SMYTH, WYLLYS, newspaperman; fl. 1832–33.
Wyllys Smyth played a minor role in the early development of Canadian literature. Little is known about his life, yet he must have been important to the cultural needs and aspirations of many people, particularly in the Hamilton area during the early 1830s. Smyth’s Canadian Garland, which ran from 15 Sept. 1832 to 31 Aug. 1833, was the third attempt in Hamilton “to sustain Canadian Literature,” as the Garland itself put it, in that decade. The first exclusively literary periodical in Hamilton was the Canadian Casket, published by A. Crosman from October 1831 to September 1832. On 3 Dec. 1831 the Casket acknowledged a competitor, the Voyageur. Two publications were also produced in York (Toronto): the Canadian Magazine (1833), published by Robert Stanton* and edited by William Sibbald, ceased after four numbers, and the Canadian Literary Magazine (1833), published by George Gurnett* and edited by John Kent, ceased after three. It is curious that the Hamilton publications, despite the smaller population base, were more successful. Their relatively greater success may be attributable to the large number of original contributions which Crosman and Smyth sought and obtained. The York publications depended chiefly on borrowed selections.
As both publisher and editor of the Garland, Smyth evidenced a pro-Canadian policy. His stance was apparent from the address to the patrons in the first number, which solicited contributions from local persons and claimed that “we have now arrived at that state of society, in which those faculties of the human mind that have beauty and elegance for their objects, begin to unfold themselves.” Determined to encourage “the original talent of our country,” Smyth supported other periodicals by giving notice of their publication. To promote the Garland itself, he enlisted agents in surrounding communities such as John Carey* in Springfield on the Credit (Erindale) and James Scott Howard* in York.
Smyth’s success in obtaining contributors was quite remarkable, virtually all of the long prose pieces and the poetry in the Garland being by local residents. The poetry is chiefly of a sentimental nature, with occasional pieces on the political issues of the day or on the Garland itself. Much of it resembles work by popular poets such as Thomas Moore, Thomas Campbell, and Felicia Dorothea Hemans. The prose is far more interesting because, although it is marked by didacticism and excesses in emotive language, it possesses a degree of realism. Subjects are derived from local history and plots revolve around immigrant and pioneer experiences, events in the War of 1812, Indian legends, and natural phenomena.
By far the most prolific and interesting contributor to the Garland and the Casket was Charles Morrison Durand (son of James Durand). A Dundas area resident who later moved to Toronto and practised law for many years, Durand signed his pieces C.M.D. and used the pseudonym of Briton. He contributed both prose and verse but the prose is much more varied and interesting; it includes exotic tales of didactic purpose as well as local history and lore, personal adventures, and natural history sketches. One of the most interesting pieces, “A sketch” (2 Feb. 1833), is an early defence of a Canadian way of seeing and a prediction of a distinctive Canadian literature. In this article Durand, reflecting on those who found their cultural inspiration in Scotland, noted: “I shall feel alike pleasure in anticipating a literary Fame in Canada; I shall feel content to praise fair Canada! she likewise has charms of her own.” Durand celebrates the sights and sounds of his native land and claims a future for it when “Europe’s laurels fade.”
Smyth was fortunate in having a contributor such as Durand and he shared Durand’s view of the Canadian future. In the closing numbers of the Garland and in his advertisements for the sale of the magazine, Smyth drew a parallel between the emergence of a mature civilization from savage Britain and the rapid transition in his own home from the Indian’s America to the promise of mature literary culture: “We yet may become great in Literature and Fame. Who can presage to the contrary? Let us then improve the taste of our country.” Smyth, therefore, acted as a catalyst of literary endeavour in the Hamilton area, but he chose the necessary fillers of wit and wisdom gleaned from American journals and occasionally from one of his Canadian competitors.
Apparently the first volume of the Garland was successful enough that Smyth planned a second, double the size of the first, which was eight pages per issue. That second volume was never published. Instead, beginning in October 1833 Smyth tried to sell the magazine because he had “other business to attend to.” For eight months he advertised in the Western Mercury without finding a buyer. The advertisement indicates that he had a subscription list of 400 which he predicted could be increased to 1,000.
Whether Smyth remained in Hamilton is not known, but in October 1833 he was the defendant in a suit for rent owed, possibly for the printing office on the court-house square; the plaintiff feared that he might flee the province. The long period of advertising suggests that he did not.
AO, RG 22, Hamilton (Wentworth), district court filings, 1831–33. Canadian Casket (Hamilton, [Ont.]), 15 Oct. 1831–29 Sept. 1832. Canadian Garland (Hamilton), 15 Sept. 1832–31 Aug. 1833 [the paper was published under the title Garland until February 1833]. Western Mercury (Hamilton), October 1833-May 1834. W. S. Wallace, “The periodical literature of Upper Canada,” CHR, 12 (1931): 4–22.