Francis Joseph Sherman, a poet and banker, was born on February 3, 1871, in Fredericton. He was the eldest son of Louis Walsh Sherman, a lumberman and liquor merchant, and Alice Maxwell Myshrall, who was the granddaughter of James Maxwell, a Connecticut Loyalist.
Sherman’s childhood home was a modest structure located where the Playhouse’s stage door stands today on St. John Street in Fredericton. His home environment and the city’s atmosphere were conducive to his introspective nature. A new national literature was emerging, with fellow Fredericton residents Charles G.D. Roberts and Bliss Carman at the forefront. The influence of George R. Parkin at the Collegiate School and George E. Foster at the University fostered a strong cosmopolitanism and intellectual independence within the city and the province.
In 1886, Francis Joseph Sherman enrolled in the Arts program at the University of New Brunswick. Unfortunately, due to financial constraints, his college education was cut short. The following year, he began working as a junior employee at the Merchants Bank of Halifax, launching a career that would eventually earn him significant trust and respect within what would become the Royal Bank of Canada.
By 1898, Sherman had become the Manager of the Merchants Bank in Fredericton, making him the youngest person in Canada to hold such a position. In 1899, he was appointed Assistant Manager of the Montreal office before being transferred to Havana, Cuba, where he became the Bank’s first agent in November of the same year. Sherman left Cuba in 1912 to work at the bank’s Montreal headquarters.
In 1915, Sherman joined the McGill Officer Training Corps and was deployed as reinforcements for the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry during World War I. A year after the war’s conclusion, he retired from the bank and settled in Atlantic City.
In 1896, while living in Fredericton, Sherman visited Boston with a collection of sonnets titled “Matins.” Bliss Carman’s publisher, Copeland and Day, accepted the work and later published Sherman’s “In Memorabilia Mortis” in the same year. This latter title contained sonnets dedicated to William Morris, who greatly influenced Sherman’s thoughts and style. The publication was printed on handmade paper with deckle edges and bound in heather blue-gray antiqued-laid limp wrappers, a style that Sherman would use for most of his future booklets. “A Prelude” was released in 1897, followed by a few smaller poetry collections towards the end of the nineteenth century.
In 1900, the Atlantic Monthly published “An Acadian Easter,” considered to be Sherman’s most ambitious poem, which recounted the story of Madame La Tour and the fall of Port Royal. That same year, his final poetry collection, “A Canadian Calendar: XII Lyrics,” was privately printed in Havana. Roberts regarded this as Sherman’s most mature and profound work, reflecting on the tragedy of losing his great love. In the mid-1890s, Sherman had been engaged to Miss May Whelpley of Fredericton, but she refused to marry him and leave Fredericton when he was assigned to Cuba. Sherman remained devoted to her, and Roberts wrote that she was the one great and inspiring romance of his life. No known poetry by Francis Sherman was written after 1901. Nevertheless, Sherman continued to be an avid bibliophile with an interest in William Morris, Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite poets, and the works of Stevenson, Kipling, Conrad, and Hardy, among others.
Years later, Sherman met Ruth Ann Sullivan from Philadelphia, whom he married in 1921. The couple had two sons, Francis and Jerry, born in Atlantic City. Francis Joseph Sherman passed away in Atlantic City on June 15, 1926, and was buried in Fredericton’s Forest Hill Cemetery, along with Charles G.D. Roberts, Bliss Carman, and May Whelpley.
In a 1934 address to the Royal Society of Canada, Roberts mentioned the critical neglect of Sherman’s work, possibly due to the limited number of poems and editions, and the fact that they were not published in Canada. One notable exception was Rufus Hathaway’s 1927 article in Willison’s Monthly, which drew attention to the beauty of Sherman’s poetry. In 1930, H.G. Wade of Winnipeg released “An Acadian Singer: Francis Sherman,” featuring numerous tributes to Sherman’s literary talent. The first complete edition of Sherman’s poems, edited by Lorne Pierce of the Ryerson Press, was published in 1935.
Sherman is best remembered for his carefully crafted and classic collection of poems. As a master of the sonnet form, he stands alongside fellow poets Roberts and Archibald Lampman. Sherman’s work captures the spirit of medieval romance, achieving moments of spiritual elevation and weaving enchanting tapestries influenced by the colors of Acadian seasons and the East. His treatment of nature in his poetry conveys a sense of reverence that distinguishes him from other Canadian poets of his era.
In 1947, a national monument was erected at the Poets Corner on the University of New Brunswick campus in Fredericton, commemorating Roberts, Carman, and Sherman. In the 1970s, the monument was relocated to Jacobs Yard, in front of the Harriet Irving Library, an area named after Edwin Jacob, President of King’s College from 1829 to 1859.
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