Three Documents from F.R. Scott’s Personal Papers

(Introductory Note by D.M.R. Bentley and Michael Gnarowski)

    F.R. Scott’s place in the history of Canadian poetry, politics, and law — indeed, in Canadian history — is secure, prominent, and distinguished. It depends upon his contribution to the development of modern poetry in Canada, on verse which, whether comic or serious, satirical or visionary, is superbly crafted and profoundly humanistic. It depends on his contribution to Canada’s political life, particularly, through his role in the drafting of the Regina Manifesto and the founding of the Canadian Cooperative Federation, to the development of a socialist party and programme in Canada. It depends on his contribution, as a social thinker, civil libertarian, and legal essayist to the debates over such issues as the ‘Padlock’ Law, the War Measures Act, and, of course, the constitution. To these contributions, historians in the various fields in which Scott has exercised his multifarious talents, will add his contributions as an anthologist, as a translator, as an enthusiastic proponent of ‘little magazines,’ as a diplomat, as a student of international relations, as a university teacher and administrator, and as a member of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. . . .  It is with the aim of illuminating three facets of this many-faceted man that the following documents, his address on “Modern Poetry,” his reminiscences on some formative experiences at Oxford and elsewhere, and his discussion of Preview magazine with three other of its Editors, are printed here, from typescripts furnished by Scott himself, and with his kind permission. The Editors of Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews take special pleasure in presenting these three documents, each different but all united through the personality behind them, in an issue of the journal dedicated to Frank Scott on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.

    Something may be said about the origins and significance of the three documents.

    The address on “Modern Poetry” was delivered in the ’twenties, probably in c. 1928, to a gathering of interested people in Montreal. It is followed by a note by Scott detailing, where the legibility of the original manuscript and memory have permitted, the poems which he “read on the occasion of the delivery of [the] paper.” To an extent “Modern Poetry” anticipates Scott’s two essays on modems, “New Poems for Old: I — the Decline of Poesy” and “II — The Revival of Poetry,” which appeared some three years later, in the May and June, 1931 issues of the Canadian Forum, as well as the work he would do in New Provinces (1936). It may also be read in the context of other essays on modernism by other writers, notably A.J.M. Smith’s articles in the McGill Fortnightly Review and the Canadian Forum.

    The second of the two documents, Scott’s discussion of the “Oxford Study Group on Christianity and Industrial Problems,” is an assemblage of reminiscences and thoughts produced by Scott in preparation for the writing of his memoirs. Its significance resides in the light that it sheds on the origins of his socialist ideas, on the direct influence on his thinking of such men as R.H. Tawney, the author of The Acquisitive Society, and F.G. Scott, his own father, and on the indirect links between one of the authors of the Regina Manifesto, the poet of “Social Notes” and “Company Meeting,” and the tradition of William Morris and John Ruskin.

    The third and final document, a discussion between “Four of the Former Preview Editors,” is the transcript from a taperecorder left ‘open’ and allowed to run uninterrupted during a gathering at Scott’s house in Montreal in 1965 of Bruce Ruddick, Neufville Shaw, Margaret Surrey, and, of course, F.R. Scott himself. The most notable absence from the discussion is that of Patrick Anderson, whose recent death in England seems to have passed almost unnoticed in Canada. Lengthy, and, at times, rambling, as it is, the Preview discussion affords numerous insights into one of the most important ‘little magazines’ of the modern period in Canada, and, beyond that, of a further facet of Scott’s distinguished contribution to Canadian letters: his active and inspirational participation in the ‘little magazine’ phenomenon, itself so integral to the modernist movement.