Notes on Duncan Campbell Scott’s  “Lines in Memory of Edmund Morris

by Leon Slonim

     It has become customary, in discussing the poems of Duncan Campbell Scott, to divide them into two groups: those which are “native” or “northern” or “Canadian” in subject-matter, and those — by far the more numerous — which are not.1 The first group is relatively well-known and admired; the second is, with a few exceptions (notably “The Piper of Arll”), generally deprecated or ignored. “Lines in Memory of Edmund Morris” is, in one respect, a microcosm of Scott’s verse as a whole. For it utilizes elements of both the Old and New World cultures — the Indian’s “wigwam” (1.100) and the “herdsmen’s chalet” (1.176) — and, not surprisingly, it is for its “native” passages that the poem is best known.2

     Yet viewed from another angle, “Lines” appears untypical of the work of its author. Scott was, by all accounts, a reticent and self-effacing man, not inclined towards introducing his personal self and his day-to-day life into his poetry. “Lines,” therefore, is uncharacteristic of him insofar as it contains a multitude of (auto-)biographical allusions and reminiscences, these uttered, moreover, in a tone of easy familiarity.

     Partly for this reason, however — because the poem half-pretends to be a personal letter to Morris, a text not addressed to the general reader — these allusions remain somewhat obscure. Not that our incomplete understanding of them makes much difference to our interpretation of the poem; but it does affect our understanding of Scott’s literary career and of his creative processes — particularly his manner of handling his source-material, whether this was to be found in literature or in non-literary experience.

     Unfortunately there is no easy access to the background of “Lines.” Still waiting to be written are full-scale biographies of both Scott and Morris. What little information is freely available3 has virtually nothing to say about the subject at hand. Our purpose here, therefore, is to shed more light on the historical and biographical context of “Lines,” first with reference to the poem as a whole and then with reference to specific allusions within the poem.

     Edmund Montague Morris, the Canadian painter, was born in Perth, Ontario in 1871. He was the son of Alexander Morris who from 1872 to 1877 was Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. (Like Scott, he probably derived his interest in Indians from his father.) After receiving his art education in New York and Paris, Morris returned to Canada in 1896, vacationed in Holland and Scotland in 1902 and finally made his home in Toronto where he was instrumental in founding the Canadian Art Club in 1907.

     The earliest contact that we are aware of between Scott and Morris dates from 1906. In the summer of that year Scott led an expedition through northern Ontario, the purpose of which was the signing of treaties between the federal government (represented by himself) and certain Indian tribes. Morris, who was interested in doing portraits of Indians, accompanied Scott and his men, though only for part of their journey. According to Pelham Ed gar, who served as Scott’s secretary, Morris joined the expedition at Chapleau on July 20 (it had been in the field since May 22) and remained behind at Long Lake (on or about August 14) when Scott returned to Ottawa.4

     Correspondence dating from the following year5 reveals how warm a friendship had sprung up between the poet and the painter. One letter, written in April, 1907, is of particular interest insofar as it concerns the sending of a copy of The Magic House (Scott’s first book of verse) to Morris; it was the same copy, apparently, which Scott had taken with him on the treaty-signing expedition.

     In 1909 Morris was commissioned by the governments of Saskatchewan and Alberta to do portraits of Indians living in those provinces. (Some of the work which resulted now hangs in the Provincial Legislatures in Regina and Edmonton.) It is possible that Scott, then Superintendent of Indian Education, was involved in arranging Morris’ itinerary and in giving him letters of introduction to the reserves.6   Scott may have made introductions in person during the summer of 1910 when he and his wife are known to have taken their holiday in western Canada7 and when Morris is known to have been in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.8 (This is almost certainly the trip to which Scott alludes in “Lines,” 11.98ff.: “And well I recall the weirdness / Of that evening at Qu’Appelle . . .”)

     The encounters between Morris and Scott in the summers of 1906 and 1910 (there may well have been others of which we are unaware [see the note, below, to 1.134]) solidified a friendship which was largely based, we can assume, on their common interest in the Indians and, as well, in painting (though in this branch of the arts Scott was only a connoisseur, not a practitioner). However, the immediate cause of composition of “Lines” was Morris’ sudden and untimely death (there was speculation that it was suicide) on August 21, 1913.

     Scott began composing his poem not long afterwards — in December of that year;9 according to E. K. Brown, it was “written in the winter of 19l3-1914”.10  The poem was first published in the form of a sixteen-page pamphlet, Lines in Memory of Edmund Morris, in July, 1915. It was reprinted, with only two textual variants, in Scott’s fifth book of verse, Lundys Lane and Other Poems (1916) and in the Poems of Duncan Campbell Scott (1926).

     After Morris died, his reputation appears to have gone into a decline. Indeed, “he almost became a forgotten painter.”11 However, recent years have seen a new appreciation of his work so that “his Indian portraits are now priceless.”12  In this pattern of neglect and re-discovery, his reputation resembles that of Scott, as it does in the fact that both reputations are largely based on a few works of Indian content.

     Scott wrote to the memory of his friend (line numbers are on the left, followed by the relevant quotation of the text):

5. I went away. A letter, dated October 6, 1913, from Scott to Pelham Edgar (in the Pelbam Edgar papers) reveals that Scott had left Nantucket on Sep tember 9. He was, therefore, probably still (vacationing) in the Massachusetts town at the time of Morris’ death.

6. Isle of Orleans. This is an island in the St. Lawrence, above Quebec City, in the vicinity of which Morris drowned. The island became a haunt of Canadian artists, among them Horatio Walker (also a friend of Scott) whom Morris was visiting at the time of his death.

22. Touchwood Hills: a group of hills in central Saskatchewan.

25. Phimister Proctor. A. Phimister Proctor (1862-1950) was an Ontario-born American sculptor and friend of Morris who joined the latter’s Canadian Art Club.

91. Crowfoot’s grave. In his memoir, “I Remember — Artists, Writers and Others,” G. H. Gooderham relates that “on one of [Scott’s] visits to the Blackfoot Reserve I took him to see landmarks which Morris had made when he was doing portraits of Indians in 1909. The Indians had shown him the spot where Chief Crowfoot had died and he had marked it with a ring of large stones.”13 Though Gooderham was not appointed Indian Agent on the Blackfoot Reserve (in Alberta) until 1920, that is, after “Lines” had been written, his father held the same position in the summer of 1910 when Scott is known to have visited the Reserve14 and when the younger Gooderham was at home “due to ill health.”15 It is noteworthy that Crowfoot’s grave had been marked with stones probably by fellow Indians — many years before Morris arrival on the scene. An early account describes the site as follows:

From each of the four corners of the enclosure was a string of stones extending a considerable distance down the hill. Probably these strings of stones pointed to the four points of the compass.”16

96. Napiw. This is the name of a mythological figure of the Blackfoot Indians. There are extended discussions of Napiw in Amelia M. Paget’s The People of the Plains (1909) and George Bird Grinnell’s Black foot Lodge Tales (1892). Scott contributed an introduction to the former book and may also have been acquainted with the latter. M. H. Dagg has pointed out that “To the Blackfoot . . . [Napiw] is ‘Old Man,’ the creator of life” and that, according to Blackfoot mythology, he “marked out his being in the precise manner in which Morris, and poetically, Scott, encircled Crowfoot’s tepee, with stones.”17

100. Sakimay. Sakimay was chief of the Indian Reserve (no. 74) at the western end of Crooked Lake, Saskatchewan (about seventy-eight miles east of Regina). For an official reference, see the Description and Plans of Certain Indian Reserves in the Province of Manitoba and the North-West Territories (1889): “Name of Chief ‘Sakimay’ (Mosquito)” (p. 26).

102. kinnikinick. According to the Handbook of American Indians North of Superior, ed F. W. Hodge, “kinnikinick” is an “Indian preparation of tobacco, sumac leaves, and the inner bark of a species of dogwood, used for smoking by the Indians . . . The word . . . is derived from one of the Cree or Chippewa dialects of Algonquian. The literal signification is ‘what is mixed’”(p. 692).

112-20. This tale appears to be based, albeit loosely, upon a narrative in Amelia M. Paget’s The People of the Plains (pp. 146-50). In Paget’s version there is no element of the fantastic, e.g. ghosts, and the warriors, far from being lured to their destruction, are rescued by the leader of the raid. However, if the tale was indeed a “legend,” as Scott’s poem claims, then it is possible that Scott heard a different version — one closer to his own — from Sakimay.

134. Ne-Pah-Pee-Ness. There is a reproduction of Morris’ portrait of this Indian in Morris’ Canadian Art Club Exhibition of Indian Portraits with Notes on the Tribes (n.p.: priv. print., 1909), portrait no. 12. The reproduction is accompanied by the following note: “Night Bird, Nepahpenais — owesis Band, Saskatchewan, some time chief, now seventy-four, was for merly employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company, journeying many miles with freight. At eighteen he went on the warpath and was afterwards in seven battles; once, fighting the Sioux in Dakota, his party of forty-six were surrounded by about seven hundred of the enemy, for two days they held out and managed to escape. Another time the Sioux descended on his tribe and stole two hundred horses.” According to Morris’ pamphlet, “the portraits of this tribe [the Saulteaux, among whom was Nepahpenais] were painted in 1908” (p. 8); the pamphlet itself, moreover, was published, as noted above, in 1909. It would appear, therefore, that the event recalled by Scott (“I remember well a day . . .” [11.131 ff.]) took place in 1908. However we have no evidence of a meeting between Scott and Morris in that year. We should add that the portrait referred to above does confirm to the description in Scott’s poem: the subject’s coat is beaded and his head is bare (the “mottled fan” is not visible but then neither are the subject’s hands in which the fan would have been held).

225. Akoose. There is a reproduction of Morris’ portrait of Akoose in the Canadian Art Club pamphlet (portrait no. 13). The reproduction is accompanied by the following note: “Man Standing Above Ground, Acoose [sic]—Sakimay Band, Saskatchewan. He is now [1908] sixty-one. His father, who is part French, lives at the age of one hundred and three, kept by the priests. Acoose used to be the fleetest of the Saulteaux. Once at Moose Mountain he fell in with nine deer, his bullets had slipped from his pocket, so he ran them down the first day and drove them sixty miles to his camp at Goose Lake, then killed them: this gave him renown in his tribe. He also used to compete with the whites in races, always outrunning them, and his son lately ran in Winnipeg” (p. 9). There is also a reference to Akoose and his legendary hunting of the antelope in Amelia M. Paget’s The People of the Plains (p. 87).

224-63. Here, Morris . . . shadows at sundown. Precisely when Akoose died remains unknown. Those letters in the Indian Affairs Archives which make reference to him do not go beyond the year 1911.18   It is quite possible, therefore, that Akoose died sometime between 1911 and 1913-14 when “Lines” was written. Whether or not Akoose’s actual death was as described in “Lines” also remains unknown. Because so many of the allusions in the poem have a basis in fact, we hesitate to call Scott’s narrative of the death fictional. On the other hand, the poem mentions no witnesses; who could have known of the details of Akoose’s final hours of life: “ . . . he ranged on entranced, / Until the sun blazed level with the prairie, / Then paused, faltered and slid from off his pony” (11.243-45)? Probably the safest conjecture is that this narrative is part fiction and part fact.


  1. Cf. Bernard Muddiman in 1914: “This is the first occasion on which [Scott] treats of French-Canadian themes, that, afterwards, with the Indian, form the body of his best work” (Duncan Campbell Scott, Canadian Magazine, 43 [1914], 67). The “first occasion” which Muddiman refers to was the writing of “At the Cedars,” Scott’s earliest “Canadian” poem.[back]

  2. By far the most celebrated passage in this poem of 282 lines is that on the death of Akoose (11.224-63).[back]

  3. Major sources (If biographical information on Scott are E. K. Brown, “Memoir,” in Selected Poems of Duncan Campbell Scott (Toronto: Ryerson, 1951), pp. xi-xlii; Peiham Edgar, “Duncan Campbell Scott,” Dalhousie Review, 7 (1927), 38-46, as well as Edgar’s preliminary draft for this article (TS. c. 1924, Pelham Edgar papers, E. J. Pratt Library, University of Toronto). For information on the life of Morris, see Cohn S. Macdonald, comp., A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, vol. 4 (Ottawa: Canadian Paperbacks Publishing, 1967), and the “Information Form” (filled (Jut by Morris himself) in the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.[back]

  4. See Pelham Edgar, “Twelve Hundred Miles by Canoe,” Canada (London), 5 (1907), 331; also Edgar’s Across My Path (Toronto: Ryerson, 1952), pp. 65-66.[back]

  5. Three letters, dated March 7, April 6 and July 25, 1907, in the Edmund Morris Letter Books, vol. 2, pp. 29-31, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. There is also a letter, dated July 19, 1912, from Scott to Morris, in the Alexander Morris papers, Ontario Archives, Toronto.[back]

  6. This is suggested in a letter, dated January 22, 1965, from G. H. Gooderham to Morris’ niece. The letter is in the Gooderham papers, Glenbow-Alberta Institute, Calgary.[back]

  7. See the letters, dated May 22 and October 6, 1910, from Scott to Pelham Edgar, in the Pelham Edgar papers.[back]

  8. See the Regina Morning Leader, July 15, 1910, p. 1.[back]

  9. See the letter, dated December 7,1913, from Scott to Pelbam Edgar, in the Pelham Edgar papers.[back]

  10. E. K. Brown “Memoirs” p. xxviii.[back]

  11. Cohn S. Macdonald, p. 1293.[back]

  12. Cohn S. Macdonald, p. 1293.[back]

  13. TS., 1971, p. 15, G. H. Gooderham papers. Grateful acknowledgement is made to the Glenbow-Alberta Institute for permission to quote this passage.[back]

  14. See the letter, dated September 7, 1910, from the Indian Agent’s Office, Blackfoot Indian Agency, Gleichen, Alberta (the letter is unsigned) to the Secretary, Dept. of Indian Affairs, Ottawa, in the Records of the Indian Affairs Branch (RG 10, Black Series, vol. 1155), National Archives, Ottawa.[back]

  15. TS., 1971, p. 1, G. H. Gooderham papers.[back]

  16. Anon., “Crowfoot’s Grave,” The Canadian Indian (Owen Sound, Ont.), 1 (1891), 294. (Crowfoot died in 1890.)[back]

  17. Melvin H. Dagg, “Scott and the Indians,” The Humanities Association Bulletin, 23 (1972), 5,6.[back]

  18. These letters are in the Records of the Indian Affairs Branch (RG 10, Black Series, vols.3573 and 3939), National Archives, Ottawa. The last letter — from M. Millar, Indian Agent at the Crooked Lake Agency — is dated October 12, 1911.[back]