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By Renée Hulan (auth.)

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The vigorous debate about Canadian literature is richly demonstrated by the selections published in Carl Ballstadt’s The Search for English-Canadian Literature (1975). Critics of the time weighed the relative merits of the literature written in Canada, and publishers seeking to establish an audience debated protection for Canadian authors and their works. The value of literary culture to the new nation was assumed, though whether that culture could ever live up to its British inheritance was a topic of discussion, as was whether or not Canadian literature was part of British literature or a tradition all its own.

The career of G. Mercer Adam exemplifies the public role played by writers in shaping national culture. In the periodicals of the day, his voice was a constant defender of Canadian culture whether it was reviewing literary works, fighting for fair copyright laws, or weighing in on other topical subjects. Other late nineteenth-century writers, such as Thomas Guthrie Marquis, assumed the same role. In his work of literary criticism, EnglishCanadian Literature (1913), Marquis objected on patriotic grounds to the influence of the American historian Francis Parkman on Canadian history and joined Adam and other nationalists in proclaiming the “rich” literary potential of Canadian history.

While Goldwyn Smith predicted that a distinct Canadian literature was impossible, G. Mercer Adam disparaged the general “scoffing spirit” in criticism, and John A. ”58 On such grounds, the author suggested, Canadian literature had been damned by false comparison: “Canadian literature is all right,” the author concluded, and with better copyright laws, more selfconfidence, and less cynicism, it would come into its own. Concern was also raised about “Canadian history,” particularly as it was being taught to young people.

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