The story of Charles Mair is that of a man who has been almost forgotten by modern Canada. He is usually studied (when he is studied at all) by historians, mainly because of the part he played in the Riel uprising of 1869-70. However, during the nearly ninety years of his life Mair also made contributions to Canadian letters, including the first significant collection of Canadian verse, published in 1868, and it is with this aspect of his career that Professor Shrive is concerned.
A man with considerable faith in the future of his country, Mair lived long enough to see a good part of that faith justified; this fact provides an interesting contrast with other Canadian poets like Roberts and Carman who went to the United States, and with Lampman, whose early death prevented his seeing any fulfilment of his youthful hopes for himself, his country, or its literature.
Mair, on the other hand, offers an ideal illustration of the struggle of post-Confederation letters for survival and recognition. Even when he is revealed as a previous fool and a bad poet, Mair provides a singularly striking parallel to the aspiration and frustration, success and failure -- even the tragedy -- which marked that struggle.
In this critical study, which for the first time places Mair in perspective among other literary figures, Professor Shrive strikes a balance between those publications which have tended towards the extreme of regarding Mair as "a great singer of Canadian nationhood," and the other extreme which ignores his literary achievements and concentrates instead on his relatively brief involvement in a political struggle.
About the author
NORMAN SHRIVE attended McMaster, Toronto, Queen's and Harvard Universities. He has taught at the Royal Military College of Canada, and at McMaster University in Hamilton, where he has been since 1962 Associate Professor of English.