At the Mermaid Inn

The Globe, Toronto: October 22, 1892


       Canada has lost one of her most talented artists by the death of Paul Peel. He was cut off before he had commenced to realise his powers, just at the time when the technical difficulties of his art were conquered, and when he might expect to use to advantage the control and experience he had gained. I am not able to give a sketch of his life or works; that must be furnished by those who knew him; but it would be amiss if in this column no reference were made to one who gave himself up to his chosen art, and who died before his life-work was finished. I am not aware that any of his work dealt with Canadian subjects; those pictures of his which I have seen seemed to show French ideals, and were painted from French subjects. His work always had a charm of its own, and the reproduction by the Autotype Company of his "After the Bath," where two little children warm themselves before an open fire, is very tender and charming, and the original picture must have these qualities in a still higher degree.

       I notice that Mrs. Cotes (Sara J. Duncan) has an article on "The East" in the present number of The Popular Science Monthly. This fact reminds us that Canada has many very able writers among her women. Prominent in a long list are the well-known names of Miss Machar, Mrs. Harrison, Miss Wetherald, and Miss Pauline Johnson, the Indian poetess. All of these women are able writers of fiction, as well as poets. Miss Wetherald, who is one of the youngest, has also a reputation as a journalist and has written many a strong editorial. She has been for some time associate editor of Mrs. Cameron's clever paper, Wives and Daughters, and is often a contributor to American periodicals and journals. But it is as a poet that I think Miss Wetherald has not done justice to herself, and it is hard to say what she might not have accomplished had she but wooed her muse a little more faithfully. As it is, she has produced the finest sonnets ever written by a Canadian woman, and stands in the front rank of Canadian sonnet writers. It is a pity that such a woman as Miss Wetherald, with her strong practical sensibilities and literary powers, has given herself over to the drudgery of journalism. It is all very well to say that women cannot write verse. Some of the strongest verse of to-day in America is written by women, and we hope that Miss Wetherald has not entirely deserted her muse. Miss Machar's spiritual lyre is so well known to Canadians that she needs no introduction to the readers of the Mermaid Inn. Mrs. Harrison is also well known to us all in prose and verse. Miss Johnson is becoming known in England, where, I understand, Mr. Theodore Watts has espoused her cause. She has written some strong and original work, which should deserve our notice outside of any interest her personality as an Indian may create. Those who would know more of her evident genius, I would direct to the fine, if rather enthusiastic, article on Miss Johnson's verse in the September number of The Lake Magazine, by Mr. H.W. Charlesworth, of The Toronto World, who is himself one of our rising litterateurs.

       Patriotism with us is not an instinctive but a moral quality. We cannot be patriotic as the Englishman is patriotic. Born and bred in an old and famous land covered with the monuments and remnants of a romantic history, a land still ringing with names that were illustrious centuries ago, surrounded by all the epoch-making stir of a great race, the Englishman, indeed, were not at the level of humanity if he had not patriotism. Rather than that all this should suffer hostile touch or be affected by any breath of shame, he springs to arms by an impulse as natural and irrepressible as the indignation that would fire him at seeing a child or a woman beaten and abused. With us it is very different. We have no magnificent race history behind us, nor visible memorials of its beauty and splendor, we have not even a homogeneous people; we are, indeed, only the scattered and intractable materials of which a nation may be made. We cannot have, therefore, any impulse of patriotism. Our patriotism is founded upon duty and the sense of honor. But it is none the less real, and in those who possess it will do duty as unflinchingly in the hour of danger as that other patriotism of the blood whereof we have spoken. Even among our neighbors of the United States, with the inspiriting memory of some heroic national experiences behind them, the old-fashioned fiery and affectionate love of native land is not fully developed, as the exaggerated gasconading exhibition of it in their public press distinctly shows. The ordinary American only loves and clings to his country as long as he can make money out of it. He is ready to nationalise himself anywhere where the dollars are. Nevertheless, there is a great deal more patriotism of the instinctive sort in the United States than in Canada, and most naturally so—their power, independence and considerable historic background giving them that spiritual as well as material advantage over us. No one can go into some of the American cities and study the inscriptions—on the monuments to their dead of the Civil War without a thrilled consciousness that these are the records of mighty events, and that he is listening to the impassioned voice of a people. We shall not know what national consciousness and patriotism are until something like that happens to us. If it ever comes to a question with each one of us of either sneaking off into a corner and playing the coward or else going forth sternly for pride and honor's sake, if not for love, to risk our blood for this land's unity or independence, then in a little while we shall learn what patriotism is. The brave among us shall make it possible for our descendants to be patriotic in the true sense, and not till then.

       We can all remember a book in which an American behaved with some audacity, and with plenty of that humor and good sense, coupled with self-reliance, which the world has come to recognise as the characteristic of a type of the neighboring republic. I refer to Christopher Newman in Mr. Henry James' novel "The American." Nicholas Tarvin, the Westerner who occupies so large a portion of the canvas in "The Nahulakah," is cast in the same mould; he proceeds with his impossible tasks with an assumption of the same humor and self-reliance. But one cannot consider them as anything but an assumption; behind all his valorous deeds and presence of mind one seems to see a really threadbare character. Christopher Newman was a gentleman, and even in the most trying situations he never becomes absurd. This is, of course, an evidence of Mr. James' wonderful power. But Tarvin is created not from the life, but from that idea of it which certain American playwrights bring so prominently before their audiences. From first to last there is no touch of the gentleman about him, and he remains to the end as vulgar as he promises to be at the beginning. The book is frankly one given over to antithesis, and we have the rawest and rankest Western life forced into the most dreamy and ancient Eastern civilisation; we even have a little native prince reciting a poem of William Blake's:

              "Tiger, tiger, burning bright
              In the forests of the night";

and the fortunes of a Western town, in which it is impossible to take any interest, depending upon the success of Tarvin's more than quixotic enterprise. If it is fair to separate the work of the joint authors, one must confess that those portions which bear the imprint of Mr. Kipling's genius are successful, and brilliantly so; the ride to the "Cow's Mouth," the descriptions of the prince's wedding fete, and many another passage in the book, are as vivid and picturesque as possible. It is curious to notice here and there tricks of the novelist's art which are certainly out of date, and which have a grotesque appearance in a modern novel; witness Tarvin's ridiculous address to his horse before he commences his journey to the "Cow's Mouth," which adds yet another stroke of the unsubstantial to that most visionary figure.