Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


French Canadian and Quebec Literature



[This text was written by Camille Roy in 1948. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]


The French régime did not give rise to any Canadian literature in the proper sense of the word. The books which at that period were written about Canada were by Frenchmen who, for the most part, had done little more than visit Canada; and their work was published in France. Among these works should be mentioned the Récits de voyages of Jacques Cartier , the discoverer of Canada, and those of Samuel de Champlain , the founder of Quebec; the Histoire de la Nouvelle France of Marc Lescarbot ; the Relations and the Journal of the Jesuits, which are of importance both for the history of the Jesuit missions and for the general history of the colony of New France; the work of Father Lafitau on Les moeurs des sauvages américains comparées aux moeurs des premiers temps, and that of Father Charlevoix , on L'histoire et description générale de la Nouvelle-France, avec le journal historique d'un voyage fait par ordre du roi dans l'Amérique septentrionale. Marie de l'Incarnation , the superior of the Ursulines in Quebec, who came to Canada in 1639, and who died in 1672, has left literary memorials of rare value, which describe the author's spiritual experiences, and which contain valuable observations on the period of Canadian history between 1639 and 1672. These works, and some others less important, constitute an introductory chapter to the history of French-Canadian literature. The first chapter really opens after 1760, under the British régime.







Canadian literature in French was not destined to begin immediately after the cession -of Canada to Great Britain . The French Canadians, ruined by the Seven Years War, applied themselves at first to the work of economic reconstruction. They sought, indeed, by means of the school, to preserve the best traditions of French culture; but they found it difficult to devote themselves to work of a literary character.


Newspapers and political prose.


It was in the newspaper and in the parliamentary struggles of political life that the first manifestations of literary life among the French Canadians were seen. The Constitutional Act of 1791, which created in Canada proper parliamentary institutions, gave rise also to political eloquence; and this was manifested in turn in the speeches in the Legislative Assembly and in the editorials of the newspapers. The orators of the Legislative Assembly have not left any important literary remains. They fought with determination and sometimes with real eloquence for the rights of the French language in parliament, and for the conquest of those parliamentary liberties necessary to the proper administration of public affairs. Among them, the most distinguished was Louis Joseph Papineau , who was speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada from 1815 to 1837, and who was endowed with exceptional oratorical powers that gave him a great influence both in the Legislative Assembly and before popular audiences. Several of his speeches, which display an oratory more popular than academic, have been preserved in the newspapers of the time.


Political prose is represented especially at this time by the work of a great journalist named Etienne Parent . Parent became editor of the Canadien in 1822, at the age of twenty years. This newspaper having ceased publication in 1825, Parent, aided by some others, revived it in 1831, and he remained its director until 1842. The greater part of the contributions made by the Canadien toward the control of the purse by the Assembly, toward the reform of the Legislative Council, and toward responsible government, were due either to his pen or to his inspiration. His contemporaries regarded him with esteem both as a thinker and as a writer. These same qualities are seen in the addresses which he delivered after 1842 on questions relating to sociology and political economy. These addresses, which have been published, are assuredly one of the best contributions to the political and philosophical prose of the period. The thought in them is solid, fecund, and often bold; and it is expressed in clear and vigorous language, sometimes heavy, but more often animated and adorned with flowers of speech and classical allusions. Among his best addresses may be cited the following: Importance de l'étude de l'économie politique; Du prêtre et du spiritualisme dans leur rapport avec la société; Considérations sur notre système d'éducation populaire, sur l'éducation en général; L'Intelligence dons ses rapports avec la société; and Considérations sur le sort des classes ouvrières.




It was during this period of the beginnings of French-Canadian literature that the first works on the history of Canada were published. The first, in point of date, of the French-Canadian historians was Michel Bibaud . His Histoire du Canada (3 vols., Montreal, 1837-8) covers the political history of Canada from the beginning to 1837. This work, in which the author takes as a rule the part of the bureaucrates against the French-Canadian patriotes, in the struggles to which the parliamentary régime of 1791-1837 gave rise, was not much appreciated by French-Canadian readers. Bibaud's Histoire was soon discredited, both because of its Tory sympathies and because of the lack of information from which a first essay in the field of Canadian history necessarily suffered.


While Michel Bibaud was publishing his work, another historian, Francois-Xavier Garneau was working on another Histoire du Canada, which began to appear in 1845. This work, which appeared in three volumes, was the fruit of patient researches made in Canada, France, and England; it was written in a style full of life, and, without being an apology for the French Canadians, it explained loyally their political attitude under the British régime, when they sought to control, through the voting of subsidies, the administration of the governor and his council. Garneau's Histoire covers the history of all the French colonies in North America from their beginnings up to the treaty of 1763, by which France ceded Canada to Great Britain; from that date, the author concentrates his narrative on Canada proper. Garneau deserves the credit of having written a work of such importance, so well documented, so rich in facts and ideas, at a time when the sources of Canadian history were so inaccessible, and the means of general culture were so insufficient. The work of Garneau was welcomed with enthusiasm; and the plaudits of the public were awarded to the worker who had wrought with so much science and art. The youth of French Canada were inspired by the story of Canada's past; and it would be difficult to exaggerate the influence of Garneau's Histoire, not only on contemporary politics, but also on the growth of French-Canadian literature. It became the chief authority for the facts of history, and also the book from which young writers, and especially young poets, drew their inspiration.




During the period from 1760 to 1860, poetry appeared only in the form of timid attempts. It appeared in the newspapers, in the form of popular or military chansons, or in the form of odes or satires. The Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 gave rise to some poetry of a rather popular nature, in which the poetic art is somewhat naive, and is less notable than the historical interest which these first Canadian verses have. The best contributions in verse furnished to the newspapers of that day were by Joseph Mermet and Joseph Quesnel , two poets who came from France, the latter of whom was to remain and die in Canada. Michel Bibaud, while he was busying himself with history, was also attempting the practice of poetry. He composed satires, chansons, and epistles, in verse-forms somewhat ponderous; and it is he who deserves at least the credit of publishing the first collection of poems in French-Canadian literature, Epitres, satires, chansons, épigrammes, et autres pièces de vers (Montreal, 1830). Another historian, F. X. Garneau himself, combined the practice of poetry with that of history. Garneau's poems draw their inspiration from the author's historical and patriotic interests; and he may be considered the creator in French Canada of patriotic poetry, of the kind which Octave Crémazie was later to develop and adorn. Probably the most harmonious and adroit of the first French-Canadian poets - at least of those who belong to the period of literary origins -- was Joseph Lenoir . He was endowed with a great lyric sensibility; he had the soul of a Lamartine ; and he followed the masters of romantic poetry. He did not, however, rise to the full measure of his powers, for he was cut off by a premature death, at the age of thirty-nine years. His poems were gathered much later, and were published under the title of Poèmes épars ( Montreal , 1916).


It was under the dominating influence of Garneau's Histoire du Canada that French-Canadian poetry got into its stride.







This period is distinguished from the preceding by a sudden and more fruitful activity in the intellectual life of French Canada. The causes of this advance are diverse. First of all, there was the influence of Garneau's Histoire du Canada, to which reference has already been made. The reading of the Histoire du Canada developed among French Canadians the feeling of patriotism, pride in the past, and ambition for a better future -- aspirations broader and more solid than had been entertained before. The desire arose to augment, by means of art and letters, the national patrimony of which Garneau had revealed in his work the unsuspected proportions. A poet arose at this moment, named Octave Crémazie, who, inspired by Garneau, injected into his songs a patriotic fervour which moved all his contemporaries. Crémazie and Garneau were the true originators of a new literature.


Octave Crémazie was a bookseller. It was in his bookshop at Quebec that gathered those who were destined to take part in the literary movement of 1860. Fortuitous circumstances brought together in Quebec a group of men who were passionately devoted to letters, wished to write, and made a joint effort to succeed. They were F. X. Garneau and Etienne Parent, the oldest of the group; Antoine Gérin-Lajoie , librarian of parliament, who had perforce come to Quebec, since parliament was sitting there; Joseph Charles Taché , director of Le Courrier du Canada; P. J. O. Chauveau , superintendent of public instruction; Hubert La Rue , a professor in Laval University; the Abbé J. B. A Ferland , also a professor at Laval, where he occupied with distinction the chair of Canadian history; and last, but not least, the young Abbé Raymond Casgrain , vicar of the cathedral at Quebec, enthusiastic and romantic, who had just published his first Légende. This young abbé was a fervent admirer of Garneau and of Crémazie; and he wished to see a true Canadian literature spring into being under the inspiration of a new enthusiasm -- a literature abundant, artistic, better than the timid attempts that had preceded the work of Garneau and of Crémazie. All these men were wont to gather in the bookshop of Crémazie. They read there the latest books imported from France; they chatted there about their literary projects; and they sought ways and means of uniting their efforts in order to make them more fruitful. Thus it was that in 1861 they founded the first French-Canadian literary review, Les soirées canadiennes, and that the Foyer canadien was launched also in 1863. These literary periodicals made it possible for writers to publish their work, and to make themselves known to the public; they were also a standing invitation to writers to work and to produce. It was under the influence of these men and by their enthusiastic co-operation that a new literary movement arose which was destined to produce immediately happy results.




Crémazie was in truth both the soul of the new group and the father of French-Canadian poetry, at any rate of that which was to give us the first durable work. This poetry was above all one of patriotic inspiration, impregnated through and through with contemporary ideas and prepossessions. It is, indeed, only by reason of the state of mind of Crémazie's compatriots that one can explain its character. No other poetry, it would seem, could at that hour of Canadian historical development, take root and flourish. The poetry of that day joined with history to comfort souls disillusioned and anxious for the future, and to stimulate hope and ambition. Crémazie was the sounding-board of his contemporaries. No poem shows this more clearly than that entitled Vieux soldat canadien or that entitled Drapeau de Carillon. It was his aim to make his country loved -- its landscape, its legends, the customs of its inhabitants. The poems entitled Le Canada, Les Milles Iles, Le chant des voyageurs, and La fiancée de Marion are all inspired by this aim of the poet. At the time, Crémazie was fond of philosophical or moral themes. Le poème des morts is perhaps the most personal of his writings, and the most vigorous; one may couple with it the very realistic verses entitled La promenade de trois morts. He was too fond of reading the masters of French contemporary poetry not to reveal in his work some traces of the imitation of their work, and notably that of Victor Hugo; and he was unfortunate in that the exile to which he was condemned at the age of thirty-five years put an end to his literary career. Crémazie did not fulfill the promise of his early genius. But, short as was his career, and few as were his poems, he founded a school. It was the example and the work of Crémazie which gave birth to what one may call the school of patriotic poetry in Quebec; and the two chief disciples of Crémazie were Louis Fréchette and Pamphile Lemay .


Louis Fréchette published his first volume, Mes loisirs, at the age of twenty-six years. In it he confesses that his chief inspiration came from Crémazie, and from the desire to continue his work. Like Crémazie, he considered poetry the expression of the national life, and he devoted himself especially to singing the facts of history. No doubt his first volumes, such as Pèle-mêle, Fleurs boréales, and Les oiseaux de neige , are composed of songs in which the author celebrates nature and the feelings of human life; but it is La légende d'un peuple , published in 1887, which appears to illustrate best the dominant inspiration of Fréchette's work. This work is a sort of heroic poem in which the author extracts from the history of Canada episodes which lend themselves to poetic treatment. The sequence of these poems comprises a sort of national history seen from the mountain-tops, and composed of the most significant events in Canadian life. La légende d'un peuple is an heroic poem at once lyrical and oratorical. Its eloquence commits the poet to the banality of the commonplaces of rhetoric; but many of its verses contain the best work of Louis Fréchette .


Pamphile Lemay was, like Fréchette, a disciple of Crémazie. But he devoted himself, more than Fréchette, to the intimate and calmer poetry of rural life and domestic life. He wrote also patriotic poetry, but in a different manner. He was the great ancestor of the French-Canadian poetry of the soil. He loves the fields, the hearth, the familiar customs and traditions, and he takes from them the habitual and most sincere theme of his work. He does not fall into the epic and sometimes unnatural eloquence of Fréchette; he writes with sincere emotion; he composes, often in verses too careless, poems in which the trivial details of the countryside live again. His principal works were Essais poétiques (1865), Les vengeances (1875), a versified romance in which the author tells the story and paints the picture of the life of his people, Une gerbe (1879), Fables canadiennes (1882), Petits poèmes (1883), and Les gouttelettes (1904), which is a collection of sonnets, the first of the kind in French-Canadian literature, and one in which the author, more intent on his art, has best given the measure of his talent. He treated again in it a great number of subjects, drawn from Canadian life, which he had dealt with in his previous works.


After Louis Fréchette and Pamphile Lemay came William Chapman , who continued to exploit the patriotic theme. He was less happy than his two predecessors. He treated again great historical subjects, in which he imitated the eloquence of Fréchette, and he fell also, and more heavily, into the commonplaces of rhetoric. His oratorical poetry, in which moving strophes are found, was often applauded. His best work is to be found in his Aspirations (1904), Les rayons du nord (1910), and Les fleurs de givre (1912).


It was in this same period, in which Fréchette and Lemay were leading the choir of the Muses, that appeared the work of Adolphe Poisson, Alfred Garneau, and Appolinaire Gingras. Adolphe Poisson published Heures perdues, Sous les pins, and Chants de soir, in which he treated of patriotic and historical subjects, and in which he translated also into verse his deep emotions. Alfred Garneau ushered in a new type of poetry, in which the traditional theme of history gave place to the more intimate inspirations of the soul. His poems are psychological. The Abbé Appolinaire Gingras sings at once the customs of the countryside and his own sensibilities. He is fond also of excellent badinage. All these characteristics are found in his Au foyer de mon presbytère (1881).




Poetry, in French Canada, was born of history; but history was destined to develop, during the period 1860-1900, parallel with poetry. The Abbé J. B. A. Ferland [see also this biography of Ferland written by J. Edmond Roy], a professor at Laval University , followed Garneau in telling the story of the French régime in Canada . He gave a course of lectures at Laval University which were the occasion of these new studies; and he gave them with great rigour of method, correcting or making more precise the historical points which Garneau had not sufficiently elucidated. His Cours d'histoire du Canada was written in simple language, devoid of ornament, which yet held attention by means of its clarity and the sincerity of a style which betrayed neither the eloquence nor the emotion of Garneau. The Abbé Henri Raymond Casgrain, [alternate short biography of Casgrain written by J. Edmond Roy] one of the most enthusiastic pioneers of the group of 1860, began by publishing some Canadian legends, such as Le tableau de la Rivière Ouelle, Les pionniers canadiens, and La jongleuse; and these legends led him to history. He had been too much influenced by the reading of F. X. Garneau not to wish to continue his work taking up certain phases of it with a view to digging deeper. The Abbé Casgrain therefore devoted himself to the writing of monographs . These constitute some of the finest pages of Canadian history. Some of his principal works are the Histoire de la Mère Marie de l'Incarnation, the Biographies canadiennes (dealing with some contemporaries, such as Octave Crémazie, Philippe Aubert de Gaspé , and Antoine Gérin-Lajoie ), the Histoire de l'Hôtel-Dieu de Québec, the Pèlerinage au pays dEvangéline (in which he studies the Acadian question), Montcalm et Lévis (in which is told the story of the British conquest), Une seconde Acadie, and Les Sulpiciens et les prêtres des missions étrangères en Acadie. The last are written in language graver and more restrained than the first; but in all of them the historian reveals a vivid imagination. Occasionally his historical method yields to the exigencies of a feeling which determines his sympathies in too arbitrary a manner. To this same period belongs Gérin-Lajoie's Dix ans d'histoire du Canada, 1840-1850 , which tells the story of the first ten years of politics under the union of the two Canadas, and in which the author brings before our eyes the conquest of responsible government by Baldwin and Lafontaine .


After these historians, or with them, others devoted themselves to the study of particular aspects of Canadian national life, and published numerous monographs. Joseph Edmond Roy made a specialty of la petite histoire, the history of customs and manners; and this is found in picturesque abundance in the five volumes of his Histoire de la seigneurie de Lauzon . He published also a considerable number of monographs, such as his Souvenirs d'une classe au Séminaire de Québec. All his works were written without much literary care, but with a pleasant simplicity, in which one sometimes misses nevertheless a more methodical art. Benjamin Sulte was the most indefatigable and most inquiring "researcher" of this period. His inquiries carried him into all sorts of questions, and in particular into the history of his native place, Three Rivers. He wrote with a good humour which made it difficult to criticize his work, and which was in turn its charm and its weakness. Among his principal works were his Histoire des Trois-Rivières, his Histoire des canadiens-français , his Mélanges d'histoire et de littérature, his Le coin de fées, his Chronique trifluvienne, his Pages d'histoire du Canada, his Histoire de la milice canadienne, and La bataille de Chateauguay. Since his death his scattered writings have been republished under the title of Mélanges historiques. Narcisse Eutrope Dionne wrote, among a large number of other historical studies , the following: Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, Pierre Bédard et ses fils , and Historique de Notre Dame des Victoires de Québec. Laurent Olivier David combined politics and history, and among his works were Les patriotes de 1837-1838, Biographies et portraits, L'union des deux Canadas, and L'histoire du Canada depuis la Confédération, 1867-1887. Ernest Myrand brought to the writing of history both intellectual curiosity and imagination. He published Une fête de Noël sous Jacques Cartier (which was an ingenious historical fiction), Sir William Phips devant le Québec, Frontenac et ses amis, and Noëls anciens de la Nouvelle France.


History having been a form of literature very much cultivated between 1860 and 1900, many other authors might be added to those named above authors of works of varying degrees of importance. We mention only Pascal Poirier , the author of Origines des acadiens and Le Père Lefebvre et l'Acadie, Mgr. Lionel Lindsay, the author of Notre Dame de la Jeune Lorette en la Nouvelle France, and Ernest Gagnon , the author of Le Fort et le Chateau Saint-Louis and Louis Jolliet.




During this period of the origins of Canadian literature, the novel drew benefit from the enthusiasm roused by history and poetry. It was on history, or the life of the people, with their customs and their heroic sufferings, that the literature of the novel was first built. Philippe Aubert de Gaspé [see the biography in the Encyclopédie de l'Agora] published in 1863 Les anciens canadiens , a novel of manners in which were recounted some of the great episodes of Canadian history, the scenes of the campaign of 1759 which ended in the battle of the Plains of Abraham. This novel had a great success. Readers recognized in it a faithful picture of Canadian life at the period when this life was being transformed under the new influence of the British conquest. They liked to find in it a description of customs and traditions which they felt ought to be preserved; and the style of the novel, which partakes of the character of a natural and picturesque conversation, contributed in itself to render more popular the tales and legends which are the basis of the novel. At the same time as Les anciens canadiens was appearing, Antoine Gérin-Lajoie [consult his biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography] published J ean Rivard . This novel was at once a novel of manners and a social document. It told the story of a young colonist who had exchanged college for the forest and rhetoric for the culture of the soil. It reminded the youth of French Canada of their duty to resist the wave of emigration which was sweeping them toward the industries of the United States, and to attach themselves to the land. Despite a style which is a little forbidding, this book, which was full of rustic life and descriptions of popular customs, obtained a great success. In 1865 another author, Napoléon Bourassa [consult his biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography], published yet another novel, the subject of which was borrowed from the painful history of the dispersion of the Acadians by the British government. Jacques et Marie had the success due to a story of Acadian heroism; but its execution was somewhat uneven.


The historical novel was popular with readers of this period. Joseph Marmette took advantage of this popular taste to publish a series of novels in which the characters and events of Canadian history live again. The principal works of this romancer are François de Bienville, L'intendant Bigot, and Le chevalier de Mornac; but these works are of unequal value. Laure Conan also attempted the historical novel; and, with a more artistic pen, she wrote A l'oeuvre et à l'épreuve, L'oublié, and La sève immortetle. Her Angeline de Montbrun was a successful pioneer in the field of the psychological novel. There was published in this period hardly more than one novel of adventure. This was Une de perdue et deux de trouvées (2 vols., Montreal, 1874), by Georges Boucher de Boucherville (1814-1898).


Chroniques, Essays, and Oratory.


The literature of legends, chroniques, and popular tales was one of the most abundant toward the end of the nineteenth century in Canada. It was a product of the renaissance of 1860. The Abbé Casgrain, in publishing his Légendes, had himself set the example, and those who worked with him followed in his footsteps. Joseph Charles Taché published Trois légendes and the picturesque tales entitled Forestiers et voyageurs. Hubert La Rue published studies of Canadian popular and historical chansons, and narratives of Un voyage autour de l'Ile d'Orléans and Un voyage sentimental sur la rue Saint-Jean . Later P. J. O. Chauveau wrote Souvenirs et légendes. He was also the author of a study of François-Xavier Garneau, sa vie et ses oeuvres, and he was destined to achieve by means of his academic speeches the reputation of an orator. Faucher de St. Maurice was one of the most voluminous authors of this period, and published numerous books of travel, such as De Quebec à Mexico, A la brunante, Choses et autres, De tribord à babord, and En route. Hector Fabre, who was a journalist, has left a volume of Chroniques; and Napoléon Legendre collected his chroniques in two volumes entitled Echoes de Quebec [consult his other writings ] . But the most brilliant writer of chroniques in this period was Arthur Buies . He contributed to journals and gathered in numerous volumes articles in which he embodied the fruits of his social and geographical studies. Among the chief of these were the following: Chroniques; Humeurs et caprices; Chroniques, voyages; Petites chroniques pour 1877; L'Ouatouais supérieur; Au portique des Laurentides; and Récits de voyage. In his pages are to be found intelligence, sensibility, and originality. Adolphe Routhier was one of the most highly appreciated writers and speakers of his day. His works, which were fairly numerous, comprise critical and literary studies, books of travel, novels, and speeches. His easy prose, naturally charged with feeling and fancy, was highly esteemed by contemporary readers. His chief works were Causeries du dimanche, Portraits et pastels, A travers l'Europe, De Québec à Victoria, Québec et Lévis, De l'homme d Dieu, Conférences et discours, and a novel entitled Le centurion. Lastly, one must add to this group the name of an orator who shone above all others in his parliamentary eloquence, Sir Wilfrid Laurier .








With the beginning of the twentieth century there appeared clear signs of intellectual and literary progress among the people of French Canada. Writers became more numerous and more artistic; and the public, more prone to read Canadian books, has thus shown a more sympathetic attitude, in this renaissance of French-Canadian letters. French-Canadian literature has in this period penetrated deeper into the life of French Canada; it has aroused more intellectual curiosity; and it has called for a higher art in those who write. On the other hand, the people of French Canada have appeared more anxious to create for themselves a literature which should be at once an illustration of the genius of their race and a safeguard of its best traditions, menaced by an intrusive cosmopolitanism. The Société du Parler Français au Canada , founded at Laval University in 1902, has contributed, through its studies of French-Canadian speech, to the creation and development of a literature which should take as its objective everything which might preserve the popular speech, the manners and traditions of rural life.

For twenty years it was the centre of an activity which conferred on literature great benefit. In addition, in the dying years of the nineteenth century, there was formed in Montreal about 1895 an École Littéraire, somewhat more exclusive, in which met several poets who had the desire and the ambition to revivify a Canadian poetry which had exhausted itself in its lyrical efforts in history and patriotism. It turned to the secrets of the soul, to the study of conscience. This was the inspiration of the new poetry. Literary criticism, born in the first years of the new century, contributed also to stimulate writers, and to attract to the Canadian book a favour which it had lacked. If criticism does not create either talent or genius, it calls forth at least useful efforts, and by giving more publicity to the work of writers, it creates an intellectual atmosphere more propitious for the development of literature.




The form of literature which was the first to benefit by the renaissance of 1900 was poetry. The École Littéraire of Montreal produced the first works which bear the marks of a new inspiration, one more personal and more careful to achieve original artistic forms. Charles Gill was a member of this school, which had its headquarters in the Château de Ramezay . He dreamed of an heroic and lyric poem of nature, of which the river St. Lawrence should be the center -- that vast river so grandly picturesque, so full of history and legend. The design was admirable; but the poet had not the time to execute it. He succeeded in sketching only one book of this epic, the uncompleted Le Cap Eternité. In it the author rejoiced in the bold and unequal flights of his epic inspiration. Emile Nelligan   is still the most appealing of the poets of the École Littéraire. His misfortunes as well as his poems have elicited for him the favour of the public. At the early age of twenty years his mind was darkened by insanity. He had foreseen this disaster of his inner life, and had foretold it in the most touching of his poems, Le vaisseau d'or. His poetry spouted forth in the fever of his thought and imagination; it is full of the anxieties and sorrows of the poet; and it is couched in verses which are not all above reproach, but which reveal in general a new feeling for artistic form. Albert Lozeau had, like Nelligan, a tragic fate. It was his bodily health that was too soon shattered. Condemned by illness and infirmity to a painful seclusion, he consecrated the leisure of his isolation to study and to poetry. He sang of his Ame solitaire, and published Le miroir des jours, Lauriers, and Feuilles d'érable . He took up in turn all the lyric themes-first of all, love, of which he dreamed in his bedroom, then solitude, the vanity of things, religious feeling, and sometimes the world of nature, in which he had revelled in the first years of his youth, but which he was scarcely destined to see again save through the windows of his room. His poetry is as a rule sincere and full of feeling, sometimes uneven, but most often captivating [Consult the complete edition of the poetic works of Albert Lozeau]. Gonzalve Desaulniers (1863-1934) confined the wide field of his poetry to nature. Les bois qui chantent is characteristic of his romantic and dreamy inspiration, of the need he felt to listen not only to the melancholy murmur of the trees, but also to that of the shore and the sea. Jean Charbonneau belongs also to the École Littéraire, of which he was one of the founders. He delights in philosophical poetry; but he does not always bring to it the clear vision of a strong and precise mind. His flight often is through the clouds. His chief works are Les blessures, L'âge de sang, Les prédestinées, and La flamme ardente. Albert Ferland is less ambitious than Jean Charbonneau. He has made himself above all the poet of the woods and the forests . Under the general title Le Canada chanté, he has published Les horizons, Le terroir, and L'âme des bois.


The poetry of the soil, which was born of the movement called forth by the studies of the Société du Parler Français au Canada, has provided some of the best work of our times. Nérée Beauchemin , who had written before 1900 his Floraisons matutinales, refined and perfected his regionalist inspiration in the collection of poems entitled Patrie intime , which he published at the end of his life. In it he sings of the Canadian landscape, the parish bell, the French race from which he sprang. Mme. Blanche Lamontagne is a poet who has developed most fully the theme of the soil. She has published, without perhaps seeking often enough a new inspiration, many volumes, in which she reveals a delicate feeling and a filial worship of that Gaspesian country which owes to her some of the best poems it has inspired. Her best works are Visions gaspésiennes, Par nos champs et nos rives, La vieille maison, and Ma Gaspésie. Lionel Léveillé, who signs himself "Englebert Gallèze", loves also to sing of rustic life. His work is lacking in inspiration, but it combines, with great precision of detail, a vivid picture of things and people. He has published Les chemins de l'âme, La claire fontaine, Chante, rossignol, chante, and Vers la lumière. Alphonse Désilets and Hector Deniers, the first in La brise du terroir, and the second in Les voix champêtres, have also contributed to bring to the attention of the public the picturesque life of their own people.


While the poets of the soil are celebrating the work and the customs of the countryside, others appear oblivious to these themes, but seek their inspiration in foreign countries, or shut themselves up with their own thoughts, or concern themselves almost exclusively with the forms of their art. Paul Morin is the most artistic of these searchers after rare beauty. In his Paon d'émail he has painted colourful landscapes, scenes of Greek life; he delights in the exotic, and in experimenting with rich and sonorous forms of poetry. His Poêmes de cendre et d'or are marked by the same characteristics and contain some of his finest verses. Guy Delahaye has attempted symbolic poetry in his Phases, and René Chopin has shown, first in his Coeur en exil, and later in his Dominantes, the care he takes to clothe his dreams and his meditations in well-chosen rhythms, cadences, and artistic forms.


Outside these groups, which are formed about a similar object or a similar preconception of art, there are numerous poets who, attached to no school of poetry, have freely practiced all kinds of poetry or developed all the themes of poetry. Alphonse Beauregard has written a philosophical poem in Les forces et les alternances. Jules Tremblay wrote short moral, philosophical, or patriotic pieces in Des mots, des vers, Du crépuscule aux aubes, Les ferments, Arômes du terroir, and Les ailes qui montent. Louis Joseph Doucet has published a number of volumes in which he has treated, without sufficient artistic grace, all the themes and sentiments of lyric poetry. The Abbé Arthur Lacasse has filled his Heures solitaires, his L'Envoi des heures, and his Les heures sereines with the expression of religious sentiments and with recollections of rural and domestic life. Religious sentiments -- those of the inner life -- have been treated more deeply and more artistically by Lucien Rainier (the Abbé J. N. Melançon) in Avec ma vie. Lucien Rainier draws his inspiration from his own meditations and from a rather original view of the phenomena of the conscience. His art is most delicate.


Two poets of to-day have struck again the lyric note in French-Canadian verse, Robert Choquette and Alfred Des Rockers. Robert Choquette is endowed with a vigorous imagination, which leads him to express his thought and his feeling in figures of speech often bold and original. A travers les vents was a remarkable effort, though of uneven merit, written when the author was twenty years of age. Les nouvelles poésies reveals a firmer thought, presented in more ambitious forms, which are sometimes akin to epic poetry, as in his Metropolitan Museum . Alfred Des Rockers has taken up the theme of the poetry of the soil, but he treats it with a more robust preciseness, with a realism at once more exact and more crude. He mingles with it, however, a lyric quality that transforms into powerful verse the poetry of little things. He has shown the vigorous force of his talent in L'offrande aux vierges folles and A l'ombre de l'Orford.


One must add to all these lyric poets the names of some poetesses who resemble them in the form of their art, but who are distinguished from them by their too great preoccupation with the theme of love and passion. These are Alice Lemieux, Simone Routhier, Jovette-Alice Bernier, and Eva Sénécal.


Émile Coderre, who had previously devoted his efforts, in his Signes sur le sable, to describing the poetry of popular manners, has inaugurated a new genre of poetry in popular language, in his volume entitled Quand j'parle tout seul. He writes under the pseudonym "Jean Narrache"; and he paints in his verses realistic pictures of human wretchedness, which he contrasts with the pride and luxury of the rich.


A Franco-American poet who lives in the United States , Rosaire Dion, belongs quite naturally to the Canadian group. He writes a lyric poetry in which, as in his Les oasis, he pays increasing attention to colour and artistic form.




Canadian history does not cease to call forth new studies. The sources of information are now fuller and more accessible, and investigators are making use of these new means of research in order to pursue further the study of the past. During the last thirty years, two historians in particular have produced much work of a high grade, Thomas Chapais and the Abbé Lionel Groulx . Thomas Chapais began with researches into the French colonial régime, and by publishing two authoritative monographs, Jean Talon and Le Marquis de Montcalm. As professor of history at Laval University in Quebec, he has given a course of historical lectures on the British régime in Canada, in which over a series of years he has studied British colonial policy in Canada . These lectures form a most objective picture, marked by a balanced judgment, of the political life of Canada from 1760 to 1867, the date of Confederation. This course of lectures forms eight volumes, fully documented. The Abbé Lionel Groulx, professor at the University of Montreal, has also brought his inquiries to bear on the French régime and on the British régime. His chief books are La naissance d'une race, Lendemains de conquête, Vers l'émancipation, La Confédération canadienne, L'enseignement français au Canada, and La découverte du Canada. In these are exhibited the dominant qualities of the author, his careful research, his patriotic feeling, his desire to revive by his works all the pride of the French-Canadian race.


Beside these two principal historians, one must mention Alfred De Celles , who succeeded especially in popularizing history in his books on Papineau, on Lafontaine et son temps, and on Cartier et son temps; and the Abbé Auguste Gosselin , who wrote the history of the French-Canadian Church in the form of numerous episcopal biographies , beginning with that of Laval, the first bishop of Quebec. The Rev. Henri Arthur Scott wrote L'histoire de Notre Dame de Foy , only the first part of which was finished, and some studies on Nos anciens historiographes. Mgr. Amédée Gosselin is the author of a valuable and well-documented work on L'instruction du Canada sous le régime français . The Abbé Ivanhoë Caron has told L'histoire de la colonisation de la province de Québec ; and the Abbé Olivier Maurault , in his Marges d'histoire and in La paroisse, writes of the historical and artistic life of Montreal. Gustave Lanctôt has done a biography of F. X. Garneau, and has published a thesis on L'administration de la Nouvelle France. The Rev. A. G. Morice has written in three volumes, L'histoire de l'Église Catholique dans l'ouest canadien. Séraphin Marion has told the life of a Canadian pioneer, Pierre Boucher. The Abbé Azarie Couillard-Després is the author of a number of genealogical and regional monographs: Louis Hébert, Histoire de la famille et de la seigneurie de Saint Ours, and Histoire de Sorel. Pierre Georges Roy , the archivist, has revealed, in a large number of publications, the riches in the historical documents in Canadian archives.




Novels, which were rather rare in the nineteenth century, have become numerous in the last twenty years. The novel of Canadian manners, in which is depicted both life and nature in the various regions of the province of Quebec, has greatly benefited by the immense success obtained in Canada and in France by Maria Chapdeleine , which was written by a French author, Louis Hémon (1880-1913), who came to Canada to observe the life of the colonist. Ernest Choquette , who before 1900 published Les Ribaud and Claude Paysan, wrote subsequently the novel entitled La terre, in which he aimed at attracting to rural life the young people of Quebec . Robert de Roquebrune made his début with the historical novel Les habits rouges, which deals with the rebellion of 1837-8; he followed this with D'un océan d l'autre, which tells the story of the life of the métis of the west; and in Les dames Le Marchand he approaches the psychological novel. Harry Bernard has written society novels and novels of manners in L'homme tombé, La terre vivante, La maison vide, Juana ma bien-aimée, and Dolorès. The Abbé Lionel Groulx , under the penname of Alonié de Lestres, has written two novels with a patriotic theme, L'appel de la race and Au Cap Blomidon. Georges Bugnet, under the pen-name of "Henri d'Outrement", tells the story of life in the west in a short story entitled Le pin du Kaskeg and in a novel entitled Nipsya. Claude Henri Grignon has written a character novel, Un homme et son péché, which is a good psychological study of the miser, and a collection of short stories entitled Le déserteur. Other novels worthy of mention are Leo Paul Desrosiers 's Nord- sud , the Rev. Adélard Dugré's La campagne canadienne, Damase Potvin's Le membre, Le français, and La robe noire, Robert Choquette's La pension Leblanc, Pierre Dupuy's André Lawrence, Antonio Proulx's Le coeur est le maître, and Ubald Paquin's Jules Faubert and Le Paria.


Philosophy, Sociology, and Oratory.


In the spheres of philosophical and political thought, some writers and speakers have left important works. Mgr. Louis Adolphe Paquet occupies a foremost place with his studies of public law and social philosophy, Principes généraux de droit public de l'Église, L'Église et l'éducation, L'organisation religieuse et le pouvoir civil, and L'action religieuse et la loi civile. He has published, under the general title of Études et appréciations, works which deal with questions relative to apologetics and sociology: Fragments apologétiques, Mélanges canadiens, Thèmes sociaux, Nouveaux fragments apologétiques and Nouveaux thèmes sociaux. Both an orator and a theologian, Mgr. Paquet has brought together in one volume his Discours et allocutions, and he had published in two volumes Un cours d'éloquence sacrée. Edmond de Nevers (1862-1906) has left a work at once historical and sociological in L'âme américaine . He had previously published some thoughts on social order in his L'avenir du peuple canadien français,


Errol Bouchette was one of the forerunners of the school of economists, with his publications entitled Emparons-nous de l'industrie, L'évolution économique de la province de Québec, and L'indépendance économique du Canada français. [see also this website ] At the same time, Léon Gérin was publishing his methodical observations on geography and social economy, L'habitant de Saint-Justin and Deux familles rurales de la rive sud du Saint-Laurent. Arthur Saint-Pierre is the author of a number of works on the labour question and professional organization. Edouard Montpetit discusses the principles of political economy in Pour tine doctrine and some of their applications in Sous le signe de l'or, and Les cordons de la bourse.The Rev. Joseph Papin Archambault makes short and judicious contributions to the study of sociology and economics, both as the editor of Les semaines sociales du Canada, and as the author of monographs on Les syndicats catholiques, Le devoir professionel, and Esquisses sociales. Hermas Bastien deals with some philosophical problems in his Essai sur la psychologie religieuse de William James and his Itinéraires philosophiques.


It is to the treatment of social and political questions that French-Canadian eloquence has most often been devoted. In this connection two orators must be mentioned, Mgr. Paul Eugène Roy and Henri Bourassa . Mgr. Roy, who was archbishop of Quebec , founded at Quebec L'Action Sociale Catholique, and he expounded its programme and defended its doctrine in a series of vigorous and solidly built addresses published after his death. He was the author of Discours religieux et patriotiques, l'Action Sociale Catholique et tempérance, and Apôtres et apostolat. We owe to him also some works of religious eloquence, and a correspondence entitled D'une âme à un autre. Henri Bourassa has been at once a journalist and a tribune of the people. He founded Le Devoir, and he has expounded on the hustings and in the legislature, both at Quebec and at Ottawa , his political doctrines. The rights of the French race in Canada , economic problems, religious and social questions have in turn called forth his articles and his speeches. Both articles and speeches have had an immediate success. They are written in an animated and sometimes violent style, which captures attention. They have been collected in a large number of pamphlets, among which may be mentioned the following: Que devons-nous d l'Angleterre; Hier, aujourd'hui, demain; Le pape arbitre de la paix, and La langue gardienne de la foi .


Chroniques, Narratives, and Criticism.


The literature of the chronique and of literary criticism is voluminous. Narratives of the soil have been particularly successful. They have often been called forth, like the poetry of the soil, by the studies of the Société du Parler Français au Canada . Among these writers of chroniques and récits should be mentioned Adjutor Rivard , the founder of the Société du Parler Français, who has painted the picturesque scenes of Canadian life in his Chez nous and Chez nos gens, and who is also the author of Études sur les parlers de France au Canada. The Rev. Louis Lalande has sketched, with some originality his Silhouettes paroissiales, and he is also the author of a volume of religious and patriotic addresses entitled Au service de la famille. Brother Marie-Victorin , who is a botanist, describes the flowers and the landscapes and the life of French Canada in his Récits laurentiens and his Croquis laurentiens. Louis Philippe Geoffrion , secretary of the Société du Parler Français au Canada , has gathered his observations on the popular speech of the French-Canadian people in his volumes of Zigzags autour de nos parlers. Mgr. Camille Roy , in his Propos canadiens and Etudes et croquis, has described the landscape or outlined the scenes of life in French Canada. The Abbé Lionel Groulx has grouped memories of life, history, and manners in his Rapaillages and his Chez nos ancêtres. Georges Bouchard has told of Vieilles choses et vieilles gens. Brother Gilles has written for Canadian readers about Les choses qui s'en vont. Claude Melançon leads the reader Parterre et par eau. Father Hugolin brings together in Horizons et pensées and in Dans le cloître et par le monde short tales and impressions. Some women who write chroniques in the newspapers have collected them in books. Mention may be made of Mme. Raoul Dandurand's Le coin de feu, of Les chroniques du Lundi and Fleurs champêtres, by Robertine Barry ("Françoise") of Première péché and Le long du chemin, by Mme. Huguenin {"Madeleine"}, of Lettres de Fadette, by Mme. Saint-Jacques, of Autour de la maison and Couleur du temps, by Michelle Le Normand, and of L'art d'être heureuse, by Mme. D. Frémont ("Annette Saint-Amand").


One must give a high place, among writers of chroniques and of essays to the Abbé Henri Beaudé (1870-1930). The Abbé Beaudé. who wrote under the pseudonym of "Henri d'Arles" , was a writer of delicate and subtle style, careful of detail and of colour, with a fine and chiselled art of expression. He has left, among other works, Propos d'art, Pastels, Arabesques, Laudes, Miscellanées, and Horizons. He also indulged in literary criticism; and we find this in Essais et conférences; Eaux fortes et tailles douces; Nos historiens; Louis Fréchette, and Etampes.


Literary criticism began with the dawn of the twentieth century. Mgr. Camille Roy was one of the pioneers in this field, and he has helped by his historical researches and by his criticisms of Canadian literature to make the literature of French Canada, both past and present, better known. He is the author of Essais sur la littérature canadienne; Nouveaux essais; Nos origines littéraires; Erables en fleurs; A l'ombre des érables; Regards sur les lettres; and Histoire de la littérature canadienne. To him we owe also a collection of speeches, Les leçons de notre histoire. Louis Dantin is one of the chief of the group of literary critics, and one of those who analyse with the greatest insight and weight the books that appear. He has published two volumes on Les poètes de l'Amérique française and Gloses critiques. He is also a poet, and writes short stories. These are gathered in La vie en rêve. Among the numerous critics who study present-day French-Canadian literature, mention should be made of Jean Charles Harvey, the author of Pages de critique, of the Rev. Émile Chartier , who wrote Pages de combat, of Maurice Hébert, the writer of De livres en livres and D'un livre à un autre, of Harry Bernard, with his Essais critiques, of Marcel Dugas, who has published La littérature canadienne and an authoritative study of Louis Fréchette, of Séraphin Marion, who has brought together his principal studies in En feuilletant nos écrivains, and of Alfred Des Rochers, with his Paragraphes.


This survey of the principal writers in French-Canadian literature and of their chief works shows that French-Canadian literature is in process of full growth. It goes hand in hand with the history of the French-Canadian people, whether to tell that history or to illustrate it. Written in the French language, it is yet allied to the literature of the English tongue in Canada ; and it bears witness, with the English-Canadian literature, to the intellectual life of Canada . Both literatures are necessary to the complete life of the Canadian people.




The chief works dealing with the history and criticism of French-Canadian literature are E. Lareau, Histoire de la littérature canadienne (Montreal, 1874), C. Ab der Halden, Études de littérature canadienne française (Paris, 1904) and Nouvelles études de littérature canadienne française (Paris, 1907); Mgr. Camille Roy, Nos origines littéraires (Quebec, 1909), Essais sur la littérature canadienne, (Quebec, 1907), Nouveau essais sur la littérature canadienne (Quebec, 1914), A l'ombre des érables (Quebec, 1924), Érables en fleurs (Quebec, 1923), Regards sur les lettres (Quebec, 1931), and Histoire de la littérature canadienne (Quebec, 1930); Louis Dantin, Poètes de l'Amérique française (2 vols., Montreal, 1928-34), and Gloses critiques (2 vols., Montreal, 1931-5); Marcel Dugas, Littérature canadienne (Paris, 1929); Laurence Bisson, Le romantisme littéraire au Canada français (Paris, 1932); Jean Charbonneau, L'École littéraire de Montréal (Montreal, 1935); and Maurice Hébert, De livres en livre (Montreal, 1929), and Et d'un livre à l'autre (Montreal, 1932). The most useful account in English of French-Canadian literature is to be found in Lorne Pierce, An outline of French-Canadian literature (Toronto, 1927).


Source: Mgr Camille ROY, "French-Canadian Literature", in W. Stewart WALLACE, The Encyclopedia of Canada , Vol. 4, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 400p., pp. 106-120.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College