KIDD, ADAM, poet; b. c. 1802 in Tullynagee (Northern Ireland), son of Alexander Kidd, a farmer; d. 6 July 1831 at Quebec.
Adam Kidd, according to his own account, was raised in a “straw-roofed cottage” on a farm in Tullynagee. At the “school of the good old Lawrence McGuckian” in nearby Moneymore he studied Latin and Greek, became enamoured of the poets Lord Byron and Thomas Moore, and determined to be either a Church of Ireland clergyman or a teacher. He came to feel, however, that his family lacked the influence to get him a job. It is uncertain whether he left for “America” in 1818–19 or worked for six years on his parents’ farm “till the hopeless and sinking situation, of then oppressed Ireland, forced [him] to seek a scanty pittance in a foreign land.”
By July 1824 Kidd was at Quebec supporting himself, possibly as a teacher, and being considered for the Anglican ministry by the Reverend George Jehoshaphat Mountain*, Son of Jacob Mountain, bishop of Quebec. The Mountains, however, defended the refusal of the Church of England to allow Byron, who had died that year, to be buried in Westminster Abbey and thus earned Kidd’s hatred for “whining cant.” At the same time one of them decided that Kidd, possibly because of the “foolish wayward inclination” for an Indian girl suggested by a contemporary, was not a suitable candidate for ordination.
Late in 1824 Kidd began fashioning a career as a poet; signing himself Slievegallin, after a mountain near Tullynagee, he sent lyrics to several Lower Canadian newspapers, especially those with Irish connections. “To Miss M-G-” appeared in the Quebec Mercury on 30 Nov. 1824, and throughout the next three years Slievegallin contributed to that newspaper and to the Canadian Courant, and Montreal Advertiser and the Canadian Spectator of Montreal.
Possibly as a consequence of his alleged dalliance with the Indian girl, Kidd’s concept of his role as a poet soon expanded from that of an Irish bard celebrating his homeland and lamenting its wrongs to that of a minstrel singing about the natural beauties of the Canadas and sighing over the plight of the North American Indians, particularly in the United States. He took notes from the travel accounts of Sir Alexander Mackenzie* and Alexander Henry and from works by Cadwallader Colden, John Gottlieb Ernestus Hackenwelder (Heckewelder), and William Tudor. He travelled up the Ottawa River to Bytown (Ottawa), where he admired the Rideau Falls, and in 1828 toured along the St Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, where he canoed in the Thousand Islands and studied tree-frogs on the banks of the Moira River at Belleville. In 1828 too he seems to have journeyed in New York State and possibly to Philadelphia. By 1828–29 he had gathered enough information and inspiration to compose a long poem entitled “The Huron chief,” set on the shores of lakes Erie and Huron – which he had not seen. He promoted his poem in Montreal early in 1829 for “half a crown . . . on subscription, and an equal sum on delivery.” He also advertised in the Irish Shield of Philadelphia, to which he was a regular contributor and from which many poems by and to him were reprinted in Lower and Upper Canadian newspapers.
Kidd was living in Montreal, probably in late fall and early winter 1829–30, when he saw through the press what had become a volume incorporating “The Huron chief” and 40 “miscellaneous poems,” including most of those already published in the serials. A piece entitled “To the Rev. Polyphemus,” intended to ridicule the Mountains, was dropped at the last moment as “too satirical.” The Huron chief, and other poems was dedicated in Montreal on 23 Jan. 1830; Kidd later claimed that it sold 1,500 copies, chiefly in the Canadas. It received generally favourable notices and reviews and was extracted in newspapers in the two colonies as well as in the Irish Shield. In March, for example, the Montreal Gazette greeted it as helping to fill a disgraceful literary void; a few months later, however, a correspondent to the same paper belittled the volume. It was, the writer alleged, plagiarized from Moore, but made up in “pure nonsense” what it lacked in originality. In a note to “The Huron chief” Kidd had criticized James Buchanan, British consul at New York, for pro-Americanism. Buchanan’s sons, one of whom was Alexander Carlisle Buchanan*, scuffled with Kidd on a Montreal street; the poet had his “nose pulled” and “received severe chastisement,” according to one account, but another, possibly by Kidd, claimed heroic withstanding of a “violent assault.”
Through the summer and early fall of 1830 Kidd, preparing and probably selling subscriptions for a prose work on “the Tales and Traditions of the Indians,” travelled in Upper Canada, where he may finally have seen the area he described in “The Huron chief.” By late fall, however, he was “confined by sickness” in Kingston. The Kingston Chronicle published, among other pieces, “Farewell lovely Erin,” a new poem, on 4 December and an article on Shakóye:wa:thaˀ entitled “Red Jacket, the celebrated Indian chief” on 29 March 1831. About the latter date Kidd left for Quebec, from where he intended to embark on “a sea voyage for the recovery of his health.” He died in the Hotel-Dieu on 6 July, however, and was buried from the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on the 7th. Le Canadien noted that he had achieved “a certain reputation” as a poet.
Kidd’s fame rests mostly on The Huron chief, and other poems. With an epigram from the legendary Ossian and a dedication to Moore, the title poem is a half-dramatic, half-lyrical narrative in language derived from Moore and Byron about the nobility of Indians and the savagery of white men, including Christian missionaries, dedicated to the Indians’ destruction. It ends with an ambush by three Americans of an Indian band led by the chief Skenandow, during which
Skenandow fell! – and calmly sleeps
By Erie’s darkling groves of pine,
Where gently now the wild grape creeps,
As if to guard the holy shrine –
Nor shall his name be e’er forgot –
But future bards, in songs of grief,
Will sadly tell of that lone spot,
Where rests the noble Huron Chief!
Notes to the poem catalogue actual incidents of white cruelty to the Indians. Kidd, however, links his story of those wrongs directly to his own grievances against the Mountains and indirectly through language and form to his “oppressed Ireland.” Thus the poem furnishes an example, interesting for psychological and sociological study, of the kind of projection that can occur when a disturbed personality seeks an objective correlative for its problems in what it perceives as hostilities and injustices suffered by people of another, alien culture.
Adam Kidd is the author of The Huron chief, and other poems (Montreal, 1830), as well as of poems and articles that appeared in the Quebec Mercury, Canadian Courant and Montreal Advertiser, Canadian Spectator (Montreal), Irish Vindicator and Canada Advertiser (Montreal), Canadian Freeman (York [Toronto]), Kingston Chronicle, and Irish Shield (Philadelphia).
ANQ-Q, CE1-61, 7 juill. 1831; P-239/57. Canadian Courant and Montreal Advertiser, 21 May, 6, 10 Aug. 1825; 22 Aug., 14 Nov. 1829; 13 March 1830; 13 July 1831. Canadian Freeman, 9, 16 Sept., 7 Oct. 1830; 7 April, 21 July 1831. Canadian Spectator, 2 July, 27 Aug., 10 Sept. 1825. Le Canadien, 6 juill. 1831. Irish Shield, 1829. Irish Vindicator and Canada Advertiser, 12 Dec. 1828; 2 June, 16 Oct. 1829; 23, 26 Feb., 1, 5, 12, 19, 29 March, 18 June 1830; 8 July 1831. Kingston Chronicle, 21 Aug., 4 Dec. 1830; 1 Jan., 18, 29 March, 16 July, 20 Aug. 1831. Montreal Gazette, 18 Jan., 4, 15 March, 7 June 1830; 9 July 1831. Quebec Gazette, 6 July 1831. Quebec Mercury, 30 Nov. 1824; 17 May, 23 Aug., 27 Sept. 1825; 20 June, 8 July 1826; 27 Feb. 1827; 31 July 1830; 7 July 1831. Oxford companion to Canadian literature, ed. William Toye (Toronto, 1983), 406–7. L. [M.] Lande, Old lamps aglow; an appreciation of early Canadian poetry (Montreal, 1957), 164–71. J. M. LeMoine, Picturesque Quebec: a sequel to “Quebec past and present” (Montreal, 1882), 332–33, 456–57. Literary history of Canada: Canadian literature in English, ed. C. F. Klinck et al. (2nd ed., 3v., Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1976), 1: 144–46. M. L. MacDonald, “The literary life of English and French Montreal from 1817 to 1830 as seen through the periodicals of the time” (ma thesis, Carleton Univ., Ottawa, 1976), 69–71, 96–97; “Literature and society in the Canadas, 1830–1850” (phd thesis, Carleton Univ., 1984), 433. D. M. R. Bentley, “From the hollow, blasted pine: centrifugal tendencies in Adam Kidd’s The Huron Chief,” Open Letter (Toronto), nos.2–3 (1958): 233–56. C. F. Klinck, “Adam Kidd – an early Canadian poet,” Queen’s Quarterly (Kingston, Ont.), 65 (1958): 495–506.