Globe and Mail, 2 Nov 1880, page 4

A Frenchman on Halloween

Speech of Mr Frechette, the Poet Laureate of the French Academy

The following Halloween speech by Mr L Frechette, the recently crowned poet of Quebec, will be read with interest.  The speech was delivered at a celebration in Montreal on Friday evening last.: –

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen – Although far from being equal to the task impsed upon me, I nevertheless feel in duty bound to offer my thanks to the officers of your association for their courtesy in inviting me to address a few words to this distinguished assemblage.  It flatters one, personally, and as a French Canadian I feel particularly gratified.  It is not customary with our national and literary societies to invite persons of different origin – unless it is as officers of sister societies – to take an active part in the programme of a celebration like this. The exeption made in my favour this evening is not, of course, due to my personal merit or ability; but I see it in a most encouraging symptom for the future; a consoling evidence that the four races who have been called by Providence to work the destinies of this great and beautiful country of ours. Are everyday more and more impressed by a spirit of union (Cheers) I see in it a peremptory proof that we understand better and better every day that patriotism makes it a sacred duty for us to live and work together as one great family, if we want to enter seriously the path which leads to public prosperity and national grandeur. (Cheers) It shows that some of us, at least, foresee the inevitable fact that sooner or later one day will come in Canada when there will be no more French, English, Scotch or Irish, but only one gallant people called the Canadian nation. (Loud applause) Not that any one of us, ladies and gentlemen will have to repudiate or forget the glorious traditions of his Mother country.  Oh! No! we can never be too proud of the luminous track which our respective forefathers have left in the history of the world and civilization.  It would be a crime not to remember it.  But that national pride, so noble and so natural, must become for every branch of the Canadian nationality, a source of generous emulation.  All the good and sound qualities which characterize each of them must, like different precious metals, amalgamate together in a strong and brilliant ensemble, which will become as the soul and distinctive feature of the new community whose foundation we have been entrusted with.  (Cheers) And, ladies and gentlemen, no better ground could have been selected for an illustration of this desirable fusion, than that chosen to-night –the literary and artistical ground. This is a field where all nationalities can proclaim their heroes, and boast of them freely without wounding the feelings of other people; for the great writers and the great artists never shed blood, and never founded their fame on the humiliation of others; but devoted their lives to raise imperishable but peaceful monuments to the genious of their race and humanity at large.  Victor Hugo, Walter Scott, Burns, Byron, Thomas Moore, Dante or Schiller: these heroes – although bearing so strangely the stamp of their Mother Lands – do not exclusively belong to any of them, but their glory is a legacy of which every nation of the world has a right to claim part.   A great poet, a great artist, honours his native country, but his works and genius are cosmopolitan, and belong to humanity.  All the greatest literary men of the world were more or less humanitarians and humanists (Cheers). Take Robert Burns, for instance.  No one more than the sublime peasant of Ellisland ever so vividly reflected the character of lofty independence of noble generosity, and patriarchal hospitality, which so highly distinguish the sons of Old Scotland – the sons of old Scotland.

“Famed for martial deeds and sacred song, as the poet says; the proud nation who, as the poet says again, Will not be, nor have a slave!”

No one did ever so boldly sing the world renowned valour of the brave Highlanders, whose claymores so undauntedly defended the soil of old Caledonia that is the only corner of Europe which the Romans, masters of the rest of the world, never succeeded to conquer! (Loud cheers) Listen to these lines, so energetic in their peasant humour:-

Thus bold, independent, unconquered and free,

Her bright course of story forever shall run;

For brave Caledonia immortal must be.

I’ll prove it from Euclid, as bright as the sun:

Rectangle-triangle the figure we’ll choose.

The upright is chance, and old time is the base,

But brave Caledonia’s the hypotenuse:

Then, ergo shall match them and watch them always!

And yet Robert Burns, the patriotic ballad singer, whose noble inspirations are so strongly impregnated with the characteristics of Ossian’s native mountain, Robert Burns himself “allowed,” to use an expression of our great Lamartine, “his patriotism to extend beyond races and frontiers.” And of this I want no further proof than this particular affectation for the French language. French quotations and sayings are to be found almost every page of his beautiful letters to Thompson, Ainslie, and others of his friends, and especially in his autobiography addressed to Dr Moore. Nay, we read whole lines in French in his poetical epistle to Major Logan, which everybody is acquainted with. (Cheers) But there is nothing astonishing in the fact that the great singer of “Bonnie Jean,” in his love for humanity had a small preference for France, the sister of Scotland by origin, and her constant friend by tradition.  In many a page of history do we find the two nations hand in hand on the same battle-field, rivalling in peaceful and courteous tournaments, and cementing their fraternal union by royal marriages and Court festivities – from the day when John Balliol and Phillippe le Bel ranged their chivalry in one phalanx under the walls of Dunbar, till the date when the son of the old Scots, who was to be James I, crossed the channel to receive his education at the Court of Charles V; from the hour when James V led to the altar Marie de Lorraine, widow of Louis I d’Orleans, to make her Queen of Scotland, down to this romantic and sad period when their beautiful daughter, the unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots, left the shores of Normandy singing:-

Adieu, plaisant pays de France

Pays que je dois tant cherir,

Berceau de mon heureux enfance

Adieu, te quitter c’est mourir!

(Cheers) This touching sympathy between the two countries had its echo in the minds of the most celebrated writers; and if France can boast of having always been foremost in the ranks of nations for her philosphers, her historians, her poets and her scholars of all kinds, her sister, Scotland, although hardly one-eighth in population, has nothing to envy her, when she can register on the tablets of human genius names like those of Walter Scott, Campbell, Hume, McPherson, Smollett, Armstrong, Blair, Thompson, Ramsay, Hunter, MacLaurin, Gregory, Robert Burns, and so many other great minds, who have made their country illustrious in all branches of knowledge. (Applause) some people say the Scotch are proud.  They have a right to be proud.  And I know of no greater virtue than national, even personal, pride, when understood in the right sense of the word. Yes, Scotchmen are proud; but when we recall to our mind those heroic deeds of the Scots of old, those gigantic struggles between the Old Normans and Saxons, the marvellous campaigns of William Wallace and Robert Bruce; when our memory dwells upon those romantic times of Richard, the lion-hearted king; when we dream of those legendary heroes, Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, Cedric the Fair, and of all those chivalrous characters exhumed from the darkness of old traditions by that great magician Sir Walter Scott, we cannot but acknowledge that no pride is more legitimate than theirs. (Cheers) Let us all be proud, ladies and gentlemen; proud of our origin, of our race, and mother-countries; but before all, let us be proud of our beautiful Canada, the land of our birth, or the land of our choice, who has had her brilliant history also, and whose future destinies are still more brilliant, if – as I said in the beginning of these remarks – we are all ready to walk shoulder to shoulder in the right path.  This will be done, I know it, ladies and gentlemen.  A circumstance like this is a step in that gentlemen.  A circumstance like this is a step in that direction.  If we only understand our interest, we shall be a great and glorious nation; and our children will glory over the fact that they can retrace their origin to set of a patriotic men, who, forgetting the strifes of the past, Fontenoy, Bannockburn, Waterloo, and the Plains of Abraham, heartily united their energy and good sentiments towards one generous and noble aim – the happiness of their common country.  I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your kind attention and your indulgence for my broken English. (Loud and prolonged applause.)