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that which deserves mention from the current mass of printed communication. When one is called upon—in this age of newspapers and magazines—to decide as to what is and what is not prose literature, the difficulty is enhanced by the fact that some of our best prose-writers have never published a single detached volume.
In a general review such as this it will be profitable to inquire into the circumstances under which Canadian literature originated and by which it was directed into its actual channels, when we will at once perceive that, with reference to the history of the other nations of America, Canada is both young and old. Jamestown, the first English settlement on this continent, was founded in 1607. It has been desolate for two hundred years, but Quebec—founded in 1608, only one year later—is still flourishing.
Besides being brave soldiers and skilful seamen, both Samuel de Champlain and Captain John Smith were authors and led the way in English and French prose-writing in America; but there was a break in the continuity of development in the north, while in the south the colony of Massachusetts became the centre of an intellectual life which, though it flowed in a narrow channel, was intense and uninterrupted.
Canadian literature and Canadian history open with the works of Samuel de Champlain. Champlain was an author in the fullest sense of the word; for he even illustrated his own works and drew excellent maps which he published with them. His works include not only his voyages in Acadia and Canada, but his previous voyage to the West Indies and his description of Mexico. He wrote also short treatises on navigation and map-making which are still useful to explain early cartography. The edition of his works published at
Orations. Vol. 22-15
Quebec in 1870, under the auspices of Laval University, is a monument of the scholarship of the Abbé Laverdière, its editor, and of the generosity of its publisher. A librarian need no longer spend money upon original editions, for this is the most complete of all, and it is, besides, the most creditable specimen of the printer's art ever published in Canada.
From the time of Champlain down to the conquest in 1759 learned and cultivated men, ecclesiastics for the most part, wrote in and about Canada; but their books were published in Europe. Marc Lescarbot, a companion of Champlain in Acadia, wrote, in French, a history of New France and enticed “Les Muses de la Nouvelle France” to sing beside the rushing tides of the Bay of Fundy.
Then came the long series of Jesuit Relations, the books of Father Le Clercq, the Latin history of Du Creux, the learned work of Father Lafiteau, the letters of Marie Guyart, the Huron Dictionary and the History of Father Sagard, the Travels of Hennepin, the general treatise of Bacqueville de La Potherie, and the works of Father Charlevoix, still the great resource of writers on Canadian subjects.
There were many others. There was De Tonti-never since Jonathan was there friendship so devoted as his was to La Salle. There was Denys—the capable and enterprising governor of Cape Breton; and Boucher—the plain colonist from the frontier post of Three Rivers (then beset with savage Iroquois) who stood up before the Great King and pleaded the cause of the despairing colony; and then, lest we become tợo serious, we have that frivolous young officer, the Baron de Lahontan, who paid off the pious priests of Montreal for tearing leaves out of his naughty pagan books by telling slanderous stories of all the good people of Canada.
But this literature, while considerable in extent, was not indigenous to the soil, although in quality it was, perhaps, superior to that of the English colonies. There were educa. tional institutions and teaching orders and cultivated people; but education did not reach the mass. A printing-press was set up at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the year 1639, but one hundred and twenty years later, when Canada passed under British rule, there was not one printing-press in the whole of New France. Even the card money was hand-written, and the Ordonnances—a sort of government debentures passing current as money–were printed in France. There was in New France a polite and cultivated society; but the literature which existed was a reflex of the culture of Old France of the France of the Bourbon kings. This jealousy of the press in Canada is very remarkable, because there was at least one printing-press in Mexico in 1539, and in Peru in 1586.
Upon a people thus socially organized the English conquest fell with great force, for, at the peace in 1763, when New France was definitely ceded, a large number of the educated laymen emigrated to France and left the people without their natural leaders.
I am aware that this has been recently disputed; but I am loath to believe that Bibaud, Garneau, and above all the conscientious and judicious Abbé Ferland, can be in error. The truth lies probably between the two extremes, and it will be safer to say that those who had any concern with the French government or army, or who had any claims upon or connection with the French court, emigrated. Now, when we consider that the government was despotic, and that there was no semblance of free institutions to afford an outlet for independent energy or ambition, we will recognize the effect of such an emigration. It is to the honor of the clergy that they did not abandon their charge. Bowing to circumstances beyond their control, they severed their connection with their motherland; and, if French literature in Canada now breathes with a life all its own, it is due to the Church which sustained it in its time of sore discouragement.
Literature could not flourish under such conditions; moreover, French and English Canadians both had yet to undergo many trials and many political and military experiences. These they shared in common; for in those days intermarriages were frequent, and the two races understood each other better than they do now. Was it because the age of newspapers had not come?
The English who first came to Canada did not come in pursuit of literature; and, besides, the air was charged with electricity; for the treaty of peace had scarcely been ratified when the Stamp Act was passed. In the ensuing struggle, after some hesitation, the new subjects of England sided with her; for, in the much maligned Quebec Act, she had dealt justly, and even kindly, with them, and they rallied to her support. The war 'swept to the walls of Quebec, and yet the commissioners of the Continental Congress could not sweep the province into the continental union. Even the astute Franklin, in whose hands Oswald, and Hartley, and Lord Shelburne were as wax, and who was able to outwit even a a statesman like Vergennes, was foiled at Montreal by the polite but inflexible resolution of the French-Canadian clergy and gentry.
The tide of invasion receded, and peace came at last—but not repose; for with peace came the sorrowful procession of proscribed refugees who laid the foundations of English Canada. United Empire Loyalists they were called, and United Empire Loyalists are their descendants to the present day. Well is it for us they were educated men; for the institutions their fathers had helped to found had to be left behind; and they set their faces to the unbroken wilderness where the forest came down to the water's edge, where the only roads were Indian trails or paths made by wild animals through the thickets. The time for literature had not come; for there were farms to be cleared, and roads and bridges and churches and schoolhouses to be built. All these lay behind them in the homes from which they had been driven. Clearly, then, if we want original Canadian works for our libraries, we must pass over these years.
But not yet was this people to find repose, for our grandparents had scant time to organize themselves into civil com. munities when war broke out again and once more they took up arms for the principles they held dear. The struggle was exhausting, for they had to fight almost alone. The mother country could give very little assistance, because she was engaged in a life-and-death conflict with a world in arms. In that “ splendid isolation ” which has more than once been the destiny of England, the little half-French, half-English dependency stood firm; but her frontiers were again swept by invasion.
The destruction of war and subsequent recovery from its effects postponed again the era of literature; for our land was all border land and felt the scourge of war in its whole extent. At last came peace, and the Canadian people could settle down to the normal development of their own institutions; but long, long years had been lost, and it was not until 1825 or 1830 that any interest in the pursuit of literature began to be felt.
And now that I have endeavored to make plain the circumstances which retarded the development of Canadian