24 June 2011

Burpee's Bad 'St. John the Baptist': Truly Criminal

François-Réal Angers was a truly remarkable man. A lawyer, a gentleman of letters and a strong, articulate voice against slavery in the Republic to the south, he gave light to pre-Confederation Canada. Angers' Les révélations du crime ou Cambray et ses complices; chroniques canadiennes de 1834 (Fréchette, 1837), a fictional account of an outfit known as the Cambers Gang, might just be the first French Canadian novel. Or is it the country's first true crime book? Perhaps it's a nineteenth-century In Cold Blood. I don't know. I've never seen a copy, nor have I looked over the 1867 translation, The Canadian Brigands; an Intensely Exciting Story of Crime in Quebec, Thirty Years Ago!, which is held only by McGill and the Toronto Public Library. Apparently, it more than lives up to its title.

Something for la fête de la St-Jean, "À Saint Jean-Baptiste" is one of Angers' few poems. The above, attributed incorrectly to"F. S. Angers", is drawn from Nouvelle lyre canadienne, published in 1895 by Beauchemin. Respectable verse of devotion, it becomes entirely offensive in Lawrence J. Burpee's incredibly inept 1909 translation.

Songs of French Canada
Lawrence J. Burpee, ed.
Toronto: Musson, 1909

Bonne fête à tout le monde!

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