Watson and Pierce's Our Canadian Literature Anthology and the Representation of Nation

by Robert Lecker


Anthologies of Canadian literature have always been preoccupied with the construction of the nation. In this respect, they resemble other national literature anthologies, which are often devoted to solidifying or challenging an established canon that is equated with a complex set of national ideals. Reading Canadian literature anthologies involves people in the activity of constructing Canada; every anthology presents them with textual versions of the country they know or are getting to know. The idea of Canada presented in anthologies varies widely and is constantly changing in response to shifting concepts of the country and to notions of literary value current to any given period. Different anthologists working in the same era often construct Canada in very different ways. By doing so, they show how the idea of Canada is multiple and evolving. Beyond the extrinsic constructions of nation that shift from collection to collection and over time, every anthology displays anxieties about the form it takes, the values it enshrines, the structure it imposes, and the way it frames its unstable national subject.

In anthologies of Canadian literature, these anxieties inform the representation of nation and necessarily affect the ways in which a reader understands the meaning of "country" as a textually constructed idea. The key anthologies of Canadian literature are rich, conflicted narratives that invite detailed readings of these textual constructions. In what follows, I examine the values and assumptions informing the first edition of a crucial anthology of Canadian writing in an attempt to identify some of the internal struggles that make it unique in Canadian literary history.

• • •

Our Canadian Literature: Representative Prose and Verse was edited by Albert Durrant Watson and Lorne Pierce and published by Ryerson Press in 1922. The anthology is significant because it was the first Canadian collection to include works of prose as well as poetry, and also because it was the first literary anthology to appear after the First World War. (Approximately four hundred volumes of fiction were published between 1880 and 1920, but none of it had been collected or excerpted in book form [Roper 276].) Simply by virtue of the fact that their anthology included both poetry and prose, Watson and Pierce promoted the idea—radical for their time—that poetry was not the only means of evoking national consciousness. Because it was the first anthology to include prose, it contributed enormously to the establishment of a Canadian fiction canon and to the type of fiction that would be admitted to this canon in the future.1 It solidified a vision of Canadian poetry that held sway in Canada in the postwar years, a vision that younger Canadian poets writing in the late twenties and thirties would so strongly react against. And because Our Canadian Literature united poetry and prose in this way, it also provides the first book-length example of the comparative value accorded these genres by the two editors, whose task it was to show readers how Canadian poetry and prose functioned in the representation of nation. Since the anthology was the product of two editors with very different views of art, it is also a record of the dynamic—or the absence of a dynamic—that results when two distinct editorial visions govern the architecture of a single volume devoted to a representative vision of the country.

There is no doubt about the commercial success of Watson and Pierce's book. Notes on the typescript for the third edition of Our Canadian Literature indicate that the first edition, published in December 1922, sold out immediately. A second edition was printed in January 1923, followed by a third edition (revised and enlarged) as well as a deluxe edition in August 1923. A two-volume edition and a school edition were issued in September of the same year.2 The collection was designed with the school market in mind, and was the first Canadian anthology to gain wide usage in Canadian classrooms.

The original edition brought together fifty-three poets and forty-three writers of fiction and prose. Correspondence in the Lorne Pierce Papers at the Queen's University Archives reveals that Watson was responsible for making the poetry selections and for writing an introduction to them, while the prose section, including its introduction, was handled by Pierce.3 The two sections were very different in their contents. Watson included a sprinkling of nineteenth-century poems by such figures as Jean Blewett, Bliss Carman, William Wilfred Campbell, Isabella Valancy Crawford, Archibald Lampman, Charles Mair, Theodore Rand, D. C. Scott, and Charles G. D. Roberts, but he kept his distance from earlier poets, omitting such previously anthologized figures as Henry Alline, Oliver Goldsmith, Charles Heavysege, Rosanna Leprohon, Agnes Maule Machar, Alexander McLachlan, Jonathan Odell, Charles Sangster, and Pamelia Vining Yule.4 His main interest was in poets who came to prominence since 1900, and he drew heavily on the works of many of the figures who had appeared in an earlier influential anthology, John Garvin's Canadian Poets, published in 1916.

Pierce was more concerned with historical representation, perhaps because he was collecting prose for the first time and felt it important to respect much earlier as well as current writing. His selection includes fiction by such early writers as T. C. Haliburton, Joseph Howe, William Kirby, Susanna Moodie, Gilbert Parker, John Richardson, Catharine Parr Traill, Lord Dufferin, and Goldwin Smith, to contemporary writers such as James Cappon, Frank Connor, Norman Duncan, Marian Keith, Basil King, Agnes Laut, Stephen Leacock, R. G. MacBeth, Peter McArthur, Nellie McClung, and J. G. Sime. He also included prose selections by such figures as Robert Laird Borden, J. D. Logan, Lord Dufferin, Egerton Ryerson, Goldwin Smith, and George Wrong, among others.

Although it may seem, in retrospect, that Our Canadian Literature was simply another expression of the celebration of Canadian nationalism that had inspired so many earlier collections, it strikes me as a much more troubled narrative than those produced by earlier editors. In many ways, Our Canadian Literature: Representative Prose and Verse is about Watson and Pierce's anxiety-ridden attempt to come to terms with the very idea of representativeness in Canadian literature. As such, it records their own insecurities about the relationships between poetry, prose, anthology construction, democracy, mimesis, and nation. Watson and Pierce each had doubts about the value of their undertaking and about their individual roles as literary proponents of Canadian culture.

What conflicting values informed this pivotal collection of poetry and prose? What forces accounted for the decisions that Watson and Pierce made as they approached this "representative" collection? Although their discourse of decision-making was fundamentally Arnoldian in its assumption that a knowledge of culture—most accessible through familiarity with one's national literature—provided the means to personal and social salvation, their fervent nationalism was also driven by Pierce's Methodism and by Watson's theosophical beliefs.

Pierce first met Watson in October 1920, after he had been named the editor of Ryerson Press. Watson was a practising physician in Toronto, but in his later years (he died in 1926) he became profoundly interested in mysticism and psychical research. Despite the differences in their age (Watson was thirty-one years older than Pierce) they became close friends. Pierce was protective of his co-editor, whose interests in spiritualism and mysticism were to become a source of controversy, although he was by no means alone in his theosophical pursuits; post-war interest in spiritualism and theosophy was widespread.5 As David Bentley has shown, this interest was largely Ontario-centred and contributed to "an Ontario hermeneutic" ("Preface" x) that was organized around hermetic ideas shared by numerous religious thinkers, writers, architects, and painters (most notably Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven). Certainly Watson was not the type of man who sought after representative things, as Pierce suggested in a commentary he published a year after their anthology was released. Pierce summed up his partner's uniqueness in these words:

Most people get mystical at christenings and at funerals; they admit heavenly realities at the beginning and the end of life, but it is the span between that really matters! Now it is the spiritual superstructure which Watson raises that perplexes some, terrifies others, and renders many indifferent. Being unusual it is queer, and queerness, outside the Midway and our usual sources of amusement, is not allowed. We eat queer foods, are entertained by queer people, submit to queer initiations and court queer methods of obtaining social and financial advancement, but when it comes to queerness in matters of religion we are first and last for the established order.
                                                                                      (Albert Durrant Watson 5)

Pierce's comment was intended as a defence of Watson, whose theosophical involvement with psychics, as well as the seances held in his Toronto home, had been called fraudulent by James Mavor, a professor of political economy whose 1919 attack on Watson created a heated exchange in Toronto newspapers.6 The attack on Watson's theosophical beliefs—beliefs that he shared with other prominent Torontonians—led Watson to reject his "spiritism" in 1923, but theosophical values certainly informed his selection criteria in Our Canadian Literature, which is in many ways an expression of Watson's occultist convictions about the nature of God and creation. In Pierce's own words, Watson was a "fanatic"7 who perplexed many of his contemporaries in his relentless pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. Yet he fascinated Pierce, who confided in a diary entry dated 17 September 1923 that "I should like to settle the question of Watson. I want very much to tell the world about him. He has suffered because of his spiritistic experiments." By "experiments" Pierce meant the seances that Watson conducted for the Toronto Theosophical Society. Watson was also involved with other spiritualist organizations: he was president of the Association of Psychical Research for Canada and the founder and president of the Canadian Ethology Organization, a society aiming to create loftier national ideals. A reading of Watson's output suggests that Pierce was correct in concluding that "No man entertains so many strange faces, tongues, sects, systems, enthusiasms, artists, poets, fanatics, and sages as he does" (7). This may explain why Pierce felt that Watson had a "far, quiet, detached look" about him.

What about Pierce? He was much more earthbound than Watson. I suspect that he had to engage in a considerable amount of diplomacy in order to keep Watson on track. Yet it is important to remember that Pierce's view of literature was, in many ways, as restricted as Watson's. Its foundation was deeply religious. The largest part of Pierce's university training was theological: he grew up in a Methodist household, was ordained a Methodist minister in 1916, and graduated from Wesleyan College in Montreal in 1922,8 two years after he became the editor of Ryerson Press, which was an outgrowth of the Methodist Book and Publishing House, established in 1829 to publish a variety of materials for the Methodist Church, including the Methodist Magazine. He was also a regular contributor to the "Book Steward's Corner" of the Christian Guardian.9 Pierce inevitably saw Ryerson Press as a quasi-religious vehicle, and, since Ryerson was part of the Methodist Book and Publishing House, it was also seen by the Methodist Church in this light. Pierce's devotion to Canadian nationalism inevitably took on the qualities, if not the rhetoric, of a religious quest. The search for Canadian literature would be redemptive, and Ryerson, via Pierce, would provide the means to salvation.

In many respects, Our Canadian Literature can be read as a document that is profoundly Methodist, both in its aims and in its aesthetic. As such, it embodies many of the forces of Methodist progressivism that emerged after World War I and the General Conference of the Methodist Church, held in 1918. In this postwar era, the Church began to emphasize the importance of spreading a social gospel and finding ways of converting groups, rather than individuals, to the ideals of social Christianity. Yet it is important to remember that spiritualism and methodism often flourished together, a fact which may help to explain Watson and Pierce's decision to enter into their joint venture, even though their visions of nation were finally quite different and led them to endorse different aesthetic ends. David Bentley observes that although Watson is remembered mainly for his mystical pursuits, many of his prose works "can be separated into relatively orthodox studies in the idealist and Methodist vein," including The Sovereignty of Ideals (1904), The Sovereignty of Character: Lessons from the Life of Jesus (1906), and Three Comrades of Jesus, which he published in 1919, two years before he began to work with Pierce (Bentley, Bliss Carman’s Letters 2). Both editors were really searching for a secular means of expressing what were fundamentally theological values. Their engagement in this process embodies a crucial transformation that took place in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Canada, which Ramsay Cook describes as "the substitution of theology, the science of religion, with sociology, the science of society." The turn toward realism—problematically endorsed by Pierce and ultimately resisted by Watson—was part of "a modernist theology which insisted that Christianity was not separate from modern culture but rather should be adapted to it." In this context, modernist theology was "founded upon a denial of God's transcendence and an insistence upon his immanence in the world. It followed that a society in which God was immanent was one that could eventually become the kingdom of God on earth" (4-5).

The teaching and promotion of literature played an important part in this socialization process and reinforced the connection between cultural and religious salvation. For the Methodist editor, literary selection and religious election were forces that could merge. One of the most influential Methodist thinkers of this period—S. D. Chown—developed a form of philosophical idealism that stressed "the complete substitution of sociological concerns for theological ones" (McKillop 225). Although Pierce did not entirely support such a complete form of substitution, he did endorse the postwar Methodist emphasis on practicality, empiricism, and the Methodist belief in the "sacrificial service and involvement in public life as an expression of religious commitment" (Airhart 116). At the same time, he remained faithful to many late nineteenth-century Methodist beliefs, many of which were promoted by an earlier anthologizer of Canadian literature—Edward Hartley Dewart—the Methodist editor of the Guardian from 1869 to 1894 and the editor of Selections from Canadian Poets (1864), a book well-known for its formative assertion that "a national literature is an essential element in the formation of national character. It is not merely the record of a country's mental progress: it is the expression of its intellectual life, the bond of national unity, and the guide of national energy" (ix). Like Dewart, Pierce believed that there was a fundamental relation between literary and national identity. He also shared Dewart's idea that social reform began with individual conversion, a spiritually transformative activity that Pierce enacted in his role as literary editor and critic.

• • •

Our Canadian Literature includes separate introductions to its poetry and prose sections. These tell us a lot about the critical-editorial values informing the selection and collection process.

Watson begins his introduction by repeating the standard nineteenth-century romantic clichés: there is "immortal art" and it expresses truth in "distinctive form"; such art is "a gain to the whole race"; time will reveal the immortal in Canadian poetry and "give permanence to every universal note" (7). But soon the clichés give rise to a quirkier vision of the relation between poetry and its followers. Watson argues that readers "are themselves potential artists and poets" (7) whose response to the music can "reach around the world" and give the poetry true range, even though he also explains that some poems, such as Crawford's "Egypt, I Die!," have been omitted because "it is a study for artists and poets" (10) and such studies have no place in the book. By responding to "the music," those who "take pleasure in truth beautifully and distinctively set forth" help to promote the poet, who helps to promote the country by writing beautiful and distinctive things.

Watson's stance is a profound expression of his theosophical leanings. As Michele Lacombe explains, theosophists believed that it was their responsibility "to promote universal brotherhood between men and women of different creeds and nationalities" (100) and to advance "the concept of dharma or destiny, which postulates that not only individuals but cultures, nations and races play their particular roles in the process of cosmic evolution" (101). Because theosophists saw Canada as a special region of North America that would contribute to the evolution of the human race, they could support "the economic and cultural imperialism of the United States" and "the equally prevalent call for a strong Canadian nationalism" (104). In short, the theosophists felt that "continentalism was not incompatible with but rather an expression of their Canadian identity" and that "internationalism and nationalism were not in conflict" (114). Watson's invocation of a "whole race" whose response to poetry could "reach around the world" was one version of "the ever-popular Hegelian dialectic which allowed for the prospect of Canada's destiny as a great nation without at the same time denying the appearance of internationalism and the importance of global unity" (115). The invocation of this dialectic anticipates the native/cosmopolitan dichotomy that later became so central to the aesthetics of another central Canadian anthologist—A. J. M. Smith.

As an anthologist, Watson thought he could contribute to this global unity by repeatedly selecting "some jewel of a song not yet fully appreciated" (7). However, when he focused on the Canadian poetry before him, it did not always strike him as timeless or jewel-like. He found that the distinctly Canadian poetry he was collecting often described "the canoe, the dog-train and the toboggan," and that the people in the poems were, of course, Canadians, whom Watson pictured as "a people of high resistance—dependable folk, resourceful and competent, blithe and reasonably aggressive" (8). Watson's challenge was to turn these unexciting, competent people and their dog-trains into rare and exotic jewels. His dilemma was that the more he made Canadians jewel-like, the further he strayed from the "adventurous vivacity" that marked their toboggany verse. Ultimately, Watson's selection is marked by his inability to endorse the colloquial and the pedestrian at the expense of what he valued most: the dated formality and elevated subject matter that characterized his own verse. After all, how could the idea of immortal song, which he had earlier equated with "the Sacred Literatures of the world" (7), ever be reconciled with the sound of aggressive, dependable folk singing about dog-trains and toboggans? Watson's answer is, not surprisingly, to suggest that the less said about this conundrum the better, which is why he concludes that "Our Saxon quality is best demonstrated by our silence" in the face of "our own prowess." Or to put it another way, "Those who do most usually talk least" (8).

So here we are, at the beginning of a crucial anthology that calls itself representative, and what have we learned from one of its editors? That the Canadian poet who sings about reality or toboggans should be silent or silenced. One gets the sense that Watson stands before this literature of the dog-train and wants it to go away, mainly because it is not immortal, since it is too preoccupied with what Watson calls "the physical effort of conquering nature," an activity that strikes him as crassly functional. He writes, "the practice of industrial art leaves little time for engagement in finer expression" (8), and it provides little encouragement for the poet to get beyond the dog-train: "As the years pass our artists and poets will become more responsive to the appeal of the wider world. We shall realize the dangers of exclusiveness" (9). Was it possible to turn literature of the toboggan into a theosophical global force while remaining faithful to the concept of nation? Could Watson find "the golden mean between aggressive self-complacency and timid self-depreciation" (9) in this collection of poems?

Watson's introduction plays out the ironies inherent in this question. Here he is, almost in the middle of his introduction, and he is writing it, so there must be some value to what he finds himself writing about: toboggans and things physical. But he needs a concept that will rationalize this "industrial art." The concept he discovers is imperialism. Just thinking about material things—about property—calls up for Watson the imperial idea that sustains him, mainly because imperialism provides an intellectual framework through which he can rationalize ownership and capital as the means to spiritual and national advancement. In evoking this framework, Watson aligns himself with many other imperialists of his time. As Carl Berger observes in The Sense of Power, these imperialists "believed that a weak or diminished empire meant the subversion of Canadian nationalism because the imperial system was the vehicle through which she would attain nationhood" (260). Berger goes on to show that this argument for imperial unity was also religious in inspiration. It was rooted in the assumption that "the character of nations and individuals was shaped by obeying the Christian injunction to self-sacrifice and work" (262). The correlation between Christianity and imperialism appears in Watson's "A Hymn for Canada," which he included in the anthology. Watson prays that God will protect Canada and the empire:

  Lord of the world, with strong eternal hand,
  Hold us in honour, truth, and self-command;
   The loyal heart, the constant mind,
  The courage to be true,
Our wide-extending Empire bind,
  And all the earth renew.
   Thy name be known through every zone;
 Lord of the world, make all the lands Thine

For Watson, imperialism becomes the material equivalent of globalized poetic value. In other words, Watson's aesthetic discourse is imperialist discourse. This may explain why he argues that "There is in our literature a fine imperial quality—not too imperious we trust—which insists upon what we call 'British fair play.'" This imperial quality demonstrates "the heroism of sacrifice" (9). The values invoked here seem pretty far removed from Watson's opening remark that "If we are wise we shall have faith in ourselves" (7). He seems to be telling his readers that they should have faith in the British and their approach to foreign lands: take it all (property and poetry included), and take as much as you want, but always in the spirit of fair play. In a passage from the typescript version of Watson's introduction—a passage excised in the printed version—Watson explains that one of his aims was to "show most effectively our true allegiance to that great Empire of which it should be our highest endeavour to be worthy."

Watson sees ample evidence of such allegiance in Canadian poetry, which becomes a means of extending the imperialist message, even to French Canadians. He observes that "There is ample room among our Saxon population for that fine chivalry in which our fellow-citizens of French extraction have a tradition so glorious" (9). Like a true imperialist, he displays generosity toward the colonized: "There should be nothing but the best good-will, either latent or manifest, between the representatives of these or any other sections of our people" (9).

While Watson may be full of such good will, and while he may insist that there is ample room for those chivalrous French citizens, it turns out that this book of representative prose and verse has practically no room for French Canadians, an omission that reinforces the principle—established in the earliest Canadian literature anthologies—of paying lip-service to the quality of writing done by French Canadians and others, who are then generally excluded from the mainstream because they do not speak in the voice of their conquerors.10 Not to worry. As Watson says: "Our literature is fostering this kindly feeling and extending it to other nations," and this gesture provides evidence "of that generous spirit which enlarges our patriotism to universal dimensions" (9). In this context, the differences between races and languages amount to "negligible minor distinctions." The imperial gesture—combined with the theosophical idea of global evolution—erases otherness.

Watson's sense that there must be something good about Canada if he was writing about it conflicted with his fundamentally imperialist stance. This conflict made it impossible for him to conceive of Canada as something other than a useful nation (as a nation that could be used), but this conception itself conflicted with his theosophical leanings, which were anti-materialist and nationalist in scope. It's no wonder Watson found it so difficult to define what he meant by poetic value, caught as he was between the desire to treat Canada as a proto-mystical stage and as a material colonial presence. After a long digression in which he attempts to clarify the distinction between poetry, prose, and verse, Watson concludes that there really isn't that much of true poetic value in Canada after all: "While our young nation is striving to find its soul," he observes, "there is sure to be much uncouth gesturing" (12). He equates this "uncouth gesturing" with the "new age" and with "art in the new land," which he sees as a product of contemporary society. A great deal of the "world's unrest in these days," he explains, is the result of such gesturing, and it needs to be stopped, just as recent poetry that employs "uncouth or intolerable forms" needs to be suppressed (12). The uncouth is intolerable. The intolerable is contemporary.

If you are arguing, as Watson does, that it is valuable for new nations to speak, but you find what they say or how they say it intolerable and uncouth, you have little choice but to seize this unruliness and civilize it by reducing it to a few domesticated sounds that have been cured of their association with the dog-train or the toboggan. The poetry section of Our Canadian Literature is the civilizing act, the imperial solution that silences the rowdies. This may be one reason why Watson refers to "the unspeakable beauty of reality." In the end, Watson's poetry selections could not acknowledge everyday reality, simply because such an acknowledgement would position the idea of representativeness in relation to particular material conditions that flew in the face of the spiritized, ethereal, imperial universe Watson wanted to inhabit.

• • •

Watson had to do more than rationalize his involvement in a representative anthology in which the very word "representative" seemed to clash with the special, heightened status of individuals and psychics involved in mystical pursuits. He had to come to terms with his involvement with Pierce, who saw the older Watson as a potentially embarrassing father figure whose experience he nevertheless embraced. Watson's preoccupation with mysticism was matched by Pierce's profound interest in Methodist teaching. Watson's interests undoubtedly influenced Pierce, who actually knew very little about Canadian literature when he assumed the editorship at Ryerson in 1920; in fact, his initial responsibility at Ryerson as the firm's literary critic was to advise other ministers on appropriate reading material. The Pierce Papers do not help clarify whether the idea of the anthology was originally Watson's or Pierce's. What is clear, however, is that when Pierce began to work on Our Canadian Literature in 1921, he had no solid grounding in the scope of the material he was collecting. His first forays into Canadian literature appeared in late 1921. Like many of his generation, he seems mainly to have been inspired by his belief in the relation between spiritual and cultural development, a notion grounded in nineteenth-century European romantic nationalism. In an interview with Ronald Hambleton, he recalled that when he began at Ryerson "my own literary interests could scarcely have been less attuned to Canada's own literary needs. . . . All my chief interests were non-Canadian" (qtd. in Campbell 137).

It must have been difficult for Pierce to make the fiction selections. Ten years after he completed the anthology, in a survey of English-Canadian literature, he argued that "Regarding our novelists and short story writers there is little to say. . . . Knister's anthology preserves the best of our stories. They are nearly all regionalist and superficial" (English-Canadian Literature 60). Pierce's comment suggests why he was so determined to celebrate the national (a trope of the universal) at the expense of the local (an expression of the materially based particular).

His Introduction begins in words that harken back to Dewart: "Great literatures," he says, "have grown out of the national consciousness of peoples and have developed around national ideals" (123). Pierce then reviews the ideals around which great cultures have cohered and asks whether Canada can be defined in relation to a specific national ideal. But no sooner does he pose this question than he finds himself in a conundrum, for if the answer is "No, Canada has not developed around a national ideal," then how can it produce great literature?

Pierce claims that "we have achieved a sense of full nationhood," but he is reluctant to align it with any ideal, choosing instead to speak of "a subtle spiritual centre around which our new life is integrating," or about "an individuality still undefined," or about an identity that is "changing yet unchanged." Although these descriptions of the so-called "spiritual centre" sound like definitions of ambiguity and shift, Pierce wants to claim that it is precisely this centre that "gives to our national life permanence, direction, and force," and thrusts us out "into characteristic expressions of national life and thought" which "we call the spirit of Canada."

The concept of a cohering national ideal is thus subtly displaced by the rhetoric of spirit, which is itself defined as a force that is both fixed and in flux. Like Watson, Pierce finds himself arguing in favour of European ideals that he cannot locate in Canada, and, like Watson, he finds himself involved in contorted arguments designed to mask the absence of such ideals. Although he knows that the aim of his anthology is to justify the status of English-Canadian poetry and prose as forces that are representatively Canadian, he cannot finally think of Canada in self-sufficient terms, so that whenever a definition of something Canadian is proffered, it is always proffered in relation to its European origins. He writes:

The political traditions of Canada are lost in the dim dawnings of the histories of England and France. The roots of Canadian culture are buried in the soil that produced Caedmon, the songs of the Nibelungs, the sagas of Ossian and Cuchulain and the chansons of Gaul.

Claims such as these pose a problem. The more Pierce aligns Canadian literature with non-Canadian influences, the more he undermines his ability to claim that Canadian literature is the expression of a national ideal. How will he resolve this dilemma? The first response is to argue that Canada is unique because of its cosmopolitanism, because it is built on French and English literary sources, and, as Pierce says, "A real history of the literature of Canada must include an appreciation of the contribution of the French" (125). Although Pierce sees Confederation as the turning point that marked "the solidification of the political life of Canada" and "the crystallization of her spiritual life," he has trouble reconciling the French presence in Canada (a presence barely mentioned by Watson) and soon drops the claim to French importance, omitting all French authors from the prose section except Louis Hémon, a gesture that repeats Watson's implicit claim that Canada means English Canada, and that English Canada is fundamentally British.11

At this point in his career, Pierce was unable to conceive of Canada as a bicultural entity. He was having enough difficulties thinking of it as a cultural entity. Instead, his vision of the country is one of a nation formed by dependence and inheritance. He reminds us again that "There is not yet in our literature a national epic like that of Ossian, the Nibelungenlied or the Chanson de Roland. We are rather the heirs of these" (127). As it turns out, we are the heirs of everybody, including the Americans. Pierce states: "it is no idle statement that the literature of the United States was at one time and still is the literature of Canada" (128).

The effect of such a multifaceted inheritance might be, as Pierce says, to create a literature that is as "colorless as water" (128). But Canadian literature avoided this problem, because "the Canadian soul" came into existence at Confederation, and "From that date our literature took on a distinctive form" (128) and began to "think for itself." By articulating this thought, the nation can "instruct its citizens in the spiritual ideas of race" (128). No doubt the anthology serves a similar function—that of transmitting "ideas of race," which necessarily involves the conceptualization of what racial ideals are worth transmitting, and the even scarier idea that instruction in racial ideals is an innocent task that an editor might consciously pursue. By the end of his introduction to the prose section of Our Canadian Literature Pierce seems to have forgotten the implications of his anthology's title. It is "our" literature only insofar as it is owned by white Anglo-Saxons; it is "representative" only insofar as it represents the views of people like Watson and Pierce, people who:

may listen rapturously to those who have mastered the meaning of our life and thought, who have discerned with unclouded eye the inner meaning of our spirit and who alone, of all those within our borders, are qualified to explain us to ourselves and to interpret us to others.

In this closing vision of national purpose, Pierce undermines the collective terminology of his title, and the idea that "Only by gathering together, carefully and critically, the best we have produced, may the outline of our greatness be imagined" (128). The democratic image of a community working together to determine its best literature turns into a canonical activity to be pursued, not by the population, not even by a broad group of educated readers, but by the select few whose unclouded eyes can discern inner meaning and who are qualified to understand and interpret, and especially by anthologists, who are implicitly cast in the role of privileged arbiters of culture and taste whose activity is crucial to the formation of national identity.

All anthologists engage in exclusionary activities. In Watson and Pierce's hands, this exclusion means that the "essential spirit of Canadian literature" is not just the result of loving one's native heritage, or "living in the spirit of fraternity," or pursuing a "devotion to truth, beauty, and goodness," or devoting oneself to "an unquenchable passion for freedom." Above all, it is the result of what Pierce calls "reverence for the religious and political traditions of our race."

It is his unshakeable respect for these traditions that guides Pierce in writing his introduction. For him, the editorial act was almost inescapably a theological act, especially when it came to writing about national literatures, which could provide a means to salvation. Many cultural nationalists in the 1920s saw their mission as similarly redemptive. From this perspective, the country becomes a church, a community to be celebrated, and above all a body that must never be seen as banal. This explains why Pierce is able to conclude his introduction in words that would certainly confuse the attentive reader, so far are they in meaning from his opening assertions. Because the act of writing an ending for this introduction is essentially a devotional form of religious activity, it can only end on a note of jubilant celebration that rings out the richness of Canada and its literature in the hyperbole appropriate to prayer and hymn. So Pierce concludes:

Amid the richness of its variety of cadences and colors, amid the teeming wealth of its imaginative splendor, and the triumphant joyousness of its throbbing, expanding, up-soaring life and thought, stand out splendid mountain peaks, some of which are entitled to be accorded a place among the masterpieces of the literature of the world.

Is it my imagination, or is this vision of "throbbing, expanding, up-soaring" mountain peaks couched in erotic terms that are obsessively male?12 These terms reinforce the masculinist drive behind the anthology and allow it to be seen as a story about phallic possession, about being on top and achieving the mastery conferred by the very act of masterpiece-making. In this case, the phallic thrust that activates the narrative is complicated by the father-son positioning of the editors themselves, and by the necessary struggle for power that accompanies any father-son dynamic. Ultimately, the struggle is about inheritance and the control of wealth. In literary terms, the phallic power of the editor is bound up with his canonical force.

Although Pierce does not mention Watson in his introduction, his preoccupation with mastery, combined with his attempt to claim new literary territory—that of Canadian prose—allows the narrative to be read as a story that links Canada's growing independence to Pierce's own desire for personal territory, a sublimated sexual urge to possess a new body. In other words, the implicit struggle is as much between Pierce and Watson as it is between Canada and England. Perhaps this is why Watson's introduction to the poetry section connects patriotism with influence and inheritance, while Pierce's introduction to the prose section focuses on the conflict between tradition and youth: he contrasts the spirit of "fraternity" and "an unquenchable passion for freedom" with "reverence for the religious and political traditions of our race" and concludes that "we discover no absolute, sustained and deliberate search for ordered beauty and 'the endless glories of art'" (129). Pierce's repudiation of history is conflicted, to be sure, for he was not only struggling with the concepts advanced by the man he admired, but also with the very notion of fatherhood and inheritance so crucial to his Methodist training. He wanted historical grounding, and wanted to escape it. What type of anthology could ever be produced from such conflicting forces?

• • •

Although Our Canadian Literature was completely new in its double focus on poetry and prose, the material chosen for these two sections reveals the problems faced by the editors in negotiating their two-sided editorial form. Watson and Pierce were operating on very different assumptions when it came to determining the kind of literary values they wanted to endorse. Caught within the covers of Our Canadian Literature is a conflicted narrative about the nature of literary appreciation and the social function of art. While Pierce finally (and with difficulty) endorsed a model that was promodern and sometimes even radical in its engagement with political and material questions about Canada as a real place that was named, particularized, regionally focused, and open to celebration, tension, and doubt (even as he worried about the moral values implicit in this model), Watson's selections were warm, fuzzy, sentimental outpourings about love and loss and potential, most of which were inspired by romantic spiritual and theosophical leanings that prompted him to choose the elevated expression over the mundane, eternity before the here and now. For example, Frederick George Scott describes "realms beyond our mortal reach" and speaks of how his soul "hath pastured with the stars" ("Dawn"). Beatrice Redpath tells us that "I think God sang when He had made / A bough of apple bloom, and placed it close against the sky / To whiten in the gloom" ("The Star"). Isabel Ecclestone MacKay follows "the curving sky's blue hollow, / Those thought too fleet / For any save the soul's swift feet!" ("When As a Lad"). Duncan Campbell Scott's unadorned, sparse poems are ignored in favour of the more romantic diction to be found in his "Ecstasy": "Mount, my soul, and sing at the height / Of thy clear flight in the light and the air." For Katherine Hale, the pursuit of God allows her to realize that "heaven was one vibrating call" ("The Answer"). Virna Sheard discovers that "in peace, comes that great Lord of / rest / Who crowneth men with amaranthine / flowers; / Who telleth them the truths they have but / guessed, / Who giveth them the things they love the best, / Beyond this restless, rocking world of ours."

Watson's selections were inspired by his desire to escape this "restless, rocking world" and to find a more stable spiritual centre. He wanted to create a volume that "enlarges our patriotism to universal dimensions" (10), by which he meant that if you got to know the country through his particular choice of literature, you got to know God. Watson argued that his anthology selections would bring Canada's poets "into an inspiring relation with her people" (10).

Of course Watson did not put all of his conservative aims up front. He was working with an up-and-coming editor who was thirty years his junior; he had to make the appropriate gestures in favour of renewal and youth. This is no doubt why he claimed, in his introduction, that "We desired the expression of a youthful spirit" (10), and why he insisted that the aim of the poet is "to visualize the truth" (13). For Watson, "The actual poet is he who presents reality in the beautiful garments of revealing art," just so long as that beautiful reality is "vivid," "wholesome," not grubby or industrial, and lived by the educated readers comprising the anthology's white middle-class audience (11).13

If these assertions are true, one is naturally led to wonder about Watson's understanding of the term "representative," especially because it is in Our Canadian Literature that the term is used for the first time within a Canadian anthology's title or subtitle. Did Watson think of his anthology as fulfilling some kind of democratic function, in which case its representative agency would be to describe the present-day reality confronting many different types of people throughout the country? Did he think of "representative" in historical terms, meaning that the anthology would collect poems that were representative of different poets writing in different periods? Or did he mean that the works gathered in the anthology were the best examples of many like them, and that together they gave voice to a relation between the country's peoples?

None of these descriptions seem to fit the idea of representativeness endorsed in the poetry section of the anthology, which is a derivative collection of verse by middle-aged and older writers who were reluctant to engage in new forms of poetry or to explore new ideas. Our Canadian Literature selected shorter poems over longer ones because they were cheaper to produce. It omitted well-known older poems while admitting less well-known ones, mainly in response to issues concerning length and permission costs (a prefatory note to the volume complains about copyright restrictions imposed on the editors by—"in most cases"—non-Canadian firms, while in his introduction Watson notes that "We have not stressed the older poets" and that "C. G. D. Roberts, Bliss Carman and others are not represented here in their greatest works as these are too lengthy for our purpose" [10]). In the poetry section of the anthology, then, "representative" meant this: very few experimental poems, no long poems, no costly poems, no very old poems, no unwholesome poems, no working-class poems, no poems by immigrants, fewer poems by women, no poems in French, no political poems, no poems of social critique, no poems about science, no poems about money, no poems in which the self was not subordinated to the idea of spirit or God. The effect of these exclusions was to homogenize Canadian poetry, to present it as a body of work written by a group of poets who appeared to be both timeless and ageless (none of the poems are dated and no dates are provided for any of the authors selected for inclusion, even though this had been the practice in many earlier anthologies).

In Our Canadian Literature, then, "representative" seems to mean "generally recent" but it is reluctant to admit the fact. It seems to mean conservative and preferably spiritual, just like Watson. He was sixty-three years old when the book was published. Two years before the anthology's publication he edited another anthology—of psychic writings—entitled Birth through Death: Ethics of the Twentieth Plane. Actually, Watson did not edit the anthology. He presented himself as one who "reported" the "revelation" received through the "psychic consciousness" of another. As Watson the reporter put it: "The matter contained in this book was received psychically. It was spoken in a trance by one whose own thought did not direct his speech" (10). Watson explains that the material was recorded stenographically "by two members of the Inner Circle." Then "the reporter read the chapters aloud, in the presence, usually, of some members of the Inner Circle, and the entranced Instrument whose voice was the medium of correction, as it had previously been the medium of dictation" (10). Watson then explains that he employs these psychic revelations in his medical practice with notable results, so notable that "Many letters from all over the world earnestly praying for further teaching from the same source have led the reporter to believe that this is by far the most important work of his life" (2-3).

The reporter's testimony indicates a strong relation between his psychic and editorial pursuits at the time he was working on Our Canadian Literature. What was Watson thinking about when he was selecting this representative verse? Birth through Death provides some answers to this question. Watson reports that his concept of the Twentieth Plane is connected with such recurring terms as "love," "illumination," "light," "path," "God," "physical plane," "earth plane," "astral body," and so on. He called for "a reallegiance of the finite personal soul to the Infinite Mind of God" (3). He was distressed by the evils brought on by what he called "the industrial age" (by which he meant the contemporary) and sought an answer to those evils through religious faith, which he regarded as "the most precious heritage of the race" (10). Because Watson believed that "the materialism of the nineteenth century brought the world-tragedy to our doors," he argued that such materialism had to be repudiated, and replaced by the healing intervention of "a new divine voice." Or as he put it just two years before Our Canadian Literature appeared: "The Mother-God took humanity by the hand, and is now leading her child into a more spacious house of life,— into a spiritual age" (9). As the allusion to Dante Gabriel Rossetti makes clear, this spiritual age had little to do with the twentieth century.

Watson's selections were the product of his desire to advance this spiritual age, which was grounded in another era. His reluctance to choose so-called industrial poems grew out of his belief that nonspiritual poetry led to the kind of capitalist urges that were responsible for the events leading up to the first world war. In many ways, his spiritual selections were balm to sensibilities damaged by death, tragedy, and destruction.

Because he saw his values anchored in a spiritual past that he wanted to re-create, Watson shied away from new poetry and from the depiction of social conflict. He was especially resistant to poems that referred to class and capital. No wonder the poetry section of the anthology was so derivative. A comparison of the poetry selections in Our Canadian Literature and those in the two most influential anthologies to precede it—John Garvin's Canadian Poets (1916) and Canadian Poems of the Great War (1918)—demonstrates Garvin's profound influence: Watson adds eleven poets to the earlier anthologist's selections, but very tentatively, since he admits only one of each newcomer's poems (with the exception of Hilda Hooke, whose work is selected twice).14

These "new" poems tend to reinforce the preference for elevated diction and inflated imagery that I noted earlier. J. K. Bathurst's "Love's Pilgrim" is a sentimental romantic-religious salvation poem. James David Edgar translates Frechette, who writes about "peaks that are gilded by Heaven" ("Saguenay"). Helen Egerton listens to the "mellow music of the morn" ("Bluebirds"). John Ferguson likens God to a potter who controls "The wheels unnumbered of immensity" ("Till the Day Breaks"). Hilda Hooke invokes "a dream of a friendly face / And a far off June" ("Autumn") or "the unseen volumes of the spheres" ("The Vagabond"). H. T. Miller asks for "men to match our mountains," men with "empires in their purpose / And new eras in their brains" ("Give Us Men"). Robert Norwood tells us that "My God had need / Of one more reed— / Had need of me / To make the perfect harmony" ("The Piper and the Reed").

Other newcomers included J. E. H. MacDonald, who is best known as the painter and designer who cofounded the Group of Seven, rather than as a poet (MacDonald shared Lawren Harris's profound interest in hermeticism and the occult). In some cases, the newcomers are quite old. For example, Theodore Rand was born in 1835 and would have been eighty-seven if he was alive in 1922 (he died in 1900). Edgar died in 1899. This leaves three other poets not represented by Garvin, the youngest of whom—Arthur Phelps— was thirty-four when the volume was published. But even these newcomers were unwilling to challenge accepted poetic norms, or the selection of their poems in the anthology constructs them as being unwilling to initiate such a challenge. Each of their selections is about peace or the pain of war. Robert Stead's poem is about the death of Kitchener.

Most of the poetry selections in this anthology were either preoccupied with romantic visions of love and spiritual awakening, or with healing visions of peace in response to the effects of the war. They were the product of an era marked by a preference for what Munro Beattie describes (in his own exclusionary terms) as "inflated diction, flights into the empyrean, pressure on the picturesque" at the expense of poetry that developed "a more direct way of looking at and speaking about reality" (238). Beattie sums up his view of the preoccupations of this period in these words:

Worst of all, the versifiers of this arid period, having nothing to say, kept up a constant jejune chatter about infinity, licit love, devotion to the Empire, death, Beauty, God, and Nature. Sweet singers of the Canadian out-of-doors, they peered into flowers, reported on the flittings of the birds, discerned mystic voices in the wind, descried elves among the poplars. They insisted upon being seen and overheard in poetic postures: watching for the will-o'-the-wisp, eavesdropping on "the forest streamlet's noonday song," lying like a mermaid on a bed of coral, examining a bird's nest in winter, fluting for the fairies to dance, or "wandering through some silent forest's aisles."

In many ways literary taste in postwar Canada remained faithful to the ideals of the Victorian neoclassicism so prominent in Canadian poetry at the turn of the century. Claude Bissell observes that the widespread defence of these ideals made it clear "what in poetry the Canadian literary world mainly disliked: technical experimentation, the intellectual, any suggestion of the commonplace and the realistic" (248). Yet there is evidence some Canadians in 1920 and 1921 "were reading the new poetry and reacting to it" (Beattie 235). The Canadian Forum was founded in 1920, "at the right moment to be of service to new attitudes and new methods," and at least a few poets were aware of imagist experiments and of the work of such writers as e. e. cummings, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Vachel Lindsay, Amy Lowell, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, and Wallace Stevens (Beattie 235). E. J. Pratt got his imagism from these sources. Some Canadian writers—including Arthur Stringer and Frank Oliver Call—were acquainted with such anthologies as Pound's Des Imagistes (1914), Amy Lowell's three-volume Some Imagist Poems (1915, 1916, 1917), and Alfred Kreymborg's Others (1916, 1917, 1919). A. J. M. Smith read The New Poetry, edited by Harriett Monroe and Alice Corbin Henderson (1917) when he was in England in 1918. It contained works by Aiken, Eliot, H. D., Pound, Stevens, and Yeats. As Alan C. Golding observes, these anthologies shared a "central assumption . . . that has become almost a critical article of faith: that the best American poets react against rather than support the poetic and cultural values of their times" (295). Therefore "most modern anthologists were revisionists. . . . all used their anthologies to propose a canon written in defiance of inherited poetic norms" (296).

This assessment of American wartime anthologies could hardly be applied to Our Canadian Literature. It did include the work of Canadian poets who were challenging traditional poetic norms, but, significantly, it did not include the specific poems that concretized this challenge. For example, in 1914 Stringer published Open Water, which contained a preface that called upon poets to adapt to a new era by freeing up rhythm and form and by replacing conventional poetic diction with more natural and direct free verse. Call, another poet included in Our Canadian Literature, also endorsed free verse, as did Phelps. Call and Phelps do not get much play, and what they do get remains sentimental; their more radical work is bypassed. Stringer has four poems in the anthology. Yet of these, only one is in free verse, and the volume opens with a Stringer poem that is heavily and mechanically rhymed ("I pass where the pines for Christmas / Stand thick in the crowded street, / Where the groves of Dream and Silence / Are paced by feverish feet" [’Northern Pines']). Perhaps this was one way in which Watson expressed his disdain for free verse, which he described as "amorphous prose" that could seldom, "by any euphemism, be called poetry" (12).

The effect of framing the volume with Stringer's traditionally rhymed poem was to undercut his more experimental verse and to announce that free verse and social realism would be subordinated to conventional rhyme patterns and conventionally romantic conceptions of Canada, even at a time when the country was being politically, economically, and culturally reconfigured. For Watson, true Canadian poetry celebrated nature, or spirit, or God. This is why the most prominently represented poets in the anthology (with five selections each) are Archibald Lampman (whose poetry is tinged with mysticism),15 Wilson MacDonald (who was immersed in spiritualism), Robert Norwood (an extremely liberal Anglican minister), and Duncan Campbell Scott (who also embraced ideas of the mystic north), followed closely by Watson himself (he included four of his own poems in the book). In fact, there are a few lines in Watson's "To Worlds More Wide" that sum up his belief in the relationship between God and nature that he sought to endorse in these postwar years:

"The Soul of All is beautiful, then why
Should Nature anywhere in earth or sky
 Fall from her high estate? If it should be
 One wild flamingo by an unknown sea
 Found God unbeautiful, no God were He!"

I emphasize the postwar period during which Our Canadian Literature was constructed because the poetry section of the anthology makes it so easy to forget that the book was a product of an era marked as much by sorrow and violence as by a renewed sense of national purpose. Of course it includes a number of poems that make reference to the war, but there is no sense that Watson wanted to present a realistic view of the war's carnage, no sense that poetry was an appropriate medium for such realism, no sense that poetry could focus on strife and violence and dissent, no sense that everything was changing. There were many such poems in print. Garvin's collection of war poems had been out for three years, and Carrie Ellen Holman's anthology, In the Day of Battle, was published in 1916. It contained several poems by Canadian writers.

For Watson, however, the poet remained divorced from contemporary, earthbound reality, for he or she "has subtle antennae" that are "trembling outward to the mountains and the stars . . . startling the soul and kindling it to the life undying" (Watson, Robert Norwood 10). Most of these antennae were apparently possessed by men: 22.5 percent of the authors in Our Canadian Literature were female, and their work occupied 25 percent of the text; in contrast, 40.5 percent of the authors in Garvin's earlier anthology were female, and their work occupied 34 percent of the text (71).16

Unlike Watson, Pierce identified the postwar years with a new sense of national purpose that demanded new forms of literary expression. In An Editor's Creed he writes that "Canada had paid a terrible price for national sovereignty in the winnowing of the nations and never looked back. In 1920 there was born the Group of Seven, and in 1922 the Canadian Author's Association. . . . The whole country seemed to be outward bound, conscious of its emerging destiny" (2-3). Pierce wanted to offer Canadians a print version of the nationalism that inspired the Group of Seven. Our Canadian Literature represents the first concerted postwar effort in this direction.

Although nationalism was on the upswing, and there was a great deal of national pride and a sense of self-determination, the population was also scarred by domestic and foreign events that had taken a terrific toll. In Canada, the economy was devastated. During the war years prices had increased by 80 percent, but wages had risen only 18 percent. Labour unrest was on the rise. So was resistance to labour movements, which were identified with Bolshevism, alien activity, and the red scare in the United States. One year after the war ended, Canadians watched in horror as the single most important and devastating event in Canadian labour history unfolded in the forty-two days encompassing the Winnipeg General Strike. The strike was about many things—poverty, disease, exploitation, government policy, race, class, and culture—and in the end it permanently altered the country's political landscape. It made headlines in every Canadian newspaper for six weeks. It ranks as "the greatest industrial upheaval that Canada ever witnessed, and in its complete tie-up of public activity as the most remarkable industrial occurrence on the continent" (Magder 11).

There was no ignoring the strike and the attention it drew to the realities faced by working-class Canadians everywhere. Yet, within the poetry section of Our Canadian Literature, there is no sign of this momentous event, no recognition that the innocent days of peering into flowers or discerning mystic voices in the wind had been replaced by days of hunger, rioting, and bloodshed. Perhaps this is because experimentation in poetry was often seen as a sign of subversive political activity; or, as the literary editor of the Globe put it at the time, "We usually write in metre and dislike poetical as well as other kinds of Bolshevism" (qtd. in Beattie 236). Because the media also equated the Winnipeg General Strike and the labour movement with Bolshevism, the rejection of experimentation in poetry was linked to the public perception that such poetry was a threat to social order.

What was "representative" in 1921 was verse that reinforced the idea that certain forms of poetry—those not concerned with social and political issues of the day—were more worthy than others. It is precisely because publishers and editors supported this idea that so few examples of social and political poetry can be found in books published during this period, although there were some revealing poems in labour newspapers such as the Western Star, Western Labor News, the Searchlight, and the Industrial Banner. Many of these poems are about the Winnipeg General Strike or other labour struggles. For example, H. Corinth was the author of the following opening lines in "The Time To Strike":

My God! I am weary of waiting for the year of jubilee.
       I know that the cycle of man is a moment only to thee.
They have worn me out with preaching
               what the patience of God is like,
       But the world is weary of waiting,
                 will it never be time to strike?
When my hot heart rose in rebellion
               at the wrong my fellows bore,
       It was "wait till prudent saving
               has gathered you up a store,"
Or, "wait till a higher station gives value in men's eyes,"
       Or, "wait until the grey-streaked hair
                 shall argue your counsel wise."
                                                                      (Davis 269)

Other poets wrote anonymously about the "alien question" raised by the strike:

Our alien is one—of class, not race
          —he has drawn the line for himself;
His roots drink life from inhuman soil,
          from garbage of pomp and pelf;
His heart beats not with the common beat,
          he has changed his life-stream's hue;
He deems his flesh to be finer flesh,
          he boasts that his blood is blue:
Politician, aristocrat, tory—
          whatever his age or name,
To the people's rights and liberties,
          a traitor ever the same.
The natural crowd is a mob to him,
          their prayer a vulgar rhyme;
The freeman's speech is sedition,
          and the patriot's deed a crime.
Whatever the race, the law, the land
          —whatever the time or throne,
The tory is always a traitor
          to every class but his own.
                                            (Davis 275)

In addition to these poems about the Winnipeg General Strike, there are many earlier examples of poetry about working conditions, labour, and the spread of socialism in Canada (a selection appears in Davis's anthology). If they missed these earlier poems in books and periodicals, Watson and Pierce might well have encountered a book of poetry published closer to their time: Wilfred Gribble's Rhymes of Revolt (1912) compares favourably with much of the poetry collected in Our Canadian Literature. But his, and earlier examples of working-class poetry going back to Alexander McLachlan, were never represented in Watson and Pierce's work. The more one dwells on the collective and democratic title of their anthology—Our Canadian Literature: Representative Prose and Versethe more one realizes how ironic a title it is.

• • •

While the poetry section of the anthology valued what was established and unreal, Pierce's prose section drew the reader into a completely different world. Although his introduction to the anthology's prose section did make it sound as though the reader would be entering a blissful realm of rapturous spiritual cadences that testified to the country's "teeming wealth," his selections served to undercut his own hyperbole, concerned as they were with the practical and material aspects of nation building and day-to-day Canadian life, or with historical accounts of the country's development.

Pierce had spent two summers as a teacher in Saskatchewan in 1909 and 1910, and he returned there in 1912 as a student minister. These western experiences brought him into contact with many immigrant communities, and with the hardships of prairie life. Although he did not see the prairie as the North, he still equated it with the frontier, and was therefore able to connect his western experiences with those of early Canadian settlers who confronted their own frontier metaphors. He saw himself as a modern missionary whose literary work was a form of preaching. In 1958, he wrote that "I have always regarded myself as first of all a minister of the Church, and have imagined my desk to be a sort of altar at which I serve" (qtd. in Campbell 137). As Patricia Jasen shows, literary critics in Pierce's time often held this evangelical perspective; they believed that, "as purveyors of culture," they were "performing a role analogous to that of the clergy and one which was equally worthy of respect" (556).

The contrast between Pierce's missionary approach and Watson's mystic fervour becomes evident in the very first prose piece that Pierce selects, an excerpt from R. G. MacBeth's The Romance of Western Canada, originally published by Ryerson in 1920. It presents a brief, straightforward historical analysis of the origins and development of the Hudson's Bay Company that is only slightly romanticized. MacBeth was a Presbyterian minister and an enormously popular writer whose detailed descriptions of western Canadian expansion had a messianic flavour. (His influential volume, Our Task in Canada [1912], was published by the Home Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church.)

MacBeth saw the material conversion of the land through exploration and industry as a means of achieving spiritual conversion; the nation would provide the stage upon which this conversion would be enacted. But he also wrote about some of the historical events that threatened the stability of the nation, notably the Riel and Red River rebellions. Pierce's identification with the western heroes of MacBeth's accounts emerges in his opening anthology selection, which draws our attention to the Company's employees, who were explorers, writers, and readers. In MacBeth's words, these men "made earnest investigation into the resources of the country" and "sent specimens from the animal, vegetable and mineral world to enrich scientific institutions and to widen the scope of information for others" (133). While Watson frames his poetry section with a romantic, sentimental poem about northern pines, Pierce frames his prose section with a document that emphasizes history, material resources, and scientific research, an emphasis that is explicitly tied to reading and writing. This same frame inevitably includes reader and writer Pierce, whose activities of exploring Canadian literature cast him in the missionary-nationalist light that would colour so many of his efforts as an editor and publisher.

As Pierce's prose selections unfold, it becomes clear that his editorial narrative is not only preoccupied with the difficulties of asserting formal realism, but also with his realization that the older, romantic models associated with Watson are inadequate to the presentation of a new country such as Canada. Yet the realism Pierce endorsed was also distasteful to him, mainly because he remained profoundly attached to the Arnoldian idea that poetry was the highest form of art, and to the belief that poetry and its interpretation provided the best means of promoting the spirit of a national culture.

Part of him was drawn to Arnold's idea that the literary critic who championed poetry served a social function by defending culture. But another part of him was drawn to the forces that Arnold saw as threatening poetry: religion, philosophy, science, fact, and the pursuit of empirical data. The question confronting Pierce confronted many postwar Methodists: was a culture best served by critics who intervened in the political and practical life of the nation, or was it best served by creators who addressed higher, more abstract ends? Pierce saw literary criticism as a means of bridging the gap between secular and sacred epistemologies. As Chris Baldick explains, Arnold's legacy encouraged the substitution of literary for religious discourse:

The true extent of the substitution is greater than can be accounted for by the simple description of criticism as a "substitute religion." It is less religion as religion than religion as occupant of a privileged "pinnacle" in relation to other kinds of ideology that Arnold and his followers tried to replace with literary discourse, creating a substitute moral philosophy and a substitute social analysis as much as a substitute religion. Poetry was to become a kind of linchpin for a whole range of other social habits, moral values, and assumptions, confirming them and reflecting them back in harmonized, self-consistent, and emotionally appealing form. If it could fill the gap vacated by religion, literature could offer its own principles of internal consistency, completeness, and regularity of form as a shaping and governing principle for all the conscious and unconscious affairs of society.

Pierce's religious training made it impossible for him to ignore the idea that poetry was a means of achieving these principles, tied as they were to the development of national consciousness. Beyond Arnold, however, and beyond the Methodists' developing emphasis on practicality and social cohesion, there were other factors that encouraged Pierce to equate language, religion, and nation. Soon after the war there was a push in Britain for increased professionalism and education in English studies. The war victory was also seen as a victory for the English language, and politicians sought ways of preserving and promoting the language as an instrument of national consciousness. The Newbolt Report of 1921, entitled The Teaching of English in England, had a profound effect on this desire to further English studies as a means of asserting national consciousness and unity. The book became a best seller in England and was widely quoted. It "helped to keep alive Arnold's belief in the civilizing mission of literature during the interwar period" by proposing "to counter the social disorder of post-war England by uniting the social classes in a shared pride in their literary heritage" (Jasen 562). It would have been very difficult for Pierce to ignore this influential document, published a year before he began work on Our Canadian Literature, his own attempt to promote English as a vehicle of national self-recognition. And Pierce would likely have identified with Newbolt's view that the educator was a missionary who had specific obligations: "propaganda work, organization and building up a staff of assistant missionaries" (qtd. in Baldick 96-97). When Pierce looked at English-Canadian writing in 1922, he inevitably equated it with this missionary perspective.

The idea that new forms of writing could embody and promote new countries inspired many of Pierce's selections. For example, the narrator in the excerpts from J. G. Sime's Our Little Life argues that the artist in "the Newer Worlds" will "have to take his pleasure in feeling that he has attained the power of looking things straight in the face and so has got into truer relation with essentials" (134). Specifically, the Canadian artist must "cast away a great many of his preconceived ideas." Although the Canadian artist occupies the role of a "worker" travelling a new and difficult road, he or she is in many ways engaged in a process of transformation that has religious implications.

This metamorphosis is connected with the assertion of individual identity within society, one of Pierce's main concerns as a young publisher who was trying to make his mark. To work in Canadian art is to "step over the chasm" and to be "born again." As Sime says, in words that must have appealed to the preacher in Pierce: "A curious transformation sets in. What is happening is that the worker [or artist] is defiantly proving his own personality not only to the world but to himself. He is getting born again—out of a class and as an individual." Although the road to this new form of self-awareness is a difficult one, the artist who follows it "gains a sense of freedom in the New World, and in the escape from tradition and the routing of a narrow groove he also acquires a resourcefulness and a certain rough-and-ready adaptability that are of value." He "sets foot on that long road which passes through egoism and acquisitiveness and leads slowly to knowledge and mastery" (134). Here is the Methodist conversion experience—coupled with New World consciousness—writ large.

Sime's contribution highlights the relation between new art forms, mastery, and redemption. Undoubtedly this appealed to Pierce, who saw the act of bearing witness to the country as a form of religious devotion, and the act of promoting a realistic vision of the country as a means of escaping stale tropes of allegiance, loyalty, faith. Ultimately, Pierce's attempt to reformulate the country's literature can be read as a means of reformulating his relation to the church. To this end, all of his literary criticism—and his editorial pronouncements—are New World preachings that translate his earlier religious sermons into literary-critical forms. To write about Canada in practical terms was to write about God. To preach the unity and importance of Canada was to reinforce the Church. Or as Sime put it at the end of her selection, the freedom of the New World produces a "spirit of assertion" that "makes you only the more valuable servant of others" because it is a way back to "the old loyalty." By serving others through his spirit of assertion, Pierce was able to find his way back to the devotional loyalty that originally inspired him, or to express that old Methodist loyalty in new ways. But he remained conscious of a troubling question posed in Sime's essay: "Can you be acutely self-conscious and happy at one and the same time—if your self-consciousness is being used by you only in order to further your own interests and assert your rights?" (135).

Sime's question illuminates another aspect of the moral dilemma that confronted Pierce as he tried to sort out his allegiance to Canada and eternity, here and hereafter: the extent to which the pursuit of personal goals undermines democratic advancement. This issue is foregrounded in J. D. Logan's essay, "Genuine Democracy," which was included in the anthology. Logan was a prominent scholar in Canadian literature, so his meditations on the meaning of democracy and literature would certainly have affected Pierce (they corresponded, and Pierce welcomed Logan's advice on his anthology selections). Logan argues that Canadian democracy "creates the right of every individual to the highest positions, and secondly, by removing all such obstructing agencies as caste, privilege and preferment, assists even the lowliest in origin to pass to equal dignity with the highest." But then he maintains that "under genuine democracy men must consent to the necessary existence of social order and the unequal distribution of material goods" (172), for if this distribution was not unequal, and all "obstructing agencies" were removed, what incentive would there be for people "to achieve the most worthy and excellent career in their power" (172)?

It doesn't take a Marxist theorist to see that Logan's contradictions were the result of his desire to rationalize bourgeois ideology. Why does Pierce select such unoriginal speculations about the nature of Canadian democracy? I suspect that, like Logan, he faced the task of explaining (if only to himself) how an anthology that was "representative" and ostensibly collective in intent could manage to exclude people on the basis of caste, class, and economic status. Perhaps he needed to understand how the anthology, which was conceptually democratic, was ultimately undemocratic in its final realization. Logan's answer was that these selections provided models of what any person could achieve, so long as their society provided them with the incentive to do so. In other words, democracy was a function of maintaining the status quo, and the task of educators (and anthologists) was to promote this function.

The irony at the heart of Our Canadian Literature is that its pursuit of individualism and social liberation is thwarted by its self-replicating bourgeois form, precisely the form that inspires most anthologies. No wonder Pierce bypassed many of the available prose accounts of the Winnipeg strike, just as Watson bypassed the protest poetry written in response to the same event. One explanation of why the editors ignored the strike is provided by Richard Allen, who observes that although "the social gospel movement had won the denominations to progressive social policies and to a new level of sympathy with organized labour, especially in the Methodist church. . . . the progressive leadership in Methodism had by 1921 totally rejected the sectarian religion of labour . . . and had served notice that they could not give unqualified support to radical labour tactics such as the general sympathetic strike" (175).17

For the editors, and especially for Pierce, the anthology raised a central question: Was it possible to rationalize the exclusion of certain classes? One of Pierce's selections, former Prime Minister Borden's "The Future of Our Country," dwells on some of these issues in the context of the great war and shows that Pierce was anxious to acquaint his readers with the differing concepts of nationalism being vigorously debated in his time.18 He was also determined to show that similar issues regarding nationalism had been debated over time; to this end, he included political commentary by earlier figures, including Lord Dufferin, Lord Lorne, George Munro Grant, and Edward Blake, each of whom presented a different version of how Canada evolved, and what promises it held for its citizens.

While many of Pierce's prose selections were excerpts from formal documents that focused on the material and political circumstances accounting for the idea of Canada, the fiction selections revealed a turn away from the standard diction of conventional prose and an interest in local idiom and colloquial language, more evidence of Pierce's willingness to emphasize the concrete, to the exclusion of the formulaic universal. I think here in particular of the fiction excerpts from works by Thomas Chandler Haliburton, Norman Duncan, Marian Keith, Peter McArthur, Nellie McClung, Anison North, and E. W. Thomson. Each of these excerpts focuses on the customs of distinct Canadian regions.

Pierce promoted the sketch form and local-colour depictions by introducing works by such authors as Anna Jameson, Susanna Moodie, Catharine Parr Traill, and S. T. Wood, the first time that their works had appeared in any anthology. He also included the muscular Christian fiction of Ralph Connor (Charles Gordon) and the humour of Stephen Leacock. Because Pierce was also determined to represent fiction written in different parts of the country, he may also take credit for legitimizing Canadian regionalism.

Pierce's selections gave new value to realist pursuits, and authorized the shift toward realism that would characterize Canadian fiction for the next fifty years, although the impact of Pierce's work emerged within the decade. After Our Canadian Literature was published, it became acceptable to anthologize realistic fiction. Editors such as E. K. Broadus and A. M. Stephen included fiction in their 1923 and 1926 anthologies. By the time Raymond Knister edited the first anthology devoted exclusively to Canadian short stories, in 1928, he observed that "many thousands of Canadians are learning to see their own daily life, and to demand its presentment with a degree of realism" (xviii). The realism originally endorsed by Pierce was largely responsible for this growing demand and contributed enormously to the learning process that Knister describes.

• • •

Although Pierce's contribution to Our Canadian Literature established the link between nationalism and realism that would colour the canonization of Canadian literature, his conception of fiction was, finally, a troubled one. He believed that his mission as an editor and publisher was to promote the nation, and he felt that the fidelity to local and particular experience provided one of the best means of achieving this objective. But at the same time, he recognized that there was a tension between regional and national consciousness, a tension that his anthologizing desire to represent region and nation could not logically resolve. No one has resolved this tension; perhaps it doesn't need to be resolved.

Although he supported fiction as a genre that was suited to the realistic depiction of the country, he felt uneasy about the moral qualities embodied in realism, which often focused on amoral characters and acts. In fact, his decision to anthologize fiction represented an enormous leap of faith and an about-face in his aesthetic-religious stance. As Sandra Campbell notes, "early in his career he urged ministers to avoid much of current fiction or else 'sin wilfully,' as 'there is no philosophy of life there that will bear scrutiny'" (143).

In his biographical profile of Pierce, C.H. Dickinson remarks that "Lorne's heart was with the poets" (42). Ten years after Our Canadian Literature appeared, Pierce published a critical overview entitled English Canadian Literature 1882-1932, in which he argued that early Canadian realism reflected "doubt, disillusionment, and the universal unrest." He concluded that "the best of our poetry challenges comparison with the best in the world; our fiction is far below in artistry, ideas and truth to life. It shows lack of care and discipline. It is satisfied with picturesque aspects of the surface of our frontier life" (61). Could these words have been written by the same man who, ten years earlier, had described the prose section of his anthology as "a mansion of the mind" in which "we may listen rapturously to those who have mastered the meaning of our life and thought, who have discerned with unclouded eye the inner meaning of our spirit and who alone, of all those within our borders, are qualified to explain us to ourselves and to interpret us to others" (128)?

Throughout his career Pierce continued to have ambivalent feelings about the value of fiction. It seems clear, then, that for Pierce the very act of selecting fiction for inclusion in the anthology was both inviting and distasteful, an act that forced him to reach a compromise between his staunch Methodist morality and his profound desire to promote Canadian nationalism through the selection of strong Canadian examples of what he saw as a fundamentally amoral genre.

This act of compromise, which lies at the very heart of Pierce's selections, is also an expression of his need to mediate between the past and the present, to negotiate a settlement between traditional forms of poetry aligned with religion and empire and new forms of prose aligned with realism and nation. Because this pull between the established and the new was simultaneously a tension between genres, Pierce's attempt to resolve his involvement with prose must be seen as one aspect of his desire to promote a new vision of Canadian distinctiveness while remaining acutely conscious of "the imperious sweep of our colossal heritage" (129). To remain aligned with this heritage—centred in conventional poetry—was to remain constant to his Methodist traditions. To align himself with the new world—generically associated with fiction—was to break with tradition and to commit a symbolic act of religious renunciation. It is not surprising to find this conflict embedded in the narrative comprising the prose section of Our Canadian Literature, for it embodies the tension between secularity and spirituality that Pierce confronted throughout his career, and especially in his early years at Ryerson.

The tensions between old and new that Pierce faced in making his anthology selections were not limited strictly to his section. The coedited anthology in its entirety recasts the old-new tension as a pull between poetry and prose, the mystically inspired romantic poetry selected by the older Watson confronting the predominantly realistic prose selected by the younger Pierce. In this context, the figurative father occupies the civilized territory aligned with history, literary tradition, and imperial power. The figurative son inhabits a newer, rougher narrative land that is divorced from ancestry and spiritual connection. The anthology's guiding narrative is about the editors' attempt to negotiate a passage between these antithetical domains.

In Our Canadian Literature the father still precedes the son. Watson's poetry section is placed before Pierce's collection of prose. The poetry section invokes empire, eternity, transcendence, the baggage of Victorianism. Britain is there before Canada, which struggles to assert itself as a realistic, verifiable, New World force. The spokesman for this force—Lorne Pierce—paradoxically desires everything he has abandoned through his anthology-making, everything that Watson represents. Through its very structure and modes of selection, then, Our Canadian Literature enacts a love-hate relationship between authority and liberation, poetry and prose, genesis and evolution, faith and doubt, played out by two editors whose differing ages and values frame them as cooperative antagonists, struggling with themselves, and with each other, in the confines of their double-sided book.




I would like to thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for funding that enabled me to complete the research leading to this essay. I am grateful to Beth Pierce Robinson for allowing me to quote from her father’s diaries and letters and to the Queen’s University Archives for allowing me to consult the Lorne Pierce Papers. I owe a huge debt to the following people who read and commented on a draft version of this essay: David Bentley, Neil Besner, Russell Brown, Sandra Campbell, Graham Carr, Nathalie Cooke, Michael Darling, Renée Hulan, Philip Kokotalio, John Lennox, Peter Lipert, Cynthia Sugars, Brian Trehearne, and Mary Williams.

  1. While Our Canadian Literature was the first Canadian collection to combine works of poetry and prose, there were some British models that might have inspired Watson and Pierce, notably the three volume Oxford Treasury of English Literature, edited by G. E. Hadow and W. H. Hadow (1907) and W. H. Hudson’s Representative Passages from English Literature (1914). [back]

  2. File 2, box 39, Lorne Pierce Papers, Queen’s University Archives. [back]

  3. Moore to Chapman, 6 Dec. 1922, file 12, box 1, Lorne Pierce Papers, Queen’s University Archives. [back]

  4. Since Campbell, Carman, Roberts, and Scott continued to write well into the twentieth-century, it is worth determining how many of the poems selected by Watson were strictly "nineteenth-century" poems. Watson obviously thought of Campbell as a nineteenth century poet, since he includes none of his twentiethcentury verse (the three Campbell poems in Our Canadian Literature were first published in 1888 and 1889). With Carman the reverse was true: although Carman published several volumes of poetry prior to 1900, all of the poems in the anthology are 1909 or later. In this way, Watson "modernized" Carman. He seemed to be divided about Charles G. D. Roberts, in that he included three poems from very different periods in Robert’s career: "The Potato Harvest" (1886), "A Song of Growth" (1890), and "The Summons" (1919). Scott was represented primarily as a twentieth-century poet. Only one of the five poems included in the anthology was originally published before 1900 (this was "The Voice and the Dusk," which first appeared in the Independent [New York] in 1892). [back]

  5. For an excellent discussion of Canadian theosophical movements and the post-war period see Lacombe, who notes that "The years 1920 to 1930 were the heyday of Theosophy in Canada. In 1921 membership in Toronto alone amounted to 240, and by 1922 there were three thriving lodges in the Toronto region" (102). See also the first chapter of Thomas and Lennox, William Arthur Deacon: A Canadian Literary Life, for an account of theosophical interests in postwar Toronto. [back]

  6. The controversy is described by Lacombe, who provides the following references: James Mavor, "Notes on the Twentieth Plane," February 1919, James Mavor Papers, University of Toronto; James Mavor, "Prof. Mavor on the Watson Dates," letter to the editor, Toronto Star, 10 Jan. 1919; and "Crusts and Crumbs," Toronto Sunday World, 5 Jan. 1919. Lacombe notes that Watson’s books, The Twentieth Plane (1918) and Birth through Death (1921), "record esoteric knowledge revealed to ’the earth-plane inner circle of Toronto’ by Pythagoras, Plato, Jesus Christ, Walt Whitman, R. M. Bucke, and other notables during seances held at Watson’s home" (104). [back]

  7. Lorne Pierce Diary, 17 Sept. 1923, Lorne Pierce Papers, Queen’s University Archives. [back]

  8. Most standard reference works cite 1920 as the year of Pierce’s graduation, but Sandra Campbell, Pierce’s biographer, assures me that the correct year is 1922. [back]

  9. These details are extracted from Dickinson’s useful biographical sketch of Pierce. [back]

  10. The only French authors included (in translation) are Louis Fréchette for poetry and Louis Hémon for fiction. [back]

  11. By presenting Hémon (and Fréchette) in this light, Watson and Pierce were initiating a stance adopted by many anthologists of Canadian literature. In a survey of French-Canadian writers appearing in English-Canadian literary anthologies, Cynthia Sugars observes that:

    Many anthology editors bluntly state that they do not include any French selections, yet when the contents of the anthology are examined, one finds that they do. The editors’ overlooking of this fact, particularly in instances where the anthology is overtly identified as an English Canadian collection only, suggests that they consider the translated or "Englished" texts to be just that, English—and hence part of the English Canadian canon. (11) [back]

  12. This language may owe a debt to W. J. Alexander, perhaps the most prominent English professor at the University of Toronto between 1890 and 1925. Alexander was heavily influenced by Arnold, and he taught his students to read the "living and throbbing" texts for themselves (Jasen 558-59). [back]

  13. For example, in Edward Hartley Dewart’s Selections from Canadian Poets (1864), Dewart includes occasional bibliographical and biographical notes, which serve to position some of the contributors and selections in relation to dates and events. William Douw Lighthall’s Songs of the Great Dominion (1889), includes a critical-historical introduction as well as biographical notes on all contributors. E. A. Hardy’s Selections from the Canadian Poets (1909) dates all of the poems in the collection. Garvin’s Canadian Poets (1916) provides biographical notes. [back]

  14. The poets added by Watson are J. Bathurst, J. D. Edgar, Helen M. Egerton, John J. Ferguson, Hilda Mary Hooke, J. E. H. MacDonald, Wilson MacDonald, Arthur Phelps, E. J. Pratt, Theodore Rand, and Robert Stead. [back]

  15. See Bentley "Preface." [back]

  16. The first compilation of these figures was made by Gerson. The higher inclusion rate for women in Garvin’s anthology may reflect the influence of Katherine Hale, who was a prominent poet at the time, as well as Garvin’s wife. [back]

  17. It is significant that Pierce and Watson were compiling their anthology at precisely the time that "the progressives of the social gospel were faced with an eruption of industrial conflict in the most compromising place possible—the church printing establishments" (Allen 175). In June 1921 the printing trade unions called a strike against Toronto printers. The largest of these was the Methodist Book and Publishing Company. When S. W. Fallis, the new head of the Book and Publishing departmetnt, agreed to chair the Employers’ Defence Committee, his acceptance seemed to imply an alignment between Methodist interests and capitalism (an alignment the Methodists had formally rejected) at the expense of labourers. The contradiction undermined the progressivist, social gospel ideology of postwar Methodism and ensured that the subject of labour discontent would remain anathema to Methodist critics, who, like Pierce, were formally and informally associated with the publishing houses. [back]

  18. Kenneth McNaught observes that the "renewed Canadian nationalism" that emerged after the war "was loosely defined—if indeed it had been defined at all":

    To some it was reasserting Canada’s right not to be American, while to others it was almost a question of Canada’s right to be American. Sometimes the new spirit demanded a flowering of provincial rights and powers. For French Canadians nationalism was French-speaking and a matter once again of survival. To the broad mass of English-speaking workers and farmers nationalism was expressed in daring demands for new modes of social justice. To federal Liberals, particularly sensitive to the political isolation of Quebec, nationalism meant a growing independence of London. To English-speaking Conservatives it means seeking Canadian status well within the empire. (219) [back]


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