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THE MASKS OF ARCHIBALD LAMPMAN IF. W. Watt They who shall see me in that hour will ask What spirit or what fire could ever have been Within that yellow and discoloured mask. ... ("Death," July, 1891) Historical and biographical criticism are likely to remain the chief approaches to Canadian literature for some while to come-indeed, for as long as the soil continues to offer so small a return for more intensive forms of cultivation. It is a sign of vitality, however, that the easy generalizations and simple conclusions which were once possible are becoming more difficult to make. Canadian literature as it is now being written and Canadian literary history alike can no longer be exploited with impunity by the casual amateur. With the increase in complexity and difficulty comes a new sense of interest and relevance. Writers once thought of as safely and finally placed in the Canadian literary tradition are threatening (although serious "revaluations" remain unlikely) to re-emerge with new vitality. Among these Archibald Lampman, formerly pigeon-boled as a minor nature Romantic of the late-Victorian era, may yet come to be looked upon less as a mildly interesting fossil of an outlived colonial past than as a type of the Canadian writer and his continuing special problems in this country. Archibald Lampman went to Ottawa in 1883 to take up a minor clerical position in tbe Post Office Department, and he remained at that post except for brief vacations until a short time before his death in 1899, at the age of thirty-eight. During these sixteen years he wrote the handful of mild and sensitive nature poems upon which largely depends his claim to be the best of nineteenth-century Canadian poets; and he led a life which was externally as contemplative and uneventful as the poems imply. In a memoir his close friend D. C. Scott remarked on how fortunate the poet was to receive, during most of his creative life, the security of that undemanding Civil Service post, and to live in the small though growing city of Ottawa, which still permitted easy access to the 169 170 F. W. WATT rural scenes he so much loved. Yet from the evidence of letters and relatively unfamiliar parts of his prose and poetry, Lampman's life in Canada's capital city was not at all one of quiet fruitfulness, but on the contrary one of unrest, dissatisfaction often to the point of despair, and unresolved tension and conflict within himself and with the society in which he lived. In the two years following his grateful acceptance of the Civil Service position (it relieved him of a brief and highly incompatible first career, that of school teacher), Lampman was complaining in letters to a friend' of a debilitating mood from which he could not escape and which was the opposite of contentment or happiness. He also referred in the letters to a curious species of writing he was attempting at this juncture: I am in the midst now of the barren period; I cannot work; I have been writing at a voluminous fairy tale-and have composed many sheets of very monotonous rubbish.-I can do nothing but saw wood. [Dec. 10, 1884] I have been very dull and out of spirits.---oppressed with innumerable things-debts; ill-success in everything, incapacity to write and want of any hopes of ever succeeding in it if I do. I cannot do anytbing-I believe I am the feeblest and most good-for nothing mortal any where living.... I wrote another fairy tale the other day-much to mother's disgust; who is unlimited in her complaints of the impractical and outlandish character of my writings. which indeed fetch no money-or even respect. As to the story I made it in a dull lifeless state of mind, so I dare say it is bad enough.... [Jan. 20, 1885] In the first number of Man (Nov., 1885), the short-lived Ottawa periodical edited by Lampman's father-in-law, Dr. Edward Playter, there appeared what may well be a product of the kind of effort referred to in these letters, under the title "Hans Fingerhut...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 169-184
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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