Strategies of Colonial Legitimation in the Early Canadian Long Poem

by C.D. Mazoff

And who and what are the people who divide among them this magnificent property? And how have they acquired it?  Did they come in as conquerors, and appropriate themselves the wealth of others? — They came in but to sub due a wilderness, and have reversed the laws of conquest; for plenty, good neighbourhood, and civilization mark their footsteps.1

In the eighteenth century, rhetoric and poetics had not yet manifested the split so clearly evident in the Romantic period; the Augustan age was equally concerned with the moral and persuasive as well as the aesthetic elements of poetry.  However, the post-Renaissance "reconceptualization of man and nature," which increasingly saw man in terms of his exchange value and nature as "fodder for subjugation and commodification,"2 had given rise to new idioms which testif[ied] to new habits of appraisal and to new visions of social life."3   The increase of mercantilism and the monetary motive had an interesting and complicated effect on both the values and the poetry of the period.  On the one hand the poetry concerned itself with the "promise of material wealth and cultural refinement extended by the imperial contract,"4 while on the other it relied largely on the pastoral as its formal model, a model which clearly eschewed both commerce and the machinery of trade.  The incompatibility of these two modes of discourse led to something of a legitimation crisis, particularly in Canada where the confluence of the Protestant and capitalist work ethics, the conflict between an unidyllic nature and its poetic counterpart, the problems of penury and social disgrace among the lesser gentry who had been forced into "exile" (emigration), and the confrontation with a wilderness that refused to be an Eden and a noble savage who refused to be "noble," all combined to produce in the poetry of the period what can be termed "culture shock."  One result of this culture shock was the increasing use of a rhetoric whose purpose was to deflectatten tion away from the conflict between the economic and poetic modes of discourse, or, as Kenneth Burke would have it, to repress the fact that money (read "independence," or "freedom") had replaced "God" as the "rationalizing ground of action."5

     Some of the earliest long poems in Canada, including Thomas Cary's Abram's Plains: A Poem (1789),6 Adam Hood Burwell's Talbot Road: A Poem (1818),7 Oliver Goldsmith's The Rising Village (1825, 34),8 and Joseph Howe's Acadia (c. 1832-34),9 attempt to follow pastoral and neoclassical conventions in both form and content, relying much in their description of the new land on the theme of the domestication of Nature and the creation/recreation of a social order resembling that of an English country village.  At the same time these poems introduce certain collocations of words which, while seemingly innocuous at first reading, suggest clusters of meaning at odds with both the pastoral vision and the neoclassical form.  Perhaps because of an underlying concern with commerce and the frustrations of "enterprise," these poems display a tension that manifests itself in the increasing occurrence of metaphors of exchange and a rhetoric of commodification, through which the "other" — the new land, nature, the Natives, the "yankees," "woman," and even poetry itself — is defined, and its value assessed, in such a way as to legitimize the new colonists and validate their presence.

     For example Cary, after speaking of the new land in terms of the traditional Nature/Culture opposition, quickly moves on to praise of "the god of trade" (115), asserting in no uncertain terms what the reward is to be in this new land for those hardy enough to survive the pain of emigration: "gold."  Early in the poem, the "noble" forests are quickly reduced to settler's "pay" through a rhetorical manoeuvre that equates them first with the enemy, the French, and then with the spoils of war.  In a subtle shift, noble Nature becomes the victim in a sacrifice to Commerce.  That Cary's poem manifests the concerns of empire and trade is clear and predictable.  Less obvious and more problematic is the tension between these concerns and his claim, in the "Preface," to follow in part the model of Goldsmith (the elder), whose attitudes toward trade and commerce are antithetical to those espoused in the poem.  Nor is Cary alone in displaying this tension: Goldsmith the younger, in The Rising Village, a poem which is clearly modelled upon his great-uncle's The Deserted Village, and in which the word "prospects" refers to more than just topographical perspectives, goes so far as to conceive of his own poem as currency: as "tribute" and repayment.  The Rising Village, while ostensibly about a rising village, is more specifically about the "search [for] wealth, [for] freedom, and [for] ease" (51-52), an ordering of priorities clearly opposite to that of Goldsmith's Anglo-Irish namesake.  For Goldsmith and other Canadian poets of the period, Nature must be conquered and domesticated; but, through a series of metaphors, in which a secondary system of implications with commercial overtones is brought into play, Goldsmith and others actually convey the sense of the land taking on an exchange value, and express this view through a language that revises the process of domestication and places it within the economic realm.  Thus, through the application of "industry," the settler is able to transform the "gloomy" forest into fields of "golden corn."  Friends are "afford[ed]," while those who are beaten by nature "resign."  In this and other poems of the period (for example, Standish O'Grady's The Emigrant)10 the threat of bankruptcy hovers like a dark angel over the prospect of settlement.  Nature might indeed be a cornucopia that when tamed will provide "fair prospects" and "future joys," in the monetary sense; but it always carries the risk of commercial failure.  Survival, here, is definitely economic.

     This essay seeks to demonstrate that in the Canadian long poem of the late-eighteenth and early to mid-nineteenth centuries the reinterpretation of the new land and its inhabitants in terms of its property value is part of a rhetoric whose purposes are to persuade both the new Canadian and the world at large of the moral legitimacy of carving out a life in the bush, and to motivate Canadians to adopt an attitude of economic progressivism that would raise them to a position of social and economic respectability in a world increasingly dominated by capitalist ideology.  Exile and hewer of wood though he may be, and in a land that is not Eden, the new Canadian must be convinced that, though an exile, he is not a social outcast.11  To this end, the strategies of legitimation in the early Canadian long poem have it as their task to convince the emigrant of the rightness of his cause, and to this purpose utilize metaphors of exchange to transform the land of exile into the land of financial promise, and "the orphans of civilization"12 into a new aristocracy.


In Abram's Plains: A Poem, Thomas Cary, claiming to rely upon the poetic models of Thomson and Pope as well as Goldsmith,13 sets out to describe the blessings of life in the colonies.  Rather than focusing on the rural virtues extolled by his predecessors, however, Cary portrays the fruits of life in this about-to-be domesticated wilderness in largely economic and commercial terms, a portrayal strikingly at odds with the rural vision of the models he extols.

     For example, in The Traveller, or A Prospect of Society,14 the Anglo-Irish Goldsmith is at pains to show that material wealth is insufficient for man's happiness, that man will always crave and never be satisfied, and that happiness lies not in wealth but in Nature.  More pointedly, Goldsmith specifically places the blame upon commerce: "Where wealth and freedom reign contentment fails, / And honour sinks where commerce long prevails" (91-92), and the lust for gold: "At gold's superior charms all freedom flies, / The needy sell it, and the rich man buys" (307-08).  Moreover, in The Deserted Village, Goldsmith's lament over the demise of an English country village, the blame for rural depopulation and forced exile is specifically laid at the feet of "trade":

   Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay . . . .
   A time there was, ere England's griefs began,
When every rood of ground maintained its man;
For him light labour spread her wholesome store,
Just gave what life required, but gave no more:
His best companions, innocence and health;
And his best riches, ignorance of wealth.
   But times are altered; trade's unfeeling train
Usurp the land and dispossess the swain . . . .
                                                     (51-52, 57-64)

For Goldsmith, not only are trade and the rural virtues clearly incompatible,15 but it is also the function of poetry, the "first to fly where sensual joys invade" (408), to

Teach erring man to spurn the rage of gain;
Teach him that states of native strength possest,
Tho' very poor, may still be very blest;
That trade's proud empire hastes to swift decay,
As ocean sweeps the labour 'd mole away . . . .

How odd then, that Cary's poem, incorporating Goldsmith's example, portrays the process of domestication in overtly commercial terms, even going so far as to sing an encomium to trade itself.  Like the British who scaled the cliffs of Quebec to defeat the French, commerce is portrayed as victorious in its struggle against the Canadian wilderness:

. . . . . . . . . . . . commerce a footing gains.
Tall forests their high-waving branches bow,
And yield, submiss, to lay their honors low . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . to the god of trade.
                                                     (107-09, 115)

Cary embeds his description of the commercial domestication of the new land in the rhetoric of a Holy War in which Nature is aligned with the enemy (the French) and commerce with the victor (the British).  By doing so he is able to appeal to the reader's patriotic sentiment, a strategy employed by many Canadian poets of the period in their attempts to account for and legitimize both their presence on foreign soil, and the appropriation of its resources.16

     The metaphor of war functions as the poem's constitutive symbol and enables the poet to reduce the landscape to commodities, things, in an equation of winner and loser, good and bad, right and wrong.  The soil is "savage" and must be "tame[d]," while the task of taming it is seen as "blest" or holy (54).  The aligning of the forces of domestication with those of divine imperative places the pioneer in direct opposition to Nature, defining the struggle in religious terms.  No wonder, then, that the colonist is told to "bid the woods recoil" (55), in a language that recalls God's promise to Adam that he shall have dominion over the serpent, or, like Christ, dominion over the sea (99).  And, of course, the command extends to the Native as well, who, bloodthirsty as he is, must be incorporated into the western apocalyptic vision (56-61).  Thus not only the savage but also the savage land bears the mark of Cain; it is fallen, monstrous and bloodthirsty: "The hungry soil, with human victims, sate" (317).

     It is not the rural virtues that are extolled in Cary's poem, but the marketplace.  Montreal is a "Great mart! where center all the forest's spoils, / The furry treasures of the hunter's toils" — a place that receives tribute from the conquered nations like a feudal lord receiving taxes from his fiefs (80-83).  Commerce rules throughout the land, receiving "rich spoils" from the "fatten'd shore" in a process of exchange embedded in martial rhetoric and the metaphor of conquest.  Even the lumber industry is described in a language that recalls the torture of prisoners on the rack: "the mill's remorseless sound, / And piteous groans of rending firrs, resound" (146-47).  Although the land as yet produces no gold and silver, "Equal to these, the forests yield their spoils, / And richly pay the skilful hunter's toils" (198-99).  The wildlife is specifically valued in terms of its "use," and the forests as victims of the rites of war, laying their lofty noble heads before the executioner's axe:

For thee the sylvans of the forest bleed,
And, to the ax, their long-worn honors cede.
The sturdy oak, the lofty mountain-pine,
Their branching limbs and trunks mature resign . . . .

Cary's rhetoric of conquest does not marry well with his claims of British tolerance and benevolence, for the poem manifests definite anti-French, anti-Catholic, and anti-Native sentiment.17   The rhetoric upon which Cary relies, which aligns the French, the Natives and the forest structurally, is no more than a cliché in the British propaganda war against the French in its linking of "Gallic perfidy with 'Indian Barbarism,' to compose the formula of imperial peril."18  It is a rhetoric that both prevents Cary from coming to terms with the distinct nature of the Canadian scene and contributes to the aesthetic failure of his poem.

     Where Cary relies upon martial rhetoric and the conceit of war between the English and the French, Adam Hood Burwell relies on a combination of the rhetoric of British chauvinism and spiritual elitism ("fair freedom's chosen race") as he attempts to defend the cause of the early Upper Canadian settlers in Talbot Road:

'Twas well — each one a full conviction felt
That fairer prospects waited where he dwelt;
That plenty soon would crown his honest toil,
And providence upon his labors smile,
And freedom keep her mild, protecting hand
Extended kindly, o'er so fair a land . . . .

Aligning "providence" with "prospects" and "plenty" through parallel emphasis, Burwell goes on to describe the destruction of the forests as a religious labour that has as its task the reduction of Natures pride, "the stedfast oak, and lofty ash," to "A heap of chaos on th'encumber'd ground" (216).  Like the Nova Scotian Goldsmith, Burwell uses the word "prospects" in more than just its topographical sense, imbuing it with a financial horizon through its collocation with "crown" and "honest toil."  For Burwell, Nature is neglected waste" to be redeemed (purchased) by the wanderer as he turns his place of exile into the land of promise by taking possession of it in the name of liberty:

"Sure, Liberty must call this favorite soil
"Her own, and o'er the whole benignly smile;
"How fitted to fair freedom's chosen race!
"How might the goddess her sons embrace! —
"Then why should it neglected, waste remain?

Failure to take possession of what is seen as "unappropriated" land (99) is thus much more than the mismanagement of a valuable resource; it is an offense not only against heaven, but also against the families waiting to join these first settlers in the new land (146-150).

     Although he begins his poem with a portrayal of the new land as pristine and Edenic, relying on stock images derived in part from Thomson, Pope and the Augustan tradition, Burwell soon goes on to employ diction and metaphors suggestive of Spenser and Milton in his description of the temptations and dangers inherent in the productive profusion of the prelapsarian garden:

         Productive nature smiles o'er all this land,
And strews her bounties with a lavish hand,
In wild profusion — soft meand'ring rills,
Deep woods, rich dales, smooth plains, and sunny hills,
Sylvan recesses, dark o'erhanging groves,
Where vocal songsters tune their throats to loves;
Where lurks the fox in crafty, sly career,
And in light gambols bounds the wary deer.

The picture of "a land, by nature's bounty blest" with "pure waters," "best soil," "Healthful air," and "nodding forests wav[ing] in ancient pride" (27-30) is soon replaced by the portrait of the Canadian landscape as a Spenserian bower of bliss, a place of erotic allurement, and of Nature as a temptress who seeks to lure "Industry's hardy sons" to her "dark recesses" where denizens "lurk," and prey upon the "[un]wary" (81- 86).  In keeping with the theme of Nature as fallen, Burwell casts the process of domestication in the language of the apocalypse: in images which suggest the fires of hell, the clearing of the forests by fire is likened to the execution of a "sentence dire," the "consuming fire" of the Lord.  Nature, the fallen, is uncovered (her bosom is bared), and the landscape revealed for what it is: a place of "eternal night," full of "shades" and death:

         Now, through the shades of the autumnal night,
The flaming log-heaps cast a glaring light
In contrast deep — the clouds, of sable hue,
Spread their dense mantle o'er the ethereal blue;
Above is pitchy blackness — all below
Wide flashing fires — Around, far other show —
Majestic trees, whose yet unfaded bloom,
In pale reflection, gives a sylvan gloom —
A dubious maze, which leads th'uncertain sight
To the drear confines of eternal night,
As it might seem: — While midst the raging fires,
That upward shoot a thousand fork spires
Th'assiduous labourer plies his ready hands
To trim the heaps, and fire th'extinguishd brands.

     The redemption of Nature and its restoration to a pristine state is effected by the chosen few who, "with steadfast zeal, / The vestal flame committed to [their] trust," can now pass on the fruits of their labours "[a]nd leave posterity the rich bequest" (256-58).  The trans formation of the fallen Canadian wilderness, "a prostrate country," to a New Jerusalem, "blest" and virginal, finds its ultimate expression in the vision of divinely sanctioned economic security, which, relying upon apocalyptic metaphors, equates the newfoundland with the Heavenly Jerusalem: "Talbot Road itself, enraptur'd, see, / Rising transcendent in prosperity" (603-04).  Like Cary, Burwell gives pride of place to Commerce as the prime mover in colonial matters:

Commerce, the first of friends to human kind,
That opens a new creation in the mind;
That tames the hardy savage, rough and rude,
And forms society for mutual good.

Through the agency of "perseverance" and "unrelax'd Industry" the settler is to replace the serenity of this new and pristine wilderness with "the bustling town" and "a constant din, / The din of business" (580-81).  Where the elder Goldsmith blames trade, commerce, and a surplus of wealth for the demise of "rural virtues," Burwell extols these as the very agents of rural and social prosperity: the "stately mansion," the "costly hall," the "labell'd office," the "ample warehouse," "clean fireside," "friendship," "love," and "harmony" (575-78) are all alike the result of trade, commerce, and "Wealth," who, saviour-like, "drops profusion," rather than blood, "from his open hands" (581-82).

     In their attempts to portray life in the new land as "valuable" both Cary and Burwell rely upon conventional hierarchical visions of social and moral order: for Cary the new social order is guaranteed by the imperial war machine; for Burwell it is guaranteed by divine preference for the British race.  However, in both Cary and Burwell the social vision is severely undermined by the overtly commercial language of their poems, underscoring not only the inability of traditional social and poetic models to come to terms with the challenges of life in the new land, but also the extent and the influence of mercantilism on the patterns of thought of the period.


As opposed to the poems of Cary and Burwell whose social and moral visions are extensions of the broader imperial and cultural concerns of the period, where the emphasis is on the collective rather than the individual, the emigration narratives of Alexander McLachlan, Standish O'Grady, and William Kirby are much more subjective in nature, highlighting to greater and lesser degrees both the individual voice and the individual emigrant experience.

     Where Cary and Burwell speak for what Sandra Djwa identifies as the Royalist element,20 McLachlan speaks for and with the voice of the common man in his The Emigrant (1861),21 the first part of a projected longer poem on the history of a "backwoods settlement."22  Emphasizing the unjust social and economic conditions in the British Isles that forced a multitude of its subjects into penury and exile, McLachlan attempts to legitimize these exiles by portray ing them not as social castaways, but as "God-commissioned" invaders who, in taking possession of the land, will become "Lords . . . of the soil" themselves (IV.vii.111).  Reminding his reader that it was the love of money that created the unjust social conditions that led to the colonists' exile in the first place, McLachlan presents his emigrants as pure, because poor, innocent victims of a corrupt society:

"Old England is eaten by knaves,
  Yet her heart is all right at the core,
May she ne'er be the mother of slaves,
  Nor a foreign foe land on her shore.

"I love my own country and race,
  Nor lightly I fled from them both,
Yet who would remain in a place
  Where there's too many spoons for the broth.

"The squire's preserving his game.
  He says that God gave it to him,
And he'll banish the poor without shame,
  For touching a feather or limb.

"The Justice he feels very big,
  And boasts what the law can secure,
But has two different laws in his wig,
  Which he keeps for the rich and the poor."
                                                      (II. iv. 47-62)

     The narrator, in language that appears to be a parody of Thomson's portrayal of London and the Thames,23 beckons the emigrant away from the "festering pits of woe" of the city — from "the heartless strife of trade . . . / Where Commerce spreads her fleets, / Where bloated Luxury lies" — to "the greenwood shade," of the "trackless forest wild" (III.ii. 29-61).  Although McLachlan's denunciation of Commerce might lead the reader to expect different strategies as well in regard to land and Natives, he employs the same rhetoric found in works by more conservative writers.  In his attempt to reduce the new land to his vision of an Edenic wilderness, to revalue it, McLachlan strips the land and its inhabitants of any inherent worth by attempting to completely devalue any intrinsic merit they might have:

Thou art not a land of story;
Thou art not a land of glory;
No tradition, tale, nor song
To thine ancient woods belong;
No long line of bards and sages
Looking to us down the ages;
No old heroes sweeping by
In their warlike panoply
                            (Intro. 25-32)

Not only is the "primeval" wilderness of the new land trackless, but its birds are "mute" and the Natives without a history.24   This attitude is not restricted solely to the poetic imagination but also finds expression in Catharine Parr Traill's The Backwoods of Canada (1836) where she seeks to remind her reader that in the new land "there are no historical associations, no legendary tales of those that come before us."  Only the book of "Nature is open," asserts Traill; Canada's "volume of history is yet a blank."25

     Like both Cary and Burwell, McLachlan also portrays the new land as an enemy: Nature is an obstacle to survival.  Investing his argument with republican metaphors couched in a rhetoric designed to level not only the Canadian forests, but also the British social hierarchy, McLachlan describes the struggle between his emigrant exiles and the giant trees of the Canadian forest in the lan guage of class struggle and civil war: the trees are "monarchs" (III.i.10), "tyrants" (, and "Caesar[s]" (IV.vii.131-40) that must be slain by the democratic among us.   McLachlan takes pains to distinguish his working-class emigrants from other colonists whose purpose was "to acquire opulence and independence";26 McLachlan's emigrant, to the contrary, seeks neither "fortune" nor "wealth," but just a "cabin / With freedom and health" (V.v.125-26).  By portraying the new land as either evil or valueless, McLachlan is able to skirt the tricky ethical issue of how exactly his dispossessed emigrants come to be "Lords . . . of the soil," and what exactly their relationship to its previous inhabitants is.  The picture he represents, however, is at bottom not republican at all.  While the democratic nature of his vision seems to be reinforced by his inclusion of the song of the "Indian Maid" (V.vii.151-174), and his portrayal of an "Indian Battle" (VI), the point of view from which these episodes are presented is one of power: the power of the white victor who has dispossessed the Native and turned him into a displaced curiosity.27  Although McLachlan may not share the "Royalist" political sentiment of the majority of early Canadian poets, he nevertheless shares in the "myths of divine and racial mission."28

     The Emigrant concludes on an unfinished note with the narrator's promise to resume his tale at some future time and leaves the reader with what can be interpreted as a failed vision of Canada, a vision which echoes at its end "the vanity of progress" of Goldsmith's The Rising Village:29

Much remains still to be told
Of those men and times of old,
Of the changes in our days
From their simple, honest ways,
Of the quacks on spoil intent,
That flocked to our settlement,
Of the swarms of public robbers,
Speculators and land jobbers,
Of the sorry set of teachers,
Of the bogus tribe of preachers,
Of the host of herb physicians,
And of cunning politicians.
                        (VII. xiii. 307-18)

In his attempt to woo the displaced Muse to the new shore, the narrator has sought far and wide; yet neither Arcadian myth (the song of the Indian maid), transplanted idyll (the ballad of the Gypsy King [V.ix.201-260]), nor revisionist new world history (the tale of Donald Ban [VII]) have confirmed his democratic vision of the new land.  Thus the poem continually displaces and undermines the republican dream; indeed, in the tragedy of the lovers in the "Gypsy King," who are punished for crimes against property, the democratic spirit is relocated to a past where it is ultimately defeated, while the failing "vision" of Donald Ban underscores the unattainable poetic and social vision of the narrator in a world in which the spirit of democracy has already fled, only to be replaced by rampant commercialism.

     In contrast to McLachlan and his concern for the common man, Standish O'Grady's The Emigrant (1841) and William Kirby's The U.E.: A Tale of Upper Canada (1859),30 two mid-nineteenth century narratives that focus on the more personal aspects of emigrant experience, underscore the fact that the devaluation/revaluation of the other as a strategy of legitimation does not limit itself to the land and its original inhabitants but also manifests itself in the problem of "class," as has in fact been seen in both McLachlan's The Emigrant with its republican concerns and its democratic spirit, and Cary's patronizing attitude toward the Canadiens in Abram's Plains.

     The issue of class as well as the frustrated desire for "opulence and independence" are governing concerns in O'Grady's The Emigrant, a "failed" emigration narrative in both senses of the word.  While in McLachlan's poem of the same name the narrator seeks to justify the inherent "right" of the emigrants to be lords in the new land, the emphasis in O'Grady's poem points toward the legitimation of the emigrant's social and economic failure.  As Brian Trehearne points out, the failure of the process of emigration finds its counterpart in the failure of the poem's structure.31  On the surface, O'Grady's rhetoric is the rhetoric of stoic resolve in the face of defeat and death, but the subtext points towards a rhetoric of "sour grapes."  Throughout the poem the narrator justifies himself by placing the blame either on a land that is no more than "barren waste, unprofitable strand," "unproductive," "unprofitable," and "fruitless" (1680 ff), or on the political and financial powers that prevent him from reclaiming the social status and wealth that he feels is rightfully his.  Like Moodie's Roughing It in the Bush, O'Grady's The Emigrant serves, in part, as an anti-emigration tract; unlike McLachlan's poem of the same name, however, O'Grady's emigrant is not successful.  In O'Grady's work the emigrant is depicted as the "hapless victim of a clime" (1005), not as a future lord of the soil.

     The opening lines of the poem harken back to the myth of the Golden Age that was earlier seen in the English Goldsmith — the "good old times," times without "scriveners" and "truant debtors."  They also contrast this idyllic vision with present images of debt and bankruptcy, underscoring the deplorable social conditions in Ireland that caused its narrator to seek his fortune elsewhere.  Although the narrator, through political allusions and romantic allegory, seeks to convince his reader of his noble motives for emigration, comparing his situation to that of an upright and stalwart citizen about to be tortured and executed by the Roman emperor Nero, the poem clearly identifies the reason for emigration as eco nomic, and the "land of promise" as a place of exile:

. . . . . . . . . . . . an isolated land!
Where icebound cliffs with drifted snow uprise,
To paint each gloomy terror death supplies.
Now teems the gulph, each sylvan sight endears,
A vast expanse, an unknown world appears;
The pathless desert all alike confounds
A dreary waste with solitary grounds;
The weary eye looks o'er the wide expanse,
New prospects crowd and fill a world immense,
A cheerless sight to awe the restless mind,
Perchance to those to wretchedness consigned.

For O'Grady, as for Burwell and the Canadian Goldsmith, "prospects," apart from fulfilling the generic requirements of the picturesque tableau, also refer to the financial horizon and successful economic speculation: "His parted hopes his brightest prospects break, / Himself the lonely Bankrupt of the wreck" (895-96).  Failure to transform the landscape is cast in economic metaphors.  The failed emigrant is depicted as rendered bankrupt by an abortive encounter with a Nature that "Scarce left [him] a pound to purchase death's last need" (999):32

Bleak, barren spot, ah! why should I forsake
A fertile land to thread thy worthless brake?
Labour alone thy sterile land surveys,
Breathes the dull round, or prematurely pays
An hard won pittance, through distress and toil. . . .

O'Grady's extremely subjective choice of metaphors reveals his inescapably self-centred and individualistic perspective.  While the narrator condemns those forces that he blames for his penury, exile and failure, like other writers of the period he cannot conceive of his own activity as exploitative.  On one hand he, like Howe, Goldsmith and others, seems to acknowledge that the Natives have some kind of right over their land ("None seek aggression, each withal maintains / The right succinctly of his just domains" [983-84]), while on the other he encourages his countrymen to come and claim a land that is "cheap" (1131) and ripe for the taking.  Inconsistencies abound in O'Grady's meandering narrative, leading the reader, as Trehearne points out, to question seriously the integrity of both the narrative and its author.  But, it is this failure itself that unmasks the rhetoric in the poetry, rhetoric whose purpose is to legitimate possession of a land already possessed by others and to re-establish a sense of worth amongst those who feel themselves to be outcasts.

     Like O'Grady, Kirby cites poverty and loss of social status as the reasons for emigration in his The U.E.: A Tale of Upper Canada.  But for Kirby, status and wealth are ultimately restored, and the emigrant, despite some personal loss, is legitimated.   Kirby's strategies of Loyalist legitimation are couched in a rhetoric which, through a series of metaphors, aligns and equates commerce, wealth and power with Justice and Freedom.  Like both Cary and Burwell, Kirby relies on British chauvinism and the rhetoric of Holy War to describe and legitimate the immigrant's possession of the new land:

The fertile West, whose boundary ever flies
Before the axe th'advancing woodman plies;
Where wave on wave, the sons of Britain's Isle,
Spread through the forests, and possess the soil;
Where England's manly speech is only heard;
Her laws transcribed and her names transferred,
Which her proud Colonists, on every hand,
Plant as memorials of their native land.

By likening the process of immigration to the movement of the sea, Kirby attempts to legitimate his emigrants by appealing to natural law.  It thus comes as no surprise that Kirby's Natives and French Canadians are portrayed as "natural" failures.  Where the British emigrants are possessed of a natural vigour, it is the French Canadians' lack of ambition that is the source of both their happiness and their demise.  Where the British emigrants are characterized by their "manly speech," the French Canadians are feminized, and likened to children or pets: "Pleasing and pleased they flutter life away" (2.15).  As for the Natives, they are described as a "bygone race," the process of their dissolution as natural as the melting of "April snows," and their reduction to a state of indolence and dependency as inevitable (2.17).  Although he notes that the Natives are "Heirs of a Continent! by force or guile / Pushed by intruders off their rightful soil" (2.16), Kirby implies that the real dispossessors of the Natives are the French.  He is thereby able to repress the connection between the Natives' displacement and the Englishmen's aggression.  Like Cary, Kirby utilizes the rhetoric of "Gallic perfidy" to portray the French as evildoers, "intruders," who have unjustly taken advantage of the Natives, providing "false protection" (2.27).  He then portrays the English as both liberators, who make "the world's oppressors [the French] tremble," and patrons of the oppressed, in this case the naturally deficient.34

     This tendency to portray the Natives as indolent finds its origins in the Europeans' ambivalent attitude toward labour and success and extends to their Loyalist descendants.  As Michael Zuckerman suggests,

Civility as the English defined it demanded exertion, but the darkest desire of the pioneers was exemption from exertion.  Unable, ultimately, to avow that desire openly and embody it in a legitimate way of life, they projected it onto the Indian.  Whether they celebrated his noble savagery or castigated his indolent paganism, whether they idealized his passivity or complained of his incapacity "to use either the land or the commodities of it," they held that the native lived "with less labor and more pleasure and plenty" than they themselves did.35

Zuckerman goes on to point out that the emigrants "understood that the assertive self-seeking that had impelled them over the seas was subversive, and therefore they endeavoured to disown it by displacing it upon the Indian,"36 and, it might be added, upon the French Canadian as well.

     Several passages in Kirby's poem highlight the same kinds of incongruities between the rural and mercantile visions that exist between the Goldsmiths'.  Kirby, like the Canadian Goldsmith and other poets of the period, consciously attempts to woo the English Goldsmith's muse to Canadian shores.  This is evident in his apostrophe to the bard of Auburn,

Ah! thou sweet bard, who sawest with mournful eye
"The rural virtues from their Country fly,"
Here mightst behold them in their new-found home,
The inmates of this hospitable dome.
                                                                     (1. 2)

Kirby's attempt to transplant Goldsmith to Canada is also evident in four lines from The Deserted Village that provide a description of Goldsmith's rural virtues as the epigraph to his poem:

Contented toil, and hospitable care,
And kind connubial tenderness, are there;
And piety with wishes placed above,
And steady loyalty, and faithful love.

But Kirby's poem does not use the rural virtues to attract the muse, since they do not yet exist in the new world; in additon to not yet being a garden, his wilderness also hides many a snake in the grass in the form of murder, rebellion, treason and fratricide.37   Kirby's main strategy is thus to attract the muse by underscoring the prob ability that these rural virtues will exist, and this he does by high lighting the possibility of economic success (commerce, trade) in the new land out of which these social virtues should arise.  This, of course, is ironically in direct opposition to the elder Goldsmith's vision.

     Kirby begins by likening the new land to heaven, with its gates of pearl and streets of gold; indeed, the path to the new land is "a path of molten gold."  But perhaps his most curious image is his presentation of Montreal as "Trade's potent Queen, who holds the balance true, / And weighs the wealth of nations passing through" (2.23).  This curious juxtaposition of symbols fuses the image of Libra /Justice and her scales with the image of trade and commerce, and goes on to portray commerce/wealth as the driving force for emigration — in the positive sense: "A mingled multitude from every land, / Whom Commerce summons with her golden wand" (2. 23).   Burwell's "first of friends" merges with Cary's "god of trade" to become the female counterpart of Mammon; that which the English Goldsmith has cited as the cause of emigration is here portrayed as its cure.38   But what was only suggested by Kirby with regard to Montreal finds literal expression in the transmogrification of commerce and trade into freedom and justice in his depiction of Toronto, the "Queen" of cities,

Rich with the commerce of the Western land.
In academic groves, there Learning draws
Our generous youth to study Wisdom's laws,
To fill the quivers full of arrows bright
And arm them for life's coming arduous fight.
There, Legislation holds her high debate;
And Freedom stands the guardian of the State;
In spotless ermine, Justice sits supreme,
And lifts the scales of law with even beam.
While rich in future hopes, in memories past,
Toronto's glorious destiny is cast;
'Mid rival cities of our land I ween
Is hers the Crown, and she the rightful Queen.

By conflating regal imagery and associating it with "the scales of law" the poem equates justice with commerce and literally makes trade not only the ground but also the arbiter of freedom.  It is queen "commerce," then, that will ensure social stability, endow institutions of "learning," and come to define the new Canadian way of life.

     As Dennis Duffy points out, Kirby's "garden" comes ready equipped with its own serpent.  Kirby's progressive vision of Canada, like McLachlan's, cannot come to terms with the fact that it already contains the seeds of its own destruction: the new Canadians, and the poets who are their voice have, in their attempts to recreate "Auburn" in the new land, unwittingly put into play the very forces that caused its demise.  At times Kirby seems to be aware of this, as when he alludes to the disruption of the mirror of Nature by progress in the form of a steamship, and then lets slip the hint "that science may strip life of its spiritual and poetic aspects":39

Gigantic Power of Steam! fit emblem thou
Of iron days and mighty toils below,
When man to earth inverts his searching eyes
And worships Vulcan in a modern guise.

Unfortunately, however, Kirby seems either unable or unwilling to make the connection between the destruction of the garden and the rise of civilization.40   This is all the more disconcerting when the nature of the language that Kirby uses to describe the process of civilization is taken into account.  Although on one hand he condemns both the aggression of "intruders" who have "pushed" the Natives "off their rightful soil" (2.16), and the effect of industry and progress on Nature in terms that are not at all ambiguous, on the other, most of his poem is spent trying to convince the reader of the virtues of the imperial vision, even when the language and events of the text show that vision to be false.  For example, Kirby's depiction of the process of civilization relies on the use of a language whose allusions, though ambiguous, lead this reader to see this "civilizing" process in less than favourable terms:

There fresh in youth, with oaken garlands crowned
A rising city spreads her robes around;
Her suburbs still advancing, she again
Extends her arms and grasps the vacant plain:
Till growing ever, lo! the urban shade
Stands forth the arbitress of taste and trade:
Where art refines with soft alluring sway
And fashion decks the city's thoughtless gay
While busy thousands by industry thrive,
Like bees still adding honey to their hive.
Marvellous change! along yon paved way
The Indian war-path ran but yesterday:
And fox and wolf their nightly discord made
Where resounds the busy hum of trade.
                                             (3.13; emphasis mine)

Despite its obvious appreciation of industry and commercial energy, this passage also reveals a degree of ambivalence in Kirby about urban expansion.  Kirby was unconsciously aware that something was amiss, that the reflection of the divine in the natural world was being disrupted by progress and "Its beauty scattered, and the mirror lost" (3.3).  Kirby's ambivalence is further suggested by his almost Miltonic concern with the aggressive nature of progress and recalls Milton's alignment of hell with demonic materialism in Paradise Lost: the seductive serpent ("alluring sway"), the vain followers of Lucifer in Pandemonium milling vainly about like bees, the "hum of trade," like the noise of the building of the infernal kingdom, all work together to cast a shadow over the rising metropolis — and all of this becomes even more poignant when we consider the reference to Vulcan and the iron age above.  Perhaps what Raymond Williams so astutely observed about George Crabbe is equally applicable here, namely that at times

the present is accurately and powerfully seen, but its real relations, to past and future, are inaccessible, because the governing development is that of the writer himself: a feeling about the past, an idea about the future, into which, by what is truly an intersection, an observed present is arranged.41

     The emigration narratives of McLachlan, O'Grady, and Kirby concern themselves to varying degrees with the problems of the success or failure of the individual in the new land, and each displaces the issues of freedom and justice to the realm of the economic where it is reinterpreted.  For all of them, moreover, the emigrant experience is tainted by tragedy: for O'Grady it is the tragedy of outright failure, while for McLachlan and for Kirby, where the cost of success in the new land requires extreme personal sacrifice, the visions of success are already undermined by the very economic forces they sought to avoid — forces containing the seeds of their own destruction.


When the Canadian Oliver Goldsmith, in The Rising Village, describes the rural virtues of Canadian life in terms of commerce and luxury, and the moral landscape in terms of wealth, freedom, and ease, the discriminating reader cannot help but notice the remarkable distance between the mercantilist aesthetics of the Canadian poet and the anti-mercantilist vision of The Deserted Village, the work that served as the model for the Canadian poem.42   Both the aesthetic disparity between the Canadian poem and its counterpart, as well as the former's incongruous yoking together of "the merchant's glory" and "the farmer's pride," have not escaped the notice of Gerald Lynch, who sees these anomalies as necessary consequences of the attempt to survive in "a pioneering environment,"43 or of W.J. Keith, who observes that "a reader sensitive to the political 'message' of the earlier poem cannot help wondering whether commerce and luxury will not have the same baleful effect on the Nova Scotian village as they had on Auburn."44   Others, such as K.P. Stich and David Jackel, comment upon the "prominence given to materialism" in the poem,45 or upon the younger Goldsmith's idea of "progress" as reflective of a "colonial mentality" that "lacks the capacity for self-criticism, its main concern [being] to show that it shares, in unquestioning fashion, the dominant attitudes of the originating culture."46

     The Rising Village begins by inviting the reader's imagination to view the "scenes" and "charming prospects" under "Britannia's sky."   The view of Britain that Goldsmith presents is vastly different from the one his great-uncle invited his reader to entertain:

Cities and plains extending far and wide,
The merchant's glory, and the farmer's pride.
Majestic palaces in pomp display
The wealth and splendour of the regal sway;
While the low hamlet and the shepherd's cot,
In peace and freedom mark the peasant's lot.

These lines clearly reflect more of the celebratory tone of The Seasons and Windsor-Forest than the "pathetic" one of The Deserted Village, and should serve to prepare the reader for the vast differences between the Canadian poem and its avowed model.   Unlike The Deserted Village, where the human element is sensitively portrayed, and where the cardinal virtues of humanity are clearly valued more than luxury and wealth, The Rising Village portrays Auburn's exiles in the new land not as seeking to regain the peace and security of "contented toil," "hospitable care," "connubial tenderness," "piety," "loyalty," and "faithful love,"47 but as having "brav'd the perils of the stormy seas, / In search of wealth, of freedom, and of ease!" (51-52).  In his attempt to legitimate the Empire, the Nova Scotian Goldsmith transforms Auburn's exiles into adventurers and prospectors seeking fame and fortune across the seas; he does not, despite his claims to the contrary,48 depict the decent country folk of Auburn fleeing the ravages of greed in the motherland.

     The Rising Village clearly depicts the process of transformation of a worthless commodity (Canada) into something of value in a mercantilist system.  The new land is raw, "bleak" and "desert": a "wilderness of trees" and "deep solitudes" which promises to frustrate the emigrants' desire for wealth.  Nature, the "waste" in all its "gloomy" "horror," must be conquered.  Relying upon the same kinds of martial imagery found in Cary, Burwell and McLachlan, Goldsmith depicts the settlers as battling for "possession" of the soil, their weapons being their sweat and blood.  Goldsmith also employs rhetorical strategies that enable him to dispossess the land's original inhabitants and make them appear as interlopers.49  Although he seems to acknowledge the Natives' "right to rule the mountain and the plain" (88), Goldsmith makes it seem that the Natives are intruders on a land previously possessed by the settlers: "Since savage tribes, with terror in their train, / Rushed o'er thy fields, and ravaged all thy plain" (501-02).

     Goldsmith begins his description of the rising village itself with the tavern, a place of business, and then moves on to describe the pedlar in terms that would be more suited to a missionary:

The wandering Pedlar, who undaunted traced
His lonely footsteps o'er the silent waste;
Who traversed once the cold and snow-clad plain,
Reckless of danger, trouble, or of pain,
To find a market for his little wares,
The source of all his hopes, and all his cares,
Established here, his settled home maintains,
And soon a merchant's higher title gains.

Like the early missionaries who braved the elements to bring their faith to the Natives, leaving them crucifixes and other aids to devotion, the pedlar, too, brings his "little wares"; and instead of risking life and limb in the attempt to establish a church and the name of God, the pedlar instead risks all to establish his fortune and his name.  As Stich has observed, it is difficult to know, at times, whether the poet is being intentionally ironic or not.50

     The poem's emphasis is on a future life of luxurious abundance procured through the settler's labour and industry and protected by trade with the mother country:

         Nor culture's arts, a nation's noblest friend
Alone o'er Scotia's fields their power extend;
From all her shores, with every gentle gale,
Commerce expands her free and swelling sail;
And all the land, luxuriant, rich, and gay,
Exulting owns the splendour of their sway.
These are thy blessings, Scotia, and for these,
For wealth, for freedom, happiness, and ease,
Thy grateful thanks to Britain's care are due,
Her power protects, her smiles past hopes renew . . . .
                                                                 (517- 526)

In that The Rising Village begins and ends with encomiums to Britain and commerce, where exactly Goldsmith's allegiance lies becomes debatable, an issue further complicated by his return to the motherland to live out his days.51  But, as this discussion is revealing, the attitudes reflected in The Rising Village, although they may appear grating when compared with those in The Deserted Village, are nevertheless consistent with the overall attitudes of the early nineteenth-century Canadian colonist.

     The Lay of the Wilderness52 is another narrative poem that relies upon the same kinds of strategies of colonial legitimation found in the more canonical of Canada's early long poems.  Almost entirely ignored by critics of early Canadian narrative poetry, who appear to have selected The Rising Village as the principal poem of the early nineteenth-century Maritime experience worth serious consideration, The Lay of the Wilderness is a fascinating account of the history of New Brunswick, designed as a defense of the "innate worth" (Canto 5. xlix) of life in the new province against

. . . . . . the taunts of those who blend
Rude ign'rance with thy name [New Brunswick], and still contend
That with respect to mind and graces rare,
We, forest bred, with them cannot compare . . . .
                                                                                       (5. xlix)

Written in five cantos, The Lay of the Wilderness tells the story of Julia and Frederick, childhood sweethearts who after much tribulation become model New Brunswick settlers.  The plot revolves around Julia's getting lost in the woods, her rescue, betrayal, and imprisonment by the Natives, and her final rescue by Frederick.  On one level the plot is a pastiche of common themes of the period; and yet the artistry of its author is such as to blend these well-worn themes into a poem that is, in places, moving and that manages to convey a sense of place.  Like The Widow of the Rock,53 The Lone House,54 and The Witch of the Westcot,55 as well as The Rising Village, The Lay of the Wilderness touches upon the theme of madness in the wilderness, and also functions as a cautionary tale that urges women to keep their passions in check.  The fear of wildness permeates the poem and its many episodes, threatening to undermine the attempts at settlement.  It is at the centre of the tale of Donald the mad hermit who will never marry because he has become too wild, and it is present also in the tale about the mad Native Jerome, who murdered his wife, and whose story serves as a warning against miscegenation, a fate which, as Julia's mother reminds us, is "worse than death" (Canto 5.xv).

     On one level The Lay of the Wilderness is a thinly veiled allegory:  Julia (the fertile virgin land) is abducted by the Natives Otwin (loser, "aught"-win) and his wife Agnes (patron saint of virgins and protector of Julia) who wish her to marry their son Francis (embodiment of both Native and Canadien).  They are counselled by Pierre (who acts as mediator between the Catholics and Natives) and ultimately foiled by Frederick (Fredericton, the Spirit of New Brunswick and defender of British interests in North America).  Thus, embedded within the fabric of the narrative is a rhetorical strategy designed to legitimate the "worth" of the new land (7), the settlers, and the British way of life, and devalue both the Natives and the French, whose claims to the land would thus be minimized.  As in the other works discussed earlier, at the heart of the narrative is a paradox wherein the agency of emigration (poverty caused by a market economy) becomes the ground of emigration (the escape from poverty through a market economy).  Where Virgil sings of "arms and the man," Fisher's song extols, instead, a land of financial ease and economic prosperity:

        I'll sing thy worth and comforts, to the man
Who pines away his life, without a plan,
Pursued by penury — with scarce a home — 
Ah! what a field is here, would he but come . . . .

Like McLachlan, O'Grady, and Kirby, the narrator of The Lay of the Wilderness stresses the poor economic conditions in Britain that caused many to emigrate to Canada, and the Maritimes in particular, pointing out that "penury" and "tenantry" do not exist in "New-Brunswick" (1.ii), and portrays the new land as an Edenic garden: "a wilderness of green" (6).

     As opposed to McLachlan and Traill, who deny both the Native and the land any history, Fisher opens his poem with an immediate recognition of the Natives' history:

Thy natives' legends, too, are passing by,
Of plumed warriors, and their maidens' sigh;
Tradition scarce upholds their chieftains' feats,
Or points the dells, of ambush'd foes' retreats.

That the treatment of the Natives will be anything but realistic, however, is signalled through the romantic imagery within which the allusion is cast.  In fact, much effort is spent in the poem trying to resolve a conflict that arises as a result of the juxtaposition of two conflicting models: the depiction of Native life as Arcadian, and the portrayal of the process of settlement in a land that is anything but idyllic.  As Thomas B. Vincent accurately notes, the result is that on the surface level "the narrator does not seem to recognize (or address) . . . the inherent conflict between his sympathy for the wilderness and the . . . activity of settlement."  This "evasion of conflict creates an undertone of harmony" in the poem that is curiously at odds with the events depicted,56 as well as a tone that is disconcertingly cloying.  As in the other works discussed so far, the conflict is "resolved" by devaluing the "other," which in this case is both the land and the Native.

     Like both Burwell's and Kirby's wilderness gardens, Fisher's Eden also has its share of snakes.   The narrator takes pains to describe New Brunswick in the most glowing terms, but the garden is nevertheless a place of "enchantment" and "sorcery" full of "threat'ning menace," and "hoarse brawling" (Canto 1 .xiii), a place where Julia will stray and fall.  Through a series of allusions, the "wildness" of the wilderness will come to replace the "nobility" of the arcadian savage and polarize the settler and the Native, placing them on opposite ends of the scale of social value.  The Natives, in the person of the false suitor (Francis), will come to be described as "artful," "wily," superstitious, "haughty," "proud," "careless," and disdainful, and will be labelled by Frederick, the epitome of Anglo Saxon grace, a "loathsome race" (Canto 5.xi).  The French Canadians and the Catholic clergy will also be tainted through their association with the deceitful tribe.  In the end, it is British values that survive, not the least of which is "wealth" (Canto 5.xliv).  The Natives, no longer conceived of as a threat, are effectively neutered, their "nobility" transferred to the tame and domesticated "Indian corn" standing in neat rows in a cultivated garden:

But ever well disposed to list the tale
Of Julia's walks o'er woody hill and dale,
Now cleared away, and fields of Indian corn,
With blade as fragrant as the blossomed thorn
Of stately growth, with shining stalks, and sweet,
Standing in rows, straight, parallel, and neat — . . . .
                                                                   (5. xlvi)

Although the rhetorical manoeuvres in The Lay of the Wilderness are not as obvious as those in the poems by Cary, Kirby, and Burwell, nevertheless the strategies of legitimation have the same ends: to justify possession of a land that is already possessed, and to make the original possessors appear as interlopers.57  In the Maritimes, however, the rhetorical strategies used to legitimate the possession of a land previously occupied by the French and the Indians find their most dramatic expression in Joseph Howe's Acadia.

     When Howe states in the first part of the poem that "For ages thus, the Micmac trod our soil" (311; emphasis mine), he perhaps unwittingly reveals his reliance upon a rhetorical strategy designed to relegate the Native to the status of interloper and justify the right of the British to rule the land.  As many have noted, Howe's attitudes toward progress, the Micmac, the French, and even the status of the settlers are not clear in Acadia and, hence, encourage contrast ing readings of the poem's thematic inconsistencies.58  Acadia, like Talbot Road and The U.E., clearly manifests a point of view common to British chauvinism, relying on such stock devices as the biblical theme of exile, in which the new world settlers are cast as the exiled Hebrew patriarchs, and the idea of imperial protection, in which Britain is portrayed as the defender of the faith against the evil unbeliever.  Unlike Burwell and Kirby, however, Howe presents the new world as a place of refuge for the common man from the evils of the marketplace, thus echoing both the elder Goldsmith and McLachlan.  Perhaps at the heart of the problem about the thematic inconsistencies in Acadia is Howe's supposedly ambiguous portrayal of the Natives in his poem.59  The portrayal is not in the least ambiguous if considered in the light of Howe's attitude toward Nature and progress in the poem, an attitude best revealed in hisdescription of the Micmac camp:

        The Camp extends along the pebbly shore,
A sylvan city, rude as those of yore,
By Patriarch hands within the desert built,
When fresh from Eden's joys and Eden's guilt.

The key here is the reference to the Fall, which qualifies all of Howe's statements about the Arcadian new world.  Although Howe goes on to contrast the idyllic, "simple homes of Nature's sons" with the ornate complexity of "architectural piles" reared by "Art's skilful hand," his wilderness garden, like Kirby's and Fisher's, is fallen, concealing many a serpent — in Howe's case in the form of the Native, whose "sinful" nature is alluded to throughout the poem.  For example, Howe's description of the Micmac in Part I of the poem, a description seen by George Woodcock as positive,60 relies on modifiers whose connotations are largely negative: the Micmac is, like Othello, "dusky," and ruled by passion, not reason;61 furthermore, he is also characterized by the following descriptors, which, as well as carrying culturally negative connotations,62 also bring to mind the moral depravity associated with the seven deadly sins: "devious," "strays," "negligently" (twice), "proud" (and variants, five times), "motley," "scattered," "care less," and "frantic."63 Moreover, the "savage joy the [Micmacl dancers' eyes bespeak," reinforces the association of the Natives with the demonic, finding its horrific fulfilment in the murder of the settlers in Part 2 by a "treacherous" band of Micmac who are described as "fiend[s] from hell" — their songs "demoniac," their eyes "malignant," and their motives "Hate, Revenge and Murder."  Thus what was concealed in the first part of the poem is revealed in the second, through not so much a change of attitude, as a shift of emphasis that allows the poet to create the element of surprise.  Where Howe's Natives are portrayed as proud, his settlers are cast as "humble" in a strategy designed to capture the reader's sym pathy immediately.  Described as innocent exiles, Howe's settlers are untouched by the cares of "Ambition" and the anxieties of "Commerce" (491-496).  And yet this is not quite true, for through out the poem the relationship to the land is described in terms of possession, purchase, and ownership: the Native, likened to a feudal lord jealously gloating over his possessions and tenants (199-218), is unfit to rule in a democratic land, a land "won" by British labour and suffering.  The reader is reminded, as well, that the "price . . . paid / For this fair land" (604-605) is the blood of the humble settler innocently martyred for the good of his descendants and the glory of the British way of life.  This new way of life is symbolized by Howe in the words "progress" and "science," the new vessels of "culture."  Howe's strategy is to show, in retrospect, that both the Natives' and the original French Acadiens' demise was due to their own "vain" attempts to resist the inevitable march of "progress."  In this regard, the new Acadian is freed from any taint of aggression, since the Native's disappearance was, as the popular anthropology of the time would have it, only the result of a process of natural decay.

     Howe's ambivalent vision, however, finally extends to the settlers of Acadia themselves: like McLachlan and Kirby, Howe also conveys the impression that all is not well in the land of promise.  Although he emphasizes the successful transplantation of the Augustan vision ("together Art and Nature reign" [813]), Howe also sadly relates the presence of those vices which caused the demise of this vision in the first place: luxury, ease, listlessness, wealth, and pride (919-932).  Sensing that "these are not themes that charm the peaceful muse,"64 the poet, in a tone which is clearly elegiac, closes his poem by asking the Muse to forgive the prodigality of "Acadia's sons" (1019) and awkwardly turns from the vision of progress and science in an attempt to leave his reader with a picture of the humbler virtues of the simple country folk, virtues found in "The rude and lowly cabins of the poor" (972).65  But the vision has already been undermined by those same forces of progress and science about which the poet has sung his praise — forces which his tory has shown have proven antithetical to the rural virtues of Acadia.

*          *           *

As it will now be evident, the incompatibility between the mercantilist aesthetics of the Canadian poet and the anti-mercantilist vision of the Anglo-Irish Goldsmith is not restricted to The Rising Village but is part of a larger phenomenon at the heart of the Canadian tradition, a tradition whose origins are inextricably connected to imperialist and mercantilist ideology.

     The attitudes toward the land and commerce found in Goldsmith and others were not isolated impressions restricted to the poetic imagination, but reflections of a way of seeing common to the founding members of what would become the new nation of Canada:66

the time may come when her present condition will be remembered no more — when the wilderness shall give place to the busy hum of a cheerful and industrious population — when the sun of human intellect shall shine with refulgence on the darkest mind that ever traversed the woods . . . .  Let commerce continue to ply her enriching and enterprising oar — agriculture convert the barren wilderness into beauty and cultivation — education enlighten and ripen the tender mind into strength, maturity and wisdom — and mechanism comfort and moralize an industrious peasantry.67

In its attempt to solve the riddle of Auburn's exiles and answer the question "Where is here," the poetry of nineteenth-century Canada was, as Northrop Frye points out, at times little more than "versified rhetoric," and as such occupies a more important place, perhaps, in the history of ideas than the study of aesthetics.68  And yet, for all its clumsiness, the early Canadian long poem, because of its faults, is useful in helping us to understand the process of mystification which prevented the English Augustans from "locat[ing] the actual source of the evil [they saw] infesting English rural life,"69 for it was this very inability to mask the "harsh actualities of production and exploitation"70 so clearly evident in early Canadian society that worked to prevent Canadian poetry from becoming just another colonial extension of the mother country and prepared the way for the development of a distinctly national literature.


  1. J. Sheridan Hogan, "Upper Canada as a Frontier Utopia: A Contemporary Judgement," The Frontier Thesis and the Canadas: The Debate on the Impact of Canadian Environment, Issues in Canadian History, ed. Michael S. Cross (Toronto: Copp Clark, 1970) 71.[back]

  2. D.M.R. Bentley, "Preface: 'Along the Line of Smoky Hills': Further Steps towards an Ecological Poetics," Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 26 (Spring/Summer, 1990): v.[back]

  3. Raymond Southall, Literature and the Rise of Capitalism (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1973) 21.[back]

  4. David S. Shields, Oracles of Empire: Poetry Politics, and Commerce in British America, 1690-1750 (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1990) 3.[back]

  5. Kenneth Burke, A Grammar of Motives (Berkeley: U of Calfornia P, 1969) 113.[back]

  6. Thomas Cary, Abram's Plains: A Poem, ed. D.M.R. Bentley (1789; London, Ont.: Canadian Poetry Press, 1986).[back]

  7. Adam Hood Burwell, Talbot Road: A Poem, ed. Michael Williams (1818; London, Ont.: Canadian Poetry Press, 1991).[back]

  8. Oliver Goldsmith, The Rising Village, ed. Gerald Lynch (1825-1834; London, Ont.: Canadian Poetry Press, 1989).[back]

  9. Joseph Howe, Acadia, ed. M.G. Parks (1874; London, Ont.: Canadian Poetry Press, 1989).[back]

  10. Standish O'Grady, The Emigrant, ed. Brian Treheame (1841; London, Ont.: Canadian Poetry Press, 1989).[back]

  11. See Dennis Duffy Gardens, Covenants, Exiles: Loyalism in the Literature of Upper Canada/Ontario (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1982).[back]

  12. Susanna Moodie, Roughing It in the Bush (1852; Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1962) 56.[back]

  13. See the "Preface" to Abram 's Plains, where Cary discusses his intentions and his influences.[back]

  14. Oliver Goldsmith, Poems and Plays, ed. Tom Davis (London: Dent, 1975) 160-173.[back]

  15. Goldsmith's rural virtues are "contented toil," "hospitable care," "connubial tenderness," "piety," "loyalty" and "faithful love" (The Deserted Village 11. 403-407).[back]

  16. See D.M.R. Bentley, The Gay]Grey Moose: Essays on the Ecologies and Mythologies of Canadian Poetry 1690-1990 (Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1992). Bentley points out that the "callous . . . indifferen[ce] with regard to the native peoples" on the part of Cary, Goldsmith and Burwell is due to an assumption held by the British colonists that the new land was "for the most part and for all practical intents and purposes uninhabited — that the country's indigenes were mainly nomads with no invested right to the lands across which they moved."   This view had its origins in John Locke's theories of rights and property, and Adam Smith's "four stages theory," both of which place the indigene at the bottom of the totem pole (125-126).[back]

  17. For a discussion of anti-French and anti-Catholic sentiment in Abram's Plains, see the "Introduction" to Cary's poem by Bentley, xxvi-xxviii; for a discussion of anti-Native sentiment in Cary see Leslie Monkman, A Native Heritage: Images of the Indian in English-Canadian Literature (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1981).[back]

  18. David S. Shields, Oracles of Empire 196.[back]

  19. Burwell's elevation of commerce appears to be a misreading of Thomson's "In dustry."  See James Thomson, "Autumn," "The Seasons" and "The Castle of Indolence," ed. James Sambrook (London: Oxford UP, 1972).  In the "Autumn" section of The Seasons Thomson includes a passage on "Industry," in which "In dustry" is portrayed as a tool of both Nature and Reason in a society that is or ganically ordered.  Even so, it appears to me that Thomson still had his doubts about the fruits of "Commerce," as can be seen from the diction used to describe its blessings: we note the words "choked," "foreign plenty," "bellying," and "sluggish" (118-133), which, when contrasted with the tone of the encomium to the Thames — "and thy stream, O Thames, / Large, gentle, deep, majestic, king of floods!" (121-122) — suggests the poet's disapproval.[back]

  20. Sandra Djwa "Canadian Poets and the Great Tradition," Canadian Literature 65 (Summer, 1975): 43. While Djwa distinguishes between the "Royalist" and the "puritan," she does not discuss poetry whose emphasis is the voice of the common man.[back]

  21. Alexander McLachlan, The Emigrant, ed. D.M.R. Bentley (1861; London, Ont.: Canadian Poetry Press, 1991).[back]

  22. See the "Preface" to The Emigrant 7.[back]

  23. See James Thomson, "Autumn":

         Then Commerce brought into the public walk
    The busy merchant; the big warehouse built;
    Raised the strong crane; choked up the loaded street
    With foreign plenty; and thy stream, O Thames
    Large gentle, deep majestic, king of floods!
    Chose for his grand resort. On either hand,
    Like a long wintry forest, groves of masts
    Shot up their spires

  24. Margaret Atwood, Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (Toronto: Anansi, 1972) 52. Atwood points out that McLachlan's birds "lack songs not be cause they are mute but because the sounds they make are not like the sounds the emigrant McLachlan is accustomed to hearing birds make."[back]

  25. Catherine Parr Traill, The Backwoods of Canada (1836; Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1989) 128, 129.[back]

  26. See J. Mackay, Quebec Hill; Or, Canadian Scenery A Poem, In Two Parts, ed. D.M.R. Bentley (1797; London, Ont.: Canadian Poetry Press, 1988) 25, author's note to line 141.[back]

  27. Monkman, A Native Heritage 10.[back]

  28. Barrie Davies, " 'We Hold a Vaster Empire Than Has Been.' Canadian Literature and the Canadian Empire," Studies in Canadian Literature 14.1 (1989): 20.[back]

  29. K.P. Stich, "The Rising Village, The Emigrant and Malcolm's Katie: The Vanity of Progress," Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 7 (Fall/Winter, 1980): 53.[back]

  30. William Kirby, The U.E. A Tale of Upper Canada in XII Cantos (Niagara, 1859).[back]

  31. See Brian Treheame, introduction, The Emigrant, xi-lxxii. In his witty introduction to the text, Trehearne links the highly idiosyncratic behaviour of the narrator with O'Grady's social pretensions.[back]

  32. D.M.R. Bentley points out that "the picturesque descriptions of Canada's early poets . . . spoke to the motivating desire of the majority of the colony's British emigrants and inhabitants: the desire to achieve in the New World what only a viable property of one's own could offer: social and financial independence" (The Gay]Grey Moose 127).[back]

  33. See Treheame's introduction to the poem, xxxvff, where he discusses the poem's "artistic failure" as the result of O'Grady's "unintegrated and deeply pained sensibility."[back]

  34. Of interest in this regard are both Anna Brownell Jameson's enlightened attitude toward historical situation of the Natives and the French, and Williams Pope's reflections in his Reminiscences of Prince Edward Island, in an Historical and Descriptive Poem (Liverpool: F. Dunsford, 1848).  In a note about the wars against the French and the Micmac, he states that "on some occasions the English were provoked to acts of fearful retaliation" (36, note 7).  Of great interest is Pope's condemnation of Britain's imperial designs and its aggression and plundering of the wealth of its colonies (16-17).  He cautions the reader in note 9 not to "sanctify the means by the goodness of the end" (38).[back]

  35. Michael Zuckerman, "Identity in British America: Unease in Eden," Colonial Identity in the Atlantic World, 1500-1800, ed. Nicholas Canny and Anthony Pagden (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987) 154.[back]

  36. Zuckerman 155.[back]

  37. Dennis Duffy 34.[back]

  38. The following passage from Dyer's work may be the source for the idea behind the regal image of Trade/Commerce in The U.E. and other early Canadian long poems. John Dyer, The Fleece, ed. Edward Thomas (1757; rpt. Felenfach, Wales: Llanerch, 1989):

               See the silver maze
    O stately Thames, ever checker 'd o'er
    With deeply-laden barges, gliding smooth
    And constant as his stream: in growing pomp,
    By Neptune still attended, slow he rolls
    To great Augusta's mart, where lofty Trade,
    Amid a thousand golden spires enthron'd,
    Gives audience to the worfd; the strand around
    Close swarms with busy crowds of many a realm.
                                                           (Book 3. 622-630)[back]

  39. Duffy 34.[back]

  40. Kirby's shortsightedness has been blamed on his apparent inability and/or unwillingness to see anything beyond the British moral order and "the essential interdependence of subject king and state." See Sandra Djwa "Canadian Poets and the Great Tradition," 46, and Lorne Pierce, William Kirby: The Portrait of a Tory Loyalist (Toronto: Macmillan, 1929).[back]

  41. Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (London: Chatto & Windus, 1973) 78.[back]

  42. See both the "Preface" and the letter to Henry (2-5) in The Rising Village.[back]

  43. Gerald Lynch, introduction, The Rising Village, xv.[back]

  44. W.J. Keith, " 'The Rising Village' Again," Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 3 (Fall/Winter, 1978): 11.[back]

  45. K.P. Stich, 49.[back]

  46. David Jackel, "Goldsmith's Rising Village and the Colonial State of Mind," Studies in Canadian Literature 5 (1980): 155-156.[back]

  47. The Deserted Village 11. 403-407.[back]

  48. Oliver Goldsmith, The Autobiography of Oliver Goldsmith, ed. Rev. Wilfrid E. Myatt (Toronto: Ryerson, 1943) 11-12.[back]

  49. See Bentley, "Oliver Goldsmith and The Rising Village," 37, where he discusses the logic of the "right of 'first taker.' "[back]

  50. K.P. Stich himself is of the opinion that The Rising Village is intentionally ironic and at times satirical.[back]

  51. This is clearly shown in Goldsmith's autobiography, where we find that after managing to get out of the Maritimes and going to England, he was reluctant to return, and in fact spent much time and effort trying to make sure that he would never come back to the land of his birth. See also Kenneth J. Hughes, "Oliver Goldsmith's The Rising Village," Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 1 (Fall/Winter, 1977): 42, where he discusses Goldsmith's preference for England over Nova Scotia.[back]

  52. The Lay of the Wilderness, A Poem, in Five Cantos, ed. Thomas B. Vincent (1833; Kingston Ont.: Loyal Colonies Press, 1982). Although there is debate on the exact authorship of The Lay of the Wilderness, authorship will be ascribed to Fisher for the purposes of this paper. New, Watters and Cogswell ascribe the authorship to Fisher, but Vincent contests this. See the general introduction to the poem.[back]

  53. Margaret Blennerhasset, The Widow of the Rock, By a Lady (Montreal: E.V. Sparhawk, 1824).[back]

  54. Cassie Fairbanks, The Lane House. A Poem. Partly Founded on Fact (Halifax: n.p., 1859).[back]

  55. Andrew Shiels, The Witch of the Westcot; A Tale of Nova-Scotia, in Three Cantos, and Other Waste Leaves of Literature (Halifax: Joseph Howe, 1831).[back]

  56. Thomas B. Vincent, introduction, The Lay of the Wilderness, xii.[back]

  57. See D.M.R. Bentley, "Oliver Goldsmith and The Rising Village," Studies in Canadian Literature 15.1 (1990): 36-38, for discussion of Native rights and the conflict between natural and property law.[back]

  58. Susan Gingell-Beckmann, "Joseph Howe's Acadia: Document of a Divided Sensibility," Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 10 (Spring/Summer, 1982) 29. See also, George Woodcock, Northern Spring: The Flowering of Canadian Literature (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1987) 203; M.G. Parks, introduction, Acadia by Joseph Howe, Leslie Monkman, A Native Heritage, and S.G. Zenchuk, "A Reading of Joseph Howe's Acadia," Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 9 (Fall/Winter, 1981) for differing readings of Howe's intentions and the aesthetics of the poem.[back]

  59. See Parks and Monkman.[back]

  60. Woodcock, Northern Spring 32.[back]

  61. The text links the Native and Othello through both colour and emotions — the word "feels" and variants are repeated four times in the space of 6 lines (212-217), underscoring the non-rational basis of both the Moor's and the Native's behaviour.[back]

  62. Zenchuk also makes this point, 70 n.15.[back]

  63. M.G. Parks, in his notes to the text, points out that the eighteenth-century meanings of "devious," "negligently" and "motley" are not necessarily pejorative. Be that as it may, my contention here is that these words carry secondary semantic traces which reinforce the sense of the chaotic and the carnivalesque.[back]

  64. Comwall Bayley, Canada. A Descriptive Poem, ed. D.M.R. Bentley (1805; London Ont.: Canadian Poetry Press, 1990) 22.[back]

  65. I must disagree with Parks' argument that the allusion to the prodigal son is unwarranted (Acadia 59-60). Aside from the fact that lines 995-996 of the poem strongly suggest the biblical parental joy at the return of the long lost son, the connotations of the descriptors "restlessness of soul" (2.985) and "wayward steps" (2.987) serve to associate the son with a rebelliousness previously reserved for the "untamed" and "wild" Native in the poem.  If this were not enough, lines 1019-20 seem to refer to the emigration of Maritimers from the orderly ship of empire to the United States in the 1820s, the result of both the collapse of the timber trade, and the presence of widespread economic uncertainty, due in part, to the loss of the West Indian trade to the States.[back]

  66. I believe that Dewart has it wrong when he says that "a national literature is an essential element in the formation of national character"; it appears that the reverse is true, and that it is the character of the age that determines the literature.  See Edward Hartley Dewart, "Introductory Essay to Selection from Canadian Poets (1864)," Towards a Canadian Literature: Essays, Editorials & Manifestos, ed. Douglas M. Daymond and Leslie G. Monkman, 2 vols. (Ottawa: The Tecumseh Press, 1984) 1:50.[back]

  67. David Chisholme, "From the Introduction to The Canadian Magazine and Literary Repository" (1823), Towards a Canadian Literature, ed. Daymond and Monkman, 17, 20.[back]

  68. Northrop Frye, The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination (Toronto: Anansi Press, 1971) 176.[back]

  69. Richard Feingold, Nature and Society: Later Eighteenth-Century Uses of the Pastoral and Georgic (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1978) 81.[back]

  70. Feingold 10.[back]