Widely regarded as Canada's finest 19th-century English-language poet, Archibald Lampman was a member of the so-called "Confederation" group of poets which also included Charles G.D. Roberts, Bliss Carman and Duncan Campbell Scott.
Lampman was born in 1861 in Morpeth, Ontario, a village near Chatham. In 1867, his family moved to Gore's Landing in the Rice Lake district, where Lampman came to know the Strickland sisters, Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill. In 1868, at the age of seven, he contracted rheumatic fever, which weakened his constitution and probably contributed to his early death. In 1879, he began studies at Trinity College, Toronto (now the University of Toronto) where, in the spring of 1880, he read a new book of poems, Orion (1880) by Charles G.D. Roberts, which inspired him to begin his writing career in earnest. He contributed literary essays and poems to Rouge et noir, the college magazine. By the time he graduated in 1882, he had begun to submit his poems to literary magazines. From this point on, until the last year of his life, Lampman's poems appeared frequently in Canadian, American and British periodicals, notably the Week, the Globe, and the American magazines Harper's and Scribner's.
In 1883, after a brief and unsuccessful attempt at teaching high school in Orangeville,Ontario, Lampman took an appointment as a low-paid clerk in the Post Office Department, Ottawa, a position he held for the rest of his life. He soon formed a close friendship with fellow poet Duncan Campbell Scott, also a government employee, and the two enjoyed walking tours of the countryside surrounding Ottawa and canoeing expeditions into the wilderness north of Ottawa.
In 1887, Lampman married Maud Playter and, with the help of a small legacy she provided, he published privately Among the Millet, and Other Poems (1888). Among the Millet demonstrated Lampman's technical mastery as a poet and his skill at observing and contemplating nature. It met with critical acclaim and established Lampman as the finest English Canadian poet of his time. Lampman was shrewd enough to send out copies of his first book of poems to major periodicals in Canada, the United States and England. This ensured international attention for his work, and the receptivity of these periodicals to his poetry. From February 1892 to July 1893, Lampman and his friends Duncan Campbell Scott and W.W. Campbell collaborated on a weekly column of literary and social commentary entitled "At the Mermaid Inn" for the Globe. Lampman's literary talent was recognized and appreciated, and in 1895 he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada.
Among the most influential of Lampman's friends was Katherine Waddell, a fellow clerk, with whom he fell in love in 1889. This attachment was a source of great distress for Lampman and its effect can be seen in the melancholic and socially critical tone of his later poems. His second book of verse, Lyrics of Earth was published by Copeland and Day of Boston in 1895. Despite Lampman's efforts at promotion, the book did not sell well and received little notice among reviewers. After this experience, he chose to pay for the publication of his third volume, Alcyone, which he intended to have published in Edinburgh. Lampman was at work on the proofs of Alcyone when he died in February 1899 at the age of 37. Duncan Campbell Scott, as Lampman's literary executor, ordered a printing of 12 copies in 1899. This was the first of several editions of Lampman's poems edited by Scott, who endeavoured, all his life, to keep his friend's literary reputation alive.
Lampman's reputation as the finest of Canada's late 19th-century English poets stands to this day. He was a master of the sonnet, and his nature poems abound in vivid pictures of the Canadian landscape. Although the English Romantic influence is evident in his poetry, Lampman had the genius to create a distinctive voice of his own.
Copyright. The National Library of Canada.