George Longmore's The Charivari:  A Poem "After the Manner of Beppo"

by Tracy Ware

George Longmore's The Charivari, the poem which is arguably the major production of Canada's first period of creative ferment, was published pseudonymously in Montreal in 1824.  It was a time when, as Carl Klinck observes, "opportunities for publication . . . in [Montreal] or . . . in the whole of Lower and Upper Canada, had never before been so numerous and attractive."1  Indeed, the existence of three literary journals in a city holding a literate English population of approximately five thousand is little short of remarkable.2  The eighteen-twenties in Montreal were also a favourable time for the influence of Byronic satire.  In this respect, the brevity of the cultural lag between Canada and England is noteworthy:  Beppo, Longmore's model according to the advertisement, which describes the poem as being "after the manner of Beppo,"3 had been published in 1818, and Don Juan, to which Longmore also alludes, did not begin publication until 1819.  Early reviewers of The Charivari were quick to notice its debt to Byron and its distinctively Canadian content. One reviewer, reflecting the preference at the time for literary "seriousness," argues, "we are of opinion the writer would be a more successful imitator of Byron in the gloomy, than in the light description of poetry."4  Another commendatory reviewer finds a charivari a suitable poetic subject because it is an established part of Canadian life:  "it is impossible not to approve of the effort which has thus been made to rescue so curious a trait from the ravages of time and the superstitious oracles of oral tradition."5  According to this line of reasoning, the skill with which a poem is written is less important than the fact that its subject matter is recognizably Canadian.  This critical position is still with us, as is demonstrated by Mary Lu McDonald's comment that "The Charivari holds our interest today because it tells a Canadian story with humour and a sense of drama, not because we find the imitation-Byronic cantos to be compelling poetry."6  In 1824, Longmore brought a contrary attitude into Canadian writing:  the advertisement for The Charivari, and the discussion of Byron within the poem, imply that Longmore' s merit must be judged in terms of his ability to recreate "the manner of Beppo."

     Longmore's writing demonstrates a more sophisticated understanding of Byron than was always the case amongst readers and critics in pre-Civil War America and pre-Confederation Canada.  Because of the alarm at the licentious nature of Byronic poetry, some of the American imitators of Byron tried to write more "acceptable" verse. One Fitz-Green Halleck, the author of Fanny (1819), constructed "occasional stanzas consisting simply of asterisks" to suggest wickedness, in a device that seems to have appealed to Levi Adams.7  James Russell Lowell, who recognized that wickedness" is an indispensable part of Byronic satire, responded by calling Fanny "a pseudo Don Juan / With the wickedness out that gave salt to the true one."8  In Canada, Alexander Kent Archibald, in 1848, used Byron's ottava rima in a poem supporting the temperance movement.9  Longmore, who erred neither in the direction of timidity nor in a breach of stylistic decorum, praises the moral accuracy of true satire.   Byron, he argues in an essay in the Tales of Chivalry and Romance volume,

has taken the intermediate path, and pourtrayed [sic] man as he is, and not as he ought to be; — He has chosen for his heroes, — beings imperfect and inclined to err, and has depicted them; neither all goodness nor all evil, nor has he ever tried to extenuate their faults.

Longmore adds that Byron has "laid open the recesses of the human heart most minutely to the perception, and has used his intellectual microscope to point out the deformities, as well as the beauties of our nature."10  Though he regrets Byron's irreverent view of England, and he tends to Christianize his subject, Longmore recognizes the difference between satirical and immoral literature.  Accordingly, in a digression on Byron in The Charivari, he distinguishes between "he who speaks Truth boldly" and the false morality of a "blue stocking" (p. 27).  Echoing Byron's dislike of hypocrisy, he asks, "why should we distress / Poor Truth then, with Hypocrisy's vile dress" (p. 27).

     It is a measure of Longmore's understanding of Byron that he praises him in terms of the eighteenth-century aesthetic adopted by Byron:   he "hath got! / Nature pourtrayed" (p. 27).  Longmore's knowledge of Augustan satire is also manifested in the following stanza:

'Tis Rochefoucault, who tells us in a maxim, —
   "There's something in th'adversity of friends
"Which does not quite displease us;" — Byron backs him,
   As I suppose, when he so oft extends
To all, his satire, — (though not fair to tax him,)
   But Man, — his mind so seldom rightly lends
To Heav'n, — 'twere hard to say and scan Earth's throng,
If Rochefoucault and he, are much in wrong. (p. 28)

A recognition of man's potentiality — the ability of the mind to adapt to heaven — combined with an awareness of man's actual imperfection, provides Longmore with the orientation of the greatest satirists in our language.  Like Swift, Longmore wholeheartedly adopted the gloomy wisdom of Rochefoucault, without abandoning his acceptance of man.  It is this combination of the ideal with the actual that gives The Charivari its vitality.  And like Byron, Longmore extends his satire to all, including himself.  As Klinck observes, the poem "is critical of itself, and it evokes criticism of native manners.11

     The Chanivari itself is the true test of Longmore's understanding of the technique of Beppo.  As Leslie Marchand states regarding that technique, the "meat" of the poem lies in the digressions.12  The plot of Beppo, based on an anecdote reported to Byron, is developed in only a few of the poem's ninety-nine stanzas.  The anecdote becomes a vehicle for the examination of the manners of Italy and of England through juxtaposition:  Byron's setting is Italian, but his audience is English.  Longmore, whose audience is Canadian, uses a similar technique when he juxtaposes the manners of Canada with those of England.  In Beppo, Byron employs an ironic narrator, whose ostensible incompetence causes him to digress repeatedly; the irony inheres in the actual appropriateness of these digressions.  Most frequently, the narrator digresses on the manners of the two countries in question.  Immediately before one digression on fashion and fashionable poetry, subjects which are at the heart of Byron's concern, he apologizes for his "incompetence

   Digression is a sin, that by degrees
Becomes exceeding tedious to my mind,
   And, therefore, may the reader too displease —
The gentle reader, who may wax unkind,
   And caring little for the author's ease,
Insist on knowing what he means, a hard
And hapless situation for a bard.13

Similarly, later in the poem, he concludes a digression on Fortune by confessing that "This story slips for ever through my fingers" (Byron, p. 631).   If we refer this digression to its context, however, we find that it too is relevant, in that it foreshadows the coincidence that gives the poem its comic resolution: the fortunate reuniting of Laura and Beppo.  Therefore to understand the technique of Beppo, and by extension, of The Charivani, it is essential to appreciate the artistry of the poet beyond the professed incompetence of the narrator, an artistry which Longmore, like Byron, possesses in abundance.

     Besides the art of making witty and relevant digressions are the other features of the style of Beppo as described by Marchand:

. . . the ironic deflation of commonly accepted attitudes and sentiments, the conversational idiom, the unheroic, or mock-heroic, portraits of the characters, the epigrammatic wit, the comic rhymes used to emphasize the punch lines of the couplets, the realism of the interpretation of life — all contributed to endow his verse with the disarming quality of his most amusing letters.14

As will be seen, Longmore's mastery of this technique indicates that he has gone beyond mere indebtedness to a full assimilation of the influence of Byron.  Despite his misattribution of The Charivari to Levi Adams, Klinck incisively notes that "Byron was. . . happily naturalized in Montreal by a man who could impart the flavour of this colonial English-French city."  Klinck makes another important point when he observes that the subject matter of The Charivani "was as indigenous as anything relating to the white man in Canada could be:  the folk custom of interrupting the nuptial bliss of an incongruously matched couple by a noisy serenade had roots and branches among the French people of the lower province. "15  Through Longmore's knowledge of local customs and his skills in the techniques of Byronic satire, The Charivani is both a successful poem "after the manner of Beppo" and a felicitous use of indigenous elements.

     The Charivari opens with a digressive satire on bad contemporary literature, one of the principal satiric referents throughout the poem.  It is important to notice that the full title of the poem is The Charivari, or Canadian Poetics, a double title raising two possibilities:  (1) that the poem has two emphases, the literal level of the charivari and the literary level of the digressions; and (2) that the cacophonous charivani is in some way an emblem of the state of Canadian poetry in 1824.  The first stanza of The Charivari is clearly a mock-invocation in the manner of Byron:

Awake my Muse, whatever be thy mould,
   That deign'st thy minstrels [sic] humble hand to grace,
Whether akin to those well known of old,
   And bear'st the features of Thalia's face,
Or, one whom o'er the moderns we behold
   Urging the sonnets of that inky race,
Still, still inspire me 'midst thy rhyming pack
Lend me, [sic] old Pegasus, thy jaded hack! (p. 11)16

Longmore combines the allusive ("Thalia's face") with the colloquial ("jaded hack") to capture well the flavour of Byron's ottava rima.  Pegasus is jaded, we learn from the next stanza, because of "the bards of ballad-verse fruition" now riding her.  "Oh, what a motley group of bards to war at," cries the narrator (p. 12), as Longmore, taking a conservative position, satirizes those who deviate from tradition.  He singles out two literary trends for explicit censure:  the "truly pathetic" (his punning opinion of the excessive sentimentality of contemporary popular literature), and the "ultra wrought sublime," the sublime, of course, being a commonplace of Romantic poetry.  Here as elsewhere, Longmore's referents are adapted from his literary model:  Byron's attitude towards sentimentality is familiar to every reader, and the concordance to Don Juan reveals a number of tongue-in-cheek references to the sublime.17

     Following this digression on literary taste is a related two-stanza one on metre, in which the narrator, echoing Beppo, confesses, "as stories chime / In verse more fluent — I've begun in rhyme" (p. 13).18  He then apologizes for his inability to write romantic hyperbole — the very trend just satirized:

Not being such a votary of Apollo,
   And all Love's rich vocabulary scann'd,
How to describe the sex, their graces hallow,
   As they were Peris from some fabled land,
I must the groveling — prosy way fain follow,
   And own, mine is no personage so grand;
No form of flowers, and fragrance decks my lay,
But such as one sees mostly, every day. (p. 14)

These elaborate literary references establish a high burlesque of love, which will have specific relevance for Baptisto and Annette, the lovers in The Charivari. Furthermore, Longmore uses this mock-apology to place himself in the same relation to tradition as Byron, who claims in Don Juan that the only difference between him and his "epic brethren" is that his "story's actually true" (Byron, p. 659).

     Byron's truth, it will be remembered, was what earned Longmore's special praise, a truth involving an acceptance of man in all his imperfection.  Recognizing this quality in Beppo, Byron writes, "It will at any rate shew them — that I can write cheerfully, and repel the charge of monotony and mannerism."19  Following Byron, Longmore views man as a "pendulum of vacillation" (p. 14), for whom change is the one certainty of existence.20

'Tis pleasant to get rid of some curs'd care
   Of aching malady, or blustering people,
Life hath enough of ill for each man's share,
   And Fortune's ladder gainless as a steeple
With no ascent to't but a broken stair;
   Few are there born, who do not oftener reap ill,
Than gather good, for life we know, at best
Is care — and we, its riddle and its jest. (p. 15)

The echo, in the final line, of Pope's Essay on Man is clearly a conscious one.  Here, as elsewhere in the poem, Longmore achieves depth by slightly modifying his source.  Pope's "glory, jest, and riddle of the world" becomes his "its riddle and its jest," the implication being that man's glory, so important in Pope's Essay, does not belong in Longmore's mock-heroic poem.   The point may also be made that the stanza just quoted is part of a humourous digression on the Canadian winter, by no means an irrelevant aside since part of the humour of the poem's conclusion derives from the coldness of the season.

     Another example of Longmore's skilful use of allusion occurs in his description of Thor, who,

      . . . having perceiv'd what war
The passions wage, where the hot sun shows out
Its rays in warmer climes, deem d it a bore
   To set mankind's weak senses to the rout,
And so to cool the sad effects of season,
Sent his priest Boreas, to bring Love to Reason.  (p. 15)

He is alluding to Byron's description of the climate of Spain, in Canto I of Don Juan:

'Tis a sad thing, I cannot choose but say,
   And all the fault of that indecent sun,
Who cannot leave alone our helpless clay,
   But will keep baking, broiling, burning on,
That howsoever people fast and pray,
   The flesh is frail, and so the soul undone:
What men call gallantry, and gods adultery,
Is much more common where the climate's sultry.  (Byron p. 644)

Longmore wittily and ironically adapts these lines, not only proving Klinck's statement that in The Charivari Byron was "happily naturalized in Montreal," but also indicating the closeness of his familiarity with Don Juan.   Additional proof of Longmore's ability to manipulate his sources may be gained by comparing the following two stanzas, the first from The Charivari, the second from Don Juan:

Man is carniverous, — and therefore, must
   Contrive to pamper up his appetite; — [sic]
In all things epicurean; — whether lust
   Of woman, war, or wine be his delight
He is the same incentive piece of dust,
   And acts by instinct's, more than Reason's flight; —
What think you of Longinus o'er a bottle,
Or every mortal, his own Aristotle?  (p. 50)

If ever I should condescend to prose,
   I'll write poetical commandments, which
Shall supersede beyond all doubt all those
   That went before; in these I shall enrich
My text with many things that no one knows,
   And carry precept to the highest pitch:
I'll call the work "Longinus o'er a Bottle,
Or, Every Poet his own Aristotle."  (Byron, p. 659)

Despite the extent of his indebtedness, Longmore is no slave to his model:  he smoothly converts Byron's literary satire into effective social satire, by extending Byron's attack on folly in poetry into a general statement on man's tendency not to follow the dictates of reason.

     For Longmore, Byron's frequent attacks on the Platonic theory of love are especially felicitous.21  In a digression on love, he again demonstrates his ability to absorb Byron's influence:  "What," says the narrator to his imaginary auditor, "hast thou never sigh'd, and never kiss'd, / And art that prude in love, a Platonist?" (p. 15).  In this couplet, the very extrusiveness of his rhyme implies a relation between Platonism and kissing.  Because elaborate views of love are consistently debunked in The Charivari, it is difficult to agree with Klinck that "Love for Longmore is a glamorous, sentimental, and even classical subject."22  While Longmore frequently employs classical allusions, there is nothing particularly glamorous or sentimental about his view of love.  Thus his narrator asks Love,

Was it not thee, who stirr'd great Alexander
   With Thais by his side, to fire the porch,
Of fam'd Persepolis — and young Leander,
   Whose love the waters quench'd, tho' Hero's torch, [sic]
Shone bright to guide — myriads to whom a pander,
   Thy aid hath been, besides — to kill or scorch;
Not to omit poor Petrarch in his cowl,
Thou mad'st to rove like any midnight owl. (p. 16)

In steps of carefully controlled bathos, the reader descends from "Alexander" and "Leander" to "a pander."  In addition, the reference to "poor Petrarch in his cowl," and the rhyme with "midnight owl," adumbrate Baptisto's appearance in shirt and night-cap when awakened by the charivari.   Finally, the above stanza furthers the high burlesque of Baptisto, who, as an aging lover, strikes a ridiculous figure, inflated to absurdity by the classical allusions.

     Although he frequently debunks unrealistic conceptions of love, Longmore never lapses into a facile bitterness.  Towards the middle of the poem, he expresses his full view of love in a delicately constructed alchemical conceit:

Love's a true alchymist, — for as the flame
   Purges the gold, by heat the most intense
So, he creates within the mortal frame
   A furnace of the heart, to bring the sense
Of Passion to his purpose, — whilst the same
   Evil, arising, — we may inference
From both, — for as, gold oft corrupts the mind
So Love, inflames the feelings of mankind.  (p. 23)

Aware of the existence of evil and suffering, he knows that love and gold may lead their followers to misery, but he also recognizes that love and gold are probably essential to our existence.  Used perversely, they become evil; used properly, they may purify the heart, in a process of figurative alchemy.

     Baptisto's love for Annette is neither perverse nor entirely proper.  Longmore uses classical allusion to subject Baptisto to both a high and a low burlesque; love made him

   Look like Acteon, (when inflam'd to wreak
Her vengeance stern, Diana rais'd her hand
And swift, transformed him,) [sic] with her magic wand. (p. 25)

High burlesque is present through the incongruity between Baptisto and Acteon, who was punished for gazing upon the naked loveliness of Diana.  Low burlesque occurs because Acteon was transformed into a stag and pursued by his own hounds, to which aspect of the myth Longmore alludes in the next stanza:

But not like Dian's yet in consequence, —
   Unless prophetic ministry could tell
She would adorn her spouse, thro' some offence,
   With what, — I will no longer loudly knell,
For fear of saying, what is low in sense
   Tho' sometimes very true, — each fool knows well,
And every spouse, when for this sin of woman's
He hears of lawyers' suits, and Doctors' Commons.  (p. 25)

The traditional association of horns with cuckoldry is added to the Greek myth of Acteon to create a pertinent digression on one threat to a marriage.   Moreover, the stanza points forward to the concluding events of the poem, giving resonance to the moment when the charivari forces Baptisto to wear a set of horns, thus making him a symbolic cuckold.

     Two stanzas from the middle of the poem show that Longmore is not only a writer of a satire with multiple referents, but he is capable of writing on multiple levels:

Behold, the sleigh neat trimm'd, — the harness'd tits
   Ready, as willing winds to fly along,
Rul'd by their guide's dexterity, who sits
   And reigns them now, now cracks the lashing throng
Away, they go, almost as wild as wits
   Career, or Folly's capering thro' a throng;
And are an emblem in their sliding carriage,
Of the first, smoothe, swift, merriments of marriage.

But then there's such a thing as an upset
   And, oh, those curs'd cahots, but to be sure
This rests upon the course you take, and yet
   Suppose they're found on all roads, where's your cure?
It makes my simile, — (if you so get
   A toss, or jolt,) not at all premature,) [sic]
For Hymen is the road, most of us take
And they are fortunate, who get no shake. (p. 31)

On the literal level, these stanzas, appropriately echoing back to earlier references, describe the Canadian winter, the setting of the poem.  On a second level, the passage furthers the satire in the introductory stanzas into an allegory of Canadian literature; the reader is alerted to the presence of allegory by means of the abstract nouns "wits" and "Folly."  On this level, Longmore naturalizes the Pegasus image in Canada. The locus classicus of that image, of course, is Pope's Essay on Criticism:

. . . wit and judgment often are at strife,
Though meant each other's aid, like man and wife.
'Tis more to guide, than spur the Muse's steed;
Restrain his fury, than provoke his speed;
The winged courser, like a generous horse,
Shows most true mettle when you check his course.23

Substituting a sleigh for the horse of inspiration, Longmore, like Pope, argues for the necessity of restraint in poetry.  When the driver abandons his reigns, the course taken by his vehicle resembles "Folly's capering thro' a throng."  On a third level, the "tits" of the sleigh "are an emblem in their sliding carriage, / Of the first, smoothe, swift, merriments of marriage."  In this respect the two stanzas effectively foreshadow the charivari, the disquiet throng that quickly upsets the initial happiness of the newly-married couple.  Even the sexual connotations of "tits" are apposite, for the first cahot of Baptisto's marriage occurs after the consummation of his marriage, an event also bawdily foreshadowed by Casey's pun, in which Baptisto is said to be "in a net" (p. 40).

     It is arguable that, in his description of the charivari, Longmore achieves a similar complexity.  Recalling the full title of the poem, we can recognize that if the charivari is in a sense allegorical, it would unite the two principal aspects of the satire, literary and social.   Accordingly, the charivari is introduced by an attack on stale literary conventions, in lines notable for their healthy self-deprecation.  A poem should not end without "Some sad disaster," says the narrator, in order to "give its cast, a seasoning of sublime" (p. 42).  A literary frame of reference is then maintained throughout this descriptive part of the poem:

Within the centre, on some quadruped,
   For whether horse, or poney, mule, or ass,
Would be most difficult to say, — as spread
   Over its hide were things of every class
Which Folly could procure, or Fancy's head
   In ridicule or satire so amass, —
But on this animal of some queer genus
There sat a youth, — though not the boy of Venus.  (p. 44)

In the opening of The Charivari, as we have seen, Longmore's emblem for the deplorable state of Canadian writing is Pegasus, now become "jaded" and "hackney'd," terms with an obvious applicability to bad poets.  Pegasus is also referred to later in the poem, indirectly in the two sleigh stanzas discussed above, and directly when the narrator exclaims, "Come, Pegasus, now curb thee" (p. 26).  In the charivari, the animal in the stanza cited above is an absurd Pegasus, degraded almost beyond recognition, ridden not by a mature rider, but by a youth, who is no representative of Love, but an emblem of poetic immaturity.

     Longmore maintains his literary frame of reference by means of a series of allusions:  Iris, Hudibras, Falstaff, Caliban, Antinofis, and Apol are all cited in one stanza describing a harlequin figure.  Above this figure is the pair of horns which Baptisto will soon be forced to wear.  In an allegorical interpretation, the horns are the debased laurels ("a sign of some odd trade" — p. 44) worn by the poet who panders to the defective taste of the mob.  A harlequin, it should be noted, is precisely this kind of artist.  Longmore may be specifically satirizing S. H. Wilcocke, a writer of popular satires to whom, as McDonald states, Longmore alludes earlier in the poem.24  Be that as it may, the conduct of the vulgar artist is repugnant to those who share Longmore's classical outlook, as an earlier passage in The Charivari implies:

You've seen a clown in England, at a fair
   When expectation all his feeling raises,
Hoping, in grinning thro' a collar there
   To bear the prize, and gain the rabble's praises. (p. 23)

When confronted by the charivari, Baptisto wisely decides to make the best of it, to drop his pride, and to placate the disorderly crowd.  The important discrimination here is between placating and pandering, which are not at all synonymous.  It is significant, moreover, that the same epithet is used for the charivari and for hackneyed contemporary poets:  the crowd in the charivari "were of a motley sort" (p. 45), and earlier, as was noted, there is a reference to "a motley group of bards" (p. 12).  In this respect Longmore is analogous to Baptisto, in that he writes what Klinck calls "unashamedly middle-class literature,"25 but he could hardly be accused of pandering to his audience.

     Like the first two figures in the procession, the personification of Time allows an allegorical interpretation.  First, Time "certainly look'd most sublime," a reference which relates him to Longmore's two earlier deprecations of that literary term, both of which are cited above.  Second, there is an explicit parallel between the inept apparel of Time and inept poetry; the "incompetent" narrator, Longmore' s ironic mask, compares Time's lack of wings to his own tendency to forget his rhyme "when in a hurry" (p. 44).  To follow the allegorical implications to their limit, the suggestion here is that the hack writers satirized by Longmore will never attain the type of literary fame that triumphs over Time.

     To clarify, the contrasts which I am making are between, on the one hand, the crowd in the charivari, the incompetent narrator, and bad poets, and on the other, Baptisto, Longmore himself, and competent poets.  Thus the narrator lamely excuses his inadequate craftsmanship on the grounds of poetic license:

   Poet's [sic] are licens'd every body knows, —
Therefore, I will not utter more excuses
But stand to critics, cavils, and abuses. (p. 46)

Like Baptisto, but without his wisdom, the narrator must face the jeers of a disorderly crowd. When he does, he is included in a high burlesque of the charivari:

Oh, sad, disastrous night, — oh, lightning, thunder, —
   Oh, feuds of nations, or domestic quarrels,
What hands, and hearts do ye oft tear asunder
   Spoiling all mirth, and fun, — or spoiling morals,
Particularly those, who must knock under
   With bleeding nose, and face, or tarnish'd laurels. (p. 47)

The bombast of the opening line creates the proper inflated tone, which is then bathetically deflated by the descent to "domestic quarrels," as the stanza moves from a description of an apparent calamity to a reference to spoiled laughter.  By referring to "tarnish'd laurels," a noun usually associated with the poet's vocation, Longmore alerts the reader to the similarity inhering in the plights of Baptisto and the narrator.  The point is that bad poetry raises the same threat as a disorderly crowd.  Thus when Baptisto appears before the crowd, "You would have thought, Chaos had come again" (p. 49).  The allusion here is to The Dunciad, at the end of which "Chaos is restored"; for Longmore as for Pope, the seeds of chaos lie in the perverted taste of the vulgar.

     This allegorical interpretation of The Charivari runs counter to two prejudices of modern criticism.  One of these is the tendency not to recognize the integrity of works which are partially allegorical, despite the fact that Paradise Lost and The Rape of the Lock are two famous examples, and The Imperialist is a Canadian example, in which Lorne Murchison and the imperial ideal are almost identical. Northrop Frye has defined a "freistimmige style in which allegory may be picked up and dropped again at pleasure";26 The Charivari is this type of allegory.  Indeed, with Beppo as his model, this is the only possible type of allegory available to Longmore.  The second modern prejudice is the dislike of allegory, which is almost identified with the didactic.  In a crucial stanza, Longmore informs his reader of his own dislike of didacticism:

To vent a good round oath, or two [sic] possesses
   A keen sensation, in the electric spirit; —

Sparks of the heart's champagne, which effervesces
   And which we all, the more, or less [sic] inherit; —
Besides, sometimes, a hearty damn redresses
   A host of ills, and tho' it has no merit,
If chance we should be sermoniz'd; — what then? —
Why we forget, and swear an oath again. (p. 53)

The concluding couplet, by referring to the futility of sermonizing, plainly implies a disdain for literary didacticism, indicating why Longmore wrote the type of poem that he did.  The Charivari is not a didactic allegory in which every event has a one-to-one correspondence with an abstract idea, but a dramatic figuring forth of a richly suggestive situation.  The poem's events, especially the marriage and the charivari, have their implied analogues in the literary and, as I will also argue, the political realms.  The result is not moralizing (which Longmore mocks in a number of digressions), but a poem which moves inexorably towards its comic catharsis, a more complex version of the purgative effect attributed to oaths.

     To conclude the literary allegory, note that Baptisto retains his dignity when placating the crowd:  "he took all in patience which avail'd him . . ."

And at each salutation frankly bow'd
To the obsequious wishes of the crowd.  (p. 55)

In so doing, Baptisto becomes like an unashamed middle-class poet.   As a result of these actions, "all the crowd dispers'd who had been led / To join in sports" (p. 55); because the potentially violent emotions of the crowd are purged, the social order is strengthened.  And this valuable catharsis enables the reader to recognize the irony of the poem's conclusion, in which the narrator dismisses The Charivari as insubstantial:

But I cant say, that Satire, we should suffer
More than th' abuse of sweep, or candle-snuffer.  (p. 55)

Not only do these lines conflict with the earlier question, "who is he / That loves not satire's aim in some degree?" (p. 28), but the apparent dismissal is carefully controlled by an immediately preceding allusion to Hamlet:

There's nothing good or bad in Life, — but thinking
   Makes it to sense, and feeling so appear.

Longmore is no relativist — the speech of Hamlet is not only altered (in the original, Hamlet, speaking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in a markedly sardonic manner, says, "there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so),27 but it is ripped from its dramatic context, reminding the reader of the ironic disparity between actuality and the mistaken opinions of Longmore's narrator.  A similarly ironic self-depracation occurs in the following stanza, which contains another allusion to Shakespeare:

"Who steals my purse steals trash," — most gentle reader
    So says the bard, you all know the quotation. (p. 56)

Actually, these lines belong to "honest" lago, Shakespeare's most dissembling villain.28 The Charivari, despite the narrator's claim to the contrary, is not an instance of "Fancy, in its falsest features," but, rather, the work of "that which Nature's / Idea form'd us for, — a reasoning mind" (p. 56).  As a satirist, Longmore upholds the desirable by attacking the ridiculous; to understand his literary allegory, it is necessary to recognize the desirable ideals behind the digressive rambling of the narrator.

     I would also suggest, with D. M. R. Bentley, that a political allegory is present in the poem.29   This allegory first occurs as a fourth level in the two sleigh stanzas analysed above.  In the two years before the poem was published — and therefore during the time of its probable composition — an attempt was made to unite the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada in the Union Bill of 1822. Donald Creighton has observed that "during the autumn and winter of 1822-1823 every official and unofficial body in Canada felt called upon to express its opinion on what was easily the most important political issue of the time."30  To many, especially the English merchants in Lower Canada, political union seemed to be the solution to the problems arising from the separate legislatures established under the Constitutional Act of 1791.  The Bill of Union, however, was unfair to the French, who succeeded in resisting it:

The bill calmly proposed a return to English as the sole official language, along with a property franchise so high that most Frenchmen would be debarred from voting, to say nothing of Crown control of the revenue and some limitation on the freedom of the Roman Catholic Church.31

Longmore's opinion of the bill is at present unknown, and there is no direct reference to it in the two stanzas under consideration.  We may notice, however, that although the smoothness of a sleigh ride "rests upon the course you take," he suggests that cahots are hard to avoid:  "Suppose they're found on all roads, where's your cure?" (p. 31).  That is, he implies that his simile is apt for other situations, specifically those involving some type of union, "For Hymen is the road, most of us take / And they are fortunate, who get no shake" (p. 31).  The sympathetic depiction of his protagonist, Baptisto, whose very name, clearly a variant of Jean Baptiste, patron saint of French Canada, suggests a sympathetic attitude towards French culture, along with the setting, the time of composition, as well as some subsequent comments — all imply that the marriage of Baptisto and Annette may symbolically represent a political union of the two provinces.   In the two stanzas under discussion, the point may be that the defeat of the Union Bill of 1822 is only a cahot on the road to union.

     If the charivari was intended as a political as well as a literary allegory, relevance is given to the nine-stanza political digression which occurs after the description of the outstanding figures in the procession.  The gist of this passage is that whereas English politicians debate abstract notions frequently and heatedly, Canadian parliaments

          understand, "the Arithmetical, — [sic]
Profit and Loss, — Tare, — Tret — Discount or Barter, —
And any "Bill," — better than "Magna Charta." (p. 46)

While "Bill" refers initially to financial debts, the mention of "Magna Carta" adds a political connotation, and thus it may also refer to the Union Bill, particularly in the light of the following stanza:

They'll knock you, Resolutions, down with clamour
   Upon all subjects, understood, or not,
As speedily as dry goods to the hammer
   And think th'entail of Liberty has got
Most specious pleaders, (barring slips of grammar)
   To bind their privileges to a spot,
But these "soi-disant" patriots — their communion
Bars any creed, whose psalmody is "Union." (p. 47)

In this, his clearest reference to the Union Bill, Longmore appears as an advocate of equitable union.  His use of religious diction ("communion, creed, psalmody") may be a subtle reference to the infringement of the power of the Roman Catholic church under the inequitable terms proposed in 1822.  More importantly, his references to the vested interests of the mercantilist class (with their "dry goods" and "privileges") implies that, in Longmore's view, the defeat of the Union Bill was due as much to the greed of the English merchants as to the resistance of the French.  The latter are criticized in the phrase "'soi-disant' patriots," a palpable allusion to Papineau's "patriots," who vigorously opposed political union.  Longmore's suggestion is that the true union is a compromise between the two extremes.

     Because he has recently married, Baptisto, on the level of political allegory, is an advocate of union, and the charivari represents all the elements of unenlightened self-interest which caused the defeat of the Union Bill.  With his symbolic name, Baptiste stands for a union which respects the culture of the French.  Although disturbed, he will not "fume, and pout"; thus he declares,

   "Knowing particularly each protraction
"Would only bring my doors down, and my dishes —
"Pray, have the goodness to explain your wishes?" (p. 52)

Like Clarissa in The Rape of the Lock, Baptisto is the voice of common sense, able to recognize that the ideal (in this case, political union) must be tempered by the exigencies of the actual (the forces collectively represented by the charivari).  As the narrator knows, in attempting to deny a mob, one may appear like Canute challenging the ocean, who only "Prov'd himself, like some since, — a royal fool" (p. 52).  In this description of royal folly, Longmore may be glancing at the representatives of George IV who failed to secure union under the harsh terms of 1822.

     Although The Charivari is not, as has been demonstrated, a flatly didactic poem, Longmore's version of its "moral" is suggestive:

Let no one wait, until a certain age,
   That is, — old bachelor, for Hymen's blisses
But think, (if Canada should be the stage,)
   Charivari, may hail his wedlock kisses, —
And not delay his happiness, so late,
But learn a lesson from Baptisto's fate. (p. 56)

He phrases the moral in terms of a warning, not in terms of a platitude.  As so often in the poem, these lines allude to Beppo. In that poem, Byron had used the phrase "a certain age" to describe those whose age is too advanced to be politely mentioned (Byron, p. 626).  Adapting this term to his own poem, Longmore warns Canada not to wait until it becomes the national equivalent of an aged bachelor and spinster.  He uses the experience of his protagonist to amplify his warning:  according to the custom, Baptisto is given a charivari only because of his advanced age.  Therefore those who marry in their youth (and Canada is again implied) may avoid the noisy interruption which Baptisto encounters.  Finally, the last lesson to learn "from Baptisto's fate" is that although he delayed his happiness "so late," it was not too late.  In the logic of the political allegory, however difficult the prospects for union may be, they can be surmounted by the type of common sense demonstrated by Baptisto.

     A study of The Charivari offers some provocative insights into early Canadian culture.  Longmore lambasts his Canadian contemporaries as derivative, not because their models are European — he unabashedly declares his own indebtedness to Byron — but because, in their work, "fancy's slow" (p. 12).  That is to say, the basis of his satire is aesthetic, not political. In The Charivari, Longmore suggests that the Canadian poet, to be successful, must adopt the middle way chosen by Baptisto; his work must be accessible but not vulgar.  In his political allegory, Longmore transforms Byron's cosmopolitanism into a respect for Canada's English and French cultures, both of which must coexist in any true union.  Whether the text of The Charivari supports the allegorical interpretations advanced above may be subject to some debate.  Similarly, not all readers will agree with my tacit contention that in The Charivari George Longmore attains a technical and intellectual complexity unapproached by Levi Adams in Jean Baptiste.32  There are, however, two issues raised in this article which are less controvertible: The Charivari is a capable imitation of Byron, to whom Longmore alludes throughout, and it is also an unjustly neglected early Canadian poem.


  1. Introd., Jean Baptiste:  A Poetic Olio, in II Cantos, by Levi Adams (Ottawa:  Golden Dog Press, 1978), p. 5.[back]

  2. For this statistic I am indebted to Mary Lu McDonald, "Some Notes on the Montreal Literary Scene in the Mid-1820's," Canadian Poetry:  Studies, Documents, Reviews, 5 (Fall/Winter, 1979), 30.[back]

  3. The advertisement is reprinted by McDonald in her introduction to The Charivari, or Canadian Poetics (Ottawa:  Golden Dog Press, 1977), p. 3.   Subsequent references to this poem will be incorporated into the text.[back]

  4. "The Charivari by Launcelot Longstaff," Canadian Magazine and Literary Repository, II (1824), 376.[back]

  5. "The Charivari," The Canadian Review and Literary and Historical Journal, I(1824), 187.[back]

  6. "Some Notes," 38.[back]

  7. William Ellery Leonard, Byron and Byronism in America (1905; rpt., New York:  Haskell House, 1964), p. 40.  I refer to the several partial or complete stanzas of asterisks in Jean Baptiste, for which there is no other raison d'être; see especially p. 24, p. 34, and p. 41 of that poem.[back]

  8. A Fable for Critics, cited in Leonard, p. 39.  As Byron said of Don Juan, "the Soul of such writing is its license"; see his letter "To John Murray," August 12, 1819, in "The flesh is frail," Vol. VI of Byron's Letters and Journals, ed. Leslie A. Marchand (Cambridge:  Belknap Press, 1976), p. 208.[back]

  9. See Fred Cogswell, Literary Activity in the Maritime Provinces 1815-1880 in Literary History of Canada, ed. Carl F. Klinck (Toronto:  University of Toronto Press, 1965), pp. 106-07.[back]

  10. "Lord Byron," in Tales of Chivalry and Romance (Edinburgh:  James Robertson and Company, 1826), p. 294, p. 298.  Once mistakenly attributed to Levi Adams, the volume is now recognized as the work of George Longmore.  For a full discussion of Longmore's identity, see Mary Lu McDonald, "George Longmore:  A New Literary Ancestor," The Dalhousie Review, LIX (1979), 265-85.[back]

  11. "The Charivari and Levi Adams," The Dalhousie Review, XL (1960), 36.[back]

  12. Byron's Poetry:  A Critical Introduction (Boston:  Houghton Muffin, 1965), p. 150.[back]

  13. Beppo, A Venetian Story, in Poetical Works, ed.  Frederick Page, corrected by John Jump (London:  Oxford University Press, 1970; rpt.  1975), p. 629.  Subsequent references to this edition will be incorporated into the text, after the word "Byron."[back]

  14. Marchand, Introduction, p. 149.[back]

  15. "Charivari and Adams," 34-36.[back]

  16. The punctuation of this stanza is inexplicable:  clearly an apostrophe should follow "minstrel," and the commas in the last line are inappropriate, in that it is not Pegasus whom the narrator is addressing.  Because of similar problems throughout this edition, problems which are evident in subsequent citations, there is good reason to believe that McDonald, who says nothing on the subject of editing, has not presented her reader with a reliable text.  In several instances, the punctuation confuses the reader, as in the periods at the end of stanzas 72 (p. 29) and 111 (p. 39), where in both cases the line runs on into the following stanza.   "Here" in stanza 126 is certainly a misprint of "Her," and the punctuation of the penultimate line of the following stanza (p. 43) makes it difficult to recover any sense at all.  Similar errors occur throughout the volume, but perhaps the most serious flaw (as in the editing of Jean Baptiste) resides in the omission of the epigraph. For reproductions of the original title pages of The Charivari and Jean Baptiste, see Laurence M. Lande, Old Lamps Aglow:  An Appreciation of Early Canadian Poetry (Montreal:  Lande, 1957), p. 130, p. 109.  As one can there discover, Longmore's epigraph is from Much Ado About Nothing, I.i:

    Benedick — Is it come to this — i'faith? — Hath not the world one man, but he will wear his cap with suspicion? Shall I never see a bachelor of threescore again? — Go to, i'faith; and thou wilt needs thrust thy neck into a yoke, wear the print of it, and sigh away Sundays.[back]

  17. Charles W. Hagelman, Jr., and Robert J. Barnes, A Concordance to Byron's Don Juan (New York:  Cornell University Press, 1967), pp. 788-89.[back]

  18. See, for example, stanza LII of Beppo, p. 629: "I've half a mind to tumble down to prose,! But verse is more in fashion — so here goes."[back]

  19. "To John Murray," March 25, 1818, in "The flesh," p. 25.[back]

  20. Levi Adams, unwilling to accept man's imperfection, lacks this aspect of the Byronic vision:

    Not, not that I grieve, the moments past to scan;
    I grieve to see th' inconstancy of man. (p. 18)[back]

  21. The following lines from Don Juan are representative:

    Oh Plato!  Plato!  you have paved the way,
       With your confounded fantasies, to more
    Immoral conduct by the fancied sway
       Your system feigns o'er the controlless core
    Of human hearts, than all the long array
       Of poets and romancers: — You're a bore,
    A charlatan, a coxcomb — and have been,
    At best, no better than a go-between.  (p. 649)[back]

  22. Klinck, Introd., Baptiste, p. 7.  Neither do I agree with Klinck's contention that Adams has a more "practical" (p. 7) understanding of love.  Adams' satire is vitiated by such instances of gratuitous and hackneyed sentimentality as the following stanza:

    There's bitterness in love we cant [sic] endure,
    To know that we have lov'd and lov'd in vain,
    To seek the little bark — (in hope made sure,)
    That did our dearest, fondest hopes contain,
    And floated on the tide of life secure,
    For months, — perhaps for years, — bewreck'd amain,
    On disappointment's ruthless shoals — and see
    How near allied are love and — misery.  (p. 35)

    The bitterness of the narrator fails to blend with the burlesque of the protagonist-lover.[back]

  23. In Selected Poetry and Prose, ed.  William K. Wimsatt, 2nd ed.  (Toronto:  Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972), p. 70, 11. 82-87.[back]

  24. Introd., Charivari, p. 10.[back]

  25. "Charivari and Adams," 36.[back]

  26. Anatomy of Criticism:  Four Essays (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1957; rpt.  1971), p. 90.[back]

  27. See Hamlet, II.ii.253-55.[back]

  28. In deceiving Othello, Iago makes the following speech:

    Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
    'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
    But he that filches from me my good name
    Robs me of that which not enriches him
    And makes me poor indeed.

    See Othello, III.iii.157-61.[back]

  29. "A New Dimension: Notes on the Ecology of Canadian Poetry," Canadian Poetry:  Studies, Documents, Reviews, 7 (Fall/Winter, 1980), 5-6.  I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge my indebtedness to D. M. R. Bentley, who commented most helpfully on an earlier version of this paper.[back]

  30. The Empire of the St. Lawrence (1937; reprinted and revised, Toronto:  MacMillan Company, 1956), p. 216.[back]

  31. Arthur R. M. Lower, A History of Canada, Colony to Nation (1946; rpt., Toronto:  McClelland and Stewart, 1977), p. 225.  Stanley Ryerson, Unequal Union, 2nd ed. (Toronto:  Progress Books, 1973), p. 45, sees the 1822 Bill as the culmination of "a new drive to anglicize Lower Canada."[back]

  32. Commenting on the many similarities between these two works, Klinck writes (Introd., Baptiste, p. 6), "Not all of the queries . . . are swept away by the new evidence" of Longmore's identity.  There are political implications to Adams' poem as well, especially towards the end ofthe first canto, where a reference to "our superb Constitution" (p. 21) indicates a full acceptance of the Constitutional Act of 1791, and allusions to "Religion et Liberté," "sackcloth," and "St. Thomas" would appear to disparage the French cause.[back]