Why, in order to praise the Rockies, is it necessary
to belittle the Alps, or even the Sussex Downs?
Elsie Pomeroy scribbled the foregoing quotation in a margin of E. K. Brown’s “Memoir of Duncan Campbell Scott.”1 She was still reacting against Brown’s earlier work, On Canadian Poetry (1943), which ranked Lampman, D.C. Scott, and E.J. Pratt ahead of Roberts and Carman. The book had been published only a few months after her biography of Roberts in which she avoids comparisons while implicitly awarding her subject the laurel crown. Even Brown’s editor, Lorne Pierce of the Ryerson Press, had been shocked by his “rapid treatment of Roberts,” who was allotted four pages while Lampman, Scott, and Pratt each had a full chapter. “He asked me to add,” Brown told Scott. “I sent him a few sentences on Roberts’ role as a sort of official spokesman, but I simply couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to say.”2
Around the time On Canadian Poetry appeared, Roberts entered Wellesley Hospital in Toronto and died twelve days later. Possibly, he never knew that Brown had toppled him from the throne upon which he had been placed by Pomeroy and many of her predecessors. Otherwise, it would have seemed a sudden headlong plunge after being in “7th heaven”3 so recently over “the brilliant piece of work Elsie has done.”4 Ever since his return to Canada, the homegrown Modernists had been snipping at his reputation, but thus far his coronation among the Confederation Poets had seldom been so authoritatively challenged. Occasionally, however, like the sleepless Henry IV, who paced the palace in his nightshirt (or so Shakespeare would have us believe), he may have reflected: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
“Beyond any comparison our greatest Canadian poet is Mr. Charles G.D. Roberts,”5 declares Edmund Collins in “Thought and Literature in Canada,” a lengthy chapter of his biography of Sir John A. Macdonald, published in 1883. Previously, the big names among Canada’s English-speaking poets had been Charles Heavysege (1816-1876), Charles Sangster (1822-1893), and Charles Mair (1838-1927). Heavysege, a cabinetmaker, who emigrated from England at the age of thirty-seven, is best known for his heavy (pun intended) and occasionally eloquent verse dramas based on biblical subjects. Canadian-born Sangster, hailed as a pre-Confederation poet laureate, was praised for singing “in such lofty strains the natural beauties”6 of his native land—a loftiness that is too often synonymous with Victorian grandiloquence and moralizing. Mair, also Canadian-born, aspired to be a national spokesman; but, while he is usually an acute observer, the quality of his poetry alternates between sensitivity and bad taste.
Collins allots Heavysege only one paragraph, dismisses Sangster’s verse as “not worth a brass farthing,”7 and ignores Mair completely. In contrast, he devotes more than fifteen pages to Roberts, quoting liberally from Orion and Other Poems, and exulting “that a singer has risen in Canada of whom any nation, or any literature, might be proud.”8 Although there had been numerous newspaper and periodical reviews of Roberts’ first volume, none of them could match the coverage in the Macdonald biography, which went through eight printings. Moreover, Collins’ next book, Canada under the Administration of Lord Lorne (1884), bestows further accolades upon Orion. Thus, more than anyone else, Edmund Collins is probably responsible for the early acceptance of Charles G.D. Roberts as Canada’s foremost poet.
“The foremost name in Canadian song at the present day is that of Charles George Douglas Roberts,”9 echoes W.D. Lighthall in Songs of the Great Dominion, the anthology of Canadian verse he edited in 1889. Roberts had already published his second collection, In Divers Tones (1886), while Campbell, Lampman and Frederick George Scott had each recently issued a first book of verse. It would be several years yet before Carman, D.C. Scott or Pauline Johnson would publish a collection, but, like the other four, they were contributing frequently to Canadian and American magazines. Consequently, Lighthall saw fit to include poems by all seven of these young writers, although it was too soon to see them emerging as a group that would be known as the Confederation Poets.
Songs of the Great Dominion had its origin when Lighthall, a Montreal lawyer and man of letters, was approached about such an undertaking by the poet William Sharp, an editor at the Walter Scott Publishing Company, London. Meanwhile, unaware of Sharp’s overture, Ernest Rhys, a free-lance editor, also acting on behalf of Walter Scott, made a similar proposal to Charles G.D. Roberts. As soon as the latter became aware of the mix-up, he withdrew, citing overwork, but offering Lighthall “whatever assistance you might permit me to be.”10 Among the names of poets he submitted for consideration were those of his sister Nain (Elizabeth Gostwyck Roberts), his cousin Barry Statton (an older brother of Andy, the boyhood chum of himself and Carman), and “my young & fair friend Miss Sophie M. Almon, of Windsor, N.S.”11 Largely as a favour to Roberts, perhaps, Lighthall included a poem by Nain and four by Barry, but Sophie (described by Roberts as his “literary protégé”12) did not survive the cut. Roberts later commiserated with Lighthall over the likelihood of incurring the wrath of those individuals whose poems were omitted: “We are a jealous & irritable & self complacent & conceited race, we writers, & the scribblers are the worst of us.”13
Even among the poets selected, there was at least one disgruntled individual. “In Mr. Lighthall’s Anthology,” Campbell complained, “I have been cruelly misrepresented by a wilful choice of my poorest work.”14 Like Roberts, he was represented by thirteen poems, more than twice the number by Lampman (six) and Carman (five), while Pauline Johnson and the two Scotts rated only two poems each. It is difficult to understand why he felt his reputation was being deliberately sabotaged. In addition to the popular “Canadian Folk Song” and “Indian Summer,” Lighthall had chosen a sampling of his much-admired lake lyrics. Paranoia seems to be the answer. Aspiring to be “foremost” himself among Canadian poets, he fancied some collusion between Roberts and Lighthall to deny him that position.
Since Lampman was never known to be jealous of his fellow-poets, it is unlikely he resented Lighthall’s claims for Roberts, despite having outgrown the rapturous enthusiasm he felt after first reading Orion. “I am now able to discern Mr. Roberts’s deficiencies,” he announced in a lecture delivered in Ottawa on 19 February 1891. “I know that he lacks tenderness, variety, elasticity, and that he never approaches the nobler attitudes of feeling....”15 The qualities he missed in Roberts, he found in abundance in George Frederick Cameron (1854-1885), whose poems were issued in a single volume after his premature death just one week short of his thirty-first birthday. The promise Lampman sensed in Cameron’s work bears a striking similarity to the kind of speculations that have arisen ever since his own early death. Roberts reacted more in astonishment than resentment to this preference for Cameron: “Lampman is getting crazy.”16
Roberts had been first off the mark among his contemporaries; but by 1893, as the others began to close in on him, he could see himself being overtaken:
... I am never agrieved in the least when, as most frequently happens with English or American critics, Carman or Lampman is set ahead of myself. At home I sometimes get allowed precedence, being so very Canadian; and I am always gratified by the compliment. But as a critic I set Carman at the top, and am in doubt regarding Lampman & myself. I don’t think Campbell is quite up to us yet; though this new forthcoming book of his [The Dread Voyage] may alter that. The two Scotts, also, are doing fine work. We’ll hear a lot from them, methinks.17
The two Scotts, neither of whom was egotistical enough to consider himself the “foremost” poet of his Canadian generation, conceded the role to Lampman. Duncan Campbell Scott’s view is implicit in his ongoing homage to Lampman. Privately, Frederick George Scott admitted that “Lampman was his favourite Can[adian] poet.”18 However, Pauline Johnson, whose faculty for overwhelming the opposite sex met its match in Charles G.D. Roberts, was not only charmed by her “Poet of the Tantramar,” but was equally in awe of his “great poetic genius.”19 Carman’s laudatory article on Roberts in The Chap-Book (1 January 1895), calls his cousin the “acknowledged laureate” of Canada, but adds “The names of Mr. Archibald Lampman and Mr. Duncan Campbell Scott, along with Mr. Roberts’s, have attracted our attention from time to time....”20 Campbell, who felt himself to be the true laureate, was filled with rage. The reference to Lampman and D.C. Scott, without any mention of his own name, fueled his paranoia further and generated a lasting hostility.
The publication in 1893 of a little anthology called Later Canadian Poems, edited by J.E. Wetherell, was a defining event in bringing attention to the Confederation Poets as a group. Based on his experience as a highschool principal in Strathroy, Ontario, Wetherell felt that a volume of contemporary Canadian verse might be useful in the country’s schools. His original intention had been to restrict it to the work of six male poets: Roberts, Lampman, Campbell, Carman, and the two Scotts. At the urging of Lampman—and over the reservations of Roberts—he was persuaded to include fifteen poems by George Frederick Cameron. After further reflection, he added a “Supplement” containing work by six female poets: E. Pauline Johnson, S. Frances Harrison, Agnes Maule Machar, Ethelwyn Wetherald, Isabella Valancy Crawford and Sara Jeannette Duncan. All of these women, except Machar (born 1837), belong to the same generation as the men, although Irish-born Crawford, having turned seventeen at the time of Confederation, barely qualifies as a “Child of the New Dominion.”
Campbell, who insisted on making his own selections for Wetherell’s anthology,21 submitted seven poems, but appears to have been incensed upon discovering the number of inclusions by each of his “rivals”: Roberts (17), Lampman (16), D.C. Scott (12), F.G. Scott (10), Carman (8). Embittered by his experiences with Lighthall and Wetherell, he refused to allow any of his poems to appear in Theodore Harding Rand’s A Treasury of Canadian Verse (1900).22 He finally found redress when he was asked to compile The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse (1913). There, he devoted more pages to his own poetry than that of anyone else, but by choosing mostly from his more ponderous work (including an excerpt from Mordred, one of his verse dramas) he makes a dull showing. Ironically, the selections chosen from his fellow Confederation Poets represent them by some of their best work. The only other anthology to appear during Campbell’s lifetime is John W. Garvin’s Canadian Poets (1916, revised 1926), in which he and the others are represented very much as they were in the Oxford anthology except for Roberts, whose Boston publishers refused permission for the inclusion of any poems on which they held the copyright. There would be future Oxford anthologies of Canadian poetry by editors with revisionist views of the Confederation Poets, but more of that later.
Our seven Confederation Poets figure prominently—with copious quotations—in Archibald MacMurchy’s Handbook of Canadian Literature (1906), the first of several book-length surveys to appear over the next few decades. MacMurchy, a retired school principal, who emigrated from Scotland with his parents in 1840 at the age of eight, had lived to witness the emergence of “this new and promising band of Canadian writers.” That Charles G. D. Roberts “has been the influential leader,” he declares, “... is fully acknowledged by everyone who has acquaintance with his distinguished work.” Such a pronouncement may not have sat well with some of the others, particularly Campbell, even though the latter found himself praised as a “writer of forcible verse.” Frederick George Scott is gently chided for “the absence of Canadian coloring” in his poetry. Harsher judgement is passed on Carman: “His work suffers from its narrow range, and is saved only in part from monotony by the rich musical endowment of his mind.” Lampman is touted as a “true lover of nature with the capacity, above many writers, of causing others to see what he himself with rapture saw.” Acknowledging the low profile of Duncan Campbell Scott, MacMurchy remarks: “Very few Canadians know that we have such a writer as Mr. Scott, and still fewer that we have a writer of such high talent.” Turning to Pauline Johnson, he effuses that this “scion of the ‘red man,’ has added her pearl of song to the necklace of Canadian literature,” but quotes only from her non-Indian poems.23
“A new era [in Canadian poetry] began with the publication of Orion and Other Poems,” states T.G. Marquis in English-Canadian Literature (1914). Although he does not mention the fact, Marquis had been a fifteen-year-old student at the Chatham Grammar Schol when Roberts became its headmaster. His affection for his former teacher, who prepared him for the entrance examinations at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, is manifest in his view of Roberts’ steadfast growth as a poet. Of Lampman, he says that his poetry “has not the splendid sensuousness of Carman’s verse, nor has he handled as many and varied themes as Roberts; he lacks, too, “the moral profundity of William Wilfred Campbell in that poet’s inspired moments, but as an interpreter of nature in all her gentler phases he stands by himself.” In addition to his lengthy commentary on each of the foregoing poets, Pauline Johnson (“at her best when portraying the savage instincts of the Indian heart”) is allotted two paragraphs; Frederick George Scott, whom he calls “one of the most persistent of Canadian poets” (Is “persistent” pejorative here?) receives a paragraph of qualified praise. Duncan Campbell Scott, however, rates no more than a single sentence that identifies him as “the author of several collections of lyrics, Canadian in colour and with a music rich in tone and splendidly interpretative of nature.”24
The decade following the First World War saw the appearance of five more handbooks on Canadian literature. In 1924 McClelland & Stewart rashly published two such works within months of each other: Highways of Canadian Literature by J.D. Logan and Donald G. French and Headwaters of Canadian Literature by Archibald MacMechan. Two years later, Graphic Press of Ottawa, an endangered company dedicated solely to the production of Canadian books, published Poteen, sub-titled “A Pot-Pourri of Canadian Essays,” by W.A. Deacon. In another two years, Louis Carrier, a young upstart publisher in Montreal, brought out An Outline of Canadian Literature by Lorne Pierce. In 1930 Graphic Press, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, daringly published its second book on the subject: A Handbook of Canadian Literature by V.B. Rhodenizer. As different as these five books are from each other, they all recognize the accomplishments of the Confederation Poets as an important advance in Canadian literature.
Logan, the collaborator responsible for the poetry section of Highways of Canadian Literature, declares: “It is proper to distinguish Roberts, Lampman, Carman, Campbell, Duncan Campbell Scott, Frederick George Scott and Pauline Johnson as the ‘major poets’ of the First Renaissance in Canadian Literature.” Unfortunately, since Logan is a certifiable windbag, his readers must sift through paragraph after paragraph of convoluted and often contradictory verbiage to find the essence of what he is saying. At the risk of giving his pronouncements undue prominence, herewith is an attempt to select the core statements:
ROBERTS—“Roberts’ nature-poetry is too superficial, too obviously ‘an effort’ to make pretty or charming pastels of Canadian scenery and pastoral life.... It is, however, as the inaugurator of the First Renaissance in Canadian Literature ... rather than as a poet of Canadian Nationality and Nature that Roberts has a right to supremely significant status in the literary history of Canada.”
LAMPMAN—“But the greatest poet that Canada has produced, greatest as a nature poet, and as an interpreter of that essential mind and heart of the Canadian people and country, is Archibald Lampman.”
CARMAN—“Yet indubitably Bliss Carman is the very foremost of Canadian-born poets.... Moreover, none of his Canadian compatriot poets is his equal or even his rival in originality and power of imagination, in sheer vision of the metaphysical meanings of nature and existence, in intensity of passion, in romantic atmosphere, in satiric humor, in free and potent diction and inevitable imagery, and in light or ecstatic lyricism.”
D. C. SCOTT—“Unless the reader and the critic of D.C. Scott’s poetry first realize that the mind and art of the poet are the product of Canada and of the Old World, a rare commingling of Canadian and European cultures, they will fail to understand how he is at once the least prolific and, to give him his outstanding distinction, the most exquisite artist of Canadian poets, not excepting Lampman and Bliss Carman.”
CAMPBELL—“With Campbell it was the substance or matter,—the ideas, thought, and meanings for the spirit—not the formal elements or manner of poetry that counted for the most. It is the substance of poetry, its meaning for the spirit, that always counts for most with the people. For this reason, though Campbell is not the greatest of the [Confederation Poets], he is, and will remain, as he has been called ‘the poet of the people’s choice’.”
JOHNSON—“As a woman Pauline Johnson was a rare and beautiful spirit. As a poet she was of all Canadian poets the most pervasively true to her Canadian origin and habitat. She is not to be given always the status of Lampman and Carman and Duncan Campbell Scott, yet to her unquestionably belongs a place beside these Canadian singers.”
F.G. SCOTT—“His poetry is pervaded with the most elemental and enduring ‘heart’ qualities. They give it such a direct and compelling human appeal as to win a significant and distinctive place for it in the authentic native and national poetry of Canada.”25
Unlike Logan, Archibald MacMechan writes in a graceful, straight- forward style. Regrettably, his Headwaters of Canadian Literature, as he admits in a preface, “is emphatically a sketch, an outline, not a complete history....”26 His treatment of Lampman, Roberts, Carman and Campbell (discussed—and apparently ranked —in that order) is concise and sympathetic. Even allowing for the limitations of a “sketch,” however, it is difficult to explain why there is no reference to Duncan Campbell Scott except as the author of a biography of John Graves Simcoe. Frederick George Scott and Pauline Johnson are not mentioned at all.
The surveys by Pierce and Rhodenizer contain more data than those by Logan and MacMechan, and are generally conservative in their criticism and cautious about making comparisons. Deacon’s Poteen (the title being an Irish term for home-brew) is a collecton of miscellaneous essays, but the essay on Canadian literature comprises nearly half of the book. He selects four writers as the “major” Confederation Poets, emphasizing their individual strengths in a rather droll attempt at impartiality.
The sanest opinion is that among the four friends, who were rivals for supremacy, Carman had the sweetest voice, the greatest natural gift for melody; Lampman was the most spiritual, the most finely (or divinely) inspired; and [D.C.] Scott is the best craftsman; with Roberts always as the most versatile, the most competent all-round man of letters....27
In the post-war dysphoria of the nineteen-twenties, Canadian poetry was rocked by dissension. On one side was the Canadian Authors’ Association, formed to press for copyright protection, but steadfastly dedicated to the traditions that shaped the work of the Confederation Poets and their followers. The opposing faction was a group of young intellectuals under the influence of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, who railed that Canadian poetry was stale and conventional. The attack on the disparaged “Maple Leaf School” was waged first in The Canadian Forum, a left-of-centre journal founded in 1920 by a group of University of Toronto faculty members. In Montreal the assault was spearheaded by The McGill Fortnightly Review (1925-1927), edited chiefly by two graduate students, A.J.M. Smith and F.R. Scott (son of Frederick George Scott), and was continued in its short-lived successor, The Canadian Mercury. Associated with Smith and Scott was a brilliant coterie of young writers that included Leon Edel, A.M. Klein and Leo Kennedy. Scott later became an editor of The Canadian Forum and many members of his circle were among its contributors.
Probably the most resounding salvo by the Canadian Modernists is F.R. Scott’s “The Canadian Authors Meet,” the first draft of which appeared in The McGill Fortnightly in 1927. One of its six stanzas lampoons the attention given to the Confederation Poets:
The air is heavy with Canadian topics,
And Carman, Lampman, Roberts, Campbell, Scott,
Are measured for their faith and philanthropics,
Their zeal for God and King, their earnest thought.
The inclusion of Scott in the list may have an intentional double purpose, indicating both Duncan Campbell and Frederick George. The reader is left to speculate as to why Johnson’s name did not spring to mind.
Concurrently with the appearance of Scott’s poem, Charles G.D. Roberts became president of the Canadian Authors’ Association. In the spirit of conciliation, he urged a philosophical view of all iconoclasts—those at home as well as those abroad:
Modernism, a strictly relative term, has gone by different names in different periods, but always it has been, and is, a reaction of the younger creators against the too long dominance of their older predecessors. One or more great poets, two or three great painters, win their way to general acceptance and authority in their period. Their genius raises up a swarm of disciples and imitators, who can reproduce their form, though not their fire. Their form comes to be regarded as the only proper medium of expression. By that time the virtue, the impulse, has gone out of it. It has hardened into a fetter. Then comes the reaction—which, for a generation, is modernism, by whatever name it may be called and whether the phenomenon occurs in the 18th., 19th., or 20th. century.28
A series called “Canadian Writers of the Past” ran in The Canadian Forum throughout 1933. Since Roberts and the two Scotts were still living, they were exempt, but Carman, Lampman, Johnson and Campbell were bluntly re-assessed. Carman is castigated for being frequently “repetitive,” “slipshod,” “mawkish” and “posturing,” although his best work wins modest praise for its “sort of shy, awkward, half-inarticulate adolescence, its quick fresh exuberance, and [for possessing] the graceful charm of one of Donatello’s youths.”29 While Lampman is credited with having “at times a felicity of phrasing, and a mild flutter of genuine emotion,” he is faulted for adopting the poetic diction and stock abstractions of the Romantic revival. The Forum’s bias is evident in the admission that “The pot-bellied, serene Protestantism of Victorian England which flourished in Canada during the supreme youth of Edward, and which underlay Lampman’s spiritual make-up, causes us to chafe.”30 We are reminded that Pauline Johnson “is one of our pretty legends,” but cautioned that “to keep the legend intact, we must be careful not to read any of her works, save only perhaps ‘The Song My Paddle Sings,’ the ‘Lullaby of the Iroquois,’ and one or two other school reader pieces.”31 Most of Campbell’s poetry is dismissed as not worth having been written. “Yet,” we are told, “there are a few [of his] minor works that could ill be spared from the sparse treasury of our national lyric.”32
Three books published in 1936 indicate the growing divergence in the ranks of Canadian poetry: The Selected Poems of Sir Charles G.D. Roberts, New Provinces, and The White Savannahs. Roberts’ selections, gleaned from the harvest of a lifetime, are in a manner that was still the model for many Canadian poets. At the same time, however, its style and subject matter were being rejected by a feisty group of post-war Modernists, including most of the six poets whose poems were published together in New Provinces. The White Savannahs, a study by a critic sympathetic to the Canadian Modernists, is the first significant recognition of that group.
In the “Prefatory Note” to his Selected Poems, Roberts reiterates his views on Modernism and quotes Humbert Wolfe (the English poet whose stylistic ambidexterity probably lost him the laureateship to John Masefield in 1930): “There are only oldish men in each generation misunderstanding what is being written now, side by side with youngish men misunderstanding what was written then.” Roberts concludes:
It seems to me it is all a matter of succeeding cycles of reaction. Reaction is life. The more healthy and vigorous the reaction, the more inevitably does it froth up into excess. The excess dies away of its own violence. But the freshness of thought or of technique that supplied the urge to the reaction remains and is clarified, ultimately to be worked into the tissue of permanent art.33
He remains wary, however, of the excesses of some of the poets the young Canadian radicals were taking as their models. “Tell me, how do you feel about those extreme modernists in verse?” he asked a friend in 1937. “How do you like Spender? Auden? And can you always understand T.S. Eliot? Or put up with Ezra Pound?”34 Nevertheless, his was one of the more tolerant voices in the Canadian Authors’ Asssociation. For many of its members, Modernism was something to be resisted.
Four of the six poets represented in New Provinces were part of what is often referred to as the “Montreal Group”: Leo Kennedy, A.M. Klein, F.R. Scott and A.J.M. Smith. Near in age and allied in their preference for the techniques and subject matter of the “new poetry,” they were good friends and sometimes close associates. The other two poets were professors at the University of Toronto: Robert Finch and E. J. Pratt. The manner of Finch’s verse is close to that of the “Montreal Group,” especially Kennedy, Scott and Smith. Pratt is more of a transitional poet, pushing beyond traditional limits to more novel imagery as in these lines from “Sea-Gulls”:
For one carved instant as they flew,
The language had no simile—
Silver, crystal, ivory
Were tarnished. Etched upon the horizon blue
The frieze must go unchallenged, for the lift
And carriage of the wings would stain the drift
Of stars against a tropic indigo
Or dull the parable of snow.35
Smith, Scott and Kennedy, the “angry young men” among the New Provinces poets, were on a mission to drag Canadian poetry out of what they fancied to be the doldrums of an outdated tradition. “The blunt truth of the matter,” however, as Patricia Morley has pointed out, is that “[they] knew next to nothing about Canada’s late nineteenth-century poets or of the Canadian literary tradition they dubbed ‘Victorian’.”36 The same can be said about W.E. Collin, whose The White Savannahs is “an excited report of a brilliant and only partly informed mind”37 on the subject of Canadian poetry. Coming to Canada at the age of thirty, Collin was an English-born academic who ascribed to the iconoclasm of T. E. Hulme, one of the founders of the imagist movement espoused by Pound and Eliot. Before writing Tbe White Savannahs, he had studied the poetry of Archibald Lampman, but had little knowledge of the work of the other Confederation Poets or their predecessors.
The White Savannahs consists of nine essays, four of which had appeared in briefer form in The University of Toronto Quarterly (Lampman and Marjorie Pickthall) and The Canadian Forum (Dorothy Livesay and Kennedy). One of the other essays is on Marie LeFrance, a French poet and novelist, who spent much of her adult life in Canada; another is devoted to Pratt. The remaining essays deal in turn with Scott, Klein and Smith. Lampman he finds to be too much of an escapist (“Had he known life as well as he knew flowers!”) to be a great poet, and Pickthall is a dreamy romanticist of the same variety. LeFrance, on the other hand, is praised for the originality and artistic independence he finds lacking in Lampman. He sees something of the best of both worlds in the poetry of Pratt, regarding him as an important intermediary between the attitudes and conventions of the Canadian Romantics and the social realism and new techniques of Livesay, Scott, Klein, Smith and Kennedy. Clearly, he believes that the latter five poets have begun a long overdue rejuvenation of Canadian poetry. In the course of time, the Canadian Authors’ Association seemingly came to agree, bestowing the Governor-General’s Award on all of them except Kennedy, who had abandoned poetry for a career in advertising.
The year 1943 is another pivotal period in the evolution of Canadian poetry. Four events in particular stand out as literary landmarks. The death of Sir Charles G.D. Roberts in October signalled the end of an era, while three books published that year embrace the changing standards and perceptions. One of them is E.K. Brown’s On Canadian Poetry, which was immediately regarded as a seminal work of criticism. Another is A.J.M. Smith’s anthology, The Book of Canadian Poetry, with its emphasis on modern Canadian poetry, especially the work of those poets he classified as belonging to “The Cosmopolitan Tradition.” The Book of Canadian Poetry was preceded by a few months by Ralph Gustafson’s Anthology of Canadian Poetry, but while the latter gave the Modernists equal representation with the Confederation Poets, it never had the widespread impact of Smith’s anthology. Smith scored a triumph for the more radical Modernists when his own volume of verse, News of the Phoenix, published in the fall of 1943, won the Governor-General’s Award.
“Such sobriquets as ‘the father of Canadian poetry’ have long been out of fashion,” D.M. R Bentley remarked in 2004, “but if anyone is deserving of that title surely it is Charles G.D. Roberts.”38 His early example motivated a generation of young poets in whom he took an almost paternal interest, offering them friendly encouragement and generously promoting their work. Before his departure for the United States, he had become a central figure among the Confederation Poets and symbolized more than anyone else the way Canadian poetry began to develop in the late nineteenth century. With his passing, the era he represented virtually ended even though Frederick George Scott would survive him by a couple of months and Duncan Campbell Scott by four years.
Just weeks before his On Candian Poetry was issued, E.K. Brown wrote to Duncan Campbell Scott: “As I told L[orne] P[ierce], our literary history must be rewritten, and some of the landmarks removed.”39 Two of the customary landmarks are toppled in a few pages: Roberts (credited as “a breaker of trails”) and Carman (praised for “the beauty of his music” although his work “as a whole is cloying”). By devoting an entire chapter to each of Lampman and D.C. Scott, Brown makes it clear that he considers them to be satisfactory as landmarks. Campbell, however, is dismissed as one of those “minor figures [who] were legends in their time.”40 F. G. Scott and Pauline Johnson receive no mention whatever. His evaluation of these seven poets, either stated or implied by omission, would become widely accepted and go largely unchallenged for several decades. That he did not reject all of the Confederation Poets outright, like his radical contemporaries, may be attributed to the fact that he had actually read their work and at least knew what he was talking about.
Until the beginning of the 1940s, A.J.M. Smith and his fellow-radicals had formed their impressions of the Confederation Poets mainly from anthologies. Two recent volumes were likely among those that came to their attention: Canadian Poets (revised 1926), edited by John W. Garvin; and Our Canadian Literature (1934), edited by Bliss Carman and Lorne Pierce. Both anthologies are indiscriminate jumbles in which superior work is overshadowed by mediocrity. “How much of Garvin’s book or Campbell’s Canadian anthology would you really care to keep?” Carman asked a friend in 1928 while he was collaborating with Pierce. “Yes, how much could you stand to read again? How many (how few) of these contributors ever rise above doggerel?”41 However, he did not have the final word on the selections in Our Canadian Literature since it did not appear until five years after his death. Therefore, it is impossible to determine which editor is responsible for the inclusion of so many inferior poems such as Ernest Fewster’s paean to a cliff rose:
Hung like a flame ‘tween cliff and sky
Where never a foot hath trod,
Thy pure grace blooms as a kiss of Earth
Upheld to the lips of God.
As early as 1928, A.J.M. Smith had read and admired some of Duncan Campbell Scott’s poetry. After he became an anthologist himself, he confessed he “found that Lampman, Roberts and Carman had written some very fine poetry.”42 Of the seven Confederation Poets featured in this present study, Lampman has the highest representation (8 poems) in Smith’s anthology. He is followed by Roberts (7 poems); Carman, D.C. Scott and F. G. Scott (5 poems each); Campbell (4 poems); and Pauline Johnson (represented only by “Shadow River”). Like Gustafson, Smith allots comparable space to the younger poets who were considered Modernists in the 1940s. The Confederation Poets had not been pushed aside by the new crowd—remember even Smith called them the poets of “Canada’s Golden Age”43—but they were losing ground.
A further indication that the old order was changing came when Smith’s News of the Phoenix won the Governor-General’s Award for poetry. However, although selected by a committee of the Canadian Authors’ Association, the book did not meet with unanimous approval from the members. The Canadian Author and Bookman, the official organ of the Association, reprinted a review from the Globe and Mail, written by W.A. Deacon (a national vice-president of the Association and a kingpin of the Toronto branch) expressing surprise and bafflement:
Smith’s elevation to vice-regal honors is the most striking breach with tradition in the whole decorous history of Canadian literature. More startling than Tom Thomson’s winning of the Special Prize with his first important picture at an O.S.A. show, the choice of News of the Phoenix is only comparable to Tim Buck [national leader of the Communist Party] suddenly becoming Prime Minister of Canada.
After quoting two stanzas from Smith’s poem “The Face,” Deacon remarks: “The reader may be forgiven who hopes that he will never meet a bunch of words like that on an intelligence test.”44 E.K. Brown, on the other hand, was greatly impressed by News of the Phoenix, declaring it “in perfection of technique, undoubtedly the finest first volume since Archibald Lampman’s Among the Millet in 1888.”45
After Brown’s On Canadian Poetry, the next important study of the Confederation Poets is in Desmond Pacey’s Creative Writing in Canada (1954, revised and enlarged 1961). He calls Roberts, Carman, Lampman and D.C. Scott (discussed in that order) “the four major poets of the Confederation era,” but concludes that their work either had ended by the late 1890s (as in the case of Lampman) or else had lost its momentum. Campbell’s poetry is pronounced “dull and repetitive” except for “two limited spheres in which he could work with distinction: the creation of an effect of weirdness, at times of morbidity, and the painting of the surface of nature.” F.G. Scott is dismissed with faint praise while Pauline Johnson is not even named in the 1954 edition and has the label “meretricious” attached to her work in the revised edition.46 In his Ten Canadian Poets (1958), Pacey expands his earlier views in a chapter on each of Roberts, Carman, Lampman, and D.C. Scott (once again in that order). Six other chapters are devoted in turn to each of Charles Sangster, E. J. Pratt, A.J.M. Smith, F.R. Scott, A.M. Klein, and Earle Birney.
Although Pacey was not the first to suggest that Roberts, Carman, Lampman and D.C. Scott are the “major” Confederation Poets, his endorsement helped to solidify that appraisal. Roy Daniells in Volume One of the ambitious Literary History of Canada (1965, reprinted with corrections 1977) names those four men as the “principal group”47 while relegating Campbell, Johnson and F.G. Scott to the status of minor poets. Canadian Writers and Their Works, Poetry Series, Volume Two (1983) contains chapters presented in alphabetical order on Campbell, Carman, Lampman, Roberts and D.C. Scott, but an “Introduction” by George Woodcock maintains that it is unlikely that Campbell “will ever be considered more than a rather odd minor poet.”48 W. J. Keith in a section on the Confederation Poets in his Canadian Literature in English (1985, revised 2006) discusses only Roberts, Carman, Lampman and D.C. Scott with no reference whatever to any of their peers. W.H. New in A History of Canadian Literature (1989) treats Roberts, Carman, Lampman and D.C. Scott (mentioned in that order) as the prinicpal Confederation Poets while making brief references to Isabella Valancy Crawford, Wilfred Campbell and George Frederick Cameron. Likewise, D.M.R. Bentley in his comprehensive chef-d’oeuvre, The Confederation Group of Canadian Poets, 1880-1897 (2004), gives precedence to Roberts, Carman, Lampman and D.C. Scott.
Two anthologies published in 1960 indicate the evolving perception of the stature of the Confederation Poets in Canadian literature: Poets of the Confederation edited by Malcolm Ross and The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse edited by A.J.M. Smith. Ross limits his anthology to the work of the same quartet that Deacon, Pacey and others before him had selected as the leading Canadian poets of the late nineteenth century, and is often regarded, perhaps erroneously, as the critic most responsible for their elevation above their contemporaries. Equally questionable is the assertion that he made “the single most powerful contribution to the erasure of women poets like Johnson from Canada’s literary canon.”49 However, there is no mistaking the ranking implied by the number of pages he allots to each of the poets: Roberts (22), Carman (30), Lampman (29), and D.C. Scott (35). Smith, having second thoughts since his Book of Canadian Poetry seventeen years earlier, does some fine tuning in his selections from Roberts, Lampman, Carman, D.C. Scott and Campbell, adding or subtracting a poem here and there. The five poems previously selected from F.G. Scott’s work are now reduced to two, “The Unnamed Lake” being one of the deletions. Pauline Johnson is not represented at all. When Margaret Atwood edited The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in 1982, space restrictions made it necessary to reduce Smith’s representation of the Confederation Poets—Carman suffering the biggest cut—in order to include the work of a new generation. However, she acknowledges a changing assessment of Pauline Johnson by including two of her poems: “Ojistoh” and “Marshlands.”
The beginning of the twenty-first century saw the appearance of three noteworthy books pertaining to the Confederation Poets. Tracy Ware’s admirable anthology, A Northern Romanticism: Poets of the Confederation (2000), is restricted to six poets, dealt with in the order of their ages: Crawford, Campbell, Roberts, Lampman, Carman, and D. C. Scott—the last four being given greater representation than Crawford and Campbell. Valuable additional material includes pertinent biographical/critical sketches and notes on the poems. Seemingly in agreement, Ware states that “Lampman has been more consistently admired than the other Confederation poets,” citing his “precise” style and his emphasis on human nature over nature as the “important reasons for his status.”50 D. M. R. Bentley’s The Confederation Group of Poets, 1880-1897, already mentioned in this chapter, is the first full-length study of that group as a whole. Demonstrating an astonishing background knowledge, Bentley places the poets in the context of their time, showing how various influences impacted upon their work. The emphasis in this masterful study is not primarily evaluative, although it ends by stating (albeit not necessarily endorsing) the prevailing view in the twentieth century when “the stock of Lampman and Duncan Campbell Scott continued to rise and that of Roberts, Carman, Campbell, and Frederick George Scott to fall.”51 No mention of Pauline Johnson. The focus of Nick Mount’s witty and illuminating When Canadian Literature Moved to New York (2005) is not on the Confederation Poets, but his lively account of Carman and Roberts as expatriates adds to our understanding of their reputations.
We return now to the question of ranking with which this chapter began. Do the Rockies surpass the Alps in beauty and grandeur? While each may have its advocates, no one will deny that both are mightier than the Sussex Downs, however delightful those rolling hills may be. It is not necessarily a matter of belittling the latter to say that they do not attain the same heights as the mountains. The comparison makes a useful analogy with the respective merits of the Confederation Poets. As we have seen, it is generally agreed that Roberts, Carman, Lampman, and D.C. Scott loom above their contemporaries in achievement. That is not to dispute the momentary peaks in the poetry of Campbell, Johnson, and F.G. Scott.
“This ranking business, among approximate peers, is dangerous business,”52 Roberts chided W.A. Deacon in 1926, possibly in response to the latter’s guarded attempt in Poteen to evaluate the Confederation Poets. Dangerous or not, a consensus has arisen over the status of each of the seven poets considered in this present study. The trend is evident in the dating of four symposia at the University of Ottawa. For a couple of decades, beginning in 1974, these events were held annually to reappraise Canadian writers. The first Confederation Poet to be the subject of such a symposium was Archibald Lampman in 1976. Three others in turn were Duncan Campbell Scott (1979), Sir Charles G.D. Roberts (1983), and Bliss Carman (1989). That order reflects a ranking that is now widely, though not universally, accepted. Taken together, however, these poets are generally considered to be the Big Four while F.G. Scott, Pauline Johnson and Wilfred Campbell are rated somewhere below them. This chapter will conclude by examining these prevailing assessments.
There is a poignant moment in Hawthorne’s “The Great Stone Face” when a renowned poet confesses ruefully: “But my life ... has not corresponded with my thought.” The reverse is true of Frederick George Scott whose poetry, while unfailingly high-minded, is less praiseworthy than his life. Scott’s lofty ideals, which seldom irradiate his poetry, are manifest in his love for mankind, his devotion to duty, and his passion for justice. Becoming a beloved figure in his own time, he is still remembered for his dedicated service during World War I and his political activism afterwards. He was always forward in his social thinking, but ever conventional in his approach to poetry, having no patience for the modern verse of young radicals like his son, F. R Scott. After reading the latter’s “Teleological,” he asked in dismay: “Frank, is this poetry?”53 He might be even more perplexed today to see that Frank has secured a niche in Canada’s literary history while he himself is not much more than a footnote.
When Maclean’s published a special commemorative issue in 2004 to mark its upcoming centenary as a magazine, it profiled “Canada’s greatest innovators and how they changed the world.” Only one Confederation Poet made the poetry list:
Pauline Johnson, of mixed Mohawk and English ancestry, combined Iroquoian oral tradition and European Romanticisn to write incantory verse that could only have come from the New World. It instantly appealed to middle-class audiences around the world, few of whom seemed to notice she was also an early advocate for Native peoples and women.54
However, her importance as an advocate and as a feminist has belatedly been recognized, notably in Paddling Her Own Canoe (2000) by Veronica Strong-Boag and Carole Gerson, who also argue that she should be taken more seriously as a poet. The latter view has been emphasized by numerous other critics since Desmond Pacey dismissed her poetry as “meretricious.”55 While “there is much of [her] work that reveals only too plainly that it was intended to be complemented by its author’s showmanship, by her impassioned personality,” admits H.R. Percy, “some of her poetry is capable of standing alone in time as pure literature.”56 The public’s lasting interest in her is evident in the spate of biographies she has inspired. Particularly outstanding are Pauline (1981) by Betty Keller; and Charlotte Gray’s Flint and Feather (2002), the latter appearing on the best-seller list in Canada for many weeks. Besides being the subject of several dramatizations on radio and television and in the theatre, she is also featured in a cycle of poems, Pale as Real Ladies (1991) by Joan Crate. The Canadian government marked the centennial of her birth by issuing a commemorative stamp, making her the first Canadian author, the first Native Canadian, and only the third woman (other than a member of the royal family) to receive such an honour. To date, the only other Confederation Poet honoured with a stamp has been Archibald Lampman in 1989 (not the anniversary of a milestone in his career). Chiefswood, now designated a National Historic Site, is open to the public from May to October and provides the setting for special celebrations of Johnson’s life and work. Pauline, a chamber opera with libretto by Margaret Atwood and music by Christos Hatzis is scheduled to be performed by City Opera Vancouver early in 2011 and recorded by Naxos in a projected new Canadian Classics series. Indeed, in light of the continuing attention she receives, the title of one of the biographies sounds especially appropriate: Pauline Johnson Still Lives.57
Posterity has been less kind to Wilfred Campbell. Having no colourful legend to complement—or bolster—his poetry, as Johnson does, he has suffered the fate of having his popularity die with him. Damned with faint praise, if praised at all, he is regarded as a poet whose “early promise disappears under a misconception of his true gifts.”58 Seeing himself as a crusader foremost and a poet second, he promoted beliefs that suited the taste of the times, but are unfashionable today. Even Lorne Pierce, the product of a late-Victorian upbringing himself, found Campbell “so concerned with his thoughts on life, the moral purposes everywhere, patriotism, Anglo-Saxon unity and so on, that it crushed spontaneity and all but destroyed his exuberance.”59 Content was more important to him than style, but today’s readers are likely to find him heavy rather than profound, and often lacking in grace. “[M]ost of Campbell’s work fades into insignificance beside the work of the more familiar Confederation Poets,” says W.J. Keith in reviewing a 1983 essay on Campbell. “Indeed,” he adds, “it casts grave doubts on whether Campbell can, in the strictest sense of the term, be considered a poet at all.”60 A.J. M. Smith, in his introduction to The Book of Canadian Verse, is only slightly more generous: “He lacked the ability to write well enough for long enough .... [He] perhaps had greater gifts than F.G. Scott, but he sqaundered them recklessly.”61 As Smith implies, a study of Campbell’s complete works is a task for only the most dauntless of literary historians. Anyone wanting to sample Campbell at his best should consult Laurel Boone’s judicious William Wilfred Campbell: Selected Poetry and Essays (Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1987).
After more than seventeen years abroad, Charles G.D. Roberts returned to Canada in 1925 to be welcomed with a blaze of enthusiasm that lit the literary landscape. When the pyrotechnics began to sputter a little, W. A. Deacon reminded a fractious younger poet named Wilson MacDonald:
He is after all, our guest, as well as the ancient chief; and if his lordship of 45 years must end—as all reigns end—I want his retirement from the throne to be orderly and decent.... If you don’t rouse him, he will depart amiably in a month or so and we shall all have a fine memory of his genial and inspiring presence.62
In fact, the reception was cordial enough to persuade Roberts to remain in Canada. Despite being looked upon as an antediluvian by the Modernists, he shone as the brightest star in the literary firmament of the Establishment. He had been back barely a year when he became the first recipient of the Lorne Pierce Medal awarded by the Royal Society of Canada for contributions to Canadian literature. When he was granted a knighthood in 1935, he preferred to think that he was being honoured primarily for his poetry. “Roberts desires to remain in the memory of his countrymen as a poet,” declared Lorne Pierce, who was close to him, “although he has been historian, translator, novelist and writer of animal stories besides.”63 Also, according to Pomeroy, “In later years Roberts has been heard to remark, half-heartedly, of course, that he had lived for poetry but that he had lived by prose.”64 Essentially, however, Roberts’ career as a poet hardly outlasted that of Lampman since, between the appearance of The Book of the Rose in 1903 and that of The Iceberg and Other Poems in 1934, the task of earning his living by prose had left him time for only the occasional bit of verse. When the urge came to write poetry seriously again, his skills had been honed by time, but it was apparently too late for anything new and innovative. He was the most versatile Canadian writer of his generation, as Deacon
maintains; and, using the term in its restricted sense, he is a major Canadian poet. Whether he might have developed into the major Canadian poet had he perservered is as impossible to know as what the future might have held for Lampman had he lived.
In 1983 George Woodcock predicted “It is unlikely that Bliss Carman will ever regain the repute he enjoyed fifty years before....”65 Thus far, time has not proved him wrong, despite the efforts of Muriel Milller in her “somewhat problematic”66 labour of love, Bliss Carman: Quest and Revolt (1985), and in the more balanced reappraisals of scholars like Terry Whalen, who acknowledges “Carman’s willingness to produce more than he could finely craft,” but argues that he “is more versatile, more careful, more consistent and more interesting than many of his critics have led us to believe.”67 After examining Whalen’s views, W.J. Keith concedes that he “generally succeeds in extracting a good deal of impressive verse from among the dross”68 to support his contentions. Given the scorn that the Canadian disciples of Ezra Pound felt for Carman, it is interesting to learn that a youthful Pound declared: “Bliss Carman is about the only living American [sic] poet who would not improve by drowning.”69 As a much older man, Pound confessed: “I can still get sentimental over Carman and Hovey; back in 1905 what was there native except Songs from Vagabondia?”70 One of the most positive tributes to Carman appears in an address delivered by Malcolm Ross at Mount Allison University, 4 October 1984:
Despite the patronizing and often negative criticism that Carman’s poetry has received from some of our most respected critics, I have never faltered in my affection for it. Not all of it, but much of it—Ballads and Lyrics (a selection from six of the early volumes), the Sappho lyrics, Songs of the Sea Children, and poems scattered through the later volumes.71
Ross, like Whalen, finds ample quotations to show “how marvellously the best poems belie Carman’s reputation for formlessness, flabbiness, repetitiveness.”72 The jury is still out on Carman, but in the meantime we might ponder these remarks made by Al Purdy at the Carman Symposium in Ottawa in 1989:
I doubt that time will be any more intolerant than it already has been of Carman. It is unnecessary to mention his shortcomings—we all have some of those; he is still in the company of Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Yeats, Laurence and the rest.73
A decade after Archibald Lampman’s death, Louis Untermeyer lamented that his was “a voice that ceased while the song still trembled on his lips.”74 That song-never-sung continues to haunt some of his admirers, who wonder (to paraphrase Keats) that if heard melodies are sweet, might not those unheard be sweeter. Nevertheless, it is by his actual achievement, not what he might have written, that he must be judged. A few of his later poems, notably “The City at the End of Things,” have sometimes been seized upon as indications that Lampman might have become an important social commentator, but the evidence is not compelling. At his best, says Desmond Pacey, he is distinguished from Roberts and Carman, not by a greater social conscience but by differences in manner:
He was a more even poet than they; he never reached the heights of their finest passages, but he never sank to the depths to which they were capable of sinking. He had not Roberts’s manly vigour nor Carman’s melodic skill, but he had a greater concern with the detail of craftsmanship and a more patient and faithful watchfulness. He was a less colourful poet than they, but a more restrained and disciplined one.75
It seems like a fair asessment except that it implies a degree of blandness that does not quite do justice to what L. R. Early calls Lampman’s “sporadic brilliance.”76 Among those who have called Lampman the greatest of the Confederation Poets, perhaps no one has said it more resoundingly than D.M.R. Bentley: “I would like to suggest that, of all the English-language poets whose careers fall in the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the best—the most sustainedly intelligent and creative—is Archibald Lampman.”77
Au contraire, A.J.M. Smith has said in effect: “I believe Duncan Campbell Scott stands first among the poets of his generation....”78 Of the same mind are Margaret Atwood and George Woodcock, who admit to “a sneaking preference”79 for Scott. Fame took longer to catch up to him than it did to the other Confederation Poets. Despite the fact that his poetry was admired by discriminating readers from the outset, he lacked the flamboyance to become a recognized public figure like Roberts, Carman, Campbell, Johnson and the other Scott. Even Lampman, diffident though he had been in life, had eclipsed Scott by being enshrined in the mythology that sometimes surrounds an artist overtaken by death with his promise seemingly unfulfilled. Increasingly, however, Scott has been seen as more congenial to the tastes of later generations than any of the other Confederation Poets. His own analysis of his work, written in February 1905 at the request of Pelham Edgar, indicates some of the qualities that have contributed to his appeal:
You may discover from my work that I make verses as well as I can. One of my faiths is expressed by Ben Johnson “It is only the disease of the unskilled to think rude things greater than polished.” Everything I write starts with its rhythmical life for I hold this to be essential to lyrical poetry. You could find plenty to say about metre and I have invented not a few new stanzas. Give me some credit for logic as applied to aesthetics for I declare that I value brain power at the bottom of everything. If you call me a nature poet you will have to forget some of my best work. Then I am now getting older and better acquainted with my own heart, a slow process with many of us.80
During his lifetime, Scott’s success in the Department of Indian Affairs outpaced his reputation as a poet. Ironically, those positions have now been reversed with Scott coming under attack for his role in carrying out the government’s policy of assimilation to solve the “Indian problem.” Reference has been made in Chapter 5 to criticisms of his bureaucratic efficiency by Brian Titley (Narrow Vision) and Stan Dragland (Floating Voice). In addition, the National Film Board of Canada produced The Poet and the Indians (1995), a 57-minute film exploring the apparent conflict between Scott the sensitive poet and Scott the enforcer of the government’s tryannical policies. It is easy, of course, to judge him from a later viewpoint and difficult to understand the pervasiveness of the ideology of Anglo-Saxon Canada during his time. Nowhere is this more evident than in the National Lampoon (June 1983): “By doing his Christian and civic duty to ensure the rapid decline of native culture in Canada, he conveniently provided himself with sunset-tinged images of the ‘noble savage’ to enrich his bland versifying, while at the same time enriching his private collection with filched Indian art, now worth a bundle.” Anyone who seriously studies Scott’s life and work will find this caricature as unfair as it is inaccurate. Also unjustly defamatory is Will Ferguson’s choice of Scott as one of “the most contemptible Canadians” (The Beaver, August/September, 2007). To hear Ferguson tell it, one would think Scott created—even expanded—the policies that marginalized the Indians.
Meanwhile, the whirligig of time in its revolutions may yet bring further shifts in the way the Confederation Poets are viewed by the public. Will the future see it embracing any more than two or three poems by Frederick George Scott? Or a handful by William Wilfred Campbell? Will Pauline Johnson withstand scrutiny as a significant feminine and aboriginal voice? How will the reputations of Roberts, Carman, Lampman and D.C. Scott continue to stand up against each other? Will Roberts’ animal stories be seen as his greatest literary achievement while the quality of his poetry is found to be more limited than that of Lampman or D.C. Scott? Will Carman’s incantations ever come anywhere close to regaining their former popularity? Is it as impossible to rank Lampman and D.C. Scott as it is to choose between apples and oranges? Or have both of them been over-rated by a group of influential critics with a particular bias? Yet, when all is said and done, how preoccupied do we need to be with the foregoing questions? Any poet who has been able to transport us, even if only occasionally, is worthy of grateful remembrance.
The term “Confederation Poets” has gained currency in classifying the group of poets born shortly before Confederation and maturing during the ferment of the early post-Confederation period. However, the term should not be taken to mean an organized group, as Duncan Campbell Scott points out:
In dealing with the group of writers born circa 1860—I notice a tendency to establish a formal association of the individuals with the acknowledged head of C.G.D.R. This is quite erroneous .... I don’t like to see this notion hardening into a tradition.81
Yet, while there was no “formal association,” these Confederation Poets all came to know one another, sometimes personally, and always through each other’s work. Undoubtedly, they were motivated and stimulated by each other even while they maintained their individuality. Mainly, what they had in common was a sense of having grown up in an emerging nation whose spirit and character needed to be articulated by voices like theirs.