A Reading of Joseph Howes Acadia
by S. G. Zenchuk
To date, Joseph Howes poetry has received virtually no serious attention. Critics have usually dismissed his work as conventional and stiff; a few in earlier appraisals have attempted to glorify it out of all proportion to its merits by glossing over its flaws.1 What genuine interest there is today in Howes poetry must in large measure be due to the efforts of M.G. Parks, who has introduced the University of Torontos Literature of Canada edition of Howes Poems and Essays, and who is at present engaged in collecting his editorials. Although it would probably be wrong to suggest that Howes poetry constitutes a major part of Maritime Canadian literature, it may yet be that his work merits more serious and detailed attention than it has previously received. This is certainly true of Acadia, Howes longest and perhaps most important excursion into verse, which was posthumously published in 1874 but which has, in the ensuing century, received only passing critical attention.
It has been generally said that Acadia was written as a sentimental and straight-forward panegyric to the Maritimes.2 Parks, writing in 1973, also sees the poems high theme as the celebration of the history and present state of [Howes] beloved province (Poems and Essays, p. xxiii). While I cannot be denied that Acadia expresses a great deal of appreciation for the beauties of Nova Scotia, this fact does not mean that other thematic considerations must be excluded from a reading of the poem. This essay proposes that if read carefully Acadia belies the view that Howe saw Maritime history as a cause for celebration; rather, he considered much of this history unworthy of esteem and thought it important to convince his readers of the soundness of his opinion.
Acadia was quite possibly meant to function, among other things, as a poetic admonition. To this end, Howe brings to bear on his subject matter the rhetorical talent for which he was renowned. His prowess as a rhetorician manifests itself throughout the poem. In Joseph Howe as a Man of Letters, David Munroe writes:
Much of what Munroe says here about Howes editorials and letters is also true of Acadia. Leaving aside for a moment the question of audience, together with the issue of Howes feelings concerning Nova Scotian history (both of which will be addressed as the argument progresses), it is worth taking a few moments to examine his talents as a rhetorician. In Canadian Political Oratory in the Nineteenth Century, W.K. Thomas describes what calls the hustings method of political oration.4 This method consists of taking a previously well-planned speech and modifying it in such a way that it appears to be a spontaneous response to questions raised by the audience. Thus the speaker convinces his listeners that they are active and vital participants in an important debate, when in actual fact, they are being manipulated. Howe seems, in Acadia, to have modified this method and adapted it to poetry. He begins the poem with a series of rhetorical questions which he then answers in a manner conveniently leading into the moral subject of his poem:
By constantly addressing them and thus directing their thoughts, Howe persuades his readers that they are actively involved in the process of creating the poem: But see, where breaking through the leafy wood . . . (p. 11). This direct mode of address has the further advantage of allowing him to anticipate and answer any objections his readers might make: But let us pause, nor deem the labour vain . . . (p. 10). Howe chose as the model for his own compositions British poetry of the preceding century. Thus, the rhetorical devices common to much eighteenth-century verse are seen to have a specific function in Acadia; even if he does not, strictly speaking, manipulate his audience the way a politician might, Howe is at least strongly encouraging his readers to follow his lead in scrutinizing Nova Scotian history.
Repetition is a further technique which aptly serves both the poet of Acadia and the politician of the pre-confederation Atlantic colonies. For example, Howe employs some form of the verb to feel, four times within six lines of verse recounting the Micmacs love for his country:
The repetition here of the tentative word feels strongly suggests that the Indians may be deluded in their assumption of posession. Certainly the land could be and was taken from them, a fact which gains greater significance as Howe begins to emphasize the many similarities between the natives and the European colonists.
Another element of Howes style which Thomas stresses is the smoothness of the transitional parts in his political arguments. A fine example of this skill applied to poetry is found between the first and second major sections of Acadia. Since this transition will be discussed again later, only brief mention need be made of it here. The final verse-paragraph of Part First concludes with the Indians declaring war on the European invaders, while Part Second begins with Britains Son recalling his glorious history (p. 16). On first encountering these two paragraphs, the reader may experience a certain sense of dislocation but upon closer examination, it becomes evident that they are effectively connected by irony. The seeming distance between the two scenes is illusory, since the Indians declare war in an attempt to preserve their culture, while the musings of the Briton are con cerned with precisely that same thing. Irony is involved in that the British fail to note this glaring similarity between themselves and their supposedly barbaric foe. Thomas states that Howe possessed great power of presenting [facts] in an interesting manner that brought out their significance (p. 384). The juxtaposition of these two verse-paragraphs is surely one instance of Howe exercising this power in Acadia.
Thomas further imputes to Howe the practice of often ending his speeches with a glance at a much larger topic in such a way that the audiences horizon was suddenly expanded (p. 385). As we shall see, Howe finishes Acadia with a glance at a tableau, which, among other things, invokes the Biblical tale of the prodigal son, a parable dealing with the errors of greed and wastefulness, with repentance and with forgiveness; thus, he attempts in his poetry as well as his political speeches to restore his audience to its world of many concerns, remembering what they had seen and heard in terms of its relations to those many concerns (p. 385). And so, just as the man of literature is clearly visible in Howes political speeches, so the technique of the rhetorician can be seen in his poetry.
A logical question arising from these observations might well concern Howes motivation. The function of rhetoric is, of course, to persuade, some thing of which Howe, as a politician and newspaperman, would have been well aware. But what was that end for which he employed his powers of moral suasion in the poem? In cursory glances at Howes work, critics have noted his tendency towards overt moralizing.5 Furthermore, Acadia is a topographical poem, one where, in the words of Dr. Johnsons definition, the fundamental subject is [a] particular landscape but also where the account of that landscape involves a great deal of musing and meditation on varied topics.6 It is typical of topographical poems that the historical retrospective and incidental meditation contained in them are subordinated to a controlling moral vision."7 This statement is certainly applicable to Acadia; consequently, if Howe shows a manifestly didactic purpose in much of his poetry and if he chooses to employ a form normally used to express moral points of view, it seems probable that some moral theme will unify Acadia; presumably it is the conviction of this themes value which leads to Howes extensive use of rhetorical technique.
In determining what this moral theme might be, it is helpful to know something of Howes political career. Acadia was probably begun early in the 1830s, the bulk of it being written in bits and pieces over a period of several years following.8 It was at exactly this time that Howe was conceiving a greater interest in politics. Originally he had been a Tory, and although, in an objective and detached way, he may have seen flaws in the British system of colonial government then operating in the Maritimes, he yet maintained that this system was so far superior to any other that to attempt to supplant it would be foolish. He is recorded as having written, in 1828:
As might be expected, Howe staunchly defended the government against its attackers in the columns of his newspaper, the Novascotian. Nevertheless, events lay in store which would, to some degree, alter his unqualified patriotism.
M.G. Parks assertion that Acadia is entirely a product of Howes early years before he became a politician is, strictly speaking, correct ("The Composition and Text of Joseph Howes Acadia", 4); however, the statement is true only in a literal sense, for although Howe may not yet have been elected to office when he wrote the poem, he was actively involved in the political controversies then taking place in Halifax. In order to increase the Novascotians circulation, Howe decided, in 1830, to add more political, and thus controversial, content. In order to do this, he began to sit in on the debates of the Halifax Legislative Assembly and what he learned there was to change his views on the efficiency of British colonial government; when he came into closer contact with the governing process, he could not help but see the degree of corruption involved in it.10 Howes biographer, J.W. Longby, describes the existing system of government as followers:
Longley goes on to describe the way in which the governor and his friends contrived to control the colonys finances, thus making it possible for them to go on administering the affairs of the country according to their own views, whether the legislature was favourable or not . . ."(Joseph Howe, p. 15). The result of these conditions was that the real functions of government would be in the hands of a privileged class, and the great mass of the people permanently excluded from all hope of participation therein (Joseph Howe, pp. 15,16). As is well known, the government in Halifax was by 1830 a huge net work of graft, bribery and mismanagement. Constantly observing the corrupt practices of the colonys ruling body, Howe found it becoming increasingly difficult to look mildly on the governments imperfections."
As a conscientious newspaperman, Howe was also an avowed supporter of freedom of the press, and this loyalty, too, began to bring him into conflict with Halifaxs ruling elite. He wrote:
When people began to be openly vocal about their dissatisfaction with the government, they, of course, turned to the press as a means of voicing their concerns. Given his convictions as expressed in the preceding quotation, Howe could hardly deny his countryman the opportunity to use his news paper in speaking out against tyranny. In 1835, he published in the Novascotian an anonymous letter directly accusing the Halifax magistrates of graft. The letter specifically stated that the wealthy ruling classes were obtaining illegal gain at the expense of the poor:
But, despite the fact that he was becoming more and more disillusioned with colonial politics, Howe was not of a nature to advocate rebellion. Being the descendent of a Loyalist, it is not surprising that he should abhor the thought of armed confrontation; as we shall see, it is possible that he feared Nova Scotians would try to achieve honest government by violent means should they be forced into a position where they could obtain it in no other way. Many descriptive episodes in Acadia and in Howes poetry in general make obvious his abhorrence of war. Nor did Howe want his countrymen to be coerced into finding freedom and justice elsewhere, which, for instance, they might do by drifting towards an alliance with the United States. For publishing the letter of criticism, Howe was charged with libel. At his trial he said:
Furthermore, Howe believed that the local oligarchies of pre-revolutionary America had been, in part, responsible for forcing the colonies into revolt, and these oligarchies, like those in Nova Scotia of the early 1830s, had owed their positions of dominance to the old British colonial system of government which did not provide for executive responsibility:
Longley, too, notes that after the American revolution even the British themselves had feared that if too firm a policy [of government] was adopted [in the remaining colonies], these small communities might be driven to cast in their fortunes with the republic beside them (Joseph Howe, p. 14). That there was at least talk in the 1830s of Nova Scotia joining the American states, is shown in Howes mention at his trial of those whose dreams are disturbed by what they are pleased to call disaffected and republican tendencies who affect to fear that this colony will, at no distant day, throw itself into the circle of the American Union . . . (Speeches and Public Letters, I, 30). Clearly, Howe does not want Nova Scotia to forget her allegiance to Britain, nor does he want her to attempt to obtain political justice and fairplay by such violent means as other colonies have resorted to; his desire to avert such occurrences provides the poem with its impetus. Howes purpose in writing Acadia is to show his countrymen, particularly those in positions of authority, the errors which had led to the corruption and bloodshed of the past, thus enabling them to avoid future conflicts.
In order to understand the way in which Howe embodies these concerns in his poem, it is essential to know something of his early history. For various reasons, he obtained little formal schooling; what education he did receive was primarily directed by his father, who took up the task with alacrity and dedication. John Howe was a devoutly religious man of some culture and although Joseph was later to lament his educational deficiencies, he did not want for a thorough grounding in either religion or literature. His two main sources of early learning seem to have been Shakespeare and the Bible, both of which he was to use extensively and well in his rhetoric. If Shakespeare and the Bible were chief influences on Howe in his formative years, it is not unreasonable to suppose that they might play a considerable role in his poetry. Indeed, Acadias early verse-paragraphs indicate the validity of this conjecture.
The references to household Gods and ancestral ashes in the opening lines of the poem echo back to the Biblical world of Genesis 31.19-35 where we are given the story of Jacob fleeing from Laban and a foreign country to return with his family to the land of his fathers (p. 5). It will be remembered that Rachel, Jacobs wife, steals her familys gods and takes them back with her to Canaan. Setting aside for a moment this indication that the mother of the Israelites was given to idolatry, the account provides evidence of her desire to hold fast to her own cultural traditions and beliefs and to pass them on to her children. For similar reasons, Aeneas carries his household idols with him when he escapes from Troy to found the new city of Rome. In both cases, the traditions and beliefs of a fleeing people are brought into a new land, an occurrence that would surely have been of some interest to Howe. His mention, also near the beginning of Acadia, of the honord ashes of our Sires calls to mind the emphasis which ancient cultures, including that of the Hebrews, put on reverencing their forefathers and their ancestral homes (p. 5). Genesis 49.29-33, for example, indicates the lengths to which a man would go in order to insure burial with his family and in his homeland, rather than in exile. We shall see that this reverence is also important to Howe, who stresses the value of home and family throughout the poem. Numerous allusions substantiate the conjecture that Nova Scotia is to be seen as a hallowed place. Early on, it is called Pearl of the West (p. 6). Obviously the word west suggests the usual associations; it indicates new life, new hope, a second chance. Moreover, Matthew 13 tells of a wise merchant who, considering one pearl of great price worth all else he owned, gave up everything to possess it (Matthew 13.45,46). Being versed in Shakespeare, Howe may also have had in mind Othello, to which, as we have already noted, he alludes elsewhere in the poem (see Othello v,ii, 346-7). Thus, although Howe may not have seen Acadia as a promised land in the most literal sense, he at lesat, by means of his various allusions, presents it as something of great worth and as something which, like Desdemona or Canaan may be lost through incorrect action.
In the second verse-paragraph Howe alludes specifically to the one hundred and thirty-seventh psalm:
This psalm, as Professor Parks has recently noted ("The Composition and Text of Joseph Howes Acadia", 5), is a lament expressing the sorrow of the Israelites as they suffer from severe oppression while exiled from their promised land. From this point in the poem, Howe begins to make more and more explicit the parallels which he sees between the history of the Israelites and that of Nova Scotia. Allusions to the exiled Hebrew tribes are numerous. Towards the middle of the poem, Howe mentions pillars of cloud and fire which lead the English out of bondage, presumably the bondage threatened by various European nations throughout the long periods of British history:
This is an obvious reference to Exodus 13.21. Much further on Howe actually calls Acadia Canaan (p. 34). Although, he is, in fact, describing the wilderness of present-day Antigonish County at this point, he paints a scene strongly reminiscent of one from the Bible, for flowing water and rifted rock in eastern Nova Scotia call to mind the rock which an angry Moses struck in his efforts to allay the thirst of his grumbling followers (p. 34). It will be recalled that for his disobedient violence God had instructed him to speak to the rock Moses is not allowed to set foot in the promised land (Numbers 20.7-12).
The specific Biblical allusions to the Israelites expulsion from the land which God had given to them are paralleled in Acadia by other references to exiles. In the second verse-paragraph Howe mentions, besides the sorrowing Hebrew, the Florentine statesman, Foscari, and a wandering Swiss, probably the legendary William Tell (pp. 5,6). It is worth noting that these characters are all, in some way, the victims of political manoeuvering, a fact of some importance to the poem. Howe begins and ends his work with ac counts of the longing of those people wandering far from their places of birth. Since he includes in these discussions several references to being lost or cast out, it would appear that he is trying to tell his readers something about losing a valued and long sought-for land, about exile and possibly about captivity. These concerns are, as we have seen, primarily embodied by means of allusion and, hence, form a substantial part of Howes unifying moral theme.
If our hypothesis is correct, then Howe should provide some indication as to the nature of the exile or captivity which he fears. It is therefore, not surprising to find running throughout the poem, a concern with the fruits of civilization. Howe devotes seven verse-paragraphs, the fifth to the twelfth inclusive, to an idyllic description of Acadia before Improvements hand, / By science guided, had adorned the land. . . (p. 10). One of the basic functions of these seven verse-paragraphs and they have more than one is to indicate Howes discomfort with science and culture most clearly shown in the uneasy passages of the twelfth verse-paragraph:
Although Howes account calls the impress of Improvements hand soft and suggests that this improvement has adorned the land, the passage seems to have a wistful and elegiac tone. Furthermore, a similar verse-paragraph near the end of the poem describes the advance of civilization into the wilderness in terms of the defilement of a woman:
In another verse-paragraph Howe calls the tools of the British settlers treacherous, surely an undesirable quality even in an axe or saw (p. 11). It would thus seem that Howe views civilization as a potential encroachment on ideal freedom. He recounts how, in pre-settlement days, Nova Scotias trees bowed to God, but stoop to none beside (p. 11). Before the pioneers came, the step of the Cariboo [sic] was fearless and free to rove, suggesting that the Indian did not pose as serious a threat to his existence as does the white man (p. 11). His cousin, the gay moose with jocund gambol springs, / Cropping the foliage Nature round him flings (p. 11). Despite this unfortunate description, Howes point is difficult to miss; Nova Scotia was a land of freedom before European settlement. Even the surrounding ocean was peaceful and undisturbed before the Europeans arrived:
The fact that Howe holds ambivalent opinions on the benefits of civilization is made more evident by his description or rather, the change in his description of the Indians. The accounts of them early in the poem suggest Howes admiration. Much of the detail concerning the Micmac and his way of life speaks of simplicity and the natural, qualities Howe praises elsewhere in Acadia. The native is a part of the wilderness; he belongs there, almost as an animal would:
Even the account of his killing lacks real horror, seeming to indicate that death is part of the natural order here:
Certainly Howe does not paint the war-like activities of the pre-settlement Indians with the same horrific colours he uses to delineate the later massacre. The earlier Indian is a being whom, in many ways, we can admire:
However, the first time we see Howes Indians after European settlement has begun, they bear scant resemblance to their former simple but noble selves. Their war cries echo a fiend from Hell and they act solely out of hate and revenge (p. 22). They are now stealthy, malignant and treacherous (pp. 22,23). This last term indicates that they have taken on at least one of the characteristics earlier associated with the advent of civilization, since Howe has previously described the Europeans destruction of the forest the Indians home with the same word.13 Thus, Howe would seem to have certain doubts concerning the settlers and the imposition of their imported culture. It is, after all, quite possible that Ceres does not really belong in a spot to which she must be lured (p. 18).
But, although Howes portrayal of life in Nova Scotia prior to European settlement is idyllic in many ways, he does not intend that his readers view it without some degree of reservation. In fact, before the arrival of the white men, Nova Scotia appears to have been a land of much potential but little actualization. The Indians are spoken of in connection with the Old Testament patriarchs fresh from Edens joys and Edens guilt (p. 13) and the warrior who first sees the approaching ship is lost in amaze (p. 16). Both the mention of Eden and the word-play on amaze itself possibly borrowed from Paradise Lost suggest that the natives are in a fallen state or that a fall of some kind is imminent.14 Several phrases from the poem help to substantiate this idea. Before settlement, Natures hand has negligently dressed the hills (p. 12); the entrance to the Indians tepee is a narrow opening, on the leeward side, / Oer which a skin is negligently tied. . . . , and the camp inhabitants are motley inmates scatterd careless round (p. 13). Despite his appreciation of the Indians noble qualities, negligence and carelessness are not characteristics of which Howe approves.15 As we have noted, it is possible that Howe sees the settlers as having subverted the natural or at least the existing order with their arrival, and to some degree, he regrets this fact: They. . . the virgin soil, with gentle culture broke, is, if not an image of rape, at least one of deflowering (p. 18). However, virgins are ultimately sterile, and so the coming of the colonists need not necessarily be a destructive event. Rather, their deflowering of the land may, indeed, prove to be beneficial. Like Adam and Eve before their fall, Acadia has potential, but in order to bring that potential to fruition, something must be done with it.
Consequently, despite his partial idealization of native life, it would be decidedly incorrect to say that Howe was opposed to the advent of civilization. He himself spent much of his life furthering its concerns in the Maritimes. Rather, he recognized that it was necessary to impose some system of careful order on the wilderness, and in a sense, does so himself in the poem. Eighteenth-century writers frequently used the picturesque convention to achieve some measure of (artificial) control over a landscape which they might find chaotic. Howe makes use of this convention in Acadia:
This dying vision of the countryside into the neat packages of foreground ("here") and background ("there") allows Howe and his readers to exercise control otr a landscape which otherwise might seem alien and threatening.17
Howes description of the Canadian winter may also be seen as an attempt to order a menacing element of life in the new world:
To see the raw, bone-chilling winters of Nova Scotia as positive, rather than a negative experience, is in reality the imposition of an idea which allows man some measure of control over his environment; if the cold weather is regarded as beneficial rather than detrimental, then a cause for fearing it has been removed.
Nevertheless, despite Howes desire for order and his conviction that society could impose the necessary social order, he appears to have seen civilization as a kind of two-edged sword. It could and should enhance life, turning mere potential for good into the actual; however, a corrupt society could seriously restrict the ideal freedom found in a state of nature. Howe saw that the balance which must be maintained between freedom and order was, indeed, a delicate one. For Howe, life in a natural state appeared to be based on a moral foundation which a careless society might easily destroy. Before European settlement, the Indians know sweet content / Which thrones have not (p. 14). After their way of life has been destroyed, they hoard scalps like precious coins, an indication of both their growing greed and their acceptance of European values (p. 25). Further on, when Howe is describing the yet simple lifestyle of the early British colonists, he says that slumber will bless their cabin although it mocks the home of the anxious child of Commerce (p. 22); this is another of Howes specific references to an excessive love of money, a fondness which he will come to portray as a destructive force. In the latter part of the poem he alludes to the tragic history of Charnisay and La Tour, two early French fur traders who, it will be remembered, destroyed each other through greed:
To the end of the poem, Howe praises simplicity, honest toil and poverty, enshrining what he sees as the virtues of the common man:
He also persists in his criticism of the abuse of Commerce, for him synonymous with wealth, sloth and selfish unconcern:
In light of Howes political opinions, may not this passage, then, be viewed as his championing of the oppressed poor against their thieving and incompetent rulers? Obviously Howe sees civilization at its worst epitomized by the slothful ease of the British-Nova Scotian upper classes and by the greedy squabblings of the French-speaking fur traders in Quebec as fostering selfishness, cruelty and violence. Presumably then, it is these undesirable traits which Acadia serves to warn against.
Since he was so familiar With the Bible, it should come as no surprise to us that in Acadia Howe adopts as the framework of his warning the recorded admonitions and pleas of various Old Testament prophets. He specifically draws upon the exhortations of those men who constantly reminded the Jews of their years in captivity and exile brought about by their own wickedness. In an unpublished editorial from the May 26,1845 edition of the Novascotian, Howe links poetry to prophecy:
Blending memories of the past with prophetic anticipation of the future is exactly what Howe does in Acadia. We see him donning the mantle of the prophet frequently and with determination. Early in the poem he announces his ambitious purpose in writing; it is to light one Beacon fire, to guide / The steps of those who yet may be her [Nova Scotias] pride. . . (p. 7). Nine verse-paragraphs further on, he again indicates the seriousness of his endeavours when he advises his audience to refrain from regarding the journey back through the colonys history as a useless exercise. Like Jeremiah, the archetypal Old Testament prophet who preached repentance in the face of coming doom, Howe constantly juxtaposes his peoples past history with their current situation in an attempt to influence their determination of the future: But let us pause, nor deem the labor vain, / Oer scenes which never can return again (p. 10). A fine example of this jux taposition is found completing the poems most gruesome scene. Howe has just ended his long account of the massacre of the British settlers by cruel Indians. At the conclusion of this episode he launches somewhat abruptly in to a description of serene and peaceful Nova Scotia as it existed in his own time:
This juxtaposition serves two purposes. Firstly, it illustrates a vast degree of improvement in living conditions attributable to the sacrifices of the early settlers. For Howe, the remembrance of these sacrifices was of great im portance and it was his expressed hope that events should not prove them to have been made for no reason: Twould glad their [the settlers] Spirits, like some Seraphs strain / To know they had not toiled, and died in vain (p. 18). It is interesting to note Howes assertion that if the American banner [were allowed] to float upon our soil, one sure method of encouraging the bodies of our fathers to leap from their honoured graves . . . walk abroad over the land, and blast us for such an unnatural violation would have been discovered (Speeches and Public Letters, p. 31). Should the colony, for any reason, fall away from the British Commonwealth, then these early British pioneers would indeed have given their lives for no purpose. Secondly, as with Jeremiah, the juxtaposition gives rise to a sense of jolting contrast be tween the two scenes, a contrast which brings home to the reader the conviction that he does not want a return of the old conditions of savagery and slaughter and that he must do all in his power to prevent such a return. It is in fostering this conviction that Howes basic moral interests lie.
Upon returning from this last sally into Canadian history, Howe caps the episode with some lines on the value of liberty. In the Nova Scotia of the future, he would have freemen proudly roam oer every hill, and the storms that rush oer rock and wave / In their free passage never meet a slave (pp. 30, 31). As with the account of the pre-settlement Indians, his concern is once again with freedom; this explicit emphasis surely suggests that Howe feels the liberty of Nova Scotians to be in some jeopardy. He also dwells at some length on the improved lot of the inhabitant of Nova Scotia, compared to that of his English, Irish or Scottish ancestors. In the new world, men ideally suffer no such restrictions as they would have in the old:
For Howe, the new world should be a land of freedom, equality and opportunity. Nova Scotia rears all with equal pride (p. 32). It thus begins to appear that another of Howes preoccupations embodied in the poem is am concern with preserving the rights and privileges which he perceived to be the proper foundation stones of British society. Since he also spends considerable time and effort in developing the theme of the pitfalls of civilization, it may be assumed that, in Howes view, loss of freedom and equality
With an understanding of Howes stance it is now possible to return to the fifth to twelfth verse-paragraphs and to discuss their further significance. Aside from being a description of the largely idyllic state in which Nova Scotia existed prior to Improvements hand, this elaborate account of the changing seasons also introduces the motif of cyclical rise and fall. Howe ends this section with a reference to what is now a well-known fairy-tale: While in its [a lakesl waves wild buds as gently dip / As kisses fall on sleeping Beautys lip (p. 10). If Acadia is Rosebud, the sleeping princess, then surely she is waiting for someone to awaken her. It is likely that Howe sees the science, art, and culture of the next verse-paragraph as the prince which can bring Acadia into her true and rightful place in the world. Nevertheless, in the fairy-tale, only one specific prince can awaken the sleeper. Only when he arrives do the thorns which surround the castle magically part, allowing him to awaken the girl and revitalize the realm. It is, perhaps, worth noting that, unlike Moses, the prince accomplishes his ends without resorting to violence; thus Howe stresses his concern with avoiding physical confrontation.19
subject matter of much of the rest of the poem also embodies the idea of rising and
falling away, a rhythm which is adumbrated by the gentler rthm of the seasonal
changes. This rising and falling away corresponds to the various stages of Maritime
history. Howe divides the poem into two parts; the first is comprised of his
introduction, his statement of intention and a detailed account of Acadia prior to
European settlement. The second part deals with Acadia after the French and British
have begun to develop
The account of the Indians and their way of life is long and detailed. They are simple people, truly at home in the wilderness. The Indian lives by his own strength and ability and is neither aided nor encumbered by the foppish pretensions of society, a fact Howe makes evident with his reference to the Indians lack of hound or horse to assist him in his hunting (p. 11). The reader is told that the charms of nature are well suited to the Indians breast (p. 12). Furthermore, he is portrayed as clean and healthy; the flush on his manly cheek mimics the blushing flowers (p. 12). Between himself and his family there exists a warm and loving relationship for round him twine / Those ties that make a wilderness divine (p. 13). Indeed, Howe seems intent on convincing his audience that the primitive Indian lives in a state of domestic bliss. The poet is, perhaps, telling his nineteenth-century reader that he may have more in common with the savages than he might think. To Indians home is a simple dwelling, and his wife and children appear to be idyllically happy. Most important is Howes assertion that the Miemacs feel great love for the land, their regard being akin to Othellos affection for Desdemona (p. 12). This passage has already been quoted but has not been elaborated upon, and it may be helpful to pause briefly in order to consider it. It is possible that there is a considerable degree of irony expressed in these lines. Certainly Othellos love for Desdemona was plagued by jealous rages, possessiveness and finally by violence. Because of his own faults, Othello destroys the very thing he claims to cherish most. It has also been mentioned that Howes reference to Pearl of the West (p. 6) may be an allusion to V,ii, 346-347 of Othello: Like a base Indian, threw a pearl away / Richer than all his tribe. . . ."20 If so, Howes glance at these lines and specifically at the base Indian may be a comment on the Maritime Indians. He may intend to suggest that their plight is at least partly due to their own propensities for possessive jealousy and violence, and is not solely the result of external corruption. Moreover, as will be seen, the British and French share these propensities with their Indian neighbours.
The long section on the Indian dance is an account of tribal feeling, tradition, culture, and reverence for the ancestors who have fostered those things. Howe describes the Indians, becoming more and more involved in their passionate ceremony, as a river, stealing along, noiseless and slow, till growing deep and strong, / Its turbid waters foam, and curve, and leap, / Dashing with startling echo down the steep (p. 15). This section is also fairly accomplished poetry, particularly the description of the way the Indians receive the white men. It is finally these Europeans desecration of the Indian graves which leads the Micmacs to declare war:
The white mans ignorant unconcern for the Indians sacred traditions thus renders him at least partly responsible as well for the bloodshed of the ensuing Indian wars.
The account of the British colonists which begins the second part of the poem directly follows the description of the Indians and the way in which the Europeans are disrupting their way of life. This second section presents an ironic contrast to what has preceded it. Howe devotes almost a full page to recounting how the British have valued their traditions, shrines and beliefs enough to fight for them against tyranny. Yet, he has just finished telling of the way in which Christian European pioneers have desecrated the shrines and ignored the beliefs of the Indians. The European settlers, British or French, do not seem to realize that they have much in common with the native people, regarding them instead as an evil which must be braved with stern resolve (p. 17). This failure to show empathy for their fellow in habitants of Acadia will have dire consequences for some, and possibly all, of the European settlers, as Howe indicates with his reference to the dreadful angel (p. 17) of the Apocalypse (Revelations 10. 5,6).
Indeed, there are many parallels between Howes description of the Indians and his picture of the British settlers. Both erect sylvan homes (pp. 12,17). Like the Indians, the British have their honoured ancestors who have died preserving their way of life (pp. 15,17). The British settlers are, at first, poor and simple, labouring to make a life for themselves a life which is as plain as that of the Micmacs. Furthermore, just as sweet content, / Which thrones have not, makes rich the Indians tent (p. 14), so slumber, which mocks the anxious child of Commerce, seeks the settlers hut to strew its poppies there (p. 22). The colonist, too, leads an ideal domestic life, recounted in terms very similar to those which Howe uses to describe the Micmacs (pp. 13-14,19). Moreover, the long digression on the settlers past and their telling their son of his ancestral home (pp. 20,21) parallels the Indian dance, which is also a means of preserving and participating in tradition. Like Rachel and Aeneas, both peoples are trying to insure that cultural practices and attitudes continue to live through them, a laudable thing to desire Iowes view.21 When he goes on to speak, albeit at less length, of the French Acadians, we see that they share these praiseworthy qualities; their ancestors have also died in the service of their country and they, too, love the land as much as do the British or the Micmacs (pp. 27-28).
Yet, despite the fact that the Indians, the English and the French have so much in common, none of these peoples seem able to consider the rights or claims of the others. This is really the point at which the relevance of the cyclical nature of history becomes clear; each group, in its greedy desire to have the land to itself, seems to be intent on destroying and supplanting the others. The French desecrate the shrines of the Indians, who in turn, massacre the British who in their turn, exile the French Acadians. The last verse of Psalm 137 alluded to early in the poem Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones places Howes readers in the context of the Old Testament law of an eye for an eye; viewed within the historical and religious circumstances under which it was spoken, this curse on the oppressors of the Jews must be seen as just. Part of Acadia bears more than a little resemblance to this verse. A British infant meets lust such a fate at the hands of vengeful Indians:
As the original tenants of the land, and as a pre-Christian people who, like the Jews of the psalm, have not yet espoused a code of charity or forgive ness, the Indians can at least be understood, if not excused, in massacring the British. They do, after all, have some justification for their actions. It is significant that in the midst of his description of the torment, Howe alludes to the great Aztec emperor who brought about the fall of his civilization and the enslavement of his people:
It will be recalled that Montezuma unwittingly betrayed his people because he mistakenly believed the Spaniards to be white-skinned gods sent to rule wisely over the Aztecs.22 Howe has stressed the fact that the Micmacs make a similar mistake; they regard the Europeans as gods, a notion of which they are painfully disabused:
But, grub the Aztecs may have had no opportunity to avenge themselves, such is not the case with their distant cousins of Nova Scotia. Like the Biblical Hebrews, their actions are justified, not from Howes pout of view, but within the context of their own history and Meld; they are cruel to those who have been cruel to them.
Unfortunately, the British a supposedly Christian and civilized race prove to be little better. Howe alludes to Goldsmith, the Bard of Auburn, thus bringing to mind the expulsion of the British themselves from their homes due to the greed of the wealthy landowners (p. 28). Yet, despite having been mistreated and, for all intents and purposes, exiled themselves at one point in their history, the English show no sympathy for the French Acadians whose families they divide and whose property they destroy. Their burning of the French settlers homes after casting out the inhabitants replicates the action of the savage Indians when they destroyed the British colonists cabin. And, unlike the Indians, the British have no justification for their actions. Howe spends no time defending their conduct (pp. 28,30). Furthermore, the allusion to the history of Charnisay and La Tour (p. 27) indicates that as Christian and civilized people, the French also leave something to be desired.
In the sections of the poem discussed so far, Howe has interwoven various themes. He has illustrated that through greed, ignorance and a failure to understand cultural tradition, the history of Nova Scotia has been one of bloodshed, sorrow, and loss of freedom and country. But in the last part of the poem, events take a happier turn. Howe launches into the tale of a fisher man Acadias hardy son (p. 34) which, at first glance, seems to have little to do with the rest of the poem; however, attention to Biblical allusion may again provide us with the key to understanding Howes intentions. We are told that God has cast his [the fishermans] bread upon the waves (p. 34); clearly this is an allusion to Ecclesiastes 11.1. The themes of this chapter of Ecclesiastes are generosity and faith, necessary virtues for prospering in the world. Accordingly, we find that the fisherman in Howes tableau has faith to fall back on when he most needs it: . . . and high in air / His Bark is toss, but God he feels is there . . . (p. 35); consequently he is saved from a storm at sea to return home to yet another idyllic family scene. Moreover, the account of this family also makes several revelations of some importance to the poem as a whole. While Howe is, at this point, weighing the relative merits of idealized domesticity as opposed to those of the wandering, adventurous lifestyle, the scene also brings to mind the tale of the prodigal son (Luke 15. 11-24). The young man of Howes poem, who, In foreign lands had wandered many a year / Led by that ceaseless restlessness of soul (p. 38) recalls the youth in St. Luke, who gathered all together and tools his journey into a far country. Furthermore the words of the Biblical parent For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found are echoed by the father in Acadia, who, at the prospect of his sons return, cries, tis from my Boy, my long lost Boy! (p. 39). This parable tells a story in which a man given to greed and waste is forgiven his excesses and resolves to lead a better life. The poem has now moved from an Old Testament view of bloodshed and vengeance to a New Testament one of love, tolerance and forgiveness.23 Greed, sloth and corruption such as Howe saw daily in the offices of the colonial government need not be annihilated with the sword; rather, they may be defeated by repentance and spiritual renewal. It is this second fate which Howe obviously desires for Nova Scotia.
For all intents and purposes, then, Acadia is complete. Thematically the poem has progressed from an old ethic of cruelty and slaughter to a new and more helpful vision of life. Howe has brought the poem back to where it began. With his mention of Nova Scotias straying sons in the final verse paregraph, he effectively recalls to his readers minds the theme of the poems earlier sections; exile, and loss of freedom and homeland are conse quences which, at all costs, must be avoided.
To Howes mind, what civilization seems to have produced, in Halifax at 1east, is corruption and theft, oppression of the poor and the loss of freedom to speak out against tyranny. These injustices might eventually lead to civil unrest if corrective measures are not taken. Thus it is that in Acadia Howe advocates certain of these measures which he considers necessary a turn ing away from corruption and greed, a repentance, and a return to a more honest way of life accurately reflecting British principles of justice. Only then may violence and the ultimate loss of Nova Scotia be avoided. It is, after all, only the generous heart around which the charms of Acadia will twine (p. 5).
With the foregoing reading of this poem in mind, Howes failure to publish Acadia becomes more understandable. It may be surmised that he intended to polish and rework much of it; the themes do not easily cohere and several loose ends remain untied. My reading does not, for example, explain the significance of the poems several comparisons between blood and water (pp. 6,18, 23, 27). It may be assumed, however, that Howe intended to use the comparison for some, as yet unexplained, purpose. Before he was able to finish the poem, the need to publish it had been obviated. By putting his own freedom in jeopardy, Howe had managed politcally and legally to defeat the ruling clique which for so long had corrupted Halifaxs government. His poetic warning was no longer necessary.
In the course of writing this paper I have become indebted to Professor M.G. Parks who in his comments on my article over a year ago, pointed out to me several things concerning owes poetry and who has provided me with certain of Howes editorials. I also owe thanks to Professors A.G. Bailey and D.M.R. Bentley for helpful comments and suggestions.