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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
William Henry Drummond (1854–1907)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Susan E. Cameron
 
WILLIAM HENRY DRUMMOND, poet of the habitant or French-Canadian peasant, was born in Ireland in 1854 and began his Canadian life in 1864. The poet’s father, who had been an officer in the Royal Irish Constabulary, died a few months after his emigration to Canada, leaving his four young sons, of whom William Henry was the eldest, with little to start them on their journey of life, except a few excellent traditions. The eldest boy, after only a year or two at school, insisted upon sharing his mother’s burdens by becoming a wage-earner. He learned telegraphy, soon obtained a position, and followed this calling for several years. During this, the impressionable period of boyhood, he was living in the French Canadian village of Bord-à-Plouffe, on the banks of the Rivière des Prairies which flows at the back of that Mount Royal which gives its name to Montreal.  1
  It was here that the poet learned to love the country of his adoption, and to appreciate a type of its people not always appreciated or even understood by their English-speaking compatriots. From the first, Drummond seems to have established sympathetic relations with his neighbors, the habitants, farmers and woodsmen, who, with their simple wives and huge families, exhibited, within a few miles of the metropolis of Canada, a type of pastoral life not very different from that of their ancestors of the early days of the old régime.
  “Ma fader an’ ma moder too got nice, nice familee,
Dat’s ten garçon an’ f’orteen girl, was mak’ it twenty-t’ree.”
  2
  The Irish boy mingled with the merrymakings of such families, learned the quaint speech which bridged the distance between their language and his, learned to love the old French songs, and stored up many impressions to be committed to writing years later.  3
  But the young settler was not to spend his life as a telegraph operator, or as a dreamer in idyllic Bord-à-Plouffe. His own efforts and a happy turn in family affairs enabled him to take a course at the Montreal High School, then at McGill University, and finally to qualify as a physician at Bishop’s College. At college he was known as a good sport rather than a hard student, but on graduation in 1884, his rank was good enough to secure him a house surgeon’s appointment in the Western Hospital, Montreal. On the expiration of this engagement he practiced for some four years in rural districts in the Province of Quebec, gathering, no doubt, a fresh fund of country experiences, and seeing country life from a new angle. More than once in the poems we get a glimpse of the typical country doctor:
  “But Docteur Fiset, not moche fonne he get,
Drivin’ all over the whole contree,
If de road she’s bad, if de road she’s good,
Wen ev’ryt’ing’s drown on de spring-tam flood,
An’ workin’ for noting half tam mebbe!”
  4
  Removal from country to city practice, in Montreal, brought Dr. Drummond into a more complex but perhaps not less arduous life. Yet it was in the intervals of heavy medical work that he found time to write the poems which fill his five volumes: ‘The Habitant,’ ‘Johnnie Courteau,’ ‘Phil-o-rum’s Canoe,’ ‘The Voyageur,’ and ‘The Great Fight.’ All these were published (by G. P. Putnam’s Sons), with illustrations by Mr. F. S. Coburn, at intervals between the years 1897 and 1908. The last was a posthumous volume prefaced by a biographical sketch written by the poet’s wife.  5
  From the first the poems were popular. A second edition of ‘The Habitant’ was called for almost as soon as the first appeared. Everyone was quoting ‘The Wreck of the Julie Plante,’ or the adventures of the inimitable Jean Bateese Trudeau, who returned from the States “Trudeau no more, but John B. Waterhole.” There was pathos as well as humor in the lyrics which at first sight looked so novel, but which the reader, once initiated into the quaint dialect, found to spring from the ancient sources of laughter and tears. There was patriotism, too, of the right Canadian note. ‘The Habitant’s Jubilee Ode’ carries a message which is timely to-day.  6
  The faintly heard objection that this mixture of English and French was not the language used by any Frenchman, however Canadian he might be, was met by Dr. Drummond himself in his statement: “It seemed to me that I could best attain the object in view by having my friends tell their own tales in their own way, as they would relate them to English-speaking auditors not conversant with the French tongue.” And Dr. Louis Frechette, a Canadian poet of purest French style, far from resenting the appearance of the hybrid dialect, saluted his brother poet in the phrase which Longfellow had applied to himself—“The pathfinder of a new land of song.” Dr. Drummond died in his fifty-third year, at Cobalt, Ont.  7
  The selections which follow are from ‘The Habitant and Other French-Canadian Poems.’ Copyright by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, and reprinted by their permission.  8
 
 
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