whole instructive, reading. The department of "Literature, Science, and Art," in the Dominion Annual Register, edited by Mr. Morgan, of Ottawa, may also be consulted with profit for periodic summaries of the annual output of native literature and the record of the year's work in science and art. The political abstracts and other information in these annual volumes of reference make them of the highest value for consultation; and we shall be glad to see the abstract of literature annually maintained, and something more attempted than what has occasionally been given us— a mere transcript of copyright entries.

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