At the Mermaid Inn

The Globe, Toronto: March 4, 1893


       The editor of The Canadian Magazine has given us in his first number a sample of a periodical which ought to be a credit to the whole country. It is quiet and dignified in tone and appearance, and evidently intends to lay more stress on good letter-press matter than on a gaudy exterior and over-illustration of a poor and superficial type. To say that the magazine is perfect would be ridiculous; we cannot expect a magazine got up in Canada to be equal in appearance and artistic finish to three or four high-class American magazines. But what we do want, and what Mr. Mowat is aiming to give us, is a periodical representing as far as is possible what is best in Canadian development and refinement. And I think, as far as a first number can be judged, that he has succeeded. There are four or five short and well-written articles in this first number that are up to the tone of the best English or American reviews. In "The Manitoba School Law," by Mr. McCarthy, and "The Anti-National Features of the National Policy," by Principal Grant, we have two strong and intensely interesting articles as the commencement of a series on subjects now of grave importance to the Canadian people. Mr. McCarthy gives from his own standpoint his opinion of the Manitoba school case, and Principal Grant in his desire to have the duty removed from books will have the sympathy of all Canadians who are interested in the intellectual development of their country. Prof. Clark contributes a scholarly and thoughtful article on "Conduct and manner." But from a literary point of view, to my mind, the best written and by far the ablest article in the number is "Some modernisms of the stage," by H.W. Charlesworth, who is, I understand, one of the editors of The Toronto World. There is a maturity and charm of style, added to a dignified sincerity, in this article that is irresistible, and one who starts in at the first must read it to the end. It is more than mere splendid criticism of "things Thespian." We feel not only that we are listening to a man who knows thoroughly what he is talking about, but we are carried into an atmosphere of one who looks on one of the greatest of the arts from the noblest and most human standpoint. Without going any further, I think that these articles already mentioned make this first number of The Canadian Magazine worthy of the hearty support of all sections of the Dominion. Turning to the illustration, the editor is to be congratulated on the beauty of the bit of landscape chosen for his frontispiece. But he is wise in limiting the illustration, as most people would prefer no illustration at all to a profusion of bad pictures.

       In a late number of a well-known American journal there was an article with the caption, "Does poetry pay?" and the question was considered with all seriousness whether poetry can ever be a paying investment from a monetary point of view. The answer to this is so obvious that it is hardly worth the while to have asked the question. But the asking of the question is a fresh instance of how literature is viewed, and how its success is gauged. By a successful book we now mean one which has reached its fourteenth edition, although anyone with a true conception of what merit in literature consists must know that in ten years he could not find a copy of the said "successful" book in existence in the world, it having gone to the pulp-mill to be ground into substance for other "successful" books, which in turn will meet a like fate. But nowadays there is a sort of sliding scale of perfection in literature or bookmaking, which corresponds to the different intellectual levels of the reading public. It is but another instance of the old law of supply and demand, and whereas in the last century the educated and aristocratic only had a literature designed specially for their perusal, now each class has its inspired prophets and seers. While this is so there is bound to be some confusion in the terms of praise or blame, and a consequent perversion of the word "successful," as applied to literature. It is not in the nature of things that poetry should ever "pay." In the first place it is so easy to write verse that is not poetry at all, and this is heralded with as great applause as if it were inspired by the Nine, and so we have a constant stream of mediocre verse which tires and misleads the public. Then the demand for poetry is necessarily limited, and as it never provides for that insatiable thirst for the startling or novel which consumes and parches modern life it must only appeal to those who are clear-hearted enough to be influenced by what is purely spiritual and intellectual. Poetry and the arts generally are mainly useful by being practically of no use at all, and by this quality they may help to save the world. So in the wider sense, in the sense which is alone of importance, poetry, or any other art, does "pay." Its return to the artist who practises it is incalculable, and as well to him who enjoys and appreciates it. Art persists by the same force that leads a man to do good, because it is true and beautiful to do so, and from no mercantile reason whatever, and thus art and religion are fed by the same translucent springs.

       The Canadians are like the Scotch of old times. Finding little to do, and small prospect of advancement in their own country, they are obliged, or at least irresistibly tempted, to carry their force and enterprise of character elsewhere. They also had to hew out their fortunes in foreign lands; and they do it. Every now and then some new name of our countrymen becomes prominent in an honorable way in Great Britain or the United States. We have latterly had reason to be proud of the Hon. Edward Blake, whose triumphs in oratory in a land full of the memories and present examples of trained statesmanship and great speaking have exceeded even our expectations. There are other names which are, or are becoming, familiar to us. Grant Allen is a well-known figure in the English literary life of the day. Setting his novels aside—which are, I believe, bad enough—he has done a great deal of interesting and valuable literary work of many sorts. He is most famed, and no doubt properly so, for his sketches and articles are descriptive of out-of-door nature. Mr. Gilbert Parker has recently become honorably known in London as a novelist and storyteller, and there is a busy future before him, bright with the promise of success and fame. We have all heard of Miss Sara Jeannette Duncan, now Mrs. Cotes, and have read more or less of her entertaining and popular work. Her success has been phenomenal, and her name meets the eye in almost every newspaper.
       In the United States Canadians have been universally successful in every line of life. Scattered thickly over the northern states, they have everywhere secured an honorable position, and sometimes risen to prominence. A recent instance is the promotion of Dr. Schurman to the presidency of Cornell university—an honor deeply merited, it is said, by his uncommon attainments in philosophy. Dr. Schurman is a Nova Scotian, like so many of our able men, who appear to have grown particularly sturdy, in both mind and body, under the breath of the sea. Erastus Wiman, another Canadian in the United States, has managed to appropriate to himself a good deal more than his proper share of the world's wealth, and has made himself conspicuous enough in other ways during the last few years. Mr. E.W. Thomson is increasing his reputation in Boston as a writer of short stories. We occasionally see something of his in the New York weeklies, or in "Two Tales." Bliss Carman's name floats about in the literary worlds of New York and Boston, now connected with one periodical and now with another, and always carrying with it a suggestion of genius and poetry. W. Blackburne Harte we cannot count as a Canadian, although we feel a special interest in his fortunes owing to his former connection with our journalism, and his brief sojourn in this country.
       No doubt a time will come when the more populous life and increasing interests of our own country will keep a larger proportion of its enterprising spirits within its own borders. For the present, however, it is quite natural that those who seek the widest field for their abilities should wander abroad. Let us find no fault with them on that account. They probably bring more honor to their country in the fields which they have chosen than they would if they had remained at home. Here their energies might have withered away in petty and fruitless occupations, and their talent have evaporated in the thin sluggishness of a colonial atmosphere.