Joseph Howe
Chapter XI - Howe and Literature


THE public speeches and official acts of a statesman convey only a partial idea of his real character. In comparing Howe's speeches and public letters with those of other Canadian statesmen, it will be found that he has left behind him a volume of political literature in no way approached by the written remains of any one or any half-dozen public men who have exercised a commanding influence in moulding the institutions of Canada. It is quite true that a number of those engaged actively in public life have given more or less attention to matters of a literary character. The Hon. George Brown was a vigorous prose writer, but so far as is known, his writings were confined entirely to political topics. Sir John Macdonald has left on record a number of public letters of great interest, which reveal him as a man of enormous sagacity, of unfailing prudence, and with a clear mastery of the subject matter under discussion, but his most devoted admirers would scarcely regard his writings as literature, or anything more than the clear and careful exposition of existing political conditions at any given period. Mr. L. S. Huntington wrote a book or two and some poetry. Alexander Mackenzie wrote a life of George Brown, but it could hardly be called a successful biography nor did it reveal any special merit. David Mills wrote some poetry as well as prose. Sir Charles Tupper has contributed a few magazine articles on political topics, which are not at all unlike, in tone and substance, his speeches on similar topics. Of literary work, it could scarcely be claimed on his behalf that he has done anything. Sir John Thompson, Sir Georges Cartier, Mr. J. J. C. Abbott, and Sir McKenzie Bowell have contributed nothing beyond newspaper editorials to literature, nor indulged in any special writing, as far as is known, except that of a purely political type. Sir Wilfrid Laurier has certainly literary sympathies and has written some few charming articles, which betray a taste which gives great promise, but his time has been absorbed so fully in political work that there has been little scope for the cultivation of the muse.

Mr. Howe stands forth unique in this regard. His political writings are, of course, his best known work, and these embrace a variety of topics, so large and varied in their character as to put him in a class by himself among Canadian public men. He contributed the first and the last word upon the subject of colonial self-government, and was unquestionably the man who, above all others, enlightened the imperial authorities, and especially colonial secretaries, as to the true and only policy whereby the colonial possessions could be retained and made loyal and devoted to the empire. He was among the first of those who dreamed dreams of the consolidation and greatness of British North America, and no public man in Canada has ante-dated him in his great prophecy of 1851, that there were those within the sound of his voice who would live to hear the screech of the railway whistle in the passes of the Rocky Mountains. He stands almost first among those who conceived the great idea of imperial federation, and certainly no man has ever lived within the empire who has contributed such a wealth of knowledge, and such a breadth of conception to this subject as Joseph Howe. Indeed, if all that has been said within the last decade on this topic by all the statesmen within the British empire, were brought together, nothing more cogent, nothing more advanced would be found than in his "Speeches and Letters," published more than fifty years ago. As long ago as 1838, Howe recognized the importance of a fast line of steam service between Halifax and Great Britain, and if all that has been said on the fast-line service within the past decade were added together, there would be found nothing more advanced on the subject, nor. anything said half so forcibly and eloquently, as when Howe dealt with the same topic half a century ago.

If it be really important that Canadians should be loyal to the Crown and devoted to the empire, no public man born within this Dominion has contributed one tithe as much towards propagating and enforcing that principle as Joseph Howe. Indeed, his speeches and public letters on the great political topics which have concerned British North America and, in fact, the empire, constitute a body of literature which can be read with as much interest, profit and inspiration to-day as when they first appeared, and contain within them germs which cannot die, and which will seem fresh and inspiring to future generations.

But Howe's literary work was by no means confined to his political writings, though no man engaged in public life in British North America had more exacting political duties cast upon him. It was his business, almost single-handed, to educate a province, both by his pen and by his personal presence. He frequently held office, and even when not in office was the centre, soul and rallying point of his political party, and yet he found time amidst these exciting duties to write a great deal, both in prose and poetry. In Halifax he became at an early period of his career, in spite of the strong political feeling that existed, the indispensable man on all great occasions. In 1849 Halifax celebrated the hundredth anniversary of its foundation by Corn-wallis, and on that occasion Howe composed the words of a song, now familiar enough, which still vibrates with the emotion with which he wrote it:—

All hail to the day when the Britons came over,
And planted their standard, with sea-foam still wet.
Around and above us their spirits will hover,
Rejoicing to mark how we honour it yet.
Beneath it the emblems they cherished are waving,
The Rose of Old England the roadside perfumes;
The Shamrock and Thistle the north winds are braving,
Securely the Mayflower blushes and blooms.

Chorus.

Hail to the day when the Britons came over,
And planted their standard with sea-foam still wet,
Around and above us their spirits will hover,
Rejoicing to mark how we honour it yet.
We'll honour it yet, we'll honour it yet,
The flag of Old England ! we'll honour it yet.

In the temples they founded their faith is maintained,
Every foot of the soil they bequeathed is still ours,
The graves where they moulder, no foe has profaned,
But we wreathe them with verdure, and strew them with flowers'
The blood of no brother, in civil strife pour'd,
In this hour of rejoicing, encumbers our souls!
The frontier's the field for the Patriot's sword,
And curs'd be the weapon that Faction controls

Chorus—Hail to the day, etc.

Then hail to the day! 'tis with memories crowded,
Delightful to trace 'midst the mists of the past,
Like the features of Beauty, bewitchingly shrouded,
They shine through the shadows Time o'er them has cast.
As travellers track to its source in the mountains
The stream, which far swelling, expands o'er the plains,
Our hearts, on this day, fondly turn to the fountains,
Whence flow the warm currents that bound in our veins.

Chorus—Hail to the day, etc.

And proudly we trace them: No warrior flying
From city assaulted, and fanes overthrown,
With the last of his race on the battlements dying,
And weary with wandering, founded our own.
From the Queen of the Islands, then famous in story,
A century since, our brave forefathers came,
And our kindred yet fill the wide world with her glory,
Enlarging her Empire and spreading her name.

Chorus—Hail to the day, etc.

Ev'ry flash of her genius our pathway enlightens—
Ev'ry field she explores we are beckoned to tread,
Each laurel she gathers, our future day brightens—
We joy with her living and mourn for her dead.
Then hail to the day when the Britons came over,
And planted their standard, with sea-foam still wet,
Above and around us their spirits shall hover,
Rejoicing to mark how we honour it yet.

Chorus—Hail to the day, etc.

another notable public occasion he stirred patriotic heart in his country by another of no less fire and merit, entitled:—

OUR FATHERS

Room for the Dead! your living hands may pile
Treasures of Art the stately tents within;
Beauty may grace them with her richest smile,
And Genius there spontaneous plaudits win.
But yet, amidst the tumult and the din
Of gathering thousands, let me audience crave:—
Place claim I for the Dead—'twere mortal sin
When banners o'er our Country's treasures wave,
Unmarked to leave the wealth safe garner'd in the Grave.

The Fields may furnish forth their lowing kine,
The Forest spoils in rich abundance lie,
The mellow fruitage of the cluster'd Vine
Mingle with flowers of every varied dye;
Swart Artizans their rival skill may try,
And, while the Rhetorician wins the ear,
The pencil's graceful shadows charm the eye,
But yet, do not withhold the grateful tear
For those and for their works, who are not here.

Not here? Oh! yes, our hearts their presence feel
Viewless, not voiceless, from the deepest shells
On memory's shore harmonious echoes steal,
And names, which, in the days gone by, were spells,
Are blent with that soft music. If there dwells
The spirit here our Country's fame to spread,
While ev'ry breast with joy and triumph swells,
And earth reverberates to our measured tread,
Banner and wreath will own our reverence for the Dead.

Look up, their walls enclose us. Look around,
Who won the verdant meadows from the sea?
Whose sturdy hands the noble highways wound
Through forests dense, o'er mountain, moor and lea 
Who spanned the streams?  Tell me whose works they be,
The busy marts where commerce ebbs and flows?
Who quelled the savage? And who spared the tree
That pleasant shelter o'er the pathway throws?
Who made the land they loved to blossom as the rose?

Who, in frail barques, the ocean surge defied,
And trained the race that live upon the wave?
What shore so distant where they have not died?
In ev'ry sea they found a watery grave.
Honour, forever, to the true and brave,
Who seaward led their sons with spirits high,
Bearing the red-cross flag their fathers gave;
Long as the billows flout the arching sky,
They'll seaward bear it still—to venture or to die.

The Roman gather'd in a stately urn
The dust he honour'd—while the sacred fire,
Nourish'd by vestal hands, was made to burn
From age to age. If fitly you'd aspire,
Honour the Dead; and let the sounding lyre
Recount their virtues in your festal hours;
Gather their ashes—higher still, and higher
Nourish the patriot flame that history dowers,
And, o'er the old men's graves, go strew your choicest flowers.

His lectures before the Mechanics' Institute in Halifax, some of which, fortunately, have been preserved, may still be admired for their wealth of patriotic sentiment, and their genuine eloquence. Two of these are especially notable, one on the "Moral Influence of Women," and the other on "Eloquence."

When the tercentenary of Shakespeare was celebrated in Halifax in 1864, every one turned to Joseph Howe to deliver the oration on the occasion, and among the many splendid tributes which the most gifted minds throughout the empire laid at the feet of England's and the world's greatest poet, few surpassed in purity of diction and warmth of eulogy the oration delivered by Joseph Howe. It has been already mentioned that while yet a boy he composed a poem on Melville Island, and those who will care to read it in the published volume of his poems will see that it reveals a poetical gift which would do no discredit to a poet of maturer age. His most ambitious poem was entitled "Acadia," but was never finished, although it fills some hundreds of lines and is extremely beautiful from beginning to end. Many of his best verses were the fruits of happy inspiration in going from place to place throughout Nova Scotia. It has been mentioned that he was fond of riding over many portions of the province on horseback, and by this means he became acquainted with many families, among whom he was always a welcome and revered guest. On one occasion, while visiting a political friend, Mr. Eaton, in Cornwallis, he drove in the autumn to the beautiful Gaspereau Valley, and on his way^observed a deserted nest tliat hung shelterless on a tree. This evoked the following stanzas:—

Deserted nest, that on the leafless tree,
Wavest to and fro with every dreary blast,
With none to shelter, none to care for thee,
Thy day of pride and cheerfulness is past.

Thy tiny walls are falling to decay,
Thy cell is tenantless and tuneless now,
The winter winds have rent the leaves away,
And left thee hanging on the naked bough.

But yet, deserted nest, there is a spell
E'en in thy loneliness, to touch the heart,
For holy things within thee once did dwell,
The type of joys departed now thou art.

With what assiduous care thy framers wrought,
With what delight they viewed the structure rise,
And how, as each some tiny rafter brought,
Pleasure and hope would sparkle in their eyes.

Ah ! who shall tell when all the work was done,
The rapt'rous pleasure that their labours crown'd,
The blissful moments Nature for them won,
And bade them celebrate with joyous sound.

A Father's pride—a Mother's anxious care,
Her flutter'd spirits, and his gentlest tone,
All, all, that wedded hearts so fondly share,
To thee, deserted nest, were surely known.

Then though thy walls be rent, and cold thy cell,
And thoughtless crowds may hourly pass thee by,
Where love, and truth, and tenderness did dwell,
There's still attraction for the Poet's eye.

It was in no small measure due to Howe's efforts that the mayflower (trailing arbutus) became generally recognized as the floral emblem of the province, and Nova Scotians everywhere were charmed by the appearance of the poem in which in fitting terms he celebrates the beauties of this modest floweret:—

Lovely flow'ret, sweetly blooming
'Neath our drear, ungentle sky—
Shrinking, coy and unassuming,
From the gaze of mortal eye.
On thy bed of moss reposing,
Fearless of the drifting snow,
Modestly thy charms disclosing,
Storms but make them brighter glow,
Spring's mild, fragrant, fair attendant,
Blooming near the greenwood tree,
While the dew-drop, sparkling, pendant,
Makes thee smile bewitchingly.
Oh! I love to look upon thee,
Peeping from thy close retreat,
While the sun is shining on thee,
And thy balmy fragrance greet.
View exotics, proudly growing
On the shelter'd, mild parterre,
But, if placed where thou art blowing
Would they bloom and blossom there?
April's breeze would quickly banish
All the sweets by them display'd,
Soon each boasted charm would vanish,
Every cherish'd beauty fade.
Scotia's offspring—first and fairest,
Nurst in snows, by storms caress'd
Oh! how lovely thou appearest
When in all thy beauty dress'd.
Red and white, so sweetly blending,
O'er thy fragrance throw a flush
While beneath the dew-drop bending,
Rivall'd but by beauty's blush.
Welcome, little crimson favour,
To our glades and valleys wild,
Scotia ask'd, and Flora gave her,
Precious boon, her fairest child.

On social occasions Mr. Howe not infrequently contributed poetic toasts. During most of their lives Mr. Howe and T. C. Haliburton (Sam Slick), were friends and boon companions. Haliburton was somewhat older than Howe and had left public life before Howe entered it, but they were often thrown together socially. Haliburton, by assiduous devotion to literary work, has secured a conspicuous place among the humourists of America. He was not regarded in his day as a very great man, but he was eminently jovial, and at all convivial occasions brimful of wit and bad puns. Howe had infinitely superior intellectual qualities, and indeed finer literary tastes, but his duties as a politician precluded his giving the same attention to literary work. Ultimately Haliburton left the Bench and moved to England, where he obtained a seat in the House of Commons. On one of the convivial occasions in Halifax after Haliburton's departure, Howe proposed his health in the following toast:—

Here's a health to thee,
Tom, a bright bumper we drain
To the friends that our bosoms hold dear,
As the bottle goes round, and again and again
We whisper "we wish he were here."
Here's a health to thee,
Tom, may the mists of this earth
Never shadow the light of that soul
Which so often has lent the mild flashes of mirth
To illumine the depths of the Bowl.
With a world full of beauty and fun for a theme,
And a glass of good wine to inspire,
E'en without thee we sometime! are bless'd with a gleam
That resembles thy spirit's own fire.
Yet still, in our gayest and merriest mood
Our pleasures are tasteless and dim,
For the thoughts of the past, and of Tom that intrude,
Make us feel we're but happy with him.
Like the Triumph of old where the absent one threw
A cloud o'er the glorious scene, Are our feasts, my dear
Tom, when we meet without you,
And think of the nights that have been.
When thy genius, assuming all hues of delight,
Fled away with the rapturous hours,
And when wisdom and wit, to enliven the night,
Scatter'd freely their fruits and their flowers,
"When thy eloquence played round each topic in turn,
Shedding lustre and light where it fell,
As the sunlight in which the tall mountain tops burn,
Paints each bud in the lowliest dell.
When that eye, before which the pale Senate once quailed,
With humour and deviltry shone,
And the voice which the heart of the patriot hailed,
Had mirth in its every tone.
Then a health to thee, Tom, every bumper we drain
But renders thy image more dear,
As the bottle goes round, and again and again,
We wish, from our hearts, you were here.

It has been mentioned that Howe very nearly became the editor of the New York Albion. He contributed some very delightful articles to that publication, one of them a vivid pen and ink sketch of Daniel O'Connell, whom Howe had met in London, and another entitled "The Locksmith of Philadelphia," which, though indeed a simple story, yet nevertheless possesses in a degree the style and quality which have made the "Vicar of Wakefield " an immortal book. Had Howe taken 268

the editorial chair of the Albion instead of embarking in the anti-confederate campaign of 1867, he might have lived longer and had an opportunity of making contributions to literature which would have given him a not undistinguished place among the literary men of the age.

The writer spent an afternoon with Mr. Howe in the autumn of 1872, about six months before his death. Howe had been spending a fortnight at the house of his daughter, Mrs. Cathcart Thomson, on the shores of the North West Arm. As I entered the room I noticed he had three bundles of papers, one containing his poems, which have subsequently been published, another containing his fugitive prose writings, and another, much larger, his political correspondence with eminent men throughout the empire. He had been devoting most of his time to endeavouring to cull the most important of his papers from the great mass and classify them. He said that he had been devotedly fond of literary work throughout his life, and it was a matter of the keenest disappointment that his political duties had robbed him of the time essential to pursue his cherished aims. He hoped that by some good fortune leisure would soon be afforded him during' which he could carry out his literary projects. The promised leisure came the following May, when he was appointed governor of Nova Scotia, but, alas, his health was broken, and but a short period was to be allotted to him for fulfilling these literary aims. This is a matter for sincere regret since a volume of Howe's reminiscences of men and things would have constituted as delightful reading as could well be imagined. His letters to his wife and members of his family, while absent from home, especially in the old country, are full of delightful descriptions of persons he was meeting and of interesting incidents, political and otherwise, which were occurring about him, but after all, these are not the passages from his letters which the world would cherish most, if indeed they were available for publication. The tone of tender affection for his family, and the devotion for Nova Scotia which breathes in them all would be the most splendid tributes to the great and noble soul from which they flowed.


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