A Tale of Nova-Scotia,
In Three Cantos

by Andrew Shiels

© Halifax: Printed and Published by Joseph Howe, 1831.


Leeze me on rhyme; its aye a treasure,
My chief—amaist my only pleasure,
At home, a field, at wark or leisure;
          My muse, poor hizzie,
Tho’ rough an’ raploch be her measure,
          She’s seldom lazy.


P R E F A C E.


    When an Author fails to please the public, he generally does not fail at the same time to find an abundant quantity of subterfuges suitable to the occasion. Among other items, the advice of friends usually holds a conspicuous situation—not such, however, is the case in the present instance; and although I do not exercise the full benefits resulting from a common privilege, yet I may be allowed to mention briefly a few of the difficulties that have crossed my literary labours, and if after all, that impartial jury the public should find me ‘wanting,’ it may afford an opportunity for my friends to prove their innocence (if not their ignorance) of the Bard becoming a candidate for the suffrage of the Muse.
    The first thing I offer to the exculpate at least a part of my rhyming delinquencies, is that of being an expatriated Scotsman—as a fruit tree that hath been transplanted after it has attained maturity, may perhaps yield a faint foliage to the genial embraces of spring, but forbears to lavish its “beauties on the desert air,” or as the fond heart that has once felt the holier impulses of early love and been prematurely blighted, exists (or rather riots) on its own bitterness—even such is the author of this volume, an enthusiastic lover of his native land, but formerly a very stranger to his own feelings, [Page i]

                           —————and little knew
                          Love is so terrible when true.

Secondly, to a native of Scotland, there is a striking change apparent, and frequently imposing on the most careless observer, connected with almost every thing in Nova-Scotia. The most prominent feature is the language—a sudden change from the vernacular tongue of an outlandish borderer, to pure English, is (at least was to me) rather an awkward transit, to say nothing of the infinite associations of time, place and circumstance, in that poetical country. Passing however the manners and customs of the people, the next thing that presents itself, (especially to a poet) is the difference of scenery—instead of the “mountains high” and the “hills of green,”—the beautiful delapidated tower, ruin‘d camps of Dane and Roman, fields of classic rivers and sylvan brooks (each bearing its own specific designation and its legend besides) of my “pleasant Teviotdale” let the traveller in Nova-Scotia ask what is the name of yonder dwelling? the answer is almost universally Mr. Such or such-a-ones’ farm, and that contains all the variations of its History; or enquire the name of the dull half forgotten, or perhaps unknown stream, in any quarter of the province, and  ten to one but it is either Nine mile or Salmon river.*

    The last I shall enumerate at present is (for a long preface is rather an awkward appendage) the apathy for poetry that exists in Nova-Scotia. In all Europe the sons of genius, more particularly the children of song, have shared at least honourable mention from their countrymen; and although poetry has a peculiar affinity to piety and patriotism, yet praise is the [Page ii] breath on which that chamelion a poet exists; and however frail the tenure, it is the alpha and omega of his intellectual life.

             I own I labor for the voice of praise,
             For who would sink in dark oblivion‘s stream,
             Who would not live in songs of distant days.


             There is a charm; a magic power,
             To charm the old, delight the young,
             In lordly hall, in rustic bower,
             In every clime, in every tongue,
             Howe‘er its sweet vibrations rung,
             In whispers low, in poet‘s lays,
             There lives not one who has not hung
             Enraptured on the voice of praise.


far other is the fate of the Bard in America, more particularly of Nova-Scotia. In extenuation, it must be admitted, that it is a young country, where Society is only in embryo, and the inhabitants being a remnant of many nations, there is scarcely yet any standard feature as a nucleus to the whole, excepting a certain species of vanity, discernable even in the most isolated situations of life, and, I am sorry to add, often accompanied with a spirit of detraction, and not unfrequently slander.
    The amiable apostle James, says, “My brethren these things ought not to be,” but this as well as other precepts, both christian and moral, has been shamefully neglected, and in many instances winked out of sight altogether. However, this is a digression from my preface; therefore, I shall conclude by observing, that if the scholar or the critic expect a feast from my labours, they will both meet with a disappointment; the Author, a Blacksmith by profession, or more properly, by necessity, unacquainted even with the simplest elements of education, but heiring a spirit that would not be made “subject to bondage willingly” spurned at the never ending drudgery of forging thunder bolts to Jupiter, and sought for a hiding [Page iii] place under the mantle of the muse.  Nor has the boon been altogether denied, in despite of fortune‘s frowning face, or

             “The luckless star that rules his lot,
             “And skrimps his fortune to the groat.”

Finally the volume was announced to the public, not from any pecuniary motive, but merely from the vanity of becoming an Author.—Often and severely have I repented my temerity, since the prospectus was published; it is one thing to write a few verses now and then for a weekly paper, under an anonymous signature, and quite another to come before the public with something in the “shape of a Book.” However, this is no “whining appeal”—these poems are now common property, and with all my faults, I am not  coward enough to turn my back, before trying the battle. But even if the dreams of enthusiasm are not realized, still a certain degree of happiness is mine, arising from a consciousness, that there is no questionable language nor exceptionable sentiment to be found in the poems of
                                                                                          ALBYN. [Page iv]

* The Author being once travelling in the Western part of the Province, fell in with a Labourer on the banks of a rivulet, and naturally enough enquired the name of the stream.—Why said the “man of feeling” its no stream at all! Its only the creek “there”—Having arrived at Annapolis, I came accidentally into the company of a gentleman who was certainly blessed with a classical education; among other queries concerning the localities of the former capital, asked where the Laquille river lay? ’no such river in this place, Sir, said the gentleman. No! returned I, not a little surprised ’Haliburton has it laid down in his map as the Laquille or Allan River,‘ ’O D—n me, no river at all‘ said he, ’only Allan creek! don‘t I know as well as Haliburton?” [back]