Lyrics of Earth: sonnets and ballads by Archibald Lampman
The local second hand book store. Every town has one. And we all have our favorites. The dusty smell that hits you once you step through the door is an aroma I can’t forget. It’s where my independent search for something new and old began. My most potent memories of books come from the shabby second hand bookstore (ironically?) across the street from the library in my hometown. In this store, I collected whatever odd assortment of books my struggling student budget could afford. I had to be selective in those days so I bought books that either resonated from my university lectures, had interesting covers, or in this case, included an photo of the author.
I know a photo doesn’t seem like a big deal but did I mention this book is published in 1925? I didn’t expect to have a photo of some author from the 19th Century included in my book. This alone is why I bought it. But this alone isn’t why it is one of my most treasured items.
Author: Archibald Lampman
Arichbald Lampman was born in Morepeth Ontario in 1861. According to the Canadian Poetry Archive, Lampman was considered “Canada’s finest 19th-century English-language poet.” Further more he was a member of what scholars refer to as the “Confederation Poets” which also included Charles G.D. Roberts, Bliss Carman and Duncan Campbell Scott. In other words these poets were most active and popular during the decade of Canada’s Confederation.
According to Nin Milner, he was a “master of the sonnet, and his nature poems abound in vivid pictures of the Canadian landscape. Although the English Romantic influence is evident in his poetry, Lampman had the genius to create a distinctive voice of his own.”
These accolades were unknown to me when I purchased this book. I didn’t care about poetry back then but once I brought it home and read his words, they found a home in my heart. There is a certain poem I revisit when I need inspiration to continue creating but more on that later.
Now that we got the author portion out of the way let’s dive into the book itself. Through my research I found that this collection came into being after a very important time in the author’s life. His death.
Lampman died in 1899 at the age of 37 due to a weak heart that is associated with a rheumatic fever he suffered during childhood. In the book’s introduction, Duncan Campbell Scott mourns his friend by painting a livid picture of Archibald’s love of nature, his craft and his biographical history.
Scott explains that this collection of poetry was a brain child he had during publishing Lampman’s Memorial Edition (an edition designed for the purpose to collect the breadth of Lampman’s work and sell it to help offset funeral and living costs for his widow and children.) However, in this edition he wanted a concise collection that showcases the best of his friend’s craft. Lampman is quoted as saying:
“To have written a good stanza is the finest sensation on earth. If one has produced something really good one experiences a magnificent enjoyment.”Introduction, Duncan Campbell Scott.
Therefore Scott chose the poems based on “…its content of delight, by its essential appeal to the author first, so far as it might be imagined, and second to the reader…”. By doing so he believes he better showcases Lampman’s love of poetry.
This edition includes a removable insert of the poet’s portrait which was selected by Scott. He states the portrait was taken in 1891. He adds: “Although it may not be the best, I prefer it to all others.” Further more: “If the sunlight had only given us more of the glow of his eyes, it would have been just so much the better, but here we have the shape of the head and the flow of the hair, and a sort of stern, almost obstinate set of the mouth, which are all quite characteristic and are foils to the too great mildness and pensiveness of the other portraits. His character was by no means free from the sternness which the sunlight has preserved for us. Without a blend of that quality he would not have been able to hold out with courage.”
The book itself is 276 pages and 21 cm. With blue paper boards with, I believe, has the poet’s name in cursive engraved on the cover. Unfortunately the cover is too faded to determine clear details. The binding, although old, has the gilt title placed on a brown background. My copy has survived several moves across various provinces so you can see it worn in some of the edges.
The pages, it may not surprise you, are consistent with modern printing which uses wood pulp paper. The lignin (a polymer which binds the cellulose fibers together) has undergone oxidation which yellows the pages. On my book the yellowing is prominent on the deckle edges. Deckle edges are common in manual papermaking and the distressed edges were unavoidable before the 19th Century. Wikipedia explains the process in brief:
In hand papermaking, a deckle is a removable wooden frame or “fence” placed into a mould to keep the paper pulp slurry within the bounds of the wire facing on a mould, and to control the size of the sheet produced. The mould and deckle is dipped into a vat of water and paper pulp that has been beat (fibrillated). The pulp is quickly scooped out of the vat and the mould and deckle is shaken as excess water is drained off. The deckle is then removed and the newly formed sheet is “couched” (set) onto felts. Fiber that has been beat longer generally requires more time to drain. If the paper slurry gets under, or if long fibers settles on top of the deckle, it will cause a more irregular edge.Deckle: Wikipedia
Realizing the manual process that went into each of these pages has brought me a bit closer to the book. It reminds me that there is artistry in every step of the process.
Inside is a title page displaying the publisher. Musson Book Company was founded Toronto, Canada in 1894. This Modern Epoch has a lovely photo of the publishing label which includes the Latin phrase depicted in the photo. According to their translation (and google) it means “Increase knowledge of the eternal.” Musson was a moderate driving force of Canadian publications before expanding to publish and distribute to other English speaking countries. In the mid 1960’s Musson was amalgamated with General’s Publishing Co. A few years later the company became Stoddart Publishing. There seems to be a discrepancy in my research since This Modern Epoch claims Stoddart vanished by the end of the 1980’s but the Wikipedia article claims they ceased operations in 2002 after the company filed bankruptcy.
There is more to books than the publisher. On the last page of the index is a small (about the size of a Canadian Loonie) illustration. This is the logo of the book’s printer. The company is called Warwick Bros. & Rutter Toronto Limited. This printing house began as a family stationary shop in Woodstock Ontario in 1848. In 1850 William Warwick Jr. added a book binding facility. From here they published school books and ledger books for business. In the 1860’s he expanded to a whole sale business but found Woodstock’s market too limited and moved his business to Toronto in 1868. The company remained in the family for generations. Although when you search the company now, it appears they are best known for their postcards. The history of the company is interesting and if you want to know more then visit the Toronto Postcard Club .
Out of this collection, my favorite poem is A Vision of Twilight. page 238. My lack of poetry analytical skills keeps me from giving an analysis of it but I can say the imagery of a mystical place which only exists at the edge of twilight fueled my fantasy writer soul. The narrator describes a wondrous place located on the edge of twilight. The city and people the narrator meets seem so real but they too are as fleeting as time. Twilight exists only for a moment but it lingers throughout the haunting/contemplative lines.
“Dreamy crowds are moving yonderVision of Twilight, Archibald Lampman
In a faint and phantom blue;
Through the dusk I lean, and wonder
If their winsome shapes are true;
But in their veiling indecision
Comes my question back again–
Which is real? The Fleeting vision?
Or the fleeting world of men?
What began as an impulse buy from a struggling student aged into a treasured possession. From the stunning portrait jammed between the cover, the love of a best friend speaking through the introduction, to the poet’s words and imagery, I was taken on a beautiful journey. As I study my collection I discover something new which both delights and fuels my desire to understand the journey behind the books on my shelf.
Paper: Cotton vs. Wood Pulp, Antique Book Collecting
Musson Book Company, This Modern Epoch
Canadian Poetry Archive, https://www.nlc-bnc.ca/wapp/canvers/bios/elampman.htm
Warwick Bros. & Rutter Ltd., https://torontopostcardclub.com/canadian-postcard-publishers/warwick-bros-rutter/
Stoddart Publishing, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoddart_Publishing