Skip to main content

Charles Heavysege

Charles Heavysege

Charles Heavysege (1816-1876) was a Canadian poet and dramatist. He was one of the first serious poets to emerge in Canada, and his play "Saul" was hailed on its appearance as the greatest verse drama in English since the time of Shakespeare.

Charles Heavysege was born at Huddersfield, Yorkshire, left school at the age of 9, and was apprenticed to a carpenter and cabinetmaker. As a youth, he saw a production of Macbeth and bought a cheap edition of Shakespeare: Shakespeare and the Bible were the chief influences on all his own writings. Heavysege's first book of verse, The Revolt of Tartarus, appeared in England in 1852.

In 1853 Heavysege emigrated to Canada, settled in Montreal, and supported his large family by working as a cabinetmaker. A second volume of verse, Sonnets, appeared in 1855. His chief work, the long verse drama Saul, was published in Montreal in 1857. Coventry Patmore, reviewing Saul in the North British Review, ranked it as the greatest English poem published outside Great Britain. Hawthorne, Emerson, and Longfellow were all enthusiastic in their praise, and the play went into three editions.

In the 1860s Heavysege published six more books. In 1860 there appeared Count Filippo; or, The Unequal Marriage, a five-act tragedy in blank verse; in 1864, The Owl, a narrative poem in direct imitation of Poe's "The Raven," and The Dark Huntsman; in 1865, Jepthah's Daughter, a long biblical narrative in blank verse, and The Advocate, a historical romance in prose; and in 1867, Jezebel, another biblical narrative poem. In his later years Heavysege gave up his trade as a cabinetmaker and became a journalist, writing first for the Montreal Transcript and later for the Montreal Witness.

At its best, Heavysege's work is marked by its massive dignity, its acute analysis of morbid mental states, its descriptive accuracy, and its melancholy atmospheric effects. Perhaps because of his defective education, however, his taste was uncertain, and his dignity often lapsed into grandiloquence, his delight in subtlety into a kind of fantastic eccentricity. His language is often inflated in the manner of the pseudo-Miltonists of the 18th century, and he never overcame a tendency toward garrulousness and verbosity. Although his work is now seen to be somewhat pompous and derivative, he is of interest because, at a stage in Canadian literary history when there was little to encourage literary excellence, he persevered in his attempts to express his vision in memorable form.

Further Reading

There is no book-length study of Heavysege. Information on him is in Ray Palmer Baker, A History of English-Canadian Literature to the Confederation (1920); Desmond Pacey, Creative Writing in Canada (2d ed. 1961); and Carl F. Klinck, ed., Literary History of Canada (1965). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Charles Heavysege." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . 24 Apr. 2019 <>.

"Charles Heavysege." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . (April 24, 2019).

"Charles Heavysege." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved April 24, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.