Duncan Campbell Scott
By the late 1880s Duncan Campbell Scott was a regular contributor to Scribner's Magazine. His 1896 In the Village of Viger is a collection of delicate sketches of French Canadian life.
Scott, Duncan CampbellDuncan Campbell Scott, poet, short-story writer, civil servant (b at Ottawa 2 Aug 1862; d there 19 Dec 1947). Duncan Campbell Scott's ambition was to become a doctor, but family finances were precarious and in 1879 he joined the federal Department of Indian Affairs. He became its deputy superintendent in 1913, a post he held until retirement in 1932. Scott is commonly placed with the "poets of the Confederation," but although the contemporary of Archibald LAMPMAN, Bliss CARMAN and C.G.D. ROBERTS he was personally close only to Lampman, who in the 1880s had sparked him to try poetry. Precise in imagery, intense yet disciplined, flexible in metre and form, Duncan Campbell Scott's poems weathered well the transition from traditional to modern poetry in Canada.
By the late 1880s Duncan Campbell Scott was a regular contributor to Scribner's Magazine. His 1896 In the Village of Viger is a collection of delicate sketches of French Canadian life. Two later collections, The Witching of Elspie (1923) and The Circle of Affection (1947), contained many fine short stories in wilderness settings. His short fiction was brought together in The Uncollected Short Stories of Duncan Campbell Scott, published in 2001.
As a spare-time writer Duncan Campbell Scott found the pursuit of poetry more manageable than fiction. In 1893 he published his first volume of poetry, The Magic House and Other Poems. Seven more collections of poems followed: The Magic House: Labor and the Angel (1898), New World Lyrics and Ballads (1905), Via Borealis (1906), Lundy's Lane and Other Poems (1916), Beauty and Life (1921), The Poems of Duncan Campbell Scott (1926) and The Green Cloister (1935). The Circle of Affection, chiefly a collection of prose, included a number of poems not previously published. Although Scott complained of critical neglect, his literary reputation has never been in doubt. He has been well represented in virtually all major anthologies of Canadian poetry published since 1900.
His work and travels for the Department of Indian Affairs furnished Scott with many literary subjects. The ironic contradiction between Scott's prominent role in implementing assimilation, later recognized as a racist bureaucratic policy, and his literary representations of First Nations peoples in his poetry and fiction has generated considerable critical controversy. For example, in poems such as his 1894 sonnet "The Onondaga Madonna," Scott presents his Native subjects as noble, but doomed. Later 20th- and 21st-century readers can see the dark irony of Scott's poetic lament for a waning culture that his own department was actively eradicating.
Duncan Campbell Scott valued music even above poetry and was an accomplished pianist. Murray ADASKIN was a friend, as were painters Homer WATSON and Edmund MORRIS and later Lawren HARRIS and Clarence GAGNON. Scott was a prime mover in the establishment of the Ottawa Little Theatre and the Dominion Drama Festival. A one-act play, Pierre, was first performed at the Ottawa Little Theatre in 1923 and subsequently published in Canadian Plays from Hart House Theatre (1926).
There is ample evidence of Duncan Campbell Scott's engagement as a writer. He contributed (with Lampman and Wilfred CAMPBELL) informal essays to the Toronto Globe in 1892-93, published as At the Mermaid Inn (1979). He wrote a novel which did not go to press until it was brought out in 1979 as The Untitled Novel. For the Makers of Canada series, which he directed with Pelham Edgar, he wrote a biography of John Graves SIMCOE (1905). In 1947 he published a book on Walter J. PHILLIPS. Perhaps most impressive was Duncan Campbell Scott's lifelong concern for Lampman's literary reputation. This loyalty to his good friend was expressed mainly by Scott's editions of Lampman's poems (1900-47).
See alsoNATIVE PEOPLE, GOVERNMENT POLICY.