"An Intimate Picture of Wilfred Campbell"

by Faith L. Malloch


Chapter I

Wilfred Campbell was born in Berlin Ontario on June the 1st., 1861. His father, the Reverend Thomas Swainston Campbell, was an English Church clergyman in that parish. As a boy he was brought up in Wiarton a little town on an arm of Georgian Bay. Mr. Sykes in his memoir in my father’s "Collected Poems" says:—

"Here in the heart of the lake district, with the gentle expanse of Colpoys Bay in front, and seven miles across the peninsula, the mighty waters of Lake Huron with rugged headlands along the shore, and small placid lakes inland, the poet’s youth passed."

Wilfred was very sensitive to his surroundings, and absorbed all this atmosphere of sky line and water both in its rugged and more peaceful moods. All this is expressed in his early book of poems. "Lake Lyrics":—such poems as "Snow," "To The Lakes in June," "Vapour and Blue" etc. While the poet was still a boy, through some unfortunate circumstances the family fortunes were greatly reduced, and as there were five sons to educate, it was quite a difficult matter to send them all to good schools. As he was only the second son, and all the family efforts were concentrated in educating the elder brother, he decided to put himself through college. When another man might have stayed at home and settled down in the small country town, my father mostly due to his own efforts, if not entirely, attended the university. After he left the high school, he taught in some country school for a time to help put himself through college. It was then that he met my mother who was a fellow teacher. She was a lovely young girl who was fully qualified to teach school at the age of seventeen. It was said that her father was one of the handsomest men in his part of the country. He was a doctor in Woodstock, and died shortly after he was married. Though he was not through college, or ready to get married, my father must have been afraid of losing my mother, for he persuaded her to marry him before he went for his final year to Cambridge, Mass. It was then that he made such interesting friends as Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Whitcombe Riley and Richard Harding Davis.—He entered Wycliffe College Toronto to study for the church, and while he was there attended lectures at Toronto University also. His father and his grandfather were both English Church clergyman, and his grandfather Thomas Campbell, a Scotchman living in Ireland, had left his own church to join the Anglican Church before he came to this country. He was first a curate at the Cathedral in Quebec, and then the first rector in Belleville at St. Thomas’ Church. In 1884 Wilfred Campbell married my mother Mary Dibble, but they did not live together until the following year. In 1885 he was ordained to the priesthood by the Bishop of New Hampshire, and his first living was the parish of West Claremount[,] Mass. with its interesting old church built before the revolution. It was here that the poet settled down so happily to build those dreams that grew as the years went on, and in building he had such a marvellous helpmate in my mother. No truer, braver, or more unselfish woman ever lived. She was the backbone and ballast of the family, and spent her entire life in the interests of her husband and children, with never a thought of herself. It was here their first child Margery was born. During there three years in West Claremount he contributed poetry to "Harper’s," "The Atlantic Monthly" and other magazines, and it must have been during his year at Cambridge, and the time spent here, that he absorbed so much of American literature. He was a great admirer or Mark Twain and of Joel Chandler Harris who as Uncle Remus, wrote those entertaining tales of Brer Rabbit, that were read to us as children.

As my father wished to remain a Canadian citizen he was finally persuaded to leave the States in 1888 and returned to Canada. He settled in St. Stephen’s, New Brunswick, where he held a living for two years, and were the next two children Faith and Basil were born. After that he was in Southampton on the shores of Lake Huron for a time, before finally coming to Ottawa. In this same year he published his first book of verse "Sunshine and Snowflakes," which was followed by "Lake Lyrics" in 1889, and "The Dread Voyage" in 1893.

In the year 1891 Sir John A. Macdonald read aloud in the House of Commons a poem entitled "The Mother," written by a young Canadian poet, Wilfred Campbell. By this time my father had decided to leave the church, for he felt that he would have more time and freedom away from it to devote to literature. He was trying to get a position in the civil service at Ottawa, and on the merits of this poem Sir John gave him the appointment. Thus the poet and his family came to Ottawa, where Dorothy their last child was born.