Box 03-188 NOTES FOR A POETRY READING
Jun 1 1918 [approximate date]1
The best introduction that I know of to Dr. Drummond and his poems of French-Canadian country fold is contained in the lines of "The Habitant" itself, the poem which gives the title to his first book of verse. It shows his fine appreciation of nature & human nature. And as a picture of family life it is well worth of being classed with Burns’ "Cottar's' Saturday Night." It runs as follows:
("The Habitant") [recites poem]
With this it seems natural to associate the second long poem in the same volume which under the title of "Le Vieux Temps" gives as vivid and attractive a picture of the social life of French Canadian country people, as "The Habitant" does of their family life.
(Repeat, "Le Vieux Temps"). [recites poem]
Wm. Henry Drummond was born 1844 in Currawin House near village of Mohill, county Leitrum, Ireland. His father was an officer in Royal Irish Constabulary. Oldest of four brothers, was initiated into fly-fishing by Lord Palmerston on waters of River Duff. Family came to Canada when William was only 10 years old and made their home in Montreal. Just a few months after their arrival, the father died leaving but the slenderest of means. After a few terms in a private school, William insisted on shouldering his share of the burden, and studied telegraphy. In the initial days of this work, when he was only 15 years old, he was located in the little village of Bord-a-Plouffe in Riviere des Prairie at back of Mount Royal. Here he first came in contact with habitants and voyageurs and listened to their quaint tales of backwoods life.
How pleasant were his recollections of this part of his life may be gathered from a little poem written years later under title of "Bord-a-Plouffe."
The same laughing gallantry is to be found in "De Nice Little Canadiense" in which he sings the praises of the Canadian girlfriend in these words:
II. After a few years he was able to turn again to his studies and prepare himself to practice as a medical doctor.
At McGill University Bill Drummond was better known as an athlete than a student excelling in snow-shoeing, shot-putting, hammer-throwing and fast-walking. For a time he was amateur champion walker of Canada. After a turn in the Western Hospital in Montreal, he took up a country practice at Stornoway, a little village near Lake Megantic, where he practiced for two years and incidentally thrashed the local bully, one "Red John" a brawny Scot of gigantic proportions and fiery red hair & temper. Thence he moved to Knowlton, and a couple of years later to Montreal, where he spent the rest of his life as a practicing physician, occupying at the same time, for several years, the Chair of Medical Jurisprudence in McGill University. Medicine was his life work, and his poetry was written only in the odd moments which he could snatch from it.
It was probably the reading of "Le Vieux Temps" as a substitute for a speech when urged to respond to a toast at a dinner of the Shakespeare Club of Montreal, that first brought to Dr. Drummond a foretaste of the enthusiastic reception which awaited his poetic efforts. When the night of the dinner arrived he was with difficulty prevented from running off somewhere on the plea of professional duty. However, he went and was bewildered by his own success. "It's the strangest thing in the world," he told his wife afterwards, "but do you know they simply went wild over that poem!"
(Perhaps better bring this in after reciting "Le Vieux Temps")
"When Albani Sang" is said to have been composed while he was sitting on a trunk on a railway platform waiting for a train. In it the French-Canadian pride of race is well brought out. (Explain and read).
"Bell of St. Michaels" [recites poem]
Few Characters in literature are so living and so real as his. Of these I will render for you: "Johnnie Courteau" and "Little Babese." [recites poems]
[His] Love of children [is] also brought out in "De Family Laramie." Recognizing in time his love of children one can easily understand the loss he felt in the death of Little Billy, his third son. Little Billy was born in the same year that Dr. Drummond's second volume "Johnnie Courteau" was published. But he stayed with his parents only three short years, and in Sept. 1904, he passed to the other side. The death of his little son threw a lasting shadow over the poet's bright spirit, and on the Christmas day following the sad event, when according to custom, the entire family dined at the house of one of the brothers, it was noticeable that William, usually the life of the party, sat through the meal in almost absolute silence.
Shortly after their return home that evening, he brought to his wife the finished copy of "The Last Portage," and she learned for the first time of the dream which it portrays, and which the night before had been an actual experience. It reads as follows:
("Last Portage") [recites poem]
From that time on he seems to have a preoccupation that his life was drawing to a close. During the summer of 1905, he and his brothers became interested in Cobalt, and undertaking the oversight of the Drummond Mines, he spent most of his time in that district, enjoying its wild life and the hordes of rough miners that infested it. He still, however, made his home in Montreal, and had planned to spend Easter 1907 with his family there. But hearing that smallpox has broken out in the camp at Cobalt, he hurried off there to look after the sick miners. Just a week later, he was stricken with cerebral hemorrhage, and on the morning of April 6, 1907, after five unconscious days, he passed to the beyond.
Having given you these selections from his writings, I feel that nothing I can say would add anything to your appreciation of this tender-hearted man-sized poet. In them you see his love of nature and of [human nature]. Yet I cannot conclude without giving you a few glimpses of Dr. Drummond's every-day life which serve better to show what a loveable guy he was.
He recalls to my mind the whimsical remarks of a certain lady that "really nice men never quite grow up."
In the fishing holiday on which he met the lady who was later to become his wife, they were driving along together when he turned to her and asked abruptly, "what's your hobby?" "I haven't one" she replied. "Why you must have," he returned, "every healthy-minded person has a hobby. Mine is dogs!" "Dogs," she echoed incredulously, having expected that he would name some literary pursuit of great magnitude, "What kind of dogs?" "Irish Terriers, of course," he answered, almost indignantly, as though the inquiry was an insult, "and when I want some fellow to do something for me, I promise him a pup. It's a mean man that wouldn't promise a pup!"
Do not suppose from this that he did not take the practice of his profession seriously. When he had a serious case on hand it absorbed him, and his attention to it was unremitting. At such times he was with difficulty persuaded to take proper rest or food and would often leave the dinner table to search his book-shelves for yet another authority on the disease he was fighting; then he would return with the book to the table, and if it contained what he sought, his plate would be pushed aside, and in spite of the remonstrances of his wife, he was off and away to his case once more.
But when the strain was over, he was like a boy out of school. He would drag Mr. Coburn, who illustrated his books, off on a fishing expedition, making Mr. C. carry the fishing rod and tackle on the street car & train, just like a big boy with a little one.
When the country was out of the question; and the month had an R in it, there was a little oyster place in Montreal which was also very dear to his heart. And Mr. Coburn used to be sent to reconnoiter to see if the ground was clear first. And Mr. Coburn, in telling about these escapades says, "The funny part is that I don't care a bit for the country, and still less for oysters."
"He had kept all the illusions of youth," adds Mr. Coburn, "and in these stolen trips, found his greatest pleasure." "It isn't the fish we catch," Dr. Drummond said, "but just everything that goes to make up the trip, the freedom, the trees, the water, the little birds singing away--Oh, there is great fascination in it all."
For hunting he had little taste, declaring that the deer were such innocent-looking animals, and such an ornament to the forest, that he could not bear to destroy them, and when news came of the wilful & lawless slaughter of these quiet creatures, his anger blazed forth.
It was his love of the wild that called forth such sayings as these: "Have you ever heard the mountain calling to the spring? Have you ever seen the rivers flashing by? Have you ever paused to listen to the Mallard's whirring wing? Or watched the grey goose column on the sky."
But when all is said, it is his great-hearted generous impulses that make us love him most. One day shortly before his death, he actually thrashed a coal-carter for abusing his horse. And on another occasion, when two calls came at once, one to a wealthy man of good standing, the other to a poor carter, he chose to attend the latter saying: "The rich can get any number of doctors, but poor Pat has only me."
At the time of his death he was in the way of making a good deal of money in Cobalt, and one wonders whether it would have spoilt him. It seems hardly likely, however, for, to use his own words, "Enough money to own a strip of salmon water and the best Irish Terrier going, and to be able to help a friend in need," was all he craved.
1 The date is unknown, however, we have dated this piece on the basis of the reading that Rev. Calvin did of Dr. Drummond's poetry, at the University of Toronto on June 1, 1918. We have also found dated record of several readings that Rev. Calvin did between 1912 and 1924, and he likely did readings after that date using these notes.
For more on Calvin's readings of French Canadian Habitant poetry, see, Dr. Drummond's poetry. Calvin developed the ability to imitate Dr. Drummond's "Habitant" poems and did so publicly on several occasions. See W4559, Box 12-159, W-MCP2-3b.060, Box 03-188, Box 03-188a, Box 06-246, Box 03-243.
See Also French Canadian Poem by Joe Picard, pen name for Charles S. FitzSimon and FitzSimon's biography, Box 03-241.