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«David M. Hayne concluded his article on Pamphile Le May’s translation of Le Chien d’or / The Golden Dog 1 by William Kirby (1817–1906) by ...»

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William Kirby’s The Chien D’Or / The Golden Dog / A Legend

Of Quebec : Translation and Transformation

Mary Jane Edwards

Introductory Note : I presented a version of this paper entitled “Serialised and Cen-

sored in Montreal: The Case of William Kirby’s Le chien d’or / The Golden Dog” at a

session on “Textual Criticism and Editing” at the 19th Triennial Conference of the

International Association of University Professors of English held at the University

of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, in August 2004; Paul Eggert was the other participant. Harold Love was a member of the audience, and, as usual, he

greeted what we had to say with enthusiasm. And that is what I particularly liked:

no matter what the subject, Harold was interested; no matter how intricate the argu- ment, Harold asked the right question; and no matter how much he disagreed, Harold remained courteous. When he died, I lost a friend, but, more importantly, the academic world lost both a gentleman and a genuinely Renaissance man. I dedicate this much revised version of my Vancouver talk to the memory of Harold Love.

David M. Hayne concluded his article on Pamphile Le May’s translation of Le Chien d’or / The Golden Dog 1 by William Kirby (1817–1906) by stating that “The Golden Dog and Le Chien d’or … have led a parallel existence, being published and pirated, reworked and revised, admired and adapted.” 2 But the story is even more complicated. In the nineteenth century their existence was not so much parallel as paradoxical. Kirby wrote his novel in the decade after the Canadian Confederation of 1867 with the express purpose of helping to bring what he called Canada’s double treasure of two languages, two literatures, two histories, and two groups of heroes together into one bilingual and bicultural Canadian nation. Almost twenty years after Confederation, Le May’s 1884 translation began the transformation of the French version of Kirby’s text into a work that celebrated the language, literature, and history of only one of these cultural entities, that of French Canada. A study of Le Chien d’or / The Golden Dog as it was conceived by Kirby and translated by Le May, then, not only provides a history of textual transmission but also reveals dominant themes in the cultures of English Canada and French Canada/Quebec.

1 Le Chien d’or / The Golden Dog is the title that I use when I refer in this article to Kirby’s text generi- cally. When I am referring to a particular issue, impression, or edition of the text, I cite its specific title. In transcribing the quotations, I have followed their punctuation, spelling, and other accidentals.

Unless otherwise specified, the English translation of each quotation in French is mine.

2 David M. Hayne, “The Golden Dog and Le Chien d’or : Le May’s French Translation of Kirby’s Novel,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada20 (1981): 50–62.

–  –  –

The first impression of the first edition of The Chien D’Or / The Golden Dog / A Legend Of Quebec was “issued at last” in February 1877.3 Its author, an Englishman whose family had migrated to Cincinnati, Ohio, from Yorkshire in 1832, had settled in what is now Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, in 1839 after visiting various places in Upper and Lower Canada, including Quebec. It was there that he first saw on a stone house in the rue Buade “a Golden Dog, in a crouching position, rudely carved in relievo, with the following inscription underneath:— ‘Je Suis Un Chien Qui Ronge Lo, / en le rongeant je prends mon Repos, / Un temps viendra qui n’est pas venu, / Que je morderay qui m’aura mordu. / 1736’,” 4 or, in Kirby’s translation, “I am a dog that gnaws his bone, / I couch and gnaw it all alone— / A time will come, which is not yet, / When I’ll bite him by whom I’m bit.” 5 Kirby saw the carving again in 1865 when he spent just over a month in Quebec.

This time he read a copy of Maple Leaves: A Budget of Legendary, Historical, Critical, and Sporting Intelligence by James MacPherson Le Moine, the bilingual “lawyer, office holder, and author” 6 who became a close friend. This 1863 publication contained a sketch of “Le Chien d’Or—The Golden Dog” that connected the carving to “Nicolas Jacquin Philibert, a Quebec merchant” who owned the house in the rue Buade in the mid-eighteenth century; his quarrel with “the Intendant (Bigot), perhaps for refusing to aid him in his peculations and extortions”; and his murder in 1748 by “Pierre Legardeur, Sieur de Repentigny,” the “French lieutenant” whom Bigot, “to annoy Philibert,” had ordered billeted at his house.7 Le Moine’s work also had a sketch about “A Visit to Château-Bigot,” the country residence of the last Intendant of New France, and one about “Marie Josephte Corriveau,—A Canadian Lafarge,” the “hideous figure” 8 who was hanged in 1763 for the murder of her husband.

Kirby, who always emphasised that Le Chien d’or / The Golden Dog “originated” 9 with Le Moine’s work, discussed these sketches with Benjamin Sulte, “a clever French Canadian.” 10 Kirby had met Sulte, who was to have a long career in Ottawa 3 Memorandum, Robert Kurczyn Lovell to William Kirby, 21 February 1877, Correspondence with Publishers, William Kirby Collection, Archives of Ontario, Toronto, F-1076, MU1635, A-6.

4 James MacPherson Le Moine, Maples Leaves: A Budget of Legendary, Historical, Critical, and Sporting Intelligence (Quebec: Printed, for the Author, by Hunter, Rose and Company, 1863), 30.


William Kirby, The Chien D’Or / The Golden Dog / A Legend Of Quebec (New York and Montreal:

Lovell, Adam, Wesson and Company, 1877), 116.


Roger Le Moine, “Le Moine, Sir James MacPherson,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14:

1911–1920 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 646–48.

7 Le Moine, Maple Leaves, 31. It now seems that the house was built and the stone carving and its inscription placed on it in about 1688 by Timothée Roussel, a surgeon who came from near Pézenas, France, where a similar stone can still be seen in the garden of a house just outside the city.

8 Ibid., 69.

9 See, for example, William Kirby, “A Biographical Sketch of the Author of ‘Maple Leaves’,” in James MacPherson Le Moine, Maple Leaves, 1894 (Quebec: L. J. Demers, 1894), 7–11.

10 ALS, William Kirby to James MacPherson Le Moine, 7 April 1877, The LeMoine Correspondence, Script & Print 236 as a federal public servant, earlier in Niagara-on-the-Lake. In a letter Kirby wrote to Le Moine in April 1877 shortly after the publication of The Chien D’Or, he explained that when he had visited Quebec in 1865, Sulte, who was then living in the city, and he had “talked much of Chateau Bigot and the Chien d’or. I wanted Sulte … to write the story, and finally half in jest, half in earnest, threatened him, that if he would not write the story of the Chien d’or I would—!—That was the beginning of it.” 11 Kirby wrote and revised his novel over several years from the late 1860s to 1876, when John Lovell finally accepted it for publication by the newly-established firm of Lovell, Adam, Wesson and Company of New York and Montreal. Set in Quebec and its environs in a few weeks in the autumn of 1748, the plot of Le Chien d’or / The Golden Dog involves three love stories, each of which is more or less developed in the form of a love triangle. François Bigot is flirting with Angelique des Meloises while he is concealing at his country residence Caroline de St Castin, the Acadian Métisse to whom he is betrothed. Le Gardeur de Repentigny is pursuing Angelique, who is actively encouraging Bigot’s suit; Bigot himself is challenging his henchman De Pean to marry Angelique. Pierre Philibert is courting Amelie de Repentigny, Le Gardeur’s sister, with whom he has long been in love; she is being pursued, albeit languidly, by Angelique’s brother.

Through such aspects as their positions and professions, these personae, most of whom are based on historical figures, allow Kirby to describe the social and religious customs of eighteenth-century New France and to introduce FrenchCanadian legends. The aunt and guardian of Le Gardeur and Amelie, for instance, is the widowed Lady de Tilly, who runs both a large house in Quebec and an important seigneury farther up the St Lawrence. Fanchon Dodier, the aunt of one of Angelique’s maids, is La Corriveau. Not only does Kirby use his characters and their connections to depict the culture of the French colony, he also employs them to sketch its political problems. Pierre Philibert, for example, is the son of the Bourgeois Philibert, the leader of the so-called Honnêtes Gens and the one merchant in Quebec powerful enough to withstand the machinations of Bigot, who, with his associates, is ruining New France.

In Le Chien d’or / The Golden Dog, however, Kirby did more than celebrate the French-Canadian nation of New France. Rather, he linked this nation to its Greek, Roman, Viking, and Norman roots and its aboriginal affiliations and thereby united its history with that of Canada’s British settlers. The novel became, thus, a kind of national epic that incorporated Kirby’s vision of the new Dominion of Canada created by the confederation of Quebec (Canada East), Ontario (Canada West), New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia in 1867 and extended by the inclusion of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories in 1870, British Columbia in 1871, and William Kirby Collection, Archives of Ontario, Toronto, F-1076, MU1634, A-1.

11 Ibid.

The Chien D’Or / The Golden Dog 237 Prince Edward Island in 1873. In his epic Kirby presented the new Dominion as bilingual, bicultural, Christian, conservative, European, imperial, and northern. Or, as he wrote to Sulte in November 1867, “Canada possesses a double treasure: her two languages, her two literatures, her two histories, with her double memory of great men and great deeds that flow together like two rivers and are joined in the waters of our St. Lawrence.” 12 In the years immediately after Confederation this narrative of two founding peoples joining together under Queen Victoria and under God to build a new nation appealed to many Canadians, both English-speaking and French-speaking. In a letter he wrote to its author in early April 1877, for example, Le Moine predicted “a great—a very great success” for Kirby’s work.13 The reviews in English-Canadian and French-Canadian newspapers and periodicals were equally enthusiastic. Nevertheless, while the English-language items emphasised the Canadian content of the work, the ones in French welcomed The Chien D’Or more as a novel about French Canada. Pantaléon Hudon, the reviewer in the March 1877 issue of the Revue Canadienne, described the subject of the novel as “entirely French-Canadian.” 14 Sulte began his review published in the Opinion Publique on 3 May 1877 by saluting both “Le Chien d’or” and its author. The spirit of the book was “eminently sympathetic to French Canadians,” 15 about whose history Kirby must have read “two hundred volumes.” 16 Emphasising the importance of this history for the “French-Canadian race,” 17 he concluded, “As long as we remain what we have been, all will go well, in our honour.” 18 The tendency to read Kirby’s Canadian novel as one uniquely about French-Canadian culture increased when The Chien D’Or was translated into French.

12 “le Canada possède un trésor double: ses deux langues, ses deux littératures, ses deux histoires, avec sa double mémoire de grands hommes et de grands faits qui coulent ensemble comme deux fleuves et se joignent dans les eaux de notre St. Laurent.” See William Kirby to Benjamin Sulte, 18 November 1867, Ordre (Montreal), 27 November 1867, 1. The letter was published as part of an article on the growing interest that French-Canadian and English-Canadian writers were taking in each other, a rapprochement that would lead to “honour to the country” (“honneur au pays”) for the new “Canadians, sons of two races that were formerly rivals,” (“Canadiens, fils de deux races autrefois rivales”) who “can and must now live together like brothers; the actions reserved for those of French blood in this coming together will, furthermore, be neither the least glorious nor the least noble” (“peuvent et doivent vivre fraternellement ensemble; la part d’action que le sang français se réserve dans ce rapprochement, ne sera ni la moins glorieuse, ni la moins noble”).

13 ALS, James MacPherson Le Moine to William Kirby, 2 April 1877, The LeMoine Correspondence, William Kirby Collection, Archives of Ontario, Toronto, F-1076, MU1634, A-1.

14 “tout canadien-français.” See P[antaléon] H[udon], “Bibliographie,” Revue Canadienne 4 (1877):


15 “éminemment sympathique aux Canadiens-français.” See Benjamin Sulte, “ ‘Le Chien D’Or,’ ” Opinion Publique (Montreal), 3 May 1877, 208.

16 “deux cents volumes.” Ibid.

17 “race canadienne-française.” Ibid.

18 “Tant que nous resterons ce que nous avons été, tout ira bien, en notre honneur.” Ibid.

Script & Print 238 In a letter written to Kirby on 9 April 1877, Sulte had already wondered if the novel “should not be translated.” 19 However, in his letter of 17 May 1877, in reply to Kirby’s enthusiastic response to this suggestion, he explained that bringing a translation to pass would not be easy. One reason was that the publishing conditions in Quebec were not yet in place, and, therefore, it was difficult for French Canadians to create “all the elements that make up a national literature.” 20 Another was the problem of finding a suitable translator. It was possible that “some French-Canadian writer” 21 might offer to do the job, but for the moment Sulte did not see anyone whom he could recommend.

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