"William Henry Drummond" (1854-1907) by John Garvin, (1872-1934)
Garvin, John William, ed. Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 177-188.
In the great family of modern poets, of which he is undoubtedly a member, Dr. Drummond takes the same place that would be accorded in the family of artists to the master of 'genre': that is to say, he depicts with rare fidelity and affection a certain type, makes it completely his own and then presents us with the finished picture. The habitant on his little farm, the voyageur on wild river ways and the coureurs de bois are all immortalized in songs that for humour, pathos and picturesqueness it would be hard to excel. They are inherently native to the only section of Canada that can conscientiously be called 'quaint,' and will always remain among our valuable historic and human documents.–KATHERINE HALE.
I incline to think Drummond was never a bookish man. . . . . He was plainly the kind of man to be fascinated by any novel phase of the wild and vagabondish . . . . his eye was ever alert for racial idiosyncrasy. . . . . among the poets of the British Empire. he holds a place unique.–NEIL MUNRO, in his Appreciation of Drummond.
DR. WILLIAM HENRY DRUMMOND, the poet of the habitant, was born in the village of Mohill, County Leitrim, Ireland, on the 13th of April, 1854. Shortly afterwards, his father, an officer in the Royal Irish Constabulary, moved to the village of Tawley, on the Bay of Donegal. It was in this village that the future poet's education began.
While he was still a boy, the family emigrated to Canada, where the father in a few months died, leaving but limited means for the support of his wife and children.
William Henry soon found it necessary to leave school, to earn what he could to help provide for the family. Having learned telegraphy, he was employed at Borde à Plouffe, a small village on the Rivière des Prairies, near Montreal. It was here that he first observed the speech and the customs of the habitant, whom, with the kindliest intent, he has so faithfully portrayed.
In time, the family exchequer permitted him to attend the High School in Montreal, later, McGill University, and finally. Bishop's College, where he graduated in medicine in 1884 Dr. Drummond practised his profession for four years in the district about Brome, and then returned to the City of Montreal, where he continued to reside until his lamented death in 1907.
In 1894, he married Miss May Harvey, of Savannah la Mar, Jamaica. In Mrs. Drummond's memoir of her husband, she relates that he read with many misgivings, one of his earliest poems, 'Le Vieux Temps,' at a dinner of the Shakespeare Club, of Montreal, and further says:
This was the beginning of a long series of triumphs of a like nature, triumphs which owed little to elocutionary art, much to the natural gift of a voice rare alike in strength, quality and variety of tone, but, most of all to the fact that the characters he delineated were not mere creations of a vivid imagination. They were portraits tenderly drawn by the master hand of a true artist, and one who knew and loved the originals.
The Habitant and other French-Canadian Poems was published in 1898, and the popularity of the book was such as to bring the poet fame, and a substantial income in royalties. It was followed by Johnnie Courteau and other Poems in 1901: by Phil-o'-Rum's Canoe and Madeleine Vercheres in 1903; [Page 179] and by The Voyageur and other Poems in 1905. His unpublished poems were edited and issued with the afore-mentioned memoir, by his wife, in 1909; and, in 1912, a complete and beautiful edition of his works, in one volume, was published by G. T. Putnam's Sons, of New York.
For several years he was Professor of Medical Jurisprudence in his Alma Mater. In 1902, the University of Toronto conferred on him the degree of LL.D. Subsequently he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature of England, and, later, of the Royal Society of Canada.
Much of the last two years of his life, Dr. Drummond spent in the Cobalt district, where he had mining interests. There he was stricken with cerebral hemorrhage and died in the morning of April 6th, 1907. Probably no other Canadian poet has been so widely mourned.
A Legend of Lac St. Pierre
ON wan dark night on Lac St. Pierre,
De win' she blow, blow, blow,
An' de crew of de wood scow "Julie Plante"
Got scar't an' run below–
For de win' she blow lak hurricane,
Bimeby she blow some more,
An' de scow bus' up on Lac St. Pierre
Wan arpent from de shore.
De captinne walk on de fronte deck,
An' walk de hin' deck too–
He call de crew from up de hole,
He call de cook also.
De cook she's name was Rosie,
She come from Montreal,
Was chambre maid on lumber barge,
On de Grande Lachine Canal.
De win' she blow from nor'-eas'-wes',–
De sout' win' she blow too,
W'en Rosie cry, "Mon cher captinne,
Mon cher, w'at I shall do?"
Den de captinne t'row de beeg ankerre,
But still de scow she dreef,
De crew he can't pass on de shore,
Becos' he los' hees skeef.
De night was dark lak wan black cat,
De wave run high an' fas',
W'en de captinne tak' de Rosie girl
An' tie her to de mas'.
Den he also tak' de life preserve,
An' jomp off on de lak',
An' say, "Good-bye, ma Rosie dear,
I go drown for your sak'."
Nex' morning very early
'Bout ha'f-pas' two–t'ree–four–
De captinne–scow–an' de poor Rosie
Was corpses on de shore,
For de win' she blow lak hurricane,
Bimeby she blow some more,
An' de scow bus' up on Lac St. Pierre,
Wan arpent from de shore.
Now all good wood scow sailor man
Tak' warning by dat storm
An' go an' marry some nice French girl
An' leev on wan beeg farm.
De win' can blow lak hurricane
An' s'pose she blow some more,
You can't get drown on Lac St. Pierre
So long you stay on shore.
YOU bad leetle boy, not moche you care
How busy you're kipin' your poor gran'pere
Tryin' to stop you ev'ry day
Chasin' de hen aroun' de hay–
W'y don't you geev' dem a chance to lay?
Off on de fiel' you foller de plough
Den w'en you're tire you scare de cow
Sickin' de dog till dey jomp de wall
So de milk ain't good for not'ing at all–
An' you're only five an' a half dis fall,
Too sleepy for sayin' de prayer to-night?
Never min', I s'pose it'll be all right
Say dem to-morrow–ah! der he go!
Fas' asleep in a minute or so–
An' he'll stay lak dat till de rooster crow,
Den wake us up right away toute suite
Lookin' for somet'ing more to eat,
Makin' me t'ink of dem long leg crane
Soon as dey swaller, dey start again
I wonder your stomach don't get no pain,
But see heem now lyin' dere in bed,
Look at de arm onderneat' hees head;
If he grow lak dat till he's twenty year
I bet he'll be stronger dan Louis Cyr
An' beat all de voyageurs leevin' here,
Jus' feel de muscle along hees back,
Won't geev' heem moche bodder for carry pack
On de long portage, any size canoe,
Dere's not many t'ing dat boy won't do
For he's got double-joint on hees body too,
But leetle Bateese! please don't forget
We rader you're stayin' de small boy yet,
So chase de chicken an' mak' dem scare
An' do w'at you lak wit' your ole gran'pere
For w'en you're beeg feller he won't be dere–
JOHNNIE COURTEAU of de mountain,
Johnnie Courteau of de hill,
Dat was de boy can shoot de gun,
Dat was de boy can jomp an' run,
An' it's not very offen you ketch heem still,
Ax dem along de reever,
Ax dem along de shore,
Who was de mos' bes' fightin' man
From Managance to Shaw-in-i-gan,
De place w'ere de great beeg rapide roar?
Sam' t'ing on ev'ry shaintee
Up on de Mekinac,
Who was de man can walk de log,
W'en w'ole of de reever she's black wit' fog,
An' carry de beeges' load on hees back?
On de rapide you want to see heem
If de raf' she's swingin' roun',
An' he's yellin', 'Hooraw, Bateese! good man!'
W'y de oar come double on hees han'
W'en he's makin' dat raf' go flyin' down,
An' Tête de Boule chief can tole you
De feller w'at save hees life,
W'en big moose ketch heem up a tree,
Who's shootin' dat moose on de head, sapree!
An' den run off wit' hees Injun wife?
An' he only have pike pole wit' heem
On Lac a la Tortue
W'en he meet de bear comin' down de hill,
But de bear very soon is get hees fill!
An' he sole dat skin for ten dollar too,
Oh, he never was scare for no'ting
Lak de ole coureurs de bois,
But w'en he's gettin' hees winter pay
De bes' t'ing sure is kip out de way,
For he's goin' right off on de Hip Hooraw!
Den pullin' hees sash aroun' heem
He dance on hees botte sauvage
An' shout, 'All aboar' if you want to fight!'
Wall! you never can see de finer sight
W'en he go lak dat on de w'ole village!
But Johnnie Courteau get marry
On Philomene Beaurepaire,
She's nice leetle girl was run de school
On w'at you call parish of Sainte Ursule
An' he see her off on de pique-nique dere,
Den somet'ing come over Johnnie
W'en he marry on Philomene,
For he stay on de farm de w'ole year roun',
He chop de wood an' he plough de groun'
An' he's quieter feller was never seen,
An' ev'ry wan feel astonish,
From La Tuque to Shaw-in-i-gan,
W'en day hear de news was goin' aroun',
Along on de reever up an' down,
How wan leetle woman boss dat beeg man,
He never come out on de evening
No matter de hard we try,
'Cos he stay on de kitchen an' sing hees song,
'A la claire fontaine,
M'en allant promener,
J'ai trouvé l'eau si belle
Que je m'y suis baigner!
Lui y'a longtemps que je t'aime
Jamais je ne t'oublierai.'
Rockin' de cradle de w'ole night long
Till baby's asleep on de sweet bimeby,
An' de house, wall! I wish you see it,
De place she's so nice an' clean,
Mus' wipe your foot on de outside door,
You're dead man sure if you spit on de floor,
An' he never say not'ing on Philomene,
An' Philomene watch de monee
An' put it all safe away
On very good place; I dunno w'ere,
But anyhow nobody see it dere,
So she's buyin' new farm de noder day,
YOU can pass on de worl' w'erever you lak,
Tak' de steamboat for go Angleterre,
Tak' car on de State, an' den you come back,
An' go all de place, I don't care–
Ma frien' dat's a fack, I know you will say,
W'en you come on dis contree again,
Dere's no girl can touch, w'at we see ev'ry day,
De nice leetle Canadienne.
Don't matter how poor dat girl she may be,
Her dress is so neat an' so clean,
Mos' ev'rywan t'ink it was mak' on Paree
An' she wear it, wall! jus' lak de Queen.
Den come for fin' out she is mak' it herse'f,
For she ain't got moche monee for spen',
But all de sam' tam, she was never get lef',
Dat nice leetle Canadienne.
W'en 'un vrai Canayen' is mak' it mariée,
You t'ink he go leev on beeg flat
An' bodder hese'f all de tam, night an' day,
Wit' housemaid, an' cook, an' all dat?
Not moche, ma dear frien', he tak' de maison,
Cos' only nine dollar or ten,
W'ere he leev lak blood rooster, an' save de l'argent,
Wit' hees nice leetle Canadienne.
I marry ma famme w'en I 'm jus' twenty year,
An' now we got fine familee,
Dat skip roun' de place lak leetle small deer,
No smarter crowd you never see–
An' I t'ink as I watch dem all chasin' about,
Four boy an' six girl, she mak' ten,
Dat's help mebbe kip it, de stock from run out,
Of de nice leetle Canadienne.
O she's quick an' she's smart, an' got plaintee heart,
If you know correc' way go about,
An' if you don't know, she soon tole you so
Den tak' de firs' chance an' get out;
But if she love you, I spik it for true,
She will mak' it more beautiful den,
An' sun on de sky can't shine lak de eye
Of dat nice leetle Canadienne.
I'VE told you many a tale, my child, of the old heroic days
Of Indian wars and massacres, of villages ablaze
With savage torch, from Ville Marie to the Mission of Trois Rivieres
But never have I told you yet, of Madeleine Vercheres.
Summer had come with its blossoms, and gaily the robin sang
And deep in the forest arches the axe of the woodman rang,
Again in the waving meadows, the sun-browned farmers met
And out on the green St. Lawrence, the fisherman spread his net.
And so through the pleasant season, till the days of October came
When children wrought with their parents, and even the old and lame
With tottering frames and footsteps, their feeble labours lent
At the gathering of the harvest, le bon Dieu himself had sent.
For news there was none of battle, from the forts on the Richelieu
To the gates of the ancient city, where the flag of King Louis flew,
All peaceful the skies hung over the seigneurie of Vercheres,
Like the calm that so often cometh, ere the hurricane rends the air.
And never a thought of danger had the Seigneur sailing away,
To join the soldiers of Carignan, where down at Quebec they lay,
But smiled on his little daughter, the maiden Madeleine,
And a necklet of jewels promised her, when home he should come again.
And ever the days passed swiftly, and careless the workmen grew
For the months they seemed a hundred, since the last war-bugle blew.
Ah! little they dreamt on their pillows, the farmers of Vercheres,
That the wolves of the southern forest had scented the harvest fair.
Like ravens they quickly gather, like tigers they watch their prey.
Poor people! with hearts so happy, they sang as they toiled away,
Till the murderous eyeballs glistened, and the tomahawk leaped out
And the banks of the green St. Lawrence echoed the savage shout.
'O mother of Christ have pity,' shrieked the women in despair
'This is no time for praying,' cried the young Madeleine Vercheres,
'Aux armes! aux armes! les Iroquois! quick to your arms and guns,
Fight for your God and country and the lives of the innocent ones.'
And she sped like a deer of the mountain, when beagles press close behind
And the feet that would follow after, must be swift as the prairie wind.
Alas! for the men and women, and little ones that day
For the road it was long and weary, and the fort it was far away.
But the fawn had outstripped the hunters, and the palisades drew near,
And soon from the inner gateway the war-bugle rang out clear;
Gallant and clear it sounded, with never a note of despair,
'Twas a soldier of France's challenge, from the young Madeleine Vercheres.
'And this is my little garrison, my brothers Louis and Paul?
With soldiers two–and a cripple? may the Virgin pray for us all.
But we've powder and guns in plenty, and we'll fight to the latest breath
And if need be for God and country, die a brave soldier's death.
Load all the carabines quickly, and whenever you sight the foe
Fire from the upper turret, and the loopholes down below.
Keep up the fire, brave soldiers, though the fight may be fierce and long
And they'll think our little garrison is more than a hundred strong.'
So spake the maiden Madeleine, and she roused the Norman blood
That seemed for a moment sleeping, and sent it like a flood
Through every heart around her, and they fought the red Iroquois
As fought in the old time battles, the soldiers of Carignan.
And they say the black clouds gathered, and a tempest swept the sky
And the roar of the thunder mingled with the forest tiger's cry,
But still the garrison fought on, while the lightning's jagged spear
Tore a hole in the night's dark curtain, and showed them a foeman near.
And the sun rose up in the morning, and the colour of blood was he,
Gazing down from the heavens on the little company.
'Behold! my friends!' cried the maiden, ''tis a warning lest we forget,
Though the night saw us do our duty, our work is not finished yet.'
And six days followed each other, and feeble her limbs became
Yet the maid never sought her pillow, and the flash of the carabines' flame
Illumined the powder-smoked faces, aye, even when hope seemed gone
And she only smiled on her comrades, and told them to fight, fight on.
And she blew a blast on the bugle, and lo! from the forest black,
Merrily, merrily ringing, an answer came pealing back.
Oh! pleasant and sweet it sounded, borne on the morning air,
For it heralded fifty soldiers, with gallant De la Monniere.
And when he beheld the maiden, the soldier of Carignan,
And looked on the little garrison that fought the red Iroquois
And held their own in the battle, for six long weary days,
He stood for a moment speechless, and marvelled at woman's ways.
Then he beckoned the men behind him and steadily they advance,
And, with carabines uplifted, the veterans of France
Saluted the brave young Captain so timidly standing there
And they fired a volley in honour of Madeleine Vercheres.
And this, my dear, is the story of the maiden Madeleine.
God grant that we in Canada may never see again
Such cruel wars and massacres, in waking or in dream,
As our fathers and mothers saw, my child, in the days of the old regime.