Lampman and the Canadian Thermopylae
"At the Long Sault: May, 1660"

by Margaret Kennedy

     If the available evidence is to be trusted, it was in August, 1898 and again in January, 18991 that Archibald Lampman wrote "At the Long Sault: May, 1660," his brief treatment of what by that time had come to be known as the 'Canadian Thermopylae.' Since Lampman died in February, 1899, only weeks after transcribing "At the Long Sault" into the "rough note book" from whose appropriately "yellowed and crumbling pages"2 E.K Brown, with the help of Duncan Campbell Scott,3 worked up the text for At the Long Sault and Other New Poems (1943), he did not live either to finish the poem or to see the debunking of the reputation of Dollard des Ormeaux (Daulac) as 'the savior of New France' which took place in the 'twenties and 'thirties. But by the time E.K. Brown came to edit At the Long Sault and Other New Poems in 1943 the controversy over the significance of the Long Sault incident had been raging in the historical journals and in the popular press for over ten years.4 It is somewhat surprising, therefore, that in his "Introduction" to At the Long Sault Brown not only makes no mention of the controversy surrounding Daulac but gives an account of the Long Sault incident that, unlike W.S. Wallace's "Historical Preface" to Nathaniel A. Beneon's Dollard; A Tale in Verse (1933), completely bypasses the research of such twentieth-century historians as Gustave Lanclot and E.R. Adair who had by then cast considerable doubts on the importance of the exploit. Lampman "had a great theme," writes Brown:

against the background of the Ottawa and the forests, in the spring of 1660, Daulac and his little band of French Canadians held a delapidated fort for about ten days, deserted by their Huron and Algonquin allies and assailed by an overwhelming number of Iroquois, and yet continuing the fight till all had been grievously wounded and all but four were dead. Their resistance ended an Iroquois project of descending the river to sack the little settlement at Montreal.5

For Brown in the early 1940's, as for Lampman in the late 1890's, "the issue was epic in significance; the background was grand; the incident superbly heroic in quality." Now what Brown and Lampman have in common in their telling of Daulac's exploit is an acceptance of the received nineteenth-century view of the Long Sault incident, a view which, in Lampman's day, had been challenged by only one historian, William Kingsford who argued, in his History of Canada (1887), that an exaggerated importance had been attached to "the affair of Dollard."6 Clearly Kingsford was not Lampman's source for "At the Long Sault." The question which then arises, and which the next few paragraphs will attempt to answer, is what was the source for Lampman's poem?

     The conception of Daulac and his followers as the "heroes" (the word is Lampman's) and, in fact, the 'saviours' of Canada was largely the product of nineteenth-century French Canadian historians. In 1861, coincidentally the year of Lampman's birth, Abbé J.-B.-A. Ferland 'started the ball rolling' by maintaining, in his Cours d'histoire du Canada, that "l'heroisme de Daulac et de ces compagnons"7 at the Long Sault had saved the colony of New France from destruction at the hands of the Iroquois. Ferland's detailed and dramatic account of the Long Sault incident occupies some seven pages of his book and may well have been known to Lampman. In 1865 more snow was added to the ball by Abbé Étienne-Michel Faillon whose account of the incident occupies no fewer than twenty-five quarto pages of his Histoire de la colonie française en Canada. To Faillon the martyrdom of Daulac and his men constituted "le plus beau fait d'armes de toute l'histoire Canadienne."8 If Lampman, as is quite possible, had read Faillon the classical scholar in him would doubtless have been intrigued by the historian's contention that "dans les histoires des grecs et des romans, rien n'est comparable à l'action de ces braves."9 Other writers were, of course, ready with a comparable incident in Greek history; in 1888 Mary Hartwell Catherwood, in the "Preface" to her Romance of Dollard, mentioned "the story of Thermopylae"10 as an analogue for the Long Sault, and in 1890 Thomas G. Marquis, in Stories of New France; Being Tales of Adventure and Heroism from the Early History of Canada, told Daulac's story in a chapter entitled "A Canadian Thermopylae."11 The major English Canadian source for the romantic tales of Catherwood, Marquis, and others was, as might be expected, Francis Parkman's The Old Régime in Canada (1874), which, in turn, draws heavily on Ferland and Faillon. (Parkman's volume had gone to no fewer than twenty-five editions by 1891 and a twenty ninth edition appeared in 1893.12) Although, in the absence of available external evidence, it would be unwise to state categorically that Parkman's lengthy account of Daulac's exploits in The Old Régime also provided the ground work for Lampman's treatment of The Long Sault incident, the internal evidence to be presented in a few moments indicates that it was indeed the poet's major, perhaps even his only, source for the poem. 

     It will be remembered that in Lampman's poem the story of Daulac and his followers is told by an omniscient narrator, and that the poem falls naturally into five parts: (1) the opening description of May, ending with the image of the "grey hawk" which adumbrates the references to the Iroquois as predators later in the poem; (2) the general description of the locale of the conflict, of its nature, and of its role in saving the "little frail-walled town" of Montreal from "the Iroquois horde;" (3) the 'epic' simile which likens the ''Iroquois horde" to a pack of wolves who "fasten upon. . .and drag. . .down" a "tired bull moose;" (4) the description of the death of Daulac and his men, and of the victory of the Iroquois; and (5) the closing lyric which, in Brown's words, "soothes the spirit, and persuades one to believe that the dark and terrible conflict . . . was a reassuring act, preserving serenity and safety for Montreal, for Canada, and encouraging us to share that serenity and safety."

     Of the five parts of "At the Long Sault," parts (1) and (3), which are the most 'poetic,' might be expected to be the least likely to have their roots in an historian's description of the conflict. Yet the seed for some of the more  lyrical images in the poem, for Lampman's description of the "soft spring night" before the conflict and of the "song of the rapid" which persists after it, may well have been planted by the following 'purple passage' in Parkman's account of the Long Sault incident:

Morning and noon and night they [Daulac and his men] prayed in three different tongues; and when at sunset the long reach of forests on the farther shore basked peacefully in the level rays, the rapids joined their hoarse music to the notes of their evening hymn.13

Where there is a similarity of mood between this passage and sections of "At the Long Sault," it is worth noticing that Lampman, consistent with his bias against conventional, organized Christianity, makes nothing in his poem of "the enthusiasm of faith"14 which Parkman, following Abbés Ferland and Faillon, attributes to Daulac and his followers.

     Although the mood and some of the details of Lampman's treatment of inanimate nature in "At the Long Sault" may owe a debt to Parkman there is nothing in the historian's account of the incident to compare with the poet's extended Iroquois/Wolf, Daulac/moose simile. It is possible that behind Lampman's conception of the Indians as predators ("panting for prey") and as demons ("not men but devils") lie quotations and comments in Parkman such as, from the Relation, "they approach like foxes. . .attack like lions, and disappear like birds" and "the Iroquois were regarded as actual myrmidons of Satan. . . ."15 It is also possible that Lampman was familiar with Mary Hartwell Catherwood's weakly domestic comparison of the Iroquois with a "cat [reaching] out to cuff its mouse"16 in The Romance of Dollard and with Benjamin Sulté's more vigorous comparison of Daulac and his men with "lions entourés par des centaines de Sauvages"17 in his Pages d'histoire du Canada (1891). Perhaps Lampman knew some or all of these comparisons and, sensing an opportunity lost, decided to develop at length the 'epic' simile that constitutes the third part of "At the Long Sault." Even if this were true, however, the fact would rend, that Lampman's extended comparison of Daulac with a "desperately enduring moose" (Brown) is one of the most original — and powerful — features of the poet's treatment of the Long Sault incident.

     Lampman's most considerable debt to Parkman occurs, not surprisingly, in his account of the actual defense and capture of the Long Sault in parts (2) and (4) of his poem. A certain number of verbal parallels between The Old Régime and "At the Long Sault" should establish that Parkman provided the basis for Lampman's descriptions of the fort, its defenders, and its attackers. Lampman's depiction of the "Long Sault" stockade as a "broken palisade" and a "ruined fort" set in an "open glade" echoes Parkman's description of it as an "already ruinous" "palisade fort" in a "rough clearing,"18 though it should be noticed that the word "glade" as opposed to "clearing" is consistent with the pastoral image of nature which Lampman plays against a view of nature as 'red in tooth and claw' at several points in the poem. Lampman's description of Daulac and his followers as being borne down by "hunger and thirst and care" also echoes Parkman's "hunger, thirst, and want of sleep wrought fatally on the strength of the French and their allies."19 And when the poet writes that, while the Iroquois were receiving reinforcements for their attack, there came "only. . .despair" to Daulac's men, he seems to be echoing the historian's assertion that the loyal Algonquins with Daulac "stood fast, with the courage of despair."20 Finally, Parkman's description of the "triumphant yells [that] proclaimed the dear-bought victory''21 of the Iroquois may well lie behind Lampman's description, in part (4) of the poem, of the "triumph-songs" of the victorious "foe".

     In addition to these verbal carryovers from The Old Régime to "At the Long Sault,'' Lampman may have been indebted to Parkman for his conception of the town of Quebec and its inhabitants, and, indeed, of Daulac himself. "Everyone [in Quebec] was in arms," writes Parkman, "and the Qui vive of the sentries and patrols resounded all night."22 Perhaps drawing on this, Lampman has it towards the end of the poem that "The little town lieth at rest,/[and] The sentries are peacefully pacing." Similarly Parkman's reference to a St. Anne family "consisting of an old woman, her daughter, her son-in-law, and four children"23 who had taken refuge in Quebec but were subsequently kidnapped by the Indians may lie behind Lampman's earlier description "Of maiden and matron and child,/With ruin and murder impending" in "the little frail-walled town." It may also be that Lampman was indebted to Parkman's conception of Daulac as "a knight of the early crusades among the forests and savages of the new world" participating in an "enterprise" the "spirit [of which] was purely mediaeval"24 for his depiction of 'the savior of New France' as a somewhat chivalric figure whose "terrible sword," in the last moments of his life, "whistled and slew" in "the little raging forest glen. . . ." Be this as it may, however, it would appear from the evidence so far assembled that The Old Régime in Canada provided Lampman with an account of the Long Sault that formed the basis for several of the important details and background conceptions for "At the Long Sault: May, 1660."

     Despite Lampman's apparent indebtedness to Parkman, it must not be thought that he followed the historian slavishly in his treatment of the incident at the Long Sault. Much that Parkman describes, such as the events leading up to the Long Sault incident, the background of Daulac and his followers, and the crude grenade with which Daulac, by mistake, killed several of his own men, is omitted by Lampman. By ignoring numerous details, Lampman increases the intensity of the incident so that, in effect, his account is a distillation of the essence of Parkman's. As has been well said by E.K. Brown "the subject might well have been treated in a long narrative, but Lampman preferred to concentrate tightly upon the climatic action and to dispatch the whole in just short of a hundred lines." Lampman also avoids the potential for sensationalism which is present in Parkman's account and, unlike Marquis, whose "A Canadian Thermoplyae" is crudely about violence, he ignores the gorier aspects of the story — the woundings, beheadings, and torturings. And the point may be made again, and elaborated, that through the techniques of poetry, imagery and simile, rhythm and rhyme, and by emphasizing the isolation of Daulac and his men, the fact that they were "Beyond message or aid," Lampman not only increases the intensity of the incident but also reveals his mastery of the techniques of foreshadowing and suspense. All in all, then, an examination of Lampman's poem in relation to its probable source(s) indicates that the poet, while drawing particularly, it has been argued, on Parkman, freely omitted whatever he found unsuitable and judiciously added what he felt was necessary for the unity and effectiveness of his poem. While Lampman may have received the impulse for "At the Long Sault: May 1660" from "The Heroes of the Long Sault" chapter in The Old Régime in Canada, the two treatments of the 'Canadian Thermopylae' are as different as the authors themselves, or as poetry and prose. Not only does the brief bringing together of the poem and its probably source attempted here offer some insights into Lampman's creative imagination in the process of creating a poem but it also reveals that, while "At the Long Sault: May, 1660" may be, as numerous critics have argued, innovative in terms of poetic technique, it is nothing if not nineteenth century in its subject matter, in its conception of Daulac as the heroic 'saviour of New France.'


  1. See Margaret Coulby Whitridge, "Introduction," The Poems of Archibald Lampman (including At the Long Sault) (Toronto, 1974) p. xxvii.[back]

  2. E.K. Brown, On Canadian Poetry (Ottawa, 1974; repr. of 1944 ed.), p. 108.[back]

  3. The fact that Scott saw fit to 'improve' the poem is well-known, but see Stan Dragland, "Duncan Campbell Scott as Literary Executor for Archibald Lampman: 'A Labour of Love'," Studies in Canadian Literature (Summer, 1976), 150-151. Not only did Scott make what he called a "very few cuts" to the poem but he also did a "rearrangement of the lines from 'so Daulac turned him anew' " and, moreover, "used town instead of burg in the 26th line of the lyric" because he "didn't like burg."[back]

  4. The historiography of Dollard is traced with admirable lucidity by André Vachon, "Dollard des Ormeaux," Dictionary of Canadian Biography, I (Toronto, 1966), 266-275.[back]

  5. "Introduction," At the Long Sault and Other New Poems by Archibald Lampman (Toronto, 1943), xxiii. Subsequent quotations from Brown and from "At the Long Sault: May 1660" will be taken from this source.[back]

  6. The History of Canada, I (Toronto, 1887), 261. Kingsford allots less than two pages to the "affair," which he considers (p. 262 n.) to have been "made to present the page of romance. . . ."[back]

  7. Cours d'histoire du Canada (1534-1756), I (Quebec, 1861), 460.[back]

  8. Histoire de la colonie française en Canada, II (Villemarie [Montreal], 1865), 415.[back]

  9. Ibid., p. 412.[back]

  10. "Preface," The Romance of Dollard (New York, 1888), p. 6. The volume also contains a preface by Francis Parkman.[back]

  11. See Agnes Maule Machar and Thomas G. Marquis, Stories of New France. . . (Boston, 1890), 165-181.[back]

  12. See Samuel Eliot Morison, ed. The Parkman Reader from the Works of Francis Parkman (Boston, 1955), Bibliography.[back]

  13. The Old Régime in Canada (Boston, 1874), 76.[back]

  14. Ibid., p. 73.[back]

  15. Ibid., p. 34 and p. 61.[back]

  16. Catherwood, p. 196.[back]

  17. Pages d'histoire du Canada (Montreal, 1891), p. 281.[back]

  18. Parkman, pp. 75-76. See also Marquis pp. 168-169.[back]

  19. Ibid.,  p. 78. See also Marquis p. 175.[back]

  20. Ibid., p. 79.[back]

  21. Ibid., p. 81.[back]

  22. Ibid., p. 70.[back]

  23. Ibid.[back]

  24. Ibid., pp. 73-74.[back]