At the Mermaid Inn

The Globe, Toronto: February 18, 1893


       If there be any one quality more than another in Miss Harriet Monroe's verse which distinguishes it from that of the American poets of her own sex it is the spirit of intense longing for liberty, liberty of life and art, as well as government. This spirit pervades the whole of the drama which occupies a large portion of her new book of poems, and throughout the lyrics and sonnets which follow it quickens and breathes. There will always be one or two poems in the works of every writer which will seem to epitomize the character and aim of his genius, and the sonnet "With a Copy of Shelley," seems to contain that desire for liberty, for advancement, for truth, expressed in a characteristic manner, with something of the intensity and rapture of the poet, in whose volume it was written, which may be taken as the main tendency of Miss Monroe's work. I can recall the utterance of only one woman which is infused with the same spirit of ideal liberty; in this quality the work of Mrs. W.E. Hamilton King is akin to that of Harriet Monroe. But the former writer, who is so little known, has greater picturesqueness, a finer eye for the richness of landscape. In common they have the fault of diffuseness, which is noticed in Mrs. King's "The Disciples," and Miss Monroe's "Valeria," and in this as well as in many other points they both resemble Mrs. Browning. If Miss Monroe had been possessed of that constructive ability which goes to the making of a drama her "Valeria" would have been a splendid success. That adjective might be applied to it with perfect truth as it stands, for it contains some rare energetic and imaginative writing, and is splendid as well from these qualities as from the spirit which animates it. But if the drama is a trifle too gigantic for Miss Monroe's constructive power, in the sonnet she has found a form for which she seems to have an intuition, and in which she expresses herself with a natural force and freedom. The sonnet is a form which will never grow old, and which will be revivified so often as a poet with something to say uses it, and no matter how many bad sonnets may be written the ideal form remains. When a poet has such a perfect feeling for the completeness and perfection of this form as has Miss Monroe it would almost be worth while to cultivate it alone until the outcome became something more perfect, sweeter, with a richer and more limpid harmony than anything which our day has seen. When over-production is plainly the demon with which our modern writers are possessed it would be an achievement to cast him out and give only the best moments of one's life to the perfecting of some sincere work. And already Miss Monroe has produced several sonnets that are perfect. I wish I could quote them entire instead of giving only their titles: "To a Beautiful Lady," "On Reading a Modern Romance," "Time's Perversity," "To W.S.M." The perfection of at least two of Miss Monroe's lyrics, "Unfulfilled" and "A Hymn," outstrips the genuine quality of their companions and leaves them unique in the collection. Altogether, Miss Monroe's book, which is published by McClurg & Co. of Chicago, announces that she is capable of perfect things, which is a sufficient distinction in these days when form seems to be the slave of mediocrity and not the handmaid of genius.

       The practice of snowshoeing is one which every man should cultivate, wherever the conditions are favorable to it. It is an easy, exhilarating and very thorough way of getting exercise. The free, swinging stride, which the use of snowshoes necessitates, has the effect of awakening the blood in all parts of the body to a full and natural activity. To anyone who is at all accustomed to it, the motion seems to be an exceedingly easy and unwearying one; and it is an undoubted fact that if the snow is in a satisfactory condition a man can go much farther with snowshoes, and much more swiftly without weariness, than he can walking in the usual way upon the travelled road.
       But the supreme charm of this delightful exercise lies in the fact that, as in the case of imagination as compared with logic, or the poet compared with the scientific philosopher, the snowshoer is freed from all rules of any absolute system of procedure. Whereas the ordinary wayfarer must follow slowly and ploddingly the worn paths and beaten highways, he sets all guidance at defiance, and marches at the bidding of any whim over fields, over marshes, down valleys, wherever he will. He crosses or follows the level breadth of rivers, finding in them the smoothest and freest floorway for his feet. He strides into the depth of forests, where, but for his shoes, he would be buried to his waist in snow. He climbs upon the treetops and looks abroad over the world; in imagination the monarch of all he surveys. His tracks are everywhere but along the common road; that, like the artist-Bohemian, he sedulously avoids.

       A Canadian writer whose work is continually gaining in strength of imagination and fulness of tone is the Rev. Frederick George Scott. We are reminded of him by a very vigorous and interesting poem called "In Via Mortis," in The Week for February 10th. The imagery of this poem, the picturing of the dead and their hidden land, and the emotions stirred within the poet's soul by the voices and shadows of the after world are given to us in the large and vague forms suggestive of all indigenous northern poetry. The workmanship of the stanzas is of a high order, and marks a continued advance upon the quality, already in some cases fine, of such previous work of this writer as we have seen. As a piece of writing it would be hard to improve upon the following stanza:

"I know you not, great forms of giant kings,
       Who held dominion in your iron hands,
Who toyed with battles and all valorous things,
       Counting yourselves as gods, when on the sands
Ye piled the earth's rock fragments in a heap,
       To mark and guard the grandeur of your sleep,
And quaff the cup which death, our mother, brings."