The Beginnings of a National Literary Tradition

Canadians throughout their history have been concerned over the status
of their national literature. One of the major problems facing early Canadian
writers was that the language and poetic conventions that they had inherited
from the Old World were inadequate for the new scenery and conditions in which
they now found themselves. Writers such as Susanna Moodie, Samuel Hearne, and
Oliver Goldsmith were what I would consider "Immigrant" authors. Even though
they were writing in Canada about Canada their style and their audiences were
primarily England and Europe. These authors wrote from an Old World perspective
and therefore were not truly Canadian authors. It took a group of homespun
young writers in the later part of the 19thCentury to begin to build a genuine
"discipline" of Canadian literary thought. This group, affectionately known as ‘
The Confederation Poets\', consisted of four main authors: Charles G.D. Roberts,
Bliss Carman, Duncan Campbell Scott, and Archibald Lampman. The Poets
ofConfederation "established what can legitimately be called the first distinct
"school" of Canadian poetry"(17, Keith). The term ‘The Poets of Confederation\'
is a misnomer since not one of these poets/authors was more than ten years old
when the Dominion of Canada was formed in 1867. However, all of these writers
were aware of the lack of a distinctive Canadian literary tradition and they
made efforts to create one for their successors. While each of these men had
their own distinctive writing style they all sought to contribute and create a ‘
national\' literature. According to R.E.Rashley in Poetry in Canada: The First
Three Steps " there is no Canadian poetry before [The Confederation Poets]
time"(98). These men were the first in a long line of authors and artists to
conceive of the need for a discernible national literature. The Confederation
Poets function was to "explore the new knowledge that they had acquired of
themselves that had been created by the interaction of environment and people
and the concept of evolutionary growth"(Rashley 98). Archibald Lampman was a
key note in the beginnings of a national literary movement. Before Lampman and
the other Confederation poets there seemed to be a mere repetition of European
ideas in literature in Canada. Even though Lampman was influenced by the great
Romanticists in Britain, such as Keats and Wordsworth, he is still one of the
most integral writers in Canadian poetry and literature in general. Lampman
signaled the move from the ‘Immigrant\' authors like Moodie and her counterparts
toward a true and distinct Canadian literary movement. It is important to note
that in order to appreciate the quality of 19th Century Canadian literature, an
effort of sympathy and a leap of imagination are both needed because it is here
in the 19th Century that our nations true poetic history begins.
In early Canadian poetry the most influential and universal poet is
undoubtedly Archibald Lampman. While his career, like his life, were short-
lived his poetry remains as a reminder to the origins of Canadian literary
thought. Lampman was one of our first major literary figures to try and
identify a "national" literature. He realized the importance of having a
specifically Canadian literary tradition. An important stepping point in
Lampman\'s career came after he read the work Orion by Charles G.D. Roberts.
Lampman describes his over powering emotion when as a youth he came across this
published work(in the quote on the title page). The importance of having this
distinct literary "school" was a driving inspiration in his art. Lampman is
regarded "as the most talented of The Confederation Poets"( W.J. Keith 18). It
is amazing that this unspectacular man could have such a profound effect on the
evolution of Canadian literary tradition. His upbringing was in a very
conservative environment as Lampman descended from Loyalists on both sides of
his family and his father was an Anglican clergyman. It seemed that "every
element in Lampman\'s upbringing told against the development of Canadianism in
[him], but Canadianism did develop very early"(E.K. Brown 97). As a child
growing up around Ontario he had the pleasure of holding acquaintance with both
Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Trail at Rice Lake. Both of these writers
were in their 70\'s when Lampman met them but perhaps they were an influence on
his desire to explore the Nature of Canada. As a young adult Lampman was
educated first at Trinity College and then he pursued his studies at the
University of Toronto. After he had graduated, he taught High School for a few
unhappy months before he chose a career as a clerk in the Post Office Department
in Ottawa where he remained for