E.W. Thomson's Review of
Among the Millet

Introduced by Eric Ball

Presented here is the text of a review of Archibald Lampman's Among the Millet (1888) which appeared in the Globe (Toronto) on August 10, 1889.1 Although the review — never before reprinted and not listed in any bibliography of works on Lampman — is not signed, it is clearly that which E. W. Thomson, who served as editorial writer for the Globe from 1879 until 1891, later claimed to have written and published in that paper in the summer of 1889. The purpose of this introduction is to comment briefly on the significance of the review; to explain the circumstances which led to a minor controversy, now resolved, over who, Thomson or William Dean Howells, was first to celebrate Among the Millet in print; and to show where, in an earlier but related review, Thomson anticipates his comments on Lampman in the present review.

     Thomson's review is of interest to students of Lampman for two main reasons. First, it shows how highly Lampman's first book was regarded by a prominent Canadian man of letters, one who, it should be remembered, was not yet personally acquainted with the poet. It is worth noting in this connection that Thomson was not motivated by an awareness of Howells' influential "Editor's Study", published some four months earlier, for Thomson evidently had no knowledge of the Howells' piece until after his own appreciation had been published. Thus there exists a notable exception to the rule according to which American sanction is necessary to the appreciation in Canada of Canadian achievement. More importantly, however, Thomson's review provides a clear statement of the qualities which Thomson himself admired in Lampman's work, among them the poet's sincerity, his simplicity of expression, and his adherence to truth or "clean grasp of the facts". Thomson's preferences and biases may be seen to have influenced not only his critical responses to Lampman's work in his letters to the poet but also his suggestions — often adopted — regarding changes to the composition of Lampman's later collections, published in their final forms as Lyrics of Earth (1896) and Alcyone (1899).

     The debate over whether or not Thomson's review predated Howells' arises from Thomson's claim that his own review came first put forward in a letter to Duncan Campbell Scott dated September 28, 1922. In fact, Howells' review was published in the April 1889 issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine2 and, indeed, was acknowledged by Lampman in a letter to George A. Mackenzie as early as April 3, 1889.3 Thomson's misapprehension remains of interest, however, for what the evidence reveals is not only that Thomson was unaware of Howells' review when he wrote his own but also that, even after the Howells piece was brought to his attention, he continued to believe, and with reason, that his review had been published first.

     On May 17, 1922 Duncan Campbell Scott, then president of the Royal Society of Canada, delivered his presidential address, entitled "Poetry and Progress", to the members of the Society gathered at the Victoria Memorial Museum, Ottawa. The address was published in the Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada volume for that year and was subsequently reprinted with minor alterations in Scott's The Circle of Affection (1947). Speaking in this talk of Lampman, whose chair in the literary section of the Society Scott had inherited after Lampman's death in 1899, Scott comments:

Until the generous review by William Dean Howells of Lampman's book [Among the Millet] had been published in Harper's Magazine, it was here considered, when any consideration whatever was given to the subject, a matter of local importance. But the warm-hearted welcome of Howells led to sudden recognition of the fact that the book was an acquisition to general literature, and was not merely parochial.4

In his September 28, 1922 letter to Scott, Thomson declares, "Your Presidential Address I like well, and agree with your there-expressed opinions in general. My one cavil is that I don't think Howells had praised Archie before I wrote the editorial in the Globe hailing his poetry as of great worth and beauty. How it amazed me delightedly at the time."5 It would appear that Scott accepted Thomson's claim, for in his Introduction to Lyrics of Earth: Sonnets and Ballads (1925) he indicates that "Mr. Thomson was the first to write of the merit of the book."6

     To understand how Thomson came to be of this view, we must consider the contents of an editorial entitled "Concerning Archibald Lampman and Sir John MacDonald" published in the Globe on March 12, 1890.7 Thomson's purpose in this editorial is to seek preferment — "a soft place" — for Lampman within the civil service, his method being to shame the prime minister into apprising himself of Lampman's achievements and reputation abroad and then proceeding "as a British Prime Minister would in such circumstances". In the course of making his plea, Thomson quotes from a letter submitted to the Globe by someone identified only as "[o]ne of the brightest of Canadian authors". The quoted passage reads, in part, as follows: " 'What a luxury it is to read the true praises of a true poet. Here is the Editor's Study in the last number of Harper's. No doubt you have seen what it says of our own Lampman, but I must quote it for the pure pleasure it gives me. Presumably, the letter from which Thomson quotes had been received by the Globe recently, not ten or eleven months prior to the date of Thomson's editorial. This being the case, it is difficult to understand how the author of the passage quoted came to believe that Howells' review had been published in the "last number" of Harper's. Nevertheless, the conclusion to which this evidence points is that, until he had seen the letter from which he quotes in his public appeal for a "soft place" for Lampman, Thomson was unaware of Howells' review; and having no reason to question the accuracy of the letter-writer's statement, he assumed that the Howells piece was not published until February or March of 1890, half a year after his own review appeared in the Globe.

     Thomson's review of Among the Millet was anticipated by his comments on Lampman included in a review of W. D. Lighthall's anthology Songs of the Great Dominion (1889), published in the Globe on July 5, 1889.8 In this review Thomson expresses dissatisfaction with much of the contents of Songs and questons, as well, Lighthall's purpose in putting the book together — in Thomson's words, not to provide "the best possible selection from Canadian poetry" but "to set forth in one volume a number of verses having Canadian color". Of Lampman he writes as follows:

Mr. Lampman, whose poems were published last year in a thin volume by Durie & Son, of Ottawa, is, in our judgment, the foremost of the young poets of America. Perfectly sincere, a singularly accurate and sympathetic observer of nature, a master of the forms of verse that he uses, never obscure, very free from the affectation of employing archaic or unusual words, totally without the "Bunthorne squirm" that mars the work of certain clever American and Canadian poets, sufficiently imaginative, possessing remarkably the power to select and set forth the things in a scene which complete its effect and distinguish it, serious but not without humor, having a wide range of interest, always conveying his impression, certainly affected deeply by Wordsworth and Matthew Arnold but not imitative, sometimes afflicted with youthful melancholy, but on the whole cheerful, Mr. Lampman is a true poet of a rare and intellectual order, and is sure to be ranked as such in English literature if he continues to produce such work as he has already done. Canada may well boast him, and we hail his advent with the more joy because his work sets the standard of Canadian verse forward by an immense distance and alongside of the standard of first-rate, latter-day English verse. We mean to celebrate Mr. Lampman at greater length hereafter, and will now turn to Wm. Wilfrid [sic] Campbell. . . .9

The only other comment having to do with Lampman occurs in Thomson's assessment of Campbell's "Indian Summer", which he quotes in full. "This is not the elaborate truthfulness of Lampman", he declares, "but 'twill serve — it is poetry — the touch is sure; the broad landscape is there, and the birds verily wing through the haze. Mr. Campbell is a poet not to be sneezed at."

     Notwithstanding his measured praise of Campbell, Thomson's reac tion to Songs was, in essence, the same as his response four years later to J. E. Wetherell's anthology Later Canadian Poems (1893), concerning which he wrote to Lampman on June 3, 1893: "This volume must have its right effect for you. ... Your poems are so incomparably better than any others here — that its [sic] even ridiculous to print them with the others — bar Roberts and Miss Wetherald on some occasions."10 Lampman's response to this praise, recorded in a letter to Thomson dated July 5, 1893, was characteristically level-headed. Having made "allowances" for the "bias of disposition" which enabled his friend "to get out of my verses all the charm there is in them, and a good deal more that perhaps isn't in them", he speaks of being "roundly praised" as follows: "It acts like wine, like clear, wholesome wine stimulates and a little intoxicates, but does no harm."11

     The present text of Thomson's review has been prepared with a view to preserving the original entirely intact. Accordingly, Thomson's spelling (except for obvious errors, of which there were two) and punctuation have both been allowed to stand. Numerous changes in punctuation, spelling, spacing, and word choice have been made by Thomson, or by the typesetter or some other person, to the passages quoted from Lampman's poems. These, too, have been preserved to allow for comparison with the original passages in Among the Millet. The changes in word choice have been identified in the notes following the text. The title of the review in the Globe appears in capital letters, but small print, at the top of the first column of the review.


Notes to the Introduction

  1. [E. W. Thomson], "Among the Millet", The Globe (Toronto), August 10, 1889, p. 8.[back]

  2. William Dean Howells, "Editor's Study", Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 78 (April, 1889), 820-25. Michael Gnarowski quotes from and comments on this review in his Introduction to Archibald Lampman, Critical Views on Canadian Writers, 3, ed. Gnarowski (Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1970), p. xiv.[back]

  3. Lampman, letter to George A. Mackenzie, Mackenzie Papers, Public Archives of Canada, MG 29 D 70. Quoted in Helen Lynn, ed., An Annotated Edition of the Correspondence between Archibald Lampman and Edward William Thomson (1890-1 898) (Ottawa: The Tecumseh Press, 1980), p. xi, n. 3.[back]

  4. Duncan Campbell Scott, "Presidential Address", in Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 3rd series, 16 (Ottawa: Jas. Hope and Son, 1922), p. liv.[back]

  5. Thomson, letter to D. C. Scott, P. A. C., Scott Papers, MG 30 D 100, Vol. 3. This passage appears, with alterations, in Some Letters of Duncan Campbell Scott, Archibald Lampman, and Others, ed. Arthur S. Bourinot (Ottawa: privately printed, 1959), p. 14.[back]

  6. Scott, Introduction, Lyrics of Earth: Sonnets and Ballads, by Archibald Lampman, ed. Scott (Toronto: The Musson Book Company, 1925), p. 9.[back]

  7. [Thomson], "Conceming Archibald Lampman and Sir John MacDonald", The Globe, March 12, 1890, p. 4. Reprinted in Lynn, pp. 214-15.[back]

  8. Thomson, "Literary Notes", The Globe, July 5, 1889, p. 4.[back]

  9. In the phrase "the 'Bunthome squirm' ", Thomson is alluding to the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta Patience or Bunthorne's Bride. Reginald Bunthorne, a character who embodies the authors' satirical notion of a poetic aesthete, indulges in "the affectation of employing archaic or unusual words" in a ludicrous effort to achieve poetic effect and thus to win favour with the "damozels" of the operetta. See W. S. Gilbert, Savoy Operas (London: George Bell and Sons, 1909), pp. 49-73. [back]

  10. Lynn, p. 84.[back]

  11. Lynn, p. 87.[back]