Buchanan's Letters


To Charles G.D. Roberts


     *     *     * enjoyed your wheelbarrow game! But it is nowhere written that we must always be the wheelbarrows, you the wheelbarrowers. What oafs men—yes, even you, my dear—can be! “The truth is a precious ore—too rich a pearl for carnal boar!”1
     Breezy Brae is now nearly buried in snow, and the barns and fields around the house all wrapped up and tucked away under a napkin, as it were. Mr. Scott2 was to have made me a visit, and I had promised myself much pleasure in cooking him up a big meal as I did for you, and discussing the Universe over a leg of pork, parsnips, and perhaps a few potatoes. I have recently read his Via Boarialis [sic] and I think they far exceed The Magic Horse [sic]—they are, I fancy, a later produce from his stockyard. Some of these new poems are wonderfully tasty morsels. Their subtleties are worthy of a Toronto chef! Still, there is something absent—a good deal absent—from the sinewy boniness of the man. What is that, you ask?
     He doesn’t patronize the butcher—his muse needs roast pork, cooked to a crackle. Nevertheless, I regard Mr. Scott as possessing a quality of genius as lofty and profound as almost any other Canadian singer has hereto shown in the printed form. Mr. Lampman3—though I should not speak ill of the dead—is a bullfrog to his cicada, and Mr. Carman—4though I should not speak ill of your cousin—a mere grasshopper. How great was Canada’s loss with the death of dear James last year!5 Will we ever hear the likes again of his stirring “Ode on the Mammoth Cheese”? What nourishment there is in such lines as

We have seen thee, queen of cheese
Lying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze,
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.

All gaily dressed soon you’ll go
To the great Provincial show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.

Oh to do for the pig what the master has done for the cheese!
     But what is the use—this country gives not a whit (I almost said more!) for its poets. As I told Jim and Nora years ago, Canada is an old sow that eats her farrow.6

Your own,


No more talke of barrows—or I'll make you into one, with no wheel.7

  1. Cf. Samuel Butler, Hudibras, II, 257-58: “For truth is precious and divine,— / Too rich a pearl for carnal swine.” Together with the preceding comments, Buchanan’s substitution of “boar”—a male pig—for “swine”—a male or female pig—suggests a disenchantment with Roberts and, perhaps, a growing feminist consciousness. [back]
  2. Duncan Campbell Scott (1862-1947), an Ottawa civil servant and versifier, who in 1907 had published four books of verse, two of which are subsequently mentioned by Buchanan: The Magic House and Other Poems (1893) and Via Borealis (1906). [back]
  3. Archibald Lampman (b. 1861), another Ottawa civil servant and versifier, died on February 10, 1899. [back]
  4. Bliss Carman (1861-1929), Roberts’s cousin and fellow poet. [back]
  5. James McIntyre (b. 1827), a poet and long-time resident of Ingersoll, Ontario, died on March 5, 1906. His first volume of poetry, Musings on the Banks of the Canadian Thames was published in 1884 and his Poems, from which Buchanan quotes the opening stanzas of his most celebrated “Ode,” in 1889. [back]
  6. This is the only hint in Buchanan’s extant correspondence of an acquaintanceship with James Joyce and Nora Barnacle that may date from her years in Ireland (see Séamus O’Toole “MMB: the Galway Years” p. 151). Cf. Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, ed. Chester Anderson (New York: Penguin, 1977), p. 203: “Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow.” [back]
  7. Buchanan appears to be punning on “barrow,” a castrated young boar. [back]