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An Abridged History of Canada
History of Canadian Literature By G. Mercer Adam


From the Rebellion Back to the Conquest.

Leaving the region of the Great Plains, in the flower of their later-day development, let us get back to the old historic Canadas on the St. Lawrence—the vestibule of the North-West, as Lord Dufferin termed them—and to what may be called the mediaival period in the national history. After the Conquest came an extended period of military and semi-military rule, unfavourable to literature. This was followed by a disturbed era of more or less personal rule, on the part of the Governors-General and Lieutenant-Governors of Canada, during which the people in the French province endeavoured to free themselves from the bonds of feudalism and clerical domination which had long retarded the progress of the colony. In the English province much the same light was going on, chiefly, however, against the paternalism of the Mother Country, or rather against the tyranny of a bureaucratic Colonial Executive, which stood in the way of progress and the attainment of some needed measure of responsible government. This state of things produced a fevered condition in both provinces, unfavourable to material advancement, though in the end conducive to intellectual freedom and the increase of popular power. Its results may be seen in the political gains of the people, though to secure them the country was brought to a condition of active rebellion, and almost to the verge of independence, or worse. Happily peace came with the panacea of constitutional government and a new and brighter era of progress and reform.

In the front rank of the literature of this distracting period stands Lord Durham's famous "Report and Despatches" to the Imperial Government, "on the Affairs of British North America" (London and Montreal, 1839). This able State paper, the work partly, it is said, of his Lordship's secretary, Mr. Charles Buller, reviews the whole situation of affairs in both sections of the colony, discusses all points of disagreement and the grounds of disaffection, comments on the defects of the colonial system of government and the inefficient administration of justice—and, as a remedy, proposes the union of the two provinces. This latter specific, as we know, was applied, and under it the ailing body corporate managed to get along for the next five-and-twenty years. It was some time, however, before the dust settled on the scenes of the conflict, and though the embers of the fire are now scattered, literature has preserved not a few of the brands in the strife. Of these we may mention, on the Tory side, "that self-complacent piece of egotism," Sir Francis Bond Head's "Narrative of his Administration in Canada," with the causes of the revolt (London, 1839); the same writer's "Address to the House of Lords against the Re-Union Bill, disclosing the improper means by which the consent of the Legislature has been obtained to the Measure" (London, 1840); "Canada and the Canada Bill: being an examination of the proposed measure for the future Government of Canada, with some views respecting the British Provinces in North America," by Chief Justice Sir John Beverley Robinson, Bt., C.B.; "A Speech in the Legislative Council on the subject of the Clergy Reserves," by the Right Rev'd John. Strachan, D.D., Lord Bishop of Toronto, with other comforting comfits from the members and adherents of "the Family Compact." From the radical arsenal there belched volley after volley of red-hot and inflammatory material, mostly in the shape of political pamphlets, "dodgers," and hand-bills, with the occasional round shot from the heavy guns, Gourlay, Papineau, and Mackenzie. Of the highly seasoned, if not seditious, tractates of the time, prepared for the delectation of the then obnoxious authorities, the curious reader will find entertainment in such brochures as Papineau's "Histoire de l'lnsurrection du Canada, en refutation du Rapport de Lord Durham " (Burlington, Yt., 1839), and the "Seventh Annual Report of the Select Committee of the House of Assembly of Upper Canada, on Grievances," by its chairman, Wm. Lyon Mackenzie (Toronto, 1835), together with an earlier literary gem, from the same source, entitled "The Legislative Black List of Upper Canada; or, Official Corruption and Hypocrisy Unmasked" (York, 1828).

One of the first in the cause of reform to strip himself for the fray, was Robert Fleming Gourlay, who came to Canada in 1817, with the laudable and innoxious motive of promoting emigration. Pursuing some statistical inquiries into the resources and capabilities of the province, he became aware of the existence of various abuses in connection with the public administration of affairs, and in dragging them rather Quixotically to light he brought upon himself the wrath of the Provincial Executive, with subsequent banishment from the country. The sad story of this hapless "patriot," mixed up, unfortunately, with much that is otherwise really valuable in his writings, may be gathered from the author's "Statistical Account of Upper Canada," which appeared in London, in two 8vo volumes, in 1822. The troubles and persecution of Gourlay, with the obstinate refusal of the Executive Council of Upper Canada to remedy crying abuses and show some deference to the wishes of the people, did much to excite public feeling and fan the flame of rebellion. The first authority 011 the events of this period is Mr. Charles Lindsey, the Nestor of Upper Canadian journalism, and the son-in-law and biographer of Win. Lyon Mackenzie, the chief actor in the drama of the times. Mr. Lindsey, however, belongs to the writers of the modern period, and though his theme, like that of Mr. J. C. Dent, is the Rebellion of 1837, we must defer our notice of him and his important work for the present. It would have been advantageous, we are aware, to have discarded the chronological order of this sketch and dealt with the writers, irrespective of their period, grouped around their several themes. Had this been our plan, which circumstances prevented our adopting, we should here make mention, besides the two special writers alluded to 011 the Rebellion period, of a number of biographies which have of late years issued from the press, and which throw a strong light on the actors and the events of the time. The books we refer to are such works illustrative of the period, and that immediately following it, as Sir Francis Hinck's "Reminiscences," the Life of the Hon. George Brown, by the Hon. Alexander Mackenzie; Collins' Life of Sir John A. Macdonald; the Biography of the Right Rev. Bishop Strachan, by Bishop Bethune, his successor in the Toronto Episcopate; the "Story of the Life of the Rev. Dr. Ryerson," by Dr. J. G. Hodgins; and Mr. J. C. Dent's "Canadian Portrait Gallery," and "The Last Forty Years" of Upper Canadian history. The reader will find interest, also, in referring to Mr. J. W. Kaye's Life and Correspondence of Sir Charles Metcalfe; to Mr. Theodore Walrond's Letters of Lord Elgin (London, 1847-65), and to Major Richardson's "Eight Years in Canada, embracing a review of the administrations of Lords Durham and Sydenham, Sir Charles Bagot, and Lord Metcalfe" (Montreal, 1847).

But it is time to get back to the earlier era from which we digressed, in speaking of the military and personal rule which followed the Conquest, and the events which led to rebellion, and the union, in 1841, of the two old provinces of Canada. For at least half a century after the Conquest, as we have already hinted, literature in the Lower Province fell upon a period of lean years, while Upper Canada, as yet, was a wilderness. The story of the Conquest itself is nowhere better or more interestingly told, in an English source, than in the pages of Major G. D. Warburton's "The Conquest of Canada," edited by his gifted brother, Eliot Warburton (London, 1849). The author was an English officer of the Royal Artillery, stationed for a time in Canada, and while in the country he made good use of his opportunities in gathering the material of this and an earlier work entitled "Hochelaga: or, England in the New World." His book on the Conquest, particularly with respect to Indian life and legends, has a fascination not inferior, though of a different sort, to that which makes Mr. Park-man's "Montcalm and Wolfe" so absorbing a study. The biographies of the French and English heroes of the strife, the translation of "Montcalm's Letters" (London, 1777), and Wright's "Life of Major-General Wolfe" (London, 1865), will also well repay perusal. Nor should the pages of the American historian, Bancroft, on the Fall of Quebec, the closing chapter of Miles' "History of Canada during the French Regime," and Dr. Daniel Wilson's eloquent article in the Canadian Monthly on "Wolfe and Old Quebec," be omitted by the reader or the student of one of the most notable events in Canadian annals.

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