- The Charivari, or Canadian Poetics by George Longmore, and: Charles Sangster. Norland Echoes ed. by Frank M. Tierney, and: The Lampman Symposium ed. by Lorraine McMullen (review)
- University of Toronto Quarterly
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 47, Number 4, Summer 1978
- pp. 439-442
- View Citation
- Additional Information
HUMANITIES 439 George Longmore. The Charivari, or Canadian Poetics Edited by Mary Lu MacDonald. Golden Dog Press. 57· $2·95 Charles Sangster. Norland Echoes. Edited by Frank M. Tierney Tecumseh Press 1976. 117 Lorraine McMullen, editor. The Lampman Symposium University of Ottawa Press 1976. xiii, 1}8 How to approach nineteenth-century writing is fast becoming one of the most pressing issues facing Canadian literary studies. With burgeoning interest in Canadian literature as a whole and the increased amount of impressive contemporary work, it is natural to look back to the last century to set the twentieth-century achievement in its historical context . Only the most committed nationalist will expect God's plenty, but in the general quest for origins something of interest must surely be revealed. And as we become more aware of the earlier phases of our literature we shall need both reliable editions and mature standards of criticism. The three books under review represent a recent sampling. Hitherto The Charivari has been at best no more than a name for most students of Canadian literature. Until recently it has been mentioned from time to time as an anonymous (or, rather, pseudonymous) work, possibly by Levi Adams. But Mary Lu MacDonald, in an admirably clear and thorough introduction to the present reprint, has established, with as convincing a battery of evidence as is likely to be compiled, that the author was George Longmore (c.1793-c.1839), who was born in Quebec City, became an officer in the Royal Staff Corps, and sailed for England a few months after the poem was published in 1824. She wisely makes no inflated claims for the poem. Written 'after the manner of Beppo: it is a lively, unabashed imitation of the later Byron, and succeeds in catching not only his chattiness and deliberately audacious rhymes but also his ability to sustain his reader's interest despite (and indeed because of) his flagrant digressions. Certainly no masterpiece , the poem is none the less interesting - and well worth reprintingnot merely on account of its intriguing picture of Montreal life in the 1820S but for what it tells us about the literary taste of the English 'garrison' at that time. My one reservation about an otherwise excellent edition is that MacDonald never states her editorial principles. The text is presumably reproduced exactly as it appeared in the first edition. This is naturally a defensible decision, though the punctuation is so idiosyncratic that it can only distract and confuse a modem reader, and a good case could be made for a modernized text. And, since the poem will be read primarily 440 LETTERS IN CANADA 1977 by students (of both literature and history) some informative notes would have been helpful. (Why, one wonders, do editors of Canadian texts almost invariably assume that we need no help with obscure references ?) But, all in all, this is an edition to be welcomed with gratitude. By contrast, in his introduction to Sangster's Norland Echoes, Frank Tierney concentrates on the need for carefully edited texts to the exclusion of any consideration of the literary value of the texts being edited. He expresses some surprise that, with the exception of the title poem, this collection (which, along with a not-yet-published manuscript, is said to reveal 'the creative power of Sangster') was not published by Sangster's literary executor. W.O. Lighthall, he notes, 'for reasons known only to himself, did not publish the two new major volumes.' It never seems to occur to him that Lighthall might have recognized the low quality of the poetry and decided that publication would not be in the interest of Sangster's reputation. Here are some samples from this 'major' volume: 'What is it, rna, I have heard them say, That a little Stranger has come this way ... ... they call it- wait, let me see what they callYes - The Little Stranger of Rideau Hall.' Swift be thy flight and far, Skyward from star to star, Up where the angels are, Walter Munro. Chained to the sod Poor soulless clod! Lift, lift me upwards, 0 my God! The rest of the collection is full of similarly stale cliche even if it is...