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Henri Raymond Casgrain

Author in French Canadian literature, b. at Riviere Ouelle, September 16, 1831; d. at Quebec, February 2, 1904

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Casgrain, HENRI RAYMOND, author of some of the best works in French Canadian literature, b. at Riviere Ouelle, September 16, 1831; d. at Quebec, February 2, 1904. His father, a proprietor of the old feudal regime who had been a member of the Canadian ministry, gave him a careful education at the College of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatiere. Having finished his classics he studied medicine, but became a priest in 1856. For several years he discharged his clerical duties at Beauport and Quebec, until poor health and a serious affection of the eyes compelled him to retire; thenceforth he was free to devote himself entirely to literary pursuits. He first wrote tales, such as, “Le tableau de la riviere Ouelle”, “La jongleuse”, “Les pionniers canadiens”, for periodicals, his work appearing, 1860-68, in the “Soirees canadiennes et foyer canadien”. In these narratives, which were well received, he depicted the life and customs of the early colonists of Canada. He has also left several biographies of Canadian writers, including lives of de Gaspe, Garneau, Cremazie, Chauveau. Casgrain’s instinct for research led him to devote himself almost exclusively to history. His historical works include: “Histoire de la Mere Marie de l’Incarnation” (1864); “Histoire de l’Hotel-Dieu de Quebec” (1878); “Une paroisse canadienne au XVIIe siecle”; “Pelerinage au pays d’Evangeline” (1885); “Montcalm et Levis” (1891); “Une seconde Acadie” (1894); “Histoire de l’asile du Bon-Pasteur de Quebec” (1890); “Les sulpiciens et les pretres des Missions etrangeres en Acadie” (1897); not to mention numerous monographs, archaeological studies, and letters of travel written for the press. Ill-health compelled him to spend a long time in Europe, and he turned necessity to profit by making researches in the archives of France; thus he gathered many valuable documents for the history of his own country. Under his direction the Government of Quebec published (1888-1895) the collection known under the name of “Documents de Levis”, dealing with the last wars between the French and English in Canada, which he had secured from the family of this name. He also collected and published the works of Cremazie, the national poet of the French Canadians, under the title: “Oeuvres de Cremazie” (1882). Some of Casgrain’s writings have been crowned by the French Academy. He was professor of history at Laval University, and president of the Royal Society of Canada (1889-1890). As historian, poet, and literary critic Casgrain has exercised considerable influence upon the intellectual movement in Canada, and has accomplished much in making his country known. Although almost blind he was gifted with remarkable fecundity. That he had read in his youth many of the works of the Romantic school is betrayed by a style inclined to over-elaboration, but his diction grew purer as time went on. His literary judgments are not always accurate, and his appreciations of historical events are sometimes at fault. It has even been said that he was better fitted to write tales than history. However, everything considered, his work, as a whole, has real worth. Above all he was a patriot; his one thought was to increase the fame of his country. Casgrain’s outlook is somewhat restricted, but his flights of fancy are frequently beautiful, and he is always interesting. He left unedited memoirs, which were bequeathed, together with his manuscripts and a part of his fortune, to Laval University.


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