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Canadian Literature.

At a recent meeting of the Society of Canadian Literature, Mr Douglas Sladeu, the Australian author-poet, spake us follows: 'lhe position I find myself in is rather embarrassing, though by no means unpleasant, for it is a high honor for one so young as myself—l passed my thirty-third birthday here in Montreal—to be addressing a national society. National may seem to you a big word, but I use it advisedly, for Canada is a nation ; and I take it that this assemblage which I have the honor to be addressing is the germ of what, when Canada assumes the importance of France, will be to her literature as the French academy is to French literatuie. I have been asked to offer my opinion as to what should be the objects of this society, but that is altogether too ambitious a task for me. I will not venture to do more than submit advice to such of its members as happen to have chosen my own linepoetry. The other day I was having a literary morning with my friend, Mr Stedman, who is one of the greatest of the younger American poets, and whose “ Victorian Poets ” has passed into thirteen editions and become the standard work on the poets who come into the reign of our Queen. Mr Stedman is just now compiling specimens of English and American poetry, and I said to him: “ Mr Stedman, you and I have been in the anthologist business a good deal lately. Has it ever struck you when weighing a poet’s right to be represented in an anthology to apply this as a test—have this man’s poems any special raison d'etre ? It seems to me that raison d'etre ought to be the watchword of poetry. He had said the same thing to himself often in other words. I will be more explicit what I mean is, that_ for a poet to have any value he must give the world something special, something that the world has not been able to get so good of its kind before. The Australian Gordon’s ‘Sick Stockrider’ is an instance. I said in my ‘Century of Australian Song’ that it ‘ is a poem which deserves a place in any selection in the English language, a masterpiece that no poet whom we know of, except Gordon, could have written. It was necessary that poetical genius, ringing, spirited, rhythmical writing, manfulness, experience of the ‘ old colonial days,’ and intimate loving acquaintance with the bush, should unite in one man before a poem like ‘ The Sick Stockrider’ could be born.” What then is to be the raison d’etre of Canadian poetry ? Shall it be a specialty of form or a specialty of subject ? Not of form, I think, though I attach all its importance to form. The “ finish” of Gray, Collins and Campbell, of Tennyson, Clough and Arnold, is an exquisite feature in poetry, and worthy of all imitation ; but it might take a lifetime to achieve, and the experiments in this direction have no interest for anyone but their writers, and have no right to be published, When a man becomes the equal in form of Tennyson, Clough, and Arnold, we can find no pedestal too high for him ; but we don’t want to see his rough copies—the process by which he is arriving at such a perfection. A poet who has form only has no raison d'etre until his form is excellent; but quite a beginner may have something to say so interesting that we want to hear it, though he says it clumsily. A young country like Canada cannot afford to have her poets producing nothing but merely practising Tennyson. Her poetry’s raison d'etre, therefore, must be one of subject, and of course the only subject matter in which she can hope to specialise is local. Accordingly, in the face of what has been written lately about all the English-speaking peoples

' sinking their localities and throwing their ' efforts into English literature—in fact, gen- | eralising—l venture to say that Canadians should see what is the poetical side of | their own surroundings. 1 said that they ■ should see what is the poetical side—not ; that they should look if there was a poetical side. For there is a poetical side to everything. And Canada is remarkably rich in local subject matter for poetry. _ Unlike Australia, Canada has a national history, a peculiarly romantic one and a worldfamous roll of romantic explorers such as Cartier, Frobisher, Davis, Baffin, and Henry Hudson. Unlike the United States, she has a venerable old world city like Quebec, whose self and surroundings are of unique beauty, and the scene of one of the decisive battles of history. She has scenic beauties varying as much in character as Grandpre and the Canadian Rockies. She has a summer with special beauties and sports, and a winter with special beauties and sports. Canada has many special sports, and the Canadian winter in the country has produced a life new to poetry and unparalleled except in Ruisia, whose literature is not accessible to the ordinary Anglo-Saxon, She has, to top all, a Native race with the most powerful, interesting, and best preserved tribes on the Continent. I have given some instances to prove how particularly rich Canada is in special local material for poetry. But, it may be asked, what interest will older civilisations and more literary centres take in the local coloring of the far

wild West ? The greatest interest. This is an ago which is sick to death of standard works, and insists upon them being boiled down into handbooks ; but at the same time it pines lor something new—some voice from classes who have generally been voiceless in literature. It wants to hear prize-fighters on prize-fighting; cowboys on ranching; prominent artists like Frith, and prominent actors like the Bancrofts, on the gossip of their professional career —in fact, it wants to hear anyone except those who, like university professors, have been in the habit of demanding its ear, I myself have swum in on this flood. I had a good deal of persuasion to go through before I could induce Walter Scott’s general editor to bring out an Australian volume in his series. But what was the result ? I learn from the papers that one bookseller alone bought 4,000 copies of my ‘ Australian Ballads and Rhymes,’ and when my * Australian Poets ’ came out the ‘ Daily News thought it worthy of a leading article—evidently by its brilliant mixture of scholarship and mother wit, from the pen of Mr Andrew Lang, and its example was followed by other papers. In the matter of anthologies, Australia has been beforehand with Canada, for Walter Scott has already a year ago published ‘ Australian Ballads and Rhymes ’ enlarged into a ‘ A Century of Australian Song,’ and Griffith, Farran, and Co. brought out ‘ Australian Poets,’ while your able and devoted MrLighthall’s ‘Songs of the Great Dominion,’ with its eloquent title, is still in the womb. And the English public has already been revelling in typically Australian poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon, first championer to them, by Mr Patchett Martin, and Henry Kendall, first championer to them by myself. But you are ahead of us in another 1 respect, and that is in this same society of Canadian literature. When I go back to Australia, one of the first things I shall do will be to gather together all the literary 1 men within reach of Melbourne, and suggest to those who are worthier to take the lead than I am that just such a society should be formed in Melbourne. I have been detaining you too long, but I cannot sit down without taking the semi-public opportunity of expressing how delighted I am with Montreal, I think I have spent my time most profitably in coming to see a Canadian carnival, and I think Canadians the warmest hearted people 1 have ever met. Ladies

and gentlemen, I thank you for allowing me the honor of addressing you, and for listening to me so patiently. A GREETING. The following, contributed by Mr George Martin, was read : GREETING. TO DOUGLAS B. W. BIADEN.

Presented at a meeting of the Society of Canadian Litereture, Montreal, February 11, 18S9. From a virginal land, latest born. Still fresh with the odor of brine, From the roseate portals of morn, From the heats of earth’s medial Hue Thou oomest, and wo In a Land of Time’s building the oldest, First born of the sea, In this season, our whitest and coldest, Give a warm heart welcome to thee; To thee and thy spouse. You will miss, Should you seek in our landscapes the roses That humming birds cli> g to and kiss, Ev- n now, where the kangaroo dozes In your thickets that shadow her bliss. But the roses which here you behold In the cheeks of the belles that you meet, Red roses that quickly unfold Their leaves under snowflake and sleet, Are surely more fair No poet will think to deny it— Than any that fl >re Their beauties where beauty runs riot, In your own Australian air. Bk’e witli us till Canada doffs

The ermine and girdle of pearl; Till, robed in green kirtle, she laughs With tho freedom and joy of a girl; Then I think you will say That no picture more truly enchanting, More winsome and gay, His ever set novelist ranting, Or won from the poet a lay. Wc have song-birds that sprinkle the land With melodies all summer long; We have flowers, the simple and grand, That repay with sweet perfume the song Which they seem to inspire. And our sunsets—such marvels of beauty ! Could you witness their fire, Your consjienoe would make it your duty To kneel with bared brow and admire. Then deem not our snowdrifts and ice Are things that unwelcome remain, They but come as kind Nature’s device More fruitful than torrents of rain, As a Sabbath of rest To the life that they hush into slumber On earth’s weary breast, While they smite down some evils whose number Our midsummer climate infest. Too soon shall you bid us adieu, But the friendship your presence has wrought In the hearts you have won, not a few, In the kinship of feeling and thought, Shall cease not to glow, While wo list for the sound of a name In the breezes that blow From the East, whence a kinsman you came, Adding joy to your season of snow. George Martin.

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https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18890521.2.38

Bibliographic details

Canadian Literature., Issue 7912, 21 May 1889

Word Count
1,752

Canadian Literature. Issue 7912, 21 May 1889

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