19 December 2014

Arthur Stringer Pines for Christmas Past



Seasonal verse found in Arthur Stringer's The Woman in the Rain and Other Poems (Boston: Little, Brown, 1907). The writer was then living in New York with wife Jobyna Howland, 650 kilometres southeast of the London, Ontario of his youth.

No apologies for the pun. It's brilliant.


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15 December 2014

A Royal Screw Up?



Nancy McVeigh of the Monk Road
R. Henry Mainer
Toronto: Briggs, 1906

Robert Henry Mainer served one term as President of the Canadian Authors Association and was at least twice mentioned alongside L.M. Montgomery as a writer of promise.

Nancy McVeigh of the Monk Road is his only book.

At 127 pages, I consider it more novella than novel, all the while wondering just how much of it is fiction. The book's dedication not only implies that Nancy McVeigh was a real person, but that the stories featured actually happened. If true, this it would explain why Nancy McVeigh of the Monk Road is so uneventful.


When first we meet the title character, a widowed Irish-Canadian tavern owner, she has begun proving herself an unlikely pillar of her nameless community. The pages that follow see Nancy McVeigh pay a patron's hospital bills, visit a dying man, nurse an injured man and play cupid. In one of the chapters she travels to Chicago in the hopes of seeing her only child, a successful businessman. He's visiting Mexico. She returns home.


Nancy McVeigh of the Monk Road is a banal little book; were it not for its title I might never have picked it up. You see, Nancy McVeigh's story is meant to begin during the "régime of Governor Monk". Her tavern is located on a military road named for the man.

But we never had a Governor Monk. Victoria's representative was Charles Stanley Monck, 4th Viscount Monck. The military road "cut through the virgin pine" described in Nancy McVeigh of the Monk Road is the Monck Road.

Though the 1852 census of Upper Canada contains no record of a Nancy McVeigh, an anonymous Globe review (19 December 1909) suggests that she did exist – "her hostelry seems to have been on the shores of Lake Simcoe". An earlier Mail (7 January 1884) contains reference to a meeting that took place at "Nancy McVeigh's" somewhere in or around the Muskokas. That I don't much care either way probably says something.

I like to think Nancy McVeigh existed. If Mainer's stories are true, she would've been a generous soul. It seems a shame that her trip to Chicago was for naught.

As for Governor Monk, I'm not so sure

Object: A slim hardcover featuring three plates by  F.H. Brigden. I bought my copy early this year at Attic Books. Price: $10. It once belonged to Mrs G. Grant of Prescott, Ontario.

Access: An uncommon book, the only copy currently listed online is offered by a Yankee bookseller who asks US$29.75. I saw a very nice copy going for C$20 during my last trip to London.

Print on demand vultures have moved in on this one, though I doubt their efforts have proved lucrative. The most attractive edition, from Dodo Press, stains Brigden's work pink, yellow and blue.

I count twenty copies held in Canadian libraries.

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12 December 2014

The Christmas Offering of Books – 1914 and 2014



The image is small, but the selection is huge. This full page advert from the 2 December 1914 Globe & Mail gives good idea of the books Canadians received during the first Christmas of "the Great European War". Mixed in with the expected - de luxe editions of Dickens, new fiction from popular novelist Alice Hegan Rice, cookbooks, Boy Scouts' books and hymn books (Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist) – we find poetry by W.H. Drummond, Robert W. Service, Pauline Johnson, and Katherine Hale. There are also these "New Books by Distinguished Canadian Authors":
Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich - Stephen Leacock
His Royal Happiness - Mrs. Everard Coates
The Patrol of the Sundance Trail - Ralph Connor
You Never Know Your Luck - Sir Gilbert Parker
The Miracle Man - Frank L. Packard
Hoof and Claw - Charles G.D. Roberts
Seeds of Pine - Janey Canuck
Recollections and Records of Toronto of Old - W.H. Pearson
The Leacock and Packard are recommended. I've not read the rest.

(cliquez pour agrandir)
With just twelve days left until this Christmas, time has come for some suggestions, beginning with this year's favourite reads. Before I do, it needs be pointed out that 2014 proved the least rewarding in my casual exploration of Canada'a suppressed, ignored and forgotten. Of the thirty-two titles reviewed here and in Canadian Notes & Queries, I can count on one hand the number that deserve to be returned to print. Tradition dictates I pick three. These are they:

Intent to Kill 
Michael Bryan [pseud. Brian Moore]
New York: Dell, 1956

Brian Moore's sixth pulp, the third to be set in Montreal, proved riveting. It's a shame that these early titles have been kept out of print, but you gotta admire the writer's estate for honouring his wishes.
The Iron Gates
Margaret Millar
New York: Dell, 1960

That The Iron Gates ranks as one of the year's best should come as no surprise – two years ago Millar took all three spots. "Arguably the most talented English-Canadian woman writer of her generation," I wrote in the Canadian Encyclopedia.

Fasting Friar
Edward McCourt
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1963

Before finding Fasting Friar, I'd never thought much about McCourt – he once won Ryerson's All-Canada Prize, right? – but its subject, censorship, did attract. A flawed yet interesting novel featuring what may be the most reluctant protagonist I've ever met.  


Given this year's slim pickings, I may as well mention the also rans: Grant Allen's The Devil's Die. and A Lot to Make Up For by the late John Buell. Used copies of the five are easily found for sale online.

Two books reviewed these past twelve are currently in print:

The first, Douglas Sanderson's Pure Sweet Hell (1957), is paired with Catch a Fallen Starlet (1960) in an edition available from Stark House Press. Both favourites, I rank them just beneath Hot Freeze and The Darker Traffic, the first two Mike Garfin novels, as the best things the man ever wrote. Stark House has no Canadian distributor, but books can be bought through the Stark House Press website.

I'm not so enthusiastic about Cherylyn Stacey's How Do You Spell Abducted? (1996), a slight, slim YA novel about an estranged father who runs off to the States with his three children. Michael Coren had a field day with this one, misrepresenting the book in the Financial Post and Books in Canada. Politician Julius Yankowsky (MLA, Edmonton Beverly-Belmont) got so riled up that he called for the thing to be banned. Buy it, if only to stick it to both men.

The year saw two books reviewed in previous years return to print; I was involved with both:

All Else is Folly
Peregrine Acland
Toronto: Dundurn, 2013

This 1929 novel of the Great War – by a veteran of the Great War – was praised by Ford Madox Ford, Bertrand Russell, Frank Harris and Robert Borden. This new edition, the first in over eight decades, features an Introduction by myself and James Calhoun.


The Long November
James Benson Nablo
Montreal: Véhicule, 2013

Featured on my 2010 list of books deserving a return to print, this 1946 novel received a good amount of attention in its day. Subsequent neglect can be explained – but only in part – by the author's early death. The new edition includes an Introduction by yours truly.


Go get 'em!

The Globe & Mail, 12 December 1914

08 December 2014

Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow Redux



Enough! (Enough French. Enough Quebec)
J.V. Andrew
Kitchener, ON: Andrew Books, 1988

How very far away yesterday's tomorrow seems. In 1977, the year Jock Andrew's Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow made a splash, the Blue Jays played their first game, Jimmy Carter pardoned Vietnam draft dodgers, and plucky Sid Vicious turned twenty. I myself turned fifteen. Iggy Pop's Lust for Life was released on my birthday. The song "Sixteen" comes from that album. In 1977, I thought of sixteen-year-old girls as elusive older women.


Though I have a hard time accepting it, well over a third of a century has since passed. Iggy is still with us; so too is Jock Andrew. The last I saw of him was last year in a choppy video someone uploaded to YouTube. I don't expect you to watch – not worth it, really – so will tell you that it ends with an image of Canada being flushed down a toilet.


Jock Andrew doesn't much care for this country and is pretty sure you don't either. Given half a chance, he's certain that we'd all sell out and move to Florida. Andrew himself prefers Spain, assuring the reader that he'll be gone in two years if things don't change.


Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow was all about Pierre Trudeau's secret plan to make Canada a unilingual country ruled by French-speaking overlords. As evidence, Andrew provided facts and figures he's pulled from his ass.

Eleven years later, Enough! finds Andrew in a bitter mood tinged with regret. The lieutenant-commander (ret'd) ended Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow with dreams of glory: a military coup, a civil war, or at the very least, a scuffle on an Ottawa city bus. Andrew had pledged to stand up to "the French racial-takeover of Canada", writing: "And if I have to go to jail as the result of it, then so be it." Instead, he crumbled at the first confrontation – a television interview with Morton Shulman, in which he was called out for pulling stuff out of his ass. Why did Andrew pull stuff out of his ass? "Because hard facts were impossible to obtain when I was writing the book," he sniffs in defence.


Andrew writes in Enough! that the exchange with Shulman left him traumatized. I write that Andrew learned nothing from the experience. Enough! presents still more pieces of his shit. For example, Andrew would have me believe that that my wife, like all French Canadians, "is sworn by secret oath to the extermination of English Canada and the English language". He claims that her church is "dedicated to the single goal of avenging the French defeat of 1759." He'll tell you that the Catholic Trudeau issued thousands of secret Cabinet Directives:
Are you aware that through these secret Cabinet Directives there are units of Canada's Armed Forces that are organized and trained for the sole purpose of subduing any signs of civil or political unrest in English-speaking Canada?
     Are you aware that through these secret Cabinet directives [sic], provision exists for emptying Canada's jails to accommodate dissident English-speaking Canadians in case English-speaking Canada wakes up?
     Do you wonder why such an effort has been made to convert the RCMP to French-speaking control when the Province of Quebec doesn't even use the RCMP?
   Are you aware that French-Canadian Mounted Policemen have been planted in every city and town in English-speaking Canada to spy and report on English-speaking Canadians who may not agree with the total Frenchification of this country?
     Are you aware that Trudeau created a secret service for the express purpose of spying on people such as myself who have chosen to think for themselves?
Jock Andrew's vivid imagination is matched by his readers'. Dozens of pages are devoted to old letters he received in response to the earlier book, the first coming from a fellow who had dared express "something similar" about French Canadians. "I was regarded as a racist," he gripes, before proclaiming his support of Apartheid South Africa and Ian Smith's Rhodesia. Likeminded volks, Andrew's correspondents see Hitler "as a 'nice man' when compared with the likes of Trudeau", gun control as a means of keeping English-Canadians in line, and are ready to believe the Canadian International Development Agency funnels money to the IRA ("on the grounds that anyone who hates the 'maudits Anglais' deserves support"). Canadian peacekeepers are alleged to be collaborating with Cuban mercenaries in Africa.


In Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow, Andrew urged Joe Clark and René Lévesque to work together to take Quebec out of Confederation. But that was so 1977. Enough! sees him advising Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories to separate, while at the same time issuing English-speaking Canadians a call to action:
If every last one of us doesn't get off our rear-ends right now, we and our children and our grandchildren will have lost this country before we've had time to figure out what has happened. I'm not talking in terms of years now. I'm talking about months.
More than three hundred months have passed since Enough! was published. Canada remains a united, bilingual country. French continues to be taught in our schools and our cereal boxes still feature both languages.

So, what is Jock Andrew still doing here? He promised he'd be moving to Spain.

Favourite passage:
How say you, Mr. Jack Cole and Dr. Morty Shulman? Without your successful efforts on behalf of your friends in the Trudeau Government to jam my first and second books, and to traumatize me on my first television appearance, the French Canadian move on Canada might have been curtailed ten years ago. Food for thought, for what its worth.
Fun with search engines: Googling Jock Andrew (no quotation marks) brings the image below.


Object: An unattractive trade-size paperback, 153 pages in length, I purchased my copy for $4.50 a couple of years back. This was in the Ontario town of Merrickville, in which my daughter attended l'école élémentaire catholique Sainte-Marguerite-Bourgeoys.

I see no evidence that Enough! enjoyed a second printing, though this variant cover suggests otherwise:


Access: Long out of print, online prices for used copies range from US$1.99 to US$39.95. Condition is not a factor. Roughly half of the copies listed are signed by the author.

Enough! is held by not nearly so many libraries as Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow; twelve in total, including the Library of Parliament, Library and Archives Canada and the Bibliothèque et Archives nationals du Québec.

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05 December 2014

Done With Buying Books



For this year, at least. Not only will budget not allow, I'm running out of room.

I shouldn't complain.

These past eleven months have brought an embarrassment of riches – and at such small cost! Case in point, G. Herbert Sallans' uncommon Little Man, a book I've wanted for a ferret's age. Sure, the dust jacket isn't in the best condition, but online listings for jacketless copies run to US$1899. I bought my Sallans for three Canadian dollars. This happened back in July. I was taking advantage of a London bookstore's moving sale. The copy was originally marked at fifteen.


During that same visit, another bookstore yielded a pristine American first of Tony Aspler's The Streets of Askelon, the roman à clef inspired by Brendan Behan's disastrous 1961 visit to Canada. I'd been hunting it for a loon's age. Cost me a buck.

Little Man and The Streets of Askelon are two of the ten favourite books bought this year. What follows are the remaining eight:

All Else is Folly
Peregrine Acland
New York: Coward-
     McCann, 1929

A title that will be familiar to regular readers. After eight decades, All Else is Folly finally returned to print this year, complete with new Introduction by myself and Great War scholar James Calhoun. I won this particular copy, inscribed by Acland, in an eBay auction on the very day we completed our work.

Under Sealed Orders
Grant Allen
New York: Grosset &
     Dunlap, [n.d.]

A political thriller by my favourite Canadian novelist of the Victorian era, I've been saving this one for a snowy weekend. This may not be a first edition, but I'm confident that it's the most attractive. Six plates! Purchased for US$9.95 from an Illinois bookseller.


Illicit Sonnets
George Elliott Clarke
London: Eyewear, 2013

A collection of verse by an old friend, Illicit Sonnets stands out in George's bibliography as the first published in England. At the same time, it's typical of the high quality titles coming from ex-pat Montrealer Todd Swift's Eyewear Publishing. A poet himself, Todd dares publish verse in hardcover… as it should be.

The Prospector
Ralph Connor [pseud.
     Charles W. Gordon]
Toronto: New
     Westminster, [n.d.]

You can get pretty much any Connor title for two dollars. My problem is that I never quite remember what I have. This copy of The Prospector, bought in London for $1.50, turned out to be a duplicate. I thought I'd wasted my money until I noticed that it's inscribed by the author.

The Land of Afternoon
Gilbert Knox [pseud.
     Madge Macbeth]
Ottawa: Graphic, 1924

The subject of a forthcoming column in Canadian Notes & Queries, this roman à clef centres on a character based Arthur Meighen. It was a scandal in its day, and holds up rather well, even though many of its models are forgotten.

There Was a Ship
Richard Le Gallienne
Toronto: Doubleday,
     Doran & Gundy, 1930

Found in downtown London on Attic Books' dollar cart. If John Glassco is to be believed – evidence is slight – he took down this novel as Le Gallienne dictated in a semi-stuper. Either way, it's a pretty good story… by which I Glassco's. Le Gallienne's? I'm not so sure.


Fasting Friar
Edward McCourt
Toronto: McClelland &
     Stewart, 1963

I'd never so much as heard of Fasting Friar, before coming across a pristine copy – $9.50 – at Montreal's Word Bookstore. An engaging novel in which academic life and censorship intertwine, it proved to be one of this year's favourite reads. Still hate the title, though.

Mrs. Spring Fragrance
Sui Sin Far [pseud.
     Edith Eaton]
Chicago: McClurg, 1912

The only title published during Eaton's lifetime, I paid US$100 for this Very Good copy. This would've been back in the spring. Appropriate. Since then a Good copy has shown up for sale online at US$45.85.

Je ne regrette rien.

01 December 2014

Of Downton Abbey and Our Magnificent Folly



December. Time has come to admit that we've failed.

Eleven months ago, with my friends Chris Kelly and Stanley Whyte, I set out to read each and every book by Richard Rohmer within the calendar year. We're right now on our eighteenth. While that figure may seem impressive, there are still twelve to go.

Who'd've thunk he'd written so much?

We all knew what we were getting into. I was pretty certain that Rohmer had published something in the area of thirty books. What I didn't anticipate was that they would be so hard to find. A child of the 'sixties, I well remember a time when Rohmer topped bestseller lists. His books were on display at the local WH Smith and could be bought at every drug store in town. I expected – as did Stan and Chris – that used copies would be plentiful and cheap. Hell, last December I picked up a copy of Red Arctic for a dollar.


What I didn't know is that after his 1973 smash Ultimatum, Rohmer's sales began to decline. The first break in his string of bestsellers came in 1984 with How to Write a Best Seller. There's irony for you. By the end of that decade, he was no longer  published in mass market – readers of thrillers will recognize the significance of that fact. Second printings have been rare.

How rare?

The only book that has seen any sort of second life in the past quarter-century is the one we're currently reading: John A.'s Crusade. First published in 1995 by Stoddart, two years ago Dundurn reissued the novel as Sir John A.'s Crusade and Seward's Magnificent Folly.


"About the only general suggestion I can make about choosing a title is that it should in some way suggest the plot," says Rohmer in How to Write a Best Seller. John A.'s Crusade did just that. Set during the months leading to Confederation, it sees the future prime minister travelling about Europe – by train, warship and carriage – on a secret mission to purchase Alaska from the Russians. Meanwhile across the pond, William Seward, Andrew Johnson's Secretary of State, is working on the very same goal.

If anything, Sir John A.'s Crusade and Seward's Magnificent Folly suggests even more of the plot. And, as my pal Stan points out, it also provides something of a tie-in to the film Lincoln, in which Seward figures prominently.


I wonder whether Sir John A.'s Crusade, Seward's Magnificent Folly and a Visit to Highclere Castle was ever considered. Too long, I suppose.

Highclere Castle features prominently on the cover of the new edition; Sir John A a little less so. Cast your eyes down and you'll find this banner: "BRITAIN'S REAL DOWNTON ABBEY AND CANADA'S BIRTH".


I wasn't aware of any connection between Confederation and Downton Abbey. Truth be told, I didn't see that the show has had much to do with Canada at all. Then I read the back cover:
In late 1866, John A. Macdonald and other Fathers of Confederation arrived in London to begin discussions with Britain to create Canada. Macdonald and two of his colleagues stayed briefly at Highclere Castle in Hampshire, the stately home of the Fourth Earl of Carnarvon, Britain's colonial secretary. Those are the facts. 
Today Highclere Castle is widely known as the real-life location for the popular television series Downton Abbey. In Richard Rohmer's novel, Macdonald talks with Carnarvon at Highclere about legislation to give Canada autonomy, the danger of Irish Fenian assassination plots, and the proposed American purchase of Alaska from Russia.
It is indeed a fact that "Macdonald and two colleagues stayed briefly at Highclere Castle". Those two colleagues were George-Étienne Cartier and Alexander Galt; their overnight stay was several hours longer than that offered today's paying visitors.

So, yeah, "stayed briefly" seems about right.

What irks is the author's new Preface. All about the tenuous link between the novel and television show, for the most part the thing is sigh-inducing:
Downton Abbey, as it appears in the magnificent television series is actually Highclere Castle, often known as Carnarvon Castle. It was there that much of the Downton Abbey series was and will be shot. 
This sentence follows, challenging conventional history :
It was also there that the difficult quest for Canada's status as an ultimately self-governing monarchy nation truly began on December 11, 1866, as this piece of historical fiction demonstrates.
Never mind the Great Coalition, the Charlottetown Conference, the Quebec Conference and the London Conference, Rohmer has it that an after-dinner conversation over port and cigars marks the true beginning of the country we call Canada. The claim is absurd, and is made truly shameful by the simple fact that this piece of historical fiction demonstrates no such thing. Macdonald and colleagues do nothing more than report on current negotiations… oh, and Fenians!

Here, in full, is how the real Canarvon described Rohmer's birth of a nation in his diary:

from The Political Diaries of the Fourth Earl of Carnarvon, 1857–1890
Cambridge UP, 2010
See how much work goes into reading Richard Rohmer?

Imagine how much time has been wasted walking across rooms to retrieve books thrown against walls.

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