That Far River:
Selected Poems of
Theodore Goodridge Roberts

Edited by Martin Ware



Notes and Criticism


 

Notes on the Poems

 

p. 6
“The Shooting of the Moose”: the earlier version is preferred to the LB poem “The Moose” in which the fourth stanza is omitted, and other revisions have the effect of mitigating the poem’s tone.
p. 8

“Spring Flight”: an early version of this was entitled “The Honk of the Geese,” and published in The Criterion (New Series), 2 (April 1901-March 1902), p.5. A rearranged and revised version was published in LS, and this version with very minor changes was published in Songs of the Maritimes. I have preferred the latter to the LB version. In the LB version “winter’s fled” is substituted for “winter’s dead”; a line “In the star mist there” is added to the third stanza; and “cronk” replaces “honk”.

p. 10

“Flying Over”: the date 1902 is conjectural, based on parallels with “Spring Flight,” and the fact that Theodore was in New York in the Spring of 1902.

p. 10

“The Angler”: the last two stanzas of this poem, which are much inferior to the other three, have been omitted.

p. 11

“The Desolate Cabin”: a three verse poem with this title was published in Ainslie’s Magazine, 12 (1905), p. 109. The later version, printed here, is a much revised and expanded version of this. According to a handwritten note in the margin of a UNB typescript, “The Desolate Cabin” was revised on 20th November, 1931. Apart from the pointing, the TS and LB versions are identical.

p. 18

“A Song for Isoud”: the conjectural date of 1900 is based on Theodore’s
preoccupation with knight errantry at this time, as evidenced by his prose work The House of Isstens (Boston: Page, 1900). “Palamides at the Well,” a poem on much the same theme as “A Song for Isoud,” appeared in print in Literary World, vol. 34 in 1903.

p. 19

“This Day’s Grief”: the conjectural date of 1900 is based only on parallels of mood and motif with other poems written at about this [Page 109] time.

p. 21

“The Players”: probably takes as its point of departure Theodore’s battle to survive during his bouts with complications of malaria in 1898.

p. 22

“A Vigil”: conjectural date of 1904 would be consistent with the serene mood of the first year of Theodore’s marriage.

p. 23

“An Epitaph”: some of the images and ideas in this poem are found in Theodore’s “The Vagabond,” Century Magazine, 56 (1898), p. 685. The first known version of the actual poem is entitled “A Vagrant’s Epitaph,” Scribner’s Magazine, 6 (1904), p. 204. This was revised as “Epitaph for a Voyageur,” and published in The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse (1913). Further revisions were made before the poem appeared as “An Epitaph” in LB.

p. 26

“Song of a Lost Heart”: the allusion to the pink-walled house is almost certainly to the house in the Barbados that Theodore and his family lived in (mentioned in “Christmas in Alurio”). “The grey-walled house / In veiled London town” might be the house on Charing Cross Road to which Theodore went on leave in 1917-18; and “the grey-roofed house between the wood and the stream” is likely to have been a house in backwoods New Brunswick. The most likely date for the poem is 1918-19, before Theodore returned home from the war.

p. 27

“If Love Were Only These Things”: the strong romanticism here might tend to suggest that the poem was written at about the same time as “The Hamadryad” (1905).

p. 33

“The Fiddler”: probably belongs to the years 1899-1901 spent in Newfoundland. The first five numbers of the Newfoundland Magazine, of which Theodore was the editor, and in which the poem probably first appeared, have disappeared without trace.

p. 35

“The Wrecker’s Prayer”: another poem best ascribed to the Newfound-land years.

p. 36

“Mother Carey’s Chickens”: the early version given here appeared in The
Independent, 53 (1901), p. 2532. The poem was reprinted in a virtually identical form in an undated, unidentified newspaper, a clipping from which is in the editor’s possession. The early version has a rhythmic vigour lacking in the LB version.

p. 39

“Pernambuco in May”: the headnote “Pernambuco” in LB indicates that the poem was written in this Brazilian port. Theodore visited it [Page 110] once in 1901. According to an undated newspaper clipping giving an account of a talk he gave to the Commercial Club of Halifax (Nova Scotia), he sailed as supercargo from Newfoundland to Pernambuco on the barquentine the Flora. In his reported words “the captain never drank a drop while at sea…But he soon caught up with me when he went ashore.”

p. 40

“Sailing North”: the Independent version has a note “off Pernambuco.” Hence, a date of 1901.

p. 41

“Fiddler’s Green”: according to the undated clipping mentioned above, the poem was written during the five month voyage to Pernambuco and back in 1901. One of Theodore’s notebooks refers to “Fiddler’s Green” as the title poem of a collection submitted for possible publication in 1908. It is not known what happened to this submission nor to the typescript (which may have been lost when the Saint John river in the spring of 1919 flooded Dr. A.G.F. Wainwright’s basement where many of Theodore’s papers had been stored for the duration of the war).

p. 48

“The Shark”: the poem first appeared in The Independent, 70 (1911), p. 141, and was subsequently very substantially revised before it appeared in The Halifax Herald. This has been preferred to the LB version. The final line in LB is “‘That’s that,’ the skipper said.”

p. 49

“The Blind Sailor”: the first known version appeared in The Canadian Magazine, 38 (1911-12), p. 421. I have preferred it to the LB version on the grounds that revisions in the latter to two of the lines of the seventh verse read “Fountains in the garden and oxen in the street / Black men selling parrots, and brown girls selling sweets.”

p. 63

“The Hamadryad”: in the LB text, the last two stanzas are run together. In earlier versions of the poem (Ind; SP; LS;) the last eight lines take the form of two quatrains. In all likelihood, the running together of the two quatrains was simply an editorial mistake.

p. 69

“The Complaint of the Olivette”: the Olivette was the ship that carried thirty-eight war correspondents from Florida to Cuba where they would cover the Spanish War (spring, 1898).

p. 71

“The Torpedo Boat”: a surprisingly early poem on this subject, published in the Kit Bag, 2 (1902), pp. 27-28. The poem was datelined “Cuba 1898.”

p. 77

“The Fifes of Valcartier”: the title of an early version was “The Fifes [Page 111] at Valcartier,” published in The Windsor Magazine, 42 (1915), p. 118. A later version “The Fifes” was published in Touchstone, 1 (July 1917), p. 284. This has the dateline “Valcartier Camp, Canada; 9th September, 1914.” The camp was a temporary base for the troops of the Canadian Expeditionary Force before they sailed for the battlefields of Europe.

p. 79

“A Cook-House at Reveillé”: the UNB TS. has been preferred to the LB version. There is a tougher tone to the former. The TS. is annotated with a dateline of “November 1914” in Theodore’s hand.

p. 83

“A Billet in Flanders”: the date 1915 is bracketed below the title in LB.

p. 89

“Secret River”: according to Charles Bruce’s account of a poetry reading given by Theodore (“Streams Sparkle,” Expositor, 16th January, 1935), the latter said that this was first published in The Listening Post, the magazine of the 7th battalion. It was probably written in reaction to the horrors of trench warfare—;most likely in 1915 when Theodore was often at the front.

p. 89

“Old White Water Boy”: the conjectural date of 1917 is based on the fact, amongst others, that in this year Theodore published a prose piece about Archie Douglas, “Old Archie,” Canadian Magazine, 50 (1917).

p. 91

“River Morning”: a TS. of this poem, probably dating to 1923-6, exists in the Mary Fanton Roberts papers. It is typed on the same sheet as “The Sandbar” and “The Blue Heron.” According to Dorothy Roberts Leisner, Theodore’s daughter, “The Blue Heron” was written in 1923, which may indicate a comparable date for “River Morning.”

p. 91

“The Sandbar”: see “River Morning” above. Probably written in about 1923.

p. 92

“The Blue Heron”: “‘The Blue Heron’ was written in 1923. I remember the very day. Dad was walking on the St. John River back from our camp five miles above Fredericton—;and came back with that poem.” Extract of a letter from Dorothy Roberts Leisner to the editor (1st June, 1984).

p. 94

“Magic”: according to one of Theodore’s notebooks, written in 1931.

p. 96

“The Dying Pirate’s Prayer”: the LS version is preferred to the LB version, because the seaman’s language is more consistent in the [Page 112] former. One is inclined to suspect a heavy editorial hand in the case of the latter.

p. 98

“The Lower Bridge Bath”: written in 1932 according to one of Theodore’s
notebooks. It was almost certainly written during or shortly after Theodore’s last major sea voyage, made in that year to the Caribbean and then by way of the Panama Canal to Vancouver and back.

p. 99
“Returning”: a much worked over TS. of this is dated 4th March, 1933. [Page 113]



Life of Theodore Goodridge Roberts


1877
7th July—;birth at Fredericton. Lived at George Street Rectory, his father, George Goodridge Roberts, being rector of St. Anne’s Parish.
1881-94

Happy childhood. Summer visits to the Smith farm at Crock’s Point, North of Fredericton. Much canoeing on the Nashwaak and Saint John Rivers. The old loyalist house, Belmont, of his maternal grandfather, George Pigeon Bliss, becomes etched in his mind as he frequently glides past it.

1888

First publication of one of his poems in a major New York magazine, The Century, Theodore being aged eleven.

1890s

Longs to join the navy as a midshipman.

1894-96

Student at the University of New Brunswick.

1895

Summer: Manages Rectory glebe farm, Aldergarth, in backwoods country near Stanley. Commences continual publication of poems in major reviews and magazines.

1897

November—;Appointed sub-editor with The Independent of New York. Lives with his brothers Charles and Will.

1898

War correspondent to cover the Cuban conflict for The Independent. Spring: lives in the tent city at Tampa, Florida, and then sails to Cuba on the S.S. Olivette—;38 war correspondents aboard. Lands with Gen. Shafter’s army at Baiquiri, Province of Santiago; stricken with malaria—;6th July—;returning to Tampa. Autumn—;in New York, suffering from serious complications of malaria, he sees New York specialists, who diagnose him as chronically consumptive and send him home to die.

1899

Winter—;very seriously ill. Taken in hand by an unnamed Fredericton surgeon who operates several times, and thus saves his life. Nursed through the crisis by Frances Seymour Allen, [Page 115] whom he subsequently marries. May—;moves to St. John’s, Newfoundland to establish and edit The Newfoundland Magazine, which is to be “a first-rate illustrated magazine to represent England’s oldest colony in the magazine world.” Publishes with his brother William Carman Roberts and his sister Jane Elizabeth Roberts a joint collection of verse, North-land Lyrics.

1899-1900

Summers—;voyages around the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, and journeys into the interior. 1900: publication of The House of Isstens (Boston: Page), a prose romance about a Knight errant.

1901

Summer—;five month voyage from St. John’s to Pernambuco, Brazil, and back on a full-rigged barkentine, The Flora, commanded by Capt. Tizarra. On Crew list as ‘supercargo.’ Autumn—;moves to New York, and lives with his brothers Charles and Will. Described by a girlfriend as “one of the three cavaliers of 9th Street.”

1902

Return to Fredericton. November—;establishes a small magazine, The Kit Bag, to publish verse and prose.

1903

November—;marriage to Frances Seymour Allen. They live at Elgin, N.B.

1904

Early months—;honeymoon passage to the West Indies. They settle at Elberton, Bathsheba, Barbados (“the pink-walled house on a surfy and windy coast”). September birth of Goodridge. Publication of Hemming, the Adventurer (Boston: Page).

1905

June—;move to New York. (in a letter, Theodore wrote “the tropics is no place for…kids…too hot, too enervating”). In September makes explicit decision not to live in the U.S. close to his literary markets, but to make his permanent base Fredericton. Publication of Brothers of Peril (Boston: Page).

1905-08

A certain pattern of life is established, involving frequent moves between farms (one of them an abandoned hill farm), houses, flats, and summer cottages. It also includes a writer’s routine of typing 2000 words in a morning so that he will have the rest of the day free for fishing, rambling, reading, etc. Books constantly to hand include Malory, Morte d’Arthur; Tolstoy, Tales; Sam Johnson, The Rambler; and various books by R.L. Stevenson, Captain Marryat, and R.M. Ballantyne. [Page 116]

1906

Commissioned Lieutenant in the Princess Louise New Brunswick Hussars, a militia regiment. Enjoys the officers’ mess, an important centre of social life in Fredericton. July—;birth of Dorothy.

1907

Publication of The Red Feathers (Boston: Page), a book with a Newfoundland setting.

1908

Submission of a TS. of poetry, entitled Fiddler’s Green to Scribner’s. Not clear what happened to this TS.

1909

Move to England (London and Berkshire Country) where T.G.R. has a series of short stories to do for Pearson’s Magazine of New York. March—;birth of Theodora. Publication of Flying Plover: His Stories Told by Squat-by-the-Fire (Boston: Page), a series of stories set in Newfoundland.

1910

At his brother Charles’ urging, moves to Hotel de l’École, Pontlevoy, France in February. Neighbours of Charles and of the American writer Frank Norris, author of The Octopus (1901) etc. Writing The Harbour Master. Publication of Comrades of the Trails (Boston: Page); and A Cavalier of Virginia (Boston: Page).

1911

June: Return to Canada. Will write under the name Theodore Goodridge Roberts “because some piratical author has been trading on his name.” Settles for the summer at a farmhouse where the Oromocto flows into the Saint John. Publication of A Captain of Raleigh’s. Joint publication with Robert Neilson Stephens of A Soldier of Valley Forge (Boston: Page).

1912

Publication of Rayton: A Backwoods Mystery (Boston: Page), set in New Brunswick.

1913

June—;birth of Loveday. Publication of The Harbour Master—;also published under the title, The Toll of the Tides (London: Laurie); publication also of Two Shall Be Born (New York: Cassell); and Love on SmokeyRiver (London: Long).

1914

June—;death of Loveday. Commissioned lieutenant in the 12th Battalion, the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Stationed briefly at Valcartier, Quebec. Then with the dirty dozen on Salisbury Plain for the autumn and winter of 1914. Publication of Jess of the River (New York: Dillingham); The Wasp (London: Hodder); and Blessington’s Folly (London: Long).

1915

Theodore’s family follows him to England on a camouflaged [Page 117] ship, sailing through submarine infested waters. His family lives at Folkestone. September 1915-April 1916 on the staff of Max Aitken (later Lord Beaverbrook), representative of Canadian H.Q. at First Canadian Division headquarters on the Western Front in France. December—;dines with Winston Churchill and Aitken at the latter’s house at St. Omer.

1916-17

Assistant at the Canadian war records office, London. Author of Patrols and French Raids. Shares flat with his brother Charles and with Edward Platt (who wrote under the nom de plume Paul Trent) at 27 Charing Cross Rd. 1916—;published In the High Woods (London: Long).

1917-18

Appointed a headquarters aide-de-camp on the staff of General Currie, G.O.C. Canadian Corps on the Western Front. Involved in planning the operations of the Canadian Corps at the battle of Passchendaele. 1917—;publication of Forest Fugitives (Toronto: McClelland).

1918

Returns to the Canadian War Records Office as O.I.C. Canadian Military Publications. 30 Canadian V.C.s is the only book published by this office after the war to bear his name, but several others are largely written by him (e.g. Battalion Histories and the three volumes of Canada in Flanders). Return to Canada for Christmas, spent with his wife’s family, the Allens, at Petitcodiac, New Brunswick. One of his best books, The Wasp, reprinted in an English edition, The Islands of Adventure (London: Hodder).

1919-23

Period of moves—;lives at Rose Hall, Waterloo Row, Fredericton in 1919; then to Ottawa, Kingsmere, the Gatineau Hills in 1920; and after this (until 1922) to the Dominion Experimental Farm below Fredericton. Many manuscripts and papers lost in the Fredericton flood of 1919.

1919

Publication of The Master of the Moose Horn and Other Backcountry Stories (London: Hodder); also Exiled Lover (London: Long).

1920

Publication of Moonshine (Toronto: Hodder).

1921

Publication of The Lure of Piper’s Glen (New York: Doubleday).

1922

Publication of The Fighting Starkleys (Boston: Page); and Muskrat House (New York: Doubleday). [Page 118]

1923

Compilation of a poetry TS. Not clear what happened to this compilation. Beginning of a stable period in Fredericton. Publication of Tom Akerley: His Adventure in the Tall Timber and at Gaspard’s Clearing.

1924

Publication of The Stranger from Up-Along (Garden City: Doubleday/Page); The Oxbow Wizard (New York: Garden City Publishing); Green Timber Thoroughbreads (New York: Garden City); The Red Pirogue (Boston: Page).

1925

In the preface to his Seven Poems (privately printed) Theodore writes: “From time to time I shall issue for my friends six or seven little pieces, as I retrieve them from old magazines, anthologies, and the bottom of trunks” (from “the author’s preface”). Also published Honest Fool (London: Hodder).

1926

Published The Lost Shipmate (Toronto: Ryerson Chapbook), Verse; also Prize
Money (Boston: Page).

1929

Writes a regular column “Under the Sun”: for The Saint John Telegraph Journal. Publishes The Golden Highlander: or the Romantic Adventures of Alasdair MacIver (Boston: Page).

1930

Establishes the magazine Acadie which runs for seven months between April and September. Receives an honorary D. Litt. at the University of New Brunswick Spring Convocation. Starts extensive revision of a number of his earlier poems.

1932

Last major sea voyage. Caribbean, Panama Canal, Vancouver and back. Cross Canada reading tour, culminating in festivities in Vancouver.

1934

Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Publication of The Leather Bottle (Toronto: Ryerson), the most important collection of his verse, though it only contains between a quarter and a fifth of all the poems that he wrote.

1935
Moves to Toronto. Present at his brother Charles’ seventy-fifth birthday party.
1937

Establishes a small magazine, Spotlights, which runs briefly. Publication of Loyalists: a Compilation of Histories, Biographies, and Genealogies of the United Empire Loyalists and their Descendants (privately printed).

1939

Move to Aylmer, Quebec. Establishment of another ephemeral magazine, Swizzles.

1940
Starts to publish new defiant war poems in The Ottawa Journal [Page 119]
1941

Return to New Brunswick—;living variously at Chatham, Fredericton, Saint John.

1943

Working at Halifax on “an inadequate salary”.

1945

Move to Digby, Nova Scotia—;living on the second floor of a house owned by T.S. Matheson, overlooking the harbour. Theodore remarks in a letter, “I write every day. The salt air is good for me—;but in the words of the prophet “Heaven (Digby) for climate, hell (Fredericton) for company.”

1950-53

Working on an Arthurian verse romance Quenchless Flames. First two hundred lines completed which present the story of the birth of Tristram (viz three sections of “Book 1: Gramarye in the Forest”).

1953
24th February—;death. 28th February—;interment at Forest Hill Cemetery, Fredericton.                 

Note
: Two of Theodore’s novels are undated: The Master of Circumstance            (Boston: Page) and The Intruder, as yet unpublished. [Page 120]