Joseph Edmund Collins.

Life and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada online

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Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 38 of 57)
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call back the escaping children of his brain. His tones are like
the notes of the sweetest music you ever heard. You find
yourself going over them softly to yourself. You seem to beat
time, and as one mellow strain, more delightful, perhaps, than


its fellows, floats through the air, you resign yourself in reck-
less abandon to the intoxicating impulses of the moment ; and
the calm and graceful soliloquy of the speaker still goes on."
Mr. Stewart has now a number of literary irons in the tire.
He is preparing two articles for the Eneycfopasdia Britannico,
one on New Brunswick, the other on Nova Scotia; has com-
pleted a chapter of forty pages on Frontenao and his times for
Justin Winaor'a" History pf America)" a hook to appear in eight
volumes and promising to he one of the greatest literary pro-
duetions of the age; and he is collecting material for a history
of the rebellion of 1887-38, to be published in the spring of
L884. In all these subjects there is no doubt that Mr. Stewart
will appear at hi- beat, and add more havsto Ins ehaplet.

But of all thf names mentioned, nunc there is more deserving

<.'t* high and honoured place than that of Mr. <i. Mercer Adam,

whose figure we have seen so long in the hand-to-hand struggle
with Philistinism, full of hope, even when all around him was
dark, and cheering tin- stragglers on. If ever man Lived who

loved literature for its own sake, — who has thrown time, and
and talent, gratuitously into a cause that was kiekrd

and spurned by theooame heel that waa making of letters a
I of commerce, and a political trade, — then such a one

IS Mr. Adam. ll«' was for several years editor of the Canadian
Monthly, and during that time fought the battle nobly, against
tremendous odds, always \\ ith a word of cheer to those who
came to lnm for advice, or with their literary offerings, always

thing the breath of hope, in his kindly way, into those who
had met with a sneer or a cold rebuff in quarters where letters
nt <i alone received no welcome, but were regarded with hostility.
The Canadian Monthly, as might have been expected, died; nor
could the warm heart or the competent hand of Mr. Adam avert

inevitable The publishers loyally did their part, but the
time came when they saw how useless it was to continue the
Struggle, and withdrew their hand. No publication like the
Month/?/ can live in ( anada, unless it have the generous sympa-


thy of the press an<l the co-operation of the literary brotherhood
of the country. From the first, the Monthly was regarded as an
enemy by the Globe, which longed to see it out of the way ; and
was received with an apathy, worse still than hostility, by the
Mail, which set down all Canadian literature, just then, as
"hog wash ;" though a more enlightened management and a
heart with I warm corner lor letters, after doom had cast its
shadow on the struggling magazine, showed a kindly spirit and
put out a helping hand. Mr. Adam, however, is not out of har-
ness, but is still helping on the good cause. To the Canada
mal Monthly, under his editorial control, go many of
those who in other days went to the I in Monthly with

their literary mafcHgOB. Wt have said that to many a one with
a yearning for a place in letters, and the gifts to shine there,
has Mr. Adam lent a kindly hand, and whispered hopes ; what-
ever our own poor merit may be, and whether we are worthy or
unworthy to appear in the " community of mind," we have to ex-
press our sense of undying obligation to him for the quickening
he has given to the impulse which led us to venture launching
our barque on the literary sea ; and for kindly words of encour-
agement on first coming to Toronto, a stranger to all, to perse-
vere though we had been assured by the managing editor of a
great paper in the most contemptuous of tones, that " no one
could make his salt at literature in Canada." In addition
to being the warm-hearted friend of letters, Mr. Adam is a most
chaste and graceful writer himself, and his English might well
be regarded as a model. The Toronto parts of Picturesque Can-
ada, it is now known, have been written by him, as we might
have judged by the terse grace of the style. Let us quote from
one of these parts now lying before us the summing up of his
hopes of what the future of our country promises. He has
made a review of the past : " But a happier star is now in the
ascendant. The days of colonial pupilage are over ; the strifes
of the cradle-time in the province are gone by ; and it is now
the era of progress and consolidation, of national growth >


and tho formation of national character. . . . Education is
spreading, and its refining influence is everywhere operative.
Party and sectarian animosities are on the wane ; and the in-
fluence of reason in journalism and politics is asserting itself.
Lei there be but more patriotic feeling, a fuller national senti-
ment, with a more expressive public spirit, and abetter deter-
mined civic life, and t lie metropolis of the province will take
its proper position among the various communities of the Do-

And then we come to a name that we write down in the
Canadian list with a thrill of pride. It is do little for us to be
able to boast that the brightest living star of literature is ours,
is in our midst, one of ourselves, sharing in our hopes and our

aspirations, urging as here, restraining us there, all the while

pointing out to us the honourable and the true, and stimulating

v the elevating influence of bis own example. The ap-

I >ea ranee of Professor Qoldwiu Smith in Canada marked the

nning of a new era in national aspiration and literan- am-
bition; and it also called forth in a certain quarter of our press
such an outbreak of jealousy and hate as has never before dis-
graced journalism in this country. Professor Goldwin Smith
08 with a great name, with unsurpassed talents;
and no sooner had we heard his voice, than we saw, what we
had already surmised, that he was at once a liberating and an
elevating force among us; that he aimed to break the party

rs that hound the people, and to prepare the way for laying
the foundation of something higher, nobler, and more enduring.
But while to all who longed for the higher and the better he
seemed a deliverer, to others he was an intruder and an enemy ;
because they saw in his presence a menace to their monopoly
of perverted opinion. It is not pleasant work now to recall the
campaign of malice that the Globe and its accomplices carried
on against this high-minded gentleman. Seldom has a great
newspaper, indeed, sunk so low; and those who at the first stood
with folded arms while the foul assailants struck, at last grew


ashamed, and denounced the course of their organ, which they

had been led to think eoold do no WTOIlg, with open and un-
measured censure. Qf 000186 it was impossible for the gentle-
man aspersed to retaliate In kind, though such defence as he
found compatible with his own sense of honour, and with the
dignity of journalism, was made, and with sueh tremendous
effect, that those who had to hear the hrunt will have occasion
to remember it to their dying day. But, throughout, the con-
test Was as between artillery on the open tield and a crew of
assas.sin sharpshooters in amhush. It is pleasing to know that
it" the Gl" 1 - is still wedded to some obsolete trade idols, and IS

times seen with the mop endeavouring to resist the tide of
public opinion, that it tights no longer with a bludgeon, .and
that the gentleman whom it once hounded and reviled, now has
its respect and admiration: though conviction bounden to
party necessity cannot always agree with unbiassed opinion.
Mr. Smith's pen, immediately after his arrival, became active in

ral influential quarters, striking key notes, and letting floods
of light, in the writer'fl unrivalled manner, upon topics never
before discussed within colonial hearing, livery chord touched

vital, and it is no wonder that this new teacher, inculcating

iis of self-reliance, and pointing out that dependence and
inferiority need not be our perpetual portions, unless we willed
it so, at once became the leader of our manly-spirited young
men, who wanted a guiding star, and longed for some way for
their footsteps besides the traditional ruts of party. Several
of his contributions appeared in the Nation and the OanadAam
Monthly, while he maintained, concurrently, his connexion
with the leading British and American magazines, in which, on
occasion, in his masterly style, he discussed several Canadian
questions. But in the beginning of the year 1880, he estab-
lished TJie Bystander, a monthly magazine, written entirely by
himself, and containing a current review of all leading politi-
cal, literary, religious, social and scientific events, foreign and
domestic. One of the reasons put forward by the founder for


the establishment of his magazine was that "an English peri-
odical cannot often deal with colonial affairs, and, if it could,
it- reflections would call always for a supplement, and some-
times for an antidote. The political press of Europe is under
the special influences of its own continent; and among these
influences at present are lassitude and disappointment, the
of revolution, and the cynical scepticism engendered
in all spheres <»f thought and action by the rapid decay of
religious belief It is not well that the unwholesome dew of
the European reaction should be distilled without correction
on the fresh character and nnblighted hopes of a community
of th»- new world." Certainly a most wonderful force in the
community of ..pinion was this new magazine. It was im-
ible to read it> delightful pages from month to month

without standing in positive amazement to reflect on the fer-
tility of the writer's mind; and to note that while all impor-
tant current topic, irere touched, every one was treated with

a master hand. There WM DO circumlocution and roundabout

svaneies, Kike an explorer poking his way through a thou-
sand miles of ami forest or desert bo discover the foun-
tain of a river, hut the reviewer, at tie- ftrsi glance, seemed to
look into th«- very marrow of his subject, which he dissected and
held up to the gaze of tic reader, as if it had cost him hut half
an effort. We remember to have read no English author, dead
or living, who has exhibited this faculty to such a marvellous
degree We have sometimes read a dissertation from a great
writer that might, taken as a whole, have compared with one
of professor Gold win Smith's, though we have not, in the works
of any author that we are aware of, since the days of Tacitus
himself, the faculty, in the same degree, of flinging out upon
the page terse sentences, made, we do really believe, without
effort, pregnant of expression and of subtle suggestion, and
forming, at the same time, a living, moving picture, as possessed
by professor Qbld win Smith ; but not any one that it lias fallen
; has this instinctive insight into every subject, in


every department of thought. The dramatic quality that wo

sometimes, and not improperly, make a subject of worship

in the man who can Band his intelligence out of himself, and
make it enter into the heart of that which it seeks to portray
anil fashion, from the inside out, not from the outside in, — that
method whiuh Oarlyle objurgated — as a rule, only displays
itself in conceiving and painting character; but this indefin-
able gift professor Goldwin Smith carries beyond thedramati-t a
sphere, and into universal service. Perhaps we ought to marvel
at the man -<> richly and BO singularly gifted, than at the
wondrous power which is always at his >orvice, that is as some
ministering intel vhieh comefl from we know not where,

and not at his calling, and whose name is <> Genius,

whatever that may be, to the very highest degree, and in pro-
fusion, has be. We cannot define genius, hut we can show the
difference between it and talent. The person who posse
talent is seldom troubled with " moods " as he writes or reason- ;
but, if his mind be thoroughly disciplined, he is one who can
tell exactly, on due consideration, what he is capable of saying
on any given subject, and the line his thought will take; and
turning in his mind the books he has read, he will, by the same
draught-horse force, be able to conjure up cold illustrations,
and as he goes on framing his work, pick each allusion out of
its own pigeon hole, and set it demurely into its allotted place.
When the speech is made, or the essay read, the ear of the list-
ener may be tingled, his intelligence may be convinced, his
literary sympathies may be delighted, but there is a spot which
such ammunition never touches — tlie soul of the man. Let the
physiologist not get out his microscope to look at our terms ;
we have a certain idea of our own as to what " soul " means,
and any one who can sympathise with the feelings we have as
we write this, can readily understand us ; and we do not care
how many battalions may come out of the dictionaries against
us. But the person who possesses genius — and let us not
startle the reader by telling him that not probably more than


one in every five millions of the sons of men does possess gen ins
— sitting down to write his essay, or his critique, or to prepare
his speech, is, so far as the higher qualities he is to display in
relation to his subject are concerned, in the hands of a power
whereof he can predicate nothing. Just how much he has at
his hand he knows, and its relation to the subject he well un-
derstands ; and he may have, or he may not have, all the quali-
ties possessed by him who has only talent; may remember
illustrative passages in books, and be able to arrange these in
desirable places; but as his work goes on, there flashes out of
tin- abyss that surrounds him — not at his conjuring, neither at
his desire— -the voice of an intelligence of which he knows no-
thing; save that it does come without calling, and darts into
his soul like the Lightning out of the womb of night. And for

do o

irample of Ibis, we take the reader to nearly any page oi

Sometimes you read along, charmed with the

incisive style, and persuaded by its clean-cut, merciless logic ;

but, as in all such work of the brain, it is only the brain that
is so far appealed to; but suddenly there gleams across tbepagt

a master-stroke that you knew came not to the author for tin

asking: there is genius. Sometimes, and oftenest, this flash
shoots across the vision, so to speak, in reading the works of
professorGoldwin Smith, in the guise of an epigram which you aro
at once assured was not elaborated in that shape in the writer's
mind, but was born there exactly as you see it. Other writers
beat their epigram out of cold material, and make it under the
same inspiration, that a blacksmith makes a horseshoe ; but on
the page it is in the guise of a corpse, a production as much to
be praised as an acrostic, or any other cold-blooded contrivance.
Mr. Smith's epigram never stalks like a chilling phantom, save
when that guise is deliberately intended for its own purpose, but
flashes a living thing beforeyou, as it was first revealed to himself,
and appealing at once to the understanding and the soul. It is
seldom that the picture and the epigram go together, but in thi
writings of this great author they invariably do, and fro-


.piently. that which is rarer still, tin- latter includes the former,
Add to this every thought ID the writer's mind seems to ally
it-fit* with some figure, by an affinity as strong ami as inevit-
able ms that between the mag&et and the iron; so that a page of
Bystander is a series of thoughts expressed through pictures,

that only Hash, hut do not exhaust, their Significance upon you.

Some of Milton's grandest touches have been these vague pic-

3 of grim fires, and God Been hurling hia thunders against

the rebellious; and thifl art Mr. Smith DO8S0SB00 to such a de-

that he BOmetinMi gives the glimpse of a picture lik<

a suddenly Men through a rift of cloud, disappearing

i, but which lingers and haunts the memory and the imagi-

N ither is there an Bnglish writer, of whom we hare

any knowledge living or dead, who possesses in so great a de-

t of expression, the aptitude for coin-
ing new and telling phrase that at once reveals itself as a mas-
nokt. We have all heard of the trade of picking other
people's pock its, but we never heard literary theft described
I icking other people's brains" till professor Qoldwin Smith
• ■barges Bishop WilUrforeo with the practice. But this is only
of a piece with hundreds of other phrases not less apt, such as
England "keeping a stopper in the Dardanelles," or thedescrib-
f slaughter on the battle-field as " heroic surgery." True
humour is one of the tests of genius and that quality which
puts error in masquerade, making to laugh whomsoever looks
upon it. Underlying most of Professor Smith's writings is a
humour powerful and unobtrusive, that will not unlikely, in
some dissertation on a budget speech, rise to confound and
overwhelm with provoking drollery the subject under the
vivisectionist's knife. Many writers have confuted the asser-
tion that " the British party cabinet is only a committee of
the privy council," but none of them, surely, has ever so effec-
tually done so as in this piquant and overwhelming stroke of
humour. " It is a committee of the privy council in the same
sense as a shark is a committee of a negro whom he swallows."


Or who has ever before seen the effort to combine the Evangeli-
cals with the Anglicans in this light ? " At one time the Bishop
[Wilberforce] strove to combine the Evangelicals with the An-
glicans in resistance to Rome and Dissent, by superposing upon
Anglicanism the evangelical doctrine of conversion; and his
soul, supposing it to have accepted this combination, would, if
disembodied, have appeared like a man with two coats put on
opposite ways." Turning again to some other page, we come
upon a passage whose lofty grandeur stirs every chard that has
connection with the moral nature. See the calm, noble majesty
<>f this p; taken from that incomparable English classic

'• The Great Due] of tie- Seventeenth Century." Gustavus had.

fallen before hi> hour : " T> J h um was 5Ung at Vienna and Ma-
drid, and with good reason. For Vienna and Madrid the death
of GuetaYUfl wafl better than any victory. For humanity, if
th.- intereeti of humanity were not those of Vienna and Madrid,

than any defeat 1 » u t for Gustavus himself, wa-
it good t<» die glorious, and stainless, hut before his hour
Triumph and empire, it is said, might have corrupted the soul

which up to that time had been so pure and true. It was
perhapa well for him that he was saved from temptation. A
deeper morality replies that what was had for Gustavus' cause
and for his kind, could not be good for Gustavus; and that
whether he were to stand or fall in the hour of temptation, he
had better have lived his time and done his work. We, with
our small philosophy, can make allowance for the greater
dangers of the higher sphere; and shall we arrogate to our-
selves a larger judgment and ampler sympathies than we allow
to God ? " This, too, is a fair sample of the sweet, mellow
cadence of his style; and he always writes in an English afl
limpid and pure, to use his own phrase, as "the burn that
runs down a heathery hill-side." For some time Bystanl> ,
was suspended, but it has lately been resumed, though .
quarterly instead of a monthly. We still could wish to wel-
come it as often as before; but since that is impossible, let m


hankful that we haw itfl presence still, four times in the
war: its influence always, The teaching of professor Goldwin
Smith is permeating the thought of OUT young country j and

what a boon is not tho fruit of this ripe and excellent judgment,

at the formative period of our national character, when much

he habit we acquire will prove enduring. The morality of

■ nhler is robust and wholesome, and a disinfectant of the

polluted party air about us. Above all, the unwavering adher-

to duty, an 1 the high sense of integrity and honour, which

characterize DU course as the expounder of opinion and the

ler of our domestic pro as, is. whether unconsciously to our-

; not, a constant star that we have now begun to follow,

and whose influence, when the gifted writer u do more, will

still be there, to lead us on to the higher and the better.

It is hardly a compliment to our chapter on literature to in-
troduce upon the scent- the rank and file of Canadian journal-
ism. The truth is that at the door of the Canadian press rests,
in a great measure, the blame of the failure of domestic liter-
try effort. The majority of such of our newspapers as have
the greatest control of opinion have regarded native literary
ambition either with scorn or hostility ; and where one or other
f these enviable qualities has not been present, the good and
the bad of our home endeavour have met with indifference.
If the press continue in this attitude, then must our literary
guild take the matter in hand. It is perhaps not too much to
expect neither assistance to Canadian talent, nor competent crit-
icism, after the review we read the other day, in the Mail, of
Browning's latest volume of verse ; and after being told by one
of the barley editors of the Globe in its "Answers to correspon-
dents " that " Tennyson has written a great deal of trash."
We do not suppose that the really talented editor of the Mail,
Mr. Griffin, saw the impertinent and idiotic notice of Browning's
volume, or it would not have gone beyond the fire ; yet is it not
deplorable that such light store should be set on the literary
and critical department of a great newspaper like that in ques-


tion ( Assaults by the Globe newspaper have been usually made
with a spade on literary strivers, though under its new nian-
agement there is room to hope for better things ; and let us say
that we do not believe that Mr. Houston, himself a finished
scholar, and deeply interested in questions of Canadian edu-
cation and literature, would permit an application of the hoof
to Tennyson. It would be ungenerous and unfair, however, not
to bear tribute to what the Mail has been to literature under
the brilliant editorship <>f Mr. Griffin, who has not alone high
literary attainments of his own, but is one of the band who
have striven t<> create a republic of native Letters, taking every
opportunity to forward the cause. Yet is the chain of tradition
too strong for the desire even of an able and popular editor;
if he gave rein t<> his inclination, we suppose he would
: have In his ears the thunders of an irate directorate. As
it' it is not zealous in helping letters now, it is
neither hostile nor indifferent; though it would need to go
long in sackcloth and ashes to atone for tie- past. Under tin'
management of the elder Drown, the journal was only the min-
C of the ambitions and the animosities of its owner, and
that owner having no culture himself, had no sympathy for
literature and showed it no kindness. Under the late manage-
ment, its policy was one of tradition and personal hate; while
literary effort was regarded by it with positive hostility, chiefly
because the editor had no education, nor any instinct of culture
what lie might have derived from his exchanges. One
newspaper we have, which, without impairing its value to the
" politician," or the M farmer," loses no opportunity to lend a
helping hand to home talent : we refer to the Quebec Chronicle,
under the editorship of Mr. George Stewart, Jr. Since party
tirade in the editorial columns is no more literature than the
broken string of a violin is a hornpipe, we ought not to discuss
that topic here ; and shall not, save to remark that party jour-
nalism is on the decline, and the star of the independent press
in the ascendant. Perhaps that which, in the Mail and Globe,


gusts us most, is the slavish loyalty to the throne and Brit-
ish connexion which they pour out, whenever the whisper of
( 'anadian manhood is borne to their ears, Yet we do not be-

Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 38 of 57)