January 18, 1917 Night at the Arts and Letters Club

January 18, 1917

Note to my followers: This is what I’ve written so far. I had promised to finish yesterday, but I hope to finish tonight. The members dinner was quite an eventful night and is worthy of a detailed account.

‘Tom’

~~~~

Last night was quite the spectacle at the Arts and Letters Club. It wasn’t what happened during the formal proceedings and program but what happened after. It took me the better part of the day to get out of mood so I could write. I didn’t do any painting today.

When I was working in the commercial business, I preferred in my off-hours to go to the tea-rooms instead of joining a luncheon and dinner club. Most everyone else joined a club, but I saw enough of my chaps at work that I didn’t need to see them at lunch and dinner too. I needed time to myself. The tea-rooms you could go alone and no one would single you out for it. I’d bring something to read because I had enough of conversation and your nose in a book is a good barrier to someone approaching to socialize.

This didn’t mean I never wanted to go a club . I just didn’t want to become a member because once you become a formal member of a club, it’s the club obligations that begin to chip away at your freedoms. I’ve seen enough people, especially women, who’ve had their lives regulated by churches and clubs to the point of having nothing left for themselves.

The program for the members’ dinner started at 7pm. I walked from the Shack – it’s about two miles to the old Courthouse on Adelaide. I could have walked on Yonge, but I decided to go down Church instead because I liked walking through the Garden District instead. For some reason I could not get the TS Eliot poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” out of my mind. I got the issue of Poetry from Arthur Heming. To be truthful, I swiped it from him after an all night bout of drinking with Curtis Williamson amd Bill Beatty. We also managed to mash up Arthur’s hat. He was none too pleased about that.

Prufrock is nothing like I’ve ever read before.I found the words in poem absolutely spellbinding with its imagery expressed in an entirely alien way. I knew that what he was doing with poetry, I was doing with my sketches and a lesser extent my sketches. As I walked along Church, all I could think of were “one-night cheap hotels” and “sawdust restaurants” on “half-deserted streets”. Prufrock was giving a voice to my feelings in Toronto. I feel like I am living a life of indecision, isolation and unspoken frustration. Needless to say, these thoughts about Prufrock did not put me into a good disposition for the evening. I also was thinking that this type of poetry along with the War would be the death of the type of Canadian poets of the likes of Duncan Campbell Scott, Bliss Carman and Wilfred Campbell. Fortunately I’d be able to make a judgment tonight because Duncan Campbell Scott was on the program tonight to do a reading from the his new poetry book followed by a talk on the Indian Problem.

After a walk of about three-quarters of an hour I arrived at the club – shortly before 7pm. The club is on the second floor, and you can only access it through a narrow stairway in the back lane. Roy Mitchell, the club playwright, usually had a play prepared for these type events. But Roy had gone to New York to work as a stage manager so we were spared the preparation for one of his productions. The major effort being the creation of the stage in the Courthouse room. There was no permanent stage, so Roy had managed to procure 150 crates that he stored on the first floor. We’d have to bring these crates up two long flights of stairs and assemble at the far of the room. And of course, at the end of the evening (or the next day) bring them back down to storage. Then there was the jury-rigging of lighting equipment, made of biscuit boxes, stovepipes and tin wash basins. Once these were set up properly – with no electrocution or incendiary mishap – the show would go on. Unfortunately, for tonight, there was no show for Roy. I’m sure he was busy on Broadway, not thinking about us.

I could hear the low buzz of the converstation as I mounted the stairs. The lights were electrical, but it was still dim because the Court room is cavernous. The cigar and cigarette smoke (everyone smoked) hung in the air like a dissatisfied she-fog twisting itself around the men and then rising up into the ceilinged darkness. In the daytime I could see the ornate tin ceiling tiles, but tonight, these tiles were on the other side darkness, either in heaven or hell.

‘Tom, my boy! You made it!”

Dr. MacCallum emerged from the cigar-smoke gloom and greeted me effusively. I knew he did this because he really did welcome, but he also did it to signal to the other members that I was someone to be regarded highly. Every once in awhile, someone would be invited to the club that didn’t seem to quite fit, and the club members would unconsciously close ranks to squeeze them out so they would never come again. But most of the members knew, or knew of me well. I had a oil sketch exhibition here at the club in late 1915 that was well-received by the members with the exception the few. I’d come quite often with Lismer, Jackson and Harrison for lunch. I came along a few times with Varley, not since since we had a falling out last year. I saw that Varley was here tonight, talking to Gus Bridle.

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