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Past and Present
Though Reprehended, Still Remembered


It is melancholy when from among a truly Christian people “ men arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them”—“thus separating chief friends,” and “scattering firebrands, arrows, and death.” This scene was enacted unhappily in Upper Canada, when one of the oldest ministers, and one who had been the most influential member of the Conference, after some years of discontent and agitation, arising from disappointed ambition in not being able to gain the episcopate in the body, withdrew; and after assailing the character of the ministers with whom he had stood connected in labor, set up a church of his own, or one that was popularly called after his name—and thus made the first permanent division in Canadian Methodism: we refer to the Eev. Henry Hyan. We do not introduce him for the purpose of censuring him ; much less of reviving the animosities engendered by the division and its concomitants, but rather to rescue the remembrance of Mr. R’s efficient early labors from oblivion. And that the rather, as we have heard that he viewed some matters connected with those unfortunate events in a different light, on the bed of his last sickness, from what he had done while in the heat of the fray in which he had been a prominent actor. Let this suffice for his reprehension—we gladly turn to a brighter picture—his early career.

Since writing the above I have turned up in Bishop Hed-ding’s life to the following reference to Byan, which not only describes his character and early labors in the States, but shows that those labors were extended into Lower Canada. Some years ago the writer, on a visit to Dunham Flatts, met with several aged persons where membered his labors and usefulness there, and who. spoke of him with enthusiasm. We leave the passage unaltered to speak for itself:—“ Mr. Hedding had for his co-laborer and senior in office this year (1802) the Eev. Henry Ryan. Of this colleague Mr. Hedding says: “ He was, in that day, a very pious man, a man of great love for the cause of Christ, and of great zeal in his work as a minister. He was a brave Irishman—a man who labored as if the judgment thunders were to follow each sermon. He was sometimes overbearing in the administration of discipline; but with that exception, 'he performed his duties in every part of his work as a minister of Christ as faithfully as any man I ever knew. He was very brotherly and kind to me—often speaking to me in a manner calculated to urge me on to diligence and fidelity in the great work. When we met in the place of intersection in the route of the circuit, he would occasionally salute me with his favorite exhortation, c Drive on, brother ! drive on ! Drive the Devil out of the country ! Drive him into the lake and drown him!’ The author of the ‘Memorial of Methodism’ says of this remarkable man: 1 He was characterized by an inexhaustible zeal and unfaltering energy. No difficulty could obstruct his course; he drove over his vast circuits, and still larger districts, preaching continually, and pressing on from one appointment to another. Neither the comforts nor courtecies of life ever delayed him. In Canada his labors were Hereulean: he achieved the work of half a score of men, and was instrumental in scattering the word of life over vast portions of that new country, when few other clergymen dared to venture among its wildernesses and privations. Not only did he labor gigantically, but he also suffered heroically from want, fatigue, bad roads, and the rigorous winters of those high latitudes. Such was the companion with whom Mr. Hedding was to be associated in the •labors and privations of the second year of his ministry. He had but little suavity of manner to render him agreeable to his colleague ; but there was a heroism in his daring, and an invincible ardor in his movements, that rendered him not altogether unprofitable as an associate.”

The circuit they then travelled is thus described by the Rev. Laban Clark, who had travelled the year preceding:—“Our circuit,” says he, “was divided into two parts, nearly like a figure 8 containing a two weeks’ appointments in each, and bringing us together every two^weeks; the whole distance about four hundred miles, including all that part of Vermont north of Onion River, aud in Lower Canada from Sutton to Missisquoi

Bay, and around the hay to Alsbury and Isle la Motte; embracing about forty appointments for four weeks! Being a newly settled country the roads were exceedingly bad, and to reach some portions of the circuit they were compelled to traverse extensive wildernesses, through which there were no roads.” Such was Ryan, and such were his labors, before coming to Upper Canada.

No history of Canadian Methodism, however fragmentary and sketchey, would be in anywise complete, which did not contain some reference to such a leading influence in its early doings as Henry Ryan—a man who at one time seemed almost ubiquitous in the country, and had unbounded ascendancy over the minds of the great mass of the Methodist people.

He was the first person the writer ever heard deliver a sermon. It was preached in that first meeting house in the town of York, so often referred to in these sketches; and addressed, if we remember correctly to the children of the Sabbath School—they at least were all present. This was as early as the year 1819. He had been in the country from 1805. He entered it in company with the Rev. William Case, whose senior colleague he was in the Kingston, or Bay of Quinte circuit. He must have been in the ministry some time before that, as he had been the apostle of Methodism to the new settlements of Vermont three years prior to his coming to Canada; but our not having a copy of the American il General Minutes” at hand, prevents us from determining when he began to travel. And his dying outside the pale of standard Methodism prevented any memorial of him being preserved in our body. The most we have to say is preserved from tradition, the report of his cotemporaries, and our own recollections. He began in the last century, as he was Hedding’s senior, who commenced the first year of the present century.

His name indicated a Celtic origin, and he was most likely of Roman Catholic parentage. He was usually supposed to be an Irishman—a colleague calls him such—and he may have been born in Ireland, but lie certainly had acquired his dialect some other place than there. An Irishman never calls endeavor, “indevor,” which was his pronunciation of the word. He was not a highly educated man, as the composition of some printed circulars, published under his auspicies, which we have seen in our time, indicated. He was reported, we know not on what authority, to have been a practiced, if not a professional, pugilist before his conversion to God. And we know of no man who would have been more likely to succeed in that infamous calling than himself, had he turned his attention to it and been trained for it. There can be no doubt but Ryan was one of the most powerful men the race ever produces. He was prodigiously strong and quick as he was strong; and bold and powerful as either. When we first saw him he was in his prime. We do not like to hazard an opinion about his height, because men so stout as he are likely to seem shorter than they are. He might have been five feet eleven. He was muscular, but plump and compact. His complexion was dark—head massive—forehead rather projecting—his nose curved a little downward—and his chin, which was a double one, with a dimple in the centre, curved upwards. His face was large. He was very quick in his movement—he used to start from his seat to his feet, when an old man of sixty and beginning to be corpulent, without ever putting his hand to his chair. He has been known to fling ordinary sized men, who were disturbing the order and solemnity of divine worship at Camp-Meetings, over the high enclosure with which it was customary in the early days of Methodism to surround them. There was no law for the protection of out-door worshipers at that time, and our hero knew how to protect himself and his friends.

His voice was one of the very best. It was flexible, musical, prodigiously strong, and of fabulous compass. His conversational voice would reach the outskirts of any ordinary congregation, and its tones were very agreeable. He could speak without any effort, the ordinary weight of his voice being enough to carry the sound to the most distant auditor. But when he lifted it up—and he did do it at intervals—“ it was as when a lion roareth.” We have heard of persons being led to jump from their seats by one of his bursts. He had perfect control of his voice, but being naturally very impassioned, he frequently employed it to its utmost extent; and added to the terrifying effect by vehemently “ stamping with the foot and smiting with the hand.” Take an example:—In the middle of a sermon he is talking of death as a certainty—but the uncertainty of the time. “ It matters not what becomes of the body, whether entombed in marble, or buried in the depth of the sea: “ But oh—the soul /” (Elevating his voice.) “But oh,—the soul!!” (Elevating his voice still more.) “But oh,—THE SOUL!!!” (Raising it to a terrific shout, and bringing down his weighty hand on the pulpit with a slap that makes the house to ring.) He has been heard distinctly when preaching in the Kingston market house by persons on Navy Point. By the way, the market house was their only preaching place and a butcher’s block their only rostrum, when Ryan and Case first tried to introduce Methodism into this ancient town. They were both powerful singers, and they were wont, as Mr. Case informed me, in order to collect a congregation, to take each other by the arm, and walk towards the place of preaching sing ing the hymn beginning—

“Come let us march to Zion’s hill.”

They sometimes encountered some annoyance from the rabble, which they however treated with a noble contempt. He never removed after this from Upper Canada; but was one of the very few preachers who remained in the country during the late American war. The Rev. Thomas Whitehead was another. They were Britons by birth and also by preference. Besides, they felt they had an important post assigned them, which they might not abandon. Ryan took the oversight of the whole, calling out Canadian local preachers to supply the work, of whom Thos. Harmon, who had performed prodigies at the battle of Queenstown, whose loyalty to his King, and whose zeal for God, ought not to be forgotten, was one. Elder Ryan’s district extended from the extreme West to Montreal, a distance which he traversed to attend the Quarterly Meetings. As his income was very small and precarious, he eeked out the sum necessary to support his family by peddling a manufacture of his own in his extensive journeys, and by hawling with his double team, on his return route from Lower Canada, loads of Government stores, or merchandise. Such were the shifts to which Methodist preachers had to resort in order to sustain themselves in a work which they would not desert. Mr. R. by his loyalty gained the confidence and admiration of all friends of British supremacy; and by his abundant and heroic labors the affections of the God-fearing part of community. But these were not his only sources of influence. He had a rough and ready but real oratory, most admirably adapted to his auditors. He felt strongly and could make others feel. "We have seen that he could be most terrific when he liked; and he knew how to melt the people into tenderness, while he addressed them with floods of tears. He was communicative and lively in private conversation, interesting the people with the ludicrous aspects of the checkered scenes through which he had passed. He was perhaps a little too fond of that, but still is was a means of endearing him to the many. Ryan was also witty, and had a ready answer for every bantering remark. Some wicked fellows are said to have asked him “if he had heard the news?” “What news?” “Why, that the Devil is dead?” “Then” said he, looking around on the company, “he has left a great many fatherless children.” Sometimes his answers assumed more of a belligerent than witty character. On entering a public house one day, a low fellow, who kjiew him from his costume to be a minister, thought to insult him with impunity, remarked aloud, while he put his hand to his pocket, “There comes a Methodist preacher; I must take care of my money.” Ryan promptly resented it, by saying “You are an impudent scoundrel.” “Take care!” said the man. “I cannot swallow that.”

"Chew it till you can then!” was Ryan’s defiant reply. There was often wisdom in his courage. Once in a tavern, he observed that the more than usual amount of profane swearing and blasphemy was evidently perpetrated to annoy him and to draw him into an altercation. He let it pass in silence, till observing one more officious in the matter than the rest, evidently with the intention to elicit his reproof, he turned and accosted him in the following ironical way. “That’s right: swear away, my man j you have as good a right to be damned as any one I know of! Go on, and you will accomplish your purpose!” This was doubtless more harrowing and effectual than a milder and more direct form of reproof.

But if he could abate the pride of the haughty, he knew how to sympathize with the humble and contrite ones. I shall never forget it of him, that he turned aside into a destitute neighborhood on one of his long western journeys, about the year 1811, to administer comfort by conversation, singing, and prayer, to my poor disconsolate mother, then in a state of deep religious melancholy. The partial misdirection, to use no stronger word, in his later years, of energies which had made him so effective for good, may serve as a beacon-light to all who have to navigate the same dangerous strait. May all interested learn the lessons taught by the history before us! While we cherish the hope that this wonderful man, after preaching to others, was not finally cast away himself.


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