STEVENS, PAUL (baptized Paul-Jules-Joseph), teacher, man of letters, and tutor; b. I May 1830 in Brussels (Belgium), son of Jacques-Joseph Stevens, a public works contractor who later became department head in the ministry of war, and Adélaïde-Rose-Josephe Wautier; d. 29 Oct. 1881 at Coteau-du-Lac, Que.
After university studies in Brussels, Paul Stevens emigrated to Canada, likely before July 1854. He settled at Berthier-en-Haut (Berthierville), Canada East, where on 10 May 1855 he married Marie Valier, dit Léveillé; they were to have at least four sons. Stevens became a teacher in Berthier-en-Haut, and from there, in 1856, he submitted to such newspapers as Le Pays, La Patrie, and L’Avenir of Montreal and Le National of Quebec a number of apologues, most of which were republished the following year in his collection of Fables. In August and September 1856 he became involved in a controversy with the editor of Le Journal de Québec, who on 20 August, the 25th anniversary of King Leopold I’s accession to the throne, had accused the Belgian people of having robbed and disparaged France for 26 years. With wounded pride, Stevens undertook in the pages of Le Pays a fierce denunciation of the “scribbler” of Le Journal de Québec, calling on him to retract. Le National, a Liberal paper, reprinted Stevens’ letters, and itself launched a few barbs at its rival newspaper. The quarrel subsided on 26 September.
According to Édouard-Zotique Massicotte*, shortly after this controversy Paul Stevens was named a correspondent to La Patrie, a paper launched in Montreal on 26 Sept. 1854 by Alfred-Xavier Rambau*; it is, however, impossible to confirm this assertion. In the autumn of 1857 he became a teacher of French at the Collège de Chambly and, soon after, its principal. In July 1858 Stevens settled in Montreal, where he gave French and drawing lessons. At that time he participated more actively in the Cabinet de Lecture paroissial, which he had frequented since its opening; he delivered numerous lectures there, and these were printed for the most part in L’Écho du Cabinet de lecture paroissial. In May 1860, with Édouard Sempé and Charles Sabatier [Wugk*], he founded L’Artiste (Montreal), a “journal of religion, criticism, literature, industrial arts and music.” But the newspaper, like many periodicals of this kind, ceased publication after two issues because of a lack of subscribers; thus its editors were not able “to show old Europe that [Canada] also has its writers, musicians, and poets.”
After the fruitless venture of L’Artiste, Stevens again taught French, this time at William Doran’s school in Montreal. Later, when he was private secretary to Abbé Étienne-Michel Faillon*, he published in L’Echo du Cabinet de lecture paroissial, under the title of “Esquisses nationales,” a series of studies of important figures in Canadian history, such as Catherine Thierry (Primot), Jean de Lauson* (the younger), and Adam Dollard* Des Ormeaux, or events such as the battle of the Monongahela. He also wrote a long “Exposé des principaux événements arrivés en Canada depuis Jacques-Cartier jusqu’à la mort de Champlain,” which came out in instalments from 11 June 1864 to 15 July 1865. His essay shows that in addition to Faillon’s writings, he was familiar with the works of Gabriel Sagard*, François Dollier* de Casson, Pierre-François-Xavier de Charlevoix*, François-Xavier Garneau*, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Ferland*, and a number of other historians. At the time his Contes populaires was published in Montreal in 1867, he was a private tutor to the Chaussegros de Léry and Saveuse de Beaujeu families at Coteau-du-Lac, where he died on 29 Oct. 1881.
Paul Stevens’ literary output was extensive and varied. His collection of Fables, 64 apologues dedicated to Denis-Benjamin Viger*, is a work of imitation. As Jacques Blais notes: “The excerpts from predecessors (Simonides, Phædrus, Æsop), the references to the gods of mythology, the changes of metre, the representations of animals and human beings, numerous circumstances, even several verses, belong to the fabulist of the 17th century [Jean de La Fontaine].” But in more than one place he showed originality. For example, as Blais observes, in one of his fables Stevens informs us that “Death turns a deaf ear to the woodcutter’s pleas,” and Blais also notes that “the adventure of the hare and the tortoise inspires a new moral”: “Talent is superfluous, if one does not know how to use it.”
His Contes populaires, most of which appeared first in L’Écho du Cabinet de lecture paroissial, can be grouped into categories: stories developed around a maxim or proverb, for example, “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done today” (“La fortune et Sylvain”), “Gentleness achieves more than violence” (“Pierriche”), “Never judge from appearances” (“Les trois frères”), “None so old that he hopes not for a year of life” (“Télesphore le Bostonnais”); stories in verse, probably the least successful of the collection and borrowed from the great French story-tellers (“Les trois souhaits,” “Jacquot le bûcheux,” “José le brocanteur”); and finally tales of social customs, in which Stevens exploits in his own way a number of popular 19th-century themes, including alcoholism (“Pierre Cardon”) and exile in the United States (“Pierre Souci dit Va-De-Boncœur”).
A more skilful versifier than fabulist, Stevens was nevertheless a good story-teller. Although he lacked the sparkle of Louis-Honoré Fréchette*, particularly in his Contes de Jos Violon, the Belgian writer has left us stories generally better written and better constructed than those of Léon-Pamphile Le May* or Narcisse-Henri-Édouard Faucher* de Saint-Maurice. Yet he was not very popular with the reading public of Quebec, despite the quality of his writing, and he remains an intellectual story-teller shaped by the 17th-century tradition. He transmits an international repertory without trying to give it local colour in either language or description. But his Contes populaires is still worth studying and deserves republishing. The style is pleasing and the language polished.
[Paul Stevens published in Montreal in 1857 his Fables, a collection of apologues which had appeared in various Montreal and Quebec newspapers in the preceding years. An analysis of this work by Jacques Blais in DOLQ, I: 241–42, includes a complete list of the moral fables in the book and of the newspapers in which they were published. From 1859 until about the middle of the 1860s, L’Écho du Cabinet de lecture paroissial (Montréal) carried most of the lectures given by Stevens to the Cabinet de lecture paroissial, as well as a series of studies which he wrote on various personalities and events in Canadian history. In the course of these same years, this periodical also published numerous stories that Stevens brought together in 1867 in a collection entitled Contes populaires (Ottawa). I have examined these stories in DOLQ, I: 151–53, and included several pages of comment on them in my Le Conte littéraire québécois au XIXe siècle: essai de bibliographie critique et analytique (Montréal, 1975), 337–44. Another useful article is: “Bibliographie: contes populaires par Paul Stevens,” L’Écho du Cabinet de lecture paroissial, 9 (1867): 399–400. a.b.]
AP, Sainte-Geneviève-de-Berthier (Berthierville), Reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 10 mai 1855; Saint-Ignace (Coteau-du-Lac), Reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 31 oct. 1881. Arch. de la ville de Bruxelles, État civil, Reg. des naissances, 1830, no.1430. [Victor Hugo], “Deux lettres inédites de Victor Hugo,” La Presse, 5 janv. 1907. “Nouvelles et faits divers,” JIP, 1 (1857): 202. La Minerve, 23 avril, 31 oct. 1857; 17 juill. 1858. L’Ordre (Montréal), 3 sept. 1860. La Patrie, 3 nov. 1881. É.-Z. Massicotte, “Paul Stevens, fabuliste et conteur,” BRH, 51 (1945): 373–74. Joseph Royal, “Contes populaires, par Paul Stevens,” Rev. canadienne, 4 (1867): 396–98.