YEOMAN, ERIC MACKAY, writer and poet; b. 9 Oct. 1885 in Newcastle, N.B., eldest son of James Yeoman, a bank manager, and Elizabeth L. Mackay; d. unmarried 3 Feb. 1909 in Halifax.
Eric Mackay Yeoman’s father died when he was five and his mother relocated in Halifax, where both parental families had been long established. Mrs Yeoman, with her daughter and three sons, went to live with her widowed mother, and in 1895, about a year after the latter’s death, she moved to share a house with her sister Catherine Olivia and brother-in-law John James Stewart. Stewart, the publisher of the Halifax Herald, had just purchased a large home on Inglis Street, in the most affluent part of the city.
After attending local elementary schools and graduating from the Halifax Academy, Yeoman entered Dalhousie University in 1903. He completed three years there, but the records show him as a fourth year student in both the 1906–7 and the 1907–8 academic years. It is likely that the unexpected death of Stewart in February 1907, which had a disruptive effect on Yeoman’s family, joined with his growing recognition of his talents as a writer to divert his attention from completing his arts degree. Indeed, contemporary remarks of classmates suggest that by then he had become obsessed with writing and may have decided to become a journalist. In any event, the intensity and quality of his earliest published verse suggest that poetry more than any other type of writing seems to have been the driving power in his life in 1907–8. When the Canadian Magazine published “The contrast,” a lyric poem, in April 1907, it gave him the beginnings of that external recognition a poet needs to move from such youthful pastiche as “my heart is weeping-ripe in me” in order to develop a distinctly personal voice. It was not long before the suddenly encouraged young poet was speaking with a bold authority: “This is my universe, and my frail heart / Is centre of it.” Yeoman’s universe is a deeply questioning one, the boundaries of which are “a scarlet agony of grief.” He excelled in anticipating his fate: “What ruining hand of time shall find a prey / In my unsubstanced soul?” And what he says of “Rosalie” could be a self-epitaph:
Thou wast a flower chilled in summer time
A violet broken in its fragile prime.
Frail with its beauty, strengthless with its grace.
Thou wast a flower in an unnative clime,
That death upgathered in his chill embrace,
And aptly bore into a fitter place.
Between April 1907 and April 1910 the Canadian Magazine would publish 15 of Yeoman’s poems, and it also brought out two of his prose works posthumously. The first appeared in August 1909, a travel piece entitled “In the land of windmills,” which included seven photographs by him of wintry Dutch scenes. It was based on a trip to the Netherlands, part of an overseas tour which Yeoman apparently completed only a few weeks prior to his death. The second was a short story, “The wooing of the widow,” published in December, a delightfully humorous exercise in the rather light vein of rural Canadian kailyard. Both works show a comic talent that would be unknown to those who read only his poetry.
In the January 1910 issue of the Canadian Magazine a brief tribute in verse was paid to Yeoman’s “glowing pen” and “marvellous torch” by John Mortimer, a fellow poet. A volume entitled Poems by Eric Mackay Yeoman was published in Toronto the same year, with an introduction by the editor of the Canadian Magazine, Newton McFaul MacTavish*. This collection includes the poems published in the magazine, five lyric pieces, and the seventeen sonnets in the sequence called “Rosalie.” Its publication was another tribute to the respect in which Yeoman’s talent was held by his contemporaries.
With the advent of modernist verse in Canada, Yeoman’s work was forgotten. Now that a more sympathetic approach has been taken to the development of Canadian poetry in the period from 1890 to 1910, it is likely that Yeoman’s work can be once again evaluated. The dark side of late-Victorian poets like William Wilfred Campbell* is being explored, with the result that the sombre tones of Yeoman’s imagination can be better appreciated and studied as a distinct expression of a mystical and transcendental lyricism. While his poetry adheres to conventions tied to that kind of lyric sensibility, it is remarkable for its inventive force within the bounds of the accepted idiom of the day. Its power and originality lie not only in its deft handling of language but also in a clairvoyant and translucent immediacy of perception of individual identity and fate. The brevity of Yeoman’s career or an incredulous response to his precocity should not lead readers of his poetry to continue to discount his reputation among his contemporaries.
John Mortimer’s poetic tribute “To E. M. Yeoman” was published in the Canadian Magazine, 34 (November 1909-April 1910): 229; comments about Yeoman and his work by Newton McFaul MacTavish appear in his introduction to Poems by Eric Mackay Yeoman ([Toronto, 1910]), pp.1–2, and in two brief editorial remarks in the Canadian Magazine, 33 (May-October 1909): 87 and 34: 203. Biographical and critical commentary is also found in Atlantic province authors of the twentieth century: a bio-biblioraphical checklist, comp. C. T. Laugher (Halifax, 1982), 617; Songs of the Maritimes; an anthology of poetry of the Maritime provinces of Canada, ed. Eliza Ritchie (Toronto, 1931), 169, 213; Wallace, Macmillan dict.; and A wreath of Canadian song, containing biographical sketches and numerous selections from deceased Canadian poets, ed. Mrs C. M. Whyte-Edgar (Toronto, 1910), 227–29.
Dalhousie Univ. Arch. (Halifax), MS 2–193 (J. J. Stewart papers), files CIO, 05. North York Public Library (Toronto), Canadiana Coll., Newton MacTavish coll., items 862–63 (mfm. at NA, MG 30, D278). PANS, MG 1, 1057: 31, 197, 200; RG 32, WB, 67: 174, 182; 68: 308; 70: 225; 71: 70. St James and St John United Church (Newcastle, N.B.), St James Presbyterian Church, reg. of baptisms, 1880–1907 (mfm. at PANB). Acadian Recorder, 3, 6 Feb. 1909. Halifax Herald, 28 Feb. 1907, 4 Feb. 1909, 14 Nov. 1912. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 4 Feb. 1909. Morning Herald (Halifax), 23, 25 April 1891. North Shore Leader (Newcastle), 5 Feb. 1909. W. W. Campbell, William Wilfred Campbell: selected poetry and essays, ed. Laurel Boone (Waterloo, Ont., 1987), 36, 210–11. Dalhousie College and Univ., Calendar (Halifax), 1904/5–1906/7, continued as Dalhousie Univ., Calendar, 1907/8–1909/10. Dalhousie Gazette (Halifax), 14 Feb. 1905: 121; 12 June 1907: 259–68, 277–83. Directory, Halifax, 1872/73–1911. T. S. [Thomas Sedgewick], “In memoriam: John James Stewart,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 13 (1908): 153–55. Waite, Man from Halifax. Terry Whalen, “Wilfred Campbell: the poetry of doubt,” Journal of Canadian Poetry (Ottawa), 2 (1979), no.2: 35–47.