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The Search for English-Canadian Literature

The Search for English-Canadian Literature

Edited and Introduced by Carl Ballstadt
Series: Heritage
Copyright Date: 1975
Pages: 216
  • Book Info
    The Search for English-Canadian Literature
    Book Description:

    This book provides essential background to anyone concerned with the path Canadian literature followed to modern times.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5653-6
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Preface
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-l)

    The main purpose of this book is to reflect the major issues in the critical search for a distinctive literature in Canada during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is a critical anthology and as such does not tell the full history of the search, although that history needs to be written; rather it endeavours to provide some balance to the readily available documentation on the critics’ quest for Canadian literature.

    The emphasis in Canadian literary scholarship has been on the modern stages of that quest. For example, in 1967 Louis Dudek and Michael Gnarowski editedThe Making of...


    • Introduction to the Canadian Magazine and Literary Repository (1823)
      (pp. 3-5)

      …With such opinions, the judicious reader cannot be at any loss in the discovery of our sentiments, and in discerning the track which we have marked out for ourselves in the conduct of this work. He will see, that we prefer the substantial realities of a virtuous education, of prudent habits, and useful learning to the evanescent and fanciful colourings ofmodernpolite literature — that we shall always respect the labours of the moralist, the historian, and the traveller before the super-structures of fancy or the brilliant meteors of wit. Agreeable to this plan, it shall form one of...

    • Essay on the Advantages that Might be Derived from the Establishment of a Literary Association in Montreal (1826)
      (pp. 5-9)

      In free countries we find that societies for mutual improvement have been generally begun by individuals called amateurs; men who could converse with pleasure on literary and scientific subjects, though frequently deficient in systematic knowledge. A love or taste for the arts, sciences and literature precedes skill in them; and it is a great step towards their successful cultivation when such characters unite together. In Montreal, where few persons have leisure and opportunity for study, it would be particularly useful to collect the scattered rays of knowledge. There is doubtless a mutual attraction between men of taste, genius and learning;...

    • Our Literature Present and Prospective (1848)
      (pp. 9-15)

      In this enlightened age the polite literature of a country may be considered with propriety as an infallible exponent of that country’s prosperity; and as such is a subject worthy to engage the deepest interest and most devoted attention of the patriot and statesman.

      A few years ago, and Canada was unable to claim for herself anything like an independent position in the literary world. To this day our intellectual wants are principally supplied from foreign sources, but still we have begun to regard ourselves as entitled to a voice in the Republic of Letters: we fancy, and with good...

    • Canadian Poetry (1858)
      (pp. 15-18)

      Poetry is the natural progeny of a nation’s youth. It is the eldest as well as the fairest, of the offspring of literature, if indeed it be not rather her parent, for songs were sung long before letters were invented. Our Province, however, occupies a singular position in this its Canadian youth. Our schooling has been too much alongside of the elder of Europe’s nations, and our individual thoughts partake too largely of the experience which centuries have accumulated around the old Saxon hearth, to admit of the lyrical or epic muse inspiring for us the lay that is born...


    • Protection for Canadian Literature (1858)
      (pp. 21-24)

      Protection appears to be the order of the day. Meetings are held in every city to devise means to relieve the manufacturers of the Province from the disabilities under which they labor on account of the present tariff. Petitions pour in from the Boards of Trade, etc., praying the Legislature to remodel the tariff so as to afford a field for native industry. But there is one thing to the full as important to our national existence, which seems up to the present time to have escaped the attention of the public.

      Every country, every nationality, every people, must create...

    • Literature, Nationality, and the Tariff (1889)
      (pp. 24-30)

      The close of another year in what we are fain to call the national life of Canada — though it still lacks the essential characteristics of nationhood — suggests a review, if it could be undertaken, with the necessary space at one’s disposal, of the literary output of the last twelve months, and some estimate of its varied achievements in the field of native authorship. The subject is an inviting one, as the successes of the year have exceeded those of any previous period, while Canadian writers have, out of the country as well as in it, made good their...

    • Saunterings (1886)
      (pp. 30-36)

      We are still an eminently unliterary people.

      Another Canadian summer has waxed and waned; mysterious in our forests, idyllic in our gardens, ineffably gracious upon our mountains. Another year of our national existence has rounded into the golden fulness of its harvest time. The yellow leaves of another September are blowing about our streets; since last we watched their harlequin dance to dusty death a cycle has come and gone. And still the exercise of hope and faith — charity we never had — continue to constitute the sum of our literary endeavour. We are conscious of not having been...

    • American Influence on Canadian Thought (1887)
      (pp. 36-42)
      Sara Jeannette Duncan

      Of Canada’s literary past it seems invidious to say very much more. The few eminent names which make it possible for us to point to any achievement at all in the department of letters have been so often shown to be chiefly imported, and the remainder have been so many times lumped in a sentence tagged with some expression of indifference or contempt, that to add to the mass of deprecation that already attaches to this feature of our history is to do a useless, gratuitous thing, not void of offence, as useless, gratuitous things are apt not to be...


    • Criticism (1884)
      (pp. 45-45)

      But little discrimination is shown in criticism. Flattering and fulsome praise is so recklessly bestowed upon very common-place people and their works, that when some person or thing far above the average appears, the journalistic vocabulary of laudatory phrases is already exhausted, and merit receives no adequate reward. Until such time as criticisms are written by capable men who have read the books they review, not simply glanced at the title pages, and with a view to give a correct idea of the merit of the work, and not as a mere bookseller’s advertisement, book reviews will be as reliable...

    • Native Literature and the Scoffing Spirit (1888)
      (pp. 46-51)

      The difficulty in some quarters seems well-nigh insurmountable of getting our people to see that Canada has a history and something more than the mere beginnings of a literature. It is not affirmed, of course, that the one is of phenomenal extent or interest, or that the other is of transcendent merit and importance. But it is claimed, at least, that both exist. It would be strange indeed if, while Canada has grown to the proportions of an empire, her material development was all she could boast of, and that the only visible culture was that of her fields and...

    • Literary Criticism: Its Scope and Effect (1898)
      (pp. 51-54)

      Ruskin says, ‘A bad critic is probably the most mischievous person in the world.’ A bad critic is as bad a thing as can be; but, after all, his mischief does not carry very far. Otherwise, it would be mainly the conventional books, and not the original books, which would survive; for the censor, who imagines himself a lawgiver, can give law only to the imitative, and never to the creative mind. Criticism has condemned whatever was, from time to time, fresh and vital in literature; it has always fought the new good thing in behalf of the old good...

    • On Criticism (1886)
      (pp. 54-58)

      A certain, or rather an uncertain, disquietude in critical circles has been manifest so long that one hesitates to call it a sign of the times, even the times of the world of literature — a world so much smaller than it seems, and so much more important in the general solar system than it appears to be. The self-governing spirit of the age has invaded letters, autocracy’s last stronghold, and from Walt Whitman in his unbound metres to Harrison Posnett in his careful propositions, the inhabitants of that little sphere that swings concentric with our own are beginning to...

    • On Realism and Romance
      (pp. 59-61)

      …How futile is the attempt to make broad highways in any department of literature, and say dictatorially to them that travel in that direction ‘Walk Therein’! True, a general literary movement unfailingly controls the masses, who trot after established leadership with the docility and unanimity of certain quadrupeds; yet the beaten track is as conspicuous for the paths that lead deviously away from it, as for anything else. This is especially true of fiction, the art of which, having for its shifting and variable basis, humanity, is bound to present itself in more diverse forms than any other — constantly...

    • Literature in Canada: Part Two (1899)
      (pp. 61-76)

      In a previous article I devoted some attention to the somewhat benighted condition of the average citizen of the Dominion who, according to his own statistics, loves whiskey better than books. I now turn with equal horror to the contemplation of the educated Canadian.

      Canada has suffered much at the hands of her cultured class. Mr Cooper, in his article in the May number of this magazine, says the educated Canadian is conservative. This is putting it mildly, but I believe the statement is accurate as far as it goes. The educated Canadian is conservative because he has no opinion...

    • The Purpose of a National Magazine (1901)
      (pp. 76-80)

      A TRULY national magazine, broad, comprehensive, thoughtful, bright, in its utility to a nation is scarcely second to a great university. Its mission is to stimulate and afford expression to the higher thought and tastes of a people, to bring the country’s best thought, under the most favourable circumstances and in the most attractive form, before the best classes of the country’s readers — the classes upon whom the shaping of the political, social, intellectual and even industrial future of the nation most largely depend. This mission can be better performed by a national magazine than by university, newspaper or...


    • Our Chances for a Literature (1890)
      (pp. 83-85)
      L. O’LOANE

      Canada was born too late. She is the child of old people. She is like the heir to millions; in inheriting the richest literature in the world she is bound in golden fetters. A man is the greatest of great men, if he make himself great, having come into the world with purple and fine linen awaiting his arrival. The masters of English prose and verse have weighted us. We joy in our magnificent possessions, but how shall the sons of giants be equal to or greater than their fathers?

      We know that lightning is electricity passing swiftly from one...

    • ‘What is the Matter with Canadian Literature?’ (1894)
      (pp. 85-88)

      To the Editor of The Week:

      Sir: A writer in one of your contemporaries dolefully asks, ‘What is the matter with Canadian literature?’ and goes on to exhort us to patriotic effort for the purpose of setting it on its legs. Without any disparagement of our native genius, we must answer that no such thing as a literature Canadian in the local sense exists or is likely ever to exist. ‘Canada’ is a political expression. There is no literary unity, there is not even unity of language among the several seats of population, some of them divided by great spaces...

    • Mr Goldwin Smith and Canadian Literature (1894)
      (pp. 88-91)

      The last number ofThe Weekwas graced by a letter from Mr Goldwin Smith replying to the question, ‘What is the matter with Canadian Literature?’ — a question asked by a correspondent of one of our contemporaries. Mr Goldwin Smith answered the question at some length and in an eminently characteristic way. When Major Wellington de Boots was asked how he managed to gain such a reputation for bravery, he replied that it was by bounce, ‘by tremendous bounce.’ There is no bounce about Mr Goldwin Smith, but there is an assumption of superiority and cocksureness that is much...

    • The Mental Outfit of the New Dominion (1867)
      (pp. 91-98)

      About a century ago an eminent French writer raised a doubt as to whether any German could be a literary man. Not, indeed, to answer that, but many others, arose as a golden cloud that gifted succession of poets, critics, and scholars, whose works have placed the German language in the vanguard of every department of human thought. Thirty years ago aBritish Quarterly Reviewasked: ‘Who reads an American book?’ Irving had answered that long ago; but Longfellow, Cooper, Emerson, Prescott, Hawthorne, Holmes, and many another, has answered the taunt triumphantly since. Those Americans might, in turn, taunt us...

    • Education and National Sentiment (1881)
      (pp. 98-107)

      To a thoughtful observer, the latter half of the decade just completed has witnessed a degree of progress in regard to subjects of general discussion and enquiry which is both encouraging and noteworthy. Looking back over the pages of our magazine literature, and through the columns of those journals which contain the speeches and the written thought most significant of the times we live in, one is forcibly struck with the large and important character of the themes therein treated, as compared with those which served the purpose of literary recreation to writers and readers of ten years ago.


    • Should Our Literature be Canadian? (1897)
      (pp. 107-110)

      At the recent literary banquet in Toronto, one of the speakers remarked that he was not in favour of cultivating a Canadian literature, nor a Canadian art, but he approved of the cultivation of literature and art. The meaning to be attached to this statement is, apparently, that our literature and our art should be tested, tried and proven by the standards of the world rather than by any standards which we ourselves might erect, that there should be no narrow provincialism in our literary and artistic productions, but that we should be cosmopolitan in style, quality and matter.


    • A Fresh View of Canadian Literature (1912)
      (pp. 110-114)

      …Thus we see that the main reasons why we are not more advanced in letters are that we have been busy setting our house in order, and that we have not as a people, and scarcely even as individuals, been vitally concerned with ideas that make for literature. Another series of impeding causes I advance with more diffidence, but I think that I am in the main justified in my contention. Our severance from the parent stock has constituted a definite breach in literary tradition and continuity. The more one studies literature the more is one impressed by the fact...

    • National Literature (1884)
      (pp. 114-118)

      From my unscholarly point of view let me try to answer the question, ‘Can we have a distinctive Canadian literature?’ Yes, most probably we can, and will, when all the unknown and undreamt changes and influences of centuries have wrought their impress on the people; when revolutions have marked eras in our history, and history, itself grown old, is phosphorescent with the halo of romance; when to our descendants eighty-ton guns and turret vessels are as javelins and Athenian galleys to us; when our railways are as Roman roads, and our present manners and customs are uncouth to the refinement...


    • The Academy and the Grove in Canada (1878)
      (pp. 121-135)

      When the Norsemen, after the long voyage which tradition states they made to Canada, followed the coast line of the Gulf of St Lawrence we wonder what imaginings filled their minds. Did they hear amidst the forests, which pressed so closely to the sea, the voices and the harps of the bards? Had they no conception that there might not be near the source of our great river, among the mountains and the sea-like lakes, the true Valhalla, where gods incessantly caroused with heroes? In later times the ghosts of Hendrick Hudson and his comrades are said to have awakened...

    • Backgrounds of Future Canadian Poetry (1915)
      (pp. 136-142)
      J. D. ROBINS

      …One of the better results to Canada of the Great Struggle should surely be, as in the case of another crusade against the unbelievers in the Ideal, a stirring-up of our little intellectual back-water and a joining in the great stream of human thought the world over. Our writers must come to recognize, to a fuller extent than has been yet the case, that their waters of inspiration are as much sprung from the ancient sources of the European races as are those of the dwellers in the home continent. They must claim their inheritance in the mighty past. Hitherto,...

    • Apollo and Tomkins (1898)
      (pp. 142-145)

      APOLLO: It makes me weary — it makes me exceedingly weary to read about other fellows doing the great thing while we poor modern devils are doomed by the asinine mediocrity of the age to live like cows in stalls and chew the cud of civilization. Men don’t live nowadays; they merely exist; they are machines, they are moles, they are worms. The world is worn out, aged and sear; the blood runs cold, the pulse beats slow, the wine of life is sour, the flowers of joy are withered, the lights burn low. Life is a failure. TOMKINS: Nonsense....

    • Poetic Art in Canada (1891)
      (pp. 145-148)

      There has been some very foolish writing upon the unfitness of our surroundings here in Canada to produce poetic art. Wherever mankind is with his joys and sorrows; wherever nature spreads her changing panorama of sky, field and flood, there will be a theme for the poet. Nature is not at fault, but perhaps the seer is yet wanting. ‘Every man sees in nature that which he brings eyes to see.’ Nature is indeed a divine palimpsest re-written by the hand of man, underneath which scrawl a mystic writing may be traced by honest study. Some critics seem almost to...


    • The New Canada (1875)
      (pp. 151-154)

      …This new Dominion should be the wedding of pure tastes, simple life, respect for age and authority, and the true principles of free government on this Continent. It stands, like a youth upon the threshold of his life, clear-eyed, clear-headed, muscular, and strong. Its course is westward. It has traditions and a history of which it may well be proud; but it has a history to make, a national sentiment to embody, and a national idea to carry out. There was a time when there was no fixed principle or national feeling in Canada; when men were Englishmen, Scotchmen, Irishmen,...

    • On Northern Culture (1869)
      (pp. 154-156)

      …Why, it may well be asked, do we in our colleges and schools still strive to reverse the hand of fate, and to ignore the lessons of history? Why do we mould the minds of the young by the words and the thoughts of an age that, thank God, has passed away, and why do we even teach them to speak their Northern tongue by the aid of what are well known as ‘the dead languages’? You might as well bring up a child in a burial vault, among the ashes of those, who though once great in their day,...

    • Literature (1899)
      (pp. 156-160)
      W.A. FRASER

      About literature I know very little — in fact I’m almost inclined to quarrel with the very word literature itself. If I could find a strong Saxon word to replace it I would never use it at all. Literature, as a generic term for the concrete thoughts of men done into the cold, unsympathetic world of black and white, has much too soft a ring. It is suggestive of dilettantism, of Lake Como in everlasting sunshine. It is trippingly sweet. We speak glibly of literature, and feel, somehow, as though we had given our boots an extra run with the...


    • Letters in Canada (1887)
      (pp. 163-168)

      It is not my intention to write a review of Mr Charles F. Richardson’s suggestive work on American Literature though the book is so well done that an appreciative notice inThe Weekmight induce admirers of robust writing to take up the History and read it. Mr Richardson discusses the growth and development of American thought from earliest times to the present day in a bold and impartial manner, and though he shatters some of our idols, almost beyond the point of recognition, still one feels that he is just on the whole, and his estimates of the spirit...

    • Nationalism and the Literary Spirit (1888)
      (pp. 168-170)

      In the case of English-speaking Canada, there is, we think, little doubt that patriotism and national sentiment might be largely fostered by the literary spirit, particularly were it given that encouragement which the Canadian intellect should now extend to it. In this matter we might well take a lesson from the sister Province. French Canada, it is well known to those who look below the surface, makes large use of the literary spirit, not only in preserving national traditions, but in perpetuating racial ideas in religion, in politics, in her institutions, as well as in her language and literature. She...

    • A Plea for Literature (1908)
      (pp. 170-176)

      It will be my endeavour to direct your attention for a short time this evening to some of the objects aimed at in founding the Royal Society which appear to have attracted less than their legitimate share of popular interest; to some of the functions which the Society is performing and may perform, and to indicate some directions in which it may develop. My remarks will be concerned chiefly with the first two sections — the literary sections. The scientific sections express the activities of a scientific era. They deal with material things and make their appeal to the practical...


    • Canadian Poetry: A Criticism (1896)
      (pp. 179-182)

      A glance at the shelves of any collector’s library shows that the number of persons in Canada who publish verses is very large. A further glance at the uneven row of thin volumes shows that the poetic impulse does not last. Many a writer who has in his few timid pages given promise of good work is heard of no more. There are, doubtless, many causes for this lack of sustained enthusiasm. It may be that, taken up with a great material development, we have no appreciation of the fine arts, or that we lack historic associations, or that our...

    • Canadian Poetry: A Word in Vindication (1897)
      (pp. 183-187)
      A.B. DE MILLE

      …In judging contemporary verse there are two chief difficulties to be met. We are liable to err, first, from what Matthew Arnold calls the ‘personal estimate.’ Our personal likes, our personal points of view, often influence our opinions of poets of our own day; we attach to their work more importance than it deserves, and our praise is extravagant. A second difficulty lies in the large poetic production of the present day. More verse is written than at any other period of history, and a great deal of it is worthless. Amateurish verse begets an amateurish audience and amateurish criticism....

    • A Decade of Canadian Poetry (1901)
      (pp. 187-190)

      Modern Canadian poetry may be said to have begun with the publication, in 1880, of ‘Orion,’ by Charles G.D. Roberts. It struck the original note that had been absent, or present only fitfully, in the work of the poets that had preceded him. It connected the poetry of Canada with all that is excellent in English poetry the world over. It maintained the traditions of form and diction that must be respected if poetry is to continue as the art through which the utmost aspiration of the human spirit is to be expressed.

      Looking back over the years that went...

    • The Genius of Canadian Poetry (1911)
      (pp. 190-194)

      Mr Arnold Haultain does not put the point quite aptly when, in a recent essay, he distinguishes Nova Scotia as having contributed ‘more than its share to Canadian literature.’ Myself a Nova Scotian, I ought to know what I am talking about when I say that the province by the sea may have contributed relatively more than its share in prose, but I have yet to hear of any Nova Scotian poet who at all begins to rank with Carman or Roberts, and they are natives of the sister province, New Brunswick.

      What Mr Haultain should have said was that...

    • The Poetry of Common Things (1889)
      (pp. 195-198)

      One of the differences between eighteenth-century culture and the culture of the nineteenth century is the advantage which the latter has of being able to see more deeply into the poetry of common things. And by this I do not mean that sentimental reflectiveness over daisies, primroses, dandelions and peasant children which Wordsworth found necessary to employ in his endeavours to bring us back to nature, nor that the eighteenth century was without its interpreters of this kind of poetry. For the eighteenth century had a Cowper who saw deeply into the poetry of common things, and there were certain...

    • Some Canadian Writers of Today (1890)
      (pp. 199-202)

      It is an indisputable fact that we are on the eve of a great national crisis in Canada; and an intellectual revolution, which will mark an epoch in our literary history, is already at hand. As is usual in the initial stages of every literature, there are more poets and clever versifiers than writers of good prose in Canada; but the contemporary poets of Canada have placed a wide gulf between them and the preceding generation. Their work has more technical finish; it shows more signs of culture, and is above all imbued, as the LondonAthenaeumsaid recently in...

    • A New Conception (1893)
      (pp. 203-205)

      Some one has said that life is one long disease, and this world nothing but a gigantic hospital, and Heine added that the great doctor is death. This is one of those terrible sayings that may be uttered either by the egotist who has pursued life’s pleasures to the utmost, and found therein in the end nothing but emptiness and spiritual annihilation, or by the philosopher who has sat all his life long with a raw and sensitive soul in the midst of the concourse of men, and brooded upon the desperate obliquity of human institutions and the hopeless inaptitude...

    • The Status of Overseas Literature (1926)
      (pp. 205-209)

      …enough has been said to indicate the extent and variety of theme which should make Canadian literature interesting to any reader. But this is only one half of the two-fold attraction of literature — the dual appeal that Aristotle distinguishes as the individual and the universal. That is to say, literature not only represents particular scenes and conditions which are interesting for their unfamiliarity, but also uses them as the vehicle for a fresh illumination of the mysteries common to man’s existence in every age and clime. Some attention must therefore be paid to this second attribute of Canadian literature,...

    • Canadian Letter (1928?)
      (pp. 209-214)

      In the field this morning the sun was warm, and when I came back to pick up my hat the mice had nibbled the leather band of the old Borsalino; but they had not found the apples in my coat pockets. The corn land is ready, the green of oats is almost as deep as that of the winter wheat; dandelions have usurped the pasture, and the trees of the bush are all clothed. The Clydesdales behind whom I ride on the disc harrow put their feet down with deft patterns, shaking the long white hair, and lift them slowly...

  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 215-216)