Pre-Confederation Writers and Poets

Jacques Cartier’s Voyages and John Gyles’ Memoirs of Odd Adventures provide valuable insight into early European attitudes toward Indigenous peoples in New Brunswick. Marked by a sense of entitlement to the lands that others occupied, the colonizing attitudes on display in Cartier and Gyles are offensive today. That said, it is important to read and study those early accounts, not only as history but also as shapers of colonialist attitudes sustained even to the present day.

The writings of pre-Confederation authors are markedly different in subject and tone from the works that appear later. Indeed, there is very little in this module’s texts that code them as “New Brunswick.” William Leggett’s “The Harp of Brunswick” suggests the reason for that: namely, that a sense of New Brunswick as a distinct place has not yet materialized. Thus, many authors – chiefly Jonathan Odell, Adam Allan, Oliver Goldsmith, and, despite his awareness of the fact, Leggett himself – address New Brunswick in the language and imagery of other places. As settlement becomes more established in the province, though, so does a literature that is distinctly New Brunswick, beginning with the imagery found in Peter John Allan’s work.

Readers will note that many of the authors in this module are not only intensely political, but also likeminded in their pro-British imperialism, hostile to those outside of it (whether Indigenous peoples or American revolutionaries), and Christian in outlook (primarily Protestant). Many of the writers are Loyalists or descendants, and thus inheritors of a conservative, class-based ethos. The exception to this is Martin Butler. His difference in political philosophy is reflected in his work, but he is also the exception that proves the rule, his life made difficult by his otherness. Again, the now-dated, pro-British sympathies of the time should not be discounted, for those sympathies shaped the political attitudes in New Brunswick – and the hegemony against which Acadian, Irish, and working class writers in the province would later react.

For the full Module Page on the Pre-Confederation Writers and Poets, click here.