The Christian's Wedding Ring, containing Five Letters and a Series of Poems, written by A Lady with the Sincere Desire of Sowing the Seeds of Union in the Christian Church

The Christian's wedding ring [microform]: containing five letters and a series of poems - Jane Porter

I'm being a bit disingenuous marking this "read". Unless you're passionately interested in obscure Christian theological apologetics of the 1870s (I'm not), this volume is pretty much unreadable. However, as the product of a Canadian woman of some apparent intelligence, though little literary talent and less taste in subject matter, it still was worth scanning through for points of interest.

The broad subject of all of the lengthy sermonizing in the 5 "letters", and much of the undistinguished verse - I won't call it poetry - is ecumenicalism. In addition to desiring the "union in the Christian Church" referred to in the subtitle (her explanations of doctrinal differences reveal her as definitely Protestant), this author appears to hold out some desire for the reunification of all adherents of the Abrahamic religions, under the Christian umbrella of course.

The volume, which exists physically at the University of Toronto library and in e-form on both the Internet Archive and the CIHM free miccrofilm scans (http://eco.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.03865/3?r=0&s=1), was published by Montreal's Lovell publishing house in 1874. Unlike many items coming out of Canadian publishing houses at this period, this appears to be genuinely Canadian in origin, which means that I was somewhat perplexed at first to see that it is attributed in worldcat to "Jane Porter".  The 19th-century literary Jane Porter I know of, the authoress of "The Scottish Chiefs", died in 1850 and has nothing to do with Canada. However this, it appears, is another Jane Porter, and there is a little - a very little - further literary activity by her tracked in Watters' definitive bibliography of Canadian literature. However, we don't know much about her, though the small personal clues in the miscellaneous verse suggest that she was single, fairly active and interested in Canada and current events, a churchgoer in Montreal, and very likely was published by Lovell as a favour to help her financially. (There's one short poem where she asks readers to buy her books, and ruefully tells us her publisher would prefer her to write romances).

I scribbled down a few notes about two things - comments about religion that struck me as different from mere convention; and phrases or subjects of poems that reflected either Canada or current events or both.

On the religious front, her five letters certainly have an ecumenical set of addressees. The first is to Princess Victoria (Queen Victoria's daughter, Queen of Prussia, politically liberal). All the blithe internalized misogyny of her time comes out in this letter of a woman to a woman, even though at the same time Princess Victoria is urged to exert her considerable political influence. "Female education is not practical," and the calling of wives and daughters is home-making. Indeed, Miss Porter goes so far as to deride nuns for abandoning their home duties. The second letter is to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (whom she congratulates, by the way, on the opening of the Suez Canal in 1870).  The third letter is to "Dear Jewish friends", while the fourth is to Pope Pius IX (accompanied by a portrait of him that looks quite demonic). The last letter to so the "Archbishop of Syra and Tenos" (orthodox) who had taken part in ecumenical talks - unsuccessful, one presumes - with the Church of England at Ely in 1870.

Canada is not really present in the prose, but quite a lot of the verse is either explicitly on Canadian subjects, or contains references such as:
The rapids with majestic roar
Proud St. Lawrence at our shore.

On the subject of the Friday fish fast, she has this to say:
The Esquimaux on fish subsist.
Without it, how can they exist?
If eating fish is called a fast,
Their fasting days forever last.

(Apparently Miss Porter was not aware of Inuit seal-hunting).

Other Canadian subjects memorialized in verse include John Bethune, the very prominent Montreal Anglican clergyman who died in 1872; a church in Trois Rivieres, Niagara Falls, the April 1873 wreck of the "Atlantic" off Halifax, a boat race in St John NB in which a man died, and a Montreal incident in which nine people were poisoned with stolen wine. For reasons unknown, there are also some Boston poems, and poems about 1871 fires in both Chicago and Wisconsin, as well as an unexpected poem "On Philately". A few people will know what I mean if I say some of these poems are "McGonagall-esque" (no, not the Harry Potter one).

It's easy to be derisive about this kind of bad book that pops up (only because some of its contents have rhyme and metre, I'm sure) in the miscellaneous anonymous literature sections of very large research libraries. And, I suppose, it's also easy to be too imaginatively sympathetic with the Miss Jane Porters of the Victorian colonial world, trying to sell flat conventional poetry and tortuous, untutored theology as belles lettres. Perhaps Miss Porter had a very comfortable life and was merely a hobbyist. She is dust and we will never know; thanks to big libraries, microfilm, and the internet, her book has been saved from that same dust for other odd ducks like myself to ponder over.