13 April 2014

Gay on Sunday: The Temperance Poems

Teetotalism trickles as gentle, concordant music through the verse of our James Gay. No Carrie Nation, the man abhorred violence. True, he was a gunsmith, but then he was also a carpenter, an innkeeper and, of course, Master of All Poets. Where Mrs Nation wielded a hatchet, Gay preferred the written word. Consider, for example, this stanza from "The Great Exhibition", written in anticipation of the 1875 Guelph Fair, in which he entreats fellows in his profession to forgo the drink (if only temporarily):

Few words for our Town Innkeepers, I hope you won't get tight.
Carry out your business decently from morning until night.
So as our visitors by the thousands will return and have to say
They've been treated in our town of Guelph in a kind and friendly way.

Only two Gay temperance poems survive – I've always assumed there were more – both found in Canada's Poet (London: Field & Tuer [1885?]). I leave you this Palm Sunday with his words:


Your poet is a great advocate for good. All our duty as far as we can,
Is to love and respect our fellow-man;
Rush to do him good, that's if we can;
Whether Greek, Gentile, or a Jew,
We are in duty bound to help him through.
It's not the church of any kind
Can destroy the peace of your poet's mind;
He's a true believer every day,
Lives as happy as the flowers in May.
Anything for good that we can see
We should turn out and help like that busy bee;
Those are a guide for our fellow-man,
Doing good is their every day's plan;
All through the day all do their best,
When night comes on they take their rest.
All insects have their cunning ways;
All those are of one mind
To make their homes so neat and fine.
Oh, if man could only see,
And live as happy as that bee;
Cast off bad thoughts of any kind,
The world very soon would be of one mind.
Live on this earth in love and peace,
And not to act as brutes and beasts.
Let temperance be our guide while on this earth we stay;
With good of all kinds
Be on our minds.
And throw all our grog bottles away,
Like J. Gay.


Temperance and sobriety all should understand,
Two of the best things ever carried out by man;
Study this word temperance all for the best,
To be taken in so many ways, carry nothing to excess.

Intemperance is the forerunner of crimes,
Draws thousands into rascality and death before their times;
And still don't blame liquor for all,
Other things too are not for the best;
We should never fill our bodies to excess.
So many rascalities carried out by man,
Better than Gay who can understand;
Allow me to warn you of your danger of doing so,
But running further into sin is all the go.

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