In 1811, Ann Cuthbert Knight (1788-1860) and her husband, James Innes Knight, travelled with their infant son to North America. They returned to Scotland the following year, and remained there until 1815 when the family emigrated to Canada, settling in Montreal. While back in Scotland, Knight drew on the first-hand experience of Canada gained from her initial trip to the colony for the writing of two long poems: Home: a Poem (1815), and A Year in Canada (1816).1 The first of these deals with all aspects of the concept of home—the definition of "home" encompassing both the private sphere and the public domain, domesticity and patriotism. Concerned with those forces that threaten the integrity of what she considers to be "home," Knight is as interested in marital strife on the domestic front as she is in the invasion of a country by hostile or colonizing interests. Canada is one of the homelands contemplated in the poem because of the interest it affords as the potential site of an invasion by the Americans. (Knight was in Canada when James Madison signed the declaration of war against Great Britain on June 18, 1812.2) Canada is, of course, the focus of A Year in Canada, one of the earliest published English-language texts by women concerning this country. Appended to the representation of life in Upper and Lower Canada in the five-parts of the poem (which employ the Spenserian stanza form and a variant of it using an ababcdcdd rhyme scheme3) is a series of brief prose observations made during her travels through the provinces that explain and expand upon particular lines and references. Covering some of the same ground as travellers before her—particularly Isaac Weld, John Lambert, and Hugh Gray—Knight describes such things as methods of transportation, the making of maple sugar, the great wealth of the soil, and the inadequate agricultural practices of the French Canadian farmers. Her account is notable, however, for its movement away from lengthy descriptions of such topographical features as the St. Laurence River and Niagara Falls, for Knight chooses instead to transport her audience to small settlements such as that of Glengarry (in what is now Eastern Ontario). Depicting scenes of rural life within different cultural communities, she creates her own poetic picture of the Scottish immigrant, of the Native North American, and of the French Canadian, sometimes supporting, sometimes refuting the opinions of earlier commentators, but always assuming a position of sympathetic tolerance.
The travel accounts of this era were often published in the form of dated journal entries or letters home and maintain vestiges of the eighteenth-century conventions of "objective" observation that shaped what Judith Adler identifies as "travel discourse which stressed the importance of ‘on the spot’ record keeping and of dated, diurnal journals" (19). As Adler points out, such a method of documenting experience was perceived as a way to reduce the possibility of "distortions of memory" (19) and allow for "easier checks on authenticity" (19). Obviously, Knight foregoes these qualities in choosing to create a poetic retrospective of her travels.
Sitting in Scotland, the narrator of the poem recalls the sights of Canada and is inspired to write of them by the
The picture of Canada is framed by views of the poet recollecting in tranquility (to borrow from Wordsworth) her time in the colony as "the Muse, on Mem’ry’s wing, explore[s] / These western shades" and "trace[s]" the "varying landscape" (1. 6-7) until after "many an hour unfelt" (5. 137)
The vision fades, the winds of Winter roll
The "breeze of another clime" is transformed into the winter wind of Scotland; the vision ends as the narrator is again separated temporally and geographically from the scenes that she depicts. The nature of Knight’s descriptions, then, is vastly different from the first person eyewitness accounts documented by travellers in journals and letters. Knight does create a space for the first person in her notes, however, and establishes a position from which she can say "I observed" (47; pt. 2, nt. 6), "I have been told" (47; pt. 2, nt. 6) and in one case, "This is no fancied picture" (51; pt. 4, nt. 6). Writing in verse allows Knight the poetic license to create characters who stand as representatives for their people, to condense impressions, and to add drama, while the prose notes anchor the whole in her personal experience.
Choosing to focus on the countryside and agrarian pursuits, Knight organises her poem according to the seasonal cycle of life in Canada from one winter to the next. For this structure, she is indebted to The Seasons (1746) of her late countryman James Thomson. In this respect the poem is certainly derivative, but Knight includes in her work specific references to the physical, social, and political landscape of British North America. She often reworks the earlier poet’s themes or revises certain scenarios in order to make them reflect her experience of Canada. Aside from the obviously Canadian topics which distinguish the one poem from the other—Thomson never poeticizes maple sugar or Indian Summer—Knight introduces details particular to Upper and Lower Canada in order to adapt her work to the North American landscape. A comparison of the scenes of the apple harvest which figure in both poems provides an example of how Knight incorporates such details. Thomson writes of tasting "[t]he Breath of Orchard big with bending Fruit" ("Autumn" 628) and of
The fragrant Stores, the
Knight’s depiction of the autumn harvest also encompasses a "blushing" orchard, but the varieties of fruit therein are distinctly Canadian:
The orchard’s ripen’d burden,
bright and fair,
So close are the descriptions of the autumn scenes that the names of the apples constitute the only feature that distinguishes one orchard from the other. Knight places her picture of the Canadas within an accepted or familiar British frame—a way of taking imaginative possession of the land and making it less foreign—but uses terminology related to the North American reality.
Along with this type of insertion of Canadian detail into what could easily be (and in The Seasons is) a European scene, there is at least one instance of a Thomsonian tableau being altered to present a cheerful and lively vignette of the colony.
In The Seasons, Winter’s "foul and fierce" storms ("Winter" 278) cause a swain to lose his way and find not his home, but icy Death as he travels
From Hill to Dale, still more and
Aware of the many stories of people suffering from frostbite, or perishing in the Canadian cold, Knight steers clear of any such fatal incidents to avoid producing a negative vision of the Canadian climate. In her notes she contends that "instances of people losing their way and perishing from the cold, are not so common there [Canada] as in Britain," citing the "serenity of the sky," "the regular manner in which the roads are laid out," and the smaller population as a few of the reasons why winter does not take a greater human toll. Thomas Cary precedes her in countering stories of winter’s victims when in Abram’s Plains (1789) he writes, "The trav’ller dauntless the snows depths disdains, / He stalks secure o’er hills, o’er vales and plains; / On the spread racket, whilst he safely strides, / Tales of Europeans lost in snow derides" (560-63). Knight’s rustic, and the friends who surround him, make their way safely along "the snow-clad path" (5. 104) and through "drifted heaps" (5. 105) as
With hearts elate the homeward
path they trace,
"Winter brings its toils" (5. 100) for farmers, but not its dangers—at least not in Knight’s depiction.
Throughout A Year in Canada, Canada is represented as a "[d]elightful land" (1. 28) where the peasant "fears no rising rent—no landlord’s frown" (4. 86). Apostrophizing "the [s]weet bard of Auburn," Oliver Goldsmith, Knight writes, "[C]ould’st thou wander there [Canada], / Ev’n thou might’st love to see the villas rise" (4. 66-67), for Canadian villas would not signal "Oppression’s reign" (4. 90) or the depopulation decried in The Deserted Village (1770). Fertile and potentially prosperous, this is a country to which summer brings bountiful crops and winter brings an abundance of community amusements. But the influence of previous travellers, as well as poets, can be felt in Knight’s depiction of the colony. In the lines describing the plentiful orchards, for instance, there is an echo of Hugh Gray’s Letters from Canada (1810). Gray also names the varieties of apples he finds "particularly good":
The products of the Canadian soil are declared rival to those of more southerly climes, a claim which Knight also makes when she writes that not even Spanish fruit "boasts . . . a richer dye" (5. 24) than that of the British provinces. The presence of Thomson and Gray in Knight’s work offers another example of the "combination of poet, travel account, and poetic source" that according to D.M.R. Bentley "can be described without exaggeration as the primal scene of early Canadian poetry" ("Isaac Weld and the Continuity of Canadian Poetry" 227).
But while Knight often follows the lead of other writers, she also makes some significant departures from the typical course of travel. After a brief mention of the St Laurence River and of Montmorency Falls (1. 14-22), she moves from the well-trodden and much described route of earlier travellers, and leaves behind her the urban centres to venture into rural scenes. One of the aims of A Year in Canada is to portray the changing face of Nature in a foreign country, and to do so to best effect, Knight paints agrarian (and pre-agrarian) scenes that are neither marred by the trappings of commercial society nor obscured by large urban edifices. This narrative choice also allows her to introduce by the end of Part 2 three different cultural groups—the Scottish immigrants, the Aboriginal peoples (Knight offers no sense of the cultural diversity of the First Nations) and the French Canadians—and to give each a separate space in terms of setting and stanzas.4 The groups are not placed within a mixed settlement where class, cultural, racial, and religious differences could quickly become conflicts. Instead, Knight attempts to depict each group within a separate rural context. Perhaps the hope is that as the land is vast enough to accommodate different communities, so will the country be great enough to tolerate diverse peoples. The three groups, however, are by no means treated as equals. The recent immigrants from Scotland are clearly marked as more advanced in their intellectual, social, and agricultural practices than the French Canadians, while the Aboriginal peoples are predictably presented as "savages" awaiting the benefit of European "civilisation."
While Knight clearly promotes the notion of tolerance, she also firmly reinforces hierarchical European conceptions of social development. Her portraits of the Aboriginal, French Canadian, and Scottish inhabitants of Canada support a theory prevalent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that all societies progress through distinct stages of development from "savagery" to "civilisation." In his book Social Science and the Ignoble Savage, Ronald Meek explains what he refers to as "the four stages theory":
The four stages theory proved to have a profound influence on travellers’ descriptions not only of the First Nations people, but also of the French Canadians and Americans.
As already indicated, the belief in "an innate tendency for society to advance through higher and higher stages towards some kind of perfection" (Meek 129) involved more than a common process of material improvement; it entailed a parallel progress of moral and cultural amelioration as societies passed through stages of savagery and barbarism to greater levels of civilisation. With respect to this perceived advancement, Bentley in "Concepts of Native Peoples and Property Rights in Early Canadian Poetry" observes,
Of these four stages the first two were held—in the buzz words of the day— to be "rough" and "rude," and the second two "polished" and "refined," with the great leap forward occurring with the agricultural stage when, in [William] Blackstone’s words [in Commentaries on the Laws of England], "tillage" gave rise to the right to "permanent property in the soil". . . . Out of the "separate property in lands" that comes with agriculture, argues Blackstone, comes the "civil society" necessary to "ensure" property rights, and, with civil society, comes the "long train of inseparable concomitants" that make up a polite and polished civilization, from "laws . . . and the public exercise of religious duties" to the "leisure" required "to cultivate the human mind, to invent useful arts, and to lay the foundations of science." (34-35)
Meek suggests that "to demonstrate the great power" (129) of the innate tendency of societies to advance, proponents of the four stages theory "postulate[d] a starting-point as far removed from contemporary society as possible" (129); that starting point was often Native North American society. Adam Smith, for instance, refers, in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations to "the lowest and rudest state of society, such as [is found] among the native tribes of North America . . ." (2: 275). A temporal dimension was added to this social remove with the distancing of European "polished" society from the "rude" state of the "savages" generally taking one of two forms in the texts of four stages theory proponents and travel writers: the Native North Americans were compared either to ancient peoples or to children. A passage from Claret de Fleurieu’s A Voyage Round the World (1801) quoted by Meek provides an example of both: "‘Read what travellers and historians have related to us of the inhabitants of the New World; you will find there the man of the Old one in his infancy; among the small scattered nations, you will fancy that you see the first Egyptian, wild and savage men . . .’" (217).
The hierarchizing of differences between Native Americans and European societies and the construction of such oppositions between them as "rude" and "polished," "civilised" and "savage" provided a framework within which to place Native culture. The Native peoples were seen to be governed by no law, but ruled by the passion of revenge. Though praised for certain "noble" virtues such as courage and generosity, they were condemned for the great cruelty of their warfare. Of special importance in the context of colonisation, the Native peoples were deemed "wandering savages" with no claim to the land from which they derived their subsistence. "According to [John] Locke," explains Bentley, "ownership of land devolves to the first person who ‘hath mixed his labour with [it] . . . and joined to it something that is his own,’ and, hence, ‘remove[d] [it] from the common state that nature hath placed it in . . .’" ("Concepts of Native Peoples" 34). Consequently, "the crux of the four-stages theory as regards property rights, is that the native peoples were regarded by proponents of the theory as ‘savages’ or, at best ‘barbarians,’ and, therefore, as nomads: unsettled and therefore relatively uncivilized people whose relationship with the land was only transitory and sporadic. Because nomads did not mix their labour with the land, they did not own it" (Bentley, "Concepts of Native Peoples" 35). Travellers writing of the Native peoples in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries did so using the language of the four stages theory. Although many expressed their outrage at the white population’s methods of removing Native communities from areas chosen for settlement and voiced their sympathy for the peoples driven from their homelands, all believed in the advancement of society and the "improvement" of lands that would come with European agricultural practices.
The industrious Scots, backward French Canadians and "roving Indians" (2.56) who live in Knight’s Canada represent peoples at different stages of social development, with the most recent settlers from the Old World clearing not just the land but the way for the civilisation of the New World.
Before arriving at the first community, Knight proceeds through unpeopled forests with only tracks in the snow to suggest any human presence and a mirage to hint at how the lonely and wild bush can affect a traveller psychologically:
Through checq’ring trees to fancy’s view
The desire to find a welcoming hearth leads "fancy’s" eye to see a cottage in the tree roots. In the previous stanza, Knight’s references to the personified abstractions of "[u]nwearying Industry, and Pleasure gay" (1.44) prepare the way for a meeting with the inhabitants who "[l]ead the deep loaded traine, and guide the rapid sleigh" (1.45). However, no settlers are introduced until the ninth stanza when the description of the forest is interrupted by the sound that will prove so significant to such writers as Alexander McLachlan and Isabella Valancy Crawford: "Brighter through op’ning boughs the sun-beams gleam— / Whose axe sounds heavy in the sylvan wild?" (1.73-74). The sound of industry indicates the presence of the Scottish emigrants. After hearing the axe, the narrator sees the visual sign of a familiar nation, and gives voice to the comfort, or perhaps relief of recognition, in her exclamation, "Dear is that habit in a foreign clime, / Thy well-known tartan, Caledonia’s child!" (1.75-76). Through stanzas 9-11, Knight moves from the past to the present to the future of her countrymen and women. Using a generic male figure (and a few lilting words of Gaelic origin, current in Scottish or northern dialects, to underline her own origins), she writes of how
By hard-drawn rents and pinching want compell’d,
These lines recall Goldsmith’s "poor exiles" (365) in The Deserted Village who, on taking a last look at Auburn, wish "in vain / For seats like these beyond the western main" (367-68), but while "Caledonia’s child" is also driven from his "cot," he finds happiness and security in the "cottage" (1.83) he builds in the Canadian woods.
During this general account of the immigrants’ progress, Knight takes a moment to engage in a dual act of memory as she pauses to ponder the ongoing relationship of "Caledonia’s child" with his mother. The narrator sitting in Scotland remembering Canada imagines the immigrant sitting in Canada remembering Scotland:
Yet as by strangers rear’d an orphan’d child,
Yearning and bitter-sweet nostalgia are emphasized by the anaphoric "Still hangs," "Still sighs," as Knight contemplates the peculiar nature of the experience of the immigrant whose feet may be firmly on the new land, but whose heart remains in the country of origin. By contrast "those who cling around their grandsire’s knees, . . . Shall love this western world, and know no dearer land" (1.100-03). But the tales of yore, and dear remembrances are not all that is left to these people who "‘view [their] native land no more.’"
Despite the simile of adoption by Canada, what really occurs in these stanzas is the adaptation of, and to, the strange land. The sounding of the axe is as powerful an auditory sign of their culture as the speaking of the old stories. A new tale is told of how
The axe, the flame assail’d the trembling glade—
Whereas fancy had earlier seen a cottage in branches and roots that encumbered the ground—had projected European civilisation onto a section of uncleared forest—here there is no mirage, but physical evidence of Scottish industry and the imposition of European structures and agricultural practices. Within the wood, the fence marks boundaries of private property (a European import), of containment and of exclusion, but the various formal aspects of the stanza suggest Knight’s awareness that the European cultivating presence is not yet dominant. The semi-colon at the end of the fourth line and the change of rhyme from "bound" to "embrace" separate the fence and the wood into different quatrains, but the overlap of alliteration places them in a relationship that could be read simply as co-existent, or as competitive. Moreover, the "w" of "winding" and "wormfence" is surrounded in the next line by the "emb" and "r"s of "embowering" and "embrace," as it becomes part of the "wood," the "b" and "d" of "bound" are reversed in "Deep bosom," and the initial "s" sound of "stole" and "simple" lies at the centre of "bosom" and at the end of "embrace." The initial attack on the forest is both military and sexual as fire and axe assail the glade—a glade that trembles on lands about to be "ravish’d." The male landowner rapes the land, but the feminized forest continues to supply the protection of her embrace, perhaps as both lover and mother. In these lines Knight appears to adopt the language of what Annette Kolodny calls "America’s oldest and most cherished fantasy: a daily reality of harmony between man and nature based on an experience of the land as essentially feminine—that is, not simply the land as mother, but the land as woman, the total female principle of gratification—enclosing the individual in an environment of receptivity, repose, and painless and integral satisfaction" (The Lay of the Land 4).
The "winding wormfence" is not the only sign of the settler gaining a place in this part of the country. Mixing his labour with the land, he takes ownership of the land in the Lockean formulation and secures his possession of it by raising children as well as crops. Soon, the single imagined cottage gives way to an actual settlement in Upper Canada as "Glengary’s scatter’d villages are nigh" (1.112). While references to Glengarry County can be found in D’Arcy Boulton’s Sketch of His Majesty’s Province of Upper Canada (1805), and in John Pinkerton’s Modern Geography (1807), Knight’s poetic visit to the settlement is one of the first in the travel literature of the period. With reference to Glengarry’s inhabitants, Knight again incorporates what would have been familiar sights and sounds as she tells the readers, "Nor need ye ask her race from whence they sprung, / The stately step of Scotland’s sons is there; / Flows from that maiden’s lip the Celtic song . . . " (1.113-15). Whether this poetic return is purely imaginative (Knight need not have gone there to know of its Scottish population6) or based on an actual event, the narrator places herself at the settlers’ hearthside and joins in their dances:
As one Caledonian, transplanted, sighs for the home he has left behind, so another once more in her mother country allows memory to "retrace" her time abroad and her steps in a Scottish dance. With this image of community celebration, Knight closes Part 1.
Introducing her audience first to the most recent newcomers to Canada may be part of a narrative strategy, but the Scottish immigrants are also more closely aligned with the governing power than are the First Nations and French Canadians. While the Native peoples make a brief appearance in Part 2, they are noticeably absent from the discussions of possible improvements in agricultural practices and production that fill Parts 3, 4, and 5. According to Knight,
Nor Wealth nor Art attended culture here,
The country’s history, or at least its agricultural history, seems to begin with the landing of the French; its agricultural improvement with the takeover by the British. It is the Scottish who, "versed in Nature’s lore" (4.55), will lead the way to prosperity in Canada. By virtue of what has been accomplished in Scotland, where ". . . Industry has nursed Improvement . . . / And Wealth and Art have nerved the arm of Toil, / And charm’d the rugged clime and tamed the stubborn soil" (4.34-36), these new settlers will, in Knight’s view, cultivate and thereby "civilise" the Canadian wilderness. It may be assumed from their absence in the rest of the poem that, in Knight’s view, the "original inhabitants of America" (46; pt. 2, nt. 1), the Native peoples, are not seen to have anything to offer in this field. Asserting the dominion of humanity over nature, Knight writes that "[t]he forest, echoing to its sounding sweep, / Beneath the axe her stately race resigns" (5.102-03). The future of the First Nations is filled with uncertainty since they either present obstacles to, or simply do not figure in, the vision of the colony as a place of opportunity for immigrants and as a commercially valuable jewel in the British Crown. Knight assumes the role of sympathetic observer, for she urges her readers to recognise their common bonds of humanity with the Native peoples; however, she clearly views the Native peoples as being in need of philanthropic European enlightenment and guidance in order to progress through the four stages of social development.
The great cultural diversity of the First Nations population is certainly not recognised by Knight’s poem. Such is the case, though, with much of the literature produced during this period by European travellers—aside from the obvious linguistic differences between the First Nations, any individuating sense of cultural identity is usually subsumed by the European conception of "the Indian character." Knight’s depiction of the First Nations people does challenge a few of the derogatory stereotypes of the ignoble savage, but it nevertheless reinforces the ethnographic classification of their way of life as "the lowest and the rudest state of society" (Smith 2:275). Using the dramatic expression of the poetry and the matter-of-fact first person observations in her prose notes, Knight addresses directly and indirectly, the attitudes and practices of the colonising culture, including those of earlier travel writers. While Knight includes just two explanatory notes in reference to the stanzas depicting the Scottish immigrants—only "wormfence" and "Glengary," the two specifically Canadian references prompt notes—the lines in which the Native peoples figure prompt a much longer commentary. It is through her additional observations that she asks that her depiction be viewed not simply as a quaint tableau, but as an alternative side to the picture presented in previously published accounts.
A number of the descriptions with which Knight may well have been familiar used theories of natural history as well as of social development to support characterisations of Native peoples as intellectually, culturally, and even physically inferior to Europeans. While the concept of degenerationism put forth by natural historians such as le Comte de Buffon had largely been left behind by the nineteenth century, traces of such fallacious theories may still be found in the work of Hugh Gray.7 Writing of a visit to a Native encampment outside of Québec City, he invites his readers to imagine the scene:
Gray depicts a group of people incapable of providing adequate shelter for themselves, ignorant or negligent of personal hygiene, and generally lacking physical and mental strength. Even those travellers who are sympathetic in their descriptions predict the passing of Native cultures with an air of inevitability, but, to Gray, the Native peoples are utterly other and representative of a degenerate offshoot of the human race that seems doomed to extinction. Later, Gray tries to order his thoughts on the (to his eye) apparent inferiority of the Native peoples according to the form of scientific classification, illustrating as he does so the influence of Linnaeus (Carl von Linné, who set the standard in European scientific practice and introduced binomial nomenclature—the identification by genus and species):
Gray suggests the divine sanction of a man-made scientific classification that is both controlling and distancing.
All too often British travellers passing through a Native settlement in Canada and judging what they observed according to the hierarchical four stages theory and European notions of improvement and private property, saw only what confirmed the stereotype of the wandering, indolent, dirty and often drunken Native for whom revenge was the ruling passion. (In The History of America , William Robertson identifies the passion for revenge as "the distinguishing characteristic of men, in their uncivilized state" [1:350]). Some did mourn the loss of the "rude" innocence of the North American Native peoples corrupted by the influence of European interests and alcohol (though for others the apparent lack of temperance was a further reason for disgust); however, pangs of guilt or conscience did little to alter basic assumptions.
Knight is certainly not outside of these various discourses; her depiction fits inside a frame fashioned by theorists and earlier travellers. While she dismisses the notion that the Aboriginal peoples are "creatures of a diff’rent mould" (2.146) than Europeans, Knight does support the four stages theory both through her confidence that industry will foster improvement in Canada, particularly in terms of agricultural productivity, and in her belief that the British presence will advance the state of more than farmland. Almost immediately upon her introduction into the scenes of Canadian life and landscape of a "warrior band" and a "female train" (2.60), Knight narrows her focus and places in the foreground first two Native women and then an infant boy. Contemplating the possible influence of European religion and education upon the "roving Indians" (2.56) she attests to the power of Christianity to ". . . chase the shades of Superstition drear, / Insidious Murder’s lifted arm arrest, / And drown Revenge in Mercy’s hallow’d tear . . ." (2.110-112). A moral progress away from the savage society marked by superstition and revenge of the hunger-gatherer is clearly what Knight envisions.
In addition, the poem’s praise of the perceived Native virtues of "fearless courage," "kindred love," "patient fortitude," and "friendship true" (2.129-30) is also consistent with the four stages theory, for Knight here echoes, among others, Adam Ferguson, one proponent of the theory. In An Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767), Ferguson argues, "The principal point of honour among the rude nations of America, as indeed in every instance where mankind are not greatly corrupted, is fortitude" (91), and he goes on to say, with reference to the Native peoples that "the love of society, friendship, and public affection, penetration, eloquence, and courage, appear to have been its original properties, not the subsequent effects of device or intention" (94). Of note is Knight’s condemnation in both poetry and prose of the prejudice and self-interest that characterise the European treatment of the colonised population, which, in her opinion, are at the very least uncharitable, unchristian.
Knight may have been familiar with accounts of the Native peoples written by Gray, as well as those penned by John Lambert, whose Travels Through Canada appears to have enjoyed some popularity given its publication history. (Originally published in London in 1810, it went to a second edition and printing in 1813 and in 1814.) Perhaps not coincidentally, one of the companies that handled the revised text of Lambert’s Travels, Doig and Stirling, was the same Edinburgh firm that published Knight’s poem in 1816. Engaging the contemporary descriptions, of and attitudes toward, the Native peoples such as those found in the works of Gray and Lambert, Knight provides an alternative view of the First Nations. With regard to this attempt to show the Native population in a different light, she writes in her notes,
In the medieval allegory to which she refers, two knights, riding from opposite directions, approach a shield hanging from a tree branch. Reining in their horses on either side of the shield, they enter into an argument over the composition of the object: one maintains that it is made of gold; the other holds that it is made of silver. A third knight appears on the scene and ends the conflict by pointing out that, in fact, one side of the shield is silver and the other gold ("The Gold and Silver Shield" 457-58). Offering the disclaimer "nor do I attempt to dispute his authority," Knight, the poet, gestures towards a sense of deference to the male authority, but with the use of the personal pronoun, "I," she distinguishes herself from the "late traveller"—probably Lambert—and defines herself as an individual with a differing, but equally valid viewpoint. In her brief poetic treatment of the Native North Americans, she counters the sentiments expressed by a number of travellers to Canada.
Lambert reports, for instance, that "idleness reigned" (2: 82) in every part of the Native village that he visited, and, as for the appearance and character of its inhabitants, he describes one and implies the other:
Accompanying Lambert’s verbal depiction is a pictorial one, with the caption "An Indian and his Squaw" (see Figure 1). Placed slightly behind and to the right of the "Indian" is a woman who carries a child on a cradleboard upon her back. The "Squaw," who wears a cross and therefore appears to have been converted to Christianity, is relatively neat of appearance in her blue blanket, yellow leggings and shoes, and as such throws into relief the unkemptness of the man who is attired immodestly in only a "tattered shirt" that has been both rent and soiled in numerous places. Further degrading this portrait of the "Indian" are the bottle of rum, seen grasped in the man’s left hand, and the raw bullock’s head, held in his right. Lambert makes a connection between physical appearance and psychological make-up, and, for him, the figure of the "Indian" has lost all of its nobility and any possible attraction. Disappointment places Lambert and his audience at a further remove from the object of his gaze. It is perhaps the other side of this "degrading picture" that Knight contemplates. Rather than creating a setting marked by corruption and filth, she paints a backdrop bright with Summer’s natural beauty—one free of the smoke of campfires—on a "resplendent" June morning (2.28).
Once again, an aural cue is given signalling a human presence. Whereas attention is drawn to the Scottish emigrants with the sound of their axes, in the case of the Native peoples an oral cue is given: "Hark! ’tis their shout— and lo, in wild costume / The roving Indians’ tawny forms appear!" (2.55-56). Given that the men are "[p]ainted and arm’d—perchance the foe to dare" (2.58), contemporary readers would probably have imagined this sound to be filled with menace; on the contrary, this shout proves to be innocent of murderous intention. It is not a war whoop; this road is no "war
path," and no sense of danger threatens the peace and harmony of this lovely summer morning. The group’s nomadic, "roving" way of life is alluded to in its members’ movement "along the dusty road" (2.59) past the buildings of the settlement. But it is of note that Knight chooses to place this group upon a road—no doubt European-built—rather than putting it in the more conventional forest (though elsewhere the Native peoples are referred to as the "forest race" [2.128]) or on the water in canoes.9 The opening stanzas of Part 2 are filled with images of spring in the cattle pastures and orchards and in the woods where the maple sap is waiting to be collected and turned into sugar. "Hill, spire, and cottage . . . / And fields" (2.44-45) are all present near this road, indicating something of the inroads made by the European settlers. Knight goes on to ponder what lies ahead for the Aboriginal people and the possibility of the "roving Indians" following the European path to a "civilised" state. A series of question marks punctuates her thoughts on their future.
Because she feels Europeans can play such a profound role in the "progress" of the Native population, Knight attempts to foster sympathy and compassion within her readers along with a certain amount of guilt and shame regarding the ill-treatment of fellow humans by the colonising powers. Even as she describes the strangeness (by white western standards) of the group’s appearance, Knight expounds upon the experience and emotions held in common by all races. Knight points out to her British readers what they have in common with Native North Americans, however strange their dress or their customs may appear. Creating an alternative portrait of the Native peoples, Knight counters Lambert’s image of slovenly idleness by returning to them the "high-minded pride and spirit" taken away by the earlier traveller. In her imaginative world they know "nobly . . . to spurn / Your pity, should it blend th’ ungen’rous glance of scorn" (2.71-72). Of course, Knight’s words evoke thoughts of the "noble savage," as well as suggest that the Native peoples are deserving of pity, placing them, for all their dignity, in an unequal power relationship with the European possessor of the "glance" or gaze.
After this general introduction to the Native group, Knight focuses not on a "painted and armed" warrior but on two women. Native women are frequently subjects, or perhaps more accurately, objects, of interest in the accounts of male travellers. According to Lambert, Native women possess an exotic beauty in their youth (he seems particularly taken with their hair—a feature he marks again and again); however, the elements and the drudgery of their daily and seasonal toils soon rob them of it.10 But rather than introducing the two Native women merely in terms of what is foreign or exotic, Knight instead invites her audience and specifically its female members to look beyond the obvious differences of activity and dress and to recognize what she believes to be the emotional and spiritual capacity common to all women. While she creates male representatives for the Scottish emigrants and the French Canadians, Knight positions two Native women between them. The warrior band may be present, but the threat of masculine violence is very much in the background, for in the foreground stand these two women displaying the products of their industry in the form of "spell-wove wares" (2.75). (By this time, in some communities, Native women were producing such items as baskets and moccasins to sell to tourists and residents.) These female representatives of the First Nations pose little, if any, danger to the Scottish or French Canadians, or to the European imperial enterprise.
Knight’s creation of female representatives could be viewed as being consistent with the rhetoric of "feminisation" used within patriarchal European discourse to describe populations viewed as Other. As Sheila Rabillard has argued, within this discourse, "the Native American is figured as passive, childlike, emotional rather than analytical, identified with the land and the biological, with mere female being rather than with virile doing" ("Absorption, Elimination, and the Hybrid" 3-27).
Also at play in Knight’s choice to create sympathetic female figures may be the notion that Native women care more for their appearance and for the welfare of their families than do Native men, a notion expressed by writers such as Lambert, who comments that they "are in general better dressed, though often very dirty. Some few take a pride in appearing to advantage, and when decorated in all their finery . . . they look very pretty and interesting: they are also more careful than the men, of their money, and with the produce of their baskets and toys purchase cloaths and victuals, instead of rum" (1: 368). Knight’s explanation that "[b]and-boxes and baskets, composed of bark or wood split very thin, dyed and neatly though slightly wove; mocasins, or shoes formed of deer skin; and ceinture or sash, generally worn over the great-coat in winter, are the principal manufactures of the squaws" (46; pt. 2, nt. 2) further calls attention to the women’s work (which could prove of economic value), and is perhaps calculated to counter the charges of slovenliness and idleness levelled against Native communities.
As already suggested, another reason for the initial focus on two female figures may be that women are more likely to inspire compassion, especially in other women. Addressing her female readers, Knight writes:
"Gentle" and "mild": these are adjectives that may ascribe to the women something of a more traditional femininity. The sky may be ardent; the women are not. Such a depiction provides support for the stance taken by theorists such as Ferguson that the European concept of civilisation is not responsible for faith and affection. As Ferguson writes,
If mankind are qualified to improve their manners, the subject was furnished by nature; and the effect of cultivation is not to inspire the sentiments of tenderness and generosity, nor to bestow the principal constituents of a respectable character, but to obviate the casual abuses of passion; and to prevent a mind, which feels the best dispositions in their greatest force, from being at times likewise the sport of brutal appetite and ungovernable violence. (94)
Given the predominance of dirt in Gray’s and Lambert’s descriptions, the choice of the adjective "spotless" seems especially significant. Aside from the dust on the road, no speck of dirt soils these lines or the characters depicted in them. Capable of "spotless" or immaculate faith, whether in the sense of religious belief (note Knight’s implicit comparison of the body to a temple in which the heart is "enshrined"), sexual fidelity, or simply purity of thought, these women are presumably as virtuous as any of their European counterparts. Four stages theory proponents often viewed the increase in the importance of female chastity as an indication of a society’s advancement. John Millar in The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks discusses at length the lack of "decency and decorum" (28) in "savage nations" that "entertain very gross ideas concerning those female virtues which, in a polished nation, are supposed to constitute the honour and dignity of the sex" (23).
Stressing the possible virtues of the women’s inner being, Knight resists the urge to pass judgement on their outer appearance. Whereas Lambert recalls seeing "several handsome Indian women, with fine black hair, and light olive complexions, tinged with the bloom of health, who only required a becoming dress, instead of their dirty blankets, to make them rival our European females" (2: 83), neither of the women in Knight’s poem has donned a "becoming dress" in order to rival European females; both are attired instead in blankets, leggings and hats:
The one—her blanket thrown across her arm,
A certain dignity and status attend the garments and this passage recalls Lambert’s description of the clothing worn by the families of chiefs.12 The one extra poetic touch that Knight cannot resist may be found in the line "Her hat’s dark band a blushing wild rose stay’d" (2.78). Feeling the need to comment on the floral decoration, she writes in her notes, "Yet flowers do not seem to be a favourite ornament among the Indian women, and I only recollect seeing them twice, on the head of an interesting young squaw from Caghnawanga" (46; pt. 2, nt. 3). Rather than a domestic English Rose, here is a wild one—but a rose nonetheless. The depiction of the appearance of these women may be designed to maintain the dignity of their difference, as well as to spark interest in the exotic. Be that as it may, Knight ultimately asks the female members of her audience to look beyond the "wild costume" and recognize what she sees as the commonality of emotional experience among women, including that of maternal love.
At the end of the physical description of the women, the narrator notes that one of them has "from her forehead hung, / What seem[s] a basket" (2.86-87). With a dramatic flourish, this is soon revealed to be a child carrier upon which an infant son lies.13 Knight takes an observation common enough in travel accounts—in Lambert’s words: "No mothers can appear more tender of their offspring" (2: 83)—and makes it a point of contact or identification for the two cultures, writing in an address to the child: "[I]f that eye’s dark glance her heart express, / With all a mother’s love she looks on thee" (2.102-03). Yet it is with the appearance of the male child that Knight refers to many of the traits of the hunter-gatherer society outlined by four stages theory proponents, and becomes an agent of what Mary Louise Pratt calls "anti-conquest," one who "seek[s] to secure [her] innocence in the same moment as [she] assert[s] European hegemony" (Imperial Eyes 7). Her positioning of the child as the representative of his people reflects the paternalistic attitude taken by the British government in its dealings with the Native peoples. Contemplating the future of the infant, Knight considers Europe’s potential role in the "refinement" of the "rude" race:
"Superstition" and "Revenge": Knight names the supposed ruling factors of "the Indian character" as the inheritance of the boy who could grow up to be a threat to the settler society. Clearly, though she does not share Weld’s reservations regarding the possibility of the Native peoples "imbib[ing] . . . the genuine spirit of christianity" (2: 284) that would be capable of "eradicat[ing] wholly from their breasts the spirit of revenge" (2: 277), and she marks them as capable of receiving the soul-illuminating beam.
In her notes Knight actually downplays the threats of murder and revenge, writing, "Whatever degree of ferocity, even of treachery, may be traced in the character of some of the Indian tribes, no late instance of either can, I believe, be produced in the conduct of those who reside in Canada towards its inhabitants" (48; pt. 2, nt. 6). In the poem, the infant, "[s]till, still, unconscious of a stranger’s gaze, / . . . smiles through guiltless dreams" (2.93-94). Currently in a state of innocence, his future depends on the nature of the guiding force that will lead him through coming "storms of passion." Significantly, the child is in the company and care of two women: no father figure is present in the scene. To recall Lambert’s illustration, the debauched male has been rendered absent. Knight looks to the European "philanthropic breast" to bring "civil life" to the hunter-gatherer. Along with Christian religion, Knight advocates the introduction of Science (in the general sense of organised knowledge) to the First Nations— in particular the disciplines of history and natural history. Ironically, those who led the white explorers through the North American landscape are pictured as being guided by science "through Nature’s realms." The child is presented to prompt Knight’s readers into thinking not only about "the present lot and future doom" of a culture, but also about their role in each. Of course, the humanitarian heart and the "stranger’s gaze" invoked seek to control in their kindness.
The consideration of Europe’s illuminating influence immediately prompts a censure of its darker dealings with Canada’s Native peoples, marked as these dealings are by "sordid int’rest" (2.121) and betrayal. Promising the child that "Truth shall give [his] forest race their due" (2.128), Knight moves onto a further discussion of the self-serving nature of some of "Europe’s sons" (2.136) by first building on earlier travellers’ attestations to the generosity inherent in Native cultures:
. . . ungentle is the heart that e’er
The "wand’rer of these tribes" and the "stray[ing]" son of Europe both require food and shelter. Put like this, it seems unthinkable that anyone could refuse the request of a Native for sustenance, but Knight demonstrates otherwise, using her poetry and prose in tandem, to provide an example of just such a refusal:
That the fear of reprisal is "groundless" (this particular man’s "passion" was only vented verbally) provides support for Knight’s observation that violence and treachery are things of the past, but, of course, the reference to Native passion is evidence of the four stages theory at work.
After bringing together members of different cultures within her poem, Knight illustrates how easily words separate them once again by employing a second voice, one of divisiveness:
Yet "Europe’s race, and wild Columbia’s
At the basis of Knight’s reproach is her Christian belief in the bond of "fond fraternal love" (2.154) that should join together all of God’s peoples. As she points out in her notes, "The [French] Canadian peasantry . . . address them [the Native peoples] as brothers; it is the title by which they themselves often address Europeans, and there seems something stern and even illiberal in that disposition which turns disgusted from it" (48; pt. 2, nt. 6). This turning away from a fellow being is indicative of a discriminatory attitude which, at its worst, could devise a rationale for the enslavement of a sex, class, or ethnic group.
Knight’s appeal to Christian charity along with certain of her poetic strategies can be compared with the methods of British anti-slavery activists. The slave trade had been outlawed by Britain some four years prior to Knight’s first voyage to Canada, but in 1814 the slavery question was again being raised upon the conclusion of the last Napoleonic war. At that time William Wilberforce, who was campaigning to have France abolish the slave trade tried to get a bill introduced in the British parliament requiring the registration of slaves in the West Indies. Of significance for this discussion is the fact that in the campaigns waged first against the commercial enterprise of buying and selling human beings, and then against the use of slave labour, women were called upon to uphold the ideals and moral standards of the British nation. In Women Against Slavery, an examination of the role of women in the British abolitionist campaigns from 1780-1870, Clare Midgley points out that the "moral qualities on which abolitionist commitment was based were . . . from the outset identified as especially ‘feminine’ in nature" (20). In support of this thesis Midgley quotes from a letter printed in the Manchester Mercury of November 6, 1787:
If any public Interference will at any TIME become the Fair Sex . . . it can only be, when a public Opportunity is given for the Exertion of those Qualities which are peculiarly expected in, and particularly possessed by that most amiable Part of the Creation—the Qualities of Humanity, Benevolence, and Compassion. (20)
According to the writer of this letter, it is a woman’s duty to remind her husband "that some Attention is due to the Humanity of our Commerce as well as to the Gains of it" (qtd. in Midgley 22). Women found themselves appointed by activists such as this one "guardians of morality and ameliorators of the suffering caused by the uncaring pursuit of profit" (Midgley 22). A reminder to a husband need not even be verbal, for anti-slavery slogans were inscribed onto jewellery. From 1787 on, Josiah Wedgwood produced jasper cameos "depicting a kneeling black slave with the motto ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’" which were "widely adopted for decorating men’s snuff boxes and ladies bracelets and hairpins" (Midgley 37-38). (Apparently, during one particular tour of Scotland, a representative of the Abolition Society gave out pamphlets to men and these cameos to their wives and daughters.) That a modified version of this cameo appeared in 1828 depicting a female slave in the place of the male, and bearing the altered question: "Am I not a Woman and a Sister?" (Midgley 97) illustrates the success of a further appeal to women to sympathize specifically with the less fortunate members of their own sex. While the marketing of this object began well after the writing of A Year in Canada, it is indicative of an on-going abolitionist attempt to foster European women’s feelings of compassion for enslaved African women, a strategy which Midgley finds evidence of in the same letter already quoted. Its composer addresses these words to his audience:
If it be just and right; if it be what Nature requires, and what Mankind expects, that Women should sympathize with Women; that if the Brutality of the Male should at any Time reverse in his Practice the Obligation of his Species, a Female may meet, from the Pity of her own Sex, that assistance which the Inhumanity of the other may deny. (qtd. in Midgley 21-22)
Knight’s asking of the "Daughters of Europe" to gaze with compassion upon the "female train," along with her criticism of the "sons of Doubt" may be aligned with the rhetoric of the anti-slavery movements.
One reason for locating Knight’s words within this context lies in what may initially seem an incidental line in a stanza on maple sugar.
’Tis time the maple’s luscious juice to
The final line may be read merely as a token anti-American comment. (Weld, for instance uses the Republic’s slave-keeping to support his attack on its citizens.) Given the fact that during abolition campaigns of the late eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries, activists called for a boycott of West Indian products, primarily sugar, Knight may be speaking directly to British consumers rather than obliquely condemning American labour practices. Both Weld and Lambert make the observation that maple sugar may be obtained at quite an economical price. The former attests to the quality of the product, deeming it "equally good with that which comes from the West Indies . . ." (1: 388), while the latter notes that "[l]arge quantities of Maple sugar are sold at about half the price of the West India sugar" (1: 86). Knight adds an ethical dimension to the economic consideration.
During her condemnation of the belief that Europeans and Native peoples belong to different species Knight again refers to the victims of slavery:
"[R]uder," "unembellish’d," "barb’rous"—these words are part of the four stages theory lexicon. But while the victims of oppression are pictured as innocent in their rude and unembellished state, the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity—who were born into a "polished," "refined" society—are condemned for their barbarity. Knight’s comparison of these "deed[s]" to the human sacrifices made by the Druids is a further indictment of Britons who appear by their actions to have regressed to a pre-civilised stage of social development. Consequently, both Africans and Native North Americans are rendered subordinate to the European forces first through violence and then through compassion. Here, the victimised peoples are rendered dependent on white philanthropists and activists for their very lives.
In her appeal to Britons’ belief in Christian teachings and in what they feel to be their advanced level of civilisation, Knight employs images and language similar to those used by abolitionist writers such as Hannah More. In "The Slave Trade: a Poem" (1788), More mourns "the countless host / . . . by rapine dragg’d from Afric’s coast" (73-74) and pleads its cause, condemning the arguments used to justify the traffic in, and enslaving of, humans:
Just as Knight counters the view that Native North Americans are "creatures of a diff’rent mould," when she refers to different forms of "kindred earth," so More asserts the "common privilege of kind." More refers to the European trader in flesh as "WHITE SAVAGE" (249), making a more direct statement than Knight does in her flashback to the time of the Druids, but both authors wish to exploit the obvious irony of the citizen of civilised Europe acting in a manner more barbarous, more savage, than that of any member of a "ruder" culture.
Knight’s references to human sacrifice and to the blood-hound have further significance, as they indicate a possible debt to James Montgomery, whose anti-slave trade work, The West Indies, A Poem, was published in 1809. Beginning his four-part poem with a chronicle of Columbus’ "discovery" of America and the subsequent genocide of the Native peoples in the West Indies at the hands of the Spanish, Montgomery "sing[s] in melancholy strains, / Of Charib martyrdoms and negro-chains / One race by tyrants rooted from the earth, / One doom’d to slav’ry by the taint of birth!" (1.127-30). These lines offer a precedent for the linking of the fates of the indigenous populations of Africa and America, and Knight’s "blood-hound" may find an ancestor in the following scene of victimization in the West Indies:
While it is Spain that is responsible for the mass murder committed here, and for the introduction of African slaves to the West Indies, it is Britain that, for all its differences with the rival country, perpetuates the inhumanity of the trade in, and exploitation of, human flesh.
The slave trade built these altars, not the Druids; nevertheless, Knight and Montgomery both accuse Britain of practising human sacrifice.
Knight adapts certain of the abolitionists’ themes to dramatize the plight of the Native peoples under the colonising powers, not because they are in danger of enslavement, but because they are victims of prejudice and European self-interest. In contrasting the vice-ridden colonisers with the virtuous colonised, Knight not only presents her case for tolerance, understanding, sympathy and philanthropy,14 but she also, by implication, places writers such as Lambert and Gray within the ranks of the "sons of Doubt." Weld and his followers are quick to point out the Americans’ hypocrisy and inhumanity in proclaiming the equality of men while exterminating the Native population and cruelly enslaving Africans; however, the British were, of course, not guiltless in their activities within the Canadas. After asking if a "philanthropic breast" will recognize the Native peoples’ worth, Knight, in an address to the child, proclaims,
Five of the seven deadly sins seem to have joined the Europeans in the effort to extend imperial control to the colony, and they stand in stark contrast to the four Native virtues that populate the next stanza—the courage, love, fortitude, and friendship already listed in this introduction. The Native North Americans are seen to have time and again offered assistance to the Europeans only to have their own requests denied. After advancing this spirited but rather conventional response to man’s inhumanity to man, Knight retreats into what may be seen as an equally conventional musing upon a future "blissful age, / When Peace and Love in lucid robes array’d, / Shall reign from Hoogly’s banks to Indiana’s shade" (2.178-80).15 There is no expression of community as in the "glad strathspey" of Part 1, but Knight ends her section on the Native peoples with a radiant image of a future world (or at least that stretch of it from India to Indiana16) of peace, and begins to sketch out a picture of the next inhabitants to be introduced: the French Canadians.
As the Scottish emigrants were introduced by the ring of their axes, and the Native peoples by their shouts, so the presence of the French Canadians is announced by a signature sound: a hymn being sung by a "simple band" of Catholic peasants who "wind slowly round the glade" (2.189). Knight begins her depiction of these Lower Canadians by raising the issue of religious tolerance—an issue present in both Weld’s and Lambert’s Travels— and then moves into an area of contemporary political concern. The French Canadian voices sound in the open air, rather than in the restrictive setting of a Catholic church, and the hymn speaks more of the connection of a farmer to his land than it demonstrates the peasant’s devotion to the "cloister’d race" (2.210) (a blind devotion in Weld’s eyes). As she explains in a note to this section, Knight once asked of several Canadians the "meaning of this procession" and received the reply, "C’est pour le bled. C’est pour remercier le bon Dieu pour le bled" (48; pt. 2, nt. 7). ("[B]led" is a variant spelling of blé.) The tone of the religious expression is not oppressive in this setting and the procession leads the way for Knight to call for tolerance in the thoughts of her largely British, largely Protestant audience:
Acknowledging the existence of a strong anti-Catholic sentiment in her audience, Knight alludes to Thomson’s attack on the "purple Tyranny of Rome" ("Summer" 758). Lambert may also stand behind these lines since he, too, relates how "the divine precepts of Christianity . . . were made the horrid and blasphemous instruments of tyranny" (1: 348-49) by its priests, but claims, "At the present day, the Roman Catholic religion, compared with its most flourishing periods, is humbled with the dust" (1: 349). Both in Lambert’s Travels and in Knight’s A Year in Canada, there is the sense that the reality of the French Canadians’ faith and relationship to their church has little to do with crimes committed by Rome "[w]hile yet" its power "annull’d," "[w]rested," and "[m]ock’d." The modifying "[w]hile yet" suggests that Roman Catholicism no longer holds the power here condemned, and in direct opposition to the verbs of the regime’s oppression, Knight employs those of rural gratitude and benediction as "past [the farmer’s] fields the slow procession steals, / To thank th’ all-bounteous God, and bless the rising grain" (2.201-03). Tolerance is the order of the day for Lambert who holds that "[a] man . . . cannot be said to be accountable for the errors and defects of that religion which originated centuries before he was born, and in which he was initiated by his parents" (1:355). Knight asks for the same consideration for the French Canadians, but takes a slightly different tack by suggesting that the ritual observed is not merely a matter of superstition or a mark of Catholic tyranny. "Nor with the harshest censure brand the rite," she writes, "Perhaps their hearts with gratitude expand" (2.204). The following query in effect directs readers to withhold any assessment of the French Canadians based on an aversion to the Catholic religion: "Who but the power that dwells in viewless light, / Can mark the chain of thought’s mysterious band? / ’Tis His to hold the scales that suit no mortal hand" (2.205-07). God is not simply the final judge: He is the only judge with the authority of true knowledge necessary for such a reckoning.
Throughout A Year in Canada, Knight employs a "though . . . yet" structure to present alternate views of issues or people, and two examples of its use are found in the six full stanzas of Part 2 that voice her thoughts on the French Canadian character. The first ("though thy heart’s indignant feelings glow . . . Yet frown not here as the Canadian kneels") appeals for tolerance; the second marks the transition in the discussion from the subject of religious bonds to that of domestic ties, as well as from the contemplation of a community to the imaginative portrait of an individual:
Though still th’ enlightened soul may sigh to
The depiction of matter being given form by dogma and conformity is neither flattering nor attractive, but the point should be made that Knight is addressing the prejudice with which many of her readers would approach a Catholic population, in order to throw that prejudice into question. In this she follows the lead of Lambert who proclaims in his Travels, that "[t]his is the age of toleration . . ." (1: 353), and suggests, "[i]t is not a haughty, supercilious behaviour that will win the esteem of the Canadians" (1: 358). The persistence of the "enlightened soul" in looking for evidence of Catholic tyranny in the figure of the French Canadian is at odds with the reality of "the peasant’s life." Such a construction suggests that there is more to French Canadian existence than a slavish attention to the "dictates of the cloister’d race."
As she did in the stanzas focusing upon the Native peoples, Knight looks beyond the outward appearances of the different culture to recognize the love of home, family and the land felt by the French Canadian. And as she did with "Caledonia’s child," Knight forges a link of sorts between herself and the peasant she presents within an act of remembering. "Well I ween," she writes,
The French Canadian farmer is given a past and a present (as much as is possible in fourteen lines) which Knight suggests are grounds enough to predict his future actions. Closely connected to the land, he emerges as much more than an oppressed servant of the church:
Amid those scenes he pass’d life’s gayest
These lines convey the profoundly important role of the land and the changing seasons in the life of the French Canadian as the "firsts" of his life are connected less to religious rituals than to harvests of lesser and greater scales—harvests of the "blushing plum," "the nut-tree’s spray," and the "flowery mead."17
In the last two stanzas of Part 2, it becomes clear why Knight has gone to such lengths to create a bond between the peasant and his farm. She hopes that the French Canadian’s love of the land will be translated into a patriotic commitment to the country in which his farm lies—that is, British North America. Very likely these stanzas are aimed at allaying the fears of the English with respect to the allegiances held by Canada’s francophone population at a time of conflict with both France and the United States. The war of words waged in the English- and French-language newspapers and the general paranoia sparked Gray to write:
Far from being a political agent, the French Canadian farmer Knight constructs is an uneducated peasant who knows nothing of the world outside his community ("He knows not, dreams not, man of mortal birth / Has e’er explored the planet’s mystic maze . . ." [2.227-28]), a peaceful bucolic whose "simple mind" (2.229) is amused by songs and games. To suspect such a person of treachery or treason, she seems to suggest, would be ridiculous, for as even Gray observes, "The great mass of the people are quiet and inoffensive. If left to themselves they would be troublesome to nobody; and notwithstanding their natural predilection for the French . . . I believe, that at present any order from our government would be as much attended to in Canada, as in Britain" (334).
In the last stanza of Part 2, Knight both removes the peasant from any association, emotional or political, with Bonaparte’s campaigns and attests to the firmness of his commitment to protect his home and native land:
Nor may the tenant of these vallies vie
Each "nor" in this stanza counters an anglophone concern regarding francophone allegiances and character. In the first four-line unit, the suspicion that French-Canadian sympathies could easily be recruited by the agents of France finds no support. The European conflict is as far removed from the life of the French Canadian as the common (and non-combative) English designation "tenant" is from that of the foreign-sounding "cossack" and "hussar." Knight further underlines the vast difference between the French of Europe and the French Canadian by contrasting "these vallies" with "distant war," "their ardour" with "his eye." Signalling a turn with a semi-colon and a new set of end-rhymes (the last five lines do not continue the b rhyme of the initial abab scheme, but rather follow the pattern cdcdd— although the final "ar" of "hussar" and "war" do echo in "alarm" and "arm"), Knight moves on to the more immediate problem of what is about to happen "here."
At the time of Madison’s declaration of war in 1812, there were serious concerns about the morale of Canada’s anglophone inhabitants, never mind the allegiances of the francophones. G.M. Craig writes of how in Upper Canada General Isaac Brock found himself "faced with a provincial population that, despite long anticipation of the dread event, appeared to be stunned and apathetic now that war had finally come" (70), and quotes Brock’s assessment of this troublesome circumstance:
My situation is most critical, not from any thing the enemy can do, but from the disposition of the people—The population, believe me is essentially bad—A full belief possess them that this Province must inevitably succumb—This prepossession is fatal to every exertion—Legislators, Magistrates, Militia, Officers, all, have imbibed the idea and are so sluggish and indifferent in all their respective offices that the artful and active scoundrel is allowed to parade the Country without interruption and commit all imaginable mischief. (70-71)
Taking into account this disposition of the English-speaking population, the question of whether French Canadians would raise arms against the invading Americans was a grave one, especially given the importance of the St Lawrence for the movement of troops and supplies. Gray and Lambert come at the matter from the point of view of obedience to the ruling powers. As already observed, the former believes that the majority of francophones would follow the government’s orders, and the latter seems to be of like mind when he observes that French Canadians "have been dutiful and obedient subjects and when our other colonies shook off the yoke of Great Britain, they remained true and faithful . . ." (1:357). Having already established the great attachment to the land felt by her typical peasant, Knight looks instead to the love of home to steel the French Canadian’s resolve to defend not just his own property, but also the country which surrounds it. The third and fourth "nor"s in the stanza quoted earlier—"Nor fear nor sloth shall chain the peasant’s arm"—quickly silence any qualms about the moral fibre of the French Canadians and lead up to the thrice-repeated possessive in "his laws, his rights, his land."18 For the peasant depicted by Knight, responding to a call to arms is not a simple matter of obedience; it is an act of great personal motivation. English anxiety is quelled as "fear" and "sloth" are transformed into "firm" and "step" in the final alexandrine which, because of its length and Knight’s use of the rhetorical scheme of parallelism, gives to the passionate conviction a sense of balance and commitment. By the time Knight was back in Scotland preparing the poem for publication, French Canadians fighting in defense of Canada (many of them in the ranks of the Voltigeurs Canadiens) had, in fact, distinguished themselves under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry by forcing the retreat of the Americans from the battles at Chateauguay and Crysler’s Farm on October 26 and November 11, 1813.19
The Americans are never explicitly named, though clearly they are the ones responsible for the "peal[ing] of Invasion’s shrill alarm." Their presence is continually suggested by the portions of the poem that anticipate armed conflict. In the French Canadian’s determination to fight for "his laws, his rights, his land," may be read a response to General Hull’s proclamation of July 13, 1812 addressed to the people of Canada in which the American "tendered them ‘the invaluable blessings of Civil, Political, & Religious Liberty,’ promised them protection in their ‘persons, property, and rights,’ and informed them that they were to be ‘emancipated from Tyranny and oppression and restored to the dignified station of freemen’" (Craig 72). Since Knight quotes a section of this proclamation in her notes to Home: a Poem (96-97; pt. 4, nt. 12), there is no doubt that she was familiar with it. That she there refers to Hull’s words with contempt suggests that she felt that Canadians—French or English—did not need to be "emancipated." The British government had, after all, officially acknowledged in the Québec Act the rights of the French Canadians in the areas of language, religion, civil law, and the seigneurial system of land distribution. Indeed Knight suggests that Canadians require protection from, rather than the protection of, the Americans. Knight does look ahead to a time "When Worth and Taste shall grace the rural shade, / And fan in vulgar breasts the patriot flame" (4.100-01); however, it is not the Americans who inspire this vision.
Knight returns to the topic of invasion midway through Part 4 of A Year in Canada after lengthy excursions through the summer landscape and meditations on a variety of topics, such as "Wisdom, Love, and Power" (3.84) and the existence of "Vice," "Grief," and "Care" (3.129). After some discussion of how industry will improve the land and allow its full potential to be realised, Knight seems about to bring the section and the day to a close when the evening quiet is interrupted and the threat of war intrudes once again:
Once again a sound is used to introduce a new group of people, this time "[a] passing troop" (4.123). Notably, only "guardian bands" (4.133) and not offensive forces are seen. Following this passing troop are three stanzas which focus on the "soft emotion" (4.129), the "keener feeling" (4.134), and the "grateful tear" (4.135) experienced by a spectator watching "assembled troops depart" (4.127). The view taken belongs to one who must remain behind knowing that many of those who are leaving "[t]o seek their country’s foes" (4.128) will not be coming home. It is a woman’s view, though not exclusively so. In stanzas 16 and 17, Knight chooses not to deal with the stuff of the battlefield, but instead treats the time of war rather like another season, which, however bloody the harvest, will pass and become a thing of memory:
The fast-approaching scene of deathful strife,
At the centre of the first of these stanzas, Labour continues on about the tasks which fall brings, even though the "flowery sweets" now dying have a human face, and a sabre has taken the place of a scythe, reaping a bloody crop. And it is Labour who will prevail; the "smiling vales" will endure in Canada and in the poem. The plough becomes a sword in these stanzas, but the poem anticipates the day when the only blade wielded will be one cutting furrows. (Indeed in Part 5, "Again the shining ploughshare cleaves the soil" ). In the second stanza, the call for "ye envied hours" to return "yet again" expresses a desire to go back to a time when war was a distant memory, and looks ahead to the time when war will be a distant memory once more. The chiasmus of the stanza’s final line perhaps underlines this crossing from the remembered past through this present moment of conflict into a future peace. It certainly forms the final bar of this martial theme.
Whether the war’s outcome (which Knight would have known prior to the publication of A Year in Canada) influenced the placing of this brief reference to the conflict within the penultimate section of the poem is open to speculation. Following the vision of the "guardian bands" are the paean to the simple charms of rural life and depictions of the toils and amusements that arrive with the fall and winter that make up Part 5. No further mention is made of British-American relations. With the knowledge that Knight returned to Canada (just before the poem’s appearance in print), A Year in Canada can perhaps be read in terms of her construction for herself, as well as for other potential Scottish emigrants, of the country in which she was about to build a new life. From this point of view, her omission of a specific discussion of the threat from the United States may appear strategic, rather than merely curious. That the Americans are never named does seem especially odd on first consideration given the vilification of the United States that takes place in Knight’s Home. In the earlier poem war is also anticipated ("Once more the sword shall gleam, and clarion sound, / And battle rage, and carnage strew the ground!" [67; pt. 4]), but the anticipation gives way to a condemnation of the instigators of the conflict, when Knight asks and answers the question, "Who loos’d the war fiend in that peaceful clime?" (68; pt. 4). The southern United States and the Republic in general are denounced for planning an invasion and for assuming "o’er hostile lands a conqu’ror’s right" (72; pt. 4) before their troops had even engaged those of the British ("On to these shades your hostile bands ye led, / With war’s loud thunder shook the peaceful glade . . ." [71; pt. 4]). At the time when Knight was writing A Year in Canada, anxiety was running high "over the number of residents of doubtful loyalty who were fast turning Upper Canada into ‘a compleat American colony’" (Craig 87), and yet she chose not to continue her attack on those who "Give Mercy, Truth, and Justice to the wind" (Home 69; pt. 4). Throughout A Year in Canada Knight keeps the southern forces at bay, never once allowing them to set foot on British territory, or to sound a note of discord within the poem’s perimeter.
Not allowing the Americans to enter her vision of Canada was, perhaps, the best line of defence against their influence, but another reason for leaving them out may have been that Knight did not want in any way to put off potential settlers. Her discussions of what Canada can provide immigrants and what immigrants, specifically Scottish immigrants, can offer Canada came at a time when incentives were being offered to people leaving her homeland in order to persuade them to enter the British colony rather than the United States. Before, during, and after the War of 1812, the encouragement of Scottish emigrants to settle in Canada was seen as a preventative measure against the spread of Americanism. According to Craig, "the Roman Catholic priest (and future bishop) Alexander Macdonnell, wrote that Highlanders in the Glengarry settlement should be encouraged as "‘a strong barrier against the contagion of Republican principles so rapidly diffusing among the people of this Province by the industry of the settlers from the United States’" (48). Some years later,
[General Sir Gordon] Drummond reported that he would be glad to have Scottish immigrants in "a Country already too much inhabited by Aliens from the United States, very many of whom are avowedly disaffected to the British Government, and as many more of doubtful principles." The Scots should be established close to the American border, thus providing "a kind of defence . . . of the very best materials and people loyal and attached to the Government. . . ." (Craig, Upper Canada 87)
Lord Bathurst’s plan of government-sponsored colonisation that would give "‘every encouragement and all reasonable assistance’" (Craig 88) to a few "‘industrious families’" (Craig 87) from Scotland received the support it needed for implementation in the spring of 1815, coincidentally, the year the Knights settled in Montréal. Perhaps the chronicler of A Year in Canada filled a position in a literary line of defence.
The poem comes full circle, ending as it began in the winter season, with a scene of home-coming both for the rustic making his way back to the comfort of his home after a day of wood-cutting and for the narrator returning from her memory’s dream of Canada to the reality of the "louring sky" (5.139) of her Scottish home. That the vision of Canada ultimately remains unscathed should really come as no surprise given the care that Knight takes to maintain a positive view of the country overall. In general, the disappointing or troubling elements alluded to in the poem stem from European vice or political hostilities originating outside of Canada’s borders; none of them has anything to do with the land or those who have a genuine attachment to it. Moreover, A Year in Canada counters the unattractive images of North America and its "savages" found in the popular verse of Goldsmith (The Deserted Village, The Traveller) and Thomson. With the help of her prose notes, Knight also takes on the particularly damaging and prejudicial opinions of earlier travellers regarding Canada’s non-British inhabitants. Even as Knight composes a work that emphasizes concord and calls for tolerance and compassion, however, her words reflect common conceptions of British superiority and endorse the imperialist enterprise that would forever change the face of this country.
The Present Text
The present text of A Year in Canada is based on the first and (until now) only edition of the poem. This edition appears in A Year in Canada and Other Poems (Edinburgh: Printed by James Ballantyne & Co. for Doig and Stirling, Edinburgh; and Baldwin, Cradock and Joy, London, 1816.) Knight’s variant spellings of words (e.g. "pourtray," "recal") have been maintained. The very few errors in spelling and inconsistencies in punctuation and italicisation that have been corrected are listed in the Editorial Emendations. In the 1816 edition of the poem, only four of the lines of verse that Knight annotates in her Notes are marked by superscript numerals. The present text incorporates superscript Roman numerals at the end of each line that Knight expands upon in prose. The page numbers cited in Knight’s Notes have been changed to reflect the pagination of the present text.
Notes to the Introduction