"An Intimate Picture of Wilfred Campbell"

by Faith L. Malloch


Chapter V

Wilfred Campbell came back to Canada feeling well satisfied with his trip to the mother country, and that he had laid foundation stones for the fulfilment of his dreams,—those dreams so real to him but rather vague at times to other people—dreams that might all be attributed to his great desire, (a desire that amounted to a passion, for which he would have gone to any length of self sacrifice) to help Britain retain that greatness of Empire she had achieved in the past, a greatness she suspected at times of being molested. I can’t say whether these dreams were practical or not, but the poet wanted a foothold, some sort of a place where he could be of real service to his country. Surely back of all great deeds and achievements that have been accomplished by patriots, their sincere desire and determination have carried them through all obstacles. Such a desire and determination were like a guiding star to Wilfred Campbell, and he was as one looking to the heights for his opportunity. In the meantime there was his family at home, who were as part of him, and could not live by dreams alone. Existence was somewhat of a financial struggle and the poet’s ideas for his children were not small. His family in the past had seen better days, and the fact that the preceding generation had flopped so to speak, hurt his pride, and he wanted his children to put the family back where it belonged in the years behind them. Flopping families were no bulwark for the nation.

The poet was very serious and the genius of Bernard Shaw for turning things upside down and shaking them, did not amuse my father, but only wounded him. The old constitution of his beloved Empire should not be so lightly dealt with. A play like "O’Flaherty V.C." might even tempt him to suspect the author of disloyalty. Wilfred Campbell had a sane sense of fun and homely humour, but not that keen sense of the ridiculous that makes your sides ache with laughter. Had G.B.S. been sitting in an audience beside my father at one of his own productions, watching the effect of his play on the people, as I am sure he loves to do, he would have been quite satisfied with my father’s irate criticism. This seriousness made things very difficult for the poet at the time.

In December 1906 Wilfred Campbell became a grandfather at the age of 45, and his first grandchild arrived a baby girl Diana. As she was born and was to live under his roof she seemed a special being created for his benefit. Anyway she was taken possession of and claimed as his own. She was one of those active lively babies who took her first steps at nine months and talked very early. In her grandmother’s eyes she was a most gifted child, and people were usually expected to satisfy her demands. She cut her teeth comfortably on the corners of Shakespear[e]’s plays, or any autograph copy of poetry, that her grandfather was in the habit of reading to her from the age of nine months on. Even though her conversation was limited he felt quite sure that he was communicating with her superior intelligence. Some of the first words she learned to say were the names of some of Shakespeare[’]s characters and she considered his small red volumes her special property. She would pull them out of the book-case climb on her grandfather’s knee, and demand to be read to. Some times you might see her gazing at a book up side down, listening for her grandfather[’]s voice to come out of it, or she might be chewing the corner of it quite comfortably. There were many books in the Poet’s library that showed signs of his grand-daughter’s supposedly early taste for literature. Anyway he was perfectly satisfied when he and she alone shared that sacred domain the library.

About two years later Jane, a true gift of the Gods, a genuine gypsy of a baby with character and appeal written all over her arrived. She was to rule the family with a rod of iron, and seemed to have the greatest sense of truth and justice and thought for others. Jane was a natural little mother, and when she was not more than 18 months old she was presented with a little sister whom she took immediate possession of, and announced "It is a booy" meaning a boy. When Jane was naughty she was quite aware of it and she could feed herself nicely was once discovered putting spoons of porridge deliberately into her shoes instead of her mouth, saying all the time "bad bad baby." A little later on in life when she and her sisters were discussing what they would do when they were grown up, Jane announced that she was going to be an ordinary common woman like Aunt Faith and get married and have a lot of children. When Jane was two and a half and Dr. Gibson had just vaccinated her on her fat little arm, she said to him, "Bad bad man say your sorry and kiss it and make it well.’ All these baby sayings may be quite unnecessary here, but they show you how Jane’s little mind worked. These babies were the greatest joy in life to the poet.

The months and the years went on, and each year found Wilfred Campbell struggling to go back to England to pick up the threads of his Imperial dreams. It was not that he forgot them in Canada, but that he was too busy, and taken up with other necessary things, to allow time for such matters in an every day existence. He was constantly writing and produced two or three novels, a book on Eastern Canada, and other works of a descriptive or historical nature besides his poetry. Some of these prose writings were written under the stress of circumstances, and might be termed in fact as efforts to ease the financial strain. In his poetry Wilfred Campbell was able to forget these things, and lose himself entirely in the inspiration of the moment.

In June 1909 your grandfather was transferred to the Dominion Archives, from the Department of the Secretary of State where he had been for eighteen years. This new appointment afforded him a great deal of satisfaction, for it enabled him to pursue his historical studies, and put him in personal touch with valuable and original documents and records.