Joseph Howe
Chapter XIII - Conclusion


AS has been stated, broken in health, and yet buoyant and hopeful, Howe was appointed governor of Nova Scotia in May, 1873. In a letter to a friend, written shortly before leaving Ottawa, he says:

"The governorship I never had a doubt would be offered to me by my colleagues, nor did I ever distrust the widespread confidence and affection of my fellow-countrymen. What was very doubtful when I saw you in the autumn was whether I should live through the winter and be in any condition to discharge any official duties in the spring. Thanks to a kind providence, the doubt so far has been given in my favour. I have gone through three of the worst months of the winter without any serious recurrence of the dangerous symptoms which imperilled my life last year. We have still two months of winter to pass through, but thanks to my Boston physician, I know what to do if anything goes wrong, which, at present, I do not apprehend. Of course, no appointment will be made until General Doyle's retirement, but, should I live, you will see me down in time to take the chair if it is vacant. There may be a little knot of people opposed to my appointment, but there is hardly one of them that does not know in his inmost soul that I have fairly earned the promotion by forty years of public service. What some of them are afraid of is that I will violate my own principles by treating them unfairly and pay them off for a good deal of gratuitous treachery and abuse. They will probably be mistaken in this as in everything else. No offer has ever been made to me of imperial favours. Certainly no honorary distinctions have ever been sought by me or desired."

Howe did not misjudge the attitude of some of the more bitter of the repealers, who, while most persons called and paid their customary respects at government house, on his appointment, remained away as a token of their displeasure at his alleged desertion of the repeal cause.

The days were quietly spent. Howe had hoped that the leisure which the governorship would afford him would enable him to devote some time towards gathering together his literary work, and to publish a record of his striking reminiscences. But this expectation was doomed to disappointment. June had just been ushered in, with its unfolding leaves and early blossoms, when suddenly the city was startled with the announcement that Joseph Howe was dead. Quickly the word was flashed over the province, and nothing could have been more touching or could illustrate more fully the supreme place which he occupied in the hearts of the people than the tokens of profound grief and almost awe with which the news of his death was heard. Plain farmers in remote rural districts bowed in silence when told that Joseph Howe was dead. It was not because he occupied a position which would make his death precipitate a crisis; he was not holding any place of power. For the previous four years he had not been conspicuously in the public eye, but he remained at all times enthroned in the hearts of his countrymen. Nor, indeed, was the feeling evoked that which ordinarily follows the death of a conspicuous and highly esteemed public man. It was rather the loss of a personality who had for more than a generation been associated with the everyday life and thought of the people of Nova Scotia. He had moulded to an enormous degree the thoughts and sentiments of the people. He was a living entity that had charmed them in every form and on a hundred different occasions. Scarcely a commonplace word had ever fallen from his lips. On whatsoever theme or occasion he spoke or wrote, the subject at once became illumined with a splendid imagination and a glowing warmth of soul which touched the heart at the same time that it captivated the intellect.

His funeral was attended by an immense concourse of people. His wife being a Presbyterian, the services were conducted by the pastor of one of the Presbyterian churches. Twenty thousand people lined the streets through which were carried the last mortal remains of Joseph Howe to repose in Camp Hill cemetery. His family, although possessing little wealth, erected a modest monument of plain Nova Scotia granite. The remains of lesser men than he have been deposited in Westminster Abbey, but it is fitting that the hero of popular rights should mingle his dust with the commonest of his countrymen. Thirty years have passed by and no statue has been erected by his countrymen to immortalize his splendid career. Efforts have been made in this direction, but people who would willingly contribute to a monument for a champion oarsman have been backward in subscribing to a statue for the greatest Nova Scotian. At the last session of the Nova Scotia legislature the sum of ten thousand dollars was unanimously voted for this purpose, and a commission has been appointed to secure its erection at the south end of the provincial building and in view of the provincial secretary's office, in which for years he sat and laboured and wrote. It must be mentioned to the credit of the present provincial government of Nova Scotia that some years before the death of Howe's widow they voted her an annual pension of five hundred dollars. When his qualities are understood, when his great labours and achievements are appreciated throughout the Dominion, it is not unlikely that a statue not less imposing than any now standing, will be erected to perpetuate his name on Parliament Hill at Ottawa.

Comparisons are unpleasant and generally needless. Viewing his forty years of public service justly and having regard to his speeches, his writings and his achievements, what other of the great men that British America has produced can be fairly placed in comparison with him ? He did not attain such an eminent place in the public life of the Dominion as Sir John A. Macdonald, nor, perhaps, would he have been able, under similar conditions, to have guided the ship of state with the same consummate skill amid the various difficulties which surrounded the initial stages of welding together the somewhat heterogeneous elements which went to compose the Canadian confederation. Let due credit be given to each man in his own sphere for his special gifts and achievements, but among the gifted men whom British North America has produced, we cannot name one who has left behind such a body of political literature dealing so luminously with every great question which concerns both Canada and the empire, as remains to the perpetual credit of Joseph Howe. Nay, without presumption, may it not be fairly asked what British statesman that has lived and acted within the past sixty years has contributed as much to the solution of these great empire-reaching questions as can be found in the recorded utterances of Joseph Howe? Where among his contemporaries can be found a man who could throw such flashes of imagination upon every subject with which he attempted to deal, in the whole volume of whose writings and speeches scarcely a dull word or commonplace expression can be found ? Who dreamed such dreams of his country's ultimate greatness and power ? Who drew such mighty pictures of the possibilities pertaining to a union of the British races of all parts of the globe into one great empire ? Where will we look in our country's history for such a striking personality that could captivate senates by his skill and eloquence, masses by his magnetic power, and intellectual bodies by his unrivalled powers of mind? In an age of timid opportunism he exhibited daily the qualities of a hero. He had the courage to leave the conventional ruts in which most public men are content to plod and to strike out into new fields, to brave dangers from which the average public man shrinks. Alone and almost single-handed he faced the power of a well intrenched autocracy in Nova Scotia, destroyed their power and gave his countrymen the boon of self-government. He was the foremost expounder and the greatest teacher of the true principles of colonial government of his age, and his great thoughts penetrated the cobwebs of official routine which surrounded the colonial office in Downing Street and gave birth to larger and better views.

Circumstances have much to do with a man's ultimate place in history. The same genius which could successfully manage the affairs of a province might suffice to manage successfully the affairs of an empire, and he who works in a small sphere may have a small place in history beside the man to whom fortune has consigned the larger arena. Most of Howe's life was spent in ministering to the well-being of a province that at his death numbered scarcely four hundred thousand souls. He lived to see the Canadian confederation launched, but at a period when it was too late for him to achieve the first position in it or to recognize the fruition of those splendid dreams which his imagination never failed to create. Thirty years have passed since he was laid at rest, and it is not too much to say that no one of the great ones who are permitted to participate in the vast expansion and development of this Dominion would have felt greater joy and pride in the realization than would Joseph Howe. To have British power established from the Atlantic to the Pacific in North America, to convert wildernesses into centres of industry and progress, to plant cities on plains where nothing but bears and buffaloes roamed, and to have great railway lines unlocking the resources of vast undiscovered territory were glorious visions which ever filled the heart of Joseph Howe. But to all these great hopes he, rightly or wrongly, as time will show, preserved the ideal of a united empire which has not yet been realized.

No one can estimate too highly the worth and value of a great man:

"Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?"

His great thoughts, his heroic actions and his mighty achievements are not alone the heritage of his country, but the inspiration of the young men who are to carry forward its destinies. Every forward step which humanity has taken in the political, in the religious, scientific or social world has been under the guidance of some superior being who has, amid difficulty and danger, led the way. When Canada has achieved, as it is fast achieving, a recognized place among the puissant nations of the world, and the British empire has attained the dominance due to union and enlightened virtue, Joseph Howe will occupy a conspicuous niche among the authors and heroes of its glory.


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