Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:

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



The Récit and Chronique



[For the citation, see the end of the text]

Created largely by the influence of the Histoire du Canada of Garneau and of the poetry of Octave Crémazie the third period opened very auspiciously and soon there began to appear other literary genres, of which (in view of the character of the literature of France) it is in a sense most interesting to follow the progress of the récit and chronique.


In no branch of literature has French genius, it may safely be said, been more successful than in such branches as the conte and récit. So, as we might expect, it was only a question of time until these should begin in French Canada. We must not of course expect too much of these early days. Many years must elapse before we may encounter a Canadian De Maupassant. Nevertheless, this literature is intrinsically worth while and shows constant improvement.


As we examine attentively and in chronological order the different writers and their works, it is peculiarly interesting to see reflected therein the qualities of French Canadian civilization, which contain many of the fundamental French qualities, yet are different and while lacking of course the excellence and the polished technique of the mother country possess a unique charm of their own.


The movement of 1860, romantic in its tendencies on account of the great influence of the movement in France thirty odd years earlier, was grouped particularly around Octave Crémazie . The back part of his bookstore in the rue de la Fabrique in the city of Quebec , where the newly arrived books were placed, was the meeting place for the enthusiastic members of the "Pléiade". Here many of the authors of the day met and discussed literary questions, an assembly, which itself illustrates a French characteristic. Similar ambitions to those which Ronsard and Du Bellay cherished centuries earlier, occupied these ardent spirits. And, as we reflect upon the extent and resources of the territory their race occupied, much larger and possibly richer than France itself, who shall sneer at what may well be one distant day the ultimate success of their purpose.


To serve as a means for their propaganda reviews were soon founded. Les Soirées Canadiennes began in 1861; Le Foyer Canadien in 1863.


The splendid confidence of these men was greatly cheered by the firm foundations laid for responsible government by the British North America Act of 1867 . The new constitution determined upon after a careful study of the systems of government of Great Britain , the United States , France and the Canadian situation has gained the admiration of the world. Sir John A. Macdonald , the " father of Confederation ", and his coadjutors, among whom were Sir Étienne-P. Taché, Georges-É. Cartier and Hector Langevin from French Canada, were men of sincerity of purpose and breadth of vision. The French speaking inhabitants of Canada soon saw that they had all the realities of freedom, personal, religious, linguistic, together with many privileges derived from membership in the world's first great practical league of nations, which were of no mean value.


In the récit and chronique it was naturally toward the legends and picturesque aspects of their life that the first writers turned. The exciting events of the immediate past and the physical beauty of the land focussed the attention of these literary   pioneers rather than the unsatisfactory present and the still more problematical future.


Abbé Henri-Raymond Casgrain (1831-1904)


In 1860 the abbé Raymond Casgrain began to write légendes, an example quickly followed, though he himself turned very soon to historical writing solely.


The most celebrated of his légendes is la Jongleuse (1). In this tragic story, strongly impregnated with a didactic purpose, the supernatural is cleverly employed as a sort of pagan background, against which the efforts of the early missionaries, few in number but strong in faith, appear puissant in effect. It is indeed an epic of those early pioneer days, in which the conflict with both the forces of nature and the savages made the life of the settlers a constant struggle. The devotion of the Canotier opposes the fierce Iroquois in intrepid feats. The terrible power of la Jongleuse, whose name is whispered with awe by the otherwise fearless redskins and the panorama of lavish nature combine to present an atmosphere new and striking to readers familiar only with sophisticated society. Small wonder that with the primitive age still beneath his eyes, so to speak, he could depict it with graphic power


In Les Pionniers Canadiens we have a sanguinary tale, the scene of which is Fort Detroit . An English officer is assassinated by a savage, who tries to make the former's sweetheart drink his   blood. Later the savage caught in a venthole is killed by a snake ¾ the whole scene watched by the fiancée, who has prayed ¾ for vengeance.


A third, le Tableau de la Rivière-Ouelle, deals with the scenes and traditions of the author's birthplace.


Joseph- Charles Taché (1821-1884)


Joseph-Charles Taché published for the first time in 1861 in Les Soirées Canadiennes, Trois légendes de mon pays, (2) which form a trilogy : L'Évangile Ignoré, L'Évangile Prêché, L'Évangile Accepté. The purpose, evidently didactic, does not detract markedly (except possibly in the last mentioned) from the interest attached to a thrilling narrative. The first of the series is in many respects the best. The fight against the Iroquois with its stratagems and bush fighting possesses real verve. The story is told in a simple, direct and forceful style. The language is pure. Of the descriptions, that of the natural surroundings is best, but the pen portrait of the old chief, the Sagamo, is exceptionally fine.


In Forestiers et Voyageurs, une étude de Moeurs (2) 1863, we have an interesting combination of charming naïveté, primitive philosophy and allegory. As the author points out in the preface, the French Canadian population draws naturally from its native poetic funds: its souvenirs of picturesque Brittany , for example. So also we have the combination of conte (French) and legends (Catholic), which latter exemplifies the besoin du merveilleux . The two types Forestier and Voyageur are drawn to the life.


The Canadian forest draped in snow is the point of departure of the story. In this milieu appears the hierarchical organization of this primitive society : le contre-maître, les bûcheurs, les charretiers, les claireurs and le couque (cuisinier). The joyous arrival of the lumbermen on snowshoes is depicted and the joys of their brief leisure. Père Michel is introduced and he becomes a sort of dignified compère of an extended revue of the life described. Like Kipling with "Kim" Taché makes nearly all Canada happen to Père Michel. We follow him from birth, shortly after which at one of the carousals customary upon baptismal occasions he almost perishes, having been dropped from a sleigh in charge of excited revellers on the drive homeward, through his twelve years service with the curé to his employment with the seigneur de Kamouraska as fishing warden. Thence he goes au bois in winter and on a fishing sloop in Summer.


The story of his Micmac companion, Noël, is introduced as an entr'acte. It serves to present Ikès le Jongleur and his compact with his familiar, Mahoumet. Descriptions of lumbermen's life, voyages on the St. Lawrence and the legend of the savage, who killed a missionary by causing him to drown and thus became a loup-garou are interwoven therewith.


Then the scene shifts to the fierce commercial warfare (with real accessories between the North West Trading Company and the Hudson 's Bay Company with its significant motto : " Pro pelle cutem ". The former company was favored by the Indians and Canadiens. The first bloodshed between the rival forces at Fort Qu'appelle is described and its result, the successful plan of the Hudson 's Bay Company by its influence with official circles in England to absorb its rival.


Then finally the moral problems of this early society are described and the heroic and effective measures of the Oblates, who follow the lumberjacks wherever they go at no matter what cost in personal hardship.


The book is somewhat lacking in cohesion of plan and finish of style, but it presents truthful and interesting phases of the life of this early society which hold the attention of the reader and make him understand much more completely than he otherwise would the early struggles necessary for later development.


Pamphile Le May (1837-1918)


M. Pamphile Le May, who is chiefly known for his poetry , in which he rivalled Fréchette, wrote also an interesting book of short stories : C ontes vrais. (3)


Le May's main characteristics are his romanticism and his love for Canadian things and people. His subjects are taken from the land he knew and esteemed. He was patriotic and Catholic, a believer in the charm of virtuous life and a sympathetic portrayer of events, which have not indeed the more or less factitious attraction of international romances, but the more solid and more true qualities of entire sincerity.


It is fair to say that he has at times verged on the melodramatic in his contes. However, in spite of rather flamboyant titles and mystifications, which seem initially Hoffmannesque at times, the pictures drawn are from the life and the portrayal of characters is from the pen of one who knows. The narratives are in the main simple, rustic tales, some of which suggest certain of the works of George Sand (i.e. the George Sand of the romans champêtres ).


The first of the series, Le Boeuf de Marguerite with its enchanted (?) animal, by means of which its mistress gained recognition of a sort at least in a credulous community is a good example of his ability to tell a story in a simple effective manner, which makes the people of that day real to our more sophisticated eyes.


Baptême du Sang is a tale of the almost forgotten Rebellion of 1837 in which we follow the fortunes of a young follower of Papineau. His love for principles and for a petite amie, whose love a faithless friend and secret rival wins, his exile and return and the fate of the traitor are well described.


Maison Hantée, Le Spectre de Babylas and Le Baiser Fatal form a series centering around the treasure buried in a haunted house. The weird and gruesome elements are laid on with rather a thick brush and the plot seems improbable. The characterization, always a strong point with Le May, is very interesting.


Le Jeune Acrobate is a story of a boy carried away by gypsies who is afterwards restored to his mother's arms. Its simple pathos has the universal appeal.


Others such as Sang et Or (the old legend of the avaricious couple who murder their long absent son, when he returns to their home in the incognito of a wealthy traveller), Mariette, un conte de Noël (with certain traits suggestive of the story of Boaz and Ruth), Les Marionnettes (the story of a puppet play, which reflects in its impersonations many aspects of the society of that day) illustrate the range of his narrative power.


Hubert La Rue (1833-1881)


Inspired by the literary patriotism already referred to above Professor Hubert La Rue of Laval University published in les Soirées canadiennes, le Foyer Canadien and la Ruche littéraire various é tudes de moeurs, which were later collected for the most part in his Mélanges historiques, littéraires et d'économie politique (4). These articles such as La Langue française au Canada, Les Richesses naturelles du Canada, Les Fêtes patronales des Canadiens Français are directed toward the preservation of the national customs and the dissemination of the principles of Christianity. A clear thinker of broad vision, an ardent enthusiast for the realization of the best ideals of his race, Hubert La Rue will be remembered for his works of solid import.


Octave Crémazie (1827-1879)


Though known almost exclusively for his poetry, Octave Crémazie must also be mentioned for his interesting Journal du siège de Paris (5) (1870), which affords glimpses of things Parisian during the famous siege through shrewd Canadian eyes. There is a very familiar sound to some of his observations at the present time of post-war investigations and discussions.


The Journal is of course a running commentary written from day to day about all sorts of matters more or less connected with the main event. Many points made are humorous or satiric. Les informations officielles laissent quelquefois à désirer, he says near the beginning. Official incompetence on a colossal scale amazes him. One such piece of folly is the appointment ¾ in the midst of sanguinary war of a commission to change the names of the Parisian streets !


Other graphic parts of the narrative deal ¾ to make merely a brief selection from a wealth of interesting details ¾ with such topics as : the formation of a regiment of amazons (promptly sent back home by order of General Trochu); the abolition of the theatrical censorship, which led to all sorts of obscenities; rampant prostitution; political division, which reminds Crémazie of Henri Mürger's asking his concierge daily in 1848 : Sous-quel gouvernement ai-je le bonheur de respirer ?


The more serious part of this very readable diary (which is like a story without a real plot) deals with the forces responsible for the French defeat. General reasons therefor are, according to him: the amazing lack of national union; political parties which are anxious to gain power even at the expense of national defeat; incompetence in high places.


The military reasons for failure he considers: the jealousy among army chiefs; faulty administration (supplies, munitions, etc.); inferiority of generals of division (Algeria was not a good school for generals, though it did produce brilliant colonels) ; long range guns on the German side, which nullified valor and enthusiasm.


Finally he expresses the hope : Espérons que nous pourrons encore dire de ses guerriers : Gesta Dei per Francos , a hope which the world has so recently seen realized.


The language and style of the diary are excellent. The content is especially worth while, as it contains a new point of view and facts which, if not new, are at least stated differently and from the new world point of view.


Henri-Edouard Faucher de Saint-Maurice (1844-1897)


was particularly characterized by a vivid imagination and a desire for adventures. The latter he gratified by taking part in the moving events associated with the career of Emperor Maximilian in Mexico. After remaining to the very end of the Mexican war, he became an official of the Quebec legislature and in his leisure time wrote the story of his military experiences and his travels and also descriptions of French Canadian life.


The experiences of his life and his native genius enabled him to contribute materially to the development of the conte . Not only was the literary landscape widened, so to speak, by Mexican scenes, but he was careful also to collect légendes and popular tales of the recent past and repolish than for the future. A profound lover of nature, certain of his works reflect, animated by various interesting human events, the superb landscapes of the St. Lawrence and the maritime provinces.


His treatment of his subjects, which is a happy combination of popular manner and scientific exactitude, is fortified by a distinguished, careful and characteristic style.


His works comprise: De Québec à Mexico (1874); A la Brunante (1874); Choses et autres (1874); Deux ans au Mexique (1875); De tribord à babord (1877); En route (1888); Joies et tristesses de la Mer (1888); Loin du Pays , (1889); and Notes pour servir à l'histoire de l'empereur Maximilien (1889).


Arthur Buies (1840-1901)


Arthur Buies is the foremost exponent of the chronique . Born near Montreal, Buies lived in many parts of the world (British Guiana, Paris as a student, Italy as a Garibaldian soldier, etc.) and saw much of life, including certain aspects of its seamier side. In 1866 he was admitted to the Quebec bar, and almost at once went into journalistic work. For a time he was quite anti-clerical in his views, which permeated his writings. This part of his work. is of no particular value. Later he wrote many short witty chroniques for various publications, becoming the acknowledged master of this genre.


Besides these he has written several books of descriptive geography : L'Outaouais supérieur (1889), le Saguenay et le bassin du Lac Saint-Jean (1896), Récits de Voyages (1890), les comtés de Rimouski, Matane et Témiscouata (1890), au Portique des Laurentides (1891), la Vallée de la Matapédia (1895). The chroniques have been issued in three compilations: Chro niques, Humeurs et Caprices (1873), Chroniques, Voyages (1875) Petites Chroniques pour 1877 (1878 ) (6)


It is impossible of course to resume [sic] the content of the chroniques. Buies goes here and there, critical faculty ever alert, ability to penetrate the shams and eccentricities of life ever ready. With a quick turn of his imagination he can illuminate the most commonplace happening. The pomposity and manoeuvre or the struttings and posings of society folk are equally transparent to his vision. National differences and characteristics are hit off in a vein of almost Voltairean Satire. Then suddenly his mood will change to deepest pathos or to poetic descriptions of Canadian natural beauties, which are veritable prose poems.


The first compilation, Chroniques. Humeurs et Caprices opens with a "chronique générale, wherein he begins his constantly recurring satire of l'honorable M. Langevin, compagnon du Bain et du Grand-Tronc, which has a very modern interest in view of the failure of that corporation to succeed with private management.


The next, Une élection dans Quebec-centre " continues the same subject with all his batteries of satire turned on a farcical election in a pocket-borough.


With the next, "Cacouna, he begins the numerous chroniques having travel trips as bases. The Englishwomen, of whom Cacouna is full, repel him (perhaps racially as well as personally). As he says : Il fait déjà assez froid sans aller se geler au contact de ces pâles beautés dont les paroles tombent comme des flocons de neige ."


Similar chroniques follow : Souvenir du Saguenay , Sur le côte nord, Tadoussac .


Then comes a chronique Québecquoise ».   Faire une chronique québecquoise n'implique nécessairement qu'on soit à Quebec , writes Buies. His political adversaries, especially Hon. Mr. Langevin, who returned from British Columbia after having taught the inhabitants thereof to dine, come in for review. The neglectful policy of the municipal government of Quebec is also censured.


Later in introducing a series of causeries for Le National the author explains humorously his task: «  La causerie est le genre le plus difficile et le plus rare en Canada; on n'y a pas d'aptitude. Il faut être un oisif, un propre-à-rien, pour y donner ses loisirs. Je suis tout cela. Mes loisirs consistent à chercher tous les moyens d'ennuyer mes semblables pour leur rendre ce qu'ils me font sans aucun effort. Si je réussis, j'aurai fait en quelques heures ce que Sir George-Étienne Cartier fait depuis vingt-cinq ans sans le vouloir, et surtout sans le croire.  »


Then he turns again to travel description with A la Malbaie (Murray Bay) and in beautiful, sincere prose pays tribute to Quebec's most charming beauty spot.


A serio-comic treatment of Les Eboulements follows. " Je suis arrivé à trois heures du matin par une nuit noire comme la conscience d'un ministre fédéral, » he begins. Contrast is drawn between the beauties of nature and the then lack of necessary accomodations for travellers.


His chronique on George-Étienne Cartier , l'homme de bronze, takes us back to the arena of politics and is a good example of clever mental négligée. Cartier's presentation of a drill shed édifice ridicule qu'on avait construit à Montréal pour les exercices des volontaires and the various epithets applied to him are mercilessly ridiculed.


De Retour à Québec gives him an opportunity for a tribute to the fine qualities of Lord Dufferin, the then Governor-General, and also to punish the social aspirations of Hon. Langevin (! )


Then Un voyage dans le Golfe (Autumn, 1872) carries us through piquant descriptions of Percé and the Baie des Chaleurs.


The Intercolonial affords an opportunity for interesting glimpses of the pioneer work in this well built national undertaking. Buies' essential fairness rejoices at the remarkable character of the construction work on this fine railroad system built to last. Incidentally the Hotel Chalmers with the fascinating Sarah receives honorable mention.


The Chronique Pseudo-philosophique gives him a chance to rail at the wearisome character of political meetings and assemblies. He describes a new invention (?) of his : la tribune mécanique. When an auditor at one of these affairs has his conviction formed (or is bored !), he inserts a lead ball into a tube beside his seat. When more than half of the auditors have done likewise, the speaker by an ingenious piece of mechanism is removed immediately and another substituted, and so on. Probably such an ingenious arrangement would have great success (if it could be carried out) ¾ even greater success than in the imagination of M. Buies !


Le nouvel An (1873) introduces a serio-comic vein : Toujour s des feuilles qui tombent, toujours des larmes nouvelles pour remplacer celles qui sont séchées . . . Ce sont les hommes qui ont divisé les années; vous qui êtes éternel vous ne connaissez pas ces distinctions qui nous mènent au supplice avec des gants lilas et des cravates neuves. Regardez dans le passé; il est plus ou moins lugubre, mais il est passé; vous n'avez plus rien à en craindre : vous savez ce qu'il a coûté et ce qu'il vous réserve. But the future is very different.


The Chronique d'outre tombe (Jan. 16, 1873) is in a philosophical mood on the text : Dites-moi, que servirait de venir au monde, jouer un jour la ridicule comédie de la vie et puis disparaître ? If the soul is not immortal man would not be able to live. The deceptions, injustices, evil, lost illusions, heart throbs of life could not be borne, if the hope of a happier life did not sustain his human weakness. Buies confesses that he long denied the immortality of the soul without reflecting, but that as he advanced in life, he found it no longer deniable.


The volume concludes with a scathing article on Le Teetotalisme - de toutes les aberrations, voilà certainement la plus irritante.


The second book Récits de Voyages is a description of some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the World, as those who know will testify. Beginning with the Thousand Islands district the author pursues a westward course touching at Cobourg and Toronto (of the origins of which an interesting account is given). Then comes Georgian Bay with its thirty thousand islands and the marvellous fairyland of the Muskoka Lakes , where emerald isles are set in opalescent waters of ever changing charm. Finally we have Une promenade dans le vieux Québec and especially the monument to Montcalm and Wolfe with its memories of an empire lost and won.


The third book is entitled Petites Chroniques pour 1837 . In a prologue the author, evidently with feeling beneath its light touch laments the fate that has overtaken him in that as the Liberal party has increased in power, he personally has seen his fortune diminish. He also laments the fact that he is considered good only to amuse people, who then estimate his work as slight. Then he comments interestingly on French Canadian literature pointing out the difficulty of making literature a career in the midst of so many materialistic plans to be achieved. The public, too, unless it subscribes in advance, does not buy. However, a national literature is possible and should develope as a counterpoise to Anglo-American positivism and materialism, thus being in America a representative of le génie latin.


In general the book possesses similar qualities to the first described. The never-failing wit and ingenuity of Buies carries the reader along; not anxious as to where he is being led, since he, is reasonably certain that he will not be bored..


The most striking use has been made by Buies of the elastic form of composition which he has made peculiarly his own. Fettered by no particular rule, he has found, for his Heinesque, restless, idealistic genius, which as is the case with the minority of the world's idealists takes the satiric dress, a fitting form. The light gaiety and frivolity of his work may deceive those who are apt to be impressed by solemnity and the constant presence of the serious tone. But the native qualities of French genius are there, as so often, concealed beneath an appearance of lightness. Buies attacks, is constantly on the offensive. But he does not attack windmills. He is fighting for worthy objectives : a fine literature, honesty and consistency in political life, a wider appreciation of the natural beauties of his country, which so many of its inhabitants take for granted, greater suavity of personal life. The chronique, of which Buies had made such a success, was continued by others.


Hector Fabre (1834-1901)


Hector Fabre , journalist and editor and afterwards the distinguished and charming High Commissioner of Canada to France, whose kindly aid and courtesy were always at the disposal of students and felIow countrymen abroad, published in 1877 (7) a collection of Chroniques, which appeared first, in L'Évènement. Here appear the author's impressions of current events, political, social, personal, vivified from time to time by a real gem of description or satire.


In a general way it must be confessed that they seem much more labored than those of Buies, for example. The wit of Buies is replaced by (at times) rather keen satire. However, we have again the ever present love of Canadian landscapes and the ability to penetrate the manoeuvres of partisan politicians, which redeem in large measure the occasional feeling that space must be filled.


Outstandingly fine parts are the description of the city of Quebec in the first articles (a causerie read at a benefit for the sufferers of St. Roch and St. Sauveur, Nov. 5, 1866); the description of the three classes of deputies in the Quebec legislature (those who talk, those who listen and those who smoke, the real "powers that be"); the Bals d'enfants, ridiculously elaborate children's parties in Montreal; the flâneurs of many different classes in the rue Notre-Dame in Montreal; the particularly ingenious character of the Canadian volunteer during the Fenian raid, who, forbidden by his prospective father-in-law to come to his house, had himself quartered therein by military order so as to win over the old man; the tediousness of New Year's calls; the chasse aux dots.


Alphonse Lusignan (1843-1892)


published in 1884 (8) his Coups d'oeil et Coups de plume , of which some are examples of genuine wit.


Of these the first are simple pathetic stories of domestic life treating of baby footsteps, the love of parents for their child, the terrible misfortune of a father, who accidentally killed his little baby, and also souvenirs of college life.


Others of special interest, some of which are longer and more pretentious than the usual chronique deal with such topics as the ignorance of foreigners of Canadian geography (which used to be much worse than now thanks to recent events at Ypres and Vimy Ridge), l'enthousiasme américain (an unflattering picture of an American's boastfulness), le Dimanche et les Puritains (difficulties of an understanding of the Puritan idea of Sabbath keeping by a representative of the Latin races), Parlons français, les Canadiens-Français à Ottawa.


Napoléon Legendre (1841-1907)


Napoléon Legendre's first book published in 1875 was a slender collection of children's stories : A mes Enfants . This was followed in 1877 by the two volumes of the Échos de Québec (A. Coté) containing articles and chroniques. These possess an unusually fugitive character even for the genre, but have a light philosophical vein of special charm and also the faculty of delving into the rare corners of life. There is also a strong didactic tendency, which on the whole is to be commended.


In the first volume the article Entre Nous (with its hope that perhaps some day the present aristocratic society may be succeeded by an aristocratie de l'esprit ) and Sédan with its clear sighted view of the causes leading up to France's greatest defeat deserve special mention.


In the second volume the beginning article la Littérature canadienne is undoubtedly the most important. The author here speaks with first hand knowledge of men and works and while too near to be impartial displays a fine critical faculty, which makes his study of importance for all students of the period.


Of others, l'Encan possesses a vein of true pathos, which profoundly affects the reader, that bitter pathos of France with its acute observation and its pursuit of the ultimate effect. Cf. for descriptive power the passage narrating the conditions after the auction had taken place, that auction, during which the little baby amused itself playing with the tears running down the mother's cheeks : U ne demi-heure après, il ne restait plus, dans cette maison naguère souriante et chaude, que l'horreur et le froid des murs et des planchers dégarnis et souillés. Je me trompe, il restait encore la maladie et le désespoir, qui sont peut-être allés, le lendemain, élire domicile dans la chambre somptueuse du propriétaire dont la cupidité venait, aujourd'hui, de commettre cette infamie. Car, il ne faut pas s'y tromper, après la justice des hommes, il y a encore, et heureusement, la justice de Dieu.


The last article, on the French Canadian press, is stimulating and constructive in its criticism.


In 1890 he published an article La Langue française au Canada (9). And finally in 1891 we have : Mélanges, prose et vers. (10) The stories in this book, used (if not intended ) as a prize book for school boys, are of negligible merit as literature.


Ernest Gagnon (1834-1915 )


Ernest Gagnon known principally as a musician and artist directed his first literary effort to the folk song. In 1865 he published his work on Les chansons populaires du Canada , (consult this article as well ) which has remained an authoritative treatise on that subject. Later, he published his Lettre de voyage , (11) which were reproduced from articles in the Courrier du Canada and augmented by certain notes. This collection is strongly subjective in treatment, and is probably not of as great interest as most of the others to the general reader, at any rate not now when the world is so much better known geographically and historically.


There followed studies displaying evidence of serious research: Le Comte de Paris à Québec 1891; Le Fort et le Château Saint-Louis, 1895; Le Palais Législatif de Québec, 1897; Louis Jolliet, 1902 . These works denote progressive development also of literary expression.


Then in 1905 we have Choses d'Autrefois (12) one of the two books on which his future literary reputation will probably depend. It is impossible to resume here the content of these feuilles éparses as he calls them in the sub-title, but the reader may rest assured of a real treat in the impressions of many different men and events passed in interesting review through the eyes of one who might well say, paraphrasing the famous line : " cujus magnam partem vidi " . The moeurs of Quebec are painted by a master hand.


The other book referred to is Feuilles volantes et Pages d'histoire. (13) This book contains several articles of unusual importance together with chroniques. The former prove him a keen critic and lover of the development of his people and its literature and language. His article Sept Paroles regarding the present and future of French-Canada is illuminating. Summarized, it is to this effect


1. We have fine traditions (in language, politeness, religion).


2. The youth in our cities are not receiving proper surveillance ¾ are becoming too American (!)


3. It is urgent to combat luxury and drunkenness.


4. Technical and vocational education is needed to produce the engineers, metallurgists, mechanicians to develop the natural resources of the country.


5 All deputies should have some knowledge of social science and political economy.


6. Politically, annexation to the United States is our best card ? but we must not play it !


7. Colonization should be pushed.


Special mention should be made next of his articles on Les Sauvages de l'Amérique et l'art musical and La Musique à Québec.


Then for the Pages d'Histoire we have two fine studies of one of the early governors of New France , Louis d'Ailleboust and his wife. In these studies the heroic times of those early pioneer days live for us again. These are more than merely biographical notes; they are veritable sections of the history of the time ably penned. D'Ailleboust becomes governor March 2, 1645. With him we see the condition of affairs: constant trouble from the Indians and insufficient support from the mother country, that cardinal and fundamental error, which cost France an empire, the vast resources of which the world even yet scarcely realizes, though the Wilhelmsstrasse did. The new Governor does his best with the means at his disposal. which are alas ! not sufficient to protect outlying places ¾ nor even at times the outskirts of Quebec and Montreal ! The superior forces of the Iroquois have to be met by stratagems such as the one described in the escape from Lake Onondaga . (14)


The two last chapters are devoted to the career of Madame Marie-Barbe de Boullogne, who, after having inured her rather timid nature to new duties in la Nouvelle France with perfect success, refused to remarry after her husband's death in spite of brilliant offers preferring to devote herself to works of charity and religion. This narrative gives a very precious picture of the life in the new world for a representative of the noblesse.


Sir Adolphe Routhier (1739-1920)


Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier was able to take time from an eminent career as lawyer and judge to write different works of literature of considerable importance. He writes as an ardent and uncompromising Catholic and judges every thing whether works of literature, political movements or leaders from that standpoint, which has, at any rate the merit of perfect consistency. A stern moralist and an advocate of absolute reforms of various sorts, his work is controversial and naturally lacks the lightness of touch often found in this period. That much of what he advocates is eminently necessary and would redound to the best national interest can scarcely be doubted. That French-Canadian literature needed a Malherbe for its Pléiade is also very likely true. As to whether criticism in general will judge as he does of Molière, Voltaire, Hugo, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Beaumarchais and others is another question. To see how they are looked upon from the standpoint of a French Canadian Catholic is, however, significant. It explains many matters, which would otherwise be unclear.


His first book was the Causeries du Dimanche . (15) It reminds his compatriots of the necessity of a return to first principles i.e. to a conception of the mission, which they have to fulfil on this continent, which must be preceded by a great revival of their faith. The destinies of France , Canada and the United States are discussed very frankly from the religious standpoint in a way which would find even Protestant opinion not unsympathetic. Annexation to the United States is discussed and rejected ¾ because it would be a danger to the faith on account of the unavoidable contact with American impiety and corruption. Civilization is to be determined by religion; that is the first essential. Therefore Liberalism in Canada and especially its chief centre, Montreal , is attacked. The rights of man have been emphasized too much since the French Revolution, declares Routhier. What about the duties of man? For this reason journalists and others should concern themselves not with light, frivolous things, but with the serious things of which so many are pressing and in fact supreme, if the future is to be glorious.


The part devoted to literary criticism is as is characterized above. Most nineteenth century writers (with a few exceptions like Louis Veuillot ) are severely criticized as having forgotten to paint the virtues of mankind and as having indicated no remedy for the ills of society which they describe. There is, however, a very interesting article on Louis Fréchette and a clever fragment in dramatic form, La Sentinelle du Vatican.


As it was not unnatural to expect, the views of Routhier and his direct, severe, method of attack produced a violent controversy. The gallican viewpoint was not unrepresented in Canada and there was also, of course, the English attitude, which had gained over a few. Those who rossed swords in this somewhat acrimonious debate were in particular 1'abbé Casgrain and Joseph Marmette (who signed the Silhouettes littéraires, Placide Lépine), Hubert La Rue (who used the pseudonym Laurent for Profits et Grimaces), and M. Routhier (who signed himself Jean Piquefort to the Portraits et Pastels.) The articles are collected in the Guêpes canadiennes. (16)


The writers described in the Portraits et Pastels are l'abbé Casgrain, F.-A.-H. LaRue, Joseph Marmette, L.-H. Fréchette, Hector Fabre, L.-O. David, L.-A. Dessaulles. Canadian literature will grow, thinks Routhier. Ce n'est pas elle, qui voudrait se traîner dans la fange où l'on voit éclore tant de romans et de vaudevilles français. Elle est profondément religieuse et sa voix n'insulte pas Dieu, ni la religion.


We have subsequently from his pen a number of books of travel description: A travers l'Europe (two volumes, 1881 and 1883 ), En Canoe (1881), A travers l'Espagne (1889), De Québec à Victoria (1893), La Reine Victoria et son jubilé (1898), Québec et Lévis (1900). He is also the author of Les Grands Drames (1889), a work of literary criticism, le Centurion (1909) and Paulina (1918), novels, and De l'Homme à Dieu (1913), a work on religion.


In M. Routhier's work we must praise most of all his sturdy courage in championing the cause of morality regardless of whom or what his diatribes hit. As a fervent Catholic he embodies in propria persona a great characteristic of French Canadian literature. It is perhaps to be regretted that he should not have selected other genres as vehicles for his noteworthy contributions to his country's cause.


Ernest Myrand (1854­-1921)


began with Une fête de Noël sous Jacques Cartier. (17) Like M. Routhier M. Myrand has a very serious purpose e.g. to cause his fellow-countrymen : connaître et lire nos archives and prendre par l'imagination ceux-là, qui ne veulent pas de bon gré se livrer à l'étude. The framework of his story is that he represents himself as meeting at eleven thirty the night of December 24, 1885, the ghost of his friend l'abbé Laverdière (who had died twelve years before) and in the course of this dream he visits with the abbé the fête de Noël of Cartier and his crews in 1535. The condition of affairs faced by Cartier and his men, their trials and tribulations, their steadfast faith and courage notwithstanding their difficulties are vividly described by the author. Scenes of the early days are revived with graphic power. The solemn tones of bells of the midnight mass reverberate throughout. The whole is based on most careful researches,   (18) the book being provided with appendices, notes, etc. Nothing has been left undone in fact to reconstitute for the reader a great. historical picture of one of the outstanding events of Canadian and indeed of world history.


Amidst the fairy like beauty of a Canadian Winter night we approach with the author the three boats of Cartier the hundred and twenty ton Grande Hermine, the sixty ton Courlieu (afterwards christened the Petite Hermine), the forty ton Émérillon. The service for the occasion is in progress, conducted by Dom Guillaume le Breton on board the Grande Hermine and all the bold mariners of St. Malo are present except alas! the numerous sick of the scurvy, who are on the Petite Hermine, which we visit next to visualize the price paid by some of the adventurers for their wonderful voyages of discovery. One, Philippe Rougemont, has died with memories of beautiful Brittany in his mind. Later there is the further celebration of a true Noël in the Breton fashion. Then finally we have the picture dissolve. The author finds himself back in the reality of a back seat in Notre-Dame de Québec. The organ and an orchestra are discoursing sweet, lulling music ¾ and the historical dream is over.


M. Myrand's second book is Noëls Anciens de la Nouvelle­ France, (19) a very careful, detailed study based on five collections of French songs, preserved at the Hôtel-Dieu of Quebec .


He is also the author of Sir William Phipps devant Québec, Histoire d'un siège, (20) M, de la Colombière, orateur (21), Frontenac et ses amis, (22) , Dialogue de Pageants, représentés aux fêtes du Tricentenaire de Québec, en 1908 (23) and of a number of historical studies: Notre-Dame de Foy, Le Frère Marc (Louis Contant), La Chapelle Champlain, Madame D'Ailleboust et le Dictionnaire Généalogique des families canadiennes published in the Bulletin des Recherches Historiques.


M. Myrand's life is one distinguished by signal services, artistic and literary, to his country, which is all the more remarkable as in spite of these labors, he has also been able to occupy a series of important offices in the province of Quebec .


Appreciators of fine literature will look forward with great anticipation to other works from M. Myrand's gifted pen.


Abbé Victor-Alphonse Huard (1853­-1929)



published in 1897 (24) his first book of travel description entitled La brador et Anticosti . The general reader will probably be most interested in the latter part with its allusions to the "King of Anticosti", M. Menier. But the possible future developments of that vast unknown land, Labrador , may interest him as well. The style is light, and somewhat disconnected. The author, however, has an eye always for the characteristic and unexpected.


His second book Impressions d'un Passant (25) is a narrative of his experiences in America , Europe and Africa .


(1) Quebec 1861


(2) Best edition: Montreal , 1884.


(3) Quebec , 1899.


(4) In his Oeuvres Complètes , Montréal, 1882, pp. 263-469.


(5) 1 ° Quebec, (Darveau) 1870. 2 o Quebec, (Delisle) 1881.


(6) Pub. Quebec.


(7) At Quebec (Imprimerie de l'Événement).


(8) Ottawa ( Free Press)


(9) Quebec 1890.


(10) Quebec 1891.


(11) Quebec 1876.


(12) Quebec ( Typ. Dussault et Proulx )


(13) Quebec, 1910.


(14) Cf for these years the Relations des Jésuites , Québec 1858, 3 Vol; the Lettres de Marie de l'Incarnation , par Richaudeau, chez Casterman Tournai, 1876 2 vol; the Histoire et description générale de la Nouvelle France du P. de Charlevoix, etc. Paris, Tiffart, 1744, 3 vol.


(15) Montreal, 1871.


(16) Ottawa, 1881, very rare.


(17) I have used the second edition, Quebec, 1890. 1st ed. Quebec 1888


(18) As he tells us in the preface. p. 11, he used as basis the reimpression of the very rare original edition of the Relation du Second Voyage de Jacques Cartier, Paris, Librairie Tross, 1863, and also the Canadian edition of the Voyages de Jacques Cartier, pub. in 1843 under the auspices of the SOC. LITT. et HIST. de QUÉBEC.


(19) Montreal (Beauchemin).1913. 3rd edition.


(20) Quebec, 1893, (L. J. Demers et Frère).


(21) Montreal, 1898, (Cadieux et Derome)


(22) Quebec, 1902 Cf, Frontenac intime, a succeeding study pub. in the Journal de Françoise 1905-6.


(23) Quebec. 1902.


(24) 1897, Montreal and Paris.


(25) Québec 1906 (Dussault et Proulx).

Back to the Index page of Récit and Chronicle of French Canadian Literature


Source: Charles Frederick WARD, "Chapter 1: The Récit and Chronique, 1860-1900", in The Récit and Chronique of French Canada , Montreal, Librairie G. Ducharme, 1921, 44p., pp. 21-34. Minor editing and typographical errors have been corrected.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College