17 April 2012

Mean Mister MacDonald Attacks a Prime Minister

Day seventeen of National Poetry Month and there's been nary a mention here. Today, the 120th anniversary of the passing of Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie, will be different. He's remembered as a humble man who took pride in his working class origins, though you'd never know it from this verse by J. J. MacDonald, the "James MacRae" of The Four Jameses.

I'm not so unfair as the poet in describing the verse below as bad. The misspelling of Mackenzie's name is minor; sin comes with the claim that in 1875 the politician travelled overseas with the sole goal of obtaining a knighthood. In fact. Mackenzie thrice declined the honour.

The poet pretends otherwise, adopting the prime minister's voice in addressing "dear generous Brown" – George Brown – whom Mackenzie had succeeded as leader of the Liberal Party (and who had also declined the title):
My sight you would pity, dear generous Brown,
On nearing a city or reaching a town;
For charity hide me from scornful disgrace,
Or crows will deride me and laugh in my face. 
They know when we parted I travelled for fame;
To find as I started my title’s the same,
To party relations returning, I swear
Is more than my patience is able to bear. 
How gladly I’d wander, how swiftly I’d stride
Where back streams meander, and wild beasts abide!
The Ottawa Valley unseen would I roam,
To reach and to rally my dear friends at home! 
In rural seclusion to live as before,
I find ’tis delusion to seek any more;
My standing much lower than ever I see;
The honors of power are useless to me. 
To want them’s unpleasant, to have them no gain;
They prove evanescent, delusive and vain;
They give us more trouble than ease or delight,
And, fleet as a bubble, they’re out of our sight. 
An humble mechanic, oh! did I remain,
And titles Britannic not seek to obtain,
And prosper as Alick with friends as before,
When fables in Gaelic alone was my lore. 
My curses with Britain forever abide–
Her children have smitten by glory and pride.
Though aristocratic, I think they are fools,
They speak so dogmatic on etiquette rules. 
When my predecessor went over before,
They thought no aggressor invaded their shore;
Their nobles held meetings to honor him there,
Nor jovial greetings to him did they spare. 
Though fate made me humble, yet chance made me great,
No mortal should grumble at doings of fate;
Through folly and error from greatness I fell,
My anguish and terror no creature can tell. 
"A. McKenzie at Quebec..." joins the similarly mean-spirited "A. McKenzie's Reflections While About to Address His Constituents at Sarnia in 1875" in leading off the poet's self-published debut, Poems Written by J.J. MacDonald, a Native of Glengarry, Ont. (c. 1877). It precedes further attacks on an unnamed Grit politician, drinkers, bachelors, Protestant converts, Charles ChiniquyMaria Monk, one Miss A— and pretty much anyone who was not an immediate member of the poet's family.

"In submitting the following poems to your judgment, the author does so in a truly Christian spirit", MacDonald writes in presenting his verse.

Were he alive, I'd call him out on this.

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