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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Sir Charles George Douglas Roberts (1860–1943)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE WRITINGS of Charles G. D. Roberts are distinguished by an imaginative quality, which in its most perfect expression elevates them to a high plane of originality; and even in its fainter manifestations lends charm to them. This quality is instinct in both his prose and his verse; like a subtle fragrance it attracts and eludes the reader, who will return to his poems and his stories when works of more palpable excellence are forgotten. He is an exquisite poet of the minor order; his limitations are well defined, but within them he is complete and satisfying. The writer of ‘An Epitaph for a Husbandman’ and ‘The Deserted City’ has not the range of the earth and sky; but the fields which are his he has made beautiful.  1
  Charles G. D. Roberts was born in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1860; and was the son of a Church of England clergyman, from whom he received his early education. After graduation from the University of New Brunswick, he became in 1879 headmaster of Chatham Grammar School in his native province. Two years later he became for a short time editor of the Toronto Week, a leading Canadian literary periodical of the day. In 1885 he was appointed professor of modern literature in King’s College, Windsor, Nova Scotia, and later resigned his chair to devote himself entirely to literature. His first volume of poetry was entitled ‘Orion and Other Poems.’ ‘In Divers Tones’ appeared in 1887, and subsequently ‘Songs of the Common Day,’ and ‘The Book of the Native.’  2
  Much of Mr. Roberts’s most finished and significant work appears in these two last-named volumes. ‘Songs of the Common Day’ contains an ode on the Shelley centenary, entitled ‘Ave,’ which attains in parts to a high degree of impassioned strength and beauty. This collection includes also a number of sonnets; in which form of verse he is peculiarly successful, understanding as he does the spiritual requirements of the sonnet, its temper of restraint, its frugal music. ‘The Book of the Native’ is rich in poems most characteristic of the author’s peculiar gifts. These are not alone a delicate sense of melody, and a sympathetic understanding of the requirements of the various verse forms: they include those endowments without which true poetry cannot come into being,—passion, insight, sympathy. Mr. Roberts’s poems of nature are warm with life. To him—
  “Life is good and love is eager
In the playground of the sun.”
  3
  In his ‘Epitaph for a Husbandman’ this simple, objective exultation in nature’s bounties gives place to the recognition of the silent companionship of man with Mother Earth and her creatures. The poem bears about it the cool gray air of the twilit farm, the kindly scent of the soil. The pathos of this, as of other of his poems, is hidden in the general and the impersonal. It is the pathos of all human life,—running its course, coming back at last to the great Mother, as a child at evening. The sailor, “wooing the East to win the West,” whose “will was the water’s will”; the farmer in his fields, the child among “the comrade grasses,” return to sleep on the bosom of nature.  4
  His removal to the United States finds its poetic record in ‘New York Nocturnes’ (1898). His ‘Collected Poems’ were issued in 1900, and ‘The Book of the Rose’ in 1903.  5
  Mr. Roberts’s prose possesses the same imaginative quality as his verse, though its manifestation is along different lines. In ‘Earth’s Enigmas,’ a volume of unique short stories, there is contained some very subtle work. The scenes of these tales are nearly all laid out of doors, in Canadian regions with which the author is familiar: nature is less a background in them than a wild, disturbing element, a gigantic actor in the scene itself. In two of them, ‘The Young Ravens that Call upon Him,’ and ‘Strayed,’ there is no trace of a human footstep. The wandering lonely winds of the wilderness are the very spirit of these stories. In ‘The Perdu’ and ‘The Stone Dog’ there is a certain weird imagination, which seems unlike anything but the strange quality which informs the works of Poe. The former has a mysterious beauty which impels a re-reading, although the tale seems nothing in itself. In this entire collection, Mr. Roberts exhibits a high degree of sensitiveness to nature, although not always without that mixture of the pathetic fallacy which seems inevitable in the attitude of the present-day generation towards the natural world.  6
  Mr. Roberts’s next book, ‘The Forge in the Forest,’ was an Acadian romance, being the narrative of the Acadian ranger, Jean de Mer, Seigneur de Briart. Like his short stories, it is instinct with the spirit of the wilderness. The same is to be said of his subsequent work in fiction, which extends to some dozen volumes, including ‘Red Fox’ (1905), ‘Feet of the Furtive’ (1912), ‘Children of the Wild’ (1913), ‘Hoof and Claw’ (1914), and ‘The Secret Trails’ (1916).  7
 
 
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