The Ryerson Press published 200 Chap-Books from 1925 to 1960. These publications gave a voice to Canadian poets – some well-known poets, many unknown writers. They were produced as slim paperback volumes of 8 pages to no more than 32 pages, many with covers designed by Group of Seven artist J.E.H. MacDonald and his son Thoreau MacDonald. The volumes were produced in runs of no more than 250 copies each and sold for less than $1.00. A complete set of hardcover editions is contained in The Ryerson Press Archive.
Chap-Books became popular during the reign of Henry VIII. They were popularized by the tales and folklore of the times. One such tale is of Henry VIII and the Cobbler. It is rumored that the King would often disguise himself and walk among his people of an evening. On one such outing he came across a cobbler, busy at work late into the night. Henry purposefully broke the heel off his shoe and asked the cobbler to mend it, which he dutifully accomplished. The cobbler then invited this customer to his cellar where they partook in some refreshment. The cobbler was subsequently invited to pay a return visit to the palace at his leisure and to ask for – Harry Tudor. Some time later, the cobbler did pay a visit to the palace and, thinking that he was to meet some kind of courtier, told the Yoeman he had been invited to see Harry Tudor. Upon being ushered into the presence of Henry VIII, the cobbler immediately bolted and, once caught, was returned to face the King. Henry offered the cobbler a handsome pension and then treated him to a visit to his own cellar. This was one of the first Chap-Books to be published.
The following is taken from a piece of Ryerson Press promotion/order form titled Some Later Chap-Book Offerings. “Back in fifteenth-century France and in England during the rollicking reign of Bluff King Hal, the Chap-Book came into its own in presenting ballads and folk-lore. The idea has been revived again during the last year or two and the Ryerson Press has had considerable satisfaction in offering a series of slim books in striking yet uniformly-bound heavy paper covers, the work of a few of the older and several of the younger Canadian poets, at a price which makes it possible for almost anyone to make himself the possessor of a goodly number.”
The Toronto Evening Telegram claimed Chap-Books to be, “Little books of lovely verse, available at trifling cost, apt mediums of compliment and good will at the holiday season. Their cost is under a dollar; their value at a later date to the collector, may be much more, for they come in strictly limited editions of not many copies.”
Saturday Night declared, “The Ryerson Poetry Chap-Books – distinctive, interesting and praiseworthy.”
The Hamilton Spectator wrote, “Through such a medium new writers make their modest bid for favour and readers come into sympathetic accord with some of those who may later be among our chief poets.”
Indeed, among the “chief poets” to be highlighted in The Ryerson Press Chap-Book series were Charles G.D. Roberts, Al Purdy and Leonard Cohen. Sculptor Florence Wyle was also published in Chap-Book form. Purdy’s Pressed On Sand was published in 1955. Here is one of Al Purdy’s Chap-Book offerings:
I SEE NO HAND
I SEE no hand in the hand shape pressed on sand;
No men in the tide-walking town of time could
Clamber from phoenix flesh, or in any way extend…
But the cupped pooled reservoir of their blood,
Freighted about by bones like a moving lake,
Frames a reference of stars and cold suns:
Beyond and past the reach of micro and telescope
Their phalanx shines.
A carried history sounds in separate parts
And sings in skeletons; dust joins their graves.
No priest pouts for souls unshriven, or starts
Red thoughts rolling through dead men’s lives.
I see them curled in caves and changed to chemic salts,
Lifting on hot grey pavements and charged with rain
You! You over there, collapsed on your awkward stilts,
We shall run together again.
Florence Wyle was born November 24, 1881 in Trenton, Illinois. She intended to become a doctor, but after her first year in pre-med, she met her life-long partner, Frances Loring. The two moved to Greenwich Village in 1909 and then to Toronto in 1913. They lived for nearly 50 years in a house near Mount Pleasant and St. Clair, in Toronto. The Loring-Wyle Parkette was created in their honour. Their converted church made into a studio still stands.
In 1928, Wyle helped found the Sculptors Society of Canada. For her contributions to Canadian art she was awarded the Coronation Medal. She was also the first woman to obtain full membership in the Royal Canadian Academy of Art. Florence Wyle was regarded as one of the finest figurative sculptors in Canada of her time. She died January 14, 1968 in Newmarket, Ontario.
Wyle sculpted busts of A.Y. Jackson and F.H. Varley. Her work sits in the National Gallery in Ottawa, The Canadian War Museum and in the Art Gallery of Ontario. Wyle, along with her partner Frances Loring created several pieces for the Canadian War Memorials Fund following the First World War including On The Land and Munitions Worker. Wyle’s medical training gave her a unique perspective on human physiology and she was renowned for her depiction of the human form. Together, Wyle and Loring, also created the busts of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on the Queen Elizabeth Highway outside Toronto.
GREAT barren rocks that mock at man,
The puny thing that calls the elements to aid
And comes with fire and dynamite and plough
To tear and blast and plunder,
And at last, afraid,
Creeps back to die –
Still are the ranges now;
Born in a turmoil of heat and light and thunder,
Age after age they have watched man pass
And heard his cry
Of joy and agony and wonder;
Serene they raise their mighty shoulders high
Among the wheeling stars that know the law,
In that vast universe where all things
Are as ordered and there is no flaw.
Wyle’s inclusion in The Ryerson Press Chap-Book series is a testament to her ability to cross over into another art form. Ira Dilworth, former teacher, editor, conductor and CBC Radio Program Director, said of Wyle’s poems, “Miss Wyle’s poems are largely descriptive and most of her subject matter is drawn from the varying aspects of nature. To this she occasionally adds her own philosophical comment and so she takes her place in the long tradition of lyric poets of the best and most sensitive kind.”
Both Florence Wyle and Francis Loring died in 1968, in Newmarket, Ontario, only weeks apart. They donated the proceeds from the sale of their work to a fund to assist in exhibiting the works of young Canadian sculptors.