17 December 2018

The Globe 100 179 of 1918

One month after the Armistice, the post-war world is in many ways unrecognizable. Consider this from the front page of the December 7, 1918, Globe:

The Austro-Hungarian Empire is gone... and so too is "The Season's Best Books in Review," the Globe's annual gathering of the year's finest titles. I was a fan of the latter (not the former), writing about it here, here, and here.

"Recent Books and the Outlook," the successor to "The Season's Best Books in Review," made its debut in that same December edition of the Globe. Though similar in appearance and length – five pages – there is a marked difference in tone, as evidenced in this early dig at our tardy allies to the south: "Of war books there is still a large output, but the situation has changed. Those dealing with actual fighting, on either great or small scale, have had their day in Canada, but they are still at high tide in the United States, which entered the war about three years later and consequently are so much behind in that respect."

A second dig follows from someone described only as a "competent critic," who notes that war verse hasn't nearly so plentiful as in previous years: "War became a mere business when the United States entered into the arena with their slogan, 'We've got four years to do this job.' No poet could become enthused over a job. This cessation of singing was inevitable, for the war had gone on long enough and had deteriorated into a debauch of mutual slaughter."

And yet, the war dominates Poetry, the first of the ten "Recent Books and the Outlook" sections:

The Volunteer and Other Poems - Herbert Asquith
Fighting Men of Canada - Douglas Leader Durkin
Canadian Poems of he Great War - John W. Garvin, ed.
Spun Yarn and Spindrift - Norah M. Holland
In the Day of Battle (revised) - Carrie Ellefscottn Holman, ed.
Poems and Plays, Volume 1 - John Masefield
In Flanders Fields and Other Poems - John McCrae
War - Ronald Campbell Mcfie
The Little Marshal and Other Poems - Owen E. McGillicuddy
Gitanjali and Fruit Gathering - Rabindranath Tagore
Songs of an Airman and Other Poems - Hartley Munro Thomas
Canadian Twilight and Other Poems - Bernard Freeman Trotter
Rough Rhymes of a Padre - Woodbine Willie

"Special attention should be paid by all lovers of poetry to the work of the late Lieut. Bernard Trotter of Toronto," writes the competent critic. This may explain how it is that Trotter's book, published in in 1917 and praised in that year's "Season's Best Books in Review,"  holds a spot in this 1918 list.

Miss Holland's collection is described as "a distinct advance in Canadian literature, both in craftsmanship and haunting charm," but my eyes were drawn to this relatively lengthy review of Douglas Durkin's The Fighting Men of Canada:

To be perfectly fair to Durkin, "hell" appears eighteen times in The Fighting Men of Canada, but only once does it follow "yell":

Nevertheless, this review is something new. "The Season's Best Books in Review" was all about the Best Books, but here the Globe is including what its critic thinks is one of the worst. Of the 179 books cover in "Recent Books and the Outlook," not one is given nearly so savage a beating as The Fighting Men of Canada.

The anonymous critic does have his prejudices, as exposed in his praise of War by crazy* Scottish eugenicist Ronald Campbell Macfie, M.A., M.B., C.M., LL.D.:

We Canadians dominate the Poetry section – eight of the thirteen titles! – but falter horribly in other categories. Just two of the twenty Children's titles are Canadian, and we're completely shut out of Biography, Art, Travel and the newly-minted Reconstruction section. Our second best showing comes in Fiction, in which we manage just twelve of seventy-two titles:

The Unknown Wrestler - H.A. Cody
Battles Royal Down North - Norman Duncan
Harbor Tales Down North - Norman Duncan
The Three Sapphires - W.A. Fraser
The Fugitive Sleuth - Hulbert Footner
The Chivalry of Keith Leicester - Robert Allison Hood
The Romance of Western Canada - R.G. MacBeth
Three Times and Out - Nellie L. McClung
Willow, the Wisp - Archie P. McKishnie
The Islands of Adventure - Theodore G. Roberts
Beautiful Joe - Marshall Saunders
The Cow Puncher - Robert J.C. Stead

No word of explanation is given for the inclusion of Marshall Saunders' 1897 novel Beautiful Joe. You'll note that Norman Duncan weighs in with two titles, despite being two years dead.

Of the seventy-two  Fiction titles reviewed, the only one I've read is Robert Allison Hood's The Chivalry of Keith Leicester:

Not exactly a glowing recommendation.

Ah, hell, I didn't think all that much of it either.

Nineteen-eighteen wasn't exactly a banner year for Canadian books. No wonder our competent critic was so grumpy:
The problem of Vers Libre has fallen into neglect of late, but this mongrel form of expression has left its mark upon even some of our most orthodox poets. It is to be hoped that with the cessation of German atrocities, the atrocities committed on the fair muses by the super-vers-librists will go to the junk-heap of junkerdom.
He'd have been grumpier still had he known what the post-war would bring.

* An excerpt from Macfie's 1917 essay "Some of the Evolutionary Consequences of War":
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  1. Brian – Thanks for the interesting post. My knowledge of WWI poetry practically starts and ends with Siegfried Sassoon. Reading your first list, the name Woodbine Willie jumped out at me. Turns out he was a chaplain who tended the wounded and dying and even ran onto the field of battle to help. He also handed out cigarets, which earned him his nickname. There is a 2013 biography of him on Amazon.

    1. Thank you, Elgin. The name "Woodbine Willie" leapt out at me, too. He seems the very person one would want as a chaplain.

      I'll look for that biography!