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Current Issue: #220 Tracking CanLit (Spring 2014)

Canadian Literature’s Issue 220 (Spring 2014) is now available. The issue features a wide range of articles and book reviews as well as a selection of new Canadian poetry.

The world's extremest borne: West Coast Landscapes and the Poetic Works of Edward Taylor Fletcher

by James Gifford

Edward Taylor Fletcher is a nearly forgotten nineteenth-century Canadian poet, philologist, and travel writer whose poetic voice was defined by his experiences in Western Canada.[1] His focus on distinctly Western landscapes in his later works anticipates several movements in the arts in Canada that followed. Before Emily Carr turned to bold canvases defined by the land around her, and before the Confederation poets took up rugged poetic depictions of central Canada and the Canadian Shield, Fletcher was moving away from the neo-Classical and Romantic models of the pre-Confederation poets of his youth to a long-poem form based on richly allusive landscapes.[2] Fletcher demonstrated that Classical tropes can be adopted-in his case with the Nile, Atlantis, or The Mahabharata dominating a long poem through Classical allusions-while simultaneously adopting the sustained dramatic narrative of the Romantics. Importantly, he explored this Classical and Romantic fusion in the 1880s and 1890s while also anticipating the distinctly Canadian focus on landscapes-the Fraser River provides the descriptive materials for the Nile in his Nestorius: A Phantasy while Vancouver Island and the Coastal Mountains provide the resources that become Atlantis and the Himalayas in The Lost Island. Fletcher instantiated this trope, in which West Coast terrains are discussed allusively and thereby repositioned in relation to an epic tradition. In this, Fletcher is an exemplar of Susan Glickman's contention that Canadian poets have consistently transformed their English (and broadly European) literary inheritance to make it speak of their experience in this county-in particular their confrontation with the land (vii), but in Fletcher the twenty-first century reader finds an important transition: this trope is unified with a literary inheritance of the broadest scope, and the landscape imposes itself on the literary inheritance rather than the opposite. In Canadian poetry, and particularly that of the nineteenth century, Canadian colonial territories are often subsumed in Classical allusions, such that stunning terrains become comprehensible only through an existing European literary tradition. In Fletcher's later works, the Canadian landscape imposes images of itself onto the tropes of an international literary tradition, in a way that prevents that tradition from burying the land under the culture of Europe. This article elucidates Fletcher's too-long neglected instantiation of this transplantation, not translation, of international poetic materials into distinctly Canadian landscapes.

Fletcher and his works run contrary to popular narratives of nineteenth-century Canada. Poet, philologist, essayist, prominent architect, Surveyor General of Quebec, travel writer, memoirist, translator, historian, geographer, and talented musician, Fletcher first arrived in Canada from Canterbury in 1827, was educated at le Séminaire de Québec (later l'Université Laval), became a celebrated poet, and held a variety of governmental positions until his death in New Westminster in 1897. During his seventy years in a continuously changing Canada, he tied Western landscapes to ancient mythology in his poetry; he approached Canadian culture as multiple and linguistically rich, exploring English, French, the other major shipping languages of Europe, Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, and First Nations languages. He narrated his impressions of Old Quebec while in New Westminster. He was Surveyor General of Quebec until his retirement in 1882, after which he moved to the West Coast in 1886 on one of the first transcontinental passenger trains on the CPR, and he then became a poet distinctly of the West Coast during his retirement, integrating West Coast landscapes into his works.

After a long series of literary publications beginning at least as early as 1834, with awards for his poetry and executive positions in learned societies[3] as well as accolades from his peers,[4] his position in Canadian literary and cultural history would have seemed assured. However, as his later works focused increasingly on Western Canadian landscapes and began to more closely reflect the polycultural nature of Canada as a nation, his literary distinction declined quickly and completely. Even Archibald Lampman, who deeply praised Fletcher's late poems as showing a gift of high imagination and sonorous and beautiful versification, wrote in 1893 that he was a writer I believe, as a poet, almost unknown to fame (n. pag.), which shows how rapidly his reputation fell once he moved to the West.[5] Fletcher's Reminiscences of Old Quebec was published posthumously in 1913, sixteen years after his death, his sons burned his extensive diaries, of which only two commonplace books survive in my possession,[6] and no work has been in print since.

Background

Landscape, language, and culture are common yet troubling notions in narratives of Canadian identity, yet for Fletcher they are surprisingly plural and distinctly hybrid. The two surviving volumes of his journals work in more than ten languages, his descriptions of place cover the oldest cities in Canada and the newest provinces while integrating ancient allusions, and his autobiographical works include residencies in Canada's major cities and many rural outposts. In addition to all this, his recollections of cultural life across Canada focus on richly overlapping communities rather than imposing a vision of national heterogeneity. Moreover, as the Surveyor General of Quebec, Fletcher was intimately familiar with the Canadian landscape, publishing formal academic work on surveyorship and travel narratives of his journeys-three stand out: Notes of a Journey through the Interior of the Saguenay Country (1867), Notes of a Voyage to St. Augustine, Labrador (1881), and Letter on British Columbia (1892).[7] This background made it possible for Fletcher to uniquely blend the aesthetic traditions in Canadian poetry with a view that privileges landscape over plot and narrative. Another feature of his work prepared Fletcher to anticipate cultural approaches to Canadian identity in the twentieth century: linguistic plurality. Apart from his skills as a Classical philologist (his Latin and Greek were admired by his peers in the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec and the Toronto Literary Association), Fletcher was fluent in English, French, Italian, and German with skills in Sanskrit, Hebrew, Dutch, and Portuguese (Fletcher, Sidney 133). He also completed the first English translation of the Kalevala, the national epic poem of Finland, from the original Finnish.[8] This linguistic richness led to cultural hybridity,[9] and Fletcher would as easily refer to Quebec society as he would Latin or Greek poetry, the Mahabharata or Bhagvatghita, or Polish folk songs and Icelandic poetry (both of which he also translated), as well as the literary works of his fellow Canadians. In this regard, he was uniquely poised to draw on the European literary tradition to interpret Canadian locales.

Fletcher's late poetry written in British Columbia is richly allusive indeed and draws on polycultural literary traditions far beyond those that we associate with his contemporaries. However, it also marks a striking change in his poetic subjects, a change that developed from his experiences of the West and that anticipates one of the most prominent themes in Canadian literature: place. His poetry from the period of his residence in Western Canada is deeply impacted by Canadian landscapes, which are often elided with Classical subjects relating to the ancient world. His two surviving long poems[10] both come from his residence in Western Canada, and both show a striking increase in his attention to distinctly Canadian landscapes. As narrative poems, The Lost Island[11] and Nestorius: A Phantasy entail extensive descriptions of the specific territories in which Fletcher resided, moving from images of Vancouver Island through the Fraser Valley and into the British Columbia Interior. These two poems form the primary materials under discussion here. Moreover, Fletcher blurs his previous Classical interests with these landscapes, recasting British Columbia locations through Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Indic allusions. This blurring becomes a crucial element of his poetic style; however, the locales do not become intelligible through the Indo-European literary tradition so much as this tradition is modified and recast in order to align with the influence of the Western Canadian landscape.

The Lost Island

The Lost Island went through two editions in the space of six years, 1889 and 1895, the latter introduced by Gustavus William Wicksteed. In it, images of the West Coast dominate in sharp contrast to Fletcher's early works. This point is made clear if we juxtapose his earlier essay The Lost Island of Atlantis from 1863 with the fifty-six-stanza poem that developed out of the same source materials more than a quarter century later. In the essay, Fletcher pursues philological and Classical interests exclusively, just as his poetry of this earlier period is Classical in nature, tending toward Romantic narrative. His primary concern is with the potential for linguistic recuperations as evidence for a lost civilization as well as a historical survey of Classical references to Atlantis and potential origins. Moreover, his method is primarily academic in this work, rather than an expression of creative energies or an interaction with the environment around him. This importance of Classical allusions and source materials is prominent throughout his life, but only in his last two long poems do these Classical references take a secondary position to a recognizable and important landscape: a landscape that forcefully makes its significant role in the poetry felt by dominating the imagery, and a landscape that should be familiar to Canadian readers from the West. In other words, in Fletcher's late poetry, the learned allusion and contexts deepen. The ancient past is articulated through Canada (rather than vice versa ), and Canada is articulated only through this polycultural multiplicity.

For instance, in The Lost Island, the reader encounters a type of landscape unprecedented in detail and scope in Fletcher's poetry from the previous fifty years:

Along the beach, beneath the massy wall,
The great sea rippled drowsily: afar
The headland glimmered, like a misty star,
Wearing a cloud wreath for a coronal;
And all the air was filled with tremulous sighs
Borne from the waste of waters, musical,
Yet dreamy soft, as some old Orphic hymn,
That floated up, what time the day grow dim,
From Dorian groves, and forest privacies, (5)

The fog-covered headland matches closely the description given of Victoria and New Westminster in Sir Sandford Fleming's 1876 book From Westminster to New Westminster (320).[12] In addition to this possible allusion, Dorian groves, and forest privacies that sit adjacent to The great sea [that] rippled drowsily recall an image of the Pacific far more readily than any experiences he may have gleaned from Toronto, Quebec City, or Montreal, especially as high mountain ranges become prominent in subsequent stanzas. The image of Sunshine and clouds, mountains and sea (8) adjacent to each other recalls the Coast Mountains rising behind Vancouver or south-west of Victoria on the mainland. The phrase itself is nearly a trope of the West Coast tourism industry in the twenty-first century. Furthermore, given the newness of these landscape descriptions to Fletcher's works, images that appear only after his move to Vancouver Island, the distinctly Western Canadian nature of these images caught among Classical allusions is striking when read in context. Moreover, it is the Classical material that is subjected to change here, inheriting as it does a landscape that it cannot recast-the Coast is not cast as like Atlantis, but rather, Atlantis adopts the traits of coastal British Columbia.

Furthermore, the two children of the plague-stricken island city of Atlantis, the primary protagonists Eiridion and Thya, retreat from the port of Atlantis to the wilderness of the mainland. This journey leads them to find Classical figures, but they only do so against what appears to be a Canadian backdrop. In the Classical frame,

Thya exclaimed, Oh father, oh my lord,
What awful shape hangs there, with brow all scored,
As if with flame of lightning from on high,
Yet unsubdued, and wearing as a king
The garment of his silent agony?

To whom the Marut: this is Themis' son,
The Titan, who, for love to mortals shewn,
Is doomed, by Zeus, to penal suffering.
(Lost 15)

Prometheus is clearly the subject, especially through the reference to flame, his silent agony, and his love for mortals. However, to reach this Classical figure, the twins Eiridion and Thya are led by the Marut through a land completely unlike Greece, which Fletcher describes in the thirty-first stanza with their journey through the mountains:

Far to the North they saw the boundless plain,
Where roved the mammoth. There, in dusky bands,
Innumerable as the ocean sands,
They wandered, with white tusks and shaggy mane,
Hugest of living beasts that looked on man.
So came they to a rugged mountain chain,
Gloomy and dark, a wilderness forlorn,
So wild, it seemed the world's extremest borne,
Withered and grey with some unending ban. (15)

Otto von Kotzebue gave the first descriptions of mammoth skeletons from the west coast of what is now Alaska in 1821, sparking numerous popular images of mammoths in the northern Canadian plains. Moreover, this rugged mountain chain, so like the one Fletcher traversed on the new rail system joining New Westminster to eastern Canada in 1886, has another peculiarly western Canadian association: With balmy odors of sweet-scented pines; / Where, in clear blue, the white clouds sailed aloft (8). The Edenic imagery is not new to Fletcher, and even as early as May 1845 in the Literary Garland of Montreal, he casts the glad freshness of that summer dawn in Tempe's vale (Medea 228). Yet, the Classical images of Edenic bliss in his early poetry are without a specific landscape apart from the most general outlines implicit in the allusion. Fletcher's encounter with western Canada, then, appears to have had a marked influence on his later poetic landscapes.

The descriptions in his earlier work instead focus on the metaphoric moon and the emotional state of the dreamer recollecting a bright land wherein I loved to dwell! (Medea 228). The nature of the loved land is empty, and its landscape is without articulated features. Even in September 1844, in his imaginative inhabitation of Dante's exile from Florence, Fletcher recalls the shady privacies / Of glen and grove, where formerly abode / Old Tuscan sybils and haruspices (Dante in Exile 412). Yet, this landscape is not allocated the vivid descriptions in his later works written from the coast. The specificity of Florence supplies names and allusions, but the imagined landscape does not interact with the imminence of Fletcher's lived experiences in Canada. More specifically, the Arno of Florence is not transformed into the St. Lawrence, and the potential for a Canadian image of the landscape from the past, or even a connection between Fletcher's experienced and imagined environments, does not occur. The allusions do not lead the reader to more-richly inhabit Canadian locales, while this is the case in his later works. This blurring of landscape and allusion in his later poetry, with landscape dominating, remains striking even now, more than a century later.

Furthermore, in The Lost Island, the Marut who guides Thya and Eiridion in their journey is, as Fletcher explains in his footnotes, tied to India: The Maruts, gods of the wind, are described in the Veda as Sons of Indra. Likewise, the lake they find in this landscape, a type of landscape Fletcher never described prior to his move to the west coast, is Manasa, a sacred lake and place of pilgrimage, encircled by lofty mountains and lying between Mount Kaitâsa and the Himalayas. It is frequently alluded to in Hindu poetry (Lost 26). He draws on Prometheus and Ulysses in the same poem, overlapping them with Daitya in the thirty-seventh stanza—Daitya (a son of Diti): [is] a demon, an enemy of the gods. As Fletcher explains, The incident here introduced is adapted from an episode of the Mahabharata (25). This cultural combination of Indian and Greek literary materials is provocative on its own, suggesting as it does a multivocal history, without the further complication of it occurring in contested Canadian terrains that have abundant First Nations heritage that disputes received Western histories. Yet, even before we as readers imaginatively inhabit Canadian locales that are being described contiguously with these allusions, Fletcher has disallowed a culturally univocal discourse about this space. Before we can recognize the landscape as British Columbia, the multiple allusions and references have already made the poem culturally plural. Furthermore, once the landscape takes precedence, we see British Columbia's land altering our vision of an Indo-European literary tradition rather than this tradition obscuring the territory as some kind of screen for the projections of the imagination of the Western viewer.

Perhaps most strikingly, the poem was published after Fletcher came to Victoria on Vancouver Island, crossing Canada by rail to do so. He then moved to New Westminster; with two sons living even further up the Fraser River into the Fraser Canyon, later owning farmland as far as Abbotsford and contemporaneously working in Yale while travelling regularly on the river, he moved through striking landscapes in his daily life. By recognizing this landscape in the published recollections of his family, Fletcher in effect describes his own journey in two stanzas of The Lost Island while his allusions have, at the same time, blurred Greek and Indian classical materials with Prometheus near the Indus river, which is already a culturally provocative overlap:

Silent in thought, the four held on their way
Through sandy wastes, past Sindhu's rapid stream ;
Till rose, among the hills, the distant gleam
Of Manasa: and here they made their stay.
It was a lake secluded, in deep calm,
From worldly tumult, and the troublous day,
Where peace unbroken reigned: so still and cool,
Here might repose the heart with anguish full,
And every sorrow here might find its balm.
At length, refreshed with welcome rest, they rose,
Crossing the Hima mountains, home of snow,
The stony girdle of the world, and so
Entered on Aryavartha's sacred close.
Land of the marvelous! Here, being's tide
Swept on exultant, through the long repose
Of silent centuries: and glowing life
Came forth, with thousand forms of beauty rife,
On flowery plain and shady mountain-side. (17)

This description of travelling up the river to lakes through dense forests closely parallels a journey described by Fletcher's son, Sidney Ashe Fletcher, in his own unpublished autobiography, and also in an article in the Vancouver Province. Sidney Ashe Fletcher travelled by canoe on the Fraser River to Seton Lake and Lillooet Lake via Harrison Lake and the Thompson and Lillooet Rivers, and possibly Kamloops Lake (the Lakes Route). Fletcher uses the description of this trip to conclude his unpublished autobiography, in which his then-famous father figures significantly.

The Great River

These scenes are not, however, the only or even the most persuasive instances of Canadian landscapes integrated into Fletcher's Classical poetry, nor is the Fraser River's displacement of the Indus the most striking river image. In his subsequent long poem, Nestorius: A Phantasy, from 1892, Fletcher again takes up the trope of a grand river with an aging man contemplating life on its shore, and his descriptions of landscape increasingly clarify his overlapping mixture of lived experiences and allusions. At this time living in New Westminster on West 3rd Avenue, looking down to the Fraser River as an elderly man plagued by gout, Fletcher opens his poem:

The old Nestorius, worn with many woes,
Cast out, an exile, from the haunts of men,
To all a stranger and an alien,
And seeking only silence and repose,
Passed to the sands of Egypt.
Day by day,
Wrapped in the splendor of the sunlit air,
Which vestured, there, a world so strange and fair,
He watched the mighty river fade away,
For ever passing, and for ever there.
Haply he found, in that mysterious stream,
Some semblance to the current of his life:
Placid, at first, it rose, and far from strife,
Cradled in lotus-blossoms, with the gleam
Of dew-drops sparkling in the morning sun;
Then through bare rocks of basalt, dark and grim,
Impetuous forced its way, with widened brim
Until, at last, its stormy life-course done,
It sank in silence. It was so with him. (Nestorius 5)

The Keatsian deferring of the completion of the independent clause in the first stanza until the fifth line draws attention stylistically to this passage; this should not cause readers to overlook the more basic story of an elderly man relocating to a new land in order to contemplate the mighty river as it rises from an Edenic and placid origin, impetuously blasts through basalt and then finds rest in the ocean, like his own spirit. Experienced travellers might notice that the Nile itself does not cut through basalt until far into Upper Egypt and Ethiopia, away from the ostensive setting of the poem in Lower Egypt. Basalt is also not associated with the Nile in any significant literary way. The basalt used in the construction of the pyramids was quarried from the northern edge of the Fayoum Depression, then shipped by boat across what was once a lake, and only subsequently carried down the Nile. Likewise, most basalt in Egypt is found quite distant from the Nile. However, as Fletcher would have surely known, being a longstanding executive member of the Quebec Geographical Society with demonstrated familiarity with geological discourse, there was another more immediate river that does very visibly cut through bare rocks of basalt, dark and grim after rising from placid origins and just before it reaches the ocean. It is a river with which his family was intimately familiar: the Fraser River, from the area of Hope and Yale into the interior. The exposed basalt is perhaps (and in my own experience, it is certainly) the most visually memorable feature of this specific terrain.[13]

In this context, Nestorius, the banished Patriarch whose heresy was to argue the Virgin Mary carried the human Jesus rather than God,[14] has another very West Coast experience. In Egypt, ostensibly, he finds an oasis near the river that cuts though bare rocks of basalt, although the environment now seems more akin to a lush rain forest:

Around them closed the tall columnar trees,
Giants in growth, through whose interstices,
High-branched, with lofty crowns of foliage,
Clear moonlight fell, and chequered here and there,
The heavy gloom with points and lines of light.
Here they slept, through the soft autumnal night,
Till morning came. (10)

Again, through the dense allusions to an archaic fourth- and fifth-century heretical Patriarch of Constantinople, which also overlap with a narration of travels through the Nile Basin and ancient Egyptian sites, Fletcher manages to integrate distinctly West Coast landscape images into the Classical preoccupations typical of earlier Canadian poetry as well as in the Romantic narrative style of his contemporaries. In addition to this stylistic wedding, he parallels his own autobiographical journey from the centre of Canada to its periphery, just as his protagonist departs Constantinople to spend his old age beside another distant river. As with The Lost Island's striking resemblance to Vancouver Island, and the nearest mainland to Atlantis strongly resembling the Coast Mountains, the Nile in Nestorius increasingly resembles the Fraser River. Most importantly, however, it is the Fraser that displaces images of the Nile, rather than Classical notions of the Nile that displace the real landscape spread out before the author in his New Westminster home. The Fraser recasts Fletcher's understanding of the Nile in Western literature rather than the typical colonial gesture of Western sites or materials constituting the schema for interpretation.

Conclusion

For Fletcher's works as a whole, this linguistic and cultural plurality via allusion is tied to his experiences of Canadian landscapes and derives from his experiences during the creation of Canada as a modern state. This plural vision is both one to endorse, though not naïvely, and one to recall as a strong voice during the creation of Canada. The implicit deterritorialization of Native lands in the poem, recreated with Greek and Indian mythology, should give us pause.[15] Anachronistically, this places Fletcher's images at the same moment of the expropriation of these lands and their colonization, overlapping with some of Canada's most significant land claims. This is precisely when modern readers would expect to find the deterritorializing trope of an empty space that is unintelligible except through Western narrative conventions, hence justifying colonial acquisitions of a tabula rasa. The land, in most examples of this period, would not only be empty but would be most akin to familiar landscapes, such as the Thames or the Seine, and hence amenable to Western control and reconstruction. The most overt instance would be the names of these locations and the imperial inscription that overlays them like a palimpsest: New Westminster, as in Fleming's From Westminster to New Westminster; Surrey; Abbotsford, which must have brought to mind Sir Walter Scott; Queen's Park, for Queen Victoria; Victoria itself; and so forth. Rather than simply imposing a colonial understanding of the Fraser River through a colonial gaze that reinscribes the Thames over it, Fletcher takes the Nile and re-imagines it through the image of the Fraser.

Fletcher, whether by intention or not, disturbs this very familiar pattern (one that was endemic in his contemporaries). He casts Western narrative conventions, such as Classical texts, as intelligible only through a genuine engagement with the foreign landscape and a sincere attempt to see it as it exists without rewriting it via another colonizing culture's position. His landscapes are also inhabited by non-European peoples. For Fletcher's works, this linguistic and cultural plurality is demonstrably tied to his life in Quebec City and his experiences in west coast landscapes, as well as deriving from his experiences during the creation of Canada as a modern state. This gives room for further discussion, but Fletcher's clear desire to include Native languages in this diversity (which notably excludes English myths) also offers a prospect for inclusive dialogue.

Even as Fletcher's own voice was lost to subsequent generations of writers, his role in instigating a literary tradition that developed this notion of familiar landscapes overlaying allusions deserves attention. It holds significance to Canadian literary history, regardless of readers' recognition or misconstruing of its anticipation of William Gibson's sky … tuned to a dead channel seemingly over Vancouver's rainy vistas (3) or Malcolm Lowry's (S)HELL of Eridanus facing Burnaby Mountain and Simon Fraser University (256).

Notes

  1. This paper develops from my editorial work on Fletcher's collected poems and travel writing.[1]
  2. The most obvious points of comparison are with Duncan Campbell Scott and Charles Sangster, though Fletcher focuses largely on different landscapes and shows exceptional poetic technique among his contemporaries. Moreover, his focus on landscape both predates and is significantly distinct from their attempts to re-create the Canadian landscape in metaphysical terms (Messenger 304).[2]
  3. The Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, the Quebec Geographical Society, and the Toronto Literary Association. The first is the oldest historical body in Canada, founded in 1824 and incorporated by Royal Charter in 1831.[3]
  4. Fletcher won several awards for his poetry, and Frederick Würtele commented, after Fletcher had moved to British Columbia, Mr. Fletcher held a prominent position among the littérateurs of Quebec. … He was a zealous member of this Society, and in 1853 was awarded the prize medal for the best poem on a subject connected with American History. This poem was called the Lay of Lief Erickson (64).[4]
  5. Lampman's comments are worth quoting in full: It seems strange that … a writer capable of 'The Lost Island' and 'Nestorius' should have reached old age almost unknown as a poet beyond a limited circle of sympathetic friends. Let us do honor to such a poet, who has maintained a reserve so fine and so unusual, who has run so far counter to the clamorous custom of his age as to live out a long life in the tranquil life of books, wisdom and poetry, without caring whether the public buy his photograph or the reviewers blow all their penny whistles in his praise (n. pag.).[5]
  6. These materials are now held in Special Collection in the McPherson Library, University of Victoria, along with the few surviving volumes of Fletcher's personal library.[6]
  7. His son, Sidney Ashe Fletcher, followed suit with an autobiography and narratives of his travels in the BC Interior during the 1890s. For further information, consult the Sidney Ashe Fletcher fonds in the New Westminster Archives.[7]
  8. Finnish is an extremely difficult language. Fletcher's translation was published a year too late in 1869 to be the first English translation, but John Addison Porter's 1868 partial translation derives from Franz Anton Schiefner's German translation, which it uses as a bridge. Fletcher's is the first to translate the work into English from the original Finnish, and it includes a significant introduction discussing the poetic structure of the poem, its unique meter, and the linguistic traits of Finnish.[8]
  9. He also showed a keen linguistic interest in Canada's Native and immigrant populations, writing briefly on linguistic issues in Aboriginal languages, Cantonese, and Mandarin. With the same linguistic skills, he recounted the cultural life of the cities in which he lived, such as in Reminiscences of Old Quebec. Fletcher's hierarchical stratification of languages according to their linguistic properties will give pause to modern readers. While he keeps language distinct from race (though not ethnicity), the potential for ethnic and racist prejudice in the hierarchical structure is certainly present.[9]
  10. Reports of other long poems exist, but they are likely lost.[10]
  11. Alternatively titled The Lost Island (Atlantis).[11]
  12. Fletcher met Sir Fleming at the meetings of the Quebec Literary and Historical Society, at which Sir Fleming also spoke. Moreover, the microfilmed copy of Fletcher's Nestorius in the CIHM is the copy he inscribed to Fleming in 1892. They also had contact as surveyors, likely prior to their meeting through the Society. By 1886, the Transactions of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec listed both Fletcher and Fleming as Honorary Members (24). With regard to the image, Fletcher was between New Westminster and Victoria in 1889 when he wrote and published the poem, having lived on the island for three years already and with family members on the mainland as well.[12]
  13. My own childhood included long summers and frequent visits to precisely this area, and the grey basalt, through which the river is at its most violent, dominates life on the Fraser River at this point. No account of Yale would be complete without this image. The dark corners of my own imagination of this river and my recollections of two decades spend on its banks are always turned back to such rocks and a river running impetuously through them, and I conjecture its striking features would catch a poet's attention just as readily.[13]
  14. Mary was Christotokos rather than Theotokos. Moreover, it is worth recalling that Theotoki is still a current Greek surname, particularly on the Ionian Islands, about which Fletcher wrote historical comments. My own experiences make me deeply familiar with Theotoki Street in Corfu Town, on which the statue of the first President of modern Greece impossible to avoid. This theological conflict still simmers near the surface of our modern times.[14]
  15. While Fletcher privileged First Nations languages and peoples in his critical and personal writings about west coast cultural life, mythology and narratives from Native traditions do not overtly inform his poetics. Fletcher makes it clear in his writings from British Columbia that he views immigrant and First Nations populations as the most productive and cultured in west coast communities, although he previously made it equally clear that he did not find a linguistic complexity (in a hierarchical structure) in their languages that could stand flatteringly next to Sanskrit, Greek, or Latin. All of these factors should trouble or at least complicate any modern reading of Fletcher's works, especially in view of ongoing political mistreatment of Indigenous populations in the Canadian west. Nonetheless, it is worth adding that Fletcher did not accord English mythology or language the same privileged position he grants to ancient languages, which mitigates to some degree perceptions of his Eurocentric views. This would disrupt any reductive anachronistic or postcolonial readings, even though it certainly does not discount them.[15]

Works Cited

  • Fleming, Sandford. England and Canada: A Summer Tour Between Old and New Westminster. Montreal: Dawson, 1884. Print.
  • Fletcher, Edward Taylor. "Dante In Exile." The Literary Garland Sep. 1844: 412. Print.
  • —. The Lost Island (Atlantis). 1889. Ottawa: A. Bureau, 1895. Print.
  • —. "The Lost Island of Atlantis." Transactions of the Literary and Historical Society of Québec NS 3 (1865): 113-36. Print.
  • —. "Medea Mater." The Literary Garland May 1845: 228. Print.
  • —. Nestorius: A Phantasy. Ottawa: A. Bureau, Printers, 1892. Print.
  • —. "Reminiscences of Old Quebec." The Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal 10 (1913): 103-69. Print.
  • Fletcher, Sidney Ashe. "Edward Taylor Fletcher." Annual Report of the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors 50 (1935): 131-34. Print.
  • Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1984. Print.
  • Glickman, Susan. The Picturesque and the Sublime: A Poetics of the Canadian Landscape. Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP, 1998. Print.
  • Lampman, Archibald. Rev. of The Lost Island and Nestorius by Edward Taylor Fletcher. The Globe 14 Jan. 1893: n. pag. Print.
  • Lowry, Malcolm. "The Forest Path to the Spring." Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1961. 215-83. Print.
  • Messenger, Cynthia. "Canadian Poetry." A Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry. Ed. Neil Roberts. New York: Blackwell, 2001. 304-17. Print.
  • Transactions of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec. NS 8 (1883-86). Print.
  • Würtele, Frederick Christian. Our Library: A Monograph. Quebec: Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, 1889. Print.



This editorial originally appeared in Canadian Literature #213 (Summer 2012), New Work on Early Canadian Literature. (pg. 193 - 202)

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