It is perhaps cheeky of me to publish this poem on our website, as it is in fact by a male author: Captain John Try-Davies (1830-1911) of Montreal. But there is a rationale here and a mystery to explore; maybe someone out in the Canadian literary world has come up with more answers that what we have.

If you look up “Sophia Almon Hensley” in many pre-internet catalogues of early Canadian literature, you will notice three texts attributed to her under the name of J. Try-Davies. Carole Gerson and Carol McIver* note that this all began (as far as they can tell, and they have looked) with Who’s Who in America, which attributed the novel Love & Co. (Limited) (New York: Selwin Tait, 1901)—signed by “J. Try Davies and Mary Woolston”—to Hensley. It was first published by Brown of Montreal in 1897 as by “John Wernberny and Another,” which does nothing to clarify the situation. It’s authorship nonetheless firmly established by Who’s Who, other catalogues and critics proceeded to attribute other works by J. Try-Davies to Hensley as well, adding “J. Try-Davies” as well as “John Wernberny” to the list of Hensley’s pseudonyms. She did have others. So we see Love & Co. (Limited), Historical Sketch of Boisbriant ([1899]), and A Semi-Detached House and Other Stories (1900) appearing consistently in her list of publications.

Are “Another” and “Mary Woolston” actually Sophia Almon Hensley (as Gerson and McIver suggest, and seems highly possible)? If not, what else is going on? When going through Carole’s paper file on J. Try-Davies from the mid-1980s, trying to answer this question, I came across a typescript of a poem he wrote for the Montreal Pen and Pencil Club, and I couldn’t resist. So here is “The Dead Street,” by Captain John Try-Davies, distinctly not Sophia Almon Hensley.

I leave evaluation of its quality to you.

The Dead Street

By the blue sea in Pompeii
Lies a dead Street
That held gay life ‘neath the blue sky
And fluttered with the pattering of many feet:

We shivered as the brass bound wheels
Bearing on high some lady sweet
Or fare of gods from outland keels
Trundled the deep worn ruts along;
Or echoed laugh of girl or shipman’s song.
So lived the Street.

Now on chill stones and silent walls
No echo of a footstep falls
But the scored flag-stones tell the story
How it once lived when Rome was in her glory.

* Gerson, Carole, and Carol McIver. “Captain Try-Davies and Sophia Almon Hensley.” Canadian Notes & Queries 39 (1988): 10-11.

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