Box 13-033 THE TATLER, THE MONTREAL HERALD (WRITTEN BY [REV.] CALVIN MCQUESTEN)
Jan 1 1900
The Montreal Herald, Saturday, September 27, 1902
A Call for Canadian Periodicals
In reply to the following letter I have gone into some of the circumstances which seem to me to enter into the consideration of the possibilities of Canadian current literature, and submit the same with all humility to the maturer judgment of my readers, in the hope that some of them may be induced to add their quota to the common stock.
"Dear Tatler,--in your issue of last Saturday you compare the respective merits of English and American periodicals, but you do not so much as mention the idea of Canada supplying its own. Why should we not have our own national current literature? Why doesn't some enterprising publisher start up a first-class Canadian magazine and make up his mind to pay a decent price for his contributions so that he can get the very best? I should think that if a really good Canadian magazine were published it could count on getting most of the subscriptions, which now go to outside periodicals. Surely, if there is room in the United States for a dozen or so high-class periodicals, there ought to be room in the Dominion for one or two."
Some of the Difficulties
Much as I should like to see a strong group, if only a small one, of Canadian periodicals, I am afraid the scheme is not a feasible one at present. If there had been any money in it my correspondent may be sure that men of enterprise would have taken it up before this. But the problem is not one that can be solved by mathematical processes of simple multiplication and division, as he seems to think. Because a country with seventy million of population can support, say thirty really good magazines, it does not necessarily follow that one with seven millions of people of equal intelligence can sustain even three of a quality equal to the average of the other thirty. It is very easy to say 7 in to 70 goes 10 times and 10 into 30 goes 3 times, and then to conclude that because some thirty magazines can flourish in the United States three ought to be able to do the same thing in Canada. But there are several very important circumstances, which have to be taken into consideration, and which make this very simple formula inapplicable. In the first place, a very large proportion--the majority perhaps--of individuals or clubs who buy one magazine a month, buy three or four, or even several times that number. In the second place no two or three magazines can possibly suit the tastes of everybody in the smaller country, since these tastes are likely to be almost as widely divergent as those, which allow the thirty to eke out an existence in the larger country. And these are only two of many points, which come into the consideration of circulation alone when it is assumed that the quality of the two or three could be made equal to the average of the thirty.
But is such as assumption warranted? I am afraid we will find it is not if we set out to examine the sources of contribution. If we look into the only magazine which Canada boasts we find that nearly all of the men whose names appear on the title-page are either working journalists who use the fag ends of their time for this class of work, or else they are amateur writers, that is to say men who do not devote the whole of their time to their pen.
Canadian Writers Abroad
Now what is the reason of this? Is it that Canada is incapable of producing men of sufficient literary ability to warrant them in devoting their whole time in literary work? Not by any means. The fact is that Canada can and does breed men of letters, but cannot feed them; and the result is that probably one-third of the magazine makers of New York to-day are Canadians, among whom are many of the brightest contributors to American current literature, both writers and illustrators.
It may be suggested that some of them might remain at home and help to produce two or three Canadian magazines, which might be a credit to the country and to literature. Well the great difficulty appears to be this--no one magazine could be made successful which would attempt to fit its columns with the work of a handful of writers who derived their chief support from it exclusively and continuously. The readers of each magazine demand variety, and while its editor may be prepared for a time to publish everything that some two or three popular authors may produce, the other contributors must be varied from month to month. Now where there are a considerable number of first-rate periodicals, this can be managed without much difficulty, as professional writers can then distribute their work and find a market for all the good articles or fiction they may turn out, and the same would apply to illustrators. But the lonely furrow is a hard one to plough for editor and contributor.
It will naturally be asked why these Canadians abroad should not be induced to write for Canadian magazines. They probably could, and as a matter of fact they actually do to a certain extent. But even love for one's native land does not seem to make men willing to give their best work for less than the best price, just as our farmers appear to have no qualms about marketing their choicest product abroad.
And I have noticed, too, that there is a distinct feeling on the part of many Canadians residing in the United States that they owe more to the land, which gives them a living than to that which gave them birth. There is also the difficulty that, after a man has been living in the United States for a number of years, he almost invariably loses his grip of our national affairs.
Nevertheless, there are a considerable number of Canadians, both in the country and out of it, whose ideas would be of value and interest to us, and who could, I believe, be induced to write magazine articles if they were offered adequate pecuniary compensation for their labor. I am not sure that it would be a paying investment for any publisher to do this, but I can conceive of few more practically patriotic enterprises to some of our men of means to undertake than the establishment of a really first-class national magazine.
An Imperial Magazine
An Imperial magazine, such as Dr. W.H. Drummond stated in a recent interview, is about to be founded by Robert Barr, seems to me to be a most excellent idea, if properly carried out with an associate editor in every colony. It would not only broaden our views, but should materially strengthen then the tie that binds. I cannot agree with Dr. Drummond, however, when he suggests that no one would be more fitted to conduct the Canadian section than Mr. Barr himself. For I cannot forget that gentleman's bitter and unfair tirade against the Canadian people for what he considered their lack of literary appreciation, when in the Canadian Magazine some years ago he sarcastically suggested that it might be better for Canadians to read more books and drink less whiskey.
Canada's Vantage Ground
When all is said and done, I am not sure that Canada's condition in respect to current literature is so very deplorable. The daily press keeps us pretty thoroughly informed of the progress of our own country. And if we will only go to the trouble of developing our natural and inherited interest in British affairs by cultivating a taste for some of the more useful British periodicals, and if we will select the best of the American ones which pour into our country, we ought to be the most intelligent and broad-minded people on the face of the earth. No other people has the opportunity of coming into such close contact with the two greatest nations in the world. And with our invigorating climate and magnificent resources, and from such a vantage ground as we possess, where we can study the strength and weaknesses of both, we ought, by blending the reliability of the Briton and the enterprise of the American with our own individuality, to develop national characteristics which are stronger than either.
"Life" And The Poet Laureate
New York Life, in its "Dictionary of International Biography," publishes the following satirical sketch of Mr. Alfred Austin:
"An English trochaic, iambic, heroic and hot-air poet, deadly rival of Ella Wheeler Wilcox and Laura Jean Libby, and all around ode-maker of the King. This gentleman was born at the rear entrance to Westminster Abbey about fifty years ago. As a boy Mr. Austin early evinced remarkable talent. At twelve years of age, in common with all geniuses, he became convinced of his own future greatness, and composed for the world the following lines to show his own confidence in his destiny:
There was an old grandee of Spain
Who constantly grinned while in pain.
These lines, doncher know,
Are merely to show
I can write in a humorous vein.
"Recognition came slowly but surely and when Tennyson died it became evident that Mr. Austin was the worst man for the place, Algernon Swinburne's sense of humor being in total collapse. It was Shakespeare's privilege to make people weep. Mr. Austin does better. He makes the world smile, and sometimes swear. It is said that in another century no poetry will be written. It will be seen from this that Mr. Austin is a hundred years ahead of his time."
"As poet laureate he has achieved a remarkable success in binding together the two great Anglo-Saxon branches of humanity. Whenever he has written an ode we have felt drawn together by a common sorrow."