Duncan Campbell Scott is something of a “Beezlebomb” among the leading Confederation Poets. When he died in 1947 at the age of eighty-five, a novelty recording of the “William Tell Overture” by Spike Jones and his City Slickers was high on the popularity charts. Over a raucous rendition of the score, featuring trumpets and banjoes, comes an announcement from a make-believe race track: “Now the horses are approaching the starting gate AND THERE THEY GO: Suzanne, Cabbage, Beautiful Linda—and Beezlebomb!” At each turn, the order has the same ending: “and Beezlebomb!” Then, in a clatter of hoofbeats at the finish line, a surprise winner emerges: “BEEZLEBOMB!” Similarly, throughout most of Scott’s lifetime, nearly every critic’s list of the four major Confederation Poets began “Roberts, Carman, Lampman”—not necessarily in that order, but always ending: “and Duncan Campbell Scott.” Today, Scott has some advocates who see him emerging—like Beezlebomb—at the head of the pack.
The foregoing comparison may seem inappropriately frivolous as an introduction to someone of Scott’s austere demeanour. With his erect six-foot stature and stiff face, he seemed to be dignity personified. To strangers, he looked cold and somewhat formidable. Even most of his acquaintances found him aloof despite his unfailing civility. The few people who penetrated his reserve knew that it was a cover for a shy and sensitive nature. Behind the defensive façade was a gentle, kindly man with a wry sense of humour. His wit often took a self-deprecatory turn that might have pardoned the Beezlebomb analogy.
There are several reasons for Scott being mentioned as if he were an afterthought, none of them reflecting on the quality of his poetry. Roberts and Carman, in their time, had higher profiles, largely because they were more prolific and better at self-promotion. Lampman became famous by dying young, admired for what he actually wrote and lamented for what he might have written had he lived longer. For chronological reasons, it may have seemed natural to list Scott after Roberts, Carman, and Lampman simply because he was the last of the group to begin writing poetry. He was also the youngest by a year or two.
He was born in Ottawa on 2 August 1862, the son of the Reverend William Scott (recently appointed to the city’s Dominion Methodist Church) and his second wife, Janet MacCallum. Before Duncan was three years old, his father transferred to the Prescott circuit where he remained for two years before moving to Iroquois (Matilda circuit) where the young boy was frightened by the noisy celebrations on the first Dominion Day.1 Transfers to other eastern Ontario circuits followed in rapid succession—Napanee, Oshawa, Smith’s Falls, Brockville—none of them lasting more than three years at most. Frequent changes like those were common in the Wesleyan Methodist ministry of that era and were not necessarily a measure of the competence or popularity of the preacher. The Rev. William Scott’s sermons were said to be “models of sound thought and just exposition,” and he possessed a temperament that has been described as “wonderfully cheerful and equitable.”2
Although Duncan Campbell Scott attached great importance to the ancestry of Archibald Lampman (tracing it for several generations in his “Introduction” to Lyrics of Earth, 1924), he was not particularly forthcoming about his own family history, giving the impression that he lacked the information and/or the interest. There seems to have been no contact with the family of his father, who was born in Lincoln, England,3 October 1812, the son of James and Elizabeth Scott.4 Duncan Scott would say vaguely that his father came from “good yeoman stock,”4 but nothing further is known about James Scott’s circumstances unless something can be deduced from the statement that his son William “received a thorough English education.”5
During his boyhood, William was converted to Wesleyan Methodism, and “while yet a mere stripling began to empoy his gifts as a local preacher.”6 On 1 December 1834, when he was barely twenty-two, William married Maria Slight (or Sleight) in nearby Sculcoates (now part of Hull), Yorkshire. To quote E.K. Brown’s decorous phrasing, “an early marriage ... closed the way into the English conference of his church.”7 That explanation is likely correct, but there may be more to the story. It appears that Maria Slight was in the late stages of pregnancy at the time of her marriage. Therefore, the newlyweds were likely under a cloud of scandal when they subsequently left for America, taking their infant daughter, Georgiana, with them.8
Arriving in New York, William put his “thorough English education” to good use, editing a religious journal for upwards of two years. In 1836, he was received into the ministry on trial at the New York Conference of the Methodist Church. The next year he moved to Upper Canada and was stationed at Brockville until he was received into full connection with the church in 1840. For nearly seven years, beginning in 1841, he worked as a missionary among the Indians on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron. Sometime around 1847, he and Maria had a second child, a son named William. Two more children were born after the family moved to the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada: Charles (c.1854) and Anna (c. 1856).
Maria (Slight) Scott died in 1857. Two years later, when he was about to turn fifty, William married Janet Campbell MacCallum, fifteen years his junior, the daughter of John and Isabella (Campbell) MacCallum, who had immigrated to Ile aux Noix, Lower Canada, from Killin in Perthshire, Scotland. John MacCallum was a farmer, but several of his sons became professional men, including Dr. Duncan Campbell MacCallum (for whom his nephew was named), who was appointed to the medical staff of McGill University. In one of Duncan Campbell Scott’s rare references to his family, he told E.K. Brown:
I remember my maternal grandmother, being helped up to see her on her death-bed; then I was about five, and I can see an old face and a head with a lace nightcap; she had The Gaelic, as they say, and I’ve been told that her pet name for me was Gagey.9
Janet Scott, like her husband’s first wife, remained a background figure while William gained prominence through the Wesleyan Methodist Conference in which he held various offices, including that of president. He was also widely known for his strong views on temperance, editing the Canadian Temperance Advocate (1851-1858), and co-founding The Canada Casket, the official organ of the Independent Order of Good Templars of Ontario and Quebec, in 1870. Foremost among his publications is The Teetotaler’s Hand-Book (1860), although he would also publish Letters on Superior Education (1860) and Hours with St. Paul (1888). There are many contemporary testimonies to his geniality and his intellectual and organizational skills in the discharge of his duties, but little is known about Janet whose character and personality never came under the same broad public scrutiny. Nothing is known about her cultural tastes except that her devoted supervision of her children’s piano lessons indicates a love of music. Duncan Campbell Scott’s broadcaster friend, Leonard Brockington, described her as “a woman of deep unspoken certainties, of great Scottish reticences, of many prides and many affections,”10 but that was only hearsay because Mrs. Scott was dead before the Welsh-born Brockington arrived in Canada in 1912. His descriptions sound like vague impressions he may have gained from Duncan, who, for reasons that will become apparent later, seldom mentioned his mother.
He was equally tight-lipped about his half sisters and half brothers. That is less surprising in the case of the half sisters since both of them died before he was ten years old. According to the Christian Guardian, William Scott “saw two beloved daughters (one a young and beautiful married woman [Georgiana], the other a lovely girl of fifteen years [Anna]) stricken down by death within a few days of each other.”11 It is difficult to trace what became of his half brother, William, who was still at home when the census was taken in 1861, but not in 1871, and is not listed among the survivors when his father died in 1891. Likely the adult Duncan barely knew him, which may account for the silence. That possibility does not hold in the case of his half brother Charles, whose lifetime employment in the Finance Department in Ottawa overlapped with Duncan’s career in the Department of Indian Affairs. Although they were civil servants in the same city for years, they seem to have treated each other like strangers.
William and Janet Scott had three children in quick order. The eldest, Mary Elizabeth, born in 1860, was the first to display that passion for music instilled by the mother. She would become a teacher with the Canadian Conservatory of Music, Ottawa, and never marry. Duncan, the second child and only boy was born about eighteen months later than his sister. Music would become one of his avocations, long before he turned to poetry. The last child, Helen Douglas, born in 1864, became a music teacher before her marriage in 1904 to a widower, James Melville Macoun, a scientist with the Canadian Geological Survey.
With William Scott’s frequent moves to new circuits, Duncan and his sisters had a disrupted childhood. If Duncan had been as extroverted as his father appears to have been, he might have thrived on the changes. Instead, his innate shyness developed into a lifelong reserve that made it difficult for him to be demonstrative or make friends easily. Growing up acutely conscious that his deportment was always under the critical scrutiny of his father’s congregation, he took care that the old maxim about the wildness of “ministers’ sons and deacons’ daughters” could never be applied to him. The only time he caused a sensation occurred one Sunday morning when he was very small. As was usual in summer, weather permitting, he had been allowed to play in the churchyard while his father conducted the service. Ignoring bees and hornets, he pressed through a clump of hollyhocks to feel the vibration of the organ coming through the back wall. Seconds later, he ran into the sanctuary, wailing loudly to his mother: “I’ve been bitten by a harlot!”12
It seems safe to assume that young Duncan was generally a serious little boy. Undoubtedly, as his baby features elongated into a thin, rather cadaverous face, he soon developed the solemn look that would remain his normal expression. By his own admission, he became a bookworm, following in his father’s footsteps in that respect. “Father had considerable literary ability,” he told Pelham Edgar in 1905, “good prose, a reader of the best literature, library stocked with it; I browsed there and read everything there was to read.”13 Periodicals like Good Words and Good Words for the Young were treasured not only for their reading material, but also for their wood-cuts, which marks the beginning of his lifelong interest in the visual arts. Poetry, however, made little impression upon him until he was about thirteen. One day in his high school at Smiths Falls (where his father served, 1874-75), the teacher wrote some lines on the blackboard from Tennyson’s description of Cleopatra in the Dream of Fair Women:
One sitting on crimson scarf unroll’d;
A queen with swarthy cheeks and bold black eyes,
Brow-bound with burning gold.
Many of Scott’s own lines would be written in a similar vein.
While he was growing up, Duncan Campbell Scott never lived anywhere long enough to form strong attachments to his surroundings. Smiths Falls, a busy little town on the Rideau Canal, about twenty-five miles inland from the St. Lawrence River, may have been one of the places to which he felt closest in retrospect. His only novel, written in 1905 but first published thirty years after his death, opens in fictional Asherville, “a small town situated on the Rideau Canal,” which seems to have had Smiths Falls as its model. Since Scott provided so little information about his early life, it is tempting to look for autobiograpical material in this novel about a minister’s son whose father “thought from his position as pastor of the large congregation of Methodists at Asherville that his children should be above reproach.” However, it is difficult to imagine anything of Scott in the rebellious and adventurous young protagonist, Firmian Underwood. Nor does it seem likely that the unflattering picture of the Reverend Mr. Underwood, whose “sermons were not popular,”14 is a portrait of Scott’s own father.
After two years in Smiths Falls, the Reverend William Scott moved down to the town of Brockville on the St. Lawrence River, but much of his time was occupied with his duties as president of the Conference of the Methodist Church of Canada. High on the agenda was the transfer of the Stanstead Wesleyan College in the Eastern Townships of Quebec to the Montreal Conference. As Conference president, Scott automatically became chairman of the college’s Board of Trustees. This responsibility soon led to his move to Stanstead and the decision to enrol Duncan in the college. The male students (there was a separate program for females) had the choice of the common English course, the academic course, the teacher’s preparatory course or the commercial course. The chances are that the academic course was chosen for Duncan since he had hopes of pursuing a medical career like his namesake uncle.
Having opened its doors as recently as 1874, Stanstead Wesleyan College was still going through growing pains when Duncan Campbell Scott began his studies there, but the College Calendar boasted:
Situated upon an elevated plateau, Stanstead is noted for the salubrity of its atmosphere, the purity of its water, and freedom from all forms of malarious disease .... The quietness of the village and surrounding country invites to studiousness, while the absence of many temptations peculiar to large towns and cities render the place eminently safe for the residence of students removed from the watchful guardianship of home.15
It was an ideal environment for a serious student like Duncan. He was able to board at home for a term before his father moved to nearby Dunham and later to Waterloo. Becoming a live-in student put a strain on the Scott family budget even though the cost of room and board at the college was only $2.75 a week. However, as a clergyman’s son, he was entitled to a discount of twelve and a half percent. Tuition per term varied from $5 to $10 according to the choice of course. Fortunately, the teaching staff, beginning with Principal A. Lee Holmes, M.A., appears on the whole to have been above average. As it turned out, what they were able to provide was the last formal education Duncan Scott would receive. If, like Roberts, Carman and Lampman, he took part in any extracurricular aspects of school life, there is no record of it.
By 1879, when he finished his preparatory schooling at Stanstead, it was apparent that higher education was out of the question, at least for the present. Since his father was not in a position to help him, his only option was to find gainful employment and save towards university. Not only was his father as poor as the proverbial church mouse, he was sixty-seven, likely too old to better his prospects, and had a younger wife and two teen-aged daughters dependent upon him. However, while William Scott might not have money, he had connections in high places. Among his acquaintances was the prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, who agreed to meet with Duncan.
As chance would have it, when Duncan arrived for his interview, the prime minister had a memo on his desk from the Indian Branch of the Department of the Interior asking for a temporary copying clerk. Making a quick decision while the serious young applicant waited in front of him, Macdonald wrote across the request: “Approved. Employ Mr. Scott at $1.50.”16 That, of course, was $1.50 a day—hardly enough to raise the hopes of an apprentice clerk wanting to save for university. A permanent contract and promotions would follow, but by that time Scott was settled contentedly enough to remain in the civil service for the rest of his working life.
Duncan Campbell Scott’s family would soon follow him to Ottawa, but in the meantime he had to board in the city. His half brother Charles (whose position in the Finance Department may have also owed something to the intercession of Macdonald) was already living there, but he and his wife had a hectic household with four children under the age of ten and another on the way. A better solution was to stay with his cousin (Janet Scott’s niece), who was married to George Cox, a successful lithographer and engraver with an eye on city politics. As befitted a rising man, Cox had recently built a spacious house on a vacant lot near the city centre. It was there, at 110 Lisgar Street, that Duncan went to live temporarily, little dreaming that scarcely six years later he would be living next door in his own home.
After Duncan was re-united with his family in a rented house on Richmond Road, Ottawa, William Scott joined his son in Indian Affairs, which had recently been elevated to the status of a department, although it still came under the authority of the Minister of the Interior. Because the elder Scott’s work among the Indians in Ontario and Quebec was still highly regarded, the government turned to him for advice in handling a crisis at Oka, the Sulpician Mission on the Lake of Mountains, about 35 miles west of Montreal. The Sulpician Brothers claimed that the Indians were illegal squatters on land that belonged to them and, as such, could use the land only at the indulgence of the priests, but the Indians countered that they had primordial rights to it. Matters escalated after the arrest of some defiant Indians in 1877 and the subsequent burning of the local Catholic church in what was widely believed to be an act of retaliation, although the Indians denied the accusation. In an effort to settle the claims, William Scott was brought in to determine which side had legal rights to the land. After sifting through government papers, he found a deed going back to 1663 whereby the French government had given the land to the Gentlemen of the Seminary of St. Sulpice. On that dubious legality, he decided in favour of the Sulpicians and recommended that the Indians be removed to a reservation in the Muskoka area. The government tried to act on his report, but only a few Indians actually moved, and various racial tensions would persist until they erupted again a century later.
William Scott was rewarded for his efforts by being retained by the Department of Indian Affairs to the day of his death, nearly ten years later. With the combined salaries of father and son (Duncan now being promoted to book-keeper and paid as second-class clerk), the Scotts decided the time had come to stop renting. Purchasing the vacant lot next door to George Cox, they built their own home in 1886. This red brick house at 108 Lisgar Street would continue to be Duncan Campbell Scott’s residence for the rest of his life. As long as William Scott was alive, the Ottawa City Directory listed him as the householder with Duncan and his sisters being listed as “boarders.” In the beginning, the related families at 108 and 110 Lisgar were happy to be neighbours, but the day would come when the proximity would be a cause of great awkwardness for Duncan.
There is no record of Scott’s first meeting with Archibald Lampman, but it seems to have taken place soon after Lampman’s arrival in Ottawa in January 1883 to work in the Post Office Department. It was the beginning of an instant friendship that would continue unbroken until Lampman’s death sixteen years later. Lampman, who was more convivial by nature, easily overcame the other’s customary reserve to become the first truly congenial companion Scott had ever known. They soon found they had many interests in common, but each was able to add a dimension that had been missing in the life of the other. It was Scott who initiated wilderness camping trips, a recreation that became Lampman’s favourite escape from daily drudgery and family problems. In turn, Lampman’s dedication to the art of poetry would inspire Scott’s first experiments in verse.
Scott became a frequent visitor at the Lampman home on Nicholas Street, but it was not only his friendship with Archie that drew him there. He was attracted to Lampman’s middle sister, Annie, a winsome brunette, who was already a gifted pianist. Having become a competent performer himself, both on the piano and the viola, he had a bond with her that helped overcome his normal shyness with women. A serious relationship was developing, but Annie would soon be away for two years, studying piano in Leipsig, where her teacher, Martin Krause, once a protégé of Liszt, “considered her Bach playing to be a very model.”17
Annie’s first recital after returning to Ottawa was held in St. James’ Hall, 19 November 1889. The next day, an enthusiastic review on the front page of the Daily Citizen noted that her program included Grieg’s “Piano Concerto in A Minor” with Mr. Duncan C. Scott playing the orchestral parts on a second piano. Shortly afterwards, Annie set up a music school in quarters at 96 Queen Street, Ottawa. Within a year, she was joined by Ernest Whyte, a native of Ottawa, also fresh from studying with Krause in Leipsig. Eight years older than Annie, and a man of independent means, Whyte took over the management of the school. With permission from their former teacher, he renamed it The Krause School of Pianoforte for Playing and Singing. Besides Annie and himself, the five-member staff included Annie’s mother, Mrs S.C. Gesner Lampman.
Whyte was also a composer who wrote musical settings for poems by Burns, Goethe, Heine, Kipling, Poe, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Yeats, and his Ottawa acquaintances Wilfred Campbell, Archibald Lampman and Duncan Campbell Scott. His setting of Scott’s early poem “The Message” memorializes a love lyric that may have been written when the poet was thinking of Annie:
Gentle wind, will you carry this
Up to her window white;
Give her a gentle tender kiss,
Bid her good-night—good-night.
If indeed the poem was written with Annie in mind, White’s setting was a sad reminder of a romance that was over. On 10 August 1892, she married Frank Jenkins, an Ottawa organist and choirmaster by avocation, but employed, like her brother Archibald, in the mail order department of the Post Office. Annie’s marriage closed the partnership with White, who became affiliated with a fashionable Home and Day School run by a Miss Harmon. Mrs. Lampman continued to conduct classes at various locations with Annie as one of her assistants.
It is clear that Scott and Annie retained some affection for each other. One of his long-treasured possessions was a fountain pen she gave him in 1891. Among her papers, Annie kept a copy of Scott’s sonnet “For Remembrance,” which was apparently addressed more to her brother, but likely written with the aforesaid pen:
It would be sweet to think when we are old
Of all the pleasant days that came to pass,
That here we took the berries from the grass,
There charmed the bees with pans, and smoke unrolled,
And spread the melon nets when nights were cold,
Or pulled the blood-root in the underbrush,
And marked the ringing of the tawny thrush,
While all the west was broken burning gold.
And so I bind with rhymes these memories;
As girls press pansies in the poet’s leaves
And find them afterwards with sweeet surprise;
Or treasure petals mingled with perfume,
Loosing them in the days when April grieves,—
A subtle summer in the rainy room.
“For Remembrance” appeared in Scribner’s Magazine, May 1891, but it was not the first of Scott’s poems to be published. That distinction goes to “Ottawa Before Dawn,” a sonnet comissioned by an Ottawa bookseller and stationer for an illustrated card. The only other appearance of this early effort was in Lighthall’s anthology, Songs of the Great Dominion, 1889. It begins with some landscape descriptions, distinguished chiefly by oxymorons (the “hushed roar” of the Chaudiere Falls and the “unquiet rest” of the river). The latter part of the sonnet has a nationalistic flavour:
... imperious towers
Pierce and possess the sky, guarding the halls
Where our young strength is welded strenuously;
While in the East, the star of morning dowers
The land with a large tremulous light, that falls
A pledge and presage of our destiny.
At a slightly later date, another sonnet, simply titled “Ottawa,” is even more grandly prophetic:
But thou wilt grow in calm throughout the years,
Tinctured with peace and crowned with power sublime,
The maiden queen of all the towered towns.
His attitude towards Ottawa differs from that of Lampman who often found the political and business scene driving him “distracted or mad” (“Life and Nature”). Both of these early sonnets by Scott are reminiscent of Charles G.D. Roberts’ optimistic prophecies for the country’s future. As was the case with Roberts, this stridently nationalistic phase did not last.
To backtrack a little, Scott’s first writing to be published was not poetry but a short story, “The Ducharmes of the Baskatonge.” It appeared in February 1887 in the second issue of Scribner’s Magazine, a new literary journal established in New York to compete with the The Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Monthly. The story is set “In the heart of a northern [Quebec] wilderness on the shore of an unknown lake....” It was the first of several stories he would write about French Canadian life, although his firsthand knowledge of Quebec was limited to its Eastern Townships and some camping trips he took north of Ottawa.
Before the turn of the century, he had made up for his late start by producing a considerable volume of writing. Scribner’s had published a dozen of his poems and four of his short stories. He had also succeeded in placing a sonnet, “Onondaga, Mother and Child” (later re-titled “The Onondaga Madonna”), in The Atlantic Monthly, whose prestige was such that every aspiring writer considered an acceptance there to be a literary coup. Like Lampman, he found The Week, Toronto, to be one of his best markets, having published thirteen poems there—four of them reprinted from Scribner’s—before the magazine folded in 1896. During Bliss Carman’s stint on the editorial staff of The Independent (1890-92), Scott was another Canadian contemporary whose submissions received special attention and ready acceptance. Many letters passed between Carman and Scott, the former often offering suggestions for changes in wording, which Scott was not always willing to follow. When Carman questioned the adjective “distorted,” used to describe the cry of a cuckoo in “From the Farm on the Hill,” Scott replied that the word “conveys to me the cry of the cuckoo suddenly disturbed at night when his note is quite unnatural and twisted out of shape.” Carman was convinced and the poem appeared in the next issue of The Independent, 3 July 1890, with the dedication “To A.P.S.,” which Scott had requested because “it would gratify me and help one acknowledge a friendship.”18
“A.P.S.” was (Arthur) Percy Saunders, the second youngest of the five sons of William Saunders, director of the recently-formed Experimental Farms Branch of the Department of Agriculture. The Saunders family had moved to Ottawa from London, Ontario, after the father received his appointment in 1886. Percy was enrolled at the University of Toronto at the time, as was his next older brother, Charles (later knighted for developing Marquis wheat). It was probably in the summer of 1887 that Scott became friends with Percy, who was nearly seven years his junior but valued for his wide interests and serene temperament. The Saunders family lived at the “Farm on the Hill,” apart from the city, but Scott was drawn there by a shared love of music. Percy played the violin and Scott came so often during the holidays to accompany him on the piano that “he was regarded almost as one of the family.”19 They performed in public at least once, the occasion being a farewell concert held at St. James’ Hall on 28 May 1889 by Ernest Whyte before he left to study in Leipsig. Percy was also an amateur painter who shared Scott’s tastes in art as well as in music. As a testimony to their enduring friendship, Percy later named one of his sons Duncan Campbell Saunders.
One afternoon, in the fall of 1891, Scott attended a lacrosse match with Percy Saunders and his younger brother, Fred. Afterwards, they returned to 108 Lisgar Street for tea only to find the household in turmoil. William Scott had been reading as he walked outside his house and failed to see a little boy on a velocipede in time to avoid a collision. The elderly man crashed to the sidewalk with such force that his thigh bone was broken. It was a painful injury with the likelihood of a prolonged convalescence; but, with his habitual good humour, William bade one of his daughters read Wesley’s sermon on Patience to him. A few days later, on the fifth of October, just as everyone was becoming optimistic about his recovery, he suffered a fatal heart attack. It was just one day after his eightieth birthday.
“This has been a great shock and sorrow to me,” Scott wrote to Carman following his father’s death. “I am now left alone with my mother and two sisters.”20 Left unsaid, but implied, were the extra responsibilities that had been thrust upon him. He was now the official head of the household and the chief breadwinner. Mary and Helen supported themselves by giving piano lessons, but the main costs of maintaining the house at 108 Lisgar fell upon him. Fortunately, he had been promoted to the rank of first class clerk with a basic yearly salary of $1400.00. Two years later, his continued advancement was marked by his promotion to chief accountant for the department.
The tone and language of Scott’s elegy, “In a Country Churchyard,” written in memory of his father, invites comparison with Thomas Gray’s famous “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” especially when he muses about “the inevitable hour” that awaits us all:
The poor forgets that ever he was poor.
The priest has lost his science of the truth,
The maid her beauty, and the youth his youth,
The statesman has forgot his subtle lure,
The old his age,
The sick his suffering, and the leech his cure,
The poet his perplexed and vacant page.
Altough Scott had not yet published a collection of verse, his growing reputation as a man of letters was enough to warrant an invitation to read at what was billed as “An Evening with Canadian Authors” in Toronto on 16 January 1892. The event was sponsored by the Young Men’s Liberal Club of Toronto, whose energetic president, Frank Yeigh, had the brainwave of combining politics with culture. The Globe (then a Liberal paper) reported that it was a crowded “gathering of the best people of the city come together” at the Art Gallery of the Ontario Society of Artists “to pay their respects to Canadian authors.” The Telegram (a Tory organ) ignored the event completely. Besides Scott, the other writers in attendance were Agnes Maule Machar of Kingston, Mrs Susie Harrison of Toronto, Helen M. Merrill of Picton, Pauline Johnson of Brantford, William Wilfred Campbell of Otttawa, W.D. Lighthall of Montreal, and Hereward K. Cockin of Toronto. Archibald Lampman was among the writers who sent their regrets. Apparently, Scott read only a prose sketch called “Veronica,” but the Globe noted that “There is a fine finish and sparkle to Mr. Scott’s verses, and he has contributed a number of prose sketches of French-Canadian life to American magazines.”21 He might have read some of those verses, but the programme, which was running overtime and beginning to drag, had to be shortened. Pauline Johnson, who roused the audience with her spirited rendition of “A Cry from an Indian Wife,” was the only reader to be recalled for an encore.
Scott’s long-awaited first collection of verse, The Magic House and Other Poems, was published in May of the next year. For help in subsidizing a volume, he approached J. Durie and Son, the same Ottawa booksellers and stationers that produced Lampman’s Among the Millet. By an arrangement with Methuen, the book was printed in Great Britain, but the title page of the Canadian edition bears the name of J. Durie and Son, although the last twenty pages advertise publications by Methuen. It is not clear how much of the cost was borne by Scott, but it is unlikely that Messrs. Methuen were willing to take much of a risk on an unknown “colonial” poet.
“There is not a really bad poem in the book,” Desmond Pacey says of The Magic House, “and there are a number of extremely good ones.”22 Probably few readers would dispute that statement, even though it tends to underplay the uneven quality of the poetry. The opening poem, “A Little Song,” being especially weak, is a poor choice to introduce the book. Its stock phrases (“rosy dawn” and “gentle breath”) and its limp personification (philosophizing pansies and roses) do not belong in the same company with the precise and evocative images in poems like “The Voice in the Dusk” and “The Fifteenth of April.”
Since he chose it as the title-poem, Scott obviously thought highly of “The Magic House” even though he placed it partway through the book. He uses no name, only “she” and “her,” to refer to the solitary woman gazing from the “casement” in the “turret” of her enchanted dwelling, but the term “blessed damozel” would seem appropriate to the Pre-Raphaelite atmosphere where
Time shall make a truce with Time,
All the languid dials tell
Irised hours of gossamer,
Shall the night or light defer.
It is not one of his best poems, but its twilight eerieness is an interesting early example of his occasional escapes to the realms of dream and phantasy.
Even in this first collection, Scott shows himself to be the most technically experimental of the Confederation Poets, although at this outing nearly a quarter of the poems are sonnets in spite of his avowed difficulties in writing them. “As for sonnets,” he told Carman (who avoided them), “I will match hates with you; the difference between us is that I am weak enough to write them—or try to write them.”23 This weakness is evident in “September” (“The crickets mourn with funeral flutes and bells’’), indicating that he was still less adept than Roberts and Lampman in suiting description to the sonnet form. Probably the best known poem from the collection is “At the Cedars,” a grim narrative about the death of a young man and his sweetheart during a log-jam on the Ottawa River. It is crudely melodramatic, lacking the sensitive subtleties of his romantic and descriptive lyrics, but its style— stark understatement, irregular lines, and abrupt rhymes—make it the most experimental poem in the book.
An unexpected side of Scott is revealed in a half-dozen love poems. Since he was outwardly so shy and diffident, it is surprising to hear him declaring that his heart bears “a lilac message of love” (“The Message”) or that his love “is like a fire that flows” (“At the Lattice”). We know that he was attracted to Annie Lampman, but is she the subject of “A Portrait” (“Her sweet mouth is like a flower,/Like a poppy full of power”)? For the most part, however, the sentiments sound like something from a Victorian autograph book:
My heart would need the earth,
My voice would need the sea,
To only tell you the one half
How dear you are to me.
(“The Silence of Love”)
A dozen of the poems are dedicated to various family members and acquaintances. Usually, he uses initials only, but it is easy to identify most of the individuals. Six of the poems are for fellow poets: Archibald Lampman (two poems), Charles G.D. Roberts (whom he had met during Roberts’ visit to Ottawa in 1884), Bliss Carman (who had accepted numerous Scott poems for the New York Independent), William Wilfred Campbell (his collaborator, along with Lampman, on the Globe’s “Mermaid Inn” series), and E.W. (who may have been Ethelwyn Wetherald). Two special friends are acknowledged: Percy Saunders and John Almon Ritchie (Lampman’s university friend, later an Ottawa lawyer and budding playwright). Propriety likely prohibited any dedications to Annie Lampman (by then Mrs. Jenkins), although she may have been the subject of some of his serenades. There is a poem dedicated to each of his sisters, Mary and Helen; and the elegy “In a Country Churchyard” is subtitled “In Memory of My Father.” The dedication at the front of the book reads “To My Mother.” That tribute appears to have been his last public act of filial duty during her lifetime.
It was Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, a Victorian author of moralistic prose and poetry, who wrote:
Oh, my son’s my son till he gets him a wife,
But my daughter’s my daughter all her life.
(“Young and Old”)
Janet Scott came to a similar conclusion after her son Duncan married Belle Warner Botsford in 1894.
Since Scott rarely missed a musical concert, he probably first set eyes upon Belle Botsford when she accompanied the Lotus Glee Club of Boston to Ottawa in 1889. What he would have seen was a comely redheaded violinist, barely twenty-one years old24 but having the commanding stage presence of a veteran. Born in Greenfield, Massachusetts, she had been taken at the age of thirteen by her widowed mother to study at the Paris Conservatoire. She had now become a professional, having performed in Europe and America. Scott undoubtedly saw her again when she returned to Ottawa’s Grand Opera House with her own group, The Belle Botsford Concert Company of Boston, for performances on the 6th and 7th of March, 1893. The company, which included two vocalists (a soprano and a baritone), a pianist and a cellist, presented an ambitious program. “Scarcely a number passed without an encore,” the Daily Citizen reported, noting in particular that “Miss Belle Botsford, violinist, played with great delicacy, and yet with a firm bold technique, arousing the sympathies of the audience from the outset.” The reviewer added that “Her selections from such violin masters as Saraste and Weiniawski, while being sufficiently difficult to show a wonderful mastery of her instrument, were not above popular appreciation.”25
Her company was disbanded later in the year, but she appeared in Ottawa again with the Lotus Glee Club of Boston on 26 January 1894. “Miss Botsford chose two very trying selections, Saraste’s “Faust Fantasia” and DeBeriot’s “Scene de Ballet,” reported the Daily Citizen. “In both she showed the same easy mastery of her instrument and contempt for technical difficulties, while the vigor, spirit and expression of her performance were beyond praise.”26 In fact, Lady Aberdeen, wife of the Governor-General, was sufficiently impressed to invite her to be one of the performers at an evening reception at Rideau Hall eleven days later. This was likely the occasion to which E.K. Brown was referring when he stated that “Duncan Scott met [Belle Botsford] when he was her accompanist at a recital in Ottawa.”27
Scott and Belle developed a close rapport during the rehearsals for her recital. Drawn together by a mutual taste in music, they soon realized that they had much to offer each other. For Scott, possibly on the rebound from Annie Lampman, it was daunting but also flattering to have caught the eye of this decisive young woman who seemed so sure of what she wanted. He was no match for her assertive personality, but they were intellectual equals and—bless her romantic soul!—she admired his poetry. In short, she was the sort of woman who seemed likely to be a suitable wife, unlike Maud Lampman, who had so little in common with “poor Archie.” To Belle, who had an eye for the main chance, this sensitive man with the dry wit looked like a good catch. Not only did he understand her passion for music, but she saw how his excellent prospects in the civil service might offer her greater security than a lifetime of touring. After her triumph at Rideau Hall, it was easy to see herself continuing to make a big splash in Ottawa society.
It is uncertain how long Belle and her mother (who habitually chaperoned her daughter’s tours) remained in Ottawa during the winter of 1894, but there was time for the relationship with Scott to lead to an engagement. Although the comment that Belle sounds “capable of doing the proposing and supplying the acceptance”28 may be stretching the point, it is quite likely she took the same dominant role in their courtship that she would assume throughout their future life together. The wedding, a simple Unitarian service, took place on 3 October 1894 (Belle’s twenty-sixth birthday) in the rose garden of Mrs. Botsford’s home in Greenfield, Massachusetts.
On their return to Ottawa, the newlyweds settled into Scott’s family home with his mother and two sisters. It was a recipe for disaster. Janet Scott had been the chatelaine at 108 Lisgar for eight years, running the household as she saw fit. Now her status was being challenged by a strong-willed woman, who considered herself to be the rightful mistress. Furthermore, Belle found herself pregnant almost immediately, which may have made her temperament even more mercurial than usual. It is not known who issued the ultimatum, but it soon became clear that either Belle or Janet had to go. Poor Scott, torn between his duty to his wife and his loyalty to his mother, felt that his only choice was to take sides with Belle. Janet and the sisters, ousted from the home that William Scott’s salary had helped to build, moved to a rented house for six or seven years, then lived briefly with Charles Scott (Janet’s step-son) before moving in with George Cox (Janet’s nephew by marriage) at 110 Lisgar Street, next door to Duncan and Belle. Janet was unforgiving and would die without being reconciled with her son. The rift between Scott and his sisters would not be bridged until after Belle’s death, thirty-five years later.
Although Belle and Scott got off to a bad start, they were destined to have a long and successful marriage. They soon became the doting parents of a baby girl (named Elizabeth for Belle’s mother), born on 22 July 1895. Even as an infant, it was clear that Elizabeth was going to be the image of Belle. Her father was rhapsodic:
All a world of music, of laughter, and of lightness,
Crushed to a diamond, rounded to a pearl,
Moulded to a flower bell—cannot match the brightness
In the darling beauty of one sweet
(“To My Daughter,” 1896.)
Belle’s role of joyful motherhood never kept her from leading an active social life. She filled scrapbooks with souvenir cards of her successes: dinners, luncheons, teas and violin recitals. She was in her element working for good causes, organizing fund drives, holding bake sales, and hosting progressive euchre parties. The Lampmans were never included in any of Belle’s entertaining, possibly because she felt they lacked social standing. But the blame may not have lain entirely with Belle. She and Maud had little in common, and Archie was averse to the kind of socializing Belle relished. Whatever awkwardness may have resulted, it caused no breach in the friendship of the husbands. They continued to see each other regularly and still went camping together. In 1896 and 1897, they collaborated in privately printing a few of their poems for friends at Christmas.
Between 1892 and 1893, while putting the finishing touches on The Magic House, Scott had joined Archibald Lampman and William Wilfred Campbell in contributing to the weekly column “At the Mermaid Inn” for The Toronto Globe. Although Lampman had proposed the column—primarily to aid Campbell financially—it was Scott who came up with the title for it. His intention was to conjure up a vision of The Mermaid Inn Tavern in old London where Sir Walter Raleigh founded the famous club whose members included Ben Johnson, Beaumont and Fletcher, and other literary lights. Like Lampman, Scott felt sorry for Campbell, who was struggling to support a growing family on a beginning salary in Ottawa’s civil service. However, while Lampman had mixed feelings about Campbell, finding him estimable, but erratic in mind and manner, Scott reacted to his “vulgar pushing ways”29 with a growing distaste.
Scott’s “Mermaid” columns are never controversial like some of Lampman’s, nor are they confrontational like several of Campbell’s. Mostly, he chooses safe literary topics, but his comments shed a revealing light upon his personality and attitudes. In Kipling’s poetry “with all this genius there is mixed a coarseness,” he writes disapprovingly. He is equally uncomfortable with the “insolent realism” of W. E. Henley. In his view, “There is no value to the poetic temperament in knowing the obscure and vicious side of life; it can hardly make a man’s work of greater value to write knowingly about vagrant and wayward things.” In what may be an oblique reference to Annie Lampman, he recommends Hamlin Garland’s Main Travelled Roads for “those who would like to feel once more the way young love comforts itself.” He writes of “the disillusionment which life and a sordid experience have given,” sounding preternaturally melancholy for a thirty-year-old. “With our daily papers,” he observes, “we have everybody’s trouble on our breakfast table every morning, and yet I do not find that our humanity has improved or that the millennium is anywhere near dawning.” Still in a pessimistic vein, he laments that “our country furnishes for the literary man absolutely no chance of living by his art.” 30
Scott had no illusions about his prospects as a “literary man” in Canada, but writing had become a compelling avocation. While his work as a civil servant paid the bills, writing provided a crucial outlet for his creative energy. Concentrating on poetry and prose sketches, which required shorter periods of sustained effort, he had produced enough new material by 1896 to fill two small volumes. The first was a collection of ten stories about the people of Viger, a fictional French Canadian village in near transition. Its environs had not yet been absorbed into encroaching suburbia, “but before long they would be, and it was not a time the inhabitants looked forward to with any pleasure.”31 Between 1887 and 1893, seven of these “Viger” tales—more like delicate vignettes than conventional short stories—had appeared in Scribner’s Magazine.
In the Village of Viger, dedicated to Scott’s infant daughter, was published in Boston (1896) by Copeland and Day, who had heard of Scott through Bliss Carman and W.E. Thomson. The popularity of Gilbert Parker’s Pierre and His People (1892), a collection of stories with a French Canadian halfbreed as the hero, may have been another factor. Herbert Copeland and Fred Day were never among Parker’s publishers, but he had been introduced to them by Bliss Carman, and they may have been looking for someone to duplicate his success. In a time when jaded literary appetites were being whetted by Kipling’s tales of India and Rider Haggard’s novels of Africa, readers had found Parker’s version of Northern Canada to be equally exotic. A market had been created for stories of the Canadian “frontier.”
Scott had profiled Gilbert Parker, “our young fellow countryman who has been so successful in the London literary world,” in a “Mermaid Inn” column after the latter’s visit to Ottawa in 1892. “There is about Mr Parker,” Scott remarked, “... a helpful belief in his art and the worthiness of it which stamp him ... as a man bound to succeed.”32 The contrast between Parker’s self-assurance and Scott’s natural diffidence is reflected in their literary styles. While Parker adopts the epic manner of Sir Walter Scott (who used to joke about his “big bow-wow strain”), Duncan Campbell Scott quietly observes village life with the sophisticated eye of a Jane Austen. Parker’s flashiness eclipsed Scott at the time, but the glitter of Pierre and His People has long since faded while In the Village of Viger still radiates a subtle charm for many readers.
In the autumn of 1898, Copeland and Day published Labor and the Angel, Scott’s second volume of poetry. The dedicatory poem, “To My Wife,” extols marriage without any personal references to Belle. “A Song,” placed later in the volume but dedicated to B.W.B., appears to have been addressed to Belle when he was courting her from a distance before their marriage:
But this is made for my Dear One
When we are far apart;
That she may have wherever she goes
A song of mine in her heart.
He bids her remember “The north nights cool and still,” presumably those winter evenings in Ottawa after rehearsals first brought them together. If it lacks the passion with which a besotted Lampman once wrote to Maud Playter, perhaps it is as ardent as one could expect from someone as reserved as Scott.
Labor and the Angel is a slighter volume than The Magic House in size and content. The lengthy title poem makes dreary reading and to date has not been included in any “Selections” that editors have made from Scott’s poetry. Earlier, when Scott read it to the English Literature section of the Royal Society in 1895, a reporter for the Citizen, unwilling to admit that he found it incomprehensible, pronounced it “a very pretty poem,” but gave himself away by referring to it as “The Leper and the Angel.”33 Two other long pieces, “The Harvest” and “Dame Regnant,” are also somewhat tedious. Many of the poems alternate between preachiness and a mood that is expressed in this title: “The Happy Fatalist.” Neither approach is particularly successful. Of greater interest is his growing willingness to experiment with stanza form, variations in line length, use of partial rhyme, and lack of rhyme. These features are noteworthy mainly for setting him apart from the other Confederation Poets, who are more strictly conventional in such matters.
“The Piper of Arll,” a colourful phantasy about a pipe-playing shepherd and a mystery ship, is the most memorable poem in the new collection. It first appeared in the 1895 Christmas edition of Truth, a New York periodical, whose editor-in-chief was Peter McArthur, a young Canadian on the outlook for literary talent among his fellow-countrymen. Quite by chance, the special issue containing Scott’s poem fell into the hands of a seventeen-year-old English sailor who had deserted in New York City. Life on board ship had not suited him; but, being a sea lover nevertheless, his attention was caught by the opening stanzas of “The Piper of Arll”:
There was in Arll a little cove
Where the salt wind came cool and free;
A foamy beach that one would love,
If he were longing for the sea.
A brook hung sparkling on the hill,
The hill swept far to ring the bay;
The bay was faithful, wild or still,
To the heart of the ocean far away.
The young sailor was John Masefield, an orphan, whose guardians had enrolled him as a sea-cadet when he was fourteen. His interests being more literary than nautical, however, he jumped ship after his second voyage aboard a windjammer. He had aspirations of becoming a writer someday, but living first as a vagrant farm worker and subsequently as an assistant bartender in New York City (hours 9 a.m. to 2 a.m.) left little time for any personal pursuits. After several months, he found less gruelling hours in Yonkers, working in a carpet factory. It was there, far away from his homeland at Christmas, that he first read “The Piper of Arll.” Ten years later, after he had published two volumes of poetry and seen several of his lyrics, like “Sea-fever,” become favourites with the public, Masefield wrote to Scott to tell him what “The Piper of Arll” had meant to him:
I had never (till that time) cared very much for poetry,
but your poem impressed me deeply, and set me on fire.
Since then poetry has been the one deep influence in my
life, and to my love of poetry I owe all my friends, and
the position I now hold.34
That was the beginning of a friendship by correspondence between Scott and Masefield. Although the two men never met, Belle visited Masefield and his wife during her extended tour of Europe in the summer and fall of 1906.
Two sonnets in Scott’s second collection, “The Onondaga Madonna” and “Watkwenies,” are interesting as early examples of poetry inspired by his departmental associations with the Indians. Together, they establish a theme that would recur throughout his writing: the Indians are “a weird and waning race.” The blood of the Onondaga mother, “mingled with her ancient foes,” still pulses with “the war and wildness” of her ancestors; but the halfbreed male baby at her breast, “[p]aler than she,” symbolizes “her nation’s doom” through further dilution. “Watkwenies,” meaning The Woman Who Conquers, examines the “perished day” of an Iroquois woman, who wreaked vengeance like a warrior in her youth, but in old age must submit to the authority of the Indian Agent. Loaded words and phrases, like “tragic savage,” “pagan passion,” and “war-whoops,” indicate the Anglo-Saxon/Christian bias through which Scott viewed Aboriginal history and culture.
Six months after the publication of Labor and the Angel, Scott acknowledged dejectedly that it had “hardly penetrated this wilderness.”35 He was particularly despondent at the time, still adjusting to the death of Archibald Lampman only a few weeks before. The loss of his dearest friend was a blow he had been expecting and dreading for a long time. Their last camping trip together, taken to the Lake Achigan region of Quebec in the fall of 1897, had required a lot of portaging. Following their return, Lampman’s heart problems developed so alarmingly that by January he was confined to bed. A leave of absence from work had to be extended even after he was able to be up again. A leisurely journey to Quebec and the East Coast was undertaken in the vain hope that a change of scene might restore his health. Writing to Scott en route, he confided that he was resigned to being an invalid for the rest of his life, which he felt would not be long. Scott’s solicitous reply was undoubtedly an attempt to allay his own misgivings as well as those of Lampman:
I wish that you had a better report to make as to the main trouble. Your words of discouragement may have been only the result of a passing depression and if so I would not call them to your mind. They gave me great shock of pain however you meant them. I feel keenly that you should be so attacked and should be made to feel that your life is endangered. I know you have every reason for solace within yourself, so I will only cry Courage! and endeavour to hold up your hands and sustain you and give you what hope and trust I can from a friendship that has been ours for years unbroken and will always remain so, if we live close to one another for a hundred years. Be brave, my dear old friend, and things may be better than we have reason to expect....36
Sadly, however, the end was nearer than either man realized. Barely four months later, on 10 February 1899, Lampman died, his heart fatally weakened following an attack of pneumonia. A devoted Scott would spend the rest of his life repaying the indebtedness he felt to “poor Archie” for an irreplaceable friendship. He assumed a twofold responsibility: the welfare of Lampman’s family and the upkeep of Lampman’s reputation as a poet. Besides finding employment for Maud Lampman in the parliamentary library, he arranged immediately for the publication of The Poems of Archibald Lampman (1900) by George N. Morang, a young American, who had recently recently set up his own company in Toronto. Having sorted through Lampman’s manuscripts, Scott added a substantial number of poems that had not appeared in either of his friend’s previous volumes. Borne on a tide of national mourning over the untimely loss of a gifted poet, the collection went through several editions and achieved its purpose of supplementing Maud’s income. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, neither Maud nor her children, Natalie and Otto, ever seemed to show much appreciation for Scott’s help. After Maud’s death in 1910, her sister assumed responsibility for both children, but it was Scott who secured a clerical position for Natalie in the National Gallery and later arranged for Otto’s admission to the Royal Military College. Those gestures concluded his direct intervention on behalf of Lampman’s family, but his efforts to keep Lampman’s name before the public would continue unabated.
Probably the closest replacement Scott ever found for his unique relationship with Lampman was his cherished friendship with (Oscar) Pelham Edgar. Nine years younger than Scott, the tall, heavy-browed Edgar was the son of cultured parents with literary credentials. His father, Sir James Edgar, a long-time Liberal member of the House of Commons, was a poet of some note, having published two collections of verse, The White Stone Canoe and This Canada of Ours. His mother, Matilda (Rideout) Edgar, was the author of several historical works, including a biography of Sir Isaac Brock, the hero of Queenston Heights. After a brilliant scholastic showing at the University of Toronto and James Hopkins University (Ph.D., 1897), Edgar was appointed first as a professor of French and later a professor of English at Victoria College, Toronto, holding the latter position until his retirement in 1938. Generally regarded as an outstandng teacher, he was a man of austere but kindly dignity—not unlike Scott.
The circumstances that first brought Scott and Pelham Edgar together are not known, but by 1899, the year of Lampman’s death, they were exchanging cordial letters. The friendship would come to include Belle, who apparently found Edgar and his wife (daughter of George D’Arcy Bolton, Q.C. of Toronto) more compatible and/or socially acceptable than the Lampmans. Although Scott, who was always self-conscious over his lack of formal education, was somewhat intimidated by Edgar’s scholarship, he took the initiative in their collaboration in editing a series of biograpical volumes, called The Makers of Canada, for Morang. Their letters of the period are full of commiserations over dilatory authors, sloppy writing, and careless research. Between 1903 and 1908, they performed the midwifery on a total of twenty volumes, which vary greatly in quality. In style and substance, Scott’s own John Graves Simcoe (1905) rates among the better works in this mixed bag.
Given his editorial association with Morang, it was natural for Scott to turn to him to publish his next volume of poems, New World Lyrics and Ballads (1905), dedicated to Belle’s mother. About a third of the twenty-one poems in this new collection reveal a voice that is sounding ever more different from the other Confederation Poets. Although always more experimental with verse form than they were, he had generally failed to be as distinctive in substance. He was no match for either Roberts or Lampman as a nature poet, nor did his phantasies have the lilt and magic of Carman at his spellbinding best. Now, however, his dramatic power is increasingly apparent in his response to the wilderness and the lives of the people who lived there.
His first trip to Northern Ontario, taken on behalf of Indian Affairs, occupied the greater part of the summer of 1899. In the company of another official, he followed the route of the Canadian Pacific Railway across the area north of Lake Superior, leaving the train at various points and hiring guides and canoes to travel still farther north to remote Indian encampments. As he explained in a playful letter to his four-year-old daughter:
A great many miles I have been paddled in canoes and my back got very tired of it sometimes. One river travelled on is called the Pic and it is quite as crooked as this line and the water is very thick with mud so I made a little nonsense verse about it.
There once was a stream called the Pic
A stream so exceedingly thick
That when you go through
With a boat or canoe
You carry a shovel or pick.37
One of his recollections from the trip, “Night Hymns on Lake Nipigon,”38 completed on 13 September 1899, just a few days after he returned to Ottawa, is full of dramatic description and irony. Revealing more of his “civilized” bias than he realizes, Scott is struck by the sound of Christian hymns being sung in this wild setting by “savages” using their “uncouth” language:
Here in the midnight, where the dark mainland and island
Shadows mingle in shadow deeper, profounder,
Sing we the hymns of the churches, while the dead water
Whispers before us.
Thunder is travelling slow on the path of the lightning;
One after one the stars and the beaming planets
Look serene in the lake from the edge of the storm-cloud,
Then they have vanished.
Sing we the sacred ancient hymns of the churches,
Chanted first in old-world nooks of the desert,
While in the wild, pellucid Nipigon reaches
Hunted the savage.
Tones that were fashioned when the faith brooded in
Joined with sonorous vowels in the noble Latin,
Now are married with the long-drawn Ojibwa,
Uncouth and mournful.
New World Ballads and Poems contains two other selections that use dramatic irony with even more powerful effect: “On the Way to the Mission” and “The Forsaken.” The latter, being the most anthologized of Scott’s poems, has become better known. It is the two-part story of a courageous Chippewa woman. As a young mother in the first part, she struggles through a winter blizzard, carrying her sick baby across a frozen lake to the distant Fort for the medicine that will save his life. During the journey, faint with cold and hunger, but
She took of her own flesh,
Baited the fish-hook.
Drew in a gray-trout,
Drew in his fellow,
Heaped them beside her,
Dead in the snow.
She faced the long distance,
Wolf-haunted and lonely,
Sure of her goal
And the life of her dear one;
On the third in the morning,
Saw the strong bulk
Of the Fort by the river,
Saw the wood-smoke
Hang soft in the spruces,
Heard the keen yelp
Of the ravenous huskies
Fighting for whitefish;
Then she had rest.
In the second part, because she is now too “old and useless” to travel, she is left behind on the shore of a “lonely lake” when her tribe slips away. This ironic sequel is a skillful mixture of parallels and contrasts:
She smoothed her dark locks under her kerchief,
Composed her shawl in state,
Then folded her hands ridged with sinews and corded with veins,
Folded them across her breasts spent with the nourishing of children,
Gazed at the sky past the tops of the cedars,
Saw two spangled nights arise out of the twilight,
Saw two days go by filled with tranquil sunshine,
Saw without pain or even a moment of longing:
Then on the third great night there came thronging and thronging
Millions of snowflakes out of a windless cloud;
They covered her close with a beautiful crystal shroud,
Covered her deep and silent.
But in the frost of the dawn,
Up from the life below,
Rose a column of breath
Through a tiny cleft in the snow,
Fragile and delicately drawn,
Wavering with its own weakness,
In the wilderness a sign of the spirit
Persisting still in the sight of the sun
Till day was done.
Then all light was gathered up by the hand of God and
hid in His breast.
Then there was born a silence deeper than silence,
Then she had rest.
Scott’s next expedition among the Indians was in 1905 when he returned to Northern Ontario as one of three commissioners sent out on behalf of the Ontario and Dominion governments to secure an agreement to the James Bay Treaty, otherwise known as Treaty No. 9. While Belle and Elizabeth sailed to Europe for the summer, Scott left Ottawa on 30 June via the CPR for Dinorwic, north of Lake Superior, near Dryden. Besides the commissioners, the party that set off on the fourth of July in a flotilla of three large canoes included a physician, an officer of the Hudson Bay Company, two Mounties (to protect the treasure chest of $30,000, which was doled out as the Indians signed the treaty), and a crew of a dozen or more half-breeds and Indians. The expedition arched its way via rivers, lakes, and many portages across to James Bay and then turned southward until it rejoined the railway at Haileybury. En route, the treaty was signed at seven trading posts in what was a case of take-it-or-leave-it for the Indians. The commissioners, not being empowered to negotiate, simply laid out the terms by which the Indians surrendered their title to the land in exchange for a guaranteed grant of a reserve to each band (one square mile for every five Indians), a payment of eight dollars for every man, woman and child, and an annuity of four dollars per head to be paid in perpetuity. Before the party reached the last post (Abitibi) in late August, most of the Indians had left for their winter hunting grounds, which meant a return trip would be necessary the following summer in addition to visits to six other posts from Matachewan, south-west of Kirkland Lake, to Long Lake, east of Geraldton.
In a letter to Pelham Edgar on 9 October 1905, Scott painted a dismal picture of his recent journey, sounding envious of his wife and his friend. While he had been cajoling Indians and battling flies and mosquitoes in the wilderness, Belle had been disporting herself in London and Paris. At the same time, Edgar had been swanning around London, being entertained at the Athenaeum Club by Sir William Osler, visiting the elderly George Meredith, and rubbing shoulders with the likes of H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw and William Butler Yeats. In terms that smack of self pity, Scott wrote:
My own trip was vastly different—I spent day after day without seeing a living thing—except the Indians and my own party. The landscape for the most part desolate beyond compare, loneliness seven times distilled—a country never to be the glad home of any happy people—we went down the Albany River, over 800 miles to Fort Albany thence across the Bay to Moose Factory, and then struggled up the Abitibi River through the wildest of rapids you can imagine—we had to take our supplies with us and you may imagine we did not live very high—no fish to be caught—and no game or next to none.39
None of Scott’s observations from this “vastly different” summer would be incorporated immediately into any new poems. Possibly, he was still directing all his literary energy into his only novel, believed to have been completed circa 1905. The experience would have reverberations later, however, most notably in “Powassan’s Drum.” On the fifth day after the party set out from Dinorwic, they heard a drum beating in the distance across Lac Seul. It was coming from a celebration of the White Dog Feast, one of the rituals forbidden by Indian Affairs as being too barbaric. Seemingly on Scott’s initiative, the party visited the feast in order to put a stop to such practices in the name of the Great Father, King Edward VII. In a face-to-face meeting with Nistonaqueb, the stout shaman in charge, Scott had to be satisfied with this evasive answer: Nistonaqueb was only carrying out the orders of Powassan, the head conjuror of the district, and lacked the authority to cancel the feast. Scott retreated, but the drumming continued to throb in his consciousness long after he was out of its range.
Although Scott was away from home even longer during the 1906 expedition (from May 22 until August 16), there were several factors that made it a happier experience. Chief among them was the inclusion of Pelham Edgar in the party. Otherwise, the official personnel remained the same as before except for the exclusion of the Hudson’s Bay officer and the reduction of the police escort to one Mountie instead of two. There was really little justification for Edgar’s presence; but Scott, who wanted his companionship, wangled an appointment for him to act as a secretary. Another factor making the journey less of an endurance test in 1906 was the southerly route westward which meant that the isolated posts could be reached by paddling relatively short distances from the CPR stations.
Edgar’s letters home are full of passages like the following:
Duncan and I sit side by side in the big bark canoe, and we gloat over things—cloud effects, peeps of vistas through the islands as they shift past us, and lights and shadows on the water. When we are near shore the birds are very vocal, and Duncan knows them well. Our crew is old Walter Ferris—a half-breed—in the stern, and a young half-breed, Joe Benwell, in the bow. Henry Dunneth, a youth from Ottawa, is a third paddle, and I am generally a fourth. We have the Oxford Book of Poetry always handy, and when I paddle Duncan often reads. Then I take a mild respite, and make myself comfortable with a pull at a pipe and a short peep at a book. A hard life, is it not? .... Duncan caught a poem as we were going through Island Lake and is still reeling it in.40
Motivated by Edgar and the Oxford Book of Verse, Scott produced seven poems that were published at his own expense in a small brochure shortly after his return from the 1906 trip. Called Via Borealis and dedicated to Edgar, it is a beautiful piece of bookmaking, with woodsy green covers lettered in gilt and containing many attractive designs by Alfred H. Howard, a prominent decorative artist in Toronto. In his memoirs, Edgar reveals how one of the poems was composed:
My memories of the Mattagami trip are particularly cordial .... Duncan here began and presently finished the major poem of Via Borealis and named it “Spring on the Mattagmi.” The rhythm of George Meredith’s fine pastoral “Love in the Valley” was humming in his mind. A stanza or two would be jotted down as he sat beside me in the canoe. Lunch was always a risky meal, for I would find the poet a hundred yards off the trail scribbling another stanza.41
It may be quibbling to point out that since the treaty party was in the Mattagami region during the first week of July, “Spring” was officially over. Still quibbling, one might argue that the adjective “major” attaches more importance to the poem than it deserves. It is certainly the longest of the seven poems in Via Borealis and the most ambitious in concept, but not only is it slighter than its apparent progenitor, Meredith’s “Love in the Valley,” it is clearly not Duncan Campbell Scott at his best. While he was never more frankly sensual, the “imaginary”42 love-making in the wilderness (“Then if she would lie beside me in the even,/ On my deep couch heaped of balsam fir”) sounds slightly ridiculous rather than erotic.
The first stanza of “An Impromptu,” another poem inspired by the 1906 trip, shows how whimsical Scott could be on occasion:
Here in the pungent gloom
Where the tamarac roses glow
And the balsam burns its perfume,
A vireo turns his slow
Cadence, as if he gloated
Over the last note he throated;
Each one he molds and mellows
Matching it with its fellows:
So you have noted
How the oboe croons,
In the gloom of the violincellos
Two other poems of special interest are “The Half-Breed Girl” and “Night Burial in the Forest.” Scott pictures the half-breed girl being haunted by something she cannot recognize as the consequences of her European heritage (“But she cannot learn the meaning/ Of the shadows on her soul”). Scott effectively dramatizes what he supposes to be her plight, but the reader may well wonder whether the dichotomy exists only in the mind of a poet who has questions about the mixing of two cultures. “Night Burial in the Forest” is another example of Scott’s flair for stark, understated narrative that makes poems like “The Forsaken” so powerful. A fight over a strumpet leaves one man dead and left for burial in the forest while the other flees deep into the wilderness like a “hunted beast.” From the context, one might assume that the men are Indians—as E.K. Brown did before Scott explained that he was thinking about lumberjacks along the Nipigon. He assured Brown that the mistake was insignificant: “lumberjack and Indian are of the same stuff.”43
For the last third of the 1906 trip, the treaty party was accompanied by Edmund Morris, an artist, trained in New York and Paris, who joined them at Chapleau with a commission from the Ontario government to make a series of Indian portraits. According to Edgar, who was the same age, “He fitted into our party to perfection, and his artist eye served to sharpen our own perceptions of significant aspects of things we might never have noted.”44 Born in Perth, Ontario, Morris came from a Scottish family that had been very prominent in the political and cultural life of Canada. His grandfather, William Morris, besides being an elected politician, had been active in the founding of Queen’s University. Morrisburg, Ontario, was named in honour of William’s brother James, who obtained the community’s first post office while he was serving as Postmaster General of Canada. Shortly after Edmund was born, his father, Alexander Morris, formerly a member of John A. Macdonald’s cabinet, was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories (1872-1877).
Scott’s first meeting with Edmund Morris may have come about in 1905 during the latter’s one-man exhibition at the studio of J. Wilson and Company in Ottawa. The show included portraits of three native chiefs: Poundmaker, Big Bear and Crowfoot, which caught the attention of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who authorized Scott to purchase them for the Department of Indian Affairs. Although done from photographs, they were striking likenesses, displaying the skill that Morris had developed while studying with Benjamin Constant, the eminent French portraitist, noted for his paintings of the rich and famous, including Queen Victoria. Furthermore, Morris was particularly successful with his Indian portraits because he felt a deep interest in his subjects. His earliest childood memories were of the Indians at Fort Garry and he had been influenced by his father’s sympathetic regard for them.
The commissioners concluded their work with the signing of the treaty at Long Lake on the ninth of August. Leaving Morris there to complete more portraits, they turned homeward, reaching Ottawa a week later. Pelham Edgar’s warm recollections of the trip may have expressed some of Scott’s sentiments as well:
So that chapter of our life was closed. Gone were the pleasures of the waterway and the shadowy trail; gone were all the pleasant fuss and circumstance of pitching the daily-moving camp; the canoes pushing their silent noses against the shore; the landing on the sandy beach criss-crossed with the hooves of moose and deer or dinted with the sinister footpads of the wolf; the hunt for level cleared spaces, the swift up-building of our canvas houses .... the drifting, pungent smoke, the many flies, the cool plunge in the lake or river, the Gargantuan meal, the pipe that refreshes; then early to bed with the rush of the rapids in our ears, and up again while the dew is heavy on the grass and glistens on the bushes. Yes, it is all beautiful, and it is a tonic rest to to the mind to have been so long at one with the simple, uncomplaining men of the wilderness....45
Scott was home nearly two months before Belle returned from Europe after enrolling eleven-year-old Elizabeth in a convent school near Paris. Having been schooled in France herself from the age of thirteen, Belle probably had a snobbish view of the kind of education that would be advantageous for her daughter. Be that as it may, both parents passed a lonely winter in Ottawa without Elizabeth. Belle was in ill health much of the time and Scott was unable to settle down to do much writing. Consequently, they were jubilant when Scott’s request for a four-month leave of absence was granted in 1907. They sailed from New York on the seventeenth of April.
After a joyful reunion with Elizabeth, Scott and Belle left for Spain at the end of May. When they reached their hotel in Madrid, they were informed by telegram that Eizabeth was ill with scarlet fever. Before they could act, another telegram arrived with the shocking message: “Elizabeth morte.” It was a devastating blow from which Scott and Belle never fully recovered. In his poignant reply to condolences from Pelham Edgar and his wife, Scott wrote:
I have both your notes and can write only a word in reply. We have both suffered too much. I think every fibre of our souls was ingrown and tangled with hers. In no merely rhetorical way I say it seems impossible for us to go on. How can we? My poor dear wife has been prostrated. Do you remember Pelham how I used to say when we were so happy together last summer “I wonder where we will be this time next year?” Well here am I—and there is still a next year and a next year—How happy we were and how thoughtless. I have thought much about it and have said to myself “If I might be there now by one of those still deep lakes with my friend as it was last summer I might get some rest.”—I should like to have a talk with you both; it seems necessary in truth but we are far separated—and it cannot be. My wife sends best wishes and thanks for good words. We are coming home as soon as we can—I don’t know just when.46
Scott was to face another bereavement in less than two years. On 13 April 1909, his mother died from pneumonia, next door at the home of George Cox, ex-mayor of Ottawa and her nephew by marriage. A lenghty eulogy in the Citizen noted that she had spent the last few years at the Cox residence except for vacationing each summer at Kingsmere where she “entertained on a large scale, her hospitality being well known.” Praised for her “unostentatious charity and helpfulness,” she was said to have “achieved a genuine popularity far beyond the ordinary.” The survivors were listed in order as Duncan Campbell Scott, “the well known Canadian poet”; her stepson, C.S. Scott of the finance department; and her daughters, Mrs. James Macoun and Miss Scott.47 The funeral was held at the Cox residence and something of Scott’s emotional turmoil may be surmised from the hasty note he sent the next day to Pelham Edgar:
I wrote you a note last night—But this is to say my mother died this week and we buried her yesterday. I thought you might hear of this and write me a letter of condolence—I don’t want you to do that and I will explain why when we meet— so pass the event by without a written word.48
Six years after the death of Elizabeth, the impact upon Scott and Belle was still evident even to strangers like Rupert Brooke, the young English poet who stayed with them on Lisgar Street in July 1913, having brought a letter of introduction from John Masefield. “Poor devil, he’s so lonely and dried there,” Brooke wrote home to fellow-Georgian poet, Wilfrid Gibson. “They had a child—daughter—who died in 1908 or so. And it knocked them out. She, a violinist, never played since: he hasn’t written till the last few months. Their house was queerly desolate. It rather went to my heart.”49
Brooke was on a summer-long assignment from the Westmister Gazette to write travel articles about the United States and Canada, all expenses paid, plus four guineas an article. He had seized upon the offer as a helpful change of scene after a breakdown he had suffered the previous year following an unhappy love affair. Tall and slim with reddish-blond good looks, he struck William Butler Yeats as “the most beautiful young man in England” and John Galsworthy declared he had “rarely seen a man more beautiful.” 50 His manners were equally charming, but being only twenty-four, he sometimes viewed America with youthful flippancy. Two years later, serving in the Royal Navy as a sub-lieutenant during World War I, he would die of blood poisoning in the Dardanelles and be remembered chiefly for his patriotic sonnet “The Soldier.”
Brooke’s letters to his English friends provide the only candid picture we have of Scott in his early forties. With uninformed glibness, he calls Scott “the only poet in Canada”51 in separate letters to Harold Munro (poet and founder of The Poetry Bookshop in London) and Wilfred Gibson. In the letter to Gibson he describes him further as “a sensitive—in a way 2nd rate—real slight poet.... He’s a very nice chap (especially away from his wife, who’s nice enough): and he’s thirsty to talk literature....” In a later letter to Munro, he calls him “A nice, quiet, sad fellow.... He’s rather shy; & he’s gone quiet and melancholy through lack of people to talk to.” In Brooke’s opinion, Scott “doesn’t read [his poetry] well. He spoils the metre rather & has a hard voice.” 52 At times, Brooke sounds pleasantly surprised to find someone of Scott’s refinement in a country like Canada. The appreciation he expresses afterwards for his host’s hospitality and congenial company has the ring of sincerity: “I shall be eternally grateful to Masefield for having sent me to you.”53
Before Brooke left Ottawa, Scott gave him a letter of introduction to Edmund Morris in Toronto. Ever since the 1906 trip, Scott and Morris had kept in touch by correspondence and sometimes in person. In his diary for 1910, Morris mentions two meetings in Saskatchewan with Scott, who was inspecting reserves in the province following his official visit to the West Coast.54 As Brooke explained to Scott, he and Morris became instant friends: “Your introduction made Toronto very pleasant for me,” he wrote. “Morris was indefatigably kind to me, and he and [Newton] McTavish [editor of the Canadian Magazine] took me to the Arts and Letters where I found a lot of jolly people.”55
After Brooke left Toronto for the West, Morris went to Quebec to visit his artist friend, Horatio Walker, on the Ile d’Orléans in the St. Lawrence River. Later on, after he had been missing from the Walker home for several days, his dead body was recovered from the river. The date of his death is believed to have been the twenty-first of August, but the circumstances remain a mystery. According to the official story he had been sketching at the railway bridge when he fell into the water below. The coroner’s jury at Quebec concluded that it was a case of accidental drowning. However, another possibility existed in the minds of those who knew that he had been suffering from severe depression and had started drinking too heavily. The chances are that some word of Morris’ recent state of mind had reached Scott from their mutual friends in Toronto—Pelham Edgar for one—and he may have suspected suicide. The tragedy haunted him for months.
During the winter of 1913-1914, Scott wrote “Lines in Memory of Edmund Morris.” It is not a eulogy, as the title might suggest, but a lengthy reflection (282 lines) based upon incidents from a friendship. Often regarded as one of his major poems, it is a curious mixture of flippancy and seriousness, free verse and stanza forms, sporatic rhyme, potent imagery and vague suggestion. By far the most successful section is the story of Akoose, once a mighty hunter but now “withered and spent” like the old Indian woman in “The Forsaken.” Unlike her, however, he does not face death with quiet resignation. With a sudden return of strength, “all his instincts cleared and quickened,” he rides off to the north, determined to die where he was born:
There Akoose lay, silent amid the bracken,
Gathered at last with the Algonqin Chieftains.
Then the tenebrous sunset was blown out,
And all the smoky gold turned into cloud wrack.
Akoose slept forever amid the poplars,
Swathed by the wind from the far-off Red Deer
Where dinosaurs sleep, clamped in their rocky tombs.
Turning implicitly to Morris from Akoose, Scott reflects that in death something “of soul or essence” will escape to “kindle otherwhere”:
Escape, a lovely wraith of spirit, to latitudes
Where the appearance, throated like a bird,
Winged with fire and bodied all with passion
Shall flame with presage, not of tears, but joy.
Scott began his memorial to Morris shortly after his appointment as Deputy Superintendent General, the highest post in his department next to the Minister of Indian Affairs. It was a position he would hold until his retirement nineteen years later. From Third Class Clerk in 1880, he had risen succesively to Chief Accountant in 1903, and Superintendent of Indian Education in 1909. In October 1913, the forced resignation of his immediate predecessor, Frank Pedley, over irregularities in the sale of Indian land, catapulted him to the top. He may have been surprised by the suddenness of the promotion, but he was not unprepared. Whether or not Scott “for many years had been the real decision-maker in the department,”56 as E. Brian Titley claims, his recommendations were certainly respected and often followed.
In all, prior to his final appointment, Scott served under four Deputy Superintendents. For his first thirteen years, until 1903, the department was run by Lawrence Vankoughnet, who owed the position to a close friendship between his father and the Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. During that period, the Vankoughnet/Macdonald alliance was firmly in charge, and its policies were influenced by a concern to save money for the government. After Macdonald’s death, a faction in John Thompson’s administration forced Vankoughnet to resign. His successor, Hayter Reed, formerly the Indian Commissioner for Manitoba and the Northwest Territories and thus well informed on Indian matters, continued the financial restraints, which Scott, as the new Chief Accountant, had to implement. After the Liberals took over the government in 1896, Clifford Sifton, who became the minister in charge of Indian Affairs, appointed James A. Smart, an old political ally, to be Deputy Superintendent of both the Department of the Interior and the Department of Indian Affairs. In 1902, finally conceding that the work was too much for one man, Sifton split the position, appointing Frank Pedley as the next Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Pedley was a prominent Toronto lawyer and a staunch Liberal supporter, but he had no experience of working with Indians. In effect, it was Sifton alone who ruled the department until he resigned from office in 1905 over a disagreement with Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Pedley, left on his own, became increasingly dependent upon Scott’s long experience.
The Canadian government’s Indian policy had already been set before Scott was in a position to influence it, but he never saw any reason to question its assumption that the “red” man ought to become just like the “white” man. Shortly after he became Deputy Superintendent, he wrote approvingly: “The happiest future for the Indian race is absorbtion into the general population, and this is the object and policy of our government.”57 This meant that Indians should embrace Christianity, abandon old traditions and beliefs, and adopt the work habits of Euro-Canadians. Assimilation, so the reasoning went, would solve the “Indian problem,” and wrenching children away from their parents to “civilize” them in residential schools until they were eighteen was believed to be a sure way of achieving the government’s goal. Scott, who never thought he had been insensitive in any of these matters, would later pat himself on the back: “I was never unsympathetic to aboriginal ideals, but there was the law which I did not originate and which I never tried to amend in the direction of severity.”58
This present study of Scott as a Confederation Poet is not the place for a detailed examination of his role in the administraton of Indian Affairs in Canada. Anyone wishing to learn more will find that aspect of his career covered in E. Brian Titley’s valuable book, aptly named A Narrow Vision. Titley’s conclusion is probably a fair assessment:
Duncan Campbell Scott was certainly a capable and efficient administrator. To his credit, he was not prone to the corrupt practices that had abruptly terminated the careers of some of his predecessors. Nonetheless, he lacked the vision to transcend the account books and the narrow strictures of the Indian policy that he inherited. The explanation, if there is one, may be in the fact that his position in the government was to Scott a mere source of income rather than an abiding passion. It provided him with the means to indulge in his real interests, the arts.59
Another valuable book, Stan Dragland’s Floating Voice (Scott’s Indian name), points out the contradictions between Scott the sensitive writer and Scott the pragmatic administrator. It will be referred to again at a later point.
Scott’s next volume of poetry, Lundy’s Lane and Other Poems, published in 1916, is dedicated to the memory of his daughter. Life had not recovered its sweetness after Elizabeth’s death, but her parents were slowly adjusting to the loss. After Scott became Deputy Superintendent, they bought a motor car and once drove as far as New York City and back “without mishap of any kind.”60 There were numerous other trips to New York (though not by car) for an orgy of theatre and music. “I lived for the most part in Carnegie Hall,”61 he told Pelham Edgar after one of their visits. There were no more weekend canoe trips now that Archie was gone, but he took up golfing as a substitute. After the outbreak of World War I, Belle worked indefatigably for the I.O.D.E and the Red Cross despite periodic bouts of ill health.
Lundy’s Lane and Other Poems appears to have been cobbled together at the insistence of his publishers, who wanted a collection of his work that had not been published in any previous volume. “Messrs. McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart still continue to bother me,” he wrote to Pelham Edgar on 24 January 1916. “If I made a selection it would be a small one and you would have to help me do it.”62 There was a rush because John McClelland, the company’s senior partner, was leaving for England in early February to line up deals with English publishers. Presumably on Edgar’s advice, the volume begins with “The Battle of Lundy’s Lane,” a jingoistic piece, written in 1908, that sounds like the work of a second-rate rhymester. It is followed by the seven poems from Via Borealis, which were included on the technicality that their only previous publication had been a private printing. From the next section, headed LYRICS, SONGS AND SONNETS, the most notable poem is “The Height of Land,” generally admired for its evocation of the wilderness as Scott saw it in 1905 and 1906, but the poem falters when its otherwise striking passages keep trailing off to variations on the fuzzy notion that “Something comes by flashes/Deeper than peace,—a spell/Golden and inappellable.” The fourth section, THE CLOSED DOOR, is a group of poems, some them quite moving, that were inspired by his love for Elizabeth. The final section consists of “Lines in Memory of Edmund Morris,” which, like Via Borealis, was eligible for inclusion because its previous publication had been a private printing for his friends.
In his old age, Scott would look back upon Beauty and Life (1921) as his favourite among his volumes of verse, so E.K. Brown tells us, adding “In it most of the poetic kinds he cared about are represented.”63. It opens with his “Ode for the Keats Centenary,” a jumble of free verse and rhyme, written when he was invited to read at a commemoration in Toronto on 23 February 1921. If, as Rupert Brooke has claimed, Scott was a poor reader of his own poetry, one wonders what sense his audience made of many lines that require careful scrutiny like these: “For no man knows/ Until the very last,/ Whether it be a sovereign herb he has eaten,/ Or his own heart.” While it begins with a reference to Keats’ death before he could be certain of his fame, the ode is an invocation rather than a conventionl tribute. With images of the northern wilderness in mind, the poet repeatedly invokes the “Spirit of Keats” to teach us “Beauty in loneliness.”
Beauty and Life is dedicated to Pelham Edgar “in constant friendship.” Furthermore, one of its most pleasing poems, “The Fragment of a Letter,” with its memories of the 1906 treaty trip, seems to be addressed to Edgar. The unforgettable ambience of an evening in the wilderness remains although
The bird is silent in the groves that grow
Around the past; still the reflections are
That fluttered from his song, and long ago
The tranquil evening ended with a star.
Nothing of all remains but pure romance,
A magic space wherein the mind can dwell,
Above the touch of tedium or of chance
Where fragile thoughts are irrefrangible.
“Variations on a Seventeenth Century Theme” in Beauty and Life is an example of how delightfully whimsical Scott can be on occasion. “The Eagle Speaks,” a tale of man becoming the prey instead of the eagle, is another of his starkly-told narratives. The volume also includes a half-dozen poems written during World War I. “To A Canadian Aviator who Died for his Country in France,” is one of the best of this group and pulsates with his familiar elegiac cadence. Also familiar is the melancholy strain of “Afterwards”:
I watched thee with devotion
Through all those silent years.
Thy least regarded motion,
Thy laughter and thy tears.
But thou when fate would sever
The visionary tie,
Unconscious and for ever
Left me without a sigh.
Yet though I needs must borrow
My comfort from distress,
I would not give my sorrow
For thy unconsciousness.
Probably this short lyric about unrequited love should be viewed merely as a finger exercise on a standard theme, not as a biographical statement of any kind. Yet, it is tempting to imagine undertones of his former relationship with Annie Lampman.
Within the next five years, Scott published The Witching of Elspie: A Book of Stories (1923); wrote Pierre, a one-act play for the Ottawa Little Theatre of which he was a founder (1923); marked the Byron centenary by privately printing a four-page satire, purporting to be re-discovered stanzas of Don Juan (1924); edited Lyrics of Earth, a selection of Archibald Lampman’s poems with an important introduction (1925); and published The Poems of Duncan Campbell Scott, containing selections from his previous volumes as well as several new poems (1926). All but two of the stories in The Witching of Elspie have a violent, melodramatic component that he employed more successfully in the best of his narrative poems. Pierre, besides being the inaugural play of the Ottawa Little Theatre, was also performed at the Hart House Theatre in Toronto, and was published in the first volume of Plays for Hart House (1926). Scott’s dry and sometimes acid wit pervades his bogus Don Juan stanzas where he pokes fun at Wordsworth, who, despite his vaunted rectitude, fathered an illegitimate child.
Of the new poems in Scott’s 1926 selected edition, “Powassan’s Drum” is the most notable. Although written in the early months of 1925, it had its genesis twenty years earlier in the drumming that Scott had been unable to silence at Lac Seul:
Is this throbbing a sound
Or an ache in the air?
Pervasive as light,
Measured and inevitable,
It seems to float from no distance,
But to live in the listening world—
The sound of Powassan’s drum.
He crouches in his dwarf wigwam
Wizened with fasting,
Fierce with thirst.
Making great medicine
In memory of hated things dead
Or in menace of hated things to come,
And the universe listens
To the throb—throb—throb—throb—
Throbbing of Powassan’s drum.
Literary scholars have pondered over the next 112 lines, which contain passages like this: “The Indian fixed like bronze/ Trails his severed head/ Through the dead water.” Stan Dragland, in his book on Scott and Treaty 9, provides a particularly useful examination of the poem. His speculations, while tentative, give us some plausible guidance as to what was troubling the poet. He suggests that Scott comes close to admitting his mistake in endorsing the official attitude towards Indian traditions. He concludes “a terrible tension may well have developed between his instincts and his function as a civil servant charged with applying European law in the North.”64
Belle Scott, who had suffered from various health problems on and off in later years, died in hospital on 13 April 1929. “During her long residence in Ottawa,” the Citizen reported, “she was constantly engaged in various phases of social activity.” Left unmentioned was the fact that after the death of Elizabeth those “phases” had mostly taken the form of “good works” for their own sake instead of mere social advancement. Her obituary paid special tribute to her volunteer work during the war and praised her recent part in promoting the Ottawa Drama League of which her husband was the president. Being something of a snob to the end, however, she might have been pleased that, in recognition of her husband’s official status, her funeral was attended by “a large gathering of prominent citizens” and political big shots, beginning with the prime minister, the leader of the opposition, and the American ambassador.65
On 27 March 1931, Scott remarried. At 58, he was more than twice the age of his bride, Elise Aylen of Ottawa, who was born in 1904. Significantly, Elise was the complete opposite of Belle Botsford in personality and outlook. Demure and sweet-mannered, with a spiritual air that struck some acquaintances as being slightly aloof,66 she was content to share quietly in her husband’s interests. A writer of both poetry and prose, she had recently published a book of poems, Roses of Shadow, for which Scott had written an introduction. Born into a cultured family with a distinguished public record, she felt neither the need nor the inclination to be a social climber. Belle and Scott seem to have been happily married, and there is no indication that he ever chafed under her dominence, but Elise’s temperament likely provided greater tranquility for his old age. With Belle gone, a reconciliation took place with his sisters, and when Helen (Mrs. James Macoun) died in 1938, Scott, with Elise at his side, was one of the chief mourners. When Mary Elizabeth, his unmarried elder sister, was confined permanently to bed after breaking her hip in late 1946, Elise accompanied her increasingly feeble husband on regular bedside visits until the old lady died the following spring. If, as the circumstances seem to suggest, there was a rift between Scott and his half brother Charles, Elise arrived on the scene too late to be party to any reconciliation. Charles, who was known to have sided with his stepmother, died in 1923, predeceasing Belle by six years. His obituary omits Duncan Campbell Scott’s name as a survivor. Nor is he named in the list of over fifty men who were in attendance at the funeral.
Although it is unsafe to say that Scott was happier in his second marriage, he was certainly rejuvenated by it. Perhaps it is easy to read too much into the words of an aging man who was becoming mellow and finding it easier to express his feelings, but Scott paid Elise a more loving tribute in verse than anything he ever wrote for Belle:
The fluttering charm, the pliant grace,
The fragile form and spirit face
Are instinct with essential bliss,
Supported in its trembling line,
As melody in music is,
By a harmony devine:
Enough of love the absolute
To give her heart the perfect fruit
Of love; enough of Wisdom’s power
To give her mind an earthy strength;
Enough of Beauty’s secret dower
Of lovely thought, to give her soul
The fragrance of a flower.
(Dedication in The Green Cloister)
In March 1932, less than a year after his re-marriage, Scott retired from the civil service, and was given (to use his own words) “a great send off.”67 His policy of assimilating the Indians had been so much in keeping with the thinking of the time that he was widely praised for his capable administration. He was seen as the model of a dedicated civil servant, but the work had never been his whole life. His interest in literature, music, and art had been more than simple diversions. His writing had become more than an avocation, his love of music and drama had led to his close involvement with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra and the Drama League, his appreciation of the visual arts turned him into a collector and led to his friendship with Horatio Walker, Clarence Gagnon and several other Canadian artists. Even at his desk, he was known to polish a poem and often practiced his music on a dummy keyboard. Yet, it is safe to assume that these moments were not at the neglect of his duties. By nature and upbringing, he was much too ethical for that.
Several decades would pass before his work for Indian Affairs would be re-evaluated and criticized for its “narrow vision.” During his tenure as Deputy Superintendent, the one major assault upon his reputation had come from Dr. P.H. Bryce, a former medical inspector for the Department of the Interior, who accused him of criminal indifference in refusing to recommend enough money to curb the spread of infectious diseases among the Indians. Bryce’s pamphlet, The Story of a National Crime (1922) is a blistering personal attack, but it was not taken very seriously. Not only was Bryce dredging up grievances of the past, but the whole matter was looked upon as a case of sour grapes, not only because he had lost his bid to become a deputy minister when the federal Department of Health was created in 1919, but because he resented being forced to retire from public service in 1921.
Immediately following Scott’s retirement, he and Elise left for Europe where they spent the rest of the year touring in Italy, Austria, Germany, Belgium and England. There would be three more such trips until the outbreak of World War II put an end to European travel. Thereafter, they travelled widely in the United States and Canada until Scott became too frail for long journeys. At home, they continued the tradition, begun with Belle, of entertaining congenial acquaintances with evenings of literature and music. Robert L. McDougall has re-created the setting for us:
Ah, Lisgar Street! It is Scott’s pride and joy. It is a cluttered and friendly house. It is stacked with books, and there is a good collection of pictures: a David Milne, a Pegi Nicol, W.J. Phillips water-colours, two Emily Carrs and many fine prints acquired on trips abroad.... But it is to the large music room, one step down at the back of the house, that Scott invariably leads his guests.... There have been many foregatherings, literary as well as musical in this room. Lubka Kolessa has played here. Murray and Frances Adaskin, on one occasion the Hart House String Quartet. Bliss Carman and Alfred Noyes have been visitors. Lawren Harris and W.J. Phillips have sat here, and here Clarence Gagnon has given a private showing of his paintings for Maria Chapdelaine. Newspaper men, amongst them William Arthur Deacon and I. Norman Smith, have come here, too; and so have the familiars from the circle of affection: Pelham and Helen Edgar in the early days, and in later days Edward and Peggy Brown, Dorothy McCurry and Madge Macbeth. I list these names, a few of many, to suggest an aura of the man we have on stage. He is at all times attentive and hospitable to the arts.68
McDougall’s reference to Edward Brown and his wife alludes to a friendship that had its beginning in a letter sent to Scott on 17 October 1940 by E.K. Brown, a brilliant young professor at the University of Toronto. Having gained wide recognition for his poetry reviews in the University of Toronto Quarterly’s annual “Letters in Canada” supplement, Brown had been approached by the editor of Poetry, the prestigious American magazine, to assemble some previously unpublished poems for a proposed “Canadian” issue. In soliciting a contribution from Scott, Brown added “May I take this occasion of saying to you how great my admiration of your work has been.”69 The flattery was diliberate, but the feeling was genuine. Brown had developed an appreciation for Scott’s poetry ten years earlier, being introduced to it by Pelham Edgar, one of his professors. Scott, who was aware of Brown’s work in the Quarterly, responded by submitting his poem “Power” and returning the compliment: “I value your critical opinion very highly....”70 Brown’s acceptance of “your moving and beautifully clear poem” sounds like overly-generous praise for a rather forced comparison of the power of nature and destiny. Significantly, Brown did not include it in his Selected Poems of Duncan Campbell Scott (1951), but it appeared in the April 1941 issue of Poetry and Scott published it in a collection of his miscellaneous pieces (1947).
The correspondence between Brown and Scott continued with increasing cordiality after they met at the home of Pelham Edgar one evening when the Scotts were on their way home after spending the winter of 1940-41 in Victoria, B.C. Shortly thereafter, Brown’s essay “Duncan Campbell Scott, An Individual Poet,” which appeared in the 1941 spring issue of the Manitoba Arts Review,drew this delighted response from Scott: “No one has dealt so discerningly with certain aspects of the poems.”71 After being under-rated as a poet much of his life and feeling uncertain of being long remembered, he now had the unexpected and heartwarming experience of being lauded by a perceptive and appreciative critic of a new generation. Since Brown played such a major role in the resuscitation of Scott’s reputation, no study of the poet would be complete without emphasizing their relationship.
In the fall of 1941, Brown left Toronto to became chairman of the English Department at Cornell, but during the following summer he was summoned to Ottawa by Mackenzie King to be his “special assistant,” which likely included speech writing. Whatever the duties may have been, the experience was frustrating and Brown was back at Cornell in the fall. The redeeming feature of the summer—perhaps one of Brown’s main reasons for accepting the position in the first place—was the opportunity to spend many congenial evenings at 108 Lisgar Street. Scott and Brown were already on a first name basis, treating each other like contemporaries although in age they could have been father and son. Tall and dignified like Scott, Brown always gave the impression of being much older than his years. He became one of the aging poet’s cherished male acquaintances, their friendship coming close to the intimacy he had shared with Lampman and Edgar. Brown had Scott’s fastidious tastes and sense of decorum and disliked anyone he considered a “roughneck”—a term he applied to the poet Earle Birney, his former colleague in Toronto. In turn, Birney’s candid comment on Brown—sounding similar to the view strangers sometimes had of Scott—shows that the antipathy was mutual: “ I didn[’]t take to him—a cold smug plate of fish ....”72
Brown caught the older man’s enthusiasm for Lampman and was introduced by Scott to Natalie (Lampman) MacInnis, who lent him some of her father’s manuscripts and notebooks to examine back at Cornell. The outcome was a decision on the part of Scott and Brown to co-edit an edition of Lampman’s unpublished poetry under the title At the Long Sault and Other Poems (Ryerson, 1943). In the flurry of letters that passed between the co-editors, Scott lets down his guard and writes to Brown with surprising candour about himself and others. Some of the people who thought he was their friend might have been jolted by the pointed jabs he took at them. There is a detectable coolness in his references to Charles G. D. Roberts, for example, and an unkind frankness in his portrayal of Lorne Pierce, the editor of Ryerson Press. What stands out, however, is the warmth of his feelings for Brown. Indeed, the continuing exchange, which ended only with Scott’s death, is replete with mutual respect and affection.
After his retirement, Scott published one volume of poetry (The Green Cloister, 1935); a collection of miscellaneous writings in prose and verse that had not appeared previously in book form (The Circle of Affection, 1947); and a monograph on his friend Walter J. Phillips, the artist (1947). In part, The Green Cloister is a travelogue of the sites he visited in Europe with Elise: Lake Como, Ravelllo, Kensington Gardens, East Gloucester, etc.—descriptive and contemplative poems by an observant tourist. Those with a Canadian setting include two Indian poems of near-melodrama—“A Scene at Lake Manitou” and “At Gull Lake, August 1810”—that are in stark contrast to the overall serenity of the volume. Both are in the violent manner, so surprising for someone of Scott’s quiet demeanour, that usually resulted in some of his best work. The title The Circle of Affection, Scott points out, “seemed to the writer appropriate, for throughout the book a circle of affection is gradually rounded: an affection for people and places, for his own country and other countries, an affection for moods, for passions and inspirations.”73 The volume contains twenty-six poems he had written after 1935; nine early poems; a half-dozen early stories and four later ones; and five essays he wanted preserved, including “The Last of the Indian Treaties,” “Poetry and Progress” (his presidential address to the Royal Society of Canada in 1922), and a tribute written after the death of his friend Clarence Gagnon in 1942. Understandably, the four sonnets addressed to Elise in the sequence “Twelfth Anniversary” are the most fervent and eloquent of the poems addressed to individuals. His monograph on Walter Phillips, written with the informality of an art lover rather than the jargon of a critic, is enlivened with quixotic comments like this: “[English-born Phillips] was neither blessed nor hampered by Canadian ancestry or birthplace.”74
Devoted to Lampman to the end, Scott edited Selected Poems of Archibald Lampman (Ryerson 1947). When Lorne Pierce approached him back in 1943, proposing a selection of Lampman’s poems to inaugurate a “Canadian Poets” series for Ryerson Press, Scott was not enthusiastic. “This annoys me,” he complained to E.K. Brown, “for I had hoped that Lyrics of Earth [Scott’s 1925 selection] would stand with my Introduction as the final selection.” He was also distressed by the page limitation: “There would have to be severe and unnecessary compression if A.L. were cramped into 150 pages.”75 Eventually, however, his objections were overcome and a selection (176 pages) appeared with a reprint of his 1900 “Memoir.” Since Lampman’s death, nearly fifty years earlier, Scott had been untiring in his efforts to perpetuate the reputation of his old friend. This selection would be his final endeavour. Time had run out. He died of heart failure on 19 December 1947.
“I don’t seem to be able to gain the attention of the important papers or reviews,” Scott once lamented in mid-career, but I am not grieving, probably I would not be able to play up to the popularity.76 He was never to know widespread fame, but substantial recognition of his writing came as early as 1899 when he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. For ten years he was honourary secretary of the Society before serving as president in 1921-22. Successive honours followed with a D.Litt from the University of Toronto in 1922, the Lorne Pierce Medal in 1927, the C.M.G. in 1934, and an LL.D from Queen’s University in 1939. In fact, by 1930 his reputation was such that one literary historian acknowledged that “some regard him as the greatest” Canadian poet.77 After his death, the Canadian press was full of superlatives for the last of the major Confederation Poets. The Globe and Mail called him “the greatest verbalist of them all.”78
A memorial service for Scott, held at St. Martin-in-the Fields, London, on 22 January 1948, was an unprecedented acknowledgement of a Canadian poet. Norman Robertson, Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom was in attendance along with many other dignitaries, including representatives from the Canada Club and the Poetry Society of Britain. The special address was delivered by John Masefield, then the poet laureate, who prefaced his remarks by reading a message from W.L. Mackenzie King, the Canadian prime minister. The moment had a nice ironic touch that the audience probably missed. Scott, who had no liking for King anyway, never forgot an after-dinner incident when he and Elise were among the prime minister’s guests. The evening’s entertaiment began with Pat, King’s Airdale dog, who “had been trained to crouch on the piano bench and beat out a series of horrible discords with his powerful paws” and emit “a series of dismal howlings.” When Pat finished, King turned and said “Now, Scott, it’s your turn....”79
Three of Scott’s poems, probably selected by Masefield but not read by him, were included in the memorial service. Lines from “Fragment of an Ode to Canada” were chosen for their appropriately patriotic sentiments. The other selections were “Watkwenies” and “The Forsaken,” two portraits of Indian women of a “vanished day.” These poems were not representative of the whole range of Scott’s work, which also includes dream-pieces—why had Masefield not chosen “The Piper of Arll”?—and colourful descriptive lyrics. Yet, it is easy to understand why the Indian poems were selected. In the public mind, dramatic pieces about Indians and life in the wilderness were the ones that had become most closely associated with Scott. Fairly or not, those are the poems by which he continues to be best remembered to this day.