Abrams Plains: A Poem and its Preface by Thomas Cary (1751-1823) constitute what is probably the best-known and most important document in eighteenth-century Canadian poetry. Originally Printed for the Author1 at Quebec in 1789, Carys poem found one of its earliest modern admirers in Lawrence M. Lande, who published several lengthy excerpts from it in Old Lamps Aglow (1957), his loving Appreciation of Early Canadian Poetry.2 Since then the complete text of Abrams Plains, together with its Preface, has appeared in Three Early Poems from Lower Canada (1969),3 edited by Michael Gnarowski, and, without its Preface, in the first volume of The Evolution of Canadian Literature in English: Beginnings to 1867 (1973),4 edited by Mary Jane Edwards. More recently, the poems Preface alone has appeared in the section on Colonial Beginnings 1752-1867 in Towards a Canadian Literature: Essays, Editorials and Manifestos (1984), a collection of documents pertaining to the evolution of Canadian literature in English5 selected by Douglas M. Daymond and Leslie G. Monkman. Since each of these reprintings of Carys work is either incomplete, unreliable or unavailable, the need has clearly arisen for what the present volume seeks to provide: an edition of Abrams Plains and its Preface that will make Carys work reliably available in its entirety to students and scholars of early Canadian poetry.
Despite the fact that they have been frequently anthologised, Abrams Plains and its Preface have received scant critical attention. in the Literary History of Canada (1965 and later) James J. and Ruth Talman offer only a brief biographical sketch of Thomas Cary, a few excerpts from his Preface, and the following description of the poem:
Gnarowskis Note on Abrams Plains in Three Early Poems from Lower Canada provides no critical commentary either on the poem or on its Preface but does give an account of Carys life based, like that of the Talmans, on the entries in Henry J. Morgans Bibliotheca Canadensis (1867) and Marie Tremaines Bibliography of Canadian Imprints, 1751-1800 (1952):
Mary Jane Edwards, in her valuable Introduction to Abrams Plains in The Evolution of Canadian Literature, covers much the same ground as Gnarowski and the Talmans but provides additional information concerning Carys life and opinions, particularly his strongly pro-British orientation (of which more will be said in due course) as embodied and expressed in the Quebec Mercury between its foun dation in 1805 and Carys death in 1823.8 Some critical discussion of Abrams Plains and its Preface has recently been provided, however, by Sandra Djwa and J.M. Zezulka, the former seeing in Carys work merely a colonial reflection of the English tradition9 that persists in Canadian poetry until E.J. Pratt and the latter arguing more sympathetically that the poem partakes of a pastoral vision of Canada that is shared by a substantial number of Canadian poets10 to A.M. Klein and beyond. These approaches to Carys work are salutary in that they integrate Abrams Plains and its Preface into the historical and thematic continuity of writing in Canada. It will be the aim of this Introduction to consolidate that integration and, in addition, to examine Abrams Plains and its Preface in their own terms with a view to establishing their relations, not only to the English and Canadian literary continuities, but also to the historical, political and social milieu of Quebec in the late eighteenth century.11
Abrams Plains is a topographical poem, a poem in which, to quote Dr. Johnsons famous definition of local poetry, the fundamental subject is some particular landscape . . . poetically described, with the addition of such embellishment as may be described by historical retrospection and incidental meditation.12 Each of the three elements of this definition of topographical poetry is amply represented in Carys poem: the particular landscape . . . poetically described is, of course, that of Quebec, particularly the St. Lawrence river system and its environs; historical retrospection is present and directed primarily towards the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, though there are also references to the English-French conflict over the Ohio River basin, to Sir William Johnsons defeat of Baron Dieskau at Lac St. Sacrement (Lake George), and to the attempts by American forces under General Benedict Arnold to capture the fourteenth colony at the time of the American Revolution; and incidental meditation is present in a variety of forms, occasioned mostly by Carys efforts to survey the scenery, inhabitants, wealth and politics of Britains Canadian colony. The three clemnents of Carys topographical poem, as well as the various subspecies (picturesque tableaux, descriptive catalogues, and the like) contained within it, are held together by powerful formalistic and structural forces by the heroic couplet, a form that facilitates the integration of digressive matter,13 and by two structuring physical entities: (1) the Plains of Abraham themselves, where the poem begins and ends and where the central event of Lower Canadian history and of the poem, is located; and (2) the St. Lawrence river system, which Cary uses as, so to say, a thread along which to string the various descriptive, historical and meditative embellishments of the poem.
It is Carys use of the river, more, perhaps, than any other feature of Abrams Plains, that endows the poem with a Janus-like quality of facing in two directions. By virtue of the presence of the St. Lawrence at its core, Abrams Plains looks backwards in the topographical tradition to the sources and fountainheads of the neo-classical tradition in England to the rivers of Popes Windsor-Forest and Thomsons The Seasons (both of which are referred to by Cary in his Preface) and, beyond these, to the numerous rivers of Draytons Poly-Olbion, to the Nile of Claudian and to the Moselle of Ausonius. And it looks forward, by an extraordinary, intuitive understanding on Carys part of the shape and significance of the St. Lawrence river system, to the Laurentian hypothesis of Donald Creighton, who has argued in the [Commercial] Empire of the St. Lawrence that the St. Lawrence was not only the determining factor in Canadian history but also the shaping force in Canadian society and in the Canadian soul.14 In its use of the St. Lawrence and as, in part, a river poem15 Abrams Plains also echoes forward in the Canadian literary continuity to Sangsters The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay and to Lampmans Between the Rapids, as well as to more recent works such as F.R. Scotts On the Terrace, Quebec and Hugh MacLennans Rivers of Canada.16
Here, in lifes vigour, Wolfe resignd his breath, / And, conquring sunk to the dark shades of death . . . (ll. 282-283). With this couplet Cary begins his account of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, proceeding first to set it against the historical backdrop of the Seven Years War, the conflict over the Ohio River basin and the exploits of Sir William Johnson. and then going on to describe in somne detail the Battle itself. To Cary the defeat of the French on the Plains of Abraham was the outcome of Gallic aggression and presumption (l. 300) in North America; and great Wolfe was the patriotic leader of dauntless veterans who won victory at Quebec over a numrous foe (ll. 302-306). His description of how Wolfe led his troops, not as a chief, but on foot, of the Generals courageous indifference to his wounds, and of his famous last words (Anxious, he hears the shout they fly, they fly, / Who fly? The foe contented then I die) is a set piece, based, no doubt, on written and, perhaps, oral accounts of Carys day. Over half a century later, in the Death of Wolfe and The Plains of Abraham, Sangster would tell the same tale using many of the same words as the earlier poet; indeed, Sangster would draw much the same moral as Cary concerning the rare, divinest life / Of peace, compared with Strife! 17
More, in fact, than Carys description of the death of Wolfe and the battle for Quebec, it is his moral position vis-a-vis these and other events that must be examined if the overall meaning and purpose of Abrams Plains are to be grasped. Like Windsor-Forest, its primary model as a local or topographical18 poem, Abrams Plains fuses the scenic and the historical, the pastoral and the political, and does so within a controlling moral vision19 based, in Carys case, on a perceived need in Lower Canada for the peace, harmony, freedom and moderation that he associates with the British presence in the Colony. Not only does a recognition of Carys controlling moral vision, particularly his repeated and essentially ethical contrast between a peaceful and civilized present and a violent and tyrannical past, make evident the underlying unity of Abrams Plains, but it also helps to confirm the poems generic lineage through Windsor-Forest, with its praise of Peace and its condemnation of Discord (and its references to Denhams Coopers Hill), to the Georgics of Virgil where, as Addison says, the Poetry . . . raises in our minds a pleasing variety of scenes and landscapes, whilst it teaches us . . . 20 By insisting at the end of the Preface to Abrams Plains on the date and place of the poem as Quebec . . 1789 Cary demands that his Canadian Georgic be read with an eye on the contrast between present and past between the Peace (l. 50) that now exists in Quebec under British rule and the Destruction (1. 52) that occurred on the Plains of Abraham at the time of the Battle that the poem commemorates in its central section (ll. 282-361) and, indeed, in its very title. It is worth emphasizing, too, that Abrams Plains was written in the aftermath, not only of the Seven Years War (1756-1763), but also of the American War of Independence. This fact leads Cary, after paying tribute to Wolfe, to render praise to the prudence and saving wisdom of those (Guy Carleton, later Lord Dorchester, in particular: see Explanatory Notes, l. 485f.) who defended Quebec against American invaders in the winter of 1775-1776. It also lends a double referent and emphasis to his obloquies against wild-wasting war. / Destructive war! (ll. 51-52) and to his fervent hope a hope typical of the topographical poets attempt to project . . . stability into the future21 that never more may hostile arms distain, / With human gore, the verdure of the plain (ll. 340-341). In these lines and to a greater or lesser extent throughout the poem, the plain(s) of Abraham, once the scene of conflict and destruction, now a realm of peace and harmony, are a metaphorical microcosm for Quebec enjoying the benefits of the British civilization which, as Cary says in a key couplet, has In Circes glass bid moderation reign, / And moral virtues humanize the plain (ll. 62-63).
Bearing in mind the centrality of moral vision in topographical poetry, and remembering as well Addisons remark to the effect that in the Georgics Virgil uses landscape both to please and to teach, the reader can approach even the opening lines of Abrams Plains with the certainty that there is more to Carys description of the Plains of Abraham than literally meets the eye:
What is perhaps most immediately remarkable about the opening of Carys poem is the way in which the description of the Plains brings together and attempts to fuse its old-world, neo-classical conventions with its new-world, Canadian subject-matter. An inspirational presence on the Plains is the muse, a figure who, true to Carys moral vision, emerges in a later use of the classical muse machinery as a muse of both poetry and peace whose . . . only weapon . . . [is the] grey goose quill with which she draws peaceful parallels (ll. 459-460). Not wholly devoid of fighting spirit, Carys muse is prepared to do battle, but only for the purposes of defense or in the cause of liberty against tyranny (ll. 461-463). Present, too, on the Plains are the learned dead the classical heroes, philosophers, politicians and poets who, as the MIGHTY DEAD . . . who blest Mankind/With Arts, and Arms, and humnanizd a World held high Converse with Thomson in The Seasons.22 But juxtaposed with the balmy breeze of the classical Zephyrus (the West Wind, traditionally associated with health arid renewal) is the bleak northern and Canadian gale. These two very different winds are sought out by a Cary who, now markedly less sedentary than the reposeful figure who had earlier courted his peace-loving muse and conversed with the learned dead, likens himself to an unbroken steed an image very likely of the vital and healthy exercise of (British) liberty or freedom. The implication of Carys opening lines is that peace and freedom, together with the accoutrements of classical civilization and the invigorating qualities of Canadian nature, are to be found on the Plains of Abraham, and are to be enjoyed under circumstances of utter and complete tranquility:
Here Cary seems at pains to demonstrate the harmonious life that exists on the plains. His tranquill landscape contains no hint of conflict or antipathy; indeed the poet/speaker that is, European man is in a state of concord with the creatures of Britains Canadian colony: he is accepted alike by the domesticated grazing herds and by the shy and shyer animals of the forest who perceive him, he speculates, either as an animate native of the wood or as an inanimate block cast ashore from the St. Lawrence. It is more than possible that Carys use of the word block brings with it to this context a double valency and two meanings, one derived from its traditional (Shakespearian, Popian) usage as an image of inertia and senselessness, the other deriving from the implication that his Canadian block is a piece of flotsam from Quebecs burgeoning timber industry, described by Cary in some detail later in the poem. If this possibility is granted, then it would appear that Carys doubly suggestive block serves to reconcile old-world concepts with new-world realities and, beyond that, to show, like the entire context in which it appears, that on the Plains of Abraham there is to be found in 1789 a peaceful and harmonious relationship between man (even man with commercial connections) and nature (even wild nature). Although, as will be seen, Cary at several points later in the poem betrays a typical conquerors sense of contempt for the defeated French Canadians and a typical colonists sense of superiority over the indigenous Indian culture, these attitudes, regrettable as they may seem today, must be understood as aspects of a moral vision based on a belief in the civilizing power of the British presence in Quebec.
If the opening lines of Abram s Plains were apparently intended to body forth the peace, harmony, health, and freedom which have humanized the Plain since the fall of Quebec, then the penultimate paragraph of the poem can be seen as a statement of the moderation, the via media and the beatus vir that stem also from the British presence in Lower Canada:
It is now possible to recognize that, like the Plains of Abraham, the waters of the St. Lawrence river system provide in themselves, not merely a unifying device for Abrams Plains, but also a metaphor for the moderate, good life bestowed by British rule in Quebec and, beyond that, for an eighteenth-century civilization in the colony that is rooted in the classics, founded on Christianity and dedicated to the maintenance of moral virtues and good government, both in the individual and the public sphere. Near the beginning of the poem Cary had invested the St. Lawrence first with classical overtones, by making it the home of Naiades (ll. 18, 43, 252), and then with Christian overtones, by referring to its canonizd name (l. 85). Later, he had used the slow-moving, fertilizing waters of the St. Charles River as an emblem of wise caution which slow, yet sure . . . influence widely spreads (ll. 400-405) and offered as a contrast rushing floods which, in his view, deprive the meadows of their needful dews and, hence, are emblematic of a headstrong, thoughtless, useless amid easily cheated mentality. By the time the reader gets to the penultimate paragraph of the poem, quoted above, the St. Lawrence has taken up a central position in Carys moral vision, lying at the very heart of his rationalistic view of the good and, in the fullest sense, civilized life that exists in the British colony of Quebec thirty years after the conquest.
Always within his controlling vision of the benefits of British civilization for Quebec, Cary has much to say in Abrams Plains about the commercial wealth and potential of the empire of the St. Lawrence. This aspect of the poem becomes its central focus after the opening descriptions of the Plains of Abraham and of the St. Lawrence river system. But it is already implicit in Carys decision to give shape to Abrams Plains, not by following the river upstream in the direction of exploration, but, rather, downstream from West to East which is to say in the direction of the flow of water and staples fromn the hinterland to the metropolitan centres of Montreal and Quebec City and, thence, down the St. Lawrence estuary and, by extension, across the Atlantic ocean to England. Jonathon Carver, Carys primary source for his description of the Great Lakes systemn near the beginning of Abrams Plains (see Explanatory Notes, l. 21ff.), had some twenty years earlier appreciated the economic possiblities of the West-East flow of water into the St. Lawrence. Writing of the virgin copper that is found on and near [the] banks of a river feeding into Lake Superior in his Travels through the Interior Parts of North America in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768, Carver observes:
The structuring, commercial movement of Abrams Plains from West to East provides implicit evidence of Carys endorsement of the mercantile system whereby fur, fish, lumber, and grains were exported to Britain, yielding in return income, man-power, and capital to exploit the Colonys natural resources.24 Crucial to a flourishing mercantile system were plentiful such natural resources, coupled with a stable peace in which profitably to exploit them. Thus it is that Cary, perhaps remembering Thomsons frequent association of Peace and commerce in The Seasons, initiates his comprehensive view (l. 497), his detailed survey, of the commercial empire of the St. Lawrence by emphasizing the stability that permits prosperity. After first arranging for the rivers Naiades to render praise to Ceres, the bounteous goddess of agriculture who later in the poem will pour her grain in golden showers on craving realms (ll. 216-217), he then proceeds himself (consistent, as ever, with the overall vision of the poem) to proclaim the civilizing virtues of the pax Britannica:
Carys praise for the accomplishments of the pioneers in this passage is, of course, typical of Pre-Confederation poetry, as is his endorsement, a few lines later, of pioneering as an activity at once physical amid moral, as well as sanctioned by God: How blest the task, to tame the savage soil, / And, from the waters, bid the woods recoil! (ll. 54-55). It must always be remembered, however, that whether Cary is praising the pioneer or, as later in the poem, the Tenant and lord, noble and peasant, his larger praise is reserved for the humanizing virtues of British civilization arid for the British institutions from which stem smiling peace and laughing plenty . . . / And gay content [to] delight . . . the plain (ll. 448-449).
Cary continues his survey of the commercial empire of the St. Lawrence with several lines devoted to the agricultural and moral advantages of a peaceful and fertile, Christian and British, Lower Canada for all concerned not least the Indian, whose tomahawks and skalping knives are being beaten into ploughshares and pruning hooks"and the Loyalist, who, shelterd from the storm of civil broils, Again, from the unclogd responsive earth, / Calls a new patrimony into birth (61-70). Thus mariners wreckd on some distant shore, he imagines in an extended and appropriately commercial simile, regret the loss of their ship only until with sad step, they inland bend their way / Where mines of gold their loss amply repay (ll. 74-75). Little wonder that, later in Abrams Plains, Cary exhorts even the French-Canadian peasants to be Grateful for their mended state, / And bless, beneath a GEORGE25 [their] better fate (ll. 150-451).
The mercantile poets first port-of-call in the British Eldorado of Quebec is the city of Montreal, which he apostrophizes as a Great Mart! and characterizes as the centre of all the forests spoils, / The furry treasures of the hunters toils (ll. 79-80). Although Carys notion that the Indians themselves brought their furs to Montreal for sale Within thy walls, he says the painted nations pour, / And smiling wealth on thy blest traders showr (ll. 82-83) seems to rest on a slight misunderstanding of the mechanismn of the fur-trade (generally speaking the Indians sold furs to coureurs de bois, who then brought them to Montreal), he is, of course, quite correct in seeing Montreal, where the North West Company had been operating since the 1770s, as the metropolitan centre of the fur-trade in 1789 that is to say, two years after the blest traders Simon McTavish and Joseph Frobisher had established their famous partnership there.26 Montreal, Cary also notes, stands at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers, a fact which also contributed to the citys importance as a geographical and commercial focal point for the fur-trade.
From Montreal Cary continues his comprehensive survey of the St. Lawrence river system downward (1. 85) towards Quebec City. En route he notices two additions to the St. Lawrence: the waters [of lake] Champlain entering the system by the Richelieu river (whose name, perhaps because of its French, political connotations, he omits) and the Maskinonige river flowing into the northwest end of Lac St. Pierre. The former provides Cary the mercantilist with an oppor tunity to allude, somewhat quaintly, to the pine or tall mast trade which, though relatively insignificant in his day (in 1787, for instance,only sixteen masts were shipped to England from Quebec)27 , would rise to prominence in the Napoleonic Wars:
By contrast, the second of the two rivers mentioned at this point in the poem, the Maskinonge, merely gives Cary the opportunity to men tion the first of many fish inhabiting the St. Lawrence system the tyrant pike . . . / To please the haut-gout of the high-fed town (ll. 92-93). Unimportant as it may first appear, Carys reference to pike as a delicacy contains the message that the high-fed town has moved well beyond the level of mere survival and subsistence to that of refined taste and superabundance. There will be more to say about this message anid related matters in a few moments.
For Cary, Quebec City, which had been the centre of the French commmicrcial and military activity in North America, is first amid foremost a strong base for the British garrison and a secure harbour for Britannias navy (l. 138). It is also the recipient of inspired, British engineerinig expertise which, presumably drawing on the same divine sources as Moses, is able to command the sea to go back:
In addition to its strategic and commercial importance for the St. Lawrence valley. Carys Quebec City has the beginnings of the ship building industry that would become of major importance to the city in the nineteenth cenitury. To describe the launching of a ship in 1789 Cary alludes to the legend of Venus birth out of the sea on a half-shell; his Venus-ship, however, is destined to be the mistress, not, as legend has it, of Mars, the god of War, but, characteristically for Cary, of the god of trade:
For Cary, apparently, not even the classical deities could avoid the long arm of British mercanitilism.
The remainder of the first part of Abrams Plains (which is to say the part leading up to the description of Wolfes victory and death in the middle of the poem) is an elaboration, with small, but interesting, variations, of the themes just discussed. One such variation occurs when Cary, in what is probobly a deliberate echo of and answer to Goldsmiths very negative description of North American nature in The Deserted Village (the third poem that he mentions as a model in his Preface) turns to describe the Canadian wilderness. After echoing Goldsmiths matted woods28 with his own, more emphatic, Thick-matted woods, and after noticing the flies, in myriads . . . with tumefying stings that infest the Northern forests, Cary counters Goldsmith on the terrors of the rattle snake by observing that, in the Canadian wilds, a providential nature good and wise is at work, providing an anitidote to the venom of the dark adder in the form of the Rattle Snake Plaintain, a plant that he no doubt encountered in Carvers Travels. (It almost goes without saying that Carys repeated descriptions of the civilized state of Canadiain nature and society, like those in the Canadian Goldsmiths Rising Village, can be read as responses to the gloomy prognostications in The Deserted Village.) A further variation on Carys familiar themes occurs in his description of the imnmediate surroundings of Quebec City where he likens commerce to a queen ant, an apt figure for the process of diligent, fertilizing colonization. And another variatoin is to be found in his description of the logging mill at Malbay (La Malbaie) where he draws upon an Indian legend, albeit one that would have been accessible with minimal difficulty to a European familiar, as Cary very likely would have been, with Ovids Metamorphoses:
Affected as Cary is by the Indian legend, he allows his peace-loving nature and theme to emerge when he refers to the dead warriors as the cold-blooded butchers of a valiant foe.
But the most interesting variation on Carys survey of the plentiful resources of Quebec in the first part of Abrams Plains is his use of a stock-in-trade of topographical poetry: the catalogue. If additional and conclusive proof of Carys mercantilism were required, it would be furnished by a comparison between, for instance, the catalogues of flowers, birds, and domestic animals in Thomsons Spring and the commercially-oriented catalogues of wild animals, trees, and fish in Abrams Plains. All these items are catalogued by Cary, not for their natural beauty, but as natural resources for exploitation by colonial traders and for exportation to British markets. Thus the only species of trees worth itemizing are The sturdy oak (in itself an emblem of England) and the lofty mountain-pine (l. 214), the first a main-stay of the ship-building industry, the second of the tall-mast trade. Indeed, W.T. Easterbrook and Hugh G.T. Aitken could almost be glossing Cary when they write in their Canadian Economic History that no European nation could hope to retain the status of a first-class power without an assured supply of oak timber and pine masts.30 Wild animals are more extensively and explicitly catalogued as a source of furs for craving realms (l. 217) across the Atlantic:
Carys none-too-subtle point is that furs from Quebec, as much, if not more than items such as silk and gems from elsewhere in Britains mercantile empire, have a useful contribution to make to the military, social, legal and monarchical institutions of the Mother Country. Moreover, Carys catalogue of furs and their uses not only contains an unmnistakable echo of a rhetorical question in Thomsons Summer Ah! what avail their fatal Treasures, hid / Deep in the Bowels of the pitying Earth, / Golcondas gems, and sad Potosis Mines . . .31 but it could almost be a response, couched in terms of Quebecs natural resources, to Thomsons question. Just as Cary begins his business-like itemization of fur-bearing animnals with the most commercially important of these, the beaver, so he initiates his catalogue of the finny brood of the sea with salmon [and] cod, a superabundance of which on far worlds, plenty redundant showrs (ll. 250-270), and goes on to enumerate various other varieties of fish bass, trout, eel, sturgeon, smelt, and so on which are Next most important for home supply". Traceable to Ausonius Mosella, reminiscent of the catalogue of ships in Homer and troops in Virgil, and present, not surprisingly, in Windsor-Forest, the catalogue of fish has numerous august and Augustan precedents, all of which serve merely to emphasize the commercial turn given to it by our mercantilist poet. Although Carys catalogue of the other Resources of the St. Lawrence estuary, The heavy porpus and the silly seal (l. 224), the whale (l. 228), the grampus (l. 216), and the sea-cow (l. 248), and his references to Quebecs bounteous . . . granries, with their golden showers of grain for craving realms (ll. 216-217), attest to his export mentality, he is able to step outside the counting house for a few moments in two descriptions, of ice fishing (ll. 266-271) and a whale-hunt (ll. 228-245), both of which are probably well-known enough to escape rehearsal here. Nevertheless, it must be emphasized that the controlling purpose manifested in the catalogues in Abrams Plains is not aesthetic but commercial; Carys aim is to depict Quebec as rich in exportable staples, as a non-subsistence-level economny with enormous future potential within the British mercantile system. Our infant world asks but times fostrng hand, / Its faculties must by degrees expand (ll. 220-221), he says, embodying in one succinct metaphor the dependent, but mutually rewarding, relationship between the colony-child and the Mother Country.
One further passage in the opening section of Abrams Plains, a Thomsoniain digression on culinary taste, may detain us for a moment. The thirty-odd lines (ll. 162-195) of incidental meditation on food begin after Cary has followed the St. Lawrence out, past the mouth of the Saguenay, to its wide-spread Gulph and the distant main, the Atlantic ocean. The butchery of seals in bleak Labradore makes Cary think of the Esquimaux with small pigs eyes, who At cookry sick, raw seal and rank oil prize, and this unlovely thought prompts a jocular consideration of the relativity of taste. Judgement in eating! wheres the standard placd?, asks Cary, leavening his answer that it is located in each mans fickle froward taste by comparing the gourmet offerings of various local culinary establishments with the seal and oil, of [the] Esquimaux. All this could be taken with a pimich of salt, or simnpiy dismissed, as in Carys words, at best . . . a joke, if it were not for the fact that the poet widens the compass of his meditative digressioin on food into a moderates plea for a tolerant acceptance of individual taste and, more important, of differing religious beliefs. Habit forms all, he argues:
In this passage Cary moves beyond comic relief to make a serious point that bears directly on English-French, Protestant-Catholic, relations in post-conquest Quebec while also reinforcing some of the major thiemnes of Abrams Plains. For his enlightened argument that all religious roads lead to the same capacious heaven is, at base, an argument for tolerance between Protestant and Catholic which is consistent with his emphiasis on peace and harmony. And his argumnemnl that religious belief is merely a matter of social conditioning contains within it the concealed possibility that, when exposed to the rules and great example of Protestant, British society, the French Canadians will abandon their Catholicism and, perhaps, much else besides. Cary, it appears, would have had his cake and eaten it too, would have tolerated the French Canadians, at least until they were moulded by British religious, social, and cultural institutions. Needless to say, history has proved Cary wrong. But it is hardly surprising to learn that the Quebec Mercury, which, as has already been remarked, Cary founded in 1805 and edited until his death in 1823, espoused under his editorship the idea that the English conquest was a blessing for New France and thrat the Canadiens shiould forget their language, customs, and religion and become Eniglish-speaking, commercially-oriented British North Americans.32
Nor is it surprising to discover in the latter part of Abrams Plains several attacks on the Catholic Church and on the seigneurial system. Carys description of the Church as a lessner of the little of the poor (l. 365) is, of course, aimed at the tithe system, which was retained under the Quebec Act of 1774. His more elaborate depiction of a wayside crucifix is directed at the idolatry encouraged by such displays:
The dismissive note struck by the phrase and other geer, together with the emphasis thrown on the word Persuaded by its initial position in the final line and by the fact that it is the only three syllable word in the latter part of the passage, indicates that, for Cary, the accoutremnents of Catholicism are delusive. It may also be that by his emphatically alliterative depiction of the French-Canadian peasant bowing humbly with hat in hand he means also to comment on the repressiveness of the Catholic Church. Be this as it may, Cary was not alone in his condemnation of Catholicism in post-conquest Quebec; his opinions were shared, to a greater or lesser extent, by most English residents of Lower Canada in the late eighteenth century33 not to mention the authors of the Quiet Revolution nearly two centuries later.
The General hospital, which, as readers of Frances Brooke will recall, was founded by Jean de Saint-Vallier, the second bishop of Quebec, situated on the borders of the river St. Charles 34 and run by an order of nuns is subjected to an unequal mixture of praise and blame by Cary. After describing the Hospital as a kind shelter of disease and as a source of cordial comfort for the afflicted (ll. 372-375), Cary delivers himself of a lengthy diatribe against the nuns vows of chastity, vows which, in his view, constitute an offense against great natures law equally as serious as the taking of life (ll. 376-397). Given Carys almost choric endorsements of fertility and plenty in Abrams Plains, it is consistent that he should both condemn laws / To bar fruition (ll. 386-387) and praise the imnpetus given by God To all that live, to propagate their kind (l. 395). Similarly, it is consistent with Carys repeated references to the freedom and liberty conferred on Quebec by British rule that he should condemn what he sees as the tyranny of the seigneurial system:
Although Cary ignores the fact that under the terms of the Quebec Act the seigneurial land-tenure system, far from being abolished, was actually retained and consolidated for the benefit of colonial entrepreneurs, there is no doubting the sincerity of his champloniship of liberty over tyranny and of equality under the law. A dimension not of his own making is lent to Carys treatment of liberty and equality in Abrams Plains by the events which began in Paris in June/July, 1789, only months after the appearance of his poem. But while Abrams Plains was published before the French Revolution, it was published well after the American one, a fact that throws into relief the limitations of the British freedom which Cary, with what looks on occasion suspiciously like a double standard, so fervently endorses.
To this point only passing references have been made to Carys brief Preface to Abrams Plains. Despite its brevity, Carys Preface raises several issues that are of considerable importance to an understanding, not only of Abrams Plains, but also of the milieu from which the poem sprang and of its position near the beginning of Canadian writing.
One of the important issues raised in the opening paragraph of Carys Preface concerns the connection between leisure and literature, a connection which has been investigated by thinkers as diverse as Jacob Bronowski and Joseph Pieper, who have pointed out that to quote the latter culture depends for its very existence on leisure.35 Towards the end of the nineteenth century in Canada the connection between leisure time and literary production was expounded by, amongst others, J.G. Bourinot and G.M. Adam and, more recently, it has been discussed by such critics as Ray Palmer Baker, R.L. McDougall, amid S.M. Beckow,36albeit without reference to Cary. Yet Carys modest description of his little poem [as] the offspring of a few leisure hours is resonant with implications in the direction of the leisure theory of Canadian literature. It is incidentally worth noting also that the leisure theory provides one explanation of why so few novels (novels requiring considerable leisure time to write as well as to read) and so many poems (particularly poems of less than a thousand lines) were written at the pioneer and settler stages of Canadian literature. In the light of this, Carys description of Abrams Plains as a little poem written in a few leisure hours could even be read as an oblique apologia for his choice of form.
Another important issue raised in Carys Preface concerns the question of audience: to whom is Abrams Plains addressed, or, to put the question differently, what is the readership and community implied by the our in his observation that literature seems to be emerging from the closet to illuminate our horizon? Sandra Djwa has suggested that implicit in Carys Preface is the assumption that the Canadian poet is addressing himself to an English audience, a pervasive view of the poets function which would not encourage the development of an indigenous Canadiain tradition.37 It is, of course, possible that Cary was writing with one eye on an English audience, that his fulsome descriptions of the peaceful environment and abundant wealth of Quebec were at least partly intended to encourage the flow of British investment and emigration to the new colony. If granted, this possibility would lend Abrams Plains a propagandist quality and place it at the opposite pole from a work such as Susanna Moodies Roughing It in The Bush which, as everyone knows, was written to discourage potential settlers from coming to Canada. But against the assertion that Abrams Plains was addressed solely or even primarily to an Enghish audience to the exclusion of a colonial one there stands a crucially important fact, namely that Cary arranged to have his poem published by subscription and sold not in England, but in Quebec. This fact alone argues strongly that Abrams Plains was directed mainly towards the literate, English-speaking inhabitants of Quebec.38 While it is true that some of these people were in the colony on fairly brief tours of duty, it is equally true that others, such as Cary himself, who had come from England before 1787, William Brown, the poems printer, who had moved to Quebec from Philadelphia in 176339 and others, like McTavish, McGill, and the Frobisher brothers who had arrived in the early 1760s40, were permanent residents of Quebec. The body of the poem, moreover, provides evidence that Abrams Plains was directed towards thiree specific groups in Quebec the first being the merchants of the metropolitan centres of the colony, particularly Montreal with its McTavishes, Frobishers, McGills, and their like, of whom Cary speaks as blest traders (I. 83) and for whom he includes what must have been, to them, satisfying catalogues of the colonys potential wealth and future prospects; the second being the members of the Britishi garrison and its entourage for whom are included, as has been seen, numerous paeans to the benefits of British peace and to the power of the British armed forces; and the third being Quebecs colonial administrators, particularly Lord Dorchester (Carleton), to whom Cary, a clerk in one of the government offices in 1789 (and later secretary to Governor Prescott), delivers a flattering panegyric:
Since Lord Dorchester was not only wounded in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham but also one of the saviors of Quebec in 1775-1776 and, as Governor-in-Chief of British North America from 1786-1796, one of the most enthusiastic proponents of the colonys commercial potential,41 it is hardly surprising that he and his family should be the almost iconic subjects of Carys praise. Towards the end of Abrams Plains, however, Cary directs at the colonial administration, as well as at the other two main components of his colonial audience, the garrison and the traders, a tradition moralists warning against the dangers of pride and power. The soldier, statesman, merchant, wheres the state / Exempt from the vicissitudes of fate?, he asks, cautioning:
Cary it would appear, was quite capable of mixing moralistic advice with fulsome flattery in addressing the powerful élites of his colonial society.
There are additional insights into the relationship between the poet and his audience to be gained from Carys Preface. In explaining that he has written a poemn which, he hopes, will not be unpleasing to the lovers of polite learning and thiat he is addressing a judicious and poetical reader who will be impressed more easily and readily by correct numbers than by poetical fancy and imaginative strength Cary achieves two ends: he succeeds in modestly under-playing his own poetic abilities (such as they are) while, at the same time, flattering his audience (albeit in a somewhat back-handed manner) and he succeeds in graciously implying that he is speaking to and for a cultured, balanced, and rational commnunity. Moreover, Carys preference for an Aristotelian, descriptive poetry that exhibits a picture of the real scenes of nature over poetry of a fabulous and fancifully imaginative kind not only establishes his credentials as a realist but also seems calculated to accord with the preferences of his realistic, no-nonsense readership. It is even tempting to see a correspondence between the mentality of Carys audience of soldier, statesman, [and] merchant and his decision, despite his avowed preference for the blank verse of The Seasons, to write Abrams Plains in the more conventional, structured, and socially-oriented form of the heroic couplet. Certainly, the ability of the heroic couplet to create the impression of . . . a public voice and, beyond thus, of a significant public milieu42 makes it enninently suitable for Carys purposes. And the point may also be made that in the eighteenth cenitury the heroic couplet was considered to be the proper form for a descriptive poem with classical echoes43 such as Abrams Plains. For any one or all of several reasons, then, it would seem that Carys choice of the heroic couplet form for Abrams Plains was appropriate to his audience, to his subject-matter, and to the overall public and social nature of his poem.
In elaborating her contention, mentioned earlier, that Abram s Plains is merely a colonial reflection of the English tradition, Sandra Djwa accuses Cary of providing in his Preface an attractive but pernicious, rationale for the general practice of literary imitation44 when he forthrightly states that before [he] began [his] Poem [he] read Popes Windsor-Forest and Dr. Goldsmiths Deserted Village, with a view to endeavouring, in some degree, to catch their manner of writing; as singers in country-churches in England, to use a simple musical comparison, modulate their tones by the prelusive sound of a pitch-pipe. While it is true that Cary here provides an explanation and an exemplification of the process of literary imitation or emulation, it is difficult to see why he should be faulted for so doing. One of Carys virtues is that in his references to Pope, Goldsmith and Thomson in his Preface he admits to a literary descent, asks explicitly to be judged (albeit sympathetically) in relation to his models, and by implication and extension provides a critical context for the dynamic of importation amid adaptation in his own poem, as well as in other baseland-oriented poems such as J. Mackays Quebec Hill, Adam Hood Burwells Talbot Road and Oliver Goldsmiths The Rising Village which, in one way or another, are indebted to the English poets that he mentions. What is interesting to the sympathetic reader of Colonial (and later) Canadian poetry is not its derivitiveness per se, but the specific details of the importations and adaptations that are evident in a particular poem or author. To such a reader, Abrams Plains provides a fascinating and engaging inistance of what has else where been called the ecology of Canadian poetry 45 the reciprocal relations between its imported poetics and their Canadian environments and contents. For example, Carys use of end-stopped or blocked couplets in his descriptions of the Great Lakes (ll. 21-28) shows him fitting his chosen formn, the already very rigid and patterned Popian couplet, to his Canadian subject-matter, as, indeed, do his descriptions later in the poem of various framed and arrested shapes a frozen waterfall (ll. 514-515), trapped and motionless sea creatures (ll. 214-249), fields, cottages, a church (ll. 398-399 and, ll. 362-365) and so on.46 Also responsive to a sympathetic, ecological reading of Abrams Plains is the passage in which Cary, in his attempt to recreate for the reader something of the movement, plangency and sheer sublimity of Niagara Falls, employs a variety of fitting devices, from spondee and alliteration (próne póur), through trochaic substitution (Dówn thy . . .) and terminal verbs (pour, bound), to run-on couplets and a triple rhyme (the only one in the poem):
This is in no sense great poetry but, like many other passages in Abrams Plains, it shows that, at the very least, Cary was capable of adapting his imported form to reflect the contours of his Canadian subject-matter.
As repeatedly shown by the Explanatory Notes in the present edition (even those to the descriptiomis of the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls), Carys poem is in many places little more than a pastiche of phrases from Windsor-Forest and The Seasons. No doubt the entropic element of pastiche in Abrams Plains speaks to an extent of Carys limitations as a poet. It also speaks, as implicitly does the bulk of his Preface, of his search for a literary lexicon that is both acceptable to his judicious and poetical readers and adequate and answerable to the Canadian scene a search that led him sometimes to a North-American source (Carvers Travels) and occasionally to a prosaically local word (tomi-cod 47, l. 266, for instance), but, more often, took him to such phrases as russet plain (l. 274) and featherd game (l. 410), which are taken directly from Pope and Thomson. Yet Carys borrowings from the English poets whom he admires should not be too hastily condemned as a lack of orginality verging on plagiarism. The practice of literary and artistic imitation was a more central and creative aspect of the neo-classical aesthetic than many post-Romantic writers and critics are prepared to remember,48 and, moreover, by the end of the eighteenth century such phrases as russet lawn and featherd game were part of the conventional diction of most descriptive, topographical and pastoral poetry. That Cary was no innovator, no Wordsworth capable of fighting free of stale neo-classical conventions, of creating a liberating myth of discontinuity, of writing a seminal Preface to his poetic productions, could go without saying. The contrast between Cary and Wordsworth is useful, however, because it throws into relief the complex of values and assumptions an emphasis on rational behavior, a distrust of violent social change, an economically and culturally motivated desire for peace, order and good government that inevitably created in the colonial Canadian poet an affinity, not for poetry of the fabulous kind, whose fabric is the sole work of imagination and where the fancy has full play, but for the poetry of the neo-classical past, with its firmly governed (and governing) heroic couplets and its typical eighteenth-century cluster of peace, prosperity, patriotism and plenty.49 In a curious way, then, it is Carys very lack of originality, his use of the accepted forms and ideas of neo-classical England to describe the physical and social environment of colonial Canada, that makes his work the historically and poetically interesting document that it is to students of Canadian literature.
As enduring a source of interest as Carys handling of neo-classical poetics in Abrams Plains is his use in the poems picture[s] of the real scenes of nature of the eighteenth-century aesthetic of the picturesque. For the present purposes, the picturesque may be defined briefly but not inadequately as the capacity among certain writers, particularly in the century between 1730 and 1830 (called by Christopher Hussey the picturesque phase ),50 to perceive landscape with a painters eye 51 and to describe it in a painterly manner. Characteristic of the picturesque in poetry is thus a tendency to describe scenes that resemble the English and European landscape paintings of the time and an attempt to compose natural scenery in pictoral terms.52 No doubt, the picturesque aesthetic and conventions, pervasive as they were in the latter part of the eighteenth century, were part of the mental luggage that Cary brought with him to Lower Canada in the seventeen-eighties. It is worth noticing, however, that both Windsor-Forest and The Seasons contain the salient qualities of the literary picturesque; indeed, Morris R. Brownell in his fairly recent study of Pope traces the introduction to England of the pictureque as a significant aesthetic to Windsor-Forest53 and Hussey, in what is still a most valuable54 study of The Picturesque, numbers Thomson among the Picturesque poets, stating that for him the reality of nature was a picture.55 Of the three most important categories in eighteenth-century aesthetics, thic beautiful, the sublimne and the picturesque, the beautiful, which is characterized by smoothness and gentleness would have been the least applicable to the Canadian landscape in Carys day. In contrast, the sublime, characterized by the vastness and obscurity that elicit awe, and the picturesque, characterized by the roughness and irregularity56 that nevertheless produce (In Popes words) a sense of Order in Variety57, would have been easily discoverable in Canada by an eye accustomed to seeking out these aesthetic categories. It is therefore hardly surprising that, as has already been noticed, Cary describes Niagara Falls in terms of sublimity that evokes a feeling Twixt awe and pleasure, . . . [a] wild suspense or that, as will now become evident, Abrams Plains is redolent with picturesque scenes.
For an instance of the way in which the aesthetic and conventions of the picturesque inform Carys depiction of the Canadian landscape, the reader need look no further than the description of the Plains themselves near the middle of the poem:
In this passage Cary creates a vivid sense of the pictorial, locating the reader at the sanmie vantage point as the speaker, and, by means of repeated adverbs of locale such as Here and There (a device caught, in all likelihood, from Windsor-Forest)58, succeeds in composing the landscape as a painiter would a picture space. More specifically, Cary adheres to thic picturesque convention, as articulated, for instance, by William Gilpin in his Northern Tour of the Lakes of dividing the scene into three distances,59 the foreground (hill and dale), the middle-ground (woods and plain), and the background (the distant wood), and of using the Here/There direction to lead the readers eye from background to foreground and to convey the illusion of three-dimnensional space. Cary also adheres to the picturesque convention in remarking the harmonious and pleasing diversity of the scene, its irregularities of form and texture, and its varieties of colour and lighting. Moreover, it is worth elaborating here on a point made earlier to suggest that Carys use in the passage just quoted of conventional poetic diction, especially such familiar adjective and noun combinations as pensile woods, eternal green, russet plain, and babbling brooks, might almost have been calculated to convey the sense that the Canadian landscape contains features which are recognizable, namable, and classifiable, and, therefore, known, comforting, and unthreatening. The reference to the mementos left by Wolfes soldiers, a reference which bridges the gap between Carys description of the Plains and his ensuing account of the Battle, serves further to humanize the landscape by investing it with historical resonances that derive from his awareness of Quebecs heroic past. In effect, then, Cary uses picturesque conventions, stock diction, and historical reference to confer order, familiarity and significance on the landscape of Quebec.
When Cary surveys the communities up and down river from the town of Quebec he again employs the technique and vocabulary of picturesque analysis:
In 1847, over twenty years after Carys death, Hugh Miller would observe in his First Impressions of England that, in a country with a clear atmosphere, picturesque descriptions will tend to become panoramic catalogues 60 a factor which does much to explain the panoramic scope of this passage. Again words such as, Here, There, Where, left, Thence, Next, Beyond, and behind lend design to the panorama and direct the readers eye from the foreground scene, through the catalogue of communities on the middleground, to the background, culminating in a loss of focus and direction in the surrounding skies and distant landscape, this last aptly described by Cary with a comnbination of long vowels and falling rhythm: Till, in surrounding skies, I lose my way, / Where the long landscape fading dies away. Not only does Cary employ the conventions of picturesque seeing in the overall shape and movement of the passage but he also includes in his landscape animals and scenes which in themselves were held to be picturesque, as well as appropriate to topographical poetry. Cattle, Carys milch-kine, were considered, because of their shape and colour, to be the most picturesque of animals.61 Dairy cattle also require grazing field[s] and human protection, while representing, as well, Natures plenitude (like the bounteous soil, plenteous harvests, and fertile fields later in the passage) and her beneficence to man (to man their milky homage [they] yield). They are thus admirably suited to Carys intention to delineate the picturesque beauty, domestication, humnanization, and plenitude of the Quebec landscape. The same may be said of Carys Thomsonian reference to featherd game. The objects here of a gentlemnanly pastime complete with spaniels, of a picturesque genre scene (what Margaret Atwood might call a tapestry of manners 62), the gamebirds are emblematic of a landscape and a lifestyle in which leisure and sport have supplanted mere survival. Also emblematic of the state of civilization in Quebec are the peaceful Indians of Lorette, the picturesque copper-tribes, who, though as yet only half tamd, have nonetheless begun to learn the manners of the polishd town. So consistently does Cary point his moral, not least in the picturesque passages of Abrams Plains, that it is tempting to suggest that, like Pope in Windsor-Forest,63 he uses the picturesque convention itself as a framing device to showcase the plentiful benefits of the peace, harmony, and order conferred by eighteenth-century British civilization.
As paramount as may be Popes influence in the picturesque passages of Abrams Plains, there is also in the same passages an indebtedness to Thomson that seems to grow towards the poems conclusion; indeed, near the end of Abrams Plains, after Cary has surveyed the hamlets south of Quebec City, his picture[s] of . . . nature take on a thoroughly Thomsonian colouring. A vignette of a sleepy pool and its resident frogs, creatures of special significance to late Canadian poets such as Charles Mair, Charles G.D. Roberts and, of course, Archibald Lampman, is introduced by the emphatic command to See, a device reminiscent of The Seasons, as, in fact, is the vignette itself, with its closely observed, naturalistic details (the green mantle, and green scum of the pool and its spumy spawn), its periphrasis (frogs are the croaking race) and its astronomical-meteorological references (the blaze of Sirius scorching ray). But it is in Carys concluding description of the Canadian winter, a season from whose endless snows the verdant world of spring provides a delightful and picturesque change, that his debt to Thomson is most evident. Like Thomson, Cary sees the salubrious aspect of the invigorating winds and clear skies of winter: just as the former senses through the blue serene, / . . . ethereal Nitre . . . ; / Killing infectious Damps . . . so the latter, after referring to the virgin nitre in the Atlantic wind and describing the completely cloudless sky, orders the children of disease to Fly, fly far south . . . (toward the United States, note) when the St. Lawrence freezes over (ll. 505-511). Cary follows Thomson, too, in depicting the blithesome frolics carriole rides and ice skating which the frozen river makes possible. But the most interesting feature of Carys winter is also the least Thomsonian. It is his description of mans triumph over the potentially dangerous conditions of winter:
Nowhere else in Abrams Plains does Cary pay higher tribute to the fortitude anid adaptability of the inhabitants of his adopted colony than here, where he offers his readers for contemplation two imnages of a culture superbly adapted to the Canadian environment: the canoe and the snowshoe, two devices which, to use Harold Inniss word, had been elaborated64 from aboriginal and European models to meet the stern needs of a Northern climate and a Northern economy.
If this Introduction to Carys work hias been at all successful, it will have affirmed that Abrams Plains and its Preface deserve a place in the canon of early writing in Canada. No one would wish to claim that Thomas Cary is a major poet or that Abrams Plains is a major poem. But even a poet who would be judged minor in global terms may be a cultural pioneer in the Canadian context and even a poem such as Abrams Plains, with all its deficiencies and shortcomings, may be, like its Preface, a significant documnent in the history of Canadian literature and society. It may be thought that, in some places, Carys topographical poem is merely quaintly versified geography and history, that in others, Abrams Plains, veers too much in the direction of the chamber of commerce brochure, and that, all too often, Cary allows imported poetics and aesthetics to obscure rather than reify his landscape and his society. Yet in the very documentary and derivative, nature of Abrams Plains, as much as in the business like, mercantile, and colonial mentality of its author, there is, as has been seen, much to learn about life and attitudes in late-eighteenth century Quebec. Similarly, in the Preface to Abrams Plains, with its forthright admissions of poetic influences and preferences and its more subtle comments on such matters as the origins, audience, and function of poetry, there is much that can be learned about the nature and experience of writing in Colonial Canada. There could be no better way to end this phase of the discussion of Abrams Plains than with the final paragraph of the poem itself where Cary, echoing a European model as so often in the poem (in this instance he has caught, the phrase shuts the scene from the conclusion of Thomsons Winter), seems to see in the image of Canadian fire-flies a metaphor for his small but bright colony on the St. Lawrence river, as well as, perhaps, for his own lucid yet mimic poetic efforts:
The First Edition
The appearance of Abrams Plains was heralded by an announcement in the Quebec Gazette for January 8, l789:65
To be printed in Large Qutarto, on Demy Paper, with a Large
As will be observed, Cary is not named in this (or the subsequent) advertisement. Nor, it may be noted, were the names of those who gave money to support the publication of Abrams Plains printed in the first edition of the poem. A second advertisement, in the Quebec Gazette for January 15, 1789, announces the imminent appearance of Abrams Plains. Included now is the quotation from Cicero that appears as the poems epigraph:
IN THE PRESS AND SPEEDILY WILL BE PUBLISHED:
Héc studia adolescentiam alunt, senectutem oblectant, secundas res
ornant, adversis solatium et per fugium prébent; delectant domi, non
The actual publication of the poem was not announced until March 12, 1789, when the advertisement in the Quebec Gazette contains the name of the author, an increase in price from two shillings to two shillings and six pence, and the locations at which the poem may be purchased:
THIS DAY IS PUBLISHED. PRICE. 2s.6.
Printed in Large Quuarto. on Fine Demy Paper. with Large Elegant Type
In the Quebec Gazette from March 19 to April 16 (six times in all) the JUST PUBLISHED Abrams Plains is publicized in an advertisement that combines, and very slightly varies, earlier announcements:
JUST PUBLISHED. PRICE. 2s. 6.
Hæc studia adolescentiam alunt, senectutem oblectant, secundas res ornant, adversis solatium et per fugiurn præbent; delectant domi, non impediunt foris; pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur. Tull.
By THOMAS CARY, Gent.
Printed in Large Quarto. on Fine Demy Paper, with a Large Elegant Type.
On April 30, 1789 the Quebec Gazette carried only a brief advertisement stating that ABRAMS PLAINS: A POEM was To be SOLD at the PRINTING-OFFICE. The final advertisement for Abrams Plains appeared in the Quebec Gazette for May 7, 1789; this, too, is fairly brief, but it does make a last attempt to direct potential purchasers to the locations in Quebec City where the poem could be obtained:
JUST PUBLISHED. PRICE. 2s.6.
While the curve of anticipation, achievement and denouement that is discernable in the advertisements for Abrams Plains will rouse familiar emotions in anyone who is at all familiar with publishing, the chronology of the poems advertisements is probably of most interest for the impression that it generates of the composition and publication of Carys work. Although presumably completed before the initial proposal for its publication by subscription on January 8, Abrams Plains is dated at the end of its Preface 24th Jan. 1789 and was not, in fact, published unitl on or about March 12, some two months after it was proclaimned on January 15 IN PRESS AND SPEEDILY [to] BE PUBLISHED. One inference that could be drawn from these dates, particularly from the disparity between the announcement of the poems immnent publication on January 15 and the dating of its Preface as January 24, is that, Cary decided to add a Preface to Abrams Plains some time in mid-January, thus delaying the poems appearance and, it may be, necessitating the increase in price from two shillings to two shillings and six pence that appears with the publication announcement of March 12. Another inference that could be drawn from the same dates and figures is that the delay in publication and the increase in price of Abrams Plains was caused by a lack of subscriptions or by a rise in costs economic factors that could well have led Cary and Brown to proceed more cautiously than they had originally envisaged with the production of Abrams Plains. It may be, however, that two shillings and six pence was simply the post-subscription price of the poem, and that the reason for the delay in its publication was neither literary nor economic but more in the capricious and inscrutable realm of Carys Blind fortune.
The printer both of Abrams Plains and of the Quebec Gazette (published every Thursday in the period of present concern), William Brown, died on March 22, 1789,66 a little over a week after the publication of Carys poem was announced in the March 12 issue of his newspaper. Had Brown been continuously or sporadically ill for some time? If so, was his illness a factor even the primary factor in the delay of the publication of Abrams Plains from January to March? The answers to these questions may never be known. Nonetheless, it seems reasonable to speculate that if Browns death was preceded by an illness, this would have forced him to concentrate his energies on the Quebec Gazette (which continued to appear regularly in 1789) and to delay the publication of a less important item such as Abrams Plains.
In any event, eight days before his death on March 22, Brown recorded the following information:
If it is assumned that March 14 is not merely the date of these notes but the actual date on which Brown undertook the activities that it records, then apparently Abrams Plains was published on March 14 (rather than March 12, as stated by the Gazette advertisements) and copies of it were dispatched the same day for sale by the Montreal book-seller François Saro (or Sarault)68
In addition to establishing the date of publication of Abrams Plains as March 14. 1789 (or at least confirming the date as c. March 12-14). Browns notes, in conjunction with a collation of the poem,69 provide the information necessary to arrive at a sense of how it was printed and an estimation of the number of copies in the first edition. Coupled with the fact that the first edition of Abrams Plains consists of six gatherings in large quarto size, Browns information that he prinited it in 3 Sheets on Quarto Demy indicates two things: (1) that he printed the poem by the somewhat unusual technique of half-sheet imposition; and (2) that he issued it presumably to increase its bulk in half-quire gatherings. Moreover, Browns record of selling Cary about 110 sheets (4 1/2 Quires) of blue Denny paper suggests when account is again taken of the large quarto size of the first edition, as well as of wastage and spoilage that a printing of some two hundred copies of Abrams Plains was planned and, presumably, executed. Since Carys costs for the production and distribution of the poem as recorded by Brown totalled £ 4.18.3d. he needed to sell only fifty copies to break even.70 Poet and mercantilist that he was, Cary evidently hoped to turn a tidy profit on the sale of the fruits of his pen.
The Present Text
The present text of Abrams Plains and its Preface is based on the only known extant copy of the first edition of Carys work: the copy in the Gagnon Collection in the Bibliothèque de la Ville de Montréal in Montreal, Quebec. A crease that runs across each page of this copy of Abrams Plains partially obscures certain words and lines in the Preface and poem. This has caused only minor difficulties in the transcription of Carys work, however, for in every case enough of the creased lines and words is visible (or with care can be made so) to ensure an accurate reading of both Preface and poem.
The present text follows the first edition in nearly all respects. In order to remove barriers between Carys poem and the modern reader, the decision has been made to produce, not a facsimile of the original edition of Abrams Plains, but a text that follows the original in all but one respect the long s (f) is replaced by the modern s. The few errors in spelling and punctuation that appear in the original edition of Abrams Plains have been corrected in the present edition, and are listed under Editorial Emendations (p. 23).
See The Evolution of Canadian Literature, I. 35-37.[back]
Denham. Lives of the English Poets. ed. George
Birkbeck Hill (1905: rpm. New York: Octagon Books, 1967), I. 77.[back]
William Bowman Piper. The Heroic Couplet (Cleveland Case
Western Reserve University Press, 1969), p. 13.[back]
See Donald Creighton. The Empire of the St. Lawrence (1937:
rpt. Toronto: Macmillan, 1956), pp. 1-21 and 382-385.[back]
R.A. Aubin. Topographical Poetry in XVIII-Century England (New
York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1936), p. 224.[back]
For a discussion of the teatment of rivers in Canadian poetry,
see D.M.R. Bentley, Drawers of Water: Notes on the Significance and Scenery of
Fresh Water in Canadian Poetry. CVII, 6 (August, 1982), pp. 17-28.[back]
The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay and Other Poems: Hesperus
and Other Poems and Lyrics. Intro. Gordon Johnston. Literature of Canada: Poetry and
Prose In Reprint (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972), p. 82 [Hesperus].[back]
Aubin. p. 122 argues that Windsor-Forest may be
regarded as a topographical poem[back]
John Wilson Foster. A Redefinition of Topographical Poetry
. Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 69 (July, 1970), 403.[back]
Quoted in the Introduction to Windsor Forest in
the Twickenham Edition of The Poems of Alexander Pope: Volume I: Pastoral Poetry and
Criticism. ed. John Butt, E. Audra and Aubrey Williams (London: Methuen: New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1961 ), 135. All subsequent quotations from Pope from the
Introduction are from this volume.[back]
Foster, p. 402.[back]
Winter, 432-435. This and subsequent quotations from The
Seasons are taken front James Thomson. The Seasons, ed. James Sambrook (Oxford:
J[onathon] Carver. Travels through the Interior Parts of North
America in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768 3rd. ed. (1781: rpt. Minneapolis, Minnesota:
Ross and Haines, 1956), pp. 139-140.[back]
W.T. Easterbrook and Hugh G.J. Aitken, Canadian Economic
History (1956: rpt . Toronto: Macmillan, 1975) pp. 21-22.[back]
Carys use of capital letters for the Kings name is
reminiscent of Windsor-Forest, 327, but it is also interesting as a possible
indication that the poems printer, William Brown, was using the typesetting
conventions of Joseph Moxons Mechanick Exercises (1683-1684): see Sambrook's
Introduction to The Seasons. p. lxxxvii.[back]
See Easterbrook and Aitken. p. 166.[back]
See ibid. p. 166.[back]
This and subsequent quotations from The Deserted Village are
taken from the Collected Works of Oliver Goldsmith, ed. Arthur Friedman (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1966), IV. 287-304, in this instance l. 350f.[back]
Easterbrook and Aitken, p. 187.[back]
Summer. 869-871: and see Explanatory Notes to I. 204.[back]
Edwards, pp. 35-36.[back]
See S.M. Beckow, From the Watch-Towers of Patriotism: Theories of Literary Growth in English Canada. 1864-1914. Journal of Canadian Studies, 9 (August, 1971), pp. 9-10.[back]
The Great Tradition, p. 45.[back]
As, of course, do the poems very local references: see the Explanatory Notes to I. 168f.[back]
See Creighton, p. 23.[back]
See ibid., p. 102.[back]
Piper, p. 24.[back]
Aubin, p. 67.[back]
The Great Tradition, p. 45.[back]
Ralph Cohen. The Unfolding of the Seasons (Baltimore: The
Johns Hopkins Press, 1970), p. 7.[back]
The Picturesque; Studies in a Point of View (London and
New York: G.P. Putnams Sons, 1927), p. 4.[back]
See ibid., p. 22. Included in a list of items for sale
By Auction by Cary in the Quebec Mercury, January 5, 1805, p. 8 is
A perspective Box for viewing prints with 27 views. . . .[back]
Alexander Pope and the Arts of Georgian England (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1978), p. 101.[back]
Walter John Hipple, Jr., The Beautiful, the Sublime, and the
Picturesque in Eighteenth-Century British Aesthetic Theory (Carbondale: Southern
Illinois University Press, 1957), p. 190.[back]
The Picturesque, p. 18.[back]
Ibid., p. 14.[back]
See Windsor-Forest, 17f. for example.[back]
The Picturesque, p. 117.[back]
See ibid., p. 43.[back]
See ibid., p. 119.[back]
The Animals in That Country (Toronto: Oxford University
Press, 1968), p. 2.[back]
See Foster, p. 397.[back]
The Fur Trade, in Approaches to Canadian
Economic History, ed. W.T. Easterbrook and M.H. Watkins (Toronto: McClelland and
Stewart, 1967), p. 22.[back]
This and subsequent advertisements for Abram s Plains in
the Quebec Gazette can be found in the left-hand column of the issues as dated
See Tremaine, p. 629.[back]
Ibid., p. 272.[back]
Parker, pp. 15, 37-38 gives a few details of Saros business
The first edition of Abram s Plains has a title-page reading: ABRAMS PLAINS: | A | Poem. | [rule] | [epigraph] | [rule] | [double rule] | By THOMAS CARY. Gent. | [double rule] | QUEBEC: | PRINTED FOR THE AUTHOR. | [rule] | M,DCC,LXXXIX. Collation: 4 [A]2 B-F2 (F missigned E). $1 signed; pp. [i-iii] iv  2-20. There are floral type ornaments above the title on p. . The typeface of the Preface and poem is Caslon Great Primer: that of the epigraph is Caslon English Italic. The size of the pages (approximately 20 cm. x 26.9 cm.: 7 7/8 x 10 5/8) is consistent with a quarto folding of printing Demy paper (22 x 17 1/2: see Philip Gaskell, Notes on Eighteenth-Century British Paper, The Library, 5th Ser., 12 , 35). In the gutter of each page of the Gagnon Collection copy of Abrams Plains there are three stab holes approximately 3.5 cm. apart indicating that the first edition was sewn through sideways as is consistent with pamphlets or very thin books (see John Carter, ABC for Book-Collectors [London: Rupert Hart Davis, 1952], p. 169).
Running parallel to the print on each page of the Gagnon copy of Abram s Plains are nine chain lines. Part of a watermark is visible in the gutters of [A] and C. What can be seen of this watertmark indicates that it is a simple fleur de lis, characteristic of printing Demy paper manufactured in Britain in the mid-to-late eighteenth century (see Gaskell, p. 38 and Edward Heawood. Watermarks. Mainly of the 17th and 18th Centuries. vol. 1 in Monumenta Chartae Papyrae, ed. E.J. Labarre [1950: rpt. Hilversum, Holland: The Paper Publications Society, 1969], nos. 15-40 [referred to by Gaskell, p. 38] and nos. 1543-1554, watermarks found on books, maps and atlases printed in London between 1743 and 1787). It seems likely (see Heawood, p. 32) that the first edition of Abrams Plains was printed on paper made In Britain between one and six years prior to 1789. As Heawood observes: . . . a large supply [of paper] from England to America was maintained till the end of the 18th century, in spite of the strides made by paper-maaking in the New World (p. 41).
No cover of blue Demy paper remains on the copy of Abram s Plains in the Gagnon Collection. A note in the copy reads: Couttures refaite. Dos et coins teint noir (veau). Plats et gartles en papier Scroetel.
I am especialy grateful to E.J. Devereux for
his help on the bibliographical aspects of Abrams Plains.[back]
See Parker, p. 38.[back]