WORKS DESCRIPTIVE, INDUSTRIAL, AND SOCIAL.
At the close of the
year 1814, Peace returned to brood over the land, and the young colony
addressed itself to the task of industrial and political development.
The literature of the period is represented mainly by books of travel,
written by Old Countrymen and foreigners, who had come to see the
Canadas and the lusty young Republic to the south that had begun to work
out the problem of a separate national independence, with the legacy of
an unfortunate bias against the motherland of Britain and its loyal
Canadian colony. The first of these to appear were the works, we fear
known to book-collectors only, of Isaac Weld, George Heriot, and John
Lambert. Their travels were published in London about the beginning of
the century, and are curious as the earliest descriptions of the country
and of its social life after its occupation by Britain. Heriot was the
Deputy Postmaster-General of British North America at the time he wrote
his "Travels Through the Canadas." These were followed by Mr. John
Howison's "Sketches of Upper Canada: Domestic, Local and Characteristic"
(Edinburgh, 1821); by Capt. Basil Hall's "Travels in North America"
(Edinburgh, 1829); and by Sir R. H. Bonnycastle's "Excursions in
Canada," and "Canada and the Canadians " (London, 1841-46). These later
works indicate the progress of Upper Canada in the interval, and herald
the host of books which afterwards dealt with the country as a desirable
field for emigration. These various travellers describe the colony and
its inhabitants through the spectrum of their individual mental
dispositions, and the picture is not always pleasing or flattering.
Happily, for the most part, the physical features of the country, its
natural beauties, its climate, its lakes, streams, falls, and woodland
scenery, with the curiosities of Indian life, Indian habits and customs,
etc., engross the travellers, give warmth and colour to their
narratives, and withdraw their writer's attention from the rawness of
the country and the crudeness, as yet, of its social life.
Of native works
published on Canada in the youth-time of the province, none in their day
were more useful than those of a topographical and statistical,
character. The most important of these are Lt.-Col. Joseph Bouchette's
laborious compilation, in three quarto volumes (London, 1831), entitled
"The British Dominions in North America;" N. P. Willis's "Canadian
Scenery, illustrated from drawings by W. H. Bartlett," two vols., quarto
(London, 1842); W. H. Smith's "The Canadian Gazetteer," and the same
writer's "Historical, Geographical and Statistical Account of Canada
West" (Toronto, 1851). With the Willis-Bartlett book, and indicating the
great advance made by Canada in recent years in the arts connected with
illustrated book manufacture, should be bracketed the sumptuous work,
"Picturesque Canada, described by the best writers and artists," and
ably edited by Principal Grant, D.D., of Queen's University, Kingston.
Of this work we do not hesitate to say, that its publication marks a
distinct epoch in the intellectual progress of the Canadian people,
while it cannot fail to have an immense influence upon the future of
native art and native literature. On this ground it well deserves the
success it has achieved in both hemispheres.
We now come to deal
succinctly with the literature that must possess most interest for those
who seek to know the history of Canada, not in its politics, or in the
theatre of public affairs, but in the heart-records of the people, in
the log-hut of the settler, or in the rude hamlet new hewn from the
wilderness. Two of the early works in this department were written by
notable and eccentric characters in their clay, Col. E. A. Talbot and
Dr. Wm. Dunlop. The latter, familiarly known in the province as "Tiger"
Dunlop—a sobriquet which his "tall," impassioned stories of
tiger-hunting in India earned for him—came to Canada in 1820 with John
Gait, the novelist, in the service of the Canada Land Co., and, with the
latter, was instrumental in founding settlements in the neighbourhood of
Guelph, and the town which now bears the name of the Land Commissioner.
Dunlop set up his "lodge in the wilderness," and lived a Bohemian life
in the backwoods, from which he now and then issued to despatch a
contribution at "Muddy Little York" to Blackwood's Magazine, or to the
Literary Garland at Montreal. His "Statistical Sketches of Upper Canada"
(London, 1833) have the flavour of the Nodes A mbrosiance with a curious
admixture of wisdom and humour. Talbot's "Five Years' Residence in the
Canadas" (London, 1824) tells the story of the Talbot Settlement near
St. Thomas, and along the shores of Lake Erie. Its founder came to Upper
Canada in 1793, as aide-de-camp to Governor Simcoe, and later on
obtained a grant from the English Government of one hundred thousand
acres in the southern peninsula of the province, on condition of placing
a settler on every two hundred acres. Talbot settled near St. Thomas,
and there lived a a life of seclusion from the world, with, it is" said,
no woman near him, and seeing, as Mrs. Jameson tells us in her "Sketches
in Canada," scarce a human being for twenty years, "except the few boors
and blacks employed in clearing and logging his land. He himself," the
visitor adds, "assumed the blanket-coat and axe, slept upon the bare
earth, cooked three meals a day for twenty woodsmen, cleaned his own
boots, washed his own linen, milked his cows, churned the butter, and
made and baked the bread." A life of this strange man, by Edward
Ermatinger, was published at St. Thomas in 1859, enriched with sketches
of the public characters and the career of several conspicuous Upper
Canadians of the period.
Of the class of
conspicuous Upper Canadians here referred to, no more notable figure
occurs in these early days than that of the Hon. Wm. Hamilton Merritt,
whose name is imperishably associated with the Welland Canal. When first
projected, the scheme seemed visionary and Utopian : to-day it is the
embodied realization of a patriot's dream ; and few undertakings in
Canada have been of more practical advantage to navigation and commerce.
It was to be expected that the sagacious projector and unwearied
promoter of this great enterprise would be remembered not only in his
work, but in some fitting and adequate biography. A "Life," it is true,
has appeared, which was published in St. Catharines in 1875; but it is
in no way worthy either of the subject or of the biographer. Like many
other books of the past, the memoir of the Hon. Mr. Merritt puts before
one the bricks and mortar rather than the finished edifice of an
historical memorial. His, however, is one of the figures on the canvas
of the country's early history to which literature, we doubt not, will
yet do justice.
is interesting reading, and his book on " The Canadas" is replete with
valuable topographical matter, addressed to intending emigrants in the
regime of Sir Peregrine Maitland. The historical romance, " An Algonquin
Maiden," by the present writer and Miss A. Ethelwyn Wetherald, it may
here be said, deals also with descriptions of the country and the social
life of Canada at this period. The chief scenes of this novel—the
borders of Lake Simcoe—are also those which form the subject of "Forest
Scenes and Incidents in the Wilds of North America,'"' by Sir George
Head, Bt., an English army officer who served in Canada about the year
1825-6. Lieut.-Col. Strickland's "Twenty-seven Years in Canada" (London,
1853) is the faithful portrayal of the experiences of an early settler
and acute observer. This, work is linked in interest, (as its author is
linked in the ties of relationship) with Mrs. Susanna Moodie's "Roughing
it in the Bush," perhaps the best known and by far the most vivid
narrative of a settler's trials in the Canadian backwoods. This clever
gentlewoman, a sister of Miss Agnes Strickland, historian of the "Queens
of England," came to Canada in 1832 with her husband, a half-pay
officer, whose experience of the first cold night in their cabin in the
woods is preserved to us in the following jocosely improvised ditty:
"Oh, the cold of Canada
The fire burns our shoes without warming our toes;
Our blankets are thin, and our noses are blue—
Our noses are blue, and our blankets are thin,
It's at zero without, and we're freezing within!"
Mrs. Moodie, however,
lived long enough to give us another picture than that limned in her
book from her husband's pen. Writing from Belleville in 1871, she says,
"Contrasting the first year of my life in the bush with Canada as she is
now, my mind is filled with wonder and gratitude at the rapid strides
she has made towards the fulfilment of a great and glorious destiny.
What important events have been brought to pass within the narrow circle
of less than forty years! What a difference between noiv and then ! The
country is the same only in name. Its aspect is wholly changed. The
rough has become smooth, the crooked has been made' straight, the
forests have been converted into fruitful fields, the rude log cabin of
the woodsman has been replaced by the handsome, well-appointed
homestead, and large, populous cities have pushed the small,
clap-boarded village into the shade,"
sister, Mrs. Traill, in her "Backwoods of Canada," "The Canadian Crusoes,"
and "Rambles in the Canadian Forest," gives us a further insight into
the primitive domestic life of the early settler, and a pathetic record
of disappointment, privation, and toil. This dear old lady, who as we
write is still alive, though in her nineties, has found a solace in her
woodland life of which few have availed themselves, for their own profit
and delight, or for the benefit of science and literature. In her sylvan
seclusion, she has brought out works 0n two different occasions on the
"Plant Life of Canada," the favourite volumes alike of the literary
student and the botanical scientist and amateur. Dr. Geikie's "A Boy's
Life in the Woods," W. Lyon Mackenzie's racy "Sketches of Upper'
Canada," and Canniff Haight's "Country Life in Canada Fifty Years Ago,"
are additional works in this interesting department which should not be
overlooked by the reader. Nor should the various works be forgotten that
deal with local annals, and record the rise and development of the
cities and towns of the Province. Croil's "Dundas: a sketch of Canadian
History," "The Early History of Gait and Settlement of Dumfries," by the
Hon. James Young, occur to us as good specimens of this class. "Toronto
of Old," by the Rev. Henry Scadding, D.D., is a work of singular merit
in the literature of antiquities, and is for all time an unfailing
storehouse of information. Though nominally a local history, it
contains, in effect, an account of the founding of most of the
political, literary, religious, and philanthropic institutions of the
whole Province of Ontario. The style of the work is exceedingly graphic
and entertaining; it is unencumbered with dry, unrelated details, and
yet reproduces times gone by with vivid fidelity.
Of not a few names
known to literature in the motherland, Canada has numbered and still
numbers among her residents many representatives. Of these Strickland,
He-mans, Carlyle, and Dickens are among the number. Of the authors
themselves, Upper Canada has known, besides the still-living Goldwin
Smith, the poet Moore, the novelist Gait, and the charming art-writer
and Shakespearian essayist, Mrs. Jameson. Here it is fitting to notice
the latter, though her residence in Canada, in consequence of an unhappy
marriage, was a bleak and chilling one. How bleak arid chilling it was,
those must know who are familiar with her life, and who have read with
shame for the then Chancellor of the Province, of the reception given to
his weary wife, with the sweet spirituelle face, on her advent in
Toronto, after a trying voyage from the England she held so dear, to
take up a winter residence by the steel-cold waters of Lake Ontario.
Despite this, however, and its depressing influence on mind and spirits,
Mrs. Jameson's "Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada," (London
and New York, 1839,) is one of the few books that belong to the
literature of the time with which the reader should not be unfamiliar.
Her volumes are the work of a poet-artist, and have the charm and grace
of a sensitive and cultivated woman. Though the country was to her the
land of an exile, there are not many writers on Canada whose pages are
more aglow with eloquent description and an'intense appreciation of the
beautiful in nature.