A PLAINTIVE voice piped up, not so long ago: "Where are the Canadian poets?" And an answering voice, not untouched with cynicism, retorted: "On the train to New York!"
But times must have changed.
For only last month, in the city of Montreal, I saw more than one hundred honest-to-goodness Canadian poets and authors gather together for the purpose of forming a sort of union of the ink-pot.
They were there like bees about a syrup-barrel, pen-pushers from the western provinces, expatriate novelists from New England, story-tellers from Nova Scotia, magazine-writers from the banana-belt of Ontario, silver-tongued poets from Quinte and Old Quebec, cholars and philosophers from the universities, and even publishers and magazine-makers from the sister-city of Toronto. They were there to get unionized and have walking delegates and grievance-committees after the manner of the plumber and the locomotive-engineer. They were very serious about it all. And as I listened to that solemn talk of theirs it suddenly came home to me that a new age had dawned for Canada. There, before my eyes, she was giving birth to a new profession. She was publicly and officially acknowledging that her authors were a body of men and women to be reckoned with, to be listened to, and perhaps some day even to be legislated for.
It came as a shock, of course, for old traditions died hard. It was not easy to believe that Sir Arthur Currie could solemnly face that battalion of mere authors recruited from the obscure hinterlands of our Dominion and say he was honored to welcome them to Montreal and to the sheltering wing of McGill University, since they were
destined to be not only the fusing power of two races but also the interpreters and custodians of all the nobler traditions of those races. It seemed so different to the old days, the old days when Robert Barr complained that Canada spent more money on her whiskey than on her authors, and the attic of the city was considered the one and only highway to the Attica of the soul, and a man who broke into song anywhere along the back concessions was avoided by the circumspect and condoned by the rural constabulary. Even Lonibroso, you may remember, was once asked to define the difference between the man of genius and the lunatic, and that great psychiatrist, you may also remember, curtly replied: “The latter is assured of his board and keep!”
Less Vagabondage Now
DUT all that, I venture to repeat, seems to have changed. -*-* The troubadour of the Renaissance may really have panhandled his way up and down his native country and sat below the salt when taken in by the landed gentry. The authors of the earlier centuries may have been more
or less vagabonds, suffering permanently, in the words of Bonner, from the temporary embarrassments of the bohemian. But the twentieth-century man of letters is and must be primarily a business-man. It is imposed upon him. He can reach his audience, nowadays, only through the complicated machinery of the press. He must in some way tune in with that intricate instrument, just as that instrument must in turn tune in with him. Not, please Heaven, that he must always
howl with the voice of the pack. His human right to human expression is his own. But to achieve a community hearing he must bend to community obligations. He must help his country, if he expects his country to help him.
Now, while the Great War may not have brought us as much wisdom as certain emotional gentlemen have claimed, has at least dotted the “i’s” and crossed the “t’s” of many messages which our awakening century had not made quite clear to us. And one of the vaguely deciphered lessons it brought sharply home to us was the national and economic value of the man of letters. He was the military band at the head of the marching column. He was more than that, just as he was more than the mere propagandist waiting to be crowded into the khaki of his country’s service. He was, speaking in prose to-day and in poetry to-morrow, the soul of his country seeking to express itself. He alone seemed able to give articulation to our tonguetied national aspirations. He alone seemed able to interpret our Dominion, not only to the outer world, but also itself. And while it is no easy thing to equate a ballad and a tobacco-tax, it began to dawn on our saddened and slightly bewildered generation that life could be made
richer when lived to the sound of music and even sacrifice could seem nobler when celebrated in noble song.
So we began to take a little more interest in our authors. We declined to accept them as merely hoboes with inkpots up their sleeves. We began to see that they could be an asset to a country, as much an asset as a builder of new railway lines or the breeder of new wheat-berries. It would, of course, be far-fetched to claim that Canada suddenly and miraculously emerged into self-consciousness. But the older pioneer conditions which kept the hand hard and the sleeve rolled up invariably tended to make the opening of a new township considerably more momentous than the penning of a new poem, such as came to us “In Flanders’ Fields.”
Our Materialistic Epics
WE WERE not averse to the finer things of existence, but we were busy making those finer things instead of memorializing them; we were living our poetry, ballading in great bridges and sonneteering in steel rails and conceiving epics in new empires of grain-land. We had, accordingly, scant time, and also scant patience, I’m afraid, for our makers of song and story. Yet this man of the pen, whatever his wishes may have been, had to find an audience for his message as well as a market for his wares. So we let our authors drift away from us. We let them wander across the line and there suffer the abysmal rootlessness of the expatriate, harping wistfully to catch the ear of a foreign court, which means, of course, working like Sam Hill trying to break into the American magazines or to leave a cow-bird egg of a book in the nest of an American printing-press.
Now, my personal conviction is that this migration to a foreign court proved less calamitous to the Canadian author than many of the happier stay-at-homes would have us believe. It at least shook the dust of the parochial out of his system, tended to internationalize his outlook, widened his perspective, and indubitably humbled that proud and haughty spirit peculiar to localized celebrity. But his country lost him; and he, in turn, lost something with his country. For there is, after all, a good deal of truth in that old Antaeus fable. In contact with the soil our strength comes back to us. And the Canadian, both at home and abroad, seems to be finding it out. The sleeves have been unrolled, the ink-pot has been uncovered, and an amazingly virile new nation is sitting back and asking if it has not something new to add to the creative literature of the world, something tangy and racy of its own soil, something characteristic of its own rugged and wide-flung BASIL KI
That, it seems to me, is why the birth last month in Montreal of “The Canadian Authors’ Association” stands a more memorable event than it might at a cursory glance seem. It is our first nation-wide movement to recognize and to organize the calling of arts and letters in this Dominion. And it brought into being our first really representative association of native authors. Any convention, indeed, which could count among its attending members such names as Basil King and Stephen Leacock and Bliss Carman and John Murray Gibbon and Frank Packard and Sir Andrew MacPhail and Florence Randall Livesay and Robert Stead and Bernard Sandwell and Madge
Macbeth and Pelham Edgar and Archibald McMechan and W. T. Allison and Frederick William Wallace and Hector Garneau and Sir Arthur Currie makes a rather respectable approach towards nationality in character.
Basil King’s Plea
AND equally national was the note ■ struck by the different speakers. It was interesting to hear Basil King denominate Canada, standing half way as she does between the American and the Briton,
as the annealing agent and the interpreter between the Anglo-Saxon of the Old World and the AngloSaxon of the New. It was an eloquent sermon he preached on the bigness of Canada, a bigness G which he could see in fit and proper perspective
after thirteen years of exile as an emissary of Canadian culture in the outlands of Boston.
Equally vital was Professor McMechan’s impeachment of the Canadian for his characteristic crime of diffidence, when we still questioned the existence of a French-Canadian literature within our borders after the French Academy had duly crowned one of our poets and still stood skeptical as to a national note when a Canadian—in the person of Sam Slick—had founded the school of American humor and Canadian writers had produced so much real poetry and so many real novels. It was interesting, too, to hear Dr. George Locke point out what the Canadian
librarian could do to accentuate the Canadian note in our literature, and to hear Madge Macbeth, with an intonation which clearly betrayed her origin south of the Mason and Dixon Line, announce that she was an apostle of the newer movement which was bringing authors into Canada instead of driving them out across its borders.
Packard’s Plea For Our Periodicals
IT WAS interesting to hear Bliss Carman acknowledge what getting back in the midst of his own people really meant to him, and explain how contact with one’s native soil was the truest source of inspiration. And right here I should like to stop long enough to announce my convic-
tion that this new Author’s Association of Canada ought to interest itself in the establishment of a Poet Laureateship for our Dominion and begin the good work by handing the job and the annual run of Niagara grape-juice over to our own Bliss.
Equally interesting was Frank Packard’s plea for the Canadian periodical, his concession of a fair-play spirit to its American rival, but his insistence on the native-born writer doing his bit to back up the native-born magazine. But most interesting of all, it seems to me, were the situations and the speeches which arose out of the^ Canadian copyright question. For it was to wrestle with this dolorous subject that the conference was primarily called. It was the one point which became incandescent. Sir George Foster, who had found it impossible to attend the convention in person, was represented by Mr. Ritchie, the reputed framer of “Bill 12,” now before the House, the hated Bill which stands to a working author as about what a red flag is to a bull. More heat than light, I am afraid, developed from Mr. Ritchie’s efforts at elucidation. But a high point of dramatic irony was surely reached when the emissary from Ottawa paused in his labors long enough to deplore the fact that so few authors were men of independent means and to suggest that one of the best moves the new association could make would be the inauguration of an endowment fund, for its indigent members. That, as one member took the pains to point out, would become a prompt necessity, provided any such copyright legislation as that being considered by the House should become the law of the land.
M. de Montigny’s Irony
THE same touch of irony also seemed to crown the statement of M. Louvigny de Montigny, who came as the unofficial representative of the Senate and pleaded that nothing be done to wreck a bill over which the Solons of our Capital had labored so long. The authors assembled, of course, who felt they may have had a trifle too little to do with those labors, could only smile sadly when M. de Montigny pointed out that copyright was one of the oldest legal considerations on our continent, Barbeau having clearly demonstrated that three hundred years ago our Indian tribes maintained a copyright regulation making it punishable by death for the singer of one tribe to adopt the family song of a neighboring tribe. Continued on page
Our Authors Get Tog-ether
Continued from page 25 What Will the “Union” Do? T)UT now that this authors’ league nas been brought into existence, it remains to be seen what the new union will do for its workmen, not only in furthering the interests of the guild, but, as its constitution states, “for mutai benefit and protection and for the maintenance of high ideals and practices.”
xf un wnc, ton umy pidy
long and prosper!
Committees have been appointed to deal with such problems as copyright interests, legal service for authors, the standardization of contracts, the collection of overdue payments, the suppression of plagiarism, and even the entertainment of distinguished foreigners. The officers elected in open meeting were as follows:
President, John Murray Gibbon, Montreal; secretary, B. K. Sandwell, Montreal; treasurer, W. S. Wallace, Toronto; the vice-presidents are: Basil King, Boston; Archibald MacMechan, Halifax; H. A. Cody, St. John, N.B.; Hon. Thomas Chapais, Quebec ¡.Stephen Leacock, Mont-
real; Robert Stead, Ottawa; Pelham EdKari. Toronto; W. T. Allison, Winnipeg; Nellie McClung, Edmonton, and Isabel Ecclestone Mackay, Vancouver.
The members of the Council, to constitute with the president and vice-presidents the working body of the organization, were elected by ballot, the order of their names being de+ermined by the number of votes obtained:
Arthur Stringer, Chatham, Ont.; Bliss Carman, New Canaan, Conn.; Ralph Connor, Winnipeg, Marjorie Pickthall, Victoria; D. C. Scott, Ottawa; Madge MaeBeth, Ottawa; Frank L. Packard, Lachine; Sir Andrew MacPhail, Montreal; Emily Murphy, Edmonton; L. M. Montgomery, Prince Edward Island; Lloyd Roberts, Ottawa; Grace Blackburn, London; W. D. Lighthall, Montreal; Robert Service, Yukon and Paris, France; Lucy Doyle, Toronto; Florence Randall Livesay, Toronto; Agnes C. Laut, New York; George Locke, Toronto; Hector Garneau, Montreal; LouvignydeMontigny, Ottawa; Miss G. Sime, Montreal; Theodore Roberts, Fredericton and London, Eng.; Warwick Chipman, Montreal.
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