At the Mermaid Inn

The Globe, Toronto: March 26, 1892


Sir Roger—What have we here?
Giles—There is everything under the sun set down with some show of reason; they run atilt at the world, and treat men and manners as familiar as an old hat.
Sir Roger—Think you they protest too much? I like a matter disposed bravely, but—
Giles—Methinks they have a genial tongue. Will you hear them?
Sir Roger—Well, an’ it be not too long I’ll have some sack, and you read on.

— Old Play.

       “You know I sometimes write myself,” the young fellow said.
       “Indeed,” said I, “I am interested.”
       “Sometimes I seem possessed by a familiar spirit, a sort of demon, and the consequence is—I write.”
       “Quite natural,” said my friend Simon Peter, in his most caustic tone; he hates a literary man of any kind. I tried to soften his asperity. “I believe that is a common experience; all the greatest poets have certified to it,” the youth blustered. “I wish you had something here you could read us now,” I continued. I saw Simon Peter take his pipe out of his mouth; I knew he was glaring at me. But if he will smoke in my rooms why should I not have some revenge on him? “Well, you see I have something,” said the young fellow, fingering at his pocket. “Well let us have it,” I said, looking straight at Simon Peter. That worthy had taken out his cigar case; he knows of all things I abhor cigar smoke. But the young fellow had got into his pocket and unfolded his paper, clearing his throat, which had become choked with Simon Peter’s vile incense. He read these words:—

Like a demon sits the cloud,
Alight upon the shoulder of the world,
And tempts her with the promise of renown,
To be the greatest planet of the lot.
If she will have him let his lightnings loose,
And tear the haze from off the dreamy wood
And blast the promise of the fertile year.
But the old world smiles on.
I know you, gentle sir, you are the Fiend,
Begone! for I am well content, being small,
To have a trusty heart; we will go on,
I and my children, doing some good, be sure,
And being contented in our homely way;
And you may flash about from star to star,
Hobble your thunder in the fields of Mars,
Maybe sometime you will be tired, and come
To turn a mill within the gorge of Time;
You will be happier then, but, until then,

       It was difficult for me to say anything, and I knew there was no use expecting Simon Peter to say a word, so there was an awkward silence. Then I asked whether he liked writing blank verse. I thought this was the easiest way out of it, and the conversation did drift away from the peril. Simon Peter was so grateful that he stopped smoking his cigar. There is something human about that man. When the youth went away Simon Peter shook hand with him. I asked him why. “You put him in a beastly false position,” he said, with some harshness, “and I was sorry for him.” I thought this was paying me off with a vengeance.

       One at least of the frequenters of the Mermaid Inn desires to congratulate Mr. George Martin on his excellent poem “To my Canary Bird,” in the March number of The Dominion Illustrated Monthly. Mr. Martin when he is at his best, as in these stanzas, shows himself to be a very good craftsman in verse. His lines are full of feeling, tender and impulsive, and the workmanship of the entire poem is remarkable for skill of construction and charm of phrase. Mr. Martin has evidently learned his art from Keats, whose note we catch in very many of the lines. I find the following stanza exceedingly pleasant to the car and the fancy:—

There is no touch of winter in thy song,
       No wall of winds, my yellow-coated friend;
All beauties of the spring to thee belong,
       All blooming charms, and all the scents that lend
A drowsy gladness to the summer hours;
       Again I hear swift rivulets descend
              The mountain slopes, like children loosed from school;
              Again I see the lily on the pool,
And hear the whispered loves of leaves and flowers.

       If I may judge from such former work of Mr. Martin as I have seen, he is one of those poets whose gift, like wine and tobacco pipes, to use Lowell’s comparison, improves with age. The older he grows the better work he does. His is surely a happy destiny who can occupy and amuse a fresh and vigorous old age with the composition of such eloquent and workmanlike verses as these.

       A great deal has been written as to the comparative merits of the greater novelists and novels of this century. And invariably, the first place has been given to such writers as Scott, Thackeray, Eliot and Dickens. It is very hard to make a complete list of the greater writers of fiction in the English language. Many would be inclined to include Bulwer and others. There is no doubt that much work of a strong and remarkable character has been done by such writers as Reade, Collins, Trollope, etc. I would be tempted to place Kingsley above them all, and close in rank with the first mentioned, while such men as Hardy, Blackmore and Norris, form a later and strongly distinctive school, more akin to the better American fiction writers of to-day. George Meredith stands by himself as a strange personality, remaining from the older school, and yet not of them. It may not be generally known that one or even two of the greatest works of fiction of modern days came from a New England mind, that of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Probably the two greatest novels of this or any other century are the “Scarlet Letter,” by Hawthorne, and “Silas Marner,” by George Eliot. Both are simple in construction and unaffected in manner, but both, and especially the former, deal with subjects of so great a character and in such a way as to make them the most remarkable dramas of human life, in prose or poetry, since Shakespeare.

       Now in the first breaking of spring, when mind and body take rest after the prolonged struggle with tempest and frost, and the fair promise of the fruitful year is before us, there comes upon the natural human soul of the poor man the longing to possess land, to have the lordship of some little plot of fertile earth, where he may plant and tend and know the triumph of harvest. Next to the care and education of children, I think that the freshest and happiest occupation is the planting and rearing of an orchard. In our climate the difficulties with which the orcharder has to contend and the skill and intelligence which are required of him perhaps render this pursuit all the more exhilarating. What can be more interesting to anyone who loves the soil and all that grows upon it, than by careful and persistent experiment to discover what trees and fruit-bearing plants can be utilised, and how best they can be utilized, to give to his land that bountiful and fruit-laden aspect which is so closely associated with the idea of home and the homestead. The most noticeable defect in the farm land scenery of Middle and Eastern Ontario is the lack of orchards. The wild scenery of the forest is beautiful, and not less lovely in another way are the fields of our forefathers, mellowed by long years and the patient and affectionate usage of men. But these bare and almost desolate farms, where there is neither the wild beauty of the wilderness nor the genial loveliness of old possession, beat down the imagination, and their melancholy influence must tend to harden and depress the generation of young people growing up among them. Let every man, unless he be indeed in that degree of poverty that compels him to devote himself to bread-making alone, do something for his children and his country by planting trees, and especially fruit trees. When he has done this he will have accomplished things which his thought has probably not patience to follow out. He will have contributed to the growth of patriotism in a succeeding generation; he will have established a moral and intellectual influence, which shall enter into the lives of many hundreds of his descendants.