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The Confederation Group of Canadian Poets, 1880-1897

The Confederation Group of Canadian Poets, 1880-1897

D.M.R. Bentley
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 432
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    The Confederation Group of Canadian Poets, 1880-1897
    Book Description:

    As one of the formative periods in Canadian history, the late nineteenth century witnessed the birth of a nation, a people, and a literature. In this study of Canada's first 'school' of poets, D.M.R. Bentley combines archival work, including extensive research in periodicals and newspapers, with close readings of the work of Charles G.D. Roberts, Archibald Lampman, Bliss Carman, William Wilfred Campbell, Duncan Campbell Scott, and Frederick George Scott. Bentley chronicles the formation, reception, national and international successes, and eventual disintegration (after the 1895 'War Among the Poets') of the Confederation Group, whose poetry forever changed the perception and direction of Canadian literature.

    With the aid of biographical, political, and sociological analyses, Bentley's literary history delineates the group's political, aesthetic, and thematic dispositions and characteristics, and contextualizes them not only within Canadian history and politics, but also within contemporary intellectual and literary currents, including Romantic nationalism, 'Canadianism', and poetic formalism. Bentley casts new light on the poets' commonalities - such as their debt to Young Ireland, their commitment to careful workmanship, and their participation in the American mind-cure movement - as well as on their most accomplished and anthologized poems from 1880 to 1897. In the process, he presents a compelling case for the literary and historical importance of these six men and their poems in light of Canada's cultural and political past, and defends their right to be known as Canada's first poetic fraternity at a time when Canada was striving to achieve literary and national distinction.The Confederation Group of Canadian Poets, 1880-1897is an erudite and innovative work of literary history and critical interpretation that belongs on the bookshelf of every serious scholar of literary studies.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8087-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Notes on Dates, Quotations, and Citations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-23)

    In the 27 April 1929 issue of theMcGill Fortnightly Review(Montreal), F.R. Scott (1899–1985) published his now well-known attack on the Canadian Authors’ Association, an organization founded in 1921 to promote the interests of Canadian writers. ‘The air is heavy with Canadian topics,’ begins the third stanza of ‘The Canadian Authors Meet,’ ‘And Carman, Lampman, Roberts, Campbell, Scott,/Are measured for their faith and philanthropies,/Their zeal for God and King, their earnest thought’ (Collected Poems248). In the remainder of the poem, the five Confederation poets named by Scott–Bliss Carman (1861–1929), Archibald Lampman (1861–99), Charles G.D....

  7. CHAPTER ONE Young Canada: 1880–1884
    (pp. 24-69)

    ‘I suppose, from your intimacy with Collins, that you are one of us right through, a Canadian Republican!’ enthused Roberts to Lampman in a letter of 23 September 1882. ‘We want to get together literary and independent Young Canada, and to spread our doctrines with untiring hands ... I am anxious indeed to get to Toronto ... to put in execution many schemes. I hope under those circumstances the close duet of C[ollins] and I would become an equally inseparable trio, yourself making the third of the triumvirate’ (CL29). The Collins to whom Roberts refers in this highly significant...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Canadianism: 1885–1890
    (pp. 70-110)

    As the debacle of theWeekreceded into memory over the winter of 1884–5, Roberts’s health and spirits began to revive, and he soon returned, strengthened and incensed by experience, to the task of proselytizing on behalf of Canadian Independence. A measure of the intensity of his commitment to the cause at this time can be gained from an article on Gold-win Smith that he published on 11 July 1885 in the ‘Authors at Home’ series in the New YorkCritic. ‘The Canadian Nationalists, with whom [Smith] is believed to be in sympathy,’ he writes with pungent irony, ‘owe...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Aesthetics: Workmanship and Variety
    (pp. 111-144)

    As has already been glimpsed at several points in the preceding pages, the aesthetic that Roberts promoted both within and outside the Confederation group during its coalescence in the 1880s was centred on his notion of craftsmanship or workmanship. Both explicitly in ‘The Beginnings of a Canadian Literature’ (1883) and implicitly in his critiques of the work of Carman, Lampman, and other members of the group, Roberts took the position that the choice of a Canadian subject or theme was neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the creation of a good Canadian poem. What was crucial, in his...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Natural Environments
    (pp. 145-176)

    When Roberts and Lampman suggested that the scenery, climate, and atmospheric qualities of Canada might one day give rise to a Canadian national character and, hence, to a distinctive Canadian literature, they were not merely echoing statements made about New England by Washington Irving (see chapter 2) but, like Irving himself, articulating a concept of environmental determinism whose roots lay in Locke’s theory of mental development and Herder’s theory of national identity. Since ‘our imagination nourishes itself’ ‘upon the impressions which our senses gather in during childhood,’ ‘it takes the colour that it feeds on’ runs Roberts’s version of Locke...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Therapeutic Nature
    (pp. 177-203)

    In 1881, four years after he had been commissioned to design a public park for Mount Royal in Montreal, the American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903), who was then as now most famous for his role in the creation of Central Park in New York City, published a monograph in which he laid out the principles underlying his proposal for Mount Royal. ‘Beside and above’ the ‘inducement which the enjoyment of it presents to change of mental occupation, exercise, and air-taking,’ runs a key passage inMount Royal, Montreal(1881),

    charming natural scenery ... acts in a more...

  12. CHAPTER SIX Supernaturalism
    (pp. 204-240)

    One of the most striking characteristics of the Confederation poets as a group is their shared roots in the Anglican tradition. Frederick George Scott was educated at Bishop’s College in Lennoxville, Quebec, and King’s College in London, England, ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1886, and through most of the period of the group’s effective existence, served as a curate or rector in parishes in Drummondville and Quebec City. Between 1882 and 1891, Campbell was a theology student, first at Wycliffe College, Toronto, and then at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a deacon and priest...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN International and National Recognition: 1889–1895
    (pp. 241-272)

    In 1880, Roberts’sOrion, and Other Poemswas heralded in Canada as the harbinger of a new epoch in Canadian literature, not merely because it was a precociously accomplished volume of poetry, but also, and as important, because it contained poems that had already appeared in the pages ofScribner’s Monthly(New York). ‘“Memnon” and “Drowsihood,” are familiar to the reader ofScribner,’ wrote the reviewer in the November 1880 number ofRose-Belford’s Canadian Monthly and National Review(Toronto); ‘does not the publication of such a book as this ...justify us in arguing good things of the spread of a...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT Disintegration
    (pp. 273-290)

    In the May 1895 number ofMunsey’s Magazine(New York), an American journalist named Joseph Dana Miller published ‘The Singers of Canada,’ an essay combining portrait photographs, biographical information, critical estimates, and copious quotations of poetry into a mosaic purporting to represent ‘the achievements and the prospects of the northern school to which Carman, Roberts, Lampman, and Campbell belong’ (War10). Superficial though it necessarily is, Miller’s survey of ‘the northern school’ contains explicit and implicit judgments and rankings of the Confederation group that could scarcely have posed more of a threat to its already fragile civility if they had...

  15. Aftermath
    (pp. 291-298)

    Although the poets of the Confederation group continued to interact with one another after the ‘War among the Poets’ and after Roberts’s removal to New York, they did so more and more as subgroups and then as dispersed individuals than as a ‘set of men’¹ whose work displayed similar characteristics and goals. For almost a decade in the 1880s and 1890s, six poets of ‘the same generation’ – ‘four friends,’ a ‘close ... associate,’ and one who ‘st[ood] somewhat apart’ – (Smith, ‘Introduction’ 21) – had together provided proof that a body of poetry written by Canadians could be distinctive...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 299-362)
  17. Works Cited
    (pp. 363-390)
  18. Index
    (pp. 391-411)