The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

XI. English-Canadian Literature

§ 5. Lesser Poets

The following poets deserve a note in any account of Canadian literature.

Joseph Howe was distinguished in the political life of his province of Nova Scotia. His poetry is rhetorical, and his literary qualities are best exhibited in his eloquent prose. Evan MacColl came to Canada in 1850. His best work is said to be in Gaelic. Poems and Songs, which appeared in 1883, has not much merit. Charles Heavysege showed, amidst much crudeness, occasional flashes of power. He came to Montreal from England in 1853. His reputation rests upon his sonnets and his dramatic poem Saul, which was described by a North British reviewer as “one of the most remarkable poems ever written out of Great Britain.” Alexander McLachlan came from Scotland in 1840. He aspired to be the Burns of Canada. Charles Sangster, unlike the three last-named writers, was born in Canada. Before the advent of the younger generation, he was the representative poet of his native land; but his work is markedly inferior to that of his successors. What strength he possesses is exhibited to best advantage in his descriptive verse, and this is of not more than average merit. Thomas D’Arcy McGee was a man of brilliant talents, which overflowed by mere exuberance into literature. A member of the “Young Ireland” group, he wrote in the feverish style that characterised those fervid patriots. McGee, after an adventurous youth, settled in Canada in 1857, and almost immediately became prominent in the political life of his adopted country. He was assassinated in Ottawa in April, 1868. Sir James Edgar, whose chief activity, as in the case of Howe and McGee, was centred in politics, shared with them, also, a taste and talent for poetry. George Frederick Cameron died before he had reached the full measure of his powers. His early death, like that of T. B. Phillips Stewart and of Arthur Weir, must be considered a distinct loss to Canadian poetry. The more recent death of the Indian poetess, Pauline Johnson, is, also, to be reckoned among our losses, though she had lived long enough to show her capabilities. She had a genuine lyric gift within a limited range. The verses called A Prodigal have a note of true passion:

  • My heart forgot its God for love of you,
  • And you forgot me, other loves to learn;
  • Now through a wilderness of thorn and rue
  • Back to my God I turn.
  • And just because my God forgets the past,
  • And in forgetting does not ask to know
  • Why I once left His arms for yours, at last
  • Back to my God I go.