"In this age of instantaneous
and universal communication literary reputations spring
up and spread with bewildering rapidity," wrote
Archibald Lampman in his At the Mermaid Inn column
for March 12, 1892;"[just] now comes to us the
fame of Maurice Maeterlinck, a very young Belgian poet,
who was suddenly and enthusiastically hailed a short
time ago as ‘The Belgian Shakespeare.’ One of his short
plays has just been translated and brought out in London,
but it appears with only indifferent success. This young
writer is the author of a volume of poems…a tragedy,
and two short plays (34-35)1.
On two counts, Lampman’s account of Maeterlinck’s meteoric
rise to prominence is accurate: he was indeed praised
as ‘"The Belgian Shakespeare,"’ by Octave
Mirbeau in the August 24, 1890 issue of Le Figaro,
and on January 27, 1892 a translation of his L’Intruse
was performed, by none less than Herbert Beerbohm Tree,
at London’s Haymarket Theatre (Symons 363-64). But on
the third count Lampman was not entirely correct, for
in addition to the volume of poems (Serres chaudes
), the tragedy (La Princess Maleine )
and the two short plays (L’Intruse and Les
Aveugles ) to which he refers, Maeterlinck
had published two other works by 1892, Les Sept Princesses
(1891) and L’Ornament des noces spirituelles de Ruystroeck
L’Admirable (1891). Moreover, the works that would
make the most impact on the English-speaking world on
both sides of the Atlantic had yet to be published or
translated: Pelléas et Mélisande appeared on
stage and in translation later in 1892 and Le Trésor
des humbles, an extraordinarily influential collection
of essays, was published in 1896 and translated a year
later. It is an index of Maeterlinck’s popularity and
importance in Canadian artistic circles around the turn
of the century that translations of several of his works,
including Alfred Sutro’s translation of The Treasure
of the Humble, were published in Toronto as well
as in London and New York.2
writer who appears to have been particularly receptive
to the influence of Maeterlinck is Lampman’s protégé
Duncan Campbell Scott. Although only a year younger
than Lampman (1861-1899), Scott (1862-1947) belonged
to a later generation in his attitude to late nineteenth-century
writing, and, of course, he lived long enough to absorb
artistic developments that scarcely impinged upon his
mentor; for example, in "The Modern School of Poetry
in England" (1885), Lampman expresses almost unmitigated
disapproval of the Pre-Raphaelite poets, but in "Poetry
and Progress" (1922), Scott quotes Rossetti with
approval and cites Walter Pater’s dictum that "all…arts
strive towards the condition of Music" to support
his view that music is "the art of perfection"
and "the art of the future" (Circle
139). Scott was far from indiscriminating and unprejudiced
in his responses to late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century
writers, however: in a revealing letter of June 18,
1904 to Pelham Edgar he rated Robert Bridges and T.E.
Brown more highly than Rudyard Kipling, Laurence Binyon,
and even W.B. Yeats, whom, he nevertheless felt had
"done some good work" prior to becoming "a
theorist" and "cryptic and unreadable"
in his use of "symbols and allusions" (More
Letters 23-24). By way of contrast to Yeats, Scott
urged Edgar to "[t]hink of Maeterlinck and reflect
how much more important is his work for the mystical
side of life. …He is endeavouring to awaken the wonder-element
in a modern way, constantly expressing the almost unknowable
things which we all feel. His is the work of the modern
Mystic and he does not require a fund of Irish legends
to set imagination aglow" (24). Gary Geddes assumes
that these remarks refer to Maeterlinck’s poetry (172),
but it is more likely that they refer to his plays and
the essays of The Treasure of the Humble,
which more than the poems of Serres chaudes,
convey a sense of the "mystery" that Scott
believed to lie "at the root of everything"
and within the grasp of future human understanding (More
Letters 28). "Shall not the subtle spirit of
man contrive / To charm the tremulous ether of the soul
/ Wherein it breathes?" Scott asked in February,
1905 in "Meditation at Perugia," a poem that
envisages a time of spiritual communication "from
pole to pole, …From star to star" and "Even
from earth to the utmost secret place, / Where God and
the supreme archangels are"—a time when mankind
will have proved "That all the powers of earth
and air are one, / That one deep law persists from mole
to sun…[That] all things that are in matter and mind
/ Thirst with the secret that began the world"
(Poems 132). "Meditation at Perugia"
is addressed to St. Francis of Assisi, but its vision
of spiritual communication and universal understanding
comes trailing clouds of glory from "the Modern
mystic" who gave these and similar ideas his least
cryptic and most readable expression in The Treasure
of the Humble.
Arthur Bourinot made selections of Scott’s letters available
in 1959 and 1960, Bernard Muddiman and A.J.M. Smith
recognized that several of his poems evoke the work
of the French and Belgian symbolistes, particularly
Mallarmé, Maeterlinck, and Emile Verhaeren (see Smith
124 and Muddiman 35, 37), and E.K. Brown, perhaps drawing
on information provided by Scott himself, analysed his
"dream pieces"—specifically "In the House
of Dreams" (1893) and "The Piper of Arll"
(1898)—as products of the symboliste aesthetic
of suggestiveness (see On Canadian Poetry 123-25).
"The title-piece" of Scott’s first volume,
The Magic House and Other Poems (1893), "is
similar in effect," writes Brown: "[a]t the
end of the piece, although it is evident that the woman
[has] passed through a variety of states, one does not
know where the turning point, or turning points, lay.
Just what these states were does not greatly matter;
nor does it greatly matter how she passed from one to
another; what does matter is a diffused sense of agonies
undergone in silence" (125). Muddiman finds the
"[v]ague and bizarre" quality—the "strange
ethereal music"—of "The Sea by the Woods"
and "The Woods by the Sea" in New World
Lyrics and Ballads (1905) "almost like the
early poems of Maeterlinck" (38), but he would
have been closer to the mark if he had recognized the
great importance that Scott attaches to "silence"
as evidence of a temperament predisposed to the writer
who took "active silence"—the silence
in which "the soul test[s] its weight" (7,19)—as
a principal theme of his plays and essays (see Symons
As Arthur Symons
suggests in The Symbolist Movement in Literature
(1899), Maeterlinck’s two most widely known statements
about the dramatic and spiritual significance of silence
are the essay on "Silence" that begins The
Treasure of the Humble and the long sentence in
which he articulates his understanding of tragedy in
another essay in the collection, "The Tragical
in Daily Life" ("Le Tragique quotidien"):
I have grown to believe that an old
man, seated in his armchair, waiting patiently, with
his lamp beside him; giving unconscious ear to all
the eternal laws that reign about his house, interpreting,
without comprehending, the silence of doors and windows
and the quivering voice of the light, submitting with
bent head to the presence of his soul and his destiny—an
old man, who conceives not that all the powers of
this world, like so many heedful servants, are mingling
and keeping vigil in his room, who suspects not that
the very sun itself is supporting in space the little
table against which he leans, or that every star in
heaven and every fiber of the soul are directly concerned
in the movement of an eyelid that closes, or a thought
that springs to birth—I have grown to believe that
he, motionless as he is, does yet live in reality
a deeper, more human and more universal life than
the lover who strangles his mistress, the captain
who conquers in battle, or ‘the husband who avenges
his honour.’ (105-06)
Here, surely, rather than, as Brown
suggests, in "the tragedy of Lear or Goriot"
(On Canadian Poetry 131)3
lies the conception of "the mystery of the universe"
and "the weakness of humanity" (Symons
310) that underlies the conclusion of "The Forsaken"
(1905) where the old Chippewa woman "Gaze[s] at
the sky…without pain, or dread, or even a moment of
longing" for two days and nights until the snow
"Cover[s] her deep and silent" and "there
[is] born a silence deeper than silence" (Poems
30-31). In Maeterlinck’s terms, silence is the medium
in which, without "alarm" or "agitation"
the dying woman’s "spirit" or "soul"
"test[s] its weight" and comes to understand
the "curious, preconceived design" that exists
"somewhere above our heads" and manifests
itself as "our truth as regards death, destiny
or love" (17-20).4
"Remember the day on which, without fear
in your heart, you met your first silence," enjoins
The dread hour had sounded; silence
went before your soul. You saw it…and you did not
fly. … [Silence] is a thing that knows no limit, and
before it all men are equal; and the silence of king
or slave, in presence of death, or grief, or love,
reveals the same features, hides beneath its impenetrable
mantle the self-same treasure. For this is the essential
silence of our soul, our most inviolable sanctuary,
and its secret can never be lost; and, were the first
born of men to meet the last inhabitant on earth…the
centuries notwithstanding, there would come to them,
at the same moment…comprehension of that which the
tongue shall not learn to tell before the world ceases.
"The Forsaken" may have been
"founded on a story told [to] the poet by the Hudson’s
Bay Company factor at Nipigon House" (Brown, "Memoir"
xxii), but the quietistic treatment of the Chippewa
woman’s death as the fulfillment of a "curious,
preconceived" and universal design that has led
to the charge of "unfeeling artistic aloofness"
(Dagg 182) in the poem probably had very different origins.
presence may also be detected in "On the Way to
the Mission," a poem written about a year earlier
than "The Forsaken" (McDougall 20, 22) and
placed adjacent to it in New World Lyrics and Ballads
and Poems (1926). Drawing this time, as Leon
Slonim has shown, on a scene from Robert Rogers’ Ponteach
(1766) that Francis Parkman appended to The Conspiracy
of Pontiac (1900) as an illustration of the atrocities
perpetrated by Europeans on Native peoples, Scott’s
poem depicts the murder of "an Indian trapper"
by two "white…servants of greed" who mistakenly
believe that the "long toboggan" on which
he is carrying his wife for burial at a Christian mission
is laden with furs (Poems 25-26). As the "whitemen"
pursue their quarry, "The Indian’s face [is] calm…with
the sorrow of fore-knowledge / But his eyes [are] jewels
of content / Set in circles of peace" and his "toboggan
[makes] the sound of wings, / A wood-pigeon sloping
to her nest." Moreover, the sight of "something
flit[ting] by his side" in "the deep forest"
makes their "hearts stop…with fear" and prevents
them from shooting him earlier than they eventually
do. Scott’s description of the trapper’s death contains
elements familiar from "The Forsaken" (snow,
silence) and one particularly puzzling detail, the fact
that the snow does not melt:
When he fell on a shield of moonlight
One of his arms clung to his burden;
The snow was not melted:
The spirit passed away…
Silence was born. (26)
It is as if the trapper’s life had
departed before he was shot, leaving no vital warmth
to melt the snow. At one level "On the Way to the
Mission" is about white rapacity and violence towards
the Native peoples, but at another it is about foreknowledge
and predestination: the "Indian trapper" is
calm and peaceful because he knows that he, too, is
on the way to the mission to be buried beside his Christian
wife "in spring, / When the bloodroot comes and
the windflower / To silver everything."
The essay in
The Treasure of the Humble that bears most on
this anterior level of "On the Way to the Mission"
is "The Pre-Destined," a moving meditation
on the "signs that set apart the creatures for
whom dire events lie in wait" and the means by
which those who encounter such people become "conscious
of the fate that is hanging over them" (48, 50).
Is destiny the creator or the creation of an individual,
Maeterlinck wonders, and—in a trope that finds an echo
in "On the Way to the Mission"—are momentous
events "always unerring in their course…like the
dove to the cote; and where do they find a resting-place
when we are not there to meet them?" (51). Lists
of such philosophical questions (more of which in due
course) are characteristic of Maeterlinck’s essays,
and "The Pre-Destined" is no exception:
Do we not all spend the greater part
of our lives under the shadow of an event that has
not yet come to pass? I have noticed the same grave
gestures, the footsteps that seemed to tend towards
a goal that was all too near, the presentiments that
chilled the blood, the fixed immovable look—I have
noticed all these in the men, even, whose end was
to come by accident, the men on whom death would suddenly
seize from without. …Their faces were the same. …The
same careful, silent watchfulness marked their actions.
…It is death that is the guide to our lives, and our
life has no goal but death. …What life is there but
becomes radiant when the pure, cold, simple light
falls on it at the last hour? (51-53)
Perhaps Scott’s terse "Silence
was born" is a condensation of Maeterlinck’s ensuing
remarks about the "silence…of the chamber when
there will be peace for evermore" and the "solemn
signals of silence" that unite those for whom death
is near (53-54). Certainly, his description of the reactions
of the "white…servants of greed" to the "Indian
trapper" resonate with Maeterlinck’s remarks about
the responses of ordinary people to those whom "death
[is] leading by the hand" or for whom "a violent
death [is] lying in wait" (53, 58).
A sensation of awe cre[eps] into
our life. …What [is] there that divide[s] us from
them? What is there that divides us all? What is this
sea of mysteries in whose depths we have our being?
…A curious steadfastness already lurk[s] in their
eyes; and if…their glance rest[s] upon us…there…[is]
an instant of strange silence. We…turn round: they
[are] watching us and smiling gravely (55-58).
At the very least, the resonances between
"The Pre-Destined" and "On the Way to
the Mission" confirm the validity of G. Ross Roy’s
observation that "[t]he action [of Scott’s poem]
is merely the basic plot to which the poet adds…significance.
… [S]tory telling is not Scott’s sole design here"
but, rather, he "ma[kes] use of Indian themes"
to treat of large moral and spiritual issues (144-45).
That this is so becomes even clearer when the title
poem of Scott’s Labor and the Angel volume of
1898 is examined in the light of Maeterlinck’s plays
After a scene-setting
description that uses the effects of wind and the arrival
of dawn to suggest the dualities of external nature
(sound/silence, light/dark, movement/stasis), "Labor
and the Angel" focuses attention on the representatives
of a seemingly very different duality in the lives of
ordinary people: "Labor" (physical work, crushing
routines, material hardship) and "the Angel"
(spiritual and emotional guidance and succour). Representing
the former is a "blind man…gathering…roots"
in a "sodden field," and the latter a "Beautiful"
girl who "Touches his arm with her hand, / Ready
to help or to guide" and to give "Power and
comfort at need" (Poems 100-01). Pre-Raphaelite
in her appearance ("Her gold hair blows in the
wind, / Her garments…flutter and furl") and Swedenborgian
rather than Christian in her nature and function, the
blind man’s ministering companion is "The angel
that watches o’er work" in "her visible form."
Whether "Humble or high," anyone who heeds
her encouraging counsel— ‘"Effort and effort /…This
is the heart-beat of life"’—is soothed, strengthened,
encouraged and, above all, "Heartened," for
she is the "twin-sister of Love" and she is
present in every workplace, not least in "the cages
and dens…Of th[e] hell-palace[s] built to the skies"
"Where women work down to the bone, / Where men
never laugh but they curse…where the pressure is worst"
(Poems 101-02). Only when "a soul too weary
of life / Sets to its madness an end" do her eyes
"darken" and then only briefly before she
sheds tears of grief and finds solace and renewal "on
the bosom of Love" (Poems 103-04). As the
poem draws towards its conclusion "the old blind
man and the girl"—"The shape of the soul in
the gloom, / And the power of the figure above"—are
made "To stand for the whole world’s need: / For
labor is always blind, / Unless as the light of the
deed / The angel is standing behind" (Poems
104). In the final verse paragraph, the blind man and
the girl are no longer the focus of attention, but the
values of "light" and "Love" that
have been constellated around the "angel"
are attached to aspects of the natural world as it moves
towards darkness—"A star…in the clear / Line of
the sky," "a cloud…Like the wing of a seraph,"
and "the planet whose ideal is Love" (Poems
Both in its
symbolic use of setting and in its use of universal
"types," "Labor and the Angel" is
strongly reminiscent of Maeterlinck’s early plays, particularly,
of course, Les Aveugles, where, as Richard Hovey
points out in the essay that introduces his translation
of The Plays of Maurice Maeterlinck (1894), the
blind symbolize "a world lost in the dark forest
of unfaith and unknowledge" (6).6
No more is Scott’s "old blind man" merely
a clone of Les Aveugles than is the poem as a
whole "but a versified version of Carlyle’s gospel
of work" (Muddiman 6), for the significance attached
to the figures and the setting of "Labor and the
Angel" are quite different than Maeterlinck’s and,
as Muddiman suggests (7), the poem speaks from and to
a distinctly North American context in its analysis
of labour. Like "The City of the End of Things,"
which was first published in the Atlantic Monthly
in March 1894, "Labor and the Angel" addresses
issues that were of growing concern in Canada and the
United States in the eighteen nineties: "How can
existence and work be harmonized? How can a man still
preserve his soul and at the same time earn his daily
bread?" (Muddiman 35, and see Bentley The Gay]
Grey Moose 187-200).
source of Scott’s particular response to such questions
may well have been The Treasure of the Humble,
which, as its very title indicates, concerns itself
centrally with the spiritual lives of ordinary people.
"[I]n the work-a-day lives of the very humblest
of men, spiritual phenomena manifest themselves—mysterious,
direct workings, that bring soul nearer to soul,"
asserts Maeterlinck in "The Awakening of the Soul,"
the second essay in the collection and the fullest exposition
of his conviction that the Western world was on the
brink of a "new spiritual epoch" in which
"an invisible presence" and an "invisible
principle" were becoming increasingly evident
(33, 25, 31, 29). Optimistically believing that "the
conditions of work-a-day life are changing…and [that]
it is by the invisible alone that, though we know it
not, nearly all of us judge each other," Maeterlinck
argues repeatedly that art should treat of "the
beauty, the grandeur and the earnestness of…humble day
to day existence" (104)—the quotidian rather than
the "positive" sublime (32), the invisible
realm of the spirit that enwraps and inhabits every
human being rather than the violence and passion of
traditional dramatic heroes. "The poet [should]
add…to ordinary life something…[so that] there comes
to us a sudden revelation of life in its stupendous
grandeur, in its submissiveness to the unknown powers,
in endless affinities, in its awe-inspiring misery"
(110). As to the form of the "superior" and
"invisible beings" that "surround"
all people (172), Maeterlinck proposes Swedenborg’s
"mysterious angel[s]" (224), and, characteristically,
suggests that "silence and shadow" provide
the best conditions for "call[ing] forth the smile
of angels" even in the "myriads of hovels,
…dens of misery, …[and] prisons" in which "thousands
and thousands of poor creatures" subsist in ugliness
and obscurity (194-95).7
It is the task of the poet "to keep open ‘the great
road that leads from the seen to the unseen’" by
"reveal[ing]…something that is stupendous"
"in the midst of the humble incidents of ordinary
days," the "ineffable face…behind an old man’s
tears, …[the] vast night, starred with angels [that]
extend[s] over the smile of a child" (188).
Scott may have
drawn inspiration for "Labor and the Angel"
from several such passages in The Treasure of the
Humble, but one in particular towards the end of
the final essay in the collection ("The Inner Beauty")
stands out more than others:
If we could ask of an angel what
it is that our souls do in the shadow, I believe the
angel would answer, after having looked for many years
perhaps, and seen far more than the things the soul
seems to do in the eyes of men, ‘They transform into
beauty all the things that are given to them.’ Ah!
we must admit that the human soul is possessed of
singular courage! Resignedly does it labour, its whole
life long, in the darkness whither most of us relegate
it, where it is spoken to by none. …But thousands
of existences there are that no sister [soul] visits;
thousands of existences wherein life has infused such
timidity into the soul that it departs without saying
a word, without ever once having been able to deck
itself with the humblest jewels of its humble crown.…
yet, in spite of all, does it watch over everything
from its invisible heaven. It warns and loves, it
admires, attracts, repels. (215-16)
Maeterlinck is writing about the "soul"
and beauty but his references to an "angel,"
his emphasis on humble "labour," his representation
of souls as "sister[s], and, finally, his conception
of the soul as a tutelary spirit resonate richly with
"Labor and the Angel," particularly with those
portions of the poem in which Scott’s "twin-sister
of Love," whose "smile is the sweetest renown…Her
crown the starriest crown," offers "Strength,"
"Courage," "hope" and "succour"
to her "‘agonized child[ren]’" (Poems
If, as the
evidence suggests, Scott drew upon The Treasure of
the Humble in writing "The Forsaken,"
"On the Way to the Mission," and "Labor
and the Angel and, very likely, other poems in Labor
and the Angel and New World Lyrics and Ballads,
then he could have had no illusions about the origins
and cast of Maeterlinck’s mysticism. Quotations from
Carlyle and Emerson as well as Swedenborg figure prominently
in several of the essays in The Treasure of the Humble,
but the collection concludes with a lengthy excerpt
from "the great Plotinus" that urges the reader
to ascend the Neoplatonic ladder from perceived beauty
to "‘intelligible beauty’" (224-25), and,
in the Introduction to Sutro’s translation, A.B. Walkley
labels Maeterlick "a Neo-Platonist" (ix) and
aligns him with the author of the Enneads:
Plotinus…enlarged the boundaries
of art by discerning in the idea of beauty an inward
and spiritual grace not to be found in the ‘Platonic
idea.’ That, too, is what M. Maeterlinck is striving
for. …His cardinal doctrine will, I conjecture, be
something like this. …The mystery of life is what
makes life worth living. …He is penetrated by the
feeling of the mystery in all human creatures, whose
every act is regulated by far-off influences and obscurely
rooted in things unexplained. Mystery is within us
and around us. Of reality we can only now and then
get the merest glimpse. …We grope among the shadows
towards the unknown. …In silence is our only chance
of knowing one another. And ‘mystic truths have over
ordinary truths a strange privilege; they can neither
age nor die.’ (x-xii)
In characterizing Maeterlinck’s thought,
Walkley draws a quotation from L’Ornament des noces
spirituelles that uncannily suggests the affinities
between The Treasure of the Humble and the Scott
poems that seem most indebted to it: "‘We are here…on
the borderland of human thought and far across the Arctic
circle of the spirit’" (viii).
impact of The Treasure of the Humble on Scott
appears to have been greatest in the years surrounding
the turn of the century,8
several pieces written around and after the First World
War, particularly "The Height of Land," indicate
the continuing presence of Maeterlinck’s thought in
his work. Written in November, 1915 (McDougall) and
first published in Lundy’s Lane and Other Poems
(1916), Scott’s major philosophical poem shows traces
of several Romantic and Victorian writers (see Brown
139 and Ware), but its final verse paragraph probably
owes at least as much to the mystical positivism and
rhetorical technique of The Treasure of the Humble.
As Bettina Knapp has shown, an element of "Shopenhaurian
negativism" (95) sometimes surfaces in Maeterlinck’s
essays to temper his sense of being on the verge of
a "new spiritual epoch" with moments when,
as he puts it in "The Star," "it would
seem as though we are on the threshold of a new pessimism"
(127). Nevertheless, he remained optimistic: "[t]he
sadness of man, which seemed beautiful even to [Shopenhauer
and other ‘redoubtable sages’], is still susceptible
to infinite ennobling, until at last a creature of genius
will have uttered the final word of the sorrow that
shall, perhaps, wholly purify. …In the meanwhile, we
are on the eve of divining" (128). And, as already
observed in several quotations from The Treasure
of the Humble, the rhetorical manifestation of Maeterlinck’s
mystical positivism is series after series of speculative
What tidings do these things bring
us? And wherein lies their significance? Are there
laws deeper than those by which deeds and thoughts
are governed? What are the things we have learned
and why do we always act in accordance with rules
that none ever mention, but which are the only rules
that cannot err? …When we venture to move the mysterious
stone that covers these mysteries, the heavily charged
air surges up from the gulf, and words and thoughts
fall around us like poisoned flies. …Even our inner
life seems trivial by the side of these unchanging
deepness. …And would [the Jesus who condemned the
Pharisees] be God if His condemnation were irrevocable?
But why does He speak as though He lingered on the
threshold? Will the basest thought or the noblest
inspiration leave a mark on the diamond’s surface?
What god, that is indeed on the heights, but must
smile at our gravest faults, as we smile at the puppies
on the hearth rug. (67-69, and see 98-100)
At dawn on the height of land, as he
observes a "presage of extinction glow[ing] on
the…crests" of the stars and feels a "deep
/ Influx of spirit" with the light of dawn, Scott
also wonders whether the future will reveal "a
more compelling law than Love / As Life’s atonement"
and an understanding of the universe so advanced that
the Christian "version / Of noble deed and thought
immingled" will seem "uncouth" and the
human condition appear "as simple as a sheep-boy’s
song" (Poems 50-51). Will the full knowledge
(gnosis) that now can only be intuited like "strange
immortal memories" in an old romance ("romaunt")
become available to poets in the future of will they
be no more enlightened than Scott is in the northern
"sunrise" as he responds with all his being
to "The thrill of life" and "The Secret,
golden and inappellable" (Poems 50-51)?
Scott’s questions are not precisely the same as Maeterlinck’s
but they are asked in a similar spirit and with similar
assumptions. In "The Height of Land" the portentous
enquiries of The Treasure of the Humble are revisited
in the silence of a Canadian night just before the monstrous
carnage of the First World War cast a dark pall over
the evolutionary optimism of the previous decades.
In Kahlil Gibran: his Life and World,
Jean Gibran and Kahlil Gibran cast a revealing sidelight
on the Maeterlinck-Scott relationship with the information
that the future author of The Prophet (1923)
and other mystical texts was profoundly influenced by
The Treasure of the Humble when the Boston publisher
Fred Holland Day read the whole of Sutro’s translation
to him at a single sitting in the fall of 1897 (56-57).
Twelve years after the event, Gibran’s biographers record,
he was able to gauge its importance for his development:
"‘Maeterlinck is of the first rank. …In the early
’nineties big men were finding unlimited form. Maeterlinck
perceived the current. …From fourteen to eighteen he
was my idol…The Treasure of the Humble is his
masterpiece’" (qtd. in Gibran 57). The Gibrans
also record that, along with "Maeterlinck’s veiled
mysteries" and John Lemprière’s Classical Dictionary,
their famous relative was exposed in the late ’nineties
to Carman and Hovey’s Songs from Vagabondia (1894)
and More Songs from Vagabondia (1896), both of
which were published by Copeland and Day (58), and they
endorse Hovey’s astute recognition that the motive and
appeal of Carman’s "‘native symbolism…[and] Maeterlinck’s
strange new development of Neo-Platonic thought’"
lay in the same rejection of "‘materialism’"
that was leading young writers to Emerson at this time
(qtd. in Gibran 58). The relevance of all this to Scott
does not reside merely in the fact that, after visiting
Boston in April 1894,9
he had friends in Boston literary circles or in
the fact that Labor and the Angel was also published
by Copeland and Day, but in the fact that, sometime
before the book’s publication in December 1898, Gibran
"made a pictorial illustration" of "Labor
and the Angel" that was "prepared for publication,"
probably in the book itself (Gibran 61-62).10
Apparently, even predictably, Gibran found in Scott’s
poem something akin to what had attracted him in the
previous year to The Treasure of the Humble.
earlier version of this essay was published in Studies
in Canadian Literature 21.2 (1996): 104-19.
almost certainly got his information about Maeterlinck
from an article by E.R. Pennell ("N.N.")
in the February 18, 1892 issue of the Nation
(New York). Pennell briefly discusses Maeterlinck’s
poems, plays, and reputation as the "Belgian
Shakspere" and concludes that "in the
Haymarket version ‘The Intruder’ was not only without
effect, but was absolutely meaningless, except to
those who had already read it. …To-day the papers
have been calling ‘The Intruder’ silly, and imbecile,
and idiotic, and the usual adjectives that form
the stock-in-trade of the English critic" (129).
full study of Maeterlinck’s influence and reputation
in North America remains to be done, but Joseph
Hause records that in 1891 translations of L’Intruse
and Les Aveugles by Mary Vielé were published
in Washington, D.C. and that in February 1893 L’Intruse
was performed in New York (65). The bibliography
in Jethro Bithell’s Life and Writings of Maurice
Maeterlinck lists numerous items in American
and British periodicals such as the Academy,
the Fortnightly Review, the Atlantic Monthly,
and Poet-Lore (Boston) from 1892 onwards,
including two items by Bliss Carman’s friend and
collaborator Richard Hovey. A review of Hovey’s
translation of The Plays of Maurice Maeterlinck
appeared in the Week (Toronto) in March 1895.
An edition of Sutro’s translation of The Treasure
of the Humble was published in Toronto in 1908
by Musson, who also published editions of Maeterlinck’s
later collections of essays. [back]
subsequently published a translation of Honoré de
Balzac’s Le Père Goriot. [back]
indicated by the fact that he begins "Silence"
with a quotation from Sartor Resartus, Maeterlinck’s
conception of silence derives to a considerable
extent from Carlyle. [back]
aspects of the description of the trapper’s wife—her
"ivory features" and the fact that her
hair is done "In the manner of Montagnais
women" (Poems 26; italics added)—raise
the possibility that she is white. [back]
is worth noting that in "Modern Symbolism and
Maurice Maeterlinck," Hovey puts "Gilbert
Parker in England and Bliss Carman in America"
on a level with "Mallarmé in France" as
practitioners of "modern symbolism," citing
the "primitive types" in one of the stories
in Pierre and His People (1892) as an instance
of Parker’s use of symboliste techniques
(5). He also suggests that, in giving to "the
simple truth of animal life a universal meaning,"
the animal stories of Charles G.D. Roberts are "symbolic
in the same way" (7). In assessing the work
of all three Canadians, Hovey claims that they arrived
at their symbolic practices independently of any
influences from France or Belgium and that their
work is "saner, fresher, and less morbid"
than its European counterparts: "[t]he clear
air of the lakes and the prairies of Canada blows
through it" (8). He makes no mention of Scott
or Lampman, neither of whom had the advantage of
being his friends. See also: D.M.R. Bentley, "The
Thing is Found to Be Symbolic". [back]
other references to the "work-a-day existence"
of ordinary people and to Swedenborgian angels appear
in The Treasure of the Humble; see, for example,
6,14,40,63,68,69,113,152, and 171. [back]
to the dates provided by Robert L. McDougall, several
of the blatantly "mystical" pieces in
Lundy’s Lane and Other Poems were written
between 1899 and about 1906, cases in point being
"The Apparition" (April 29, 1900), which
begins "Gentle angel…I was yearning for a vision
/ Of the life unseen" (Poems 236), and
"Dream Voyageurs" (July 18, 1906), which
ends with a vision of the dreamers’ destination
as an astral paradise in which "musing shades…
/ Will share their veils of angelhood, / Thoughts
that are tranced with mystic food, / Still broodings
tinct with a seraph’s blood" (Poems
223). See also "The Ghost’s Story" (December
2, 1899), "Night" (April 21, 1905), and
the first sonnet in "To the Heroic Soul"
(May 13, 1906). To judge by the references to "the
frail spirits of trees and flowers" in "The
November Pansy" (December 1, 1912), to the
"essences" and "florescence"
of ephemeral phenomena in "Mist and Frost"
(February, 1913), and to the power of "necromancy"
to "unroll" "the web…linking / Beauties
that meet and mingle…With the beauty of the whole"
in "Mid-August" (August, 1913), Maeterlinck’s
Neoplatonism was supplemented by even more arcane
concepts in Scott’s thought in about 1912 (Poems
53, 194, 196, 193). W. J. Sykes detects "pure
Platonic idealism"  in "The November
Pansy," but the poem is also redolent of the
hermetic belief that even inanimate things contain
a spiritual essence that reveals itself, for instance,
in the green of leaves and the perfume of flowers.
(See also "Lines in Memory of Edmund Morris,"
written in 1913-14, and "The Water Lily,"
written in 1919.) Perhaps Scott’s interest in the
occult at this time was partly stimulated by the
death of his young daughter in 1907; certainly "A
Mystery Play," the piece that concludes "The
Closed Door" sequence devoted to Elizabeth
in Lundy’s Lane and Other Poems, is as strikingly
mystical in its vision as it is reminiscent of Maeterlinck’s
early plays. See also Bentley "Alchemical Transmutation."
a letter of April 22, 1894, Edward William Thomson,
writing to Lampman from Boston, records his first
meeting with Scott (Annotated Correspondence
addition to reproducing this illustration, the Gibrans
include photographs of a drawing and a note in a
"dummy copy of [Lampman’s] Lyrics of Earth"
(see 64 and 124-25). [back]
D.M.R. "Alchemical Transmutation in Duncan Campbell
Scott’s ‘At Gull Lake: August, 1810,’ and Some Contingent
Speculations." Studies in Canadian Literature
10 (1985): 1-23.
The Gay] Grey Moose: Essays on the Ecologies and
Mythologies of Canadian Poetry, 1690-1990. Ottawa:
U of Ottawa P, 1992.
"The Thing is Found to Be Symbolic": Symboliste
Elements in the Early Short Stories of Gilbert Parker,
Charles G.D. Roberts, and Duncan Campbell Scott."
In Dominant Impressions: Essays on the Canadian Short
Story. Ed. Gerald Lynch and Angela Robbeson. Reappraisals:
Canadian Writers. Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1999. 27-51.
Jethro. Life and Writings of Maurice Maeterlinck.
1913. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat, 1972.
E.K. Memoir. In Selected Poems of Duncan Campbell
Scott. Ed. E.K. Brown. Toronto: Ryerson, 1951. xi-xlii.
Melvin H. "Scott and the Indians." In Duncan
Campbell Scott: a Book of Criticism. Ed. S.L. Dragland:
Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1974. 181-92.
Gary. "Piper of Many Tunes: Duncan Campbell Scott."
In Duncan Campbell Scott: a Book of Criticism.
Ed. S. L. Dragland. Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1974. 165-77.
Jean, and Kahlil Gibran. Kahlil Gibran: his Life
and World. Edinburgh: Canongate, 1992.
Joseph. "Histoire d’une gloire." In Maurice
Maeterlinck, 1862-1962. Ed. Joseph Hause and Robert
Vivier. N.p.: La Renaissance du livre. 1962. 41-117.
Richard. "Modern Symbolism in Maurice Maeterlinck."
In The Plays of Maurice Maeterlinck. Ed. and
trans. Richard Hovey. The Green Tree Library. Chicago:
Herbert S. Stone, 1894. New York: Kraus Reprint, 1972.
Bettina. Maurice Maeterlinck. Twayne World Authors
Series, 342. Boston: Twayne, 1975.
Archibald. At the Mermaid Inn: Wilfred Campbell,
Archibald Lampman, Duncan Campbell Scott in The
Globe 1892-93. Ed. Barrie Davies. Toronto: U
of Toronto P, 1979.
Maurice. The Treasure of the Humble. Trans. Alfred
Sutro. New York: Dodd, Mead; London: George Allen, 1897.
Robert L. "D.C. Scott: the Dating of the Poems."
Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews,
2 (Spring/Summer, 1978): 13-27.
Octave. "Maurice Maeterlinck." Le Figaro
24 Aug 1890.
Bernard. "Duncan Campbell Scott." In Duncan
Scott: a Book of Criticism. Ed. S.L. Dragland. Ottawa:
E.R. "A New Shakspere?" Nation (New
York) 54 (18 Feb, 1892): 128-28
of The Plays of Maurice Maeterlinck, trans. Richard
Hovey. Week (Toronto) 12. 18 (29 Mar. 1895):
G. Ross. "Duncan Campbell Scott." In Duncan
Campbell Scott: a Book of Criticism. Ed. S.L. Dragland.
Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1974. 140-61.
Duncan Campbell. The Circle of Affection and Other
Pieces in Prose and Verse. Toronto: McClelland and
More Letters. Ed. Arthur S. Bourinot. Ottawa:
Arthur S. Bourinot, 1960.
Some Letters. Ed. Arthur S. Bourinot. Ottawa:
Arthur S. Bourinot, 1959.
Poems. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1926.
Duncan Campbell, and E. K. Brown. The Poet as the
Critic: a Literary Correspondence between D. C. Scott
and E. K. Brown. Ed. Robert L. McDougall. Ottawa:
Carleton U P, 1983.
Leon. "A Source for Duncan Campbell Scott’s ‘On
the Way to the Mission.’" Canadian Poetry: Studies,
Documents, Reviews 3 (Fall/ Winter, 1978): 62-64.
A.J.M. "The Poetry of Duncan Campbell Scott."
In Duncan Campbell Scott: a Book of Criticism.
Ed. S. L. Dragland. Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1974. 115-34.
Arthur. The Symbolist Movement in Literature.
1899. Rev. ed. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1919.
Edward William. An Annotated Edition of the Correspondence
between Archibald Lampman and Edward William Thomson
(1890-1898). Ed. Helen Lynn. Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1980.
A.B. Introduction. In The Treasure of the Humble.
By Maurice Maeterlinck. New York: Dodd, Mead; London:
George Allen, 1897.
Tracy. "D.C. Scott's 'The Height of Land' and the
Greater Romantic Lyric." Canadian Literature
111 (Winter 1986): 10-2.