I: Erie and Erieus

In Canada. A Descriptive Poem, Written at Quebec, 1805, Cornwall Bayley refers only in passing to the region that little more than a decade later became the setting for the first surviving poem of length by a writer born in Canada: Adam Hood Burwell's Talbot Road: A Poem (1818). To Bayley, the very subject that Burwell takes as his theme--the advance of European settlement on the shores of Lake Erie--is a source of delighted surprise:

Now on wild Erie . . . the scatter'd cot, But proves the former deserts of the spot; . . . [and] the frequent fires that blaze, declare How cultivation even travels there!1

Behind these lines lie two passages that may also have been in Burwell's mind when he "Aw[o]ke [his] muse" (1) to celebrate Colonel Thomas Talbot's contribution to the "cultivation" of part of Lake Erie's north shore. The first of these is Isaac Weld's lengthy description in his Travels of the violent storms that he encountered while travelling along the lake towards the "[s]ettlements . . . now [in 1796] scattered" to its southeast.2 The second is Thomas Campbell's imaginative account in The Pleasures of Hope of the salutary effects of "Improvement" on what he, too, regarded as an extra­ordinarily "wild" part of the world:

On Erie's banks, where tigers steal along,
And the dread Indian chants a dismal song,
Where human fiends on midnight errands walk,
And bathe in brains the murderous tomahawk­
There shall the flocks on thymy pasture stray,
And shepherds dance at Summer's opening day,
Each wandering genius of the lonely glen
Shall start to view the glittering haunts of men,
And Silence watch, on woodland heights around,
The village curfew as it tolls profound.3

When Burwell wrote and published Talbot Road in 1818, the day when "[t]he Town, the Village shall be seen to rise" (574) on the north shore of Lake Erie still lay some distance in the future; however, the "glittering haunts of men" were by then abundantly evident in the "chain of . . . farms" (607) that stretched along the Talbot Road--along, that is, the system of roads, surveyed mainly by the poet's brother, Mahlon, in 1809-1811, which connected Port Talbot (the site of the Colonel's residence and centre of his settlement) with Niagara to the east, Amherstburg to the west, and Westminster Township (near present-day London, Ontario) to the north.4 Like the later and better­known settlement poems with which it invites comparison, Oliver Goldsmith's The Rising Village and Alexander McLachlan's The Emigrant, Talbot Road chronicles and celebrates the past achievements, present state, and future prospects of a pioneer community, in this case one that had taken root in a part of Canada that only a few years earlier had been regarded as particularly remote and inhospitable.

The fact that Talbot Road is carefully sited and dated "Talbot Road, Southwold, / 28th May, 1818" points to the presence in Burwell's poem of a commemorative dimension that is absent from the works of Goldsmith and McLachlan. It was fifteen years earlier, in May, 1803, that Colonel Talbot took possession of his original land grant of five thousand acres in Middlesex County,5 and, as Michael Williams has revealed, the Anniversary of this event was celebrated annually on May 21 in Port Talbot, and, later, in London, from 1817 onwards.6 For a time in the early 'twenties Burwell was the Secretary of the Committee responsible for organizing the Talbot Anni­versary celebration, a jamboree held, at least on the occasion described by the poet in a letter of 1822, at a tavern on the Talbot Road.7 Did Burwell compose Talbot Road for the Talbot Anniversary in 1818? Was the poem read aloud as part of the festivities, perhaps during or after a formal dinner, in Port Talbot? There is no evidence to support these speculations, but some notable parallels between Talbot Road and the Talbot Anniversary celebration described by Burwell in 1822 (see Appendix I) suggest the suitability of the poem for the occasion. Among the toasts drunk at the anniversary dinner in 1822 were several that have clear echoes in the themes of Talbot Road--a toast to Talbot, a toast to the Talbot Anniversary (with the hope that it "may . . . be celebrated every year with increasing festivity"), a toast to "Agriculture and Commerce," and a toast to the "Memory of General Brock."8 Between praising Talbot and looking optimistically towards the future of his settlement, Talbot Road similarly celebrates agriculture, "Commerce" (563), and the "patriot brave" (401) of the war of 1812. To see Burwell's poem in the context of the Talbot Anniversary celebration in a local tavern is to be reminded of the primacy given to memories of "past events"--to reminiscences of "danger, trouble, hardship, toil, and strife" successfully overcome--in Goldsmith's account of the "social pleasures" of the "tavern" in the The Rising Village,9 and, moreover, to recognize the kinship between the poet of settlement and the `old man with his pint' as custodians and raconteurs of local history.

By Burwell's own account in a letter of August 23, 1831, he received notice of his poetic gifts in a dream sometime before he had even "begun to learn the rudiments of language."

I was at my brother's near Port Talbot at work in the field.
Being much fatigued I came into the house precisely at noon,
the sun shining very hot. I threw myself on the bed, fell
instantly asleep and dreamed this singular dream:-- "That the
Oracle had foretold, that on a given year, month, and day of
this reign of George the third, which day should be his
birthday, a poet who should be a great man poeta homo
magnus--should be born in Upper Canada. On examination
being made, it was found that all the circumstances named by
the oracle, agreed exactly with the circumstances of my
nativity," and I instantly awoke and sprung out of bed ....
I looked at the shadow of the sun on the noon mark, and
could not perceive that it had moved.--I was born June 4th,
1790, near Fort Erie.10

While this extraordinary event left Burwell with the "strong impression" that he had a "duty to serve [his] native country in some singular degree,"11 it did not, unfortunately, specify the precise direction that his "duty" should take. Indeed, a few moments with the curriculum vita of the "poeta homo magnus" reveals three distinct phases to Burwell's life, each with its own duties and greater or lesser relevance to Talbot Road.

In 1831 when he recounted his oracular dream to his friend John Macauley, the editor of The Kingston Chronicle, Burwell had been for four years a priest in the Church of England. At that time, his literary duties were taking two principal forms: (1) a series of essays, broadly Anglican and largely conservative in emphasis, in Macauley's newspaper over the pseudonym "One of the People"; and (2) the editorship of The Christian Sentinel and Anglo-Canadian Churchman's Magazine, a short-lived "diocesan chronicle under the patronage of the Bishop of Quebec [Jacob Mountain]" to which Burwell himself, according to John Strachan, contributed "far too much . . . and often upon difficult [theological] subjects."12 By the mid-thirties, Burwell had abandoned the Church of England and entered a new phase of his life in the Catholic Apostolic Church, the evangelical organization to which he would devote the remainder of his spiritual and literary energies. Such essays as "On the Doctrine of Social Unity" and "On the Philosophy of Human Perfection and Happiness," which expresses his "commitment to achieving a fundamentalist Christian society," were published in The Literary Garland only months before Burwell's death in November, 1849 in Kingston, where he had "helped to found the first Catholic Apostolic Church in North America."13 None of this is entirely irrelevant to Talbot Road, for in the aggregate Burwell's activities in the later phases of his life arose from the same intense concern with religio-political matters that is evident in the poem, not least in its praise of Talbot's "Philanthropy" (557) and its emphasis on "meek Religion" (641).

But obviously the phase of Burwell's life that is most relevant to Talbot Road is the phase surrounding the execution of the poem in c. 1818. Thanks to the researches of Carl F. Klinck, Mary Lu MacDonald, and Michael Williams, Burwell is known to have published over forty poems in various newspapers and periodicals in Upper and Lower Canada between his oracular dream and his ordination as a deacon in the Church of England (March, 1827).14 Most of these are signed "Erieus," a pseudonym that Burwell abandoned at the end of 1826 when he left the Talbot Settlement to study for holy orders in Quebec, a departure rendered eloquently and appropriately enough in terms of the natale solum motif ("Land of my birth! one lingering, last adieu, / One fond expression of unfeigned regard . . ." and so on) in "Farewell to the Shores of Erie," dated "December 26, 1826."15 On August 5, 1819, the Niagara Gleaner contained a proposal for "publishing by subscription" "The Original Poems of Erieus" by "Adam Hood Burwell, of Talbot-Road, Upper Canada," a "Volume of about 250 Pages, octavo" that was to have included "The Gourlayad, a Poem in doggerel verse, with notes" (presumably on the controversial reformer Robert Gourlay) and would have cost its subscribers 7s. 6d.16 Apart from its proposal, no trace of "[t]his . . . first attempt" to publish a volume of verse in Upper Canada has survived.17 Talbot Road, originally published in two instalments in the Niagara Spectator on July [31 ] and August 6,18 1818 and subsequently reprinted in Klinck's Adam Hood Burwell: Pioneer Poet of Upper Canada, thus remains Burwell's longest, extant poem--the most considerable product of the phase of his life in which he styled himself "Erieus," a name embodying his conviction that he had been "[n]ursed by . . . [Erie's] wilds and solitudes [and] / Grew like the plants that flourish on . . . [Erie's] soil . . . ."19

Almost needless to say, the difference between cataloguing Canada's plants and counting oneself among them is the difference between an emigrant and a native sensibility. With Burwell and Talbot Road, then, comes a parting of the ways for poetry in Canada. Poems by British emi­grants (later, immigrants)--Standish O'Grady, Alexander McLachlan, Isabella Valancy Crawford, and others--will and do continue to appear. But slightly to one side of them--the side, it is tempting to say, nearer the country--runs a poetic continuity consisting of the work of such native-born writers as Burwell, Goldsmith, Charles Sangster, and Archibald Lampman. Yet, despite differences in attitude certainly and sensibility also perhaps, the poets ranged along these parallel continuities have much in common; throughout the nine­teenth century (and well into the twentieth) a similar cultural climate regulated intellectual developments both in Britain and Canada; writers born in both places shared the same epistemological assumptions, sought publication in very similar niches, and, unless they were at the innovative edge of their craft, selected models from the same array of choices. Much may separate Burwell and Goldsmith, for example, from Thomas Cary and Cornwall Bayley, but Talbot Road, The Rising Village, Abram's Plains, and Canada have much in common, from their use of the decasyllabic couplet to their deployment of the picturesque aesthetic, and the question of how, where, and with what success these and other conventions are brought to bear on the landscape of Canada remains as pertinent to a poem published in 1818 as it is to other works written in Georgian Canada, whether by emigrants or natives.

II: Talbot Road and Talbot Road: A Poem

The generic tag in the title of Talbot Road may well have been intended by Burwell to emphasize the literary and elevated quality of his most extended work. Here, says Talbot Road: A Poem, resides a formal treatment of an important subject, a `capital P' Poem in which the manner--heroic couplets--both suits the matter--Canada's most impressive road--and aggrandizes it, raises it to a hitherto unattempted level of dignity and significance. Nor is such an initial impression contradicted either by the appearance of an "Argument" between the title and the poem proper or by the presence in Burwell's opening verse paragraphs of an "Invocation" and of such expressions as "Direct my hand . . .," "A nobler theme . . . / Is now the arduous task to me assign'd . . .," and "For Talbot Road, say first, what master hand / This work protected, and its order plann'd?" (3, 5-6, 11-12). That the Argument, the Invocation, and even the locution "say first" bring to mind the opening pages of both Paradise Lost and An Essay on Man20 is, of course, very much to the point, for the purpose of the title and preliminaries of Talbot Road is surely to signal the presence in Burwell's work of the highest literary art: a divinely inspired and rationally ordered poem which, if the "muse" but "grant . . . [the poet's] humble prayer" (9) will both reflect and enhance the "dignity" (7) of Talbot Road and its "philanthropic" (16) creator by describing them in the language and form of England's great Christian-humanist poets.

Yet already evident in the title Talbot Road: A Poem, and increasingly so in such lines as "For Talbot Road, say first, what master hand . . .?" and "There Otter Creek unfolds a beauteous scene . . ." (39), there is evident a curious jostling between Burwell's matter and manner. Very likely, the major source of this problem is the great gap between the elevated diction of the poet's chosen medium ("master hand," "beauteous scene") and the very mundane reality ("Talbot Road," "Otter Creek") that he imbeds in it. Burwell was not, of course, the first or the last poet writing in Canada to encounter the difficulty of finding, a decorous fit between his North American subject-matter and the language of English poetry, but his difficulties may well have been compounded by a further problem: the dis­junction between the rhetoric of magnification associated with traditional heroism (such as that of Wolfe, as celebrated by Cary in Abram's Plains, for example) and the traditionally rather unheroic nature of the activities celebrated in Talbot Road--pioneering, farming, and road-building. The only road-building in Paradise Lost, it may be observed, takes place in Book II under the ægis of Satan ("Sin and Death amain .... Pav'd after him a broad and beat'n way . . ." [ 1025-1026]), a fact that either reinforces the unintended irony of the link between Talbot and the "infernal Serpent" which comes by way of "say first" and other phrases in Talbot Road or raises the unlikely possibility that Burwell saw Satan with Romantic eyes as the hero of Milton's poem and thus as an appropriately energetic analogue for Talbot. (This would, of course, make "Lake Erie's shore" [31] the equivalent of Hell and render completely anomalous the "little Eden" [618] created by each farmer in the Talbot Settlement.) To the extent that he was the first poet in Canada to grapple with the difficulty of presenting the activities of the pioneer, the farmer, and the road-builder in heroic terms--a difficulty shortly to be encountered again by Goldsmith and again much later by the Crawford of Malcolm's Katie and the Pratt of Towards the Last Spike--Burwell must be admired for his own pioneering efforts.

It must also be said that the points in Talbot Road where incon­gruities of manner and matter (or levels of diction) court a tone-shattering pathos are also the points at which Burwell most succeeds in conveying something of the reality of his place and time. "Thro' a broad valley rapid Catfish [Creek] glides,-- / O'er pebbly beds. . ." (55-56) and "Talbot Street / And Otter Creek, at proper angles meet" (199-200) are brief instances of this phenomenon. But more remarkable and memorable is Burwell's later and longer description of a log cabin:

Then rose the cabin rude, of humblest form,
To shield from rain, and guard against the storm;
Logs pil'd on logs, 'till closing overhead­-
With ample sheets of bark of elms o'erspread,
And rough-hewn planks, to make homely floor,
A paper window, and a blanket door.
Such dwellings, first, the hardy settlers made­-
What could they more?--necessity forbade.


In these lines Burwell abandons for a moment his attempt to aggrandize his subject and, instead, allows the realities of the Talbot Settlement to enter the poem and dictate the movement of its couplets. The cxsuras that occur near the centre of each line but one mimic the additive process ("Logs pil'd on logs . . . A paper window, and a blanket door") involved in building a cabin, and some well-placed extra stresses ("Lógs píl'd on logs . . . And rough-héwn planks . . .") give certain phrases an appropriate weight and unevenness. By contrast, the ensuing lines put driving alliteration, repeated anaphora (here emphasized), and the rhythmic bounce of some lilting trochees ("faírer próspects waíted," for example) at the service of a soaring vision of the Settlement's future:  

'Twas well--each one a full conviction felt
That fairer prospects waited where he dwelt;
That plenty soon would crown his honest toil,
And providence upon his labors smile,
And freedom keep her mild, protecting hand
Extended kindly, o'er so fair a land ....
(235-240; emphasis added)

If in the previous passage one "rude" and "humble"--not to say wooden-- "form" found its fitting reflection in another, here the "fairer prospects" of the future find their formal equivalent in lines that smoothly and with apparent effortlessness pile blessings and clauses one upon the other. Burwell may not always have successfully managed the decorum of his poem, but he had sufficient skill and sensitivity to give memorable and stirring expression to the achievements and aspirations of the Talbot Settlement.

The centre around which that Settlement pivoted was, of course, Talbot himself, its aristocratic "father" and autocratic "supervisor"21 for some thirty-five years after its inception in 1803. While most long poems written and published in Canada during the Georgian period contain flattering, and, no doubt, self-interested, comments on one or more of the country's powerful men, Talbot Road is unique in the extent and extravagance of its encomium to Talbot. To the leading questions of "what master hand / . . . projected, and . . . plann'd" the Settlement and who "[b]ade the wild woods their rudest forms resign, / And springing beauty o'er the desert shine?" (11-14),22 Burwell's muse replies emphatically and without hesitation:  


'Twas TALBOT--he, with ardent, patriot mind,
The noble plan, philanthropic, design'd;
Began the same, upheld, and saw it close,
Tho' all the warring fates against him rose.


One possible referent for the last line is the War of 1812, which, as chronicled later in the poem, dealt some severe blows to the Talbot Settlement, including the destruction of property owned by Talbot himself and by various members of the Burwell family, not least the poet's brother Mahlon.23 But the line also intimates a knowledge on Burwell's part of the resistance to Talbot's "noble plan" and high-handed practices that had taken him between November, 1817 and June, 1818 to England to gain support from Lord Bathurst, the Colonial Secretary, for his system of "personally selecting settlers and withholding their fees" until they had "completed their settlement duties."24 The fact that Burwell's poem was dedicated to Talbot "[i]n [his] absence to England" raises the possibility that it was also written during that period and with the aim, at least in part, of justifying Talbot's ways and schemes to his detractors both on the Settlement and in the Province at large. This would certainly help to account for the encomiastic and propagandistic features of Talbot Road, as well as its insistence on Talbot's "philanthrop[y]" and on the "freedom" (16, 239) and "Liberty" (141) enjoyed by the inhabitants of his Settlement.

By Burwell's account, it was in about 1801, when "Talbot began farming at `Skitteewaabaa,' believed to be near the mouth of Kettle Creek on the North Shore of Lake Erie,"25 that he conceived his "noble plan" for a Settlement in the area:

On Erie's bank, first his lone cabin stood,
Remote from man, amidst a tow'ring wood ....

*          *          *

'Twas here th'eventful scheme of Talbot Road,
Great Scheme! first from his mind spontaneous flow'd,
Destin'd to bless, some not far distant time,
The happiest country in the happiest clime.

(19-20, 23-26)

As the expression "from his mind spontaneous flow'd" already suggests, Burwell's Talbot is the seemingly God-like and potent progenitor of a Settlement that came into being as a result of his imaginative and physical penetration of a "fertile" (38), "productive" (77), and, inevitably, female nature whose woods he "pierc'd" (92) in 1803. At that time--and with a clear echo of Genesis 1. 3-5--he "brought to light" from "geographic night" "Bayham and Mallahide," "two fair towns" (93-94) which, though previously surveyed, had thereto lain in chaotic and unproductive darkness. As he interrogates himself about the "future state" of his property, Talbot articulates his "philanthropic" motives and clarifies his relation to divine creativity. Nature, given to man for his use and benefit by God in Genesis 1. 28, works "`in vain"' when it remains "`untenanted"' and "'unappropriated,"' particularly when there are "`thousands [who] want its 'vantages the while"' (97-100). Appropriating for himself the "task" and "pleasure" of bringing "`human beings"' to the north shore of Lake Erie, Talbot figures forth his "work" as an act of transforming or reclothing an external world which both he and the narrator continue to view as female and, moreover, less attractive when naked and wild than when fully and elaborately dressed. "`Earth shall resign the burden of her breast, / And wear a richer, variegated vest'," asserts a prescient Talbot in a passage later echoed by the narrator: "Thro' nature's wilds the muse our steps hath led, / Where we've beheld her pristine form display'd, / And seen the changeful hand of time prepare, / A robe, more pleasing, for herself to wear . . ." (471-474).

Carole Fabricant could be commenting on these and other passages in Talbot Road when she connects the eighteenth-century habit of viewing nature as "a maiden in need of sartorial assistance, as a goddess alternately being stripped bare and clothed in finery," with a desire to "redress" or "cancel out the ill effects of the Fall" by recreating a "Paradisical existence" in a corner of the post-lapsarian world.26 Not only was the ability to do this a sign of male power, observes Fabricant, but it also frequently involved a masculine fantasy of regaining an Eden as yet uncomplicated by women--"a yearning to recapture that brief moment in human time when man had Paradise all to himself so that his mastery over the created world was absolute . . . ."27 If there was an element of "masculine fantasy" in Bur well's depiction of Talbot, it is certainly continued and elaborated in the ensuing account of Talbot Road's first settler and second father, a "solitary man" who again deprives nature of her virginity ("pierc[es] the woods") and demonstrates his "mastery" over her ("Then bow'd the forest to his frequent stroke . . ."[119]). "[U]naided and alone," like Adam before the creation of Eve, this "solitary man" receives encouragement in his "arduous task" from some very Miltonic "Angels" who, after "breath[ing] celestial love" over his "labours," speak lines reminiscent of God's commands in Genesis 1. 28 ("Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it . . ."):  

"Go on and prosper, for thine eyes shall see
The steps of thousands, soon to follow thee;
Go on and prosper, for the fostering hand
Of heaven, shall plant this highly favor'd land."


That the Angels' concluding words echo Gabriel's salutation of the Virgin Mary in Luke 1. 28 ("Hail! thou that art highly favoured . . .") is consistent with Burwell's view of nature as both sacred and submissive, virginal and fertile.

When Burwell envisages the north shore of Lake Erie before the commencement of the Talbot Settlement, he sees a landscape relatively unaffected by the consequences of the Fall. True, there are "Sylvan recesses, dark o'erhanging groves,. . . Where lurks the fox in crafty, sly career" (81-83),28 but, for the most part, "The happiest country in the happiest clime" (26) remains untainted by the sin, or even the presence,29 of man; its waters are "Pure," "fair and clear" (28, 34); its breezes are freighted with "incense" and "the fragrance of eternal bloom" (46, 50); and, later, each of its farms is a "little Eden" (618) of independence. Three times the word "beauteous" (33, 39, 65) is used to describe the aesthetic attractions of a "land . . . created for delight" (85), a phrase with numerous echoes in Milton's descriptions of Paradise (not least the "Plantation for delight" of Paradise Lost, IX, 419. In contrast to the many writers who took the supposed songlessness of North American birds as a sign of the advanced degeneracy of post-lapsarian nature in the New World, Burwell insists on the "mellow song" of "Sweet birds!" that are also remarkable for their bright--it is tempting to say paradisical-- "plumage" (52-54). Little wonder that when the emigrants start arriving in the area in their "eager hundreds" (180), they come like "expecting pilgrim[s]" to "a smiling land of promis'd rest" (186,185). A heaven on earth with overtones of Canaan and the Holy Land, Burwell's terrestrial paradise "[o]n Erie's bank" also contains for good measure the Roman goddess "Flora and her flow'ry train" (68), classical representatives of the fertility and plentitude that promise "Prosperity" (561) and, eventually, "Wealth" (581) to the arriving emigrants.

So fulsome are many of Burwell's descriptions of the "country" and "clime" chosen by Talbot for his Settlement that his poem resembles in places a chamber of commerce brochure or, less anachronistically, a tract encour­aging emigration to the Talbot Road area. Susanna Moodie writes memorably in the Introduction to Roughing it in the Bush of the "misrepresentation" of Canada that helped to create "the great tide of emigration [that] flowed westward" in the eighteen thirties and later, but her remarks produce many loud echoes in Talbot Road. "Public newspapers and private letters teemed with the unheard-of advantage to be derived from a settlement in this highly-favoured region," she writes of Canada; "Its salubrious climate, its fertile soil, commercial advantages, great water privileges, its proximity to the mother country, and . . . its almost total exemption from taxation . . . were the theme of every tongue, and lauded beyond all praise. The general interest, once excited, was industriously kept alive by pamphlets, published by interested parties [such as `dealers in wild lands'], which prominently set forth all the good to be derived from a settlement in the Backwoods of Canada; while they carefully concealed the toil and hardship to be endured in order to secure these advantages."30 To his credit, Burwell does not minimize the work involved in clearing a backwoods farm. Nor does he include low taxes and closeness to Britain among the advantages of the Talbot Settlement. But, as already seen, he does depict the north shore of Lake Erie as a "highly-favoured region" (actually, a "highly favor'd land") and, moreover, does so as if addressing each of the other four categories mentioned by Moodie.

 (1) Salubrious climate. Since the mid-to-late eighteenth century at least, theregion that would become southern Ontario had been notorious for its unhealthy climate. Very likely relying on Peter Kalm's comment in his Travels that "INTERMITTING fevers of all kinds . . . are very common . . . between Lake Erie and Lake Huron . . ,"31 J.. Mackay observes in a footnote to Quebec Hill "that the fever and ague, as well as other maladies, are . . . prevalent in Upper Canada, a country, for the most part, covered with forests and lakes; and intersected with swamps which, in the summer season, emit vapours highly pernicious to the human constitution."32 With a similar reliance on Kalm and the same ignorance of the true cause of malaria (which was not known until the final decade of the nineteenth century), Weld also notes the prevalence of "[i]ntermittent fevers" in "almost every part of Upper Canada," a province that he succinctly describes as "unhealthy."33 As well as countering such perceptions directly, Burwell's assertion that the "air" of Upper Canada is "[h]ealthful," that "[h]ere health presides . . . / And breathes the fragrance of eternal bloom" (29, 49-50), addresses the miasmic theory of the origin of disease upon which the perceptions were based.34 So, too, does his elision of swamps from the region of the Talbot Settlement and his emphasis, rather, on the abundance of moving (and, therefore, pure) water: to the north of Talbot Road, the Thames "[r]olls round his silver waters fair and clear" (34); "[t]hro' a broad valley rapid Catfish glides . . ." (55); and in the "unnumbered hills" there are "chrystal fountains bursting from the ground," blessing the Settlement with "rippling branches" and "purling" --later "meand'ring"--"rills" (42-44, 79).

(To the other criticism frequently levelled at the Canadian climate--that the winters are too long and cold and the summers too short and hot for agricultural purposes--Talbot Road makes no explicit response. As if taking to heart Weld's comment that, though the "summers are intensely hot" in Upper Canada, the province has a much shorter winter and a cor­respondingly longer growing season than Lower Canada, Burwell concedes the heat of the summer and fall in the Talbot Settlement [45, 259], makes no mention of winter whatsoever, and refers repeatedly to "orchards" [305,611 ], a near emblem in Canada of a temperate climate or "friendly clime" [551 ] that is conducive to a life of relative ease.)

 (2) Fertile soil. Of the fertility of the land to the immediate north of Lake Erie there was rarely any doubt from the late eighteenth century onwards. Certainly none is expressed in Burwell's poem. The land chosen by Talbot for his settlement is "by nature's bounty blest, / . . . and its soil [is] the best . . ." (27-28). Support for this assertion comes through dozens of expressions that are either variations on the theme of fertility ("fertile vales," "Productive nature," "fruitful fields," [38, 77, 90] and so on) or references to the lush evidence of it "flowery banks," "majestic hemlocks," "tow'ring pines," and, later, "meadows gay," "bleating flocks," "well-stor'd gardens" (38, 41, 507, 508, 613) and the like. To an extent, every viable farm and growing town on the Talbot Road is testament to the "friendly clime, and fruitful soil" (551) of the region. But if a single emblem of the land's fer­tility and its agricultural and commercial potential were to be sought, it could be found in the "waving Cornfields" (507) that Burwell mentions at various points. In Talbot Road, as in The Rising Village, a "virgin crop . . . of wheat" (464) in a field "won from the wilds" (463) constitutes proof of the soil's ability to produce the crop that will enable a farm or an agricultural settlement first to achieve relative self-sufficiency and then, through the sale of flour and other products, to achieve commercial and social maturity.

 (3) Commercial advantages. A decisive factor in the ability of a community in early Canada to parlay agricultural production into commercial advantage was the presence of a mill to grind grain into flour. "To stimulate settlement [in the area of his land grant, Talbot] . . . acquired mill machinery in 1804 and two years later constructed a water-powered grist-mill which was of great value to the emerging settlement until its destruction by American troops in 1814."35 Four years after the War, Burwell calls attention to the "Welling­ton mills, late built, on Catfish strand, / To answer agriculture's loud demand," and remarks--with a pun on "growing" that links agricultural fer­tility with social progress--that a "substantial" mill "should be found / Where a fine growing country spreads around" (499-502). That a "water-powered grist-mill" requires an abundant supply of running water is a very obvious point, but one worth making, not merely because it provides an additional reason for Burwell's emphasis on rivers and creeks--future mill sites--in Talbot Road, but also because it points to the inseparability in early Canada of "commercial advantages" and what Moodie calls "water privileges"--access to water for sustenance, energy, and, not least, transportation. In Burwell's day, as in Moodie's, the most desirable farms were those whose proximity to water, or, failing that, good roads, gave them easy access to markets and ports. This meant that the most desirable farms were those along the banks of the St. Lawrence, an area whose popular designation--the "cash" (in contradistinction to the "bush")--crisply sums up the economic reality of water privileges in Upper and Lower Canada.

 (4) Great water privileges. In the same way that he had to contend with Upper Canada's reputation for unhealthiness, Burwell had to confront the perception of Lake Erie as a body of water made extremely dangerous by violent storms and a lack of safe ports. Weld devotes several pages in his Travels to describing murderous storms on Lake Erie and asserts that "[o]n its north side there are but two places which afford shelter to vessels drawing more than seven feet . . ., namely, Long Point and Point Abineau [Albino]; and these only afford a partial shelter.36 Because it is "very uncertain," travel on Lake Erie is also relatively expensive--twice the cost of the equivalent journeys on Lake Ontario, and more if a vessel "remains wind­bound at anchor in any harbour."37 Burwell agrees with Weld that "western storms . . . often vex the bosom of [Lake Erie]"(444-445), but presents them as a challenge rather than a barrier to emigration. Many emigrants make their way to the Talbot Settlement by ox-cart along Canada's notoriously "rugged roads" (163), but "eager hundreds plough the liquid plain" of Lake Erie and "Stem the rude winds that oft tempestuous sweep / The faithless bosom of the rolling deep . . ." (180-182). Burwell also capitalizes on Weld's favourable descriptions of Lake Erie to produce a picture of the lake that manages to be both celebratory in its tone and balanced in its weighting of the positive and the negative:  

Uninterrupted roves the careless eye,

. . . where the lake its billowy surges pours,

And round the beaten cliffs tremendous roars;
Or, mirror-like, smooth and unruffled lies,
And seems to mingle with the distant skies,
Where oft the vessel glides with swelling sails,
Or waits impatient for the fav'ring gales. (69-76)

In the section of his Travels upon which this is based, Weld's vessel is forced "to lay at anchor for three days, the wind not being favourable . . .," before carrying him towards the islands at the eastern end of Lake Erie where the "gaudy" fall colours of the trees, "intermingled with the shadows of the rocks, were seen fancifully reflected in the unruffled surface of the surrounding lake."38 This is but the picturesque calm before one of the "dangerous storms that are so frequent on Lake Erie," however, and for the next few days Weld's vessel is buffeted almost to destruction by high winds and "tremendous" waves.39

Burwell has as little use for Weld's poor opinion of the harbours on the north shore of Lake Erie as he does for the traveller's accounts of close-calls and sudden deaths in the lake's stormy waters. Between Long Point and Point Albino, the "friendly tide" of Otter Creek enters Lake Erie, providing emigrants with both a safe harbour from the "rough lake" and a "broad highway" to the Talbot Road itself: 

. . . at three leagues distance [from Lake Erie], Talbot Street
And Otter Creek, at proper angles meet.
This serves the settlers as a thoro'fare,
Who to the lands contiguous repair,
Or Talbot Road, whence they transport with ease,
Provisions, furniture, or what they please.


Predictably, the majority of settlers locate themselves either beside the water or along the road: "The fertile banks of Otter Creek, some take; / Some Talbot Road, and some prefer the lake; / While others claim'd a midway space between . . ." (207-209). The point implicit in these lines is that all the farms in the Talbot Settlement are within easy reach of cheap transportation and a good port, none more so than those on the "banks of Otter Creek" itself, where "e'en now," Burwell later observes, "the Oar fair Commerce plies, / And the first efforts of her Empire tries-- / Ernest of future wealth" (493-495). When, later still, Burwell envisages the economic maturation of the Settlement, he does so with reference to its commercially advantageous proximity to the Great Lakes:

Commerce . . .

Shall here unfurl the broad and ample sail,

To court the favors of the rising gale;
The barque, deep laden, press the foaming tide,
And safely on vast Erie's bosom ride.
Freighted with wealth from India's distant shores,
Whose burning climes the dauntless tar explores.

(563, 567-572)

With bigger vessels will come safe navigation on Lake Erie,40 and the full realization within the mercantilist system of the British Empire of the "commercial advantages" provided by the "great water privileges" of the Talbot Settlement.

Nowhere in Talbot Road does Burwell attempt to characterize as individuals any of the "eager hundreds" of emigrants who flocked to the Talbot Settlement. When the first large group of emigrants is heard from early in the poem, it is chorically and in terms that suggest their working-class British--possibly Irish41 and their broad motives for emigration, namely, the pursuit of "Liberty" (141), happiness, and prosperity--in a word, independence. On seeing the fertile and promising land on which the Talbot Settlement is located, this first group of emigrants gives choric declaration of its intention to return forthwith bringing (and the hierarchy is, of course, typically patriarchal) "sons, / . . . goods.... cattle, wives, and little ones" [147-148]). These events and their results are then treated in an extended simile that simultaneously aggrandizes the emigrants in its epic associations and diminishes them in its choice of comparison: 

As when a wand'ring bird, in some rich field
Espies the treasures' bounteous yield;
Well pleas'd he views the plenteous crop of grain,
And goes to tell his tribe, and come again;
He comes, and soon the feather'd squadron join
Their straggling bands into a long drawn line;
Thick o'er the field, the assembled armies fall,
Invest the harvest, and consume it all.
So soon, the thronging bands of men appear'd
On Talbot Road ....


Here as elsewhere in Talbot Road, phrases derived from Milton ("wand'ring band," "assembled armies," "thronging bands") and Thomson ("feather'd squadron") appear bent on bequeathing heroic status on Canada's pioneers, an aim that seems at odds with certain components of Burwell's epic simile, especially the description of the birds/emigrants as "armies" that "[i]nvest the harvest, and consume it all." Did Burwell intend a criticism of the pioneers as opportunistic and rapacious? Support for this possibility could be drawn from the echoes of Milton's account of Satan's behavior as he travels towards Eden and the temptation of Eve that sound through Burwell's subsequent descriptions of the migrant's activities en route to the Talbot Settlement--their journeys "O'er hills, and logs, and brooks" (165) and their camps in the "midnight maze" (174) of the Canadian woods.42 But overwhelm­ingly against the likelihood that Burwell intended a criticism of the first wave of emigrants to the Talbot Road area stands the commemorative and congratulatory tone of his poem as a whole. It could, of course, be concluded that Burwell was profoundly ambivalent about the "noble . . . theme" whose "dignity" he extols in the invocation to Talbot Road. On balance, however, this seems a less likely explanation of the unfortunate implications and resonances of some of Burwell's descriptions than poetic incompetence or, more charitably, inexperience. In The Rising Village, for example, echoes of Paradise Lost harmonize with the tone of the passages in which they occur because Goldsmith was fully alert to the overtones and undertones of his literary language.43 Lacking, or still learning, such alertness, Burwell created periods of noise in Talbot Road, moments of tonal and thematic confusion which undercut his celebrations of pioneer heroism and achievement.

The first task that settlers had to undertake when they arrived at their destinations in the Canadian bush was the felling of large trees to prepare the land for cultivation and to provide the materials for the construction of log houses. As indicated by the line with which he concludes his description of the preliminary work of the "woodman's ax"--"So evening clos'd, and so the morning broke" (211, 226)--Burwell regarded the felling of trees for the making of a farm and a house as roughly equivalent to the creation in Genesis 1 of order and plentitude out of chaos and void. And as indicated by his description of felled trees as "[a] heap of chaos" (216), he also seems to have appreciated that in the creation of a homestead, as not in the creation of a world, destruction must precede construction. In preparation for the emergence of a human order in the wilderness, the order of nature as manifested by the "stateliest forest trees" (224) had to be reduced to "heaps on heaps . . . [of] shivered timbers" (221), a sight that Burwell presumably regarded as sublime ("A scene of terror to the astonish'd eye" [222]) because it revealed the awesome--indeed, supernatural and God-like--power of man to alter the face of the earth for his own purposes.

Since most settlers in Upper Canada arrived on their land in mid-to-late summer, they of necessity took time away from the felling of trees during what remained of the good weather to build a crude shelter--Burwell's "cabin rude, of humblest form" (227)--against the approaching winter. With regard to the next stage of preparing the land for cultivation--the burning off of brushwood and the incineration of the felled trees (which, as Burwell is careful to emphasize, had been "pil'd, and interpil'd" in "heaps" by the settlers)--opinions differed on how to proceed. Was it better to set fire to the piles of wood in the ensuing spring or to wait until the fall to do so? Apparently, only the ignorant and the indigent opted for the spring because at that time the wood was too damp to burn entirely at one firing. Knowledgeable and experienced settlers "defer[red] the burning of the felled timber till after midsummer, when the solar heats ha[d] made preparation for the fire, which in that case perform[ed] its office with a more thorough effect."44 As Burwell puts it: "Now, Autumn's glowing suns with scorching ray, / Dried the fall'n timber, as exposed it lay, / Fit for the office of consuming fire . . ." (259-261). Very likely the lengthy description in Talbot Road of the "wide wasting conflagration" (269) that results when the "Woodman" touches a "flaming brand" to the "leafy brushwood" (263, 265) had a basis in Burwell's own observation of such fires in his native region; however, many details of the description, including its "[c]olumns of flame" and sun-obscuring smoke, derive from Weld's vivid account of a dangerous "conflagration" that he witnessed in Virginia in the spring of 1796 and attributed to "the negligence of people who are burning brushwood to clear the lands . . . ."45 As if taking his cue from Weld's comment that a huge brush fire is a "sublime sight," Burwell concentrates on the æsthetic and psychological effects of his "flaming log-heaps," concluding with their ability, characteristic of the Burkean sublime, to conduct the awed mind towards the infinite:  

Now, through the shades of the autumnal night,
The flaming log-heaps cast a glaring light;
In contrast deep--the clouds, of sable hue,
Spread their dense mantle o'er the ethereal blue;
Above is pitchy blackness--all below
Wide flashing fires--Around, far other show­-
Majestic trees, whose yet unfaded bloom,
In pale reflection, gives a sylvan gloom­-
A dubious maze, which leads th'uncertain sight
To the drear confines of eternal night,
As it might seem ....


The Miltonic qualities of this passage once again raise the question of whether Burwell intended to insinuate a connection between the pioneers of the Talbot Settlement and the fallen angels of Paradise Lost, I and II.

That this was not the case is indicated by the straightforwardly heroic treatment of the settlers throughout the fire episode in Talbot Road. In contrast to the "negligence" of Weld's Virginians stands the responsibility of Burwell's "assiduous labourer," who moves among the sublimely "raging fires" using "his ready hands / To trim the heaps, and fire th'extinguish'd brands," and does not go "homeward" until "[t]his task [is] completed . . ." (289-293). Once the "bosom of the ground" has been "bare[d]" by fire (another act of undressing in order to redress), the settler must undertake the "hardest toil" involved in "begin[ning] [a] farm"; "pond'rous logs" must be piled (for future fires, fences, and buildings) and the "soil" must be "clean[ed]" for cultivation (270-274). In describing these tasks as "Herculean labors," Burwell does more than flatter the strength of the pioneering farmer: he connects him to "the most famous of Greek heroes,"46 a figure noted not merely for his twelve great labours but also for his enormous courage and endurance. As well as echoing back to the early Greek conception of Hercules as a herald of civilization ("he drains swamps, builds cities, . . . destroys wild animals and tyrants . . . and . . . precedes Greek colonists wherever they go" writes G. Karl Galinsky in The Herakles Theme),47 Burwell's conception of pioneer labour as Herculean echoes forward in the Canadian continuity to such works as Malcolm's Katie and Frederick Philip Grove's Fruits of the Earth which, as argued elsewhere ,48 contain settler­heroes who in different ways resemble Hercules. Burwell's "assiduous labourer" is in no sense a complex character, but with his great physical strength, his patient commitment to clearing and building a farm, and his patriarchal dedication to his family (after a "barn," an "orchard," and a "garden" on his own land will come "a farm for each deserving son" [304­310]), he is the earliest exemplar in writing on Canada of the Herculean hero and, as such, the ancestor of Max Gordon, Abe Spalding and other characters who similarly exemplify the baseland mentality in Canadian literature and culture.49

Following naturally upon the settler's discussion of his "schemes for future happiness" with "wife and sons" (293-316) in Talbot Road comes a lengthy "Apostrophe to Hope and Anticipation" (Argument) that can easily escape critical scrutiny, in part because it seems merely to fulfil the requirement for "incidental meditation ,50 in a topographical poem--and in part because it obviously contains heavy debts both of spirit and diction to Campbell's Pleasures of Hope. Yet Burwell's "Apostrophe to Hope and Anticipation" occupies the structural centre of his poem and, on close examination, emerges as a centrally important series of reflections on the varieties and uses of expectation that aims, moreover, to provide a spiritual framework for one of the principal motivating beliefs of the emigrant and the pioneer--the belief that the hard work and self-sacrifice of the present will result in ease and fulfilment in the future. "But what are toil and labour, say?" asks Burwell after describing the "Herculean labors" of the farmer, "They are but names that promise steals away-- / Hope of reward will all their train disarm, / And e'en impart to danger's self, a charm" (275-278). As a number of subsequent passages reveal, the key word here, "reward," must be construed, not in an other-worldly sense (as the Christian elements in the poem might suggest), but in decidedly worldly and materialistic terms. To the settler's sons, the farms promised by their father are the "good reward" that they "[r]esolve to merit, by attention true . . ." (315-316). To the narrator, the "hopes of Talbot Road" as a settlement rise and fall with its "prosperity" (429-434). No wonder, then, that Burwell elaborates his sense of "Hope and Anticipation" in sustainedly financial terms, describing the former as a "treasur[y]" whose "interest all our daily wants supplies" (337-338) and the latter as a "daily stipend to the sons of hope" (335). The God who oversees these disbursements is a figure who reconciles Christianity and capitalism, a thoughtful and thrifty banker who doles out "bounty only as we need" while retaining the principal sum--the capital of hope and anticipation--to protect his clients from the loanshark of "Despair" and the prodigality that could reduce them to "bankrupts" (339-344). Burwell's reference to the capital sum of hope as its "principle" (339) rather than `principal' maybe no more than a spelling mistake (or a compositor's error) but it is entirely consistent with his negotiation of spiritual and commercial values in the "Apostrophe to Hope and Anticipation" and, indeed, with the attachment of ethical value to the pursuit of prosperity that characterizes his poem as a whole. "Commerce," Burwell asserts later, "[is] the first of friends to human kind, / That opens a new creation in the mind; / That tames the hardy savage, rough and rude, / And forms society for mutual good . . ." (563-566). In Talbot Road, as in the Protestant work ethic that clearly undergirds it, God and Mammon are not fused, but they have a good deal in common and are sufficiently in accord both to bolster the efforts and salve the consciences of the materially ambitious Christians who must have constituted a goodly proportion of the poem's original audience.

In the three verse paragraphs that follow his "Apostrophe to Hope and Anticipation," Burwell chronicles the "deadly blow [and] desolating wound" (362) that were dealt to the growth of the Talbot Settlement by the War of 1812. "[E]migration ceas'd at once"; the clearing and cultivation of the land came to a halt; there were fears of violence and anarchy, and, eventually, in 1814, the reality of an attack by "a hostile band / That stript the people, with unsparing hand, / Of food and clothing" while the men of the Settlement were away on "active duty, at the frontiers . . ." (361-418).51 Between this last event and Satan's invasion of Eden, particularly his assault on Eve in the absence of Adam, there is a clear parallel that Burwell did not choose to emphasize. This is somewhat curious since an awareness of the resonances in Paradise Lost of the events of 1812-14 is clearly indicated by the echo of Milton's "from succor far" (with reference to Eve's remoteness from Adam)52 in Burwell's "[s]uccor far off' (359; with reference to Canada's remoteness from Britain). The explanation for this decision to indicate Britain rather than the men of the Talbot Settlement as the source of Adam's succor to an endangered Eve lies in Burwell's necessarily colonial mentality. In times of war especially, the inhabitants of a colony look first for help not to themselves, but to the imperial centre. In 1812 that help was quickly forthcoming and, of course, commanded by a soldier who was serving as the senior administrator in Upper Canada at the outbreak of the war:  

. . . straight recovering from the first surprise,
We saw, with joy, a dauntless spirit rise,
That could the doubtful, wavering breast inspire,
And light the lukewarm heart with martial fire.
Then, soon foregoing fear, and false alarms,
Our woodland heroes seiz'd defensive arms,
And stood at call, when duty should command,
A numerous, brave, and patriotic band.


In Upper Canada in 1818 it was hardly necessary to mention Isaac Brock by name (though Burwell does so in a footnote to the passage); the War of 1812 was a very recent memory and the role of the General's early victories and heroic death in inspiring resistance to the American invasion was common knowledge.

If one gift of the War of 1812 to Upper Canadians was a military hero, another was the intensification of local pride that encouraged Burwell to refer to troops raised in Canada as a "patriotic band" of "woodland heroes." Brief as it was, the War helped Upper Canadians to define their loyalties and antagonisms and to perceive their strengths and blessings.53 In this way, it contributed to the development of an incipient nationalism whose tones may perhaps be heard in Burwell's references to "our infant country" (351) and its "patriot brave," the unnamed "woodman"-turned­soldier who fought "his country's battles in his own" (395-401). But unquestionably the most desirable aspect of the War of 1812 for most Upper Canadians, including Burwell, was its termination. Peace is a precondition for prosperity in a mercantile system, and thus the "hopes of Talbot Road . . . r[i]se again" (429) with the cessation of "destructive war" and the resumption of "peaceful avocations" (426):

All join'd its fallen prosperity to rear,
And quick it triumph'd o'er the spoils of war.
Again the emigrants, in eager bands,
Sought out, and took, the unlocated lands,
So that they soon demanded a survey
Of those that farther to the westward lay;
And, as originally 'twas designed,
This Road to that from Amherstburg was join'd;
And, e'er the seasons twice had roll'd around,
The swarming settlers left no vacant ground.


Once again the "copious tide of Emigration flow'd" (454) towards Talbot Road and once again Burwell's choice of such metaphors as "swarming" partly undercuts his celebration of the new settlers, many of whom are the ex-soldiers--"men laborious and brave" (460; emphasis added)--who were encouraged for military purposes to locate themselves near the American border. The War of 1812 was over in 1814 but in 1818 its consequences for the settlement of what was to become Canada had barely begun.

It is not necessarily a criticism of Burwell to observe that in describing the advantages of settlement in the regions west (and then north) of Port Talbot, he rehearses many of the points made earlier in the poem with regard to the eastern and central portions of the Talbot Road. Here, too, are all the ingredients for agricultural and commercial prosperity, not least "soil" as "rich . . . as mortal e'er could crave" (459) and, at Pointe aux Pins (Rondeau), a fine harbour to "shelter shipping" from the "raging tumult" of Lake Erie (443-446). Such repetitions may generate in the modern reader a weary sense of deja vu or, worse, the suspicion that Burwell is a poet of few words who insists on plagiarising himself beyond endurance. It may not be possible or desirable to clear Burwell of these charges, but it is worth suggesting that the repetitions that give rise to them seem to be part of his attempt to structure Talbot Road symmetrically around the War of 1812.54

Perhaps the most obvious of the structural symmetries in Talbot Road is the geographical one that has already come partly into view: before the War, the eastern and central sections of Talbot Road were built and settled; after it, the western and northern ones. The other large symmetry is more temporal or chronological: between the inception of the Talbot Settlement and the "sound / Of war's dread trump" the earth "scarce . . . r[a]n, / Its annual circuit twice around the sun . . ." (345-348); between the sounding of "the silver-throated trump of Peace" (419) and the completion of settlement to the west of Port Talbot another two-year period elapses ("the seasons twice . . . roll'd around . . ." [441 ]). To see these symmetries as the product merely of limited poetic resources would be a mistake, for surely they are also, and in a more intriguing way, the product of a geometric caste of mind, a formatively spatial way of thinking that Burwell shared, not only with his surveyor-brother Mahlon, but also with many others who were responsible for the organization of Upper Canadian space in the nineteenth century. Like the Talbot Settlement itself (and, later, the Huron Tract), Talbot Road was shaped by a survey mentality, by a mind that delighted in straight lines, "proper angles" (200), and "cross-way[s]" (450), in geometrical designs, architectural plans, and comprehensive schemes. Was Burwell drawn to the decasyllabic couplet by the capacity for parallelism, balance, and chiasmas that it exhibits in the hands of a master such as Pope? Was he drawn to Paradise Lost by its enormous symmetries and all-encompassing design? It is impossible to say. What can be said, however, is that Burwell shares with both his literary models and his historical subjects--the organizers and settlers of Upper Canada--a strong preference for organized reality, a powerful urge to assert or affirm, as the case may be, an order that is God-given and rational, patriarchal and Eurocentric. No wonder that neither Tecumseh nor Laura Secord is mentioned in Talbot Road. No wonder that "dauntless" Brock and the patriotic "woodman" are the second Adams who at the core of the poem enable the Talbot Settlement "its fallen prosperity to rear . . ." (433). In its choice of war heroes, as in its treatment of space, Talbot Road confirms its participation in the baseland continuity in Canadian writing.

What can also be said is that the "numbers," symmetries, and topographical focus of Talbot Road make it the literary equivalent of a map of the Talbot Settlement or, moving closer to home, one of Mahlon Burwell's surveys of the Talbot Road. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the "connected survey of Talbot Road, from its eastern to its western extremities" with which Burwell follows yet another survey of sorts, "[a] short recapitulation of the preceding parts of the Poem" (Argument) that stresses the major steps in the development of Talbot Road / Talbot Road from past to present. (Of course, the fact that Burwell twice lays out the plan of his poem in an Argument and a "recapitulation," and, moreover, marks the progress of his narrative with numerous process statements, constitutes further evidence of his near-obsession with order, rational development, and, indeed, telos, another prominent feature of the baseland orientation.) As he draws his "brief recapitulation" to a close, Burwell invites the reader to "see, as on a single sheet, / The Talbot Road unbroken and complete"(485-486). A few excerpts from the long paragraph that ensues will give a sense of its overall gist: 

In Norfolk county, first the Talbot Street
East, marks its course thro' Middleton complete;
Thence, into Middlesex, thro' Houghton Gore,
And thence, thro' Bayham, (where was mark'd before
A bridle path)--thence Otter Creek comes down
From Norwich, lengthwise, nearly thro' the Town ....

*          *          *

In order, next upon the list appears
Yarmouth ....


*          *          *

A town, St. Thomas', is in Yarmouth laid,
On a bold bank by Kettle River, made,
O'erlooking the broad vale which 'neath it lies--
A striking picture in the trav'ler's eyes.


*          *          *

Next Aldbro'--now the reader must be sent
From Middlesex into the County Kent ....

(487-492, 503-504, 509-512, 517-518)

And so the reader is, before coming to rest finally at the most westerly point of the Talbot Road at "Mersea . . . in Essex County" (522-523). Perhaps the most striking thing about the passage from which these excerpts are taken is its attempt to use the most visually obvious aspect of traditional verse--its hypotactic arrangement of lines in a column down a page--as an analogue for a small-scale survey (or map) of the Talbot Road. In this context, the word "list" ("In order, next upon the list appears / Yarmouth . . .") helps to reinforce the analogy between poem and survey, a list being to most minds a series of words or numbers arranged in lines one below the other on a sheet of paper. Moreover, such words and phrases as "marks" (or "mark'd"), "lengthwise," "In order," and--in sections of the passage not quoted--"along side," "spreads around," and "along the line" (485-520) can also be said to reinforce the connection between the poem and a survey by referring to the linear and geometric shapes upon which the latter relies to convey its topographical information.

But, however successful in creating and sustaining an analogy between the poem and a survey, the visual and verbal resources that Burwell had at his disposal could not, as he well knew, recreate vividly in the mind's eye of the reader the "striking picture" that is afforded to "the trav'ler's eyes" when he actually sees "St. Thomas'. . . / On a bold bank by Kettle River, made, / O'erlooking the broad vale which 'neath it lies . . . ." At this point, Burwell's stock, eighteenth-century diction, though augmented by a tympanic attempt to convey through alliteration ("bold bank . . . broad vale") something of the "striking" scene that he is attempting to recreate, conjures up only a generalized picture that effectively deprives the description of its local colour, its uniquely Upper Canadian specificity. At the close of the passage Burwell abandons his attempt to combine comprehensive survey with celebratory description, admitting as he does so his own narrative and poetic inadequacies. "Now to treat / Of all their merits would be to repeat, / The praise of towns first named" (523-525), he allows after arriving at "Mersea . . . in Essex County," adding in an elegiac retreat from show to tell:  

'Tis understood

They all are beautiful, they all are good;
They all excite our wonder, and our tongue
Should not be silent 'till their worth be sung.
But justice faulters on my humble lays,
And my weak efforts scarcely rise to praise.


To modern taste, one of Burwell's chief faults is that, by concentrating on the "beautiful" and the "good," he left too little space in Talbot Road for the true, for vivid and accurate descriptions of things as they were in early nineteenth-century Canada. But to lament the paucity of rude cabins with blanket windows in Talbot Road (and even, perhaps, to single out for praise the description of the one that does appear) is to judge Burwell by a standard of social realism to which he only sporadically subscribed. For whatever reasons of flattery or propaganda, Burwell's aim in Talbot Road was evidently to idealize the Talbot Settlement. To this end he resorts occasion­ally to realism as a means of making credible his depiction of "[t]he happiest country, in the happiest clime" and caps his idealizing survey of Talbot Road with the manifestly ingenuous assurance that his "tale does nought but truth unfold, / And is a simple story plainly told, / For truth's sake . . ." (539-541).

After an equally conventional plea to the reader to "excuse / The honest labors of [his] humble muse" (541-542), Burwell turns to consider the future of Talbot Road, but not before taking a few moments once again to list the blessings of the Settlement and the virtues of its people. Among the former--and here Burwell speaks at best a partial truth 55 "a Government, the people's choice, / Where reason speaks, and order lifts her voice . . ." (553-554). Among the latter are "perseverance" and "[i]ndustry," the qualities that have brought Talbot Road to its current "[p]rosperity" and, with the arrival of "Commerce," will ensure the Settlement's future "Wealth" (557-581). Grate as it doubtless does on many twentieth-century sensibilities, Burwell's conception of "Commerce"--which is to say, the mercantilist system of the British Empire as a civilizing and beneficial force that "tames the hardy savage . . . / And forms society for mutual good" (565-566) was shared by many poets and thinkers in Georgian England and Canada, particularly those who, like the Canadian Goldsmith, and Burwell, too, it appears, accepted the so-called "four stages theory,56 of social development. According to this theory, which could have reached Burwell through any number of channels, from Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations to Henry James Pye's The Progress of Refinement (which Talbot Road may, in places, echo),57 all societies evolve through four distinct phases: the savage (the "rough[est] and rud[est]"[565]), the barbaric (or pastoral), the agricultural, and, finally, the commercial (the most refined or polished). Although the final stage of a society's development could be attended by certain dangers, including the tendencies towards luxury and vice against which Goldsmith warns in The Rising Village, it was also characterized by the numerous benefits of "Wealth" such as splendid architecture (Burwell's "stately mansion, and . . . costly hall . . ." [575]) and an abundance of leisure in which to enjoy social pleasures and artistic pursuits. An ideal society, then, would be one in which morality, reason, and moderation operate to allow the benefits of "Commerce" to be enjoyed without its banes.

When Burwell "summon[s] . . . futurity to light" (546), he sees a "Town" humming with "business" (574-582) and a "Village" whose "green" is the setting for various leisurely activities ("a social walk, / And the gay pleasures of familiar talk"[585-586]), most prominently the creative and seductive rituals of courtship: 

The tender tale that love delights to tell,
In accents sweet as e'er from Petrarch fell,
Flows from the tongue of the adoring swain,
Who breathes persuasion in each glowing strain.
The choral song, the repartee, the joke,
The quip, the sally, the satiric stroke,
Dealt from the "too envenom'd shafts of wit"
That wound the feelings if they aim to hit,
Full oft go round.


Obviously, the social graces are practised with polish and refinement in the Talbot Road of the future. But are the sophisticated "youths and maidens" who practice them not in danger of lapsing into moral turpitude? As if to forestall this question, Burwell immediately follows his description of the courting couples on the green with a vignette of the village church at the moment when it most resembles the biblical pillars of fire and cloud:

Now see the setting sun,

Follow'd by evening vapors, dense, and dun,
Impart his last rays to the village spire,
And paint the windows with the hues of fire.


To Christianity as a guiding presence in the lives of the future inhabitants of the Talbot Settlement, Burwell adds "science," the acquisition of knowledge not for its own sake, but for moral purposes:

See science beaming with resplendent light

A guiding beacon to man's erring sight,
To set fair truth before the devious will,
That it may choose the good, and shun the ill ....


With Christian morality and right reason to guide them, the "youths and maidens" on the green will assuredly pass unscathed through the hazards of courtship.

As Burwell's next verse paragraph makes quite clear, courtships not only lead to happy marriages in the future Talbot Road, but also result in the children that assure the continuity and assist the growth of the Settlement. "[T]ranscendent in prosperity" (604) as it will become, Talbot Road will also be a "Blest spot! sacred to pure, domestic joy, / Where love and duty find their sweet employ" (619-620) and where children are free enough of care to "sport . . . in the willowy shade, / . . . [and] watch the changing forms by moonlight made / Thro' waving branches . . ."(629-631). Just as these chil­dren chase imaginary "phantoms," a nearby "watch-dog" barks instinctively at passers-by (632-636). But no real spectres or dangers trouble the peace and prosperity of the future Talbot Road; the "midnight prowler" and the "hostile band" are things of the past, and the dog merely "tarries at the gate, / As if entrusted with his master's fate . . ." (emphasis added). At some point in the future, the Talbot Settlement may require its "favor'd poet" to "strike the martial lyre / And rouse the listener's soul with glowing fire . . . If patriot virtue or his country calls," but the future poet's more likely themes are a nature made congenial and romantic by human association: "the murm'ring rill, / The mossy bank, or violet-cover'd hill, / The arching arbor, or the willow grove, / Sacred to hopeless, melancholy love" (643-652). If Burwell intended this to be a sample (or, at least, a facsimile) of the poetry of a polished society, then perhaps by placing it very near the end of his own poem he also meant to suggest that the Talbot Settlement had already begun to achieve the level of refinement described in his vision of its "futurity." No proof of such a possibility exists, of course, but some tangential support for it can be found in The Rising Village where Goldsmith, too, seems to suppose that a lyrical response to nature is possible only when a society has reached a post-agricultural level of refinement.58

Given the consistency of Burwell's orientation towards the baseland and its values, it is scarcely surprising that when he envisages the future of the Talbot Road he sees no wilderness whatsoever but only a thoroughly humanized landscape of "Town, . . . Village," and a "constant chain of cultivated farms . . ." (574-607). Wild nature has either been tamed or domesticated (redressed). As noticed earlier, large commercial vessels now ride "safely on vast Erie's bosom." Each farm is now a patchwork of geo­metric enclosures:

. . . broad, waving fields of corn,

And meadows, breathing all the sweets of morn,
And orchards, bowing graceful to the breeze
That rustles thro' the foliage of the trees;
. . . well stor'd gardens, that, with care, produce,
Enough for fancy and enough for use.


At the centre of "every farm" in this baselandscape is a "stately mansion" that "commands" all that it surveys like the "great farm house . . . With many windows looking everywhere; / So that no distant meadow might be hid . . ."59 of Katie's prosperous father in Malcolm's Katie. And in each of these lordly but democratically undifferentiated seats of omniscience an Adamic yeoman farmer "oft. . . contemplates alone, / The little Eden that he calls his own" (615-618). The rationalization of external nature evident in these passages extends even--or perhaps especially--to the parallel lines of trees that flank the Talbot Road itself:

On either side the road a stately row
Of shady trees present a sylvan show,
Whose tops, wide arching, o'er the center meet,
And guard the passenger from noon-day heat.


Beneath these soldierly trees lies "nature's rich, green velvet spread / In grassy carpets, or . . . tufted bed," inviting passers-by to a "softer walk" or "innocent delights" (625-628, emphasis added). In Burwell's fantasies at least the "changeful hand of time" has indeed prepared a robe "more pleasing" for nature to wear. Thus is Upper Canada envisaged by her first native-born poet: completely domesticated and perpetually innocent, always the brides­maid and always the bride, Eve before and after the Fall.


The Present Text


Michael Williams has based the present text of Talbot Road on the newspaper clipping of the poem that is pasted into the copy of Michael Smith's A Geographical View of the Province of Upper Canada; and Promiscuous Remarks on the Government, 3rd. ed. ([Philadelphia]: J. Bioven, October, 1813) held by the Baldwin Room in the Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library. This copy is evidently clipped from the Niagara Spectator where, as noted earlier, the poem was published in two instalments in the summer of 1818, the first on July [31 ] (to line 316) and the second on August 6 (line 317 and following). It appears to have been pasted into Smith's Geographical View by Burwell in 1820, for below the title and following the poem has been stamped "PORT TALBOT / 1820". Between "PORT TALBOT" and "1820" on the title page Burwell has written "20th June", and on the final page he has added: "This poem was written by Adam Hood Burwell of Talbot Road--in the London district and Province of Upper Canada -- ".

On almost every page of the clipping in A Geographical View,60 there are revisions in what has been assumed to be Burwell's handwriting. All of these revisions have been incorporated into the present text and recorded in the list of Editorial Emendations that follows the poem. Otherwise, only minor changes, primarily in the realm of punctuation, have been made to the newspaper text in the present edition, and these, too, are recorded in the Editorial Emendations.


Notes to the Introduction  

1 Canada. A Descriptive Poem, ed. D.M.R. Bentley (London: Canadian Poetry Press, 1990), 11. 351-354.  [back]
2 Travels Through the States of North America, and the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, during the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797, 4th. ed. (1807; rpt. New York and London: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1968), 11,326.  [back]
3 The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, ed. J. Logie Robertson (1907; rpt. New York: Haskell House, 1968), p. 12 (I, 325­334).  [back]
4 In addition to Michael Williams' thesis, "Talbot Road: A Poem by Adam Hood Burwell," M.A., University of Western Ontario, 1988, and such standard works on Talbot and the Talbot Settlement as Edward Ermatinger's The Life of Colonel Talbot and the Talbot Settlement (St. Thomas: Home Journal Office of A. MacLachlan, 1859) and Fred Coyne Hamil's Lake Erie Baron: the Story of Colonel Thomas Talbot, the entry on Talbot by Alan G. Brunger in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, VIII (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), 857-862 has been very useful as a source of bibliography and background for this essay.  [back]
5 See Brunger, p. 857.  [back]
6 See Williams, pp. 153-154.  [back]
7 See ibid., p. 153.  [back]
8 Ibid., pp. 153-154.  [back]
9 See The Rising Village, ed. Gerald Lynch (London: Canadian Poetry Press, 1989). pp. 12-15,11. 121-166 (1825) and 121-164 (1834). See also Bayley's Canada, 11. 333-378 for another bibulous raconteur.  [back]
10 Quoted in Williams, p. 12.  [back]
11 Ibid.  [back]
12 Quoted in Williams, p. 10. In this and subsequent paragraphs, I am also indebted to Williams' entry on Burwell in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, VII (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988), 124-125.  [back]
13 Ibid.  [back]
14 See The Poems of Adam Hood Burwell, Pioneer Poet of Upper Canada, ed. Carl F. Klinck, Western Ontario History Nuggets (London: Lawson Memorial Library, 1963), Mary Lu MacDonald, "New Poems by Adam Hood Burwell,"Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews, 18 (Spring/Summer, 1986), pp. 99-117, and Williams' thesis pp. 155-170.  [back]
15 Klinck, p. 72.  [back]
16 See MacDonald, pp. 99-100.  [back]
17 Ibid.  [back]
18 See Williams, thesis, p. 41.  [back]
19 Klinck, p. 72.  [back]
20 See Paradise Lost, I, 27-30 ("Say first . . . say first what cause / Mov'd our Grand Parents . . . to fall off . . .") and An Essay on Man, I, 17-18 ("Say first, of God above, or Man below, / What can we reason, but from what we know?"). These and any subsequent quotations from Milton and Pope are taken from, respectively, the Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Odyssey, 1957) and the one-volume edition of the Twickenham text of The Poems of Alexander Pope, ed. John Butt (London: Methuen, 1963).  [back]
21 Brunger, pp. 859-860.  [back]
22 Like Goldsmith and Crawford after him, Burwell depicts the lands upon which the settlers locate themselves as deserted, thus, in the words of Leslie Monkman, A Native Heritage: Images of the Indian in English-Canadian Literature (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981), p. 133, avoiding "potential conflicts between the white conceptions of ownership and possession of the land . . . and the Indians' aboriginal rights." See also The Rising Village, 11. 53-110 and Isabella Valancy Crawford, Malcolm's Katie: A Love Story, ed. D.M.R. Bentley (London: Canadian Poetry Press, 1987), II, 84-92.  [back]
23 See Williams, thesis, pp. 44-45 and John Clarke's entry on Mahlon Burwell in DCB, VII, 125.  [back]
24 Brunger, pp. 858-859.  [back]
25 Ibid., p. 857.  [back]
26 "Binding and Dressing Nature's Loose Tresses: the Ideology of Augustan Landscape Design," Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, 8, ed. Roseann Runte (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979), pp. 126-130.  [back]
27 Ibid., p. 130.  [back]
28 See Williams, thesis, p. 27f. for a reading of Talbot Road in terms of the Fall that assigns Satanic significance to the fox and other images.  [back]
29 See note 23, above.  [back]
30 Roughing it in the Bush; or, Life in Canada, ed. Carl Ballstadt (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1988), pp. 4-5.  [back]
31 Travels into North America . . ., trans. John Reinhold Foster, 2nd. ed. (London: T. Lowndes, 1772), II, 361-362.  [back]
32 Quebec Hill; or, Canadian Scenery. A Poem. In Two Parts, ed. D.M.R. Bentley (London: Canadian Poetry Press, 1988), I, 87n.  [back]
33 Travels, II, 92.  [back]
34 See "Explanatory Notes," J. Mackay, Quebec Hill, pp. 43-44 (I, 87 [and n.]-89). It is worth noting that Burwell makes no mention of rattlesnakes, a frequently noted feature of Upper Canada (see, for example, Weld, Travels, II,163-168).  [back]
35 Brunger, p. 857.  [back]
36 Travels, 11, 159-160.  [back]
37 Ibid., 11, 162.  [back]
38 Ibid., 11, 297.  [back]
39 Ibid., 11, 298.  [back]
40 Earlier the settlers had arrived in "bateaux"(193), described by Weld, Travels, I, 331-332 as follows: "A bateau is a particular kind of boat, very generally used upon the large rivers and lakes in Canada. The bottom of it is perfectly flat, and each end is built very sharp, and exactly alike. The sides are about four feet high, and for the convenience of the rowers, four or five benches are laid across, sometimes more . As well as drawing less water than a keeled boat, observes Weld, the bateau was "much safer on lakes or wide rivers, where storms are frequent."  [back]
41 The repeated "sure" (134, 141) in the speech suggests this.  [back]
42 Cf. Paradise Lost, II, 620-621 ("O'er many a Frozen, many a Fiery Alp, / Rocks, Caves, Lakes, Fens, Bogs, Dens, and shades of death . . ."). Both "midnight" and "maze" are repeatedly associated with Satan and his followers in Paradise Lost, as, for example, in V, 778 ("midnight march"), IX, 159 ("midnight vapour") and II, 561 ("in wand'ring mazes lost").  [back]
43 See The Rising Village, 229-232 (1825) and 227-230 (1834).  [back]
44 John Young, The Letters of Agricola on the Principle of Vegetation and Tillage, written for Nova Scotia, and Published First in the Acadian Recorder (Halifax: Holland and Co., 1822), p. 394.  [back]
45 Travels, I, 160-161.  [back]
46 Sir Paul Harvey, "Herakles," The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature (1937; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon, 1966), p. 201.  [back]
47 The Herakles Theme: the Adaptations of the Hero in Literature from Homer to the Twentieth Century (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1972), pp. 148-149.   [back]
48 See D.M.R. Bentley, "Large Stature and Larger Soul: Notes on the Herculean Hero and Narrative in Canadian Literature," Journal of Canadian Poetry, 2 (1987), pp. 1-21.  [back]
49 For elaborations of the term baseland, see my "A New Dimension: Notes on the Ecology of Canadian Poetry," Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews, 7 (Fall/Winter, 1980), pp. 1-20 and "The Mower and the Boneless Acrobat: Notes on the Stances of Baseland and Hinter­land in Canadian Poetry," Studies in Canadian Literature, 8 (1983), pp. 5-48.  [back]
50 Samuel Johnson, "Denham," Lives of the English Poets, ed. George Birkbeck Hill (1905; rpt. New York: Octagon Books, 1967), I, 77. The other two requirements are, of course, "some particular landscape . . . poetically described ... [and] historical retrospection ...," both abundantly evident in Talbot Road. See Williams, thesis, pp. 13f.  [back]
51 See ibid., pp. 128-129 (n. 411-418).  [back]
52 Paradise Lost, IX, 643.  [back]
53 It is notable that in 11.381-385, Burwell contrasts the military gatherings during the War with recent meetings "To choose a man . . . by free suffrage . . . [to] represent" the "collective body" of the people in the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada.  [back]
54 See Williams, thesis, p. 19f. for a close reading of the tripartite Talbot Road in terms of the "themes of `Paradise found,' `Paradise lost,' and `Paradise regained."'  [back]
55 The Legislative Council was both elected and appointed (by the lieutenant-governor); Williams, thesis, p. 127 (n. 385) points out that Talbot was appointed to the Council in 1809 (and held his post until 1841) and Mahlon Burwell served as a representative at various times between 1812 and 1841.  [back]
56 Ronald L. Meek, Social Science and the Ignoble Savage, Cambridge Studies in the History and Theory of Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), passim. My understanding of the sources, character, and importance of the "four stages theory" is deeply indebted to Meek.  [back]
57 See The Progress of Refinement. A Poem. In Three Parts (Oxford: Clar­endon, 1783), I, 191-196 (an account of the spread of "Improvement" and "Industry" and the inception of "Commerce . . . [with] swelling sail") and I, 25-30 (a description of the "selfish savage" who exhibits neither "mutual cares" nor "mutual kindness"). Pye notes with pleasure that "[i]n the vast tracts beyond the ATLANTIC main . . ." Britain is busily spreading her "Arts," "Sciences," "Manners," laws, and, in a word, "REFINEMENT" (II, 761-762 and f.). He also has praise for the ,'venturous prows" of Europe that are taking colonists to, among other places, India, where the "GANGES flows by EUROPEAN lands. . ." (II, 721, 760).  [back]
58 See The Rising Village, 473-488 (1825) and 469-484 (1834). A discussion of the relation of Goldsmith's poem to the "four stages theory" can be found in D.M.R. Bentley, "Oliver Goldsmith and The Rising Village," Studies in Canadian Literature, 15, 1 (1990), pp. 21-61.  [back]
59 Malcolm's Katie, III, 1-4 and ff.  [back]
60 The handwriting in the newspaper clipping has been compared with that in letters by Burwell, and the comparison indicates strongly that both are his.  [back]