Archibald Lampman and Hamlin Garland

by James Doyle

In February, 1899, the American author Hamlin Garland responded to a request from the Ottawa poet and civil servant Achille Fréchette, who was soliciting tributes to be read at a memorial service for Archibald Lampman. "I knew him well and I loved him as a gentle and pure soul," wrote Garland; ". . . I held him to be one of the chief lyric poets of Canadian literature.''1  Garland had known Lampman for ten years, having corresponded with him since 1889, and having met him once in 1897, during a visit to Ottawa. This friendship between the Canadian author of romantic nature lyrics and the American exponent of regional realist fiction seems to be a rather unlikely conjunction of two very different personalities and literary imaginations. Yet their cordial exchange of letters suggests that they were not unduly inhibited by any differences of artistic alma and methods. Garland was a reserved but sincere admirer of Lampman's work, and he played a part in the establishment of Lampman's literary reputation in the United States. Lampman seeing to have been somewhat less enthusiastic about the realist fiction of Garland, but his encounter with the American author inevitably broadened his awareness of contemporary literary trends. The story relationship between these two authors, besides having considerable biographical interest, provides suggestive insights into the contrasts, parallels, and interaction between the Canadian and American literary milieu of the 1890s.2

     The American chronicler of the "middle border" pioneer experience and the Canadian lyricist of the Ontario city and fields had more in common than might appear at first glance. Born in 1860, Garland was one year older than Lampman; by 1889, he was publishing stories, articles, reviews and poems in newspapers and magazines, but his first important success, the volume of short stories Main-Travelled Roads, was still two years in the future. Lampman had not published quite so much as Garland by 1889, but he had had several poems in two prominent New York magazines, Scribner's and The Century. By 1889, Garland was becoming known in American literary circles, and was cultivating his lifelong habit of correspondence with a wide representation of famous, ambitious, and obscure figures in the Engliah-speaking literary world. But he knew at first hand something of Lampman's sense of isolation from the centres of literary activity. Garland's native America middle west and Lampman's eastern Ontario were both sufficiently rural, under-populated, demographically mobile, and close to their respective wilderness regions to be roughly comparable in social and economic atmosphere. The cultural isolation which Lampman often felt in Ottawa, furthermore, Garland had experienced at least briefly in Boston, where he spent a lonely winter in 1884-85 living on the edge of poverty while pursuing an eclectic course of self-education at the Boon Public Library.3

     Garland's programme of reading eventually led him towards his artistic and critical focus on realist fiction, but in social and economic attitudes he inclined in the same direction as Lampman. The "single tax" land reform theories of the American economist Henry George, which Garland embraced enthusiastically, were too closely related to Oberon frontier notions of self-reliance to be socialistic, but they influenced socialist theory, most notably in the English Fabian movement. In the 1890s, Lampman belonged to the Fabian Society of Ottawa. Although his interest in socialism must be directly related to the English Victorian reform movement, both he and Garland were touched by the overlapping read radicalism.

    In 1889 however, when Garland first wrote to Lampman, he knew nothing of the Canadian except that he was the author of an appealing lyric poem. "I remember well the first poem of his writing which fell under my eye," Garland wrote in the letter to Frechétte. "It was called 'Heat.' I was living Boston at that time and Mr. Chas. E. Hurd of the Transcript who was at a loss for good words, laid the proof-slip of the poem in my hand. From that time forward I read all of Mr. Lampman's work.".4   Some time early in 1889, presumably soon after this first encounter with Lampman's poetry, Garland sent off a fan letter to Ottawa. This first letter has not survived, but Lampman's reply indicates the warmth of Garland's praise. Addressing the part-time lecturer at the Boston School of Oratory as "Professor Garland," Lampman wrote:

I am exceedingly obliged to you for your very friendly letter, and your kind expression of approval of my work. I hope that the body of my work may not disappoint you, or cause you to abate the good opinion which you have based upon a single piece. The contents of my book are very varied, but those that are devoted to nature description are certainly the best, and Mr. Howells without doubt picked out the strongest pieces. . . .5

     The book mentioned is Lampman's first, privately printed, volume of verse. Among the Millet and Other Poems, which had appeared late in 1888. The allusion to William Dean Howells refers to "The Editor's Study" column in the April 1889 Harper's New Monthly, containing Howells' brief review of Among the Millet. Singling out "Heat," "The Truth," and The Frogs" for special mention, Howells concluded with the observation that "every page of [the book] has some charm of phrase, some exquisite divination of beauty, some happily suggested truth."6   Howells' disciple Ward undoubtedly read this review, and noting Howells' inclusion of the Ottawa printer's name and address, evidently indicated to Lampman his intention of obtaining a copy of the volume.

     As Lampman had feared, however, Garland's initial enthusiasm the single poem "Heat" did not extend to all the lyrics in Among the Millet. Like many late nineteenth-century exponents of the realist doctrine, Garland was of two minds about the kind of lyric poetry in which Lampman specialized, stressing the interaction between nature and the poetic sensibility. Lampman's detailed representation of nature well suited Garland's notions of artistic objectivity and the importance of the close observation of familiar locale; but the intrusion of the poet's thoughts and feelings, especially if carried to the extent that the descriptive elements become secondary, was to Garland a violation of decorum. His letter to Lampman outlining his objections to Among the Millet is not extant, but the focus of his criticism is inferrable from Lampman's reply of 25 April 1889:

     I have read your last letter with deep interest. I understand your point of view perfectly, but I cannot say that I quite agree with it. I think a great deal of latitude should be allowed the poet in his methods, the only abate requisites being beauty and truth. I confess that my design for instance in writing "Among the Timothy" was not in the first place to describe a landscape, but to describe the effect of a few hours spent among the summer fields on a mind in a troubled or despondent condition. The description of the landscape was really an accessory to my plan. This design I am sure you will object to as indirect and inartistic, but I am not entirely ready to agree with you there. The fault in my piece appears to me to be not so much in the method as in the fact that it is too clumsily carried out. Yet I feel extremely impressed with what you say, and shalI keep your observations carefully in mind in the future. I have erred in the direction you indicate, I know. Perhaps I shall sometimes be able to present you with some verses which will meet your point of view exactly. . . .7

     In spite of his reservations, Garland continued to be enthusiastic about Lampman's potential as a poet, and began to busy himself with gestures of assistance on behalf of the Canadian. "It will be good for you to get a copy of your book . . . [to] Mrs. Louise Chandler Moulton," Garland suggested. "She is one of the best and most charming literary ladies in the land. I spoke of your poems to her tonight and she was interested. She will give you a notice in the Herald and I will answer for it you will please her." "Mr. Hurd [Charles E. Hurd, literary editor of the Boston Evening Transcript] is delighted with your volume," he wrote a few days later, "and has delayed writing about it in order to read it carefully. I will write something for the Transcript over my own name and possibly an editorial the Literary World."8

     The recommendation to Louise Chandler Moulton should have been especially gratifying to Lampman. Moulton was a disciple of the New England "genteel traction," an exponent of conservative artistic and moral values, but within her limits she was a conscientious and sympathetic critic. More important, she was one of the best known and most influential reviewers in the eastern United States. Her weekly column in the Boston Herald featured careful, if sometimes imperceptive, commentaries on new volumes of poetry and fiction. Moulton could not immediately give her attention to Among the Millet, but she was finally able to notice it in the Herald of 9 February 1890. In a joint review entitled "Two Poets and their Works: An English and a Canadian Verse-writer" (the English poet was William Watson), Moulton devoted about five hundred words to Lampman's book, besides quoting partially or wholly his "April," "Midnight," and "Perfect Love." Like Garland, Moulton admired Lampman's pictorial fidelity to landscape, but she also praised him as a "poet of reverie and repose." "When you read him, you feel as if you had hardly known the charms of some everyday aspects of nature until he revealed them."9

     Lampman could not fail to be pressed by such a favourable response to his work. "I don't know how to thank you for your kindly review of my book," he wrote Moulton, "but I shall say that it gave me the greatest pleasure to read it, and that I am very proud of it. . . . I hope that any work I may do in the future may still have the good fortune to win your approval."10

     Moulton's review was, however, the moat substantial consequence of Garland'a interest in Among the Millet. In spite of his enthusiasts declarations to Lampman, no review of the book, either by Hurd or Garland, appeared in the Boston Evening Transcript, nor was there any notice in the Literary World.11 The failure of these projects was undoubtedly the result of good intentions outrunning industry. In Hurd's case, the busy editor probably found the backlog of volumes for review too formidable to spare time on an obscure, privately printed volume of poems. Garland was likewise busy with an increasingly heavy burden of literary obligations. He had the most amiable feelings towards Lampman, but as a young writer with his own way to make he obviously found that the gap between a casual expression of praise and the business of writing review articles was inconveniently wide. Then, too, as Lampman's letter of 25 April 1889 indicated, Garland had mixed feelings about Lampman's poetry. Rather than struggle with the critical problems raised by some of the nature poems, Garland evidently preferred to remain silent.

     Besides having doubts about Lampman's representation of the interaction between nature and the personal sensibility, Garland critical of the artificiality of one of Lampman's favourite poetic forms. "I offer you only a sonnet," Lampman wrote Garland at Christmas 1891, "a thing I believe you despise.''12   Conversely, Lampman could not accept the realist novelist's relentless fascination with the commonplace or the sordid elements of modern life. For his own novel reading, Lampman preferred such romantics as Charles Reade, author of The Cloister and the Hearth, or Robert Louis Stevenson, whom he considered "much more of a genuine realist than most of those who are commonly named as master of the realistic school.''13  When Garland's Main Travelled Roads appeared in 1891, it was Duncan Campbell Scott, rather than Lampman, who reviewed it for the Toronto Globe column "At the Mermaid Inn." Lampman showed little interest in Garland's fiction, and was equally indifferent to the critical controversies which preoccupied the American in his essays, such as those collected in his manifesto of "veritism," Crumbling Idols (1894). "The quarrel between realism and romanticism," Lampman wrote impatiently, "is about as empty a one as that over the iota in the Nicene creed."14

     But if Lampman was not very interested in the aesthetic issues which preoccupied Garland, he did share some of the American's political and Social concerns. According to Lampman's biographer, Carl Y. Connor, in the 1890s Lampman became increasingly interested in such theories of radical reform as the socialism of William Morris, Fabianism, and the single tax theory of Henry George. There is no mention of socialism or the single tax theory in any of his extant correspondence with Garland; but Garland was an eager proselytizer for the Henry George doctrine, and it seems likely that Lampman at least read some of Garland's many magazine articles on the subject, if they did not exchange letters about it. Lampman's own essay on socialism (unpublished in his lifetime) suggests that he inclined toward the doctrines of Fabianism William Morris, and Connor says that he remained unconvinced by the single tax theory. But Lampman obviously shared Garland's general interest in social reform; and on at least one occasion, he sought the American's help in the publication of a poem inspired by this interest.15

     "I enclose some lines which constitute a sort of small chant to the city of Chicago," Lampman wrote Garland in November 1893, "and as I hear that you are in Chicago occurred to me that some Chicago newspaper editor might like to print the verses in question [,] I take the liberty of asking you to pass them over to one of them, if you think them worth publishing."16  Lampman had never been to Chicago, but he had recently been inspired by the descriptions of his friend, Edward William Thomson, who had gone to the Columbian Exposition in the summer of 1693. "I wish I could have seen that city and that Fair with you," Lampman wrote Thomson. "I am very regretful that I was not able to get as far away from home as that. All that I hear convinces me that no one should have missed the great spectacle."17  The year of the Chicago Columbian Exposition also saw the publication of the first significant attempt to represent the midwestern American metropolism literature. Henry Blake Fuller's realist novel, The Cliff-Dwellers. Lampman may well have read the novel, or reviews of it in the American magazines, or he may have heard about it from Garland. In any case, Chicago was very much in the North American Eye in 1893; and Lampman was moved by Thomson's experiences, his reading, his social concerns, and his imagination to express his conception of the city, in a poem entitled "To Chicago."

     For a poem on a topic so explicitly American, publication in the United States was obviously appropriate. Garland did not place the poem with a Chicago newspaper or magazine however. Instead, he arranged for its publication in The Arena, a Boston magazine to which, in the years 1890-93, Garland was contributing over half of his own literary output.18   As Garland recognized, The Arena was the proper place for Lampman's poem, for it was probably the most widely circulated American magazine of its day to be concerned with questions of social reform, and was far more hospitable to socialistic or other radical ideas than the generally conservative and nationalistic publications of Chicago.

     Lampman's poem does not now seem very controversial, although it may have disturbed the conservative Duncan Campbell Scott to the extent that he excluded it from his 1900 edition of Lampman's poems. But Scott may have suppressed it on literary grounds, for it is not a strong work, in bouncy anapests which rather detract from the seriousness of its theme:

You that with limitless daring and might of gold and decision
Have furnished the world for an hour with that gorgeous and
    vanishing vision
The fair White City, filling the earth with the ring of your fame,
The glory of weave dared, the triumph chant of your name,
City of dreams and tumultuous life, city of fortune, Chicago, —
Lies beckoning grandly before you, a harvest whose riches
    shall yield
In the future of justice and right of a goodlier festival,
When the fruits of the earth for your children are won, for
    each and for all.
O men of the brave new land, the West, the impetuous City,
Give rein to the strength of your hearts, the fire of your dreams,
     and prepare
Another and purer example of what you can plan and can dare,
The visible form of a life purged clean from the sins of the old,
The horror of weakness and want, the triumph of self and of gold,
The life of a kindlier law, without strife, without care,
    without crime,
Of growth and of freedom for all, of brotherhood sweet and sublimed.19

     "To Chicago" was published only a month after one of Lampman's most powerful poems, "The City of the End of Things," appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. The two works were probably written within a year of each other, and both are based on imaginative insight rather than experience. Yet "To Chicago" reflects nothing of the apocalyptic imagery of the other poem, and its didactic plea for social justice is far removed from the surrealistic, prophetic vision of "The City." Besides being explicitly American in subject, "To Chicago" reflects many of the concerns of Garland and other American realists, including the acceptance of the inevitability of progress, and the importance of a moral improvement to keep pace with material development. The long lines and metronomic rhythm might be also seen as "Amercian," in their echo of some of the weaker but more popular performances of Walt Whitman, such as "O Captain, My Captain." Like many young poets of the 189Os, Lampman was interested in Whitman's work, and probably found the American's focus on the urban and suburban scene similar to his own inclinations, but was unable to follow him into the extremities of free verse experimentation.20   Garland was a similarly qualified admirer of Whitman's poetry. In short, there are grounds for inference that "To Chicago" is Lampman's attempt at a poem tailored in subject, theme, and technique to U.S. readers and critics. With its suggestion of Whitman in form, and its concurrence with Garland in social statement, "To Chicago" might well have been written explicitly to suit Garland's literary criteria. Lampman could not bring himself to exclude the strong subjective impulse from his nature poetry as Garland would have him do, but he could write a different kind of poem, incorporating the social consciousness and concern for the modern world which Garland's realism focused on.

     But "To Chicago" is an aberration in Lampman's work. It is related to his poems of social commentary such as "To a Millionaire" and "The Modern Politician," but its American focus and its Whitman/Garland echoes were not idioms in which Lampman could be comfortable. He obviously respected Garland's opinions and was interested in some aspects of Garland'a literary orientation, but he wrote no more poems so specifically adapted to the tastes of his American friend.

     In December, 1897, Garland and Lampman finally met. After having missed each other on every occasion of Lampman's infrequent visits to Boston, they got together in Ottawa, where Garland was gathering information and making arrangements for a projected trip to the Klondike. Unfortunately, the meeting is not recorded in any surviving correspondence, and is given only brief mention in one of the little notebooks Garland was in the habit of keeping at the time. "I have met a group of the young poets," Garland commented; "Duncan Scott tall thin, with steady clear eyes. A gentle and [disturbing?] spirit — Archibald Lampman shaggy of beard with slow halting speech full of many Scotch phrases." The young writers of Canada, Garland added, "are all restless. Ottawa is too small for them. They look away to New York. They feel that Canada lacks the national feeling yet. They do not feel a great nation about them — though a national feeling they say is growing."21

     Garland's capacity for sympathetic listening, and general amiability for which he was noted among his friends, obviously did much to increase the cordiality between Lampman and himself. Whatever reservations Lampman may have retained about realist fiction, his acknowledgement of a gift copy of Garland's latest book was prompt and effusive:

     Thanks very much for the copy of "Prairie Folks," which is of course like "Main Travelled Roads," fuller, mellower, and more masterly.
      I have some notion of the kind of people you write about. I have seen something of the former folk in the far western corner of this Province of Ontario, they are a good deal like your Prairie Folk — their manner and speech much the same, and their struggles and sufferings about as hard. I know some of them well enough to understand your stories keenly.22

The reaction — that the characters of Garland's fiction remind him of real people he has known — is the simplistic response of the casual reader, but it suggests the possibility of a new enthusiasm for realism. Lampman's friend E.W. Thomson was writing stories about the French and Scottish of Eastern Ontario and Quebec which were not unlike the fictional character sketches of Garland's books, and the similarities may have contributed to Lampman's receptivity to Prairie Folk. But the possibility of any further exchange of appreciation between Lampman and Garland was soon to come to an abrupt end. The letter praising Prairie Folk was probably the last contact between the two before Garland left on his Klondike expedition. In February 1899, Lampman was dead.

     The encounter between Lampman and Garland was brief and ambivalent, more interesting for its possibilities than for the actual exchange of ideas and influence. The encounter also shows how Lampman's work could impress writers of background and tastes quite different from his own: if he had lived, his reputation in the United States might have grown steadily. It is questionable, however, whether the admiration of Americans like Garland, Howells, and Louise Chandler Moulton would have led to significant practical advantages. As Michael Gnarowski has pointedly, the poet's "critical reception appears to have had no impact in persuading prospective publishers to secure Lampman's work for their lists."23  As far as the U.S. reaction to Lampman is concerned, this situation can be easily explained. Favourable reviews and friendly expressions of interest from other authors are very gratifying to the struggling writer; but Lampman was only one of hundreds of unestablished authors who vied for the attention of American critics, editors, publishers, and readers in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. In the smaller cultural environment of Canada, Lampman's achievements could be more readily noticed, although the unfavourable economic situation governing literary activity made material success extremely improbable. Writers were forced to look to the United States, where, like Lampman, they might encounter gratifying praise. This praise, however, was only the fleeting recognition of one talented writer among many. Howells and Moulton reviewed hundreds of volumes every year; Garland had dozens of literary friends and acquaintances. But if the encounter with Garland was of no great practical advantage to Lampman, it led at least to a congenial friendship, as well as to further evidence of the power of his poetry to provoke a favourable response from literary artists.


  1. Hamlin Garland to Achille Fréchette, 15 February 1899, William Dean Howells Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard.[back]

  2. Relatively few letters between Lampman and Garland have survived: there are five from L to G in the Garland Collection, Univ. Southern California, and three from G to L in the Lampman Papers, Simon Fraser University.[back]

  3. See Donald Pizer, Hamlin Garland's Early Work and Career (1960; rpt. New York: Russell & Russell, 1969), pp. 4-12.[back]

  4. Garland to Fréchette, 16 February 1899, Houghton.[back]

  5. Lampman to Garland, 4 April 1889, Garland Collection, U.S.C.[back]

  6. Howells, "The Editor's Study, "Harper's New Monthly, 78 (April 1889), 322-23.[back]

  7. Lampman to Garland, 26 April 1889, U.S.C. This letter is partially quoted in Helen Lynn, ea., An Annotated Edition of the Correspondence between Archibald Lampman and Edward William Thomson (1890-1898) (Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1980), p. 26.[back]

  8. Garland to Lampman, 2 May and 14 May, 1889, S.F.U. This correspondence is part of the Archibald Lampman Manuscript Group held in Special Collections, W.A.C. Bennett Library, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, and is used with the permission of Percilla Groves, Special Collections Librarian.[back]

  9. Louise Chandler Moulton, "Two Poets and their Works: An English and a Canadian Verse-writer," The Sunday Herald, 9 February 1890, p. 19.[back]

  10. Lampman to Louise Chandler Moulton, 13 February 1890, Moulton Papers, U.S. Libby of Congress.[back]

  11. No review of Lampman's work, or article likely to include mention of his work, is listed in the comprehensive bibliography of Garland's journalism and magazine writing in Pizer, Hamlin Garland's Early Work and Career. I searched the files of the Transcript and the Literary World for about a year, beginning in May 1889, but found no mention of Among the Millet in either periodical.[back]

  12. Lampman to Garland, Christmas 1891, U.S.C.[back]

  13. See Lampman to Thomson, 28 October 1891, in Lynn, An Annotated Edition, p. 23, for Lampman's comments on Reader the comment on Stevenson is in At the Mermaid Inn: Archibald Lampman, Wilfred Campbell, and Duncan Campbell Scott at the "Globe," 1891-2, intro. Barrie Davies (Toronto: Univ. Toronto Press, 1979), p. 122.[back]

  14. At the Mermaid Inn, p. 146.[back]

  15. For brief discussions of Lampman's socialism, see Carl Y. Connor, Archibald Lampman, Canadian Poet of Nature (1929; rpt. Ottawa Borealis, 1977), pp. 84-85, F.W. Watt, "The Masks of Archibald Lampman," in Archibald Lampman, ed. Michael Gnarowski (Toronto: Ryerson, 1970), pp. 202-22, and Margaret Whitridge, Introduction to The Poems of Archibald Lampman (Toronto: Univ. Toronto Press, 1974), pp. xviii-xx. Lampman's essay on socialism is now available in Barrie Davies, ea., Archibald Lampman: Selected Prose (Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1975).[back]

  16. Lampman to Garland, 9 November 1893, U.S.C.[back]

  17. Lampman to Thomson, 16 October 1893, in Lynn, An Annotated Edition, p. 93.[back]

  18. See Pizer, p. 69.[back]

  19. Lampman, "To Chicago," The Arena, IX (April 1894), 632. The poem was finally reprinted in Lampman's Sonnets, 1884-1899, ed. Margaret Coulby Whitridge (Ottawa Borealia, 1976), p. 118. In the Whitridge edition, the second last line reads ". . . and without crime," an evident misprint, since the extra word is a jarring disruption of the otherwise regular rhythm.[back]

  20. See Lampman's essay on Whitman in At the Mermaid Inn, pp. 60-61.[back]

  21. Garland, Ms. Notebook 50, U.S.C.[back]

  22. Lampman to Garland, 4 January 1898, U.S.C.[back]

  23. Michael Gnarowski, "Archibald Lampman and his Critics," The Lampman Symposium, lad. Lorraine McMullen (Ottawa: Univ. Ottawa Press, 1976), p. 20.[back]