James Fenimore Cooper Society Website
This page is: http://external.oneonta.edu/cooper/articles/suny/2011suny-macdougall.html

The Novels of John Richardson, "The Canadian Cooper"

Hugh MacDougall
(Corresponding Secretary, James Fenimore Cooper Society)

Placed on line July 2013

Presented at the 18th Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 2011

©2013, James Fenimore Cooper Society and the College at Oneonta
[may be downloaded and reproduced for personal or instructional use, or by libraries]

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 2011 Cooper Conference and Seminar (No. 18), The State University of New York College at Oneonta. Oneonta, New York. Steven Harthorn and Hugh MacDougall, editors. (pp. 69-78)

Return to SUNY Seminars Articles & Papers

The theme of this year's Cooper Conference is "Cooper and his Contemporaries," and I am going to open it by introducing a Canadian author who was very much a contemporary of James Fenimore Cooper, though many of you may never have heard of him. Major John Richardson published nine novels, and is widely known in Canada as the father of the Canadian novel. Because his two best known novels feature the frontier and Native Americans, he is inevitably compared with Cooper, and he plays a key part in Canadian literary history, and it is on these two novels that I shall concentrate today. I first heard of Richardson at a Cooper Panel in 2002, in the annual conference of the American Literature Association, where a paper about him was presented.1

Who Was John Richardson?

John Richardson's personal life was both varied and adventurous. While Cooper concentrated on writing novels, Major Richardson considered himself a professional soldier. His background was almost uniquely Canadian. His father was a Scottish Doctor serving in the British Army in Canada. His mother, educated in a French Canadian convent, was the daughter of a frontier fur trader and an Ottawa Indian.2

He was born in Ontario in 1796, just a few years after Cooper. When America invaded Canada in 1812, the 16-year-old Richardson enlisted in a British regiment and fought actively for over a year, before being captured at the Battle of Moraviantown in 1813 and spending a long and often unpleasant incarceration as an American prisoner of war in Kentucky. In 1815 he went to England as an Ensign in the British Army, and served in the Caribbean.3 Later, in the 1830s, he fought in Spain as part of a quasi-official British Auxiliary Legion,4 where he was commissioned a Major (and thereafter always called himself Major Richardson), and was awarded a medal by the Queen of Spain.5 He later described his military career in both histories and memoirs.6 For some time in the 1820s he lived as an officer on half-pay in the racy world of gambling, dueling, and prostitution in Paris. Back in England, he wrote two novels about low life in Paris,7 as well as an epic poem about the Shawnee Indian Chief Tecumseh.8 He married,9 and began the two connected novels—Wacousta and The Canadian Brothers—on which his reputation today mostly rests.

In 1838 Richardson returned to Canada10 and spent the next decade as an unsuccessful journalist, newspaper publisher,11 and even a policeman.12 He wrote two volumes of memoirs,13 a successful history of the War of 1812,14 and one facetious novel which is now lost.15 A few years after his wife's death in 1845,16 bitterly frustrated by his failure to win literary recognition in Canada, he moved to New York City, where he spent the rest of his comparatively short life.

As a man, Richardson was immensely proud and inordinately sensitive. One leading critic has called him "the most obnoxious figure" in early Canadian literature, and added that: "Excitable, belligerent, haughty, and quick to take offence, his life was a succession of quarrels, controversies, and duels."17 Another describes his "personal pique and irascibility, making it impossible for Richardson to hold down a job—any job—for very long, [and] his penchant for burning whatever bridge he happened to be standing on."18 Some of these repeated quarrels no doubt resulted from his liberal, at times radical, political and social views, but his dusky complexion, presumably resulting from an Indian grandparent, may have played its part.

Richardson's Place in Canadian Literature

So why is John Richardson given such literary recognition in proverbially staid and proper Canada? That fame, granted sometimes rather reluctantly, has several roots. He was the first author born in Canada to write novels in the English language. Whatever his merits as a writer, or his personality, he is thus a foundation stone for specifically Canadian literature, and many scholars north of the border are understandably anxious to find a literature Canadians can call their own.

Richardson's fame as a novelist rests on two frontier novels: Wacousta, and its sequel, The Canadian Brothers. Best known, and most written about, is Wacousta, set in 1763 at Fort Detroit in what is now the State of Michigan, shortly after it had passed from French to British control. Though Wacousta's cast of characters is limited almost exclusively to British-born soldiers and Native Americans, its sequel, The Canadian Brothers, is a very Canadian story of the War of 1812, featuring such Canadian national heroes as General Isaac Brock, and such primal events as the critical battle with invading Americans at Queenston Heights in Ontario, from which many Canadians trace their existence as a nation. This has placed Richardson's tales within the patriotic framework of so-called "Loyalist literature," revered for its ties to Canada's beginnings.19

Canadian critics have dug deeply into both novels, and virtually every history of Canadian literature focuses on Richardson as a starting point, often finding in them precursors of later Canadian writing20 and even a sort of basic Canadian psyche.21 They form, writes one critic, the "fictional epic of Canada's formation."22 Books and articles probe what are seen as their dark psychological depths, including their violence, their most un-Cooper-like sexuality (even hinting at homosexuality), and above all their fortress-like mentality which, unlike Cooper's joy in the wilderness, seems devoted to shutting it out.23 In recent decades, numerous articles about Richardson have appeared in Canadian literary magazines, books, and at least one conference.24

Although Richardson's primacy as a Canadian-born novelist had long been recognized, it was only around the 1970s that Canadians began to study his works seriously.25 Canadians had long been dependent on abridged United States editions of Wacousta and The Canadian Brothers published in the United States,26 until annotated scholarly editions finally appeared, in 1987 and 1992, under the aegis of the Centre for Editing Early Canadian Texts.27 A detailed bibliography of his writings first appeared in 1973.28 The only biography of Richardson remains David Beasley's The Canadian Don Quixote, first published in 1977.29 Beasley has devoted much of his life to Richardson, and has personally republished several of his rarest works.

Richardson's Masterpieces

So let us look briefly at these two novels, on which Richardson's literary fame rests today. Their long and complex stories are filled, writes one recent scholar, with "sudden surprises, actions before explanations, mysterious happenings, terrors by night and day, deadly combats, pervading gloom, intriguing sexual encounters, haunted minds, and consuming passion...."30

Their central theme, however, is revenge—protracted, bitter, and ruthless revenge, accompanied by sex, gory violence, and even cannibalism. In contrast to Cooper's tales of wilderness adventure, it is hard to imagine giving a Richardson novel to a child.

The first, and most important novel, is—to give it its extended nineteenth century title—Wacousta; Or, The Prophecy: A Tale of the Canadas, first published in London in 1832, in which Richardson is said to have "...packed...all the themes and motifs that would appear fragmentarily in later productions."31 Its basic story line is this:

As we learn only in a long flashback towards its end, Sir Reginald Morton, a young British officer serving in Scotland, had in a secluded glen discovered a beautiful maiden named Clara, living alone with her father. They instantly fell in love, but before long she was stolen away and married by Morton's best friend, a fellow officer named Charles de Haldimar. As a result Morton has vowed eternal vengeance against the entire De Haldimar family.

As the narrative begins years later, however, we know nothing of this, and the cast is filled with the De Haldimar family. The year is 1763, and Charles De Haldimar, who had stolen Clara from his friend Sir Reginald Morton, is now a Colonel commanding the British fortress at Detroit, which had only very recently passed from French to British control. Though his wife Clara has died, the Colonel is accompanied by his two sons, the valiant and forceful Captain Frederick and the sensitive and retiring Lieutenant Charles. The Colonel's lovely daughter, named Clara like her late mother, is visiting her cousin Madeline de Haldimar, who lives with her father at the British fortress at Michilimackinac on Lake Huron.

The British forts are both under siege by Pontiac, an Indian Chief who has united many Indian tribes against the white British invader. And Pontiac is being advised by a mysterious white man, of gigantic stature and abilities, who calls himself Wacousta, dresses and lives like an Indian, and uses his influence to plot against the De Haldimar family. As the story progresses, the De Haldimar family becomes the subject of a curse (the prophecy of the book's title) from the wife of a soldier who has been wrongfully executed by Colonel De Haldimar. She later becomes the bride of Wacousta.

Pontiac, advised by Wacousta, plans to capture the British forts at Detroit and Michilimackinac by having supposedly friendly Indians play the game of lacrosse outside their gates. The ball will be hurled into the fort courtyards, seemingly by accident. The Indian players seeking to retrieve the ball will take up weapons concealed in the blankets of their wives, enter the courtyards, and massacre the unsuspecting garrisons and their families.

The scheme succeeds at Michilimackinac—as it did in real life—and Clara and her cousin Madeline barely escape with their lives. At Detroit, Colonel de Haldimar has been alerted to Pontiac's plan—as was the real-life Commander there—and the ruse fails. Nevertheless, by the end of a complicated, mystery filled, and often bloody three volumes (and after we have learned that Wacousta is really Sir Reginald Morton in disguise) both Wacousta and all the De Haldimars are dead, except for the Colonel's son Frederick and his cousin Madeline, who duly marry each other in the final pages.

The sequel to Wacousta, published in Montreal in 1840, is The Canadian Brothers; Or, the Prophecy Fulfilled: A Tale of the Late American War. It is set during the War of 1812, and draws heavily on Richardson's own experience as a teenage volunteer in that conflict, and as a prisoner-of-war in Kentucky. Its heroes are twin brothers, Gerald and Henry Grantham, great-grandsons of Colonel de Haldimar and the last of his line. They encounter the despicable Yankee, Jeremiah Desborough (who turns out to be Wacousta's son), and the beautiful but scheming Matilda de Montgomerie (who turns out to be Desborough's daughter). Here, Richardson works into the plot events from the so-called Kentucky Tragedy of the 1820s.32 In Richardson's version, Gerald has become so infatuated by the evil Matilda that he agrees to attempt the murder of a former boyfriend who had jilted her.

By the end of the novel, the prophecy of the title has been duly fulfilled. Both brothers, Gerald and Henry, are dead (indeed, one has accidentally killed the other), and Wacousta's descendants, Jeremiah Desborough and his daughter Matilda, have gotten the comeuppance they deserve. Richardson might well have adopted Agatha Christie's famous mystery title: And Then There Were None.

Richardson and Cooper

What does Richardson owe to James Fenimore Cooper? In the preface to an 1851 edition of Wacousta, published in New York City, he admitted that: "I have certainly robbed that first of vigorous American Novelists—the 'Last of the Mohicans' Cooper—which tale, albeit I have never read a novel by another author twice, I have absolutely devoured three times."33

But Richardson was familiar with the whole Leatherstocking saga. In 1840, as he traveled by sleigh from the St. Lawrence River to Utica, New York, the scenery reminded him of The Pathfinder.34 And in his early epic poem of 1828, Tecumseh, Richardson endows that Indian Chief with a fictional father, whose elegiac style strongly suggests that of Tamenund in The Last of the Mohicans, and with an valiant son killed in battle, equally imaginary, whom Richardson has christened "Uncas."35 And he named a series36 of pet dogs after Natty Bumppo's hound Hector, who appears only in The Pioneers and The Prairie.

Richardson praised Cooper, writing in 1847 that: "Every nation in the Old World has done honor to the profession of letters, and the United States, in the New, glories, and justly glories, in the well-won reputation of her gifted Cooper...."37 But the two authors never actually met,38 and I have found no evidence that Cooper was even aware of Richardson's existence.

Certainly, Richardson's 1832 novel Wacousta owes much to Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, written six years before. The title character seems to be a deliberate combination of Hawkeye and Magua. Wacousta is bent on revenge against the de Haldimar family, much as the Indian Magua in Mohicans is bent on revenge against Colonel Munro and his family. He is, like Natty Bumppo, a white man who lives with ease among Native Americans. But, most unlike Cooper's hero, he is a very angry white man, an outlaw in the tradition of Lord Byron,39 who is single-mindedly devoted to the destruction of his personal enemies.

In The Last of the Mohicans, the historical episode at Fort William Henry is encapsulated between the purely fictional segments that dominate Cooper's tale.40 In Wacousta, the 1763 siege of Fort Detroit, and the interpolated massacre at Fort Michilimackinac,41 fill all three volumes. The family feud between Colonel De Haldimar and Reginald Morton, alias Wacousta, and the vengeance it inspires, dominate the plot—a vengeance reaching a grisly but logical ending in the sequel, The Canadian Brothers.

Richardson succeeds, better than Cooper, I think, in portraying the alternating boredom and violence of military life, and the close comradeship that develops within military units under siege. Major Richardson was a professional soldiers writing about situations he had experienced. Thus, as he writes early in Wacousta: "Both officers and men, in their respective ranks, were, by a communionship of suffering, isolation, and peculiarity of duty, drawn towards each other with feelings of almost fraternal affection, and the fates of those who fell were lamented with sincerity of soul, and avenged, when opportunity offered, with a determination prompted equally by indignation and despair."42 But though he understands much about the psychological and social dynamics of fortress and garrison life, he populates them largely with stereotyped soldiers distinguished primarily by their ethnic accents, which serve more as attempted light humor than to show them as individuals. It is when Richardson writes about his principal characters, in melodramatic settings, that his writing comes most alive.

Inevitably, Richardson's portrayal of Native Americans has attracted much Canadian literary interest. Unlike Cooper, who drew his Indians mostly from books,43 Richardson had fought alongside them during the War of 1812, and was more conscious of specific tribal differences.44 In particular he had come to idolize the Shawnee Indian Chief Tecumseh—seen in Canadian lore as a martyr for his loyalty to Britain and his death in the War of 1812.45 But though Richardson carefully portrays Indian activities in camp and in council, and clearly sympathizes with their resentment at white encroachment on their lands, he depicts them as ruthless, devious, violent, and fond of their scalping knives. Aside from his idolized Tecumseh, the only really "good" Indians in his two major novels are Oucanasta in Wacousta, an Indian woman platonically in love with Colonel De Haldimar's son Frederick, who reveals and thus thwarts Pontiac's scheme to capture Fort Detroit,46 and her unnamed brother, who aids her and eventually kills the villain Wacousta himself. At the end of the novel, when Frederick de Haldimar marries his cousin Madeline, Oucanasta and her brother provide toys and athletic instruction to their children.47

Richardson and Eighteenth-Century Drama

But beyond their historical frontier and military settings, Wacousta and The Canadian Brothers form a continued story of an implacable search for vengeance, extending over two novels and four generations of characters. And it is in that framework, perhaps, that they deserve further study.

Richardson rarely makes use of epigraphs, but he does place one on the title page of Wacousta. It is from Edward Young's 1722 play The Revenge, and it reads:

"Vengeance is still alive; from her dark covert,
With all her snakes erect upon her crest,
She stalks in view, and fires me with her charms."48

Edward Young—an English poet and dramatist who was born in 1683 and died in 1765&mdashis best known today for his book-length philosophical poem entitled Night Thoughts.49 But he wrote a number of tragedies, as they were called, some of them popular for over a century. Among them is The Revenge, from which the epigraph was taken. It concerns an enslaved Moor, or North African, of dusky complexion, who vows revenge against a master who has humiliated him, by stirring up jealousy within the master's family in a drama ending with corpses scattered about the stage. The similarity in theme to Shakespeare's Othello has long been noted. Though first produced in 1722, The Revenge was still being performed regularly in the England of the early 1830s, when Richardson was writing Wacousta. Indeed the lead role of Zanga, the Moor, became a specialty of Ira Aldridge, an African-American actor who performed successfully in England for many years beginning in 1825.50

The concept of revenge for mistreatment would unquestionably be congenial to one as conscious of his supposed injuries as Major John Richardson. But the very Gothic notion of achieving that revenge through someone's family, it seems to me, can be attributed as much to Edward Young's Zanga in The Revenge as to Cooper's vengeful Magua in The Last of the Mohicans.

And the text of The Revenge would not have been hard to find; it had long been included in anthologies of popular plays. Richardson's source was very probably a five-volume set of The Modern British Drama, compiled in 1811 by none other than Sir Walter Scott,51 where The Revenge opens the Second Volume.52 And in that anthology, as in earlier ones, The Revenge is immediately followed by another play from the pen of Edward Young—another tragedy, set in ancient Macedonia, entitled The Brothers.53 Can this be where Richardson stumbled on his theme for The Canadian Brothers, the sequel to Wacousta?

Richardson's Last Years

The life of Major John Richardson, despite his posthumous promotion as a foundation stone of Canadian literature, was in many ways a failure, both personally and financially, and he never in his lifetime received the recognition he deserved in the nation he loved. Ignored in Canada, he moved to New York City in 1849, where he lived alone, came to know other local writers, and found a publisher for several short frontier novels set during the War of 1812,54 as well as a tale of violence, rapine, and indiscriminate sex set during the Crusades.55 He died unexpectedly on May 12, 1852, of erysipelas, a very painful infection often associated with malnutrition.56

It was while researching this paper that I came upon this hitherto undiscovered account of Richardson's last days in New York, in a memoir published in 1854 by George Thompson, a prolific writer of popular novels who befriended him there.57

     Poor Major! his was a melancholy end. He was formerly a Major in the British army, and was a gentleman by birth, education and principle. Possessing a fine person, a generous heart and the most winning manners, he... became the victim of rapacious publishers, and grew poor. Too proud to accept of assistance...he retired to obscure lodgings and there endeavored to support himself by the productions of his pen. But his spirit was broken and his intellect crushed by the[ir] base ingratitude.... Often have I visited him in his garret-for he actually occupied one; and, with a bottle of whiskey before us, we have condemned the world as being full of selfishness, ingratitude and villainy.
     Winter came on, and the Major had no fuel, nor the means of procuring any. I...repeatedly...found him sitting in the intensely cold atmosphere of his miserable apartment, wrapped in a blanket and busily engaged in writing with a hand that was blue and trembled with the cold. He firmly refused to receive aid, in any shape, from his friends; and they were obliged to witness his gradual decay with sad hearts. The gallant Major always persisted in denying that he needed anything; he swore his garret was the most comfortable place in the world, and that the introduction of a fire would have been preposterous; he always affirmed with a round military oath, that he 'lived like a fighting-cock,' and was never without his bottle of wine at dinner; yet I once came upon him rather unexpectedly, and found him dining upon a crust of bread and a red herring.
     Sometimes, but rarely, he appeared at the theatres, and, upon such occasions, he was always scrupulously well-dressed, for Major Richardson would never appear abroad otherwise than as a gentleman. Want, privation and disappointment finally conquered him; he grew thin, and haggard, and melancholy, and reserved, and discouraged the visits of his friends who used to love to assemble at his humble lodgings and avail themselves of his splendid conversational powers, or listen to his personal reminiscences and racy anecdotes of military life.... One morning he was found dead in his bed...."58

A minor New York periodical, to which Richardson had been unsuccessfully trying to peddle copies of a new book,59 reported a week later:

The Major is dead. He was buried last Saturday. His death was sudden [and] his funeral expenses were paid by a subscription made up among some of his friends.... For some weeks the fortunes of the Major have been at a very low ebb-lower than any of his friends imagined. But a few days ago, he was met in a book store by a little girl belonging to one of [our] establishment. The Major was accompanied by "Hector," his favorite Newfoundland, and he observed, in a very melancholy tone, to the little girl, who was caressing the dog: "Ah! my poor Hector, we must part or starve," and we have heard that he was obliged to sell Hector to get food for himself.... His troubles are now over, and he rests peaceably in a long sleep.60

And so closed the life of Major John Richardson, the father of the Canadian novel.

Notes

1. Edward Watts, Cooper Society Miscellaneous Papers, No. 17, September 2002, pp. 14-19. "Cooper, Richardson, and the Frontiers of Nationalism.".

2 John Richardson's mother, Madeleine Askin (born ca. 1771), daughter of fur trader John Askin (1739-1815), is (along with two older siblings) presumed to have been the daughter of an Ottawa Indian, because of her birth in the Ottawa Indian village of Arbre Croche (today Cross Village, Michigan). In 1772 Askin married Marie Archange Barthe (1749-1820), a French Canadian from Detroit who had as a teenager lived through the 1763 siege of Detroit by Pontiac, and from whom young John Richardson obtained much of the historical background of Wacousta.

3 See William F. E. Morley, "A Soldier's Progress: Some Military Records Pertaining to John Richardson, a Pioneer Canadian Poet and Novelist," Canadian Poetry Studies/Documents/Reviews No. 3, Fall/Winter 1978. A military history covering this period is Col. John Davis, The History of the Second Queen's Royal Regiment, now the Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. Vol. IV, From 1800 to 1837. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1902, pp. 314-333.

4 See, generally, Edward M. Brett, The British Auxiliary Legion in the First Carlist War, 1835-1838: A Forgotten Army. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005.

5 The Royal Military Order of St. Ferdinand of Spain. Although the only portrait of Richardson shows him wearing the cross of this order, and he always claimed to have been granted it, his name does not appear in the listing of recipients of this order in Marquis de Ruvigny, ed., The Nobilities of Europe. London: Melville and Co., 1909, pp. 275-279.

6 [in order of events] "A Canadian Campaign," "By A British Officer," London: The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, Dec. 1826-June 1827 (reprinted by David Beasley, Davus Publishing, 2011) [War of 1812]; "Recollections of the West Indies," Brockville, ON: New Era or Canadian Chronicle, Vol. 2, No. 1-12, March 2-June 24, 1842 (reprinted by David Beasley, in A Canadian Campaign. Davus Publishing, 2011 [Service in Caribbean]; Journal of the Movements Of the British Legion, By An Officer, Late of the Quarter-Master-General's Staff." London: Effingham Wilson, 1836 (facsimile reprint, Kessinger Publishing, 2010) [British Legion in Spain]; Personal Memoirs of Major Richardson As Connected with the Singular Oppression Of That Officer While In Spain By Lieutenant General Sir De Lacy Evans. Montreal: Armour & Ramsey, etc., 1838 [British Legion in Spain].

7 Écarté; or The Salons of Paris. Three Volumes. London: Henry Colburn, 1829 (frequently reprinted, most recently by David Beasley: Davus Publishing, 2004); and (with Justin Brenan) Frascati's; or Scenes in Paris. Three Volumes. London: Colburn and Bentley, 1830 (only recently recognized as being by Richardson, and reprinted by David Beasley: Davus Publishing, 2004).

8 Tecumseh; or The Warrior of the West: A Poem in Four Cantos. London: R. Glynn, 1828. A somewhat revised version was published in Richardson's newspaper, The New Era, or The Canadian Chronicle, in July-Aug. 1842. A scholarly edition, edited by Douglas Daymond and Leslie Monkman, London, ON: Canadian Poetry Press, 1992, contains both versions and extensive notes.) For critical analysis, see D. M. R. Bentley, Mimic Fires: Accounts of Early Long Poems on Canada. McGill-Queen's University Press, 1994. Also, Wanda Campbell, "A Na(t)ive Paradise: John Richardson's Tecumseh," [internet] Canadian Poetry, Vo. 40, August 2005.
     Two years later, Richardson published a long humorous poem about London life: Kensington Gardens in 1830: A Satirical Trifle. London: Marsh and Miller, 1830 (Facsimile reprint, Major Richardson's Kensington Gardens in 1830, ed. and with introduction by Carl F. Klinck, Toronto: Bibliographical Society of Canada, 1957).

9 Richardson married Maria Caroline Drayson (ca. 1806-1845) on April 2, 1832. He is recorded as having, on August 12, 1825 married a Jane Marsh at the British Embassy in Paris; whether that marriage was legal, and what happened to Jane Marsh, remain a mystery.

10 He was commissioned by the London Times to report on the mission to Canada of Lord Durham. He arrived in New York City (as Frederick Richardson—his middle name) on March 26, 1838 on the Ontario from London, identified as a gentleman, aged 40. He was accompanied by his wife Maria C. Richardson, listed as a lady, aged 35 [sic]. [New York Ship arrivals]

11 The New Era or Canadian Chronicle (Brockville, ON, 1841-42); The Canadian Loyalist & Spirit of 1812 (Kingston, ON, 1843-44; The Weekly Expositor; or, Reformer of Public Affairs and Railway and Mining Intelligence (Montreal, QC, 1846-47).

12 Of the Welland Canal Police guarding the canal that skirts Niagara Falls in Ontario. Richardson was hired on July 17, 1843 as "Stipendiary Magistrate and Superintendent of Police on the Welland Canal," and was fired on Feb. 19, 1846. As so often in his life, his tenure became controversial, and controversy followed his departure from the position.

13 Eight Years in Canada. Montreal: H. H. Cunningham, 1847 (Facsimile reprint New York: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1967. The Guards in Canada; or, The Point of Honor. Montreal: H. H. Cunningham, 1848.

14 It covered the portion of the war in which he had participated, and was intended as part of a never-completed series. War of 1812. First Series, Containing a Full and Detailed Narrative of the Operations of the Right Division of the Canadian Army. Privately published, 1842. It was reissued as Richardson's War of 1812, with Notes and A Life of the Author by Alexander Clark Casselman. Toronto: Historical Publishing Co., 1902 (facsimile reprint, Toronto: Coles Publishing Co., 1974).

15 Jack Brag in Spain. A satire based on Richardson's service in the British Legion in Spain, it was presented as a sequel to Theodore Edward Hook's facetious novel, Jack Brag (1837), which ends with the title character enlisting in the British Auxiliary Legion as "Acting-Assistant-Deputy-Assistant-Commissary-General," after being assured that no real work will be required. Unable to find a publisher, Richardson later (1841-42) printed it in one of his several short-lived periodicals, The New Era; or Canadian Chronicle, but only one installment has been found.

16 She was buried in the John Butler Family plot in Niagara-on-the-lake, with the epitaph: "Here reposes Maria Caroline The generous hearted, high souled, talented and deeply lamented wife of Major Richardson, Knight of the Military Order of Saint Ferdinand, of the First-Class, and Superintendent of Police on the Welland Canal during the administration of Lord Metcalfe. This matchless woman died of Apoplexy and to the exceeding grief of her faithfully attached husband after a few days illness in St. Catharines on the 16th day of Aug. 1845 at the age of 37 years." A number of critics have compared this epitaph, providing more information about the husband than about the deceased wife, with the fictional one on the grave of Mrs. Sapsea in Charles Dickens' never-completed novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. John Richardson's brother Charles (d. 1848), who married into a family connection of the Butlers, is buried here; John Richardson himself died in poverty in New York City in 1852, and his burial place has never been found.

17 Desmond Pacey, "A Colonial Romantic: Major John Richardson, Soldier and Novelist. Part I, The Early Years" Canadian Literature, No. 2, Autumn 1959.

18 Dennis Duffy, Review of Richardson's The Monk Knight of St. John, American Review of Canadian Studies, Winter 2002.

19 See, Dennis Duffy, Gardens, Covenants, Exiles: Loyalism in the Literature of Upper Canada/Ontario. University of Toronto Press, 1982, and especially its Chapter 3 "Major John Richardson: The Loyalist in Disguise." Duffy has written extensively about Richardson. See also, Daniel Coleman, "The National Allegory of Fraternity: Loyalist Literature and the Making of Canada's White British Origins," Journal of Canadian Studies, Volume 36, No. 3, Fall 2001, pp. 131-157.

20 See, e.g., John Moss, Patterns of Isolation in English Canadian Fiction. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1974; John Moss, Sex and Violence in the Canadian Novel: The Ancestral Present. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977; John Moss, ed., The Canadian Novel: Volume II - Beginnings. A Critical Anthology. Toronto: New Canada Publications, 1980; Katherine L. Morrison, Canadians Are Not Americans: Myths and Literary Traditions. Toronto: Second Story Press, 2003; Laura Moss, ed., Is Canada Postcolonial?: Unsettling Canadian Literature, Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2003; Laura Smyth Groening, Listening to Old Woman Speak: Natives and AlterNatives in Canadian Literature. McGill-Queen's University Press, 2004; Justin D. Edwards, Gothic Canada: Reading the Spectre of a National Literature. University of Alberta Press, 2005. See also, Andy Lamey, "The Wacoustra Syndrome," The New Republic, June 24, 1996 (a review of Margaret Atwood, Strange Things. The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature, Oxford University Press, 1996). The list could easily be extended.

21 See, just for an example, Gaile McGregor, The Wacousta Syndrome: Explorations in the Canadian Langscape [sic]. University of Toronto Press, 1985.

22 Daniel Coleman, "The National Allegory of Fraternity: Loyalist Literature and the Making of Canada's White British Origins," Journal of Canadian Studies, Volume 36, No. 3 (Fall 2001), p. 131.

23 See, notably, Michael Hurley, The Borders of Nightmare: The Fiction of John Richardson. University of Toronto Press, 1992; Dennis Duffy, A World Under Sentence: John Richardson and the Interior. Toronto: E.C.W. Press, 1996.

24 Catherine Sheldrick Ross, ed., Recovering Canada's First Novelist: Proceedings from the John Richardson Conference. Erin, ON: The Porcupine's Quill, 1984

25 There were a few forerunners. In 1902, Alexander Clark Casselman edited a new edition of Richardson's 1842 military history, War of 1812, Toronto: Historical Publishing Co., 1902, with a lengthy biographical introduction, and in 1923, William Renwick Riddell wrote, John Richardson. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1923 (Makers of Canadian Literature Series), a worthy if none-too-sympathetic effort to cover both Richardson's life and works, much of it consisting of summaries of his writings.

26 A facsimile edition of the original Montreal edition of The Canadian Brothers, the first since 1840, was published by the University of Toronto Press in 1976, with an introduction by Carl F. Klinck. Its preface opened "Yes, there is a Canadian literature. It does exist." But for Wacousta, most Canadian readers and scholars were until 1987 still forced to rely on a heavily abridged and bowdlerized text: Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1967 (New Canadian Library, No. 58).

27 Wacousta; or, The Prophecy; A Tale of the Canadas. Ed. Douglas Cronk. Carleton University Press, 1987; The Canadian Brothers; or, The Prophecy Fulfilled: A Tale of the Late American War. Ed. Donald Stephens. Carleton University Press, 1992. New Canadian editions of Wacousta, based on the 1987 text have appeared since; e.g., Wacousta: A Critical Edition, Ottawa: The Tecumseh Press, 1998, ed. by John Moss, leaving out the "critical apparatus" of the 1987 edition, but adding 100 pages of critical essays, excerpts from essays, etc.

28 William F. E. Morely, A Bibliographic Study of Major John Richardson. Toronto: Bibliographic Society of Canada, 1973.

29 David R. Beasley, The Canadian Don Quixote: The Life and Works of Major John Richardson, Canada's First Novelist. Erin, ON: The Porcupine's Quill, Inc., 1977; Revised and expanded edition, Simcoe, ON: Davus Publishing, 2004. Beasley's biography is extensively annotated. I have not noted here information obtained primarily from it.

30 Carl F. Klinck, quoted in his Giving Canada a Literary History, Carleton University Press, 1991, p. 78.

31 Duffy, Gardens, Covenants, Exiles, p. 47.

32 See, e.g., Dennis Duffy, "John Richardson's Kentucky Tragedies," Canadian Review of American Studies, Vol. 22, No. 1, 1991; L. F. Johnson, "The Assassination of Solomon P. Sharp by Jeroboam O. Beauchamp," in Famous Kentucky Tragedies and Trials. Louisville: Baldwin Law Book Co., 1916, pp. 44-57; George N. Thompson, "Murder of Col. Sharp by Beauchamp," in Confessions, Trials, and Biographical Sketches of the Most Cold Blooded Murderers, Who Have Been Executed in This Country...., Hartford: S. Andrus and Son, 1837, p. 409 [Richardson got to know Thompson in New York City after 1849]. Beauchamp was hanged in 1826, and the case provoked much newspaper and pamphlet publicity at the time, some of which may have reached Richardson in England (given his personal interest in Kentucky) as he began to compose The Canadian Brothers.

33 Richardson, Wacousta (Carleton University Press edition, 1987), p. 581.

34 Richardson, Eight Years in Canada, p. 101: "Never were the characters in Cooper's 'Leather Stocking' and the 'Pathfinder' more vividly brought before my recollection. This was the sort of scene in which he loved to introduce them, and...I looked, at each moment expecting to see a deer or a wild turkey arrested by the crack of a rifle, and a hunter, equipped as the charming Indian novelist has painted him, issuing in pursuit of his game...."

35 John Richardson, Tecumseh: A Poem in Four Cantos. London: R. Glynn, 1828, revised edition Brockville, ON: The New Era, July 22-Aug. 19, 1842 (reprinted London, ON: Canadian Poetry Press, 1992). See especially Canto II, set after the Battle of Lake Erie in 1812. In fact, Tecumseh's father, Pukeshinwau, died in 1774, and his only son, Paukeesaa, outlived him. See John Sugden, Tecumseh: A Life. New York: Henry Holt, 1997. In his Introduction to the 1828 edition, Richardson stated that "the Poem was composed five years ago...." (Richardson, Tecumseh, 1992 ed., p. 186). I question the complete accuracy of this statement, since it would eliminate the possibility of the author's having gotten the name "Uncas" from Cooper. Richardson could in theory have got the name (as Cooper presumably did) from the Connecticut Mohegan chief Uncas (d. 1684), but writing in England this seems more than unlikely. On this Uncas, see Michael Leroy Oberg, Uncas: First of the Mohegans. Cornell University Press, 2003.

36 An earlier Hector, whom Richardson believed to have been poisoned by ill-wishers, is mentioned in Eight Years in Canada, pp 154-155, 175; David Beasley, The Canadian Don Quixote (2004 edition), p. 174.

37 Richardson, Eight Years in Canada, p. 95.

38 Shortly before Christmas, 1840, while visiting New York City, Richardson was invited to a large ball at the home of one Mr. Jones, where his host pointed out to him at a distance EITHER Washington Irving OR James Fenimore Cooper (Richardson could not recall which, though he hoped it had been Cooper). But before Mr. Jones could present him, Irving OR Cooper, whichever it had been, had left. Eight Years in Canada, p. 162. There is no reason to believe that Cooper was in New York at this time; he had returned to Cooperstown from New York by November 29, and is not known to have returned there until March 1841 (see James F. Beard, ed., The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Vol. IV, 1964, pp. 102-132. Irving was at the time in nearby Tarrytown (Pierre Munroe Irving, The Life and Letters of Washington Irving. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, Vol. III, 1864, pp. 119-122). Thus the person in question was probably Irving—even though David Beasley, in The Canadian Don Quixote, 2004 ed., p. 175, assumes it to have been Cooper! Since Richardson, in 1840, stayed at the Globe Hotel, which was Cooper's usual stopping place in New York City, they might well have met there had Cooper been in town at the time.

39 See, e.g., Michael Hurley, "John Richardson's Byronic Hero in the Land of Cain," Studies in Canadian Literature, Vol. 20, No. 1, 1995.

40 Indeed, both Hawkeye and Magua temporarily disappear from the story during this history-based interlude. See, in this connection, John Sutherland's delightful essay "Whose side is Hawk-eye on?," The Literary Detective: 100 Puzzles in Classic Fiction. Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 288-293.

41 Richardson's account of the capture of Fort Michilimackinac, and the slaughter of most of its occupants, was based on the account in Alexander Henry, Travels and Adventures in Canada and The Indian Territories Between the Years 1760 and 1776. New York: I. Riley, 1809 (facsimile reprint, University Microfilms, 1966). Henry was one of the few survivors of the attack.

42 Richardson, Wacousta (Carleton University Press edition, 1987), p. 16.

43 Thus in writing of Eastern Indian Tribes, and basing himself largely on John Heckewelder's History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations Who Once Inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighboring States. Philadelphia: Abraham Small, 1819 (reprinted Arco Press & The New York Times, 1971), Cooper assumes that tribes like the Mohegans and Mohicans (whom he mixes up at times) are merely branches of the Delaware or Lenni Lenape about whom Heckewelder wrote.

44 See, e.g., John Richardson, "The North American Indians," in David Beasley, ed., Major Richardson's Short Stories. Penticton, BC: Theytus Books, 1985.

45 Richardson, The Canadian Brothers (Carleton University Press edition, 1992), p. 20, where Tecumseh is described as "one of those daring spirits that appear like meteors, few and far between, in the horizon of glory and intelligence...possessed of a genius as splendid in conception, as it was bold in execution." Richardson, as a boy of 17, had personally met Tecumseh shortly before the latter's death in battle.

46 There are a number of versions, none of them authenticated, as to how the real-life Commander of Fort Detroit in 1763 (Major Henry Gladwin) learned of and thus thwarted Pontiac's scheme to use a friendly game of lacrosse (as he did successfully at Fort Michilimackinac) to capture Detroit. Richardson adopted one of the more romantic ones. See Milo Milton Quaife, The Siege of Detroit in 1763: The Journal of Pontiac's Conspiracy and John Rutherfurd's Narrative of a Captivity. Chicago: R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 1958; Howard H. Peckham, Pontiac and the Indian Uprising. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994 (orig. pub. Princeton University Press, 1947), pp. 112-129.

47 Richardson, Wacousta (Carleton University Press edition, 1987), pp. 542=543.

48 Edward Young, Zanga in The Revenge (Modern British Drama ed., 1811), Act II; Scene I; p, 6.

49 Isabel St. John Bliss, Edward Young. New York: Twayne, 1969.

50 See generally, Bernth Lindfors, Ira Aldridge, the African Roscius, University of Rochester Press, 2007; Joyce Green MacDonald, "Acting Black: "Othello," "Othello" Burlesques, and the Performance of Blackness. Theatre Journal, Vol. 46, No. 2 (Early Modern Reenactments), May 1994, pp. 231-249.

51 [Walter Scott, compiler], The Modern British Drama, in Five Volumes. London: William Miller, 1811. Volume Second: Tragedies.

52 Edward Young, The Revenge (Modern British Drama ed., Vol. II, 1811), pp. 1-23.

53 Edward Young, The Brothers (Modern British Drama ed., Vol. II, 1811), pp. 24-47.

54 The first two are connected short novels based on the 1812 Indian attack on Fort Dearborn (today Chicago): Hardscrabble; Or, The Fall of Chicago. A Tale of Indian Warfare. New York: DeWitt & Davenport, ca. 1850 (several "on-demand" reprints), and Wau-nan-gee; Or, The Massacre at Chicago. A Romance of the American Revolution [sic], New York: H. Long and Brother, 1852 (several "on-demand" reprints).
     They are based closely (even including most of the barely altered names of characters) on Juliette Augusta (Magill) Kinzie, Narrative of the Massacre at Chicago, August 15, 1812. Chicago: Ellis & Fergus, 1844 (reprinted with additional notes, Chicago: Fergus Printing Co., 1914). See also, Juliette M. Kinzie, Wau-Bun: The "Early Day" in the North-West. New York: Derby Publishing Co., 1856; reprinted University of Illinois Press, 1992, and Henry R. Schoolcraft, Narrative Journal of Travels Through the Northwestern Regions of the United States.... Albany: E. & E. Hosford, 1821. For recent background information, see Milo Milton Quaife, Chicago and the Old Northwest, 1673-1835. University of Chicago Press, 1913; Mentor L. Williams, "John Kinzie's Narrative of the Fort Dearborn Massacre," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Winter 1953, pp. 343-362.
     The third novel, Westbrook, The Outlaw; Or, The Avenging Wolf. An American Border Tale. New York: Nichols, Krauth & Cauldwell, 1851, is known only from a serial version published in the New York Sunday Mercury, September 14-October 26, 1851 (reprinted by David Beasley: Davus Publishing, 2004). It is one of the most lurid of Richardson's tales, featuring vengeance, kidnapping, rape, and a version of Romulus and Remus! Andrew Westbrook (1777-1835), was brought up in Canada, defected to the United States during the War of 1812, and was subsequently considered a traitor by the British. See, e.g., William Lee Jenks, St. Clair County, Michigan, Its History and Its People. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1912, Vol. I, pp. 106-107.

55 The Monk Knight Of St. John. A Tale of the Crusades. New York: DeWitt and Davenport, 1850 (reprinted by David Beasley: Davus Publishing, 2001, plus new second edition). For literary analysis, see Michael Hurley, "Double Entendre: Rebel Angels & Beautiful Losers in John Richardson's 'The Monk Knight of St. John,'" Canadian Literature, Vol. 128, Spring 1991. Published and advertised by DeWitt and Davenport as destined to enhance the renown of the author of Wacousta, the novel was quickly denounced in many newspapers as, e.g., "unfit to be placed in the hands of any decent person." [Trenton State Gazette, Oct. 16, 1850]. DeWitt and Davenport duly apologized, asserting that they had published it without reading it, on the basis of Richardson's reputation. They removed their name from the titlepage, but evidently continued to sell it. A few modern critics (including David Beasley) have defended the work as an early manifestation of women's liberation, but most seem to consider it as proto-pornographic.

56 According to New York City records [The Canadian Don Quixote].

57 See David M. Stewart, "Consuming George Thompson," American Literature, Vol. 80, No. 2, June 2008, pp. 234-263; Christopher Looby, "George Thompson's 'Romance of the Real': Transgression and Taboo in American Sensational Fiction," American Literature, Vol. 65, No. 4, December 1993, pp. 651-672.

58 George Thompson, My Life: or the Adventures of Geo. Thompson, being the Auto-Biography of an Author, Written by Himself. Boston: Federhen & Co., 1854, Chapter IV, pp. 26-27. George Thompson (1823-c1873), who also wrote under the pseudonym Greenhorn, was a most prolific author of so-called city mysteries. As suggested by the title, Thompson was primarily interested in promoting himself, and his interpolated eulogy for Richardson is not typical of anything else in the book.

59 Lola Montes: Or, A Reply to the "Private History and Memoirs" of That Celebrated Lady, Recently Published by The Marquis Papon, Formerly Secretary to The King of Bavaria.... New York: [privately printed] 1851.

60 Quoted in various sources, but in full in Richardson, Wacousta, Ottawa: Tecumseh Press, 1998, p. 450. His funeral was held at The Church of the Holy Communion, and he was buried outside New York City; his grave has never been located.

Return to Top of Page