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LETTERS IN CANADA: 1941 Edited by A. S. P. Woodhouse Part II V. FRENCH-CANADIAN LETTERS w. E. COLLIN Among the books published during 1941 in French Canada it has· been my good fortune to find some fascinating poetry and literary criticism, a few remarkabl.e novels, and a book dealing with the origins of French-Canadian ideas. Mgr Emile Chartier's book, La Vie de !'esprit, is the story of th~ origin and development of the ideas and doctrines which have enabled the French Canadians to survive and retain their culture. The value of a work such as this is that it shows the connection between a dogma and the political conditions at the time of its invention and in that way tends to loosen the hold it has on our minds. The dogma of national superiority, professed by M. Montpetit and others, is fatal, ·~ays the author. It is founded, not upon reasoning and written texts, but upon sentiment. Yet there are signs that the author himself subscribes to the dogma. He censures the extreme views of the "Action fran~aise," but he does not exorcize the dogma. He hates violent consequences, but he does not hate "nationalisation." One :finds the same historical logic in the discourses of the abbe Lionel Groulx: Paroles d des etudiants and Notre Missionjrant;aise. It is curious logic because, having the appearance of resting upon "series de faits bien verifies, r:igoureusement controles," it actually rests upon a conviction of superiority and of "notre mission fran- ~aise." The classical school system is one of the evidences of this superiority; it is superior because it gives students a solid foundation and :fits them for life, and not for one particular profession. M. Edouard Montpetit calls the school a bastion. In his inquiry into American influence in the schools, Rejlets d'Amerique, this author realizes that American influence is inescapable but, provided it is bent to the French genius and not merely suffered, he believes that French Canada is n·ot only saved but fortified. 475 -· 476 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY We meet this thesis again in Mgr Olivier Maurault's Propos et portraits. The Rector's principal theme is French Canada's providential mission on the American continent. The new note in the book is the feeling that among university faculties the theological faculty is queen, first in dignity. This is why the author devotes a long chapter to the work of Pope Pius XI and to programmes of Thomist philosophy. "It is our ambition," he writes, "to create at Montreal this school of Christian thought the diffusion of which may be immense." Pour Former des Homnus nouveaux presents the doctrine in the form of exhortations. At the opening of classes, or at a banquet, the Rector of Laval University places before his assembled students a text of scripture, draws out of it lessons which will keep their minds fixed upon the immutable Christian law of life, and exhorts them to be true to it, to their inheritance, to their mission as apostles of light and peace. «Let your light so shine before men"let it shine upon social problems. Give to your .dreams two wings: intelligence and virtue. To professors he says: Teach the gro-wing generation the doctrines of life which kill egoism, a moral law which will make the evangelical virtues flower and, through them, create a new society. Against these interpretations of the doctrine the work of the abbe Arthur Maheux stands out in marked contrast. "The walls of the city are too high," he says, in Propos sur l'education. \::Vith the same high regard for classical culture, the same concern for the survival of the race, his disposition to French-Canadian problems differs from M. Montpetit's. Where one speaks of "superiority" the other speaks of "difference." Professor Maheux sees something good, even classical, in the study of science, music, drawing, in manual training, physical training, even in military discipline. In an ingenious aside he reminds us how Monseigneur de Laval, while he founded a Seminary, also helped to establish·the Ecole de.s Arts et Metiers for the training of carpenters, shoemakers , masons, sculptors, and...


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