by George J. Dance

Charles Heavysege

Charles Heavysege (1816-1876) in the Canadian Illustrated News XI:16 (1875), 245. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Charles Heavysege
Born May 2, 1816
Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England
Died July 14, 1876 (aged 60)
Montreal, Quebec
Language English
Nationality Canada Canadian
Ethnicity English
Citizenship British subject
Notable work(s) Saul, Jephthah's Daughter

Charles Heavysege (May 2, 1816 - July 14, 1876) was a Canadian poet and dramatist. "He was one of the first serious poets to emerge in Canada, and his play Saul was hailed on its appearance as the greatest verse drama in English since the time of Shakespeare." [1]

Life Edit

Heavysege was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England. He emigrated in 1853 to Montreal, where he worked as a wood carver. In 1860 he became a journalist for the Montreal Transcript, and later for the Montreal Daily Witness, where he eventually became city editor.[2]

As a poet, Heavysege was mainly influenced by Milton, Shakespeare, and the Bible.[3] His first published work was The Revolt of Tartarus, a poem in 6 parts, published in 2 editions: one under his own name in London in 1852, and a second, heavily edited and published anonymously in Montreal in 1855.[4]

He published Sonnets in 1855, Saul: A drama in three parts in 1857, Count Filippo; or, The unequal marriage in 1860, The Owl (an imitation of Poe's "The Raven") and The Dark Huntsman in 1864, The Advocate (a novel) and Jephthah's Daughter in 1865, and Jezebel in 1867.[1]


During his lifetime, Saul was Heavysege's best-known work. Nathaniel Hawthorne passed on a copy to the North British Review,[2] where it was given a laudatory (unsigned) review by Coventry Patmore, who called it "indubitably the best poem ever written out of Great Britain."[4] That was followed by further favorable reviews in the Atlantic Monthly, Galaxy, and New York Evening PostSaul was published in 2 further editions, in 1859 (also in Montreal) and 1869 (in Boston).[2] (The Boston edition was reprinted in 1876 and again in 1967.) Other admirers of Saul were Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald and American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.[3] Longfellow considered Saul to be "the best tragedy written since the days of Shakespeare."[5]

Critical reputationEdit

The Dictionary of Literary Biography (DLB) calls Heavysege "one of the first of the Anglo-Canadian poets to achieve international recognition; he paved the way for later poets such as Charles Sangster and Charles G.D. Roberts."[6]

W.D. Lighthall, who included Heavysege's work in his 1889 anthology Songs of the Great Dominion, wrote of him: "His work is in no sense distinctively Canadian. Canadians do not read him; but they claim him as perhaps their greatest, most original writer, if they could weigh him aright and appreciate him; and he will probably always command their awe, and refuse to be forgotten."[7]

However, his reputation declined in later decades: "In the nationalist 1920s critics disparaged Heavysege's poetry on the grounds that he was not really a Canadian writer," said the DLB, "although he continued to be read by poets like W.W.E. Ross, Ralph Gustafson, and A.J.M. Smith.... Today his crude but vigorous poetry is underrated by Canadian criticism."[6]

In 1956, while dismissing Saul and Count Filippo as "Victorian dinosaurs," Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye acknowledged Heavysege as the "first poet who really came to grips with" what Frye considered to be "the central Canadian tragic theme" (that being "the indifference of nature to human values"): "His third poem, Jephthah's Daughter, seems to me to reflect more directly the influence of his Canadian environment, as its main themes are loneliness, the indifference of nature, and the conception of God as a force of nature." [8]


William Wilfred Campbell included 3 of Heavysege's poems in the Oxford Book of Canadian Verse, 1913.[9]

Saul was produced as a radio drama by the CBC in 1974.[3]

In popular cultureEdit

Solly Bridgetower, a character in Robertson Davies' Salterton Trilogy who is an associate professor of English at the fictional Waverley University, is urged by his department chair, Dr. Sengreen, to stake out a claim in the emerging field of "Amcan" (American-Canadian literature) by editing a scholarly edition of Heavysege's collected works, in order to earn tenure and make a name for himself.[10]



  • The Revolt of Tartarus: A poem. London: Simpkin, Marshall / Liverpool, UK: D. Marples, 1852; Montreal: Henry Rose, 1855.
  • Sonnets. Montreal: H. & G.M. Rose, 1855.
  • The Owl. Montreal: 1864.[11]
  • The Dark Huntsman: A dream. Montreal: "Witness" Steam Print House, 1864;
    • (1864 & 1876 texts), Ottawa: Golden Dog, 1973.
  • Jepthtah's Daughter. Montreal: Dawson / London: Sampson Low, Son, & Marston, 1865.
  • "Jezebel: A poem in three cantos", New Dominion Monthly 1 (1867); [Montreal?]: Golden Dog, 1972.



  • The Advocate: A novel. Montreal: Richard Worthington, 1865; (facsimile edition), Toronto & Buffalo, NY: University of Toronto Press, 1973.

Collected editionsEdit

  • Saul, and selected poems: Including excerpts from 'Jephthah's Daughter' and 'Jezebel: A poem in three cantos'. Toronto & Buffalo, NY: University of Toronto Press, 1976.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[12]

Poems by Charles HeavysegeEdit

The Dead - Charles Heavysege

The Dead - Charles Heavysege

  1. The Dead

See alsoEdit



  1. 1.0 1.1 "Charles Heavysege," Gale Encyclopedia of Biography, Web, Mar. 12, 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Heavysege, Charles." Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. Web, Mar. 12, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Rota Herzberg Lister, "Heavysege, Charles." The Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton: Hurtig, 1988), 974.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Sandra Djwa, "Charles Heavysege Biography," Encyclopedia of Literature, 7989,, Web, Apr. 28, 2011.
  5. Thomas O'Hagan, "On Canadian Poets and Poetry", Canadian Essays, Critical and Historical (Toronto: William Briggs, 1901), 13. Internet Archive, Web, Dec. 9, 2012.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Charles Heavysege," Dictionary of Literary Biography, Web, Mar. 12, 2011.
  7. William Douw Lighthall, Songs of the Great Dominion: Voices from the Forests and Waters, the Settlements and Cities of Canada (Walter Scott [Windsor Series], 1889), Google Books, Web, Apr. 30, 2011.
  8. Northrop Frye, "Preface to an Uncollected Anthology," The Bush Garden (Toronto: Anansi, 1971), 171.
  9. Contents, Oxford Book of Canadian Verse. Toronto & New York: Oxford University Press, 1913. Web, Nov. 19, 2018.
  10. Robertson Davies, Leaven of Malice, Toronto: Penguin, 2006, 151-152. Print.
  11. J.C. Stockdale, Charles Heavysege, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–. Web, May 18, 2015.
  12. Search results = au:Charles Heavysege, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Aug. 28, 2013.

External linksEdit

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