BLAIN DE SAINT-AUBIN, EMMANUEL-MARIE, educator, song-writer, story-teller, and translator; b. 30 June 1833 at Rennes, France, son of Charles Blain de Saint-Aubin and Emmanuelle-Sophie-Jeanne Delamarre; d. 9 July 1883 in Ottawa, Ont.
Emmanuel-Marie Blain de Saint-Aubin began his secondary studies in 1844 and obtained his bachelier ès lettres at Rennes on 26 July 1851. Soon after he went to Paris to pursue higher education, but a passion for singing and music put an end to his original intentions. In 1857, at the age of 24, wishing to learn English, he considered going to England, but the fishing boat he boarded in Nantes took him instead to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. For several months he earned his livelihood giving music and grammar lessons. He then went to Prince Edward Island where he became friendly with a number of English-speaking families and quickly mastered the mysteries of their language.
He then sailed to Gaspé, Canada East, where he was immediately charmed by the pleasant manners of the French Canadians and the correctness of their speech. In 1858 or 1859 he settled at Quebec City. Benjamin Sulte*, who knew Blain de Saint-Aubin well, described him in rather flattering terms. In this native of Rennes who had become a Québécois he detected great artistic and literary ability and the refinement of a man of the world. The lectures that Blain de Saint-Aubin occasionally gave, “without being remarkable,” were “skilfully constructed.” In one of his addresses, given at Kamouraska on 3 July 1861, while severely criticizing the great names of French literature, such as Honoré de Balzac, Eugène Sue, Alexandre Dumas, and George Sand, Blain de Saint-Aubin conceded the importance of the novel as a genre but suggested that in choosing reading material one should be selective.
The year 1862 was one of good fortune for Blain de Saint-Aubin: he obtained the post of assistant translator to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, and Governor General Lord Monck* invited him to give French lessons to his children. On 22 Nov. 1864, at Quebec, Blain de Saint-Aubin married Charlotte-Euphémie Rhéaume, a musician who was the elder daughter of lawyer Jacques-Philippe Rhéaume, later member for Quebec East in the provincial legislature; they were to have three children. This marriage presumably strengthened his ties with a city where his talent for song-writing and versification was constantly winning him more admirers. During this period he composed a patriotic song, “La Mère canadienne,” dedicated to Lieutenant-Colonel Melchior-Alphonse de Salaberry* and set to music by Marie-Hippolyte-Antoine Dessane*, and on 7 Aug. 1865 Le Courrier du Canada printed one of his poems entitled “Honnête homme et chrétien” in homage to Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché*. However, his post as translator obliged him to go to Ottawa when the government was transferred there that year.
Blain de Saint-Aubin immediately became a member of the Institut Canadien-Français of Ottawa and on 11 Jan. 1867 he gave a talk there on the past, present, and probable future of the French language in Canada. Having drawn his listeners’ attention to the role of songs in sustaining French-Canadian nationality, he added that he had some apprehension about the consequences of confederation, for he prophesied that “the Anglo-Saxon majority will perhaps want to abolish the use of French in the confederate legislature.”
Although his profession left him little spare time Blain de Saint-Aubin regularly attended the weekly receptions given by George-Étienne Cartier* and Joseph-Philippe-Rend-Adolphe Caron*. There he “organized the music, [and] composed occasional songs and even tunes.” He tried his hand at the more dignified genre of the hymn and, when a poetry competition was sponsored by the faculty of arts of Université Laval in 1869, he submitted to the jury, which was chaired by Abbé Louis Beaudet, an anthem for the national festival of French Canadians, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. This anthem, whose epigraph was “Croire et combattre,” earned him an honourable mention.
As a prose-writer, Blain de Saint-Aubin published neatly turned stories that were sparkling trifles in L’Opinion publique from January 1873 to December 1881. He contributed translations to the Revue canadienne of Montreal. One of the articles dealt with geological explorations in Canada in 1871, and in this connection he exhorted the French-speaking intellectuals to put aside barren controversies in order to “study the geography, topography and geology of our country, its agricultural resources, the best means of establishing in it a vast network of railways that will link the Atlantic to the Pacific, and of developing a trade that will soon amaze the descendants of Uncle Sam.”
As a literary critic Blain de Saint-Aubin was no less anxious to advance letters in French Canada by making some of its authors known to English-speaking Canadians. As a critic, however, his major achievement was to have brought contemporary French-Canadian literature to the notice of the greatest literary critic of the day in France, Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve. When the latter died on 13 Oct. 1869, Blain de Saint-Aubin informed the readers of Le Journal de Québec that “Sainte-Beuve was thoroughly acquainted with the literary movement in Canada.” For several years Blain de Saint-Aubin had been, anonymously, sending him the works of the following authors: François-Xavier Garneau*, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Ferland*, Étienne Parent*, Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau, Antoine Gérin-Lajoie, Octave Crémazie*, Louis-Honoré Fréchette*, Léon-Pamphile Le May*, Henri-Raymond Casgrain*, Joseph-Étienne-Eugène Marmette*, and Narcisse-Henri-Édouard Faucher* de Saint-Maurice. But one day Blain de Saint-Aubin had sent him a lecture of his own on Canadian literature which had appeared among the miscellanea in Le Journal de Québec, and he took care this time to indicate his address. By return mail he received from Sainte-Beuve the following note dated Paris, 26 Jan. 1869: “Dear Sir, and I was about to say dear compatriot overseas, I have just received and read with interest the article on ‘La littérature canadienne en 1868.’ Nothing is more gratifying than to feel in touch, at so great a distance, through the mind, shared tastes, and goodwill: it is the most reliable of all transatlantic cables.”
The absorbing profession of translator by which Blain de Saint-Aubin earned his livelihood prevented him from giving free rein to his admirable abilities as versifier, song-writer, story-teller, and literary critic; moreover, before he turned 50 he was in difficulties with his health. Soon after his 50th birthday he died suddenly, on the morning of 9 July 1883, at his home in Ottawa.
[Nazaire Le Vasseur* has listed and described the characteristics of Emmanuel-Marie Blain de Saint-Aubin’s songs in three articles: “Musique et musiciens à Québec,” La Musique (Québec), 3 (1921): 50–53, 66–69, 82–83. The following should be added to Le Vasseur’s list: “Chanson à Flora; chanson contre Crémazie,” mentioned in Jeanne d’Arc Lortie, La poésie nationaliste au Canada français (1606–1867) (Québec, 1975), 304; “Chant patriotique,” Le Courrier du Canada, 24 janv. 1862; “La chanson de la Saint-lean-Baptiste” and “Chanson du Jour de l’An 1866,” Le Canadien, 28 juin 1865 and 3 janv. 1866 respectively; “Le casque de mon père,” “Serrons nos rangs; chant pour la Saint-Jean-Baptiste 1878,” and “À l’hon. J.-A. Chapleau à l’occasion du dîner qui lui a été offert le 9 octobre 1878, à St-Henri,” La Minerve, 19 mars 1870, 20 juin 1878, and 9 oct. 1878 respectively; and “De l’enseignement de la musique,” JIP, 4 (1860): 26–27, 43, 62–63.
Blain de Saint-Aubin was also known as a skilled writer of verse. His work includes “Maman a toujours raison” and “Le cœur et la volonté,” Le Foyer canadien (Québec), 2 (1864): 13–14, 374–75 respectively; “Le souvenir,” Rev. canadienne, 2 (1865): 249; “Honnête homme et chrétien; hommage à la mémoire de l’honorable colonel sir Étienne-Paschal Taché,” Le Courrier du Canada, 7 août 1865; “Hymne pour la fête nationale des Canadiens-français,” a manuscript held at ASQ, Lettres, N, 181 (ASQ, Univ., Carton 29, no.66, contains the draft of Abbé Thomas-Étienne Hamel’s letter informing Blain de Saint-Aubin that the “Hymne” had been awarded an honourable mention); and lastly, “Elzéar Labelle; In memoriam,” La Minerve, 26 oct. 1875. His stories, which were published in L’Opinion publique, janvier 1873–décembre 1881, are analysed in Aurélien Boivin, Le Conte littéraire québécois au XIXesiècle; essai de bibliographie critique et analytique (Montréal, 1975), 68–69.
In addition to “De la lecture des romans,” a manuscript held at ASQ, Fonds Viger-Verreau, Carton 35, no.2, several of Blain de Saint-Aubin’s addresses were reprinted or published in contemporary newspapers and journals. These include: “Passé, présent et avenir probable de la langue française au Canada,” Le Journal des Trois-Rivières, 22 janv. 1867; “Nos chansons et nos chanteurs,” L’Opinion publique, 22, 29 déc. 1870; and “Quelques mots sur la littérature canadienne-française,” Rev. canadienne, 8 (1871): 91–110. Guy Bouthillier and Jean Meynaud, Le choc des langues au Québec,1760–1970, (2v., Montréal,1970–71), I: 166, cites Blain de Saint-Aubin’s account of his interview with Lady Monck. The authors confess in the introduction to their book that they had been unable to find any biographical information about Blain de Saint-Aubin.
As a translator, Blain de Saint-Aubin published a number of important articles including: [N. P. Wiseman], “Du perfectionnement intellectuel; discours prononcé par le cardinal Wiseman, à l’institution Hartley, Southampton, le 16 septembre 1863,” and “Exploration géologique du Canada (rapport des opérations de 1871),” published respectively in Rev. canadienne, 1 (1864): 435–41 and 10 (1873): 188–97; also the text of an address by the Reverend Æneas McDonell Dawson, “Les poètes canadiens-français,” JIP, 13 (1869): 17–21. Blain de Saint-Aubin’s article, “M. Sainte-Beuve et la littérature canadienne,” was published in Le Journal de Québec, 19 oct. 1869.
The following studies and articles on Blain de Saint-Aubin were also used: Lareau, Hist. de la littérature canadienne; and Benjamin Sulte, “Blain de Saint-Aubin,” Canada-Rev. (Montréal), 2 (1891): 52–54. Although, in writing his assessment, Sulte drew on a friendship of nearly 20 years’ duration, some of his assertions must be approached with caution because Sulte too often relied on his own recollections and memory of events. Finally it should be noted that Le Vasseur made liberal use of Sulte’s work in writing his own articles for La Musique. p.s.]