Case 2: Imaging a National Literature: Lorne Pierce and the Makers of Canadian Literature

It’s Complicated: Cappon, Pierce, and Queen’s
The relationship between Cappon as professor and Pierce as student was complicated: Pierce both admired the older man’s literary acumen (at least with regard to Old-World authors) and desired to gain his approval. The fact that he had failed his final exam in English in 1912 (too much time devoted to extracurricular activities) meant that he spent his next year as a junior Methodist minister studying to retake the paper in order to obtain his degree. Yet the experience strengthened him rather than souring him on either the man or the subject:

I cannot get time to study as I should. I do it on the run and I’m afraid that Cappy will run [ie fail] me in April. That Fin Eng [ie. examination] is a beast. I can do it, love it, even if it is a beast but it takes grinding … But our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.

[Letter to Edith Chown, March 1913]

Despite the tensions, Pierce would later describe Cappon as one of the “Makers of Queen’s” in an article for the Queen’s Review in 1929, where he acknowledged his “intellectual and aesthetic integrity.” Given the importance of “Making” in Pierce’s lexicon, the designation is significant.

Description of Case 2
The second case of the exhibit explores the conflicted relationship between James Cappon and his student Lorne Pierce, a young Methodist minister-in-training who was passionately devoted both to Queen’s and to establishing the cultural identity of Canada as a modern nation. Chagrined by his professor’s avowed low opinion of Canadian literature in 1912, Pierce would later become a driving force in the publication of works by Canadian authors and their critical appraisal through his role as editor at Ryerson Press from 1920-1960. His collection of Canadiana, donated to coincide with the opening of the Douglas Library in 1924 and augmented throughout his lifetime, forms the core of the Edith and Lorne Pierce Collection. Among his lasting contributions to Canadian letters was his creation of the series Makers of Canadian Literature, slim volumes that combined critical analysis of early Canadian writers with a selection of their work. He solicited Cappon, his old antagonist regarding the calibre of Canadian Literature, to write the volume on Charles G.D. Roberts.