Roberts, (Sir) Charles G(eorge) D(ouglas)

views updated

ROBERTS, (Sir) Charles G(eorge) D(ouglas)

Nationality: Canadian. Born: Douglas, New Brunswick, 10 January 1860. Education: The Collegiate School, Fredericton, New Brunswick, 1874-76; University of New Brunswick, Fredericton (Douglas medal in Latin and Greek; Alumni gold medal for Latin essay), 1876-81, B.A. (honors) in mental and moral science and political economy 1879, M.A. 1881. Military Service: Served in the British Army, 1914-15; captain: transferred to the Canadian Army, 1916: major; subsequently worked with Lord Beaverbrook in the Canadian War Records Office, London. Family: Married 1) Mary Isabel Fenety in 1880 (died 1930), three sons and one daughter; 2) Joan Montgomery in 1943. Career: Headmaster, Chatham Grammar School, New Brunswick, 1879-81, and York Street School, Fredericton, 1881-83; editor, the Week, Toronto, 1883-84; professor of English and French, 1885-88, professor of English and economics, 1888-95, King's College, Windsor, Nova Scotia; lived in New York, 1897-1907; associate editor, Illustrated American, New York, 1897-98; co-editor, Nineteenth Century series, 1900-05. Lived in Europe, 1908-10, England, 1911-25, and Toronto, 1925-43. Awards: Lorne Pierce medal, 1926. LL.D.: University of New Brunswick, 1906. Fellow, 1890, and president of Section 2, 1933, Royal Society of Canada; fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1892. Member: American Academy, 1898. Knighted, 1935. Died: 26 November 1943.



Selected Poems, edited by Desmond Pacey. 1956.

Selected Poetry and Critical Prose, edited by W.J. Keith. 1974.

Collected Poems, edited by Desmond Pacey and Graham Adams. 1985.

The Vagrants of the Barren and Other Stories, edited by MartinWare. 1992.

Short Stories

The Raid from Beauséjour, and How the Carter Boys Lifted the Mortgage: Two Stories of Acadie. 1894; The Raid from Beauséjour published as The Young Acadian, 1907.

Earth's Enigmas: A Book of Animal and Nature Life. 1896; revised edition, 1903.

Around the Campfire. 1896. By the Marshes of Minas. 1900.

The Kindred of the Wild: A Book of Animal Life. 1902.

The Watchers of the Trails: A Book of Animal Life. 1904.

The Haunters of the Silences: A Book of Animal Life. 1907.

In the Deep of the Snow. 1907.

The House in the Water: A Book of Animal Life. 1908.

The Red Oxen of Bonval. 1908.

The Backwoodsmen. 1909.

Kings in Exile. 1909.

Neighbours Unknown. 1910.

More Kindred of the Wild. 1911.

The Feet of the Furtive. 1912.

Babes of the Wild. 1912; as Children of the Wild, 1913.

Cock Crow. 1913; in The Secret Trails, 1916.

Hoof and Claw. 1913.

The Secret Trails. 1916.

The Ledge on Bald Face. 1918; as Jim: The Story of a Backwoods Police Dog, 1919.

Some Animal Stories. 1921.

More Animal Stories. 1922.

Wisdom of the Wilderness. 1922.

They Who Walk in the Wild. 1924; as They That Walk in the Wild, 1924.

Eyes of the Wilderness. 1933.

Further Animal Stories. 1935.

Thirteen Bears, edited by Ethel Hume Bennett. 1947.

Forest Folk, edited by Ethel Hume Bennett. 1949.

The Last Barrier and Other Stories. 1958.

King of Beasts and Other Stories, edited by Joseph Gold. 1967.

Eyes of the Wilderness and Other Stories: A New Collection. 1980.

The Lure of the Wild: The Last Three Animal Stories, edited by John C. Adams. 1980.


Reube Dare's Shad Boat: A Tale of the Tide Country. 1895; as The Cruise of the Yacht Dido, 1906.

The Forge in the Forest, Being the Narrative of the Acadian Ranger, Jean de Mer. 1896.

A Sister to Evangeline, Being the Story of Yvonne de Lamourie.1898; as Lovers in Acadie, 1924.

The Heart of the Ancient Wood. 1900.

Barbara Ladd. 1902.

The Prisoner of Mademoiselle: A Love Story. 1904.

Red Fox: The Story of His Adventurous Career. 1905.

The Heart That Knows. 1906.

A Balkan Prince. 1913.

In the Morning of Time. 1919.


Orion and Other Poems. 1880.

Later Poems. 1881.

Later Poems. 1882.

In Divers Tones. 1886.

Autotochthon. 1889.

Ave: An Ode for the Centenary of the Birth of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 4th August, 1792. 1892.

Songs of the Common Day, and Ave: An Ode for the Shelley Centenary. 1893.

The Book of the Native. 1896.

New York Nocturnes and Other Poems. 1898.

Poems. 1901.

The Book of the Rose. 1903.

Poems. 1907.

New Poems. 1919.

The Sweet o' the Year and Other Poems. 1925.

The Vagrant of Time. 1927; revised edition, 1927.

Be Quiet Wind; Unsaid. 1929.

The Iceberg and Other Poems. 1934.

Selected Poems. 1936.

Twilight over Shaugamauk and Three Other Poems. 1937.

Canada Speaks of Britain and Other Poems of the War. 1941.


The Canadian Guide-Book: The Tourist's and Sportsman's Guide to Easterm Canada and Newfoundland. 1891.

The Land of Evangeline and the Gateways Thither … for Sportsman and Tourist. 1894.

A History of Canada for High Schools and Academies. 1897.

Discoveries and Explorations in the Century. 1903.

Canada in Flanders, vol. 3. 1918.

Editor, Poems of Wild Life. 1888.

Editor, Northland Lyrics, by William Carmen Roberts, TheodoreRoberts, and Elizabeth Roberts Macdonald. 1899.

Editor, Shelley's Adonais and Alastor. 1902. Editor, with Arthur L. Tunnell, A Standard Dictionary of Canadian Biography: The Canadian Who Was Who. 2 vols., 1934-38. Editor, with Arthur L. Tunnell, The Canadian Who's Who, vols. 2 and 3. 1936-39.

Editor, Flying Colours: An Anthology. 1942.

Translator, The Canadians of Old, by Philippe Aubert de Gaspé.1890; as Cameron of Lochiel, 1905.


Critical Studies:

Roberts: A Biography by Elsie M. Pomeroy, 1943; Roberts by W. J. Keith, 1969; The Proceedings of the Roberts Symposium, edited by Carrie Macmillan, 1984; The Roberts Symposm edited by Glenn Clever, 1984; Sir Charles God Damn: The Life of Roberts by John C. Adams, 1986; "Political Science: Realism in Robert's Animal Stories" by Misao Dean in Studies in Canadian Literature, 1995.

* * *

Though his writings include translation and history, Charles G. D. Roberts is best known as an author of poetry and fiction. Orion, the first book of poetry published by a member of the Confederation generation, became a Canadian literary landmark, and such later poems as "Tantramar Revisited" are still recognized as minor classics. But it is his invention, along with fellow Canadian Ernest Thompson Seton, of the realistic animal story that is his most significant contribution to world literature.

When he resigned his professorship at King's College in 1895 to pursue a full-time writing career and then decided to leave his family in Fredericton and tackle the New York literary milieu in 1897, Roberts hoped that writing fiction would subsidize his poetry and his family. He put most of his effort into historical fiction, which was then in vogue, but the results were conventional costume romances, in no way memorable. He also published a few stories involving animals, but editors didn't feel comfortable with them (one editor described his first animal story, "Do Seek Their Meat from God" [1892], as "neither fish, flesh, fowl nor good red herring") so Roberts discontinued them for a time. Then, in 1898, Seton—inspired in part by reading Roberts's animal stories—published Wild Animals I Have Known. It became a best-seller, opening up the market, and Roberts found his niche.

What differentiates the more than 200 animal stories of Roberts from previous ones—e.g., the anthropomorphism (human speech, reasoning, emotional patterns, psychological processes, and societal structures) of Sewell's Black Beauty and Kipling's The Jungle Book—is the emphasis on natural science and close observation. The conclusions to which scientific observation led were that instinct and coincidence alone could not explain animal behavior: instead, "within their varying limitations, animals can and do reason," and there are such things as animal "personality" and "animal psychology." Accordingly, Roberts wrote in The Kindred of the Wild, "the animal story at its highest point of development is a psychological romance constructed on a framework of natural science." In other words the author's task, through focusing on one or more animal characters, is to depict and highlight the powerful dramatic reality of everyday animal life and adventure: the competition for necessities (food, shelter, mates); the struggle for survival against predators, enemies, or harsh conditions; and the protection of offspring.

The potential for dramatic conflict in the stories is augmented by certain aspects of Darwinian theory. First, the struggle for survival among individuals and species pervades all nature, from a vast landscape to a single plant ("The Prisoners of the Pitcher-Plant"). Second, human beings, as, in theory, evolved animals, rank as extremely effective predators and share some bestial characteristics: hence a shipwrecked man who, naked, reaches the shore of the Sumatran jungle proves himself "a more efficient animal than the best of them" by killing the tiger that hunts him ("King of Beasts"). Third, and almost paradoxically, there is a kinship of all creatures (hence the title, The Kindred of the Wildand this may have ethical implications and cause inner conflict for human beings: thus Jabe Smith decides to raise the infant cub of the bear he was forced to kill ("The Bear that Thought He Was a Dog"), and Pete Noel makes a financial sacrifice by refraining from killing more than one caribou of the herd that has saved him ("The Vagrants of the Barren"). Thus, too, the "Boy," a character in some stories who is based on Roberts as a child, "thrashed other boys for torturing … superfluous kittens" and regrets snaring rabbits ("The Moonlight Trails"); later, as a youth, he prefers to "name all the birds without a gun," to "know the wild folk living, not dead," though this does not deter him when marauding lynxes kill farm animals: "His primeval hunting instincts were now aroused, and he was no longer merely the tender-hearted and sympathetic observer" ("The Haunter of the Pine Gloom").

Roberts's stories usually follow one of three patterns. In the full-life animal biographies, such as "Queen Bomba of the Honey-Pots" (the biography of a bumblebee) or "The Last Barrier" (the life story of an Atlantic salmon), the stories begin with the protagonist's parentage and birth and trace her or his growth and development—with all its challenges and perils—from infancy through adulthood. They then describe the creature's fulfilment of its basic purpose in life—mating and propagation of the species—and, where appropriate, deal with the raising of the young. This done, the stories conclude, as all biographies must, with the death of the protagonist after a relatively long and successful life.

A different pattern is found in the stories focused on humans in the wild. They often start with a person, usually male, experiencing a crisis ("King of Beasts," "The Vagrants of the Barren") or perturbing situation ("The Haunter of the Pine Gloom"), and then show him or her confronting and overcoming natural and/or animal opposition. Such stories may include both action and reflection, but they usually cover a relatively short portion of a human lifetime and they often end in some sort of outward victory and inward growth for the human protagonist.

Most common among Roberts's animal stories, however, are those that present a short but eventful period—less than a full lifetime—in the life of one or more animals (e.g., the much anthologized "When Twilight Falls on the Stump Lots"). Such stories typically open with a panoramic view of the scene, dwelling on its more beautiful, apparently peaceful, features (imagery such as "tender," "lilac," "green," and "seemed anointed to an ecstasy of peace by the chrism of that paradisial color"). The problem is that such appearances are deceiving; seeming is not reality. Instead, there is also an ominous element in the scene (sometimes conveyed by clouds or shadows or the like, but in this story by images of "stumps," "sparse patches," "rough-mossed hillocks," "harsh boulders," "swampy hollows," and "coarse grass"). Nevertheless, in this seemingly pleasant panorama the focus narrows to an animal protagonist (a young cow) and describes its initial activities (nursing its just-born calf). Into this picture comes a hungry predator (a she-bear) whose personality and motives are also described and often equally noble (she has two new-born cubs to feed). Conflict ensues (the cow is hurt, but the bear is mortally wounded by a long horn) and is described in metaphors and similes recalling human battles ("stamped a challenge," "lance points," "knives," "charge," "shield"), thus suggesting an equivalent heroism. Finally, the aftermath of the conflict is given in an unsentimental manner, as the cycle of life proceeds (the bear dies before reaching its den, the cubs are eaten by hungry foxes, the cow survives, and the calf is fattened but then, in a surprise ending, is sent to "the cool marble slabs of a city market"—recalling human's place in the predatory world).

In his animal stories Roberts portrays the realities of the natural world and the interdependence of species in the continuum of life and death. In this he reveals his lifelong love and respect for nature and his fellow creatures.

—John Robert Sorfleet

About this article

Roberts, (Sir) Charles G(eorge) D(ouglas)

Updated About content Print Article