This Week in History
A Life of Poetry
For the week of Monday January 2, 2012
On January 1, 1918, William Wilfred Campbell died of pneumonia in Ottawa. He was a man of religion and a public servant, but he is best known for his poems.
William Wilfred Campbell was born in Ontario circa 1858 and attended Wiarton high school before teaching in rural schools in the area. He continued his education at University College of the University of Toronto and in episcopalian seminaries in Ontario and the United States. During his years of religious studies, he was already composing poems. In 1885, he was ordained as a deacon of the Episcopal Church before being appointed as rector of a parish in New Hampshire. While he was serving as rector, some of his poems appeared in U.S. periodicals. His first collection of poems, Snowflakes and Sunbeams, in praise of nature, appeared in 1888 and the second, Lake Lyrics, a year later.
Campbell continued writing poems. In 1892-93, in collaboration with friends, he edited a literary review entitled At the Mermaid Inn, which was published in the Toronto Globe. It was at this time that he published another collection of poems, The Dread Voyage, in which he expressed his difficulties in reconciling religion and science.
William Wilfred Campbell explored many genres during his life. Apart from the five collections of poems, he wrote novels, many plays and travel stories, and he edited two poetry anthologies. The themes of his works evolved as his life unfolded: his first collections deal with nature and spirituality, while his later works, particularly his last collection of poems, Sagas of Vaster Britain, which came out in 1914, sing the praises of imperialism.
When the First World War broke out, one of his sons enlisted in the army. Campbell immediately began distributing leaflets of poems. Unfortunately, he died at the beginning of 1918 and did not live to see the outcome of the conflict. As a novelist, playwright, writer and poet, William Wilfred Campbell was designated as a person of historical importance in 1938.
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