Donald McCaig,

 briefly introduced.



Well known educator and acclaimed poet, Donald McCaig, in his autobiography, addressed the concerns that a romantically inclined and sensitive youth might have entertained in 1852.


Readers, please note that Donald McCaig’s “Autobiography of a Backwoods Boy” is available in its splendid entirety from those magnificently munificent folks at the Puslinch Historical Society.







The Poet as a Young Man


Donald McCaig








No one, however, knew anything of the longing and of the restless, unsatisfied condition of this period of my life.  I was, moreover, exceedingly backward, bashful, awkward, and self-conscious in the presence of others, especially women.  I have never wholly got over this embarrassing mental experience, and long after I arrived at manhood, it was often very distressing.  The intercourse between the sexes in the pioneer stage of a country’s development is of a very free and easy character and one into which the ordinary youth enters with very little difficulty.  No overly conscious feeling of his ignorance, his dress, or his appearance is a source of embarrassment, but to me these drawbacks were ever present and sometimes culminated in a painfully ridiculous manner.


The dance which always followed every barn-raising, logging-bee, or quilting-bee was the occasion for much rustic courtship, which often ended in marriage in those early days.  Few young men reached the age of twenty without having passed through some affair of the heart, more or less serious.  I was no exception to the rule, but the youth who was bold and aggressive and could dance best, captured the fairest and liveliest maiden.  I had never danced, could not do so, but was very anxious to learn.  I had conceived a tenderness for a pretty little cousin, Janet, and to be at all eligible I must break the ice by dancing with her, and taking her to and seeing her home from one of those rustic balls.  After considerable deliberation and much misgiving, I ventured to ask Janet to the dance.  I was in for it at last, and a few days of brooding over the coming event did not help to dissipate the horror of the situation.  The pilgrim in the slough of despond was not in worse plight, and it was equally difficult to retreat or go forward.






The day came, the bee was over, the supper past, and the dance in full progress.  I allowed two or three sets to pass, studying the figure of a Highland reel and sweating up courage for the great event.  At length Janet and I were upon the floor, she a so very sweet motherly girl of seventeen, I, a big, hulking, raw boned fellow, six feet up in the air, got up in homespun pants and cowhide boots.  The fiddle unfortunately was out of tune and it seemed to require an eternity to get it right.  I knew that everyone in the room was gazing upon me and speculating as to the results. 


My own picture became so overpoweringly ridiculous to my imagination, my cowhide boots beating the floor at the end of my long legs, my homespun pants, and the rest of my get-up, whatever it may have been, I could stand no longer, the figure of the Highland reel became an inextricable maze, more involved than the cycles and epicycles of the Ptolemaic astronomy.  Before the fiddles had finished tuning, I made a bolt for the door and left my partner standing alone in the middle of the floor. 


Janet, as was to be expected, found another partner, and married another man, and I spent a large part of the evening sitting in the snow behind the wood pile that I had helped to chop during the day, gnawing the cud of my mortification and reflecting upon the dark side of existence.  This was my first and last dance, which, by the way, never came off, but served to convince me, and Janet also, that dancing was not my vocation.







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