Essay 7

Trees and Forest: Variety and Unity
in Early Canadian Writing


With the same, leave as the Ancients, call’d that kind of body Sylva, or in which there were workes of divers nature, and matter congested; as the multitude call Timber-trees, promiscuously growing, a Wood, or Forrest: so am I bold to entitle these lesser Poems, of later growth,…Under-Wood, out of the Analogie they hold to the Forrest, in my former booke….

—Ben Jonson, "To the Reader," Under-Woods. Consisting of Divers Poems (1640-41) (162)

One of the unhappier characteristics of much twentieth-century criticism of earlier Canadian literature is a tendency to condemn the writers of the past for failing to conform to the critic’s own literary and ideological preferences. Isabella Valancy Crawford wrote in the manner of Tennyson and Longfellow rather than Pound and T.S. Eliot; very well, says Louis Dudek, she is a "failed poet" of "hollow conventioncounterfeit…feeling…and…fake idealism" who is beneath contempt because Malcolm’s Katie (1884) and other poems do not meet the criteria of "hard common sense…an awareness of reality…[and] ruthless honesty and decisiveness of judgement" that entered Canadian poetry in 1925 ("Crawford’s Achievement" 123-24; and see Roy Daniells 408). Alexander Mackenzie did not see the Native peoples as they appear to their distant descendants and to "[r]ecent scholarship"; very well, says Parker Duchemin, his Voyages (1801) is a timidly conventional and Eurocentric work whose many heinous sins include a failure to attend sufficiently to the "essentially religious and spiritual understanding of reality [that] was perhaps the most important single quality which differentiated [the Indians] from the Europeans" (53, 64, 68-69). It goes without saying, of course, that Modern poetry is as free of "hollow conventioncounterfeit…feeling…and…fake idealism" as eighteenth-century Europe was bereft of a "religious and spiritual understanding of reality." Besides revealing a limited historical awareness and empathy, such narcissistic anachronism places the past behind a screen of ideology whose distortions cannot always easily be recognized and rectified.


One of the more distorting screens that has frequently been interposed between readers and the works of Mackenzie, Crawford, and others who wrote in and about Canada in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is the aesthetic of organic and affective unity. Beginning near the end of the Victorian period, Canadian literary critics and creative writers alike began to endorse the idea, traceable through Poe and Coleridge to the German Romantics and subsequently refined into a pseudo-science by I.A. Richards, Cleanth Brooks, and their fellow New Critics, that works characterized by a tight unity of means and ends are preferable to what Ben Jonson calls "workes of divers nature"—works characterized by variety or miscellany. While both the aesthetic of unity and the aesthetic of variety were operative in early Canadian writing, they were not equally distributed across all artistic genres and media. On the contrary, lyric poems and short stories, for example, tended to fall on the side of unity and long poems and non-fictional prose works on the side of variety. Not surprisingly, close readings of lyric poems such as Desmond Pacey’s of Archibald Lampman’s "Heat" ([1888]; Pacey, Ten Canadian Poets 130-32) have been among the major successes of Canadian scholarship since the arrival of New Criticism, while the anachronistic projection of the aesthetic of unity onto miscellaneous works such as Susanna Moodie’s Roughing It in the Bush (1852) has produced some of its more spectacularly distortive failures.

A literary work that arises from the aesthetic of variety will, by definition, contain a diversity of elements. These may include different media (prose and poetry), dissimilar subjects (contemporary, classical, romance), miscellaneous forms or genres (hymns, heroic couplets, lyrical, and narrative elements), and even a medley of voices or authors. It is easy to think of examples in each of these categories from nineteenth-century Canada. Mackenzie’s Voyages contains narrative accounts of his expeditions of 1789 and 1793 and a "General History of the Fur Trade" which may have been written by his cousin Roderic. Roughing It in the Bush contains material in both verse and prose by three distinct and acknowledged authors, Moodie herself, her husband John Wedderburn Dunbar Moodie, and her brother Samuel Strickland. Malcolm’s Katie combines narrative and lyrical elements, as do a number of other long poems, including The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay (1856) by Charles Sangster (Spenserian stanzas, hymns, a madrigal…) and The Emigrant (1861) by Alexander McLachlan (octosyllabic couplets, ballads, songs…). A medley of subjects is also present in these poems, and continues as a prominent characteristic of post-Confederation poetry. As its title suggests, Charles G.D. Roberts’s In Divers Tones volume of 1886 intentionally incorporates a variety of literary forms and subjects, as does Lampman’s Among the Millet, and Other Poems (1888). The matter of intention can be stated with some certainty not only in the case of Roberts (whose title alludes to Tennyson’s perception of Goethe as a writer proficient in "many different styles"[864]), but also in the case of Lampman, who explicitly championed the idea that the ability to write in a variety of "styles" and on a "variety of subjects" is a poetic virtue. "The perfect poet… would have no set style," writes Lampman in his essay on "Poetic Interpretation" (circa 1892); "[h]e would have a different one for everything he should write, a manner exactly suited to the subject" (Essays and Reviews 127).

Why, it might be asked, did writers as historically and temperamentally diverse as MacKenzie, Moodie, Crawford, Sangster, McLachlan, Roberts, and Lampman deliberately choose to publish works that are marked by some form or other of miscellany? An answer to this question might appear to be in the realm of models— for instance, in the debts of Malcolm’s Katie and The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay to such medley poems as Scott’s The Lady of the Lake (1810) and Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-1818), and in the influence of Tennyson’s In Memoriam (1850) and Maud (1855) on In Divers Tones and Among the Millet. No doubt the miscellany of many Canadian works is at least in part a reflection of the miscellany of their models. But the matter of a weak or secondary poet’s reliance on the practice of a strong or primary author (Bloom), though certainly an important factor in the area of generic choice, skirts and conceals the more interesting question of why so many writers in nineteenth-century Canada and Britain chose to produce more-or-less miscellaneous works.

Two answers to this larger question come readily to mind, the first involving post-Romantic ideas about the relation of art to the transcendent and the second concerning the more practical— indeed, mercenary—matter of making books as attractive and engaging as possible to a diverse reading audience or, as it may be, a reader with diverse interests. A full answer of the first sort (which is neither possible nor necessary here) would entail a lengthy discussion of Romantic and post-Romantic thinking about the relationship between a symbol (or signifier) and what it symbolizes (the transcendental signified), with special emphasis on the way in which the high Victorians of the Coleridge-Carlyle-Tennyson line viewed the literary symbol as an actual but partial embodiment of the idea or entity that it represents—as a real presence or open secret (Carlyle 1: 173-80) that is both a part of and a gesture towards something that cannot be wholly communicated. The aesthetic consequences of this view were historically and artistically various, and included the use by writers well into the present century of fragmentary, fractured, and multifarious forms whose superficial incompleteness and miscellany betokens an underlying or transcendental wholeness. Such ideas and practices are important for nineteenth- and twentieth-century Canadian literature, particularly for a full understanding of such writers as Bliss Carman, A.M. Klein, and Sheila Watson, but they are probably less important across the full range of early writing in Canada than the matter of audience or readerly appeal. Few writers and publishers in the Colonial and Confederation periods gave much thought to theories of symbolism, but, as indicated by the documents generously assembled by Douglas M. Daymond and Leslie G. Monkman in the first volume of Towards a Canadian Literature: Essays, Editorials and Manifestos (1984), many were greatly concerned with the question of how to cater lucratively to the various needs of a wide—and, therefore, diverse—readership in a relatively small population.

In fact, it is at the juncture of marketing and aesthetics that the concept of variety makes its earliest and most explicit appearances in colonial Canada, and in contexts that point to eighteenth-century newspapers like The Spectator (1711-1714) and The Rambler (1750-1752) as among its direct antecedents. "Originals, both in Prose and Verse, as will please the Fancy, and instruct the judgement…shall…be…interspersed with chosen pieces, and curious essays," proclaim William Brown and Thomas Gilmore in the July 21, 1764 issue of The Quebec Gazette, "so that blending Philosophy, with Politics, History, etc. the youth of both sexes will be improved, and persons of all ranks agreeably and usefully entertained. Upon the whole, we will labour to attain to all the exactness that so much variety will permit; and give as much variety as will consist with a reasonable exactness" (1: 8-9). "It is not our intention," reiterates John Howe in the January 1791 number of The Nova-Scotia Magazine, "to diminish the miscellaneous part of our collection, which is generally admitted to be the most useful and entertaining" (1:13). Howe adds that it is part of his magazine’s mandate to compensate for the lack of "extensive Collections of Books" in the colony: "[t]o adapt this Publication to the taste of all descriptions of our Readers," he continues, "we have endeavoured so to mix the utile and dulce, that instruction and pleasure might by no means be separated, and that, by the variety of matter, the want of many books might in a great measure be supplied" (1:13-14). In his Introduction to The Canadian Magazine and Literary Repository (1823), David Chisholme approaches much the same position by a slightly different route, committing his magazine to the publication, for the benefit of "readers of various tastes and feelings," of all manner of instructive and uplifting items from "the philosopher, the poet, the essayist, the historian…the traveller" (1:18-20). Similar aims and programmes are advanced by John Gibson in his Introduction to the new series of The Literary Garland (1843) and by George Stewart in his "Introductory" to Stewart’s Literary Quarterly Magazine (1870). In these and other publications of the early to mid-Victorian period, however, there is a decreasing emphasis on trying to appeal to "all classes of society" (Chisholme 1:20) and an increasing insistence on avoiding the supposedly corrupting influence of cheap novels, a species of writing in which instruction and entertainment were deemed to have given way to mere stimulation (see Stewart 1:91) and—contrary to Mikhail Bakhtin’s perception of the novel’s dialogic polyphony—the improving richness of miscellany was felt to have been lost to a potentially unbalancing, because unbalanced, singularity.

Since the typical reader, publisher, and, by extension, writer implied by the remarks of Brown, Gilmore, Howe, Chisholme, Gibson, Stewart, and many others in the century and more between 1764 and 1870 was an "all-rounder"—someone with broadly varied interests and gifts—the onset of specialization in Canadian literature in the 1880s and 1890s was regarded with considerable hostility by conservative critics and reviewers. To Gordon Waldron, writing in The Canadian Magazine in 1896, contemporary Canadian poetry seems lamentably "narrow" in its "range of feeling" by comparison with the "wide and varied" poetry of the "past" (1:157). Among the Millet has an "earnest tone" that wins Waldron’s "sympathy" and partly compensates for a "range of ideas [that]…is not very wide" (1:150), but works by Roberts and Carman do not fare as well. As a "series of sonnets dealing with aspects of outdoor life" (Roberts, "Prefatory Note"), Songs of the Common Day (1893) exhibits to Waldron the "grey monotony" typical of contemporary Canadian poetry and fails to "suggest either ideas or action" (1:151, 148). As a collection unified by "a single theme" and a "similarity of tone" (Carman, "Prefatory Note"), Low Tide on Grand Pré seems to him to sacrifice "human interest" and poetic talent on the altar of uniformity:

The poems in this volume…have been collected with reference to their similarity of tone. They are variations on a single theme. They are in the same key….The tone of [these] poems is weird. The feelings excited are subdued feelings of gloom and foreboding…. [T]hey are of a very limited range and afford a very slight foundation for a great reputation. It is possible, of course, to produce a masterpiece in a minor key. An ambitious composer one would expect to play upon a wider range of feeling.                                                                                                           (1:151)

When Waldron observes a few sentences further on that Carman’s "narrative" in Low Tide on Grand Pré must be "largely supplied by the reader, and with painful effort," he emerges clearly as one of those people whom writers of the aesthetic-decadent-Modern tradition deliberately ignored or satirically targeted: a reader who expects to be effortlessly entertained by poetry, who wants art to remain the uncomplicated handmaiden of society, who, like Ralph Connor’s muscularly Christian heroes, prefers action to thought, manliness to mysticism. Waldron does not level the charge of decadence at Roberts, Carman, and William Wilfred Campbell (whose Dread Voyage [1893] volume also causes him great imaginative pain), but the thought was probably not far from his mind when, towards the end of his essay, he delivered himself of the arch-Victorian accusation that contemporary Canadian poets lack "moral enthusiasm…[and] the inspiring energy of new ideas and large hopes of human progress" (1:155).

To the end of the nineteenth century and beyond, Canadian critics continued to stress the need for variety in the reading materials of the great Dominion. More perceptive and telling than most is John A. Cooper, who, in "The Strength and the Weakness of Current Books" (1899), proceeds from the observation that "the steam-driven ocean carriage" has created a broader base of knowledge than ever before upon which "to erect our thought and action" to argue that the modern reader has access not merely to "new land and new peoples," but also to "the accumulated books of the centuries" as well as to the works of his contemporaries (1:160). All this and, in addition, the prodigality of contemporary publishers (who were increasingly restricting themselves during the post-Confederation period to specialized fields and subjects under a single masthead) would satisfy the burgeoning demands from a "variety of tastes" for a "variety of books" (1:160). What once was supplied within the covers of a single magazine, or anthology, or yearbook, or volume of poetry and/or prose would now be supplied by a miscellany of books—a library compiled from the offerings of a variety of publishers or, as anyone who has inherited a collection of books from a late Victorian or Edwardian ancestor knows very well, assembled by a single publisher from among the great works of the past and present. One especially regrettable result of this was that poetry, once prominent among the offerings even of newspapers in Canada, could easily be avoided entirely by the average reader— relegated to the narrow province of the specialist in favour of genres such as the historical novel that combine romance and realism, escapism and verisimilitude, ease of reading and access to information, in proportions that appealed to the expanding middle classes.

It is in the nature of Modernism as both a reaction against and an aspect of modernity that the aesthetic of unity that begins seriously to challenge the dominance of the aesthetic of variety in Canada in the eighteen-eighties looks very like a mirror-image of its culture: a reflection and reversal of the individualism, the "earnest tone," the "inspiring energy" (Waldron) of the late-Victorian period. Of course, the origins and characteristics of Modernism are very numerous and complex, but one of their common denominators is the quest for wholeness and authenticity outside the geographical and historical bounds of post-Renaissance Europe that became strikingly apparent in England around 1850 in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. With their preference for pre-Renaissance art and their avant-garde little magazine (The Germ), the literary Pre-Raphaelites and their principal associates—Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, William Morris, A.C. Swinburne, and George Meredith— constellated a thoroughly Modern anti-modernism that exercised a formative effect on Pound, Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens and other major Modernists. Not fortuitously, they also pioneered the enclosed, self-contained, and, as the century progressed, increasingly unified series or volume of poems—the sonnet-sequence (The House of Life [1870, 1881]), the medieval or mythic heterocosm (The Defense of Guenevere [1858], The Earthly Paradise [1868-70]), the book organized about a single idea or mood (Modern Love [1862], Poems of the Roadside [1862], Poems and Lyrics of the Joy of Earth [1883]). These are the works that, with Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal (1857), Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855), and a handful of other books, established what Sally Gall and M.L. Rosenthal call The Genius of Modern Poetry (1983)—the "Modern Poetic Sequence"—and their influence begins to be strongly felt in Canada in the early ’nineties when, as at roughly the same time in Europe and the United States, the unified volume of poetry became almost de rigeur in advanced artistic circles. It was at this time that Lampman—a poet schooled in the classics and thus, it could be argued, initially disposed towards the aesthetic of variety (variatas)—moved as far away as he ever would from miscellany with Lyrics of Earth (1895-1896), as did Roberts (another classically-educated poet) with the Songs of the Common Day (1893) "series" and, later, with the New York Nocturnes (1898) and Book of the Rose (1903) sequences. It was also at this time that Carman published Low Tide on Grand Pré and began working on other unified groups of poems including, with Richard Hovey, the three volumes of the Vagabondia series (1894, 1896, 1901). The uniform appearance of the Vagabondia volumes, coupled with the fact that the poems in them are not identified by author, indicates how far some writers and publishers had moved away from the aesthetic of variety by the end of the Victorian period.

With the entrenchment of Modernism both as an artistic movement and as a critical school (New Criticism) in Canada and elsewhere in the middle decades of the present century, the aesthetic of unity, together with its extensive verbal and conceptual support system (coherence, ambiguity, archetypal pattern, underlying myth, structuralism, and so on), were firmly ensconced in the Canadian academy. So, too, was the Modernist hostility to the Romantics and the Victorians, an attitude that changed somewhat with the discovery that, with the help of such redemptive devices as irony and persona, many poems of these periods could be rendered respectably unified, and their authors forgivably schizoid—that is, detached from at least part of themselves and their culture and, in this sense if not others, understood as partly authentic and partly Modern precursors of the kinds of teasing fragmentation and mythic coherence valued by the high Modernists. Works and authors that were not easily amenable to high Modern/New Critical retrieval were ignored, denigrated, or, if they were lucky, assimilated to Modernist assumptions by being made to appear more alienated from their culture than their adherence to the aesthetic of variety might suggest that they actually were. A short list of cases in point would include James Reaney’s perception of Crawford in Our Living Tradition (1959) as a mythopoeic writer whose works, when viewed as a totality, constitute a "Cosmos" rather than a "miscellany" (Macpherson 7); Margaret Atwood’s reconstruction of Moodie in The Journals of Susanna Moodie (1970) as at once an alienated schizophrenic and the personality at the centre of a tightly unified poetic sequence; and the debate among Barrie Davies, L.R. Early, and others about whether Lampman is to be credited with possessing a unified vision (see Bentley, "Watchful Dreams") or castigated for his "diverse impulses," for lacking a "drive towards ultimate synthesis" (Early 29).


Perhaps the most damaging consequences of the failure to recognize and respect variety and unity when they occur in early Canadian writing can be found in the realm of scholarly editing. In ways that are not always fully apparent even to some academic readers, the act of editing can radically alter the content and perception of a work and an author. Especially when editorial interventions are extensive, a given piece of writing may partly or wholly disappear to be replaced by a textual arrangement that creates a distorted and anachronistic impression of its author(s). This is exactly the effect of several scholarly editions of Canadian writers that have appeared in recent decades, glaring examples being the The Collected Poems of Sir Charles G.D. Roberts (1985), the Complete Poems of A.M. Klein (1990), and the first New Canadian Library and subsequent Virago editions of Roughing It in the Bush (1962, 1986).

Begun by Desmond Pacey and completed by Graham Adams, The Collected Poems of Sir Charles G.D. Roberts could be said to manifest in its editorial decisions the curious tension in Modernism between literature as a reflection and a critique of modern culture. In order to allow the reader to discern the trajectory of the poet’s oeuvre—to trace "Roberts’ changing tastes and interests" (Adams 358)—the poems are "arranged chronologically" in an implicitly developmental pattern that mimics the Bildungsroman or apprenticeship novel, a form used by the Victorians to mirror and occasionally to subvert the ideal of "human progress" (Waldron 1:155). Since only about a third of Roberts’s poems can "properly be dated" (Jewinski 106), the chronological method of arranging them poses problems whose very extent makes plain the editors’ commitment against all odds to presenting his poems as episodes in the story of his creative development. But in their attempt to place on view the step by step stages of Roberts’s growth, Pacey and Adams override his aesthetic choices of variety (In Divers Tones) and unity (Songs of the Common Day) and, in so doing, deprive the individual poems of a context that augments their meaning (see Fraistat 8). Thus "Across the fog the moon lies fair…," which Roberts came to call the "Prologue" to Songs of the Common Day, appears on page 167 of the Collected Poems, well after most of the pieces to which it was meant to provide a key (see Bentley, "Roberts’s Series of Sonnets" 396-98). It is as if, in editing his brother’s Poems and Works, William Michael Rossetti had decided to print the sonnets in The House of Life in the chronological order of their composition or, in the Annotated English Poets edition of Tennyson, Christopher Ricks had followed the same logic and dismembered In Memoriam. Sadly, Klein’s editor, Zailig Pollock, has followed Pacey and Adams in applying the order of chronology to poems that are often as difficult to date as Roberts’s and, if anything, more consistently and carefully organized by the poet into larger units. Whereas Klein’s previous editor, Miriam Waddington, respected the "position which Klein gave [poems] in [his] book[s]" (Waddington viii), in the Complete Poems higher priority is given to the developmental "story" that Pollock felt he "h[ad] to tell about Klein" (qtd. in Beddoes 366). Thus narrative joins process among the narcissistic anachronisms of late twentieth-century Canadian criticism.1

The fact that the publisher of the original two-volume edition of Roughing It in the Bush was also the publisher of Bentley’s Miscellany (1837-69), "a very successful periodical consisting of essays, stories, …poems,…[and] fiction" ("Bentley’s Miscellany"), places Moodie’s work in a context that was clearly hospitable to the aesthetic of variety. This, coupled with the collaborative element that has led scholars to characterize Roughing It in the Bush as a "family venture" (Peterman 83) and a "family work" (Thurston, "Rewriting" 196), should confirm the likelihood that it is less unified by a conscious "design" and a single (albeit split) personality than Modernist critics have attempted to demonstrate (see, for example, R.D. MacDonald and Shields). Both the 1962 NCL edition, edited by Carl F. Klinck, and the 1986 Virago edition, introduced by Margaret Atwood, are abbreviated versions of the book published by Bentley in 1852, the former by way of the 1871 Canadian edition (Beddoes 372) which, apparently with Moodie’s approval (Thurston, "Rewriting" 197-98), appeared without her husband’s "Canadian Sketches." Nor were the deletions of 1871 unprecedented, for only months after the publication of the first edition in 1852 a pirated American version of the book had "omitted thirty poems and two of J.W.D. [Moodie’s] sketches plus numerous other prose passages" (Thurston 197). A decade after Poe’s influential remarks on unity of effect in his 1842 review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales (1837) and a year after Hawthorne’s own statements about the integrity of romance in the Preface to The House of the Seven Gables (1851) the aesthetic of variety was already in rapid retreat from the aesthetic of unity in the United States. Not surprisingly, Moodie’s American editor, Charles Frederick Briggs, describes—indeed, remakes— "Mrs. Moodie [as] a true heroine, and her simple narrative [as] a genuine romance, which has all the interest of an imaginative creation" (qtd. in Klinck, "Editor’s Introduction" xiii). It is surely not fortuitous that the first recorded use of the word "monograph" to describe works of literary criticism rather than natural history is an 1880 reference to "[m]onographs on Poe, Hawthorne" and others (OED).

In addition to omitting the portions of Roughing It in the Bush that were written by Moodie’s husband and brother, Klinck follows Briggs in deleting sections by Moodie herself, describing them, not a little dismissively, as "reports of pleasant excursions, and…pathetic experiences" (x). Klinck’s rationale for extending Briggs’s practice to other portions of the "padded" edition of 1852 and to "[t]he outdated accretions of 1871" is a latter-day version of Poe’s insistence on the virtues of brevity as well as unity:

Our paperback era calls for…smaller books, if they are to be read from cover to cover. In this edition, therefore, no room has been found for Mr. Moodie’s "The ‘Ould Dhragoon,’" nor for certain chapters, or portions of chapters, actually written by his wife. The omissions bear the titles of "Phoebe H—," [sic] "A Journey to the Woods," "Our Indian Friends," "Burning the Fallow," "A Trip to Stony Lake," "The Whirlwind," and "The Walk to Dummer"…. Care has been taken to maintain the balance of the original, and to enhance the unique effect by concentration."              (x)

Modern readers apparently have limited powers of concentration and no time for the Moodies’ happier and more sentimental episodes. Their needs and tastes will therefore be met by a compressed version of Roughing It in the Bush, a version that "enhance[s]" the originality ("unique effect") of the work by silencing all but Moodie’s own voice and then shaping its narrative into something acceptable to modern sensibilities. The "unity" or "essential canon" of Roughing It in the Bush, maintains Klinck,

is found in terms satisfactory in its own time and allowable in ours— one character is central, and that character is the author herself. "Genuine romance" [Briggs’s term] is a controversial classification, and an alternative phrase like "apprenticeship novel" may not be better; but a certain core of meaning is there. Middle-class England and America had found a substitute for chivalric romances: the modern knight could be any person seeking a way to live in the midst of social dislocation, philosophical nullity, economic slavery, decline of wealth, or impending deterioration…. Sharing in all the actions, and progressively enlarging the image of herself, [Mrs. Moodie] gave a pattern of movement to the whole book.                                                        (xiii-xiv)

For the "public of the 1960s" (x) for whom the 1962 NCL edition of Roughing It in the Bush was ostensibly intended, Moodie’s miscellaneous work became a condensed book, a Bildungsroman, a displaced romance, and a quasi-novel of one (contradictory) character whose "trials" lead to "(partial) salvation" (xiv) in a Bush that sounds very much like an antecedent of Eliot’s Waste Land. It become, in effect, a (partial) answer to one of the most insistent cravings of Canadian Modernists: the craving for great works of Canadian fiction, for the great Canadian novel.

In the study of nineteenth-century American literature, writes Atwood towards the end of her Introduction to the Virago edition of Roughing It in the Bush, "[a]ttention focuses on the ‘great’ and overwhelmingly male American writers of the period: Melville, Poe, Hawthorne, Whitman, Thoreau. English Canada produced no such classics at this time—it was settled later—but if you study the literature at all, you cannot ignore the women" (xiv). This is very true, and perhaps there is retributive justice in the fact that it would be entirely possible for a reader of the text that follows Atwood’s Introduction to ignore the men who contributed to the 1852 book on which the Virago edition is based. "The only material not included in this edition," states a "Publisher’s note" to Moodie’s original Introduction, "is the chapters and poems written by Mrs. Moodie’s husband, J.W. Dunbar Moodie. Otherwise this is the complete edition of 1852" (xxi).2 The reason for the placement of this note at the conclusion of Moodie’s Introduction becomes clear when a comparison of the Virago and 1852 editions reveals that, with some none-too-dextrous cutting and pasting, the note has replaced the second of Moodie’s two concluding paragraphs, which in the original read as follows:

In order to diversify my subject, and make it as amusing as possible, I have between the sketches introduced a few small poems, all written during my residence in Canada, and descriptive of the country.
    In this pleasing task I have been assisted by my husband, J.W. Dunbar Moodie, author of "Ten Years in South Africa."3                                                             (1:xiii)

With the virtual deletion of J.W. Dunbar Moodie’s voice from the Virago edition of Roughing It in the Bush and, with it, of Susanna Moodie’s gracious acknowledgment of her husband’s assistance and achievements, there appears in her place a more independent figure—a Moodie liberated from some of her Victorian constraints by the feminism of a later century. A reader unfamiliar with the first edition of Roughing It in the Bush and "attracted by Virago’s reputation for restoring to attention neglected works by female writers" would certainly, as Julie Beddoes observes, "find some of the characteristics of a feminist" in this new Moodie (374). Once again, an opportunity for accurate understanding and assessment has been compromised by the anachronism of a narcissistic ideology.

All critical and scholarly editions are monuments, especially those bound in hard covers and destined for research libraries like the editions of Pacey, Pollock, and the Centre for Editing Early Canadian Texts (which include Carl Ballstadt’s 1988 edition of Roughing It in the Bush). But to the extent that any edition becomes a vehicle for the biases and prejudices of its editor and time it is like a statue of a historical personage dressed according to the whims of the sculptor rather than in period costume. No less than sculptors and historians, editors have the responsibility of ensuring, "so far as possible, [a] reasonable harmony" between the products of their editing and the view of their subject that has been established through "historical research" and "reliable sources" (Becker 156-57). To do otherwise, as is unfortunately the case with the Virago edition of Roughing It in the Bush, is to produce the equivalent of a statue of Laura Secord dressed as a yuppie. It is also a manipulation of the past for present purposes, a wielding of the scissors, the glue, and the airbrush to "reconstruct the past," that recalls in its own petty way the activities of Winston Smith and his revisionist colleagues in the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four. There, it will be recalled, "the past was brought up to date" "[d]ay by day and almost minute by minute" and "no…item of news, or…expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, [was] ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary" (Orwell 39, 36).

Thomas Chandler Haliburton, John Howison, John Galt and Canadian Unity


As all readers of The Clockmaker (1836) will recall, it is during a ride to "Fort Lawrence" (5) that Haliburton’s narrator first encounters Sam Slick. While the narrator is contemplating a "beautiful view of Colchester," he is overtaken by "a tall thin man…on a good bay horse" who speaks "[i]n a dialect too rich to be mistaken as genuine Yankee." Impatient with the infectious curiosity of the oddly dressed stranger, the narrator "bid[s] him good morning" and rides ahead at a "slapping pace." "I pushed Mohawk…to his best," recalls the narrator, and "[h]e outdid himself; he had never trotted so handsomely—so easily—so well." But it is not enough. As Slick again draws abreast of the narrator, he reveals himself to be "a Yankee, and a very impertinent Yankee, too" by his condescending compliments about Mohawk: "I guess that is a pretty considerable smart horse…; there is not, I reckon, so spry a one on my circuit…Yes…a horse of pretty considerable good action, and a pretty fair trotter, too, I guess." His pride hurt and his curiousity further piqued, the narrator puts two questions to Slick: "Do you feel an inclination to part with [your horse]" and what precisely do you mean by a "circuit"? To the first question Slick replies that he "never part[s] with a horse…that suits [him]," and in response to the second he explains that he and his colleagues divide Nova Scotia "into circuits" in which they "separately carry on [their] business of manufacturing and selling clocks" (5-10). Out of this cantankerous meeting are spun the episodes that constitute the three series of The Clockmaker (1836, 1838, 1840) where, as Fred Cogswell observes in his essay on Haliburton in the Literary History of Canada (1965), "[t]he narrator…and Sam Slick…travel about Nova Scotia, and their seemingly chance encounters and observations provide the material for anecdote and conversation" (97-98).4

In attempting to account for the enormous popularity of The Clockmaker, Cogswell calls attention to the "two incongruous elements" that are united in its style: "the formal English of eighteenth century prose" in which the narrator speaks and the colourful dialect of that "Yankee jack-of-all-trades, Sam Slick!" In Sam Slick’s conversations, Haliburton becomes a prose poet, daring in metaphor, building up adjectival climaxes without fear of barbarisms, and utilizing all the local resources of dialect." As the principal inspiration for Haliburton’s use of "vernacular speech" and such "eccentricities of Yankee character" as exaggeration and braggadocio, Cogswell cites Seba Smith’s Life and Writings of Major Jack Downing, of Downingsville, Away Down East, in the State of Maine (1833), a work published three years earlier than the first series of The Clockmaker. Without denying the influence of Smith and other American dialect writers on Haliburton, another and more specific inspiration may be suggested not only for the "two incongruous elements" united in the style of The Clockmaker, but also for the episode of "The Trotting Horse" that gets the series underway: an incident recounted by John Howison in Sketches of Upper Canada (1821), a travel-cum-emigrant guide whose influence can also be found in such works as The Backwoods of Canada (1832), The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay (1856) and The U.E.: A Tale of Upper Canada (1859).5

The incident concerned took place in "[t]he upper part of the Talbot Settlement" (Howison 204) to the north of Lake Erie in the winter of 1819-1820. After walking a considerable distance between Sandwich and Port Talbot through deep snows and on rough roads, Howison hired a horse, "and…again set out" (221-23). The "[a]musing rencontre and conversation" that then occurred may have provided the point of departure for The Clockmaker:

    I had not proceeded far, when a mean-looking fellow, shabbily mounted, came up with me, and made some observation about the weather. I replied carelessly, and rode on in silence; but he still kept close by my side, and I at last spurred my horse into a trot, that I might get rid of him. He likewise quickened his pace, and then said, "Well now, mister, I vow that’s just about as smart a thing to trot as ever I came across. Will you sell the critur?"
    "No, I cannot—he is not my own."
    "Oh, as for that, it may be or it may not be; but I like the critur considerably, and should be glad if you would let me have him. If you’ll make a trade, I’ll give you a good boot. I would willingly give this excellent English watch, which is as good as cash, and the thing I now ride, in exchange for your critur; by which means both of us would be satisfied."
    "I have already told you that the animal does not belong to me."
    "Well, now, I guess he don’t; but when you first said so, I concluded you were only running me, to see how high I would come up. Well, mister, I see as how we can’t make a trade—God Almighty never intended that critur for me—I suppose you’ve been up the Lake—was you at the Rondeau?"
    "No, I didn’t pass that way."
    "Well, I’ve just been in that part; for I had a notion of taking a lot there, and coming on it in the spring—but I’m off that plan now, for I’ll be damned if there’s any land or country up there at all."
    "How can that be?"
    "Why, because it’s all covered with water—I would rather swing the axe for a whole year in the back woods of Kentucky, than make my pitch any where in this here Canada—but, mister, you don’t seem to say much—we States people complain that you old country folks, when you fall in with a gentleman on the road, don’t behave as clever and free to him as you might."
    "And the old country people complain that you Americans behave too free—good morning."                                                                                      (Howison 221-23)

The similarities between this passage and the opening episode of The Clockmaker are striking, and, to say the least, suggest that Haliburton derived part of his initial inspiration for the interaction of his narrator and Sam Slick from Howison.

If this is so, then the possibility cannot be overlooked that the very name of Haliburton’s Clockmaker derives from Howison’s Sketches. Shortly before the incident just quoted, Howison records an exchange between "a woman afflicted with acute rheumatism" and "one of the doctors of the [Talbot] settlement." "‘How d’ye do, my good lady, how d’ye do?’" begins a dialogue that continues: "‘Oh, doctor…I was wishing to see you—very bad—I don’t calculate upon ever getting smart again.’—’Hoity, toity,’ returned the doctor, ‘you look a thundering sight better than you did yesterday.’—’Better!’ exclaimed the sick woman, ‘no doctor, I am no better—I’m going to die in your hands.’—’My dear good lady,’ cried the doctor, ‘I’ll bet a pint of spirits I’ll raise you in five days, and make you so spry, you’ll dance upon this floor.’ ‘Oh,’ said the woman, ‘if I had but the root that used to attend our family at Connecticut; he was a dreadful skeelful man’" (195). As Howison’s own italics indicate, part of the purpose of this exchange is to illustrate the peculiarities of North American speech. As the concluding portion of the exchange also indicates, humour at the expense of the quack doctor, the bibulous woman, and her "credulous" husband is also a purpose of the exchange:

    But, doctor, are you up to the natur of her ailment?" inquired the husband. "Oh, perfectly," said the other, "nothing more simple; it arises entirely from obstruction and constitutional idiosyncrasy, and is seated under the muscular fascia. Some casual excitement has increased the action of the absorbent vessels so much, that they have drawn the blood from the different parts of the body, and occasioned the pain and debility that is now present."—"Well now, doctor," cried the husband, "I swear you talk like a lawyer, and I begin to have hopes that you’ll be pretty considerably apt to raise my woman." The doctor now opened his saddlebags, and, having set forth many small parcels and dirty phials upon the table, began to compound several recipes for his patient, who, when she saw him employed in this way, put out her head between the curtains of the bed, and cried, "Doctor, don’t forget to leave something for the debilitation." When he had finished, he packed up his laboratory, and ordered that something he had left should be infused in a pint of whisky, and that a tablespoonful of the fluid should be taken three times a day.—"Will that raise me slick?" said the woman; "I guess I had as well take it four times a day."                                 (196-97)

In a footnote to this passage, Howison glosses the meaning of the word "slick" as "Soon." Even without this word, the language, the tone, the comic characters, and the pace of the dialogue throughout the exchange anticipate The Clockmaker. Here, and in the meeting on horseback of the squirarchical Howison and the truculent American, surely lie some of the raw materials that Haliburton brilliantly shaped to his own satirical purposes.

Is it true to say, then, that Haliburton knew Howison’s Sketches? The answer is less straightforward than the preceding evidence suggests, because knowledge of Howison’s book may have come to Haliburton indirectly through a lengthy review of it in the December 1821 issue of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, a periodical much appreciated and imitated in pre-Confederation Canada for its "academic wit [and]…practical joking" (Klinck "Literary Activity in the Canadas, 1812-1841" 132). Originally published anonymously but now known to have been written by John Galt (see Groves), the review in question calls attention to the "literary character" of the Sketches, and praises Howison for both "his quiet and temperate views of men and manners…and his most rich and imaginative descriptions of external nature" (Galt, "Howison’s Canada" 540-41). It also notes that "[t]hroughout the…book, are scattered little characteristic sketches of domestic manners, which exhibit a sort of quiet tact and native humour, which unfortunately has come to be of but rare occurrence in our modern English literature" (543). As examples of this aspect of Howison’s work, the review then quotes in its entirety the second of the sketches discussed above (including the gloss on "‘slick’" as "Soon"), as well as a lenghty account of an "incident [that] occurs…after Mr. Howison has passed the frontier of the United States" (544):

    About six in the morning we drove up to a small house, which appeared to be a sort of tavern. The landlord was at the door ready to receive us, and the following conversation took place: "Landlord. Good morning, gentlemen.
"Driver. Good Morning, mister.
"L. Very warm, but pretty considerable of air stirring.
"D. I guess so. Can we get any thing to drink?
"L. Well, I suppose you can. What liquor would you please to have?
"D. Brandy, I guess.
"L. We’ve got nothing in the house but whisky, sir.
"D. Let us have some then—by God, I’ll treat: but where‘s Bill?
"L. Cleared out, I guess.
"D. What an almighty shame! and where’s his family?
"L. Cleared out too, mister.
"D. ’Tarnation! well, I vow one feels pretty damned cheap, when a fellow clears out without paying scores.
"L. By the life he does—but here’s success to Bill, (drinking,) though he owes me for a pair of shoes.
"D. Bill owes me eight dollars, and fifty-seven cents and a half.
"L. Cash?
"D. Ho, good morning to you! no, no, I’ll be satisfied with three hundred rails and some leather—(a pause). Bill knows what he’s about;       did he clear out slick?
"L. Yes, mister, right off; but I guess he’s still in the bush; and I swear I could find him if I had a mind.
"D. Bill will steer southward.
"L. I guess he will—howsomever, here’s success to Bill, and damn the shoes."                                            (Howison 278-79; qtd. in Galt 544)

As a final illustration of Howison’s skill at sketching "domestic manners," the review quotes his description of an American tavern:

    About six in the evening we arrived at the village of Auburn, and I abandoned the stage there, intending to go to Utica by way of the Grand Canal. Having seen my portmanteau disposed of, I entered the tavern, and desired that water might be sent into a room. "Water!" exclaimed the landlord, "why, here’s water and towels enough in the bar—I guess all the gentlemen washes there." I surveyed the bar from curiosity, and found things in such a state, that I would rather have worn the coat of dust I had received while in the stage, than attempt ablution in it. However, after some parley and hesitation, my apparently unheard of request was granted, and soon afterwards they rung a bell to announce that tea was ready. I immediately obeyed the summons; and, on entering the public room, found eighteen or twenty people already seated at a table, which was abundantly furnished with beef-steaks, ham, fowls, preserved fruit, cake, cheese, &c. The hostess, who was rather pretty, stood at one end of the table, and poured out tea, gracefully enough, to those who called for it, and occasionally joined in the conversation, with the same ease as if she had been one of the guests. Most of the people were respectable enough in appearance, but very plain in their manners. A good deal of detached unconnected conversation passed among them; but some of it was in such extraordinary language, that I found no difficulty in remembering the expressions verbatim, until tea was over, when I wrote them down, and shall now give the reader the following specimens:
    "Take some beef, ’squire—No, I guess not, I don’t feel much like eating tonight.—’Squire, is your cip out?—It will be so right off, m’am.— My tea is too strong.—I conclude you’re nervous, sir.—I vow, m’am, I can’t sleep when I take much tea.—Indeed I like tea, it makes me feel good.—I agree with you, I never feel so spry as when I’ve got a good raft of tea aboard of me.—I calculate upon there being some electricity in tea, it makes one feel so smart.—An’t you from Canada lately, mister? how are politics there?—Nothing stirring in that way, sir.— I conclude to go there very soon, and hope to see you; and if I can rip out your quarters, I’ll give you a damn blow up.—Well now, I shall feel pretty considerably tickled to see you.—You didn’t stay long at Canadaguia?—No, I dined at full jump, and went right off in the stage, which carried me slick to this place.—I fear that little shaver (child) is troubling on you, sir.—Not at all, ma’am, pretty considerable of a boy, I guess.—Yes, sir, only three years old, and knows his letters,—He was in the abbs and ebbs last week.—He must be awfully smart!!!
                                                                           (Howison 292-94; qtd. in Galt 544)

The resemblance between the horseracing incidents in the Sketches and The Clockmaker indicates that Haliburton’s knowledge of Howison extended beyond the material quoted in Blackwood’s, but perhaps it was Galt’s review that drew the Novascotian author’s attention to a rich and inspirational compendium of first-hand "observation of the state of manners on the New Continent, both in Canada and in the United States" (Galt, "Howison’s Canada" 545).

However he encountered Howison’s Sketches, Haliburton drew upon it not only to portray "the state of manners on the New Continent," but also to differentiate between the United States and British North America in terms of the customs, attitudes, and institutions of the two places and, ultimately to frame Canada’s destiny between the poles of Britain and America. In The Clockmaker and its successors, The Attaché; or, Sam Slick in England (1843, 1844) and Sam Slick‘s Wise Saws and Modern Instances; or, What He Said, Did, or Invented (1853), the alternatives facing Canada are presented with increasing clarity, so it is scarcely surprising that they receive their most stark and influential statement in Nature and Human Nature (1855), Haliburton’s final, sustained deployment of the Slick character. There, in a passage influentially quoted and endorsed by Alexander Morris in Nova Britannia; or, British North America, Its Extent and Future (1858), Haliburton uses Slick to present England with three choices for her "North American colonies:—First: Incorporation with herself, and representation in Parliament. Secondly: Independence. Thirdly: Annexation with the United States" (255).6 Of course, Haliburton’s answer to what Goldwin Smith would in 1891 call "the Canadian Question" was unequivocal: Canada West, Canada East, and the Maritimes should become a unified Canada and an intergral part of Britain. "‘Here are the bundle of sticks,’" concludes Slick, "‘all they need is to be well united’" (264). When he gave this allusion to Aesop’s fable of "The Bundle of Sticks" to the Clockmaker, Haliburton perhaps had in mind Galt’s use of the very same fable as an image of Canadian cohesion in Bogle Corbet (1831).7 When he found the inspiration for the Clockmaker in Howison’s Sketches of Upper Canada he perhaps had an inkling of the shared characteristics and common "Other" that would eventually result in the creation of Canada.




  1. For further discussion of the issues of authorial and editorial organization raised here, see Bentley "A New Brunswick Roberts," "Half Passion and Half Prayer: the New York Nocturnes," "The Achievement of Charles G.D. Roberts," "Robert’s Series of Sonnets in Songs of the Common Day," "The Book Becomes a Living Thing," and "Klein, Montreal and Mankind." [back]

  2. In fact, the Virago publishers do not delete all the poems by Moodie’s husband or brother (see 434, 439), though they do indeed excise the bulk of the former’s contributions. [back]

  3. It needs to be noted that in the second Bentley edition of 1857, the reference to the "diversity" of the work is deleted, as are many of the poems, but the acknowledgment of J.W. Dunbar Moodie remains. [back]

  4. See also V.L.O. Chittick’s Thomas Chandler Haliburton ("Sam Slick"): a Study in Provincial Victorianism (1924) where, after arguing that "Haliburton’s obligations to the epistolary humours of the Jack Downing vogue constitute the most obvious of his literary indebtedness," Chittick suggest a supplementary source for Slick’s "linguistic idiosyncrasies" in the Sketches and Eccentricities of Col. David Crockett of West Tennessee (1834) (371-77). Both Cogswell and Chittick cite Thomas McCulloch’s "Letters of Mephibosheth Stepsure" (1821-22) as Haliburton’s principal local source of inspiration. [back]

  5. Catharine Parr Traill mentions Howison in The Backwoods of Canada (50), and both Charles Sangster and William Kirby reveal their knowledge of his description of the Thousand Islands in Sketches: "I believe, they collectively exhibit, on a small scale, a greater variety of bays, harbours, inlets, and channels, than are to be found throughout the whole continent of America. Nature seems here to have thrown sportively from her hand a profusion of masses of the material world, that she might perceive what combinations of scenery might be produced, when they assumed their respective positions on the bosom of the waters…. The scene reminded me of the beautiful description of the Happy Islands in the Vision of Mirzah [in Joseph Addison, The Spectator, [159], and I thought at the time, that if the Thousand Islands lay in the East, some chaste imagination would propose, that they should be made an asylum for suffering humanity…" (31-32). See The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay (1990), 32-36, 53-54, and 138 and The U.E.: a Tale of Upper Canada in XII Cantos (1859), 43-44. [back]

  6. In the June 19, 1857 issue of the Halifax Morning Journal, Haliburton offers a fourth alternative in the form of a "‘Federal Union of the Colonies, a Colonial Board of Control…and…Delegates to Parliament, to advocate colonial rights, and vote on them, and them only’" (qtd. in Chittick 584). See also The Season Ticket (1860) for later statements of Haliburton’s views on Canada’s destiny (especially 224-27 and 311-29). [back]

  7. Speaking to a group of disgruntled Scottish immigrants, Corbet urges them to apply "‘the story of the old man and his sons with the bundle of sticks’" to their own situation as settlers and to recognize the advantages of "‘united strength’" and a "‘common good’" (3:33-34). [back]