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


To the French-Canadian sources of the native history, prior to and subsequent to the Conquest, we have already referred. The chief of these, as we have said, is Garneau's work, which may be profitably supplemented by Miles' history, and by the Anglo-Canadian authors, MacMullen, Dr. Withrow, and Mr. Andrew Archer, an able educational writer and historian of New Brunswick. At the present moment we are looking forward with interest to the appearing of an addition to the ranks of native historical writers, in the person of Mr. Wm. Kingsford, C.E., of Ottawa, from whose pen we are shortly to have a History of Canada to the date of the cession of the country to Britain. Here we must find place to mention—in connection with the successive constitutions granted to the people by the British Crown, including the King's proclamation after the Conquest, the Quebec Act of 1774, the Constitutional Act of 1791, the Act of Union, 1841, and the British North America Act, which gave shape and form to Confederation—Mr. Samuel J. Watson's "Constitutional History of Canada," of which the first volume only appeared. Dr. J. G. Bourinot's "Parliamentary Procedure and Practice " also claims notice, in the opening chapter of which the learned and industrious Clerk of the House of Commons has given us a concise and lucid history of parliamentary institutions in Canada. Dr. O'Sullivan's popular "Manual of Government in Canada" may also be profitably consulted. The student of the Canadian Constitutions will find, with regard to the latest of them, a number of elucidatory textbooks well worthy of study, the chief of which is one by Joseph Doutre, Q.C., of Montreal, illustrating the British North America Act of 1867 by a series of annotations and recent decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada and the Imperial Privy Council. Dr. Alpheus Todd's important treatise on "Parliamentary Government in the British Colonies" (London and Boston, 1880), is, with his earlier work, doubtless too important to be unknown to the reader. The author's learned commentaries, despite the buckram of his style, are held in high repute wherever English institutions are studied or introduced.

The outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, Montgomery's futile invasion of Canada in 1775, and the friction between the British and French races in Lower Canada, which the Quebec Act of the previous year occasioned, gave birth to three volumes on the peculiar land system prevailing in Lower Canada, by Francis Maseres, at one time Attorney-General of the Province of Quebec. These volumes, entitled "The Canadian Freeholder," discuss, in the form of a dialogue between an Englishman and a Frenchman, the burning land question of the day, in the interests of the Protestant minority of the province, who were then, as they are still, at great disadvantage in civil and ecclesiastical matters, in consequence of the privileges granted at the Conquest to their French-Canadian and Roman Catholic countrymen. The author, who subsequently became a Baron of the Exchequer Court in England, also published a number of works advocating the creation by the Crown of a House of Assembly and parliamentary institutions in the Quebec Province. Referring to the Montgomery invasion, reminds us of Mr. John Lesperance's novel, "The Bastonnais" (Toronto, 1877), which gives a graphic account of it, and forms with Mr. Win. Kirby's historial romance, "Le Chien D'Or "—a story of the old courtly days of Louis Quatorze and Louis Quinze in Quebec—the two finest pieces of fiction which English-Canada has so far produced.

Popular assemblies were little to the mind of George III., and though the province was granted a Constitution, the autocratic Executive and Legislative Council which were given to it could scarcely be deemed a boon to the people. Nor could the British and Protestant minority relish the recognition by the State of the Roman Catholic Church, with legalization of the Civil Code of France, and the perpetuation of the status of a French province. For the period the province ran a separate career, namely, from 1791 to the Union in 1841, Mr. Robert Christie's "History of Lower Canada, Parliamentary and Political," in six volumes, 12mo (Quebec, 1849-55), is the chief text-book and repertory of facts. Mr. Christie, as an active member of the Legislature, had good opportunities for studying the workings of the parliamentary institutions of the Province; and, though his style is loose and straggling, he has made fair and intelligent use of them.

The war for American independence, now an accomplished fact, created an episode in the history of Canada of which native literature has as yet made little, if we except the two portly volumes of materials for a history compiled by the late Rev. Dr. Ryerson, and published in Toronto in 1881. Unfortunately, in these volumes, "The Loyalists of America and their Times," though it was the design of the reverend gentleman that his work should be, as he phrased it, "an historical monument to the character and merits of the fathers and founders of his native country," the author has occupied himself too much in re-telling the story of the settlement of Massachusetts, and of the doings of the Puritan Fathers, and has not devoted that space to the incidents of settlement in Upper Canada which, for our own people, would have had an entrancing interest, and been the most acceptable contribution to the native history. Nevertheless, the work has many claims upon Canadian readers, and the author's enthusiasm in his subject, and years of industry in compiling his materials, though, as Ave have said, he has not made the best use of them, deservedly entitle his work to notice and commendation. Hardly more satisfactory in a literary point of view, though equally worthy of honour as material for a history of the origin and progress of the people of Ontario, is Dr. Wm. Canniff's "The Settlement of Upper Canada, with special reference to the Bay of Quinte" (Toronto, 1869). The work is unfortunately rare. The proceedings, in 1884, at Adolphuston, Toronto, and Niagara, in connection with the celebration of the Centennial of the settlement of Upper Canada by the U. E. Loyalists, were published in Toronto, in 1885, and will be found to be of considerable historic interest.

With the coming of Governor Simcoe, Upper Canada was erected into a separate province, in the opening up of which the sturdy band of incoming Loyalists rendered yeoman service, and subsequently gave of its richest brain power in laying the foundation of the young Western Commonwealth. What progress had been made may be seen, less than twenty years afterwards, when the province rose in its might to maintain its integrity against an unprovoked and a foolhardy American invasion. In the patriotism which the War of 1812 evoked, literature was a sharer, and has since done not a little to commemorate in honour the doughty deeds and stirring incidents of the brief but sanguinary conflict. The chief narrators, among the eye-witnesses, of the events of the period, are two in number, Lieut-Col. W. F. Coffin, and Mr. David Thompson, late of the Royal Scots, a long-time resident of Niagara. Another historian of the conflict, who deals with it, like Coffin and Thompson, in a distinct work, apart from the general history, is Mr. Gilbert Auchinleck, editor of the Anglo-American Magazine, in which periodical his patriotic narrative appeared in 1855. Thompson's work was published in Niagara in 1832, and has the advantage in preserving many interesting incidents of the unequal struggle, undimmed by time and the advancing age of eye-witnesses. Col. Coffin's work, "The War of 1812 and its Moral," is a deeply interesting and impartial narrative, in which is interwoven records of the personal parts taken in the conflict by many U. E. Loyalists and chivalrous scions of old French-Canadian families of noble birth. An incomplete narrative of the War, containing an account of the operations of the Right Division of the Canadian army, also appeared at Brockville in 1842, from the pen of Major John Richardson, whose "Wacousta," an Indian tale, and "The Canadian Brothers," a story of the War of 1812, are perhaps the best of the early productions in the department of Canadian romance.

The general reader will get a good idea of the War, and a graphic picture of the time, in a work of fiction entitled "For King and Country," from the talented pen of Miss Agnes Machar ("Fidelis"), of Kingston. Poetry and the drama have also taken the war, or incidents in its progress, up for treatment. The latest instance of this is Mrs. S. A. Curzon's "Laura Secord : the Heroine of 1812," a dramatic version of a woman's heroic deed in warning a British camp of danger from attack by the enemy. The closing year of the War, with the patriotic part taken in it by an Indian ally of the Crown, is also admirably portrayed in verse in Mr. Charles Mair's drama of "Tecumseh," a work which is an honour to Canadian literature. Among the many press reviews, which greeted this work on its appearing, will be found a tribute to it and its talented author by the present writer in the pages of The ' Varsity for 1885. The reference here to Tecumseh recalls the name of another noble ally of Britain in the Revolutionary War, whose biography (Stone's "Life of Chief Joseph Brant") though not written by a Canadian, should be familiar to Canadians, and its subject held by them in high honour. The same should be said for Stone's " Life and Times of Sir Wm. Johnson," who for forty years (1738-1778) was Royal Superintendent of Indian Affairs on this continent, and whose work is replete with materials for Indian history during the exciting period which preceded and followed the Conquest. Nor should the student of Canadian history and literature be unfamiliar with Tupper's "Life and Correspondence of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock" (London, 1845), the hero of Queenston Heights, whose death on the battle-field repressed the shouts of victory.

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