John Stephen Willison.

Reminiscences, political and personal online

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It actually believed that it was the "party of purity."
All its organs and leaders pursued Sir John Macdonald
as the arch-master of electoral corruption, but after
1874 twenty or thirty Liberal members who had cried
to the gods against the "Pacific scandal" were unseated
for improper practices. Men scoffed and forgot that
the masses of the Liberal party were wholesome and
sincere people and their leaders able and faithful public



servants. But Mr. Mackenzie's letter reveals that in the
Liberal party, as in the Conservative party, the forces
of interest and plunder are never asleep and the records
of the courts show conclusively that one party is as good
or as bad as the other. It was not because the Liberal
party was excessively virtuous that Canada had honest
government from 1874 to 1878, but because its leader
had the resolution and the courage to require honest
administration by the public departments and frugality
in the public expenditures.

For his resistance to protection Mr. Mackenzie gets
more praise than he deserves. He was ready to raise
the duties from seventeen and one-half to twenty per
cent. So were Hon. George Brown and Sir Richard
Cartwright and Hon. Edward Blake, and other leading
Liberals of Ontario and Quebec. Principle does not
concern itself with percentages. If Hon. A. G. Jones
and the near-sighted, contumacious, anxious Liberal
group from the Eastern Provinces, who were possessed
by the delusion that they could not carry their constitu-
encies if duties were increased, had not gone into revolt
against Mr. Mackenzie he would have raised duties to
twenty per cent., and once committed in Parliament
and on the platform to the defence of higher customs
taxation who can be certain that the Canadian Liberal
party would not have become entrenched in the fortress
of protection. There is reason to believe that if the
Mackenzie Government had committed itself to higher
duties the Conservative Opposition would have adhered
to low tariff. The common story is that when Sir Rich-
ard Cartwright arose to deliver the budget speech of
1876 it was not known if he would declare for or against
higher duties, while Tupper, who was to follow, knew
only that he would not agree with Cartwright.



In a speech at St. Mary's in 1893, Mr. D'Alton Mc-
Carthy said : "There is no doubt in the world that we
were out of power and by going in for the National
Policy and taking the wind out of Mr. Mackenzie's
sails we got into power. We became identified with the
protection policy, but if Mr. Mackenzie had adopted
the protective policy we should have been free-traders."
Mr. W. F. Maclean, M.P., whose father was one of the
most convincing writers of protectionist literature at
this period, has said that Sir John Macdonald was
"timid unto death of protection," and "had to be bullied
into it, led into it, committed to it by others." Mr.
Goldwin Smith declares that when he warned Sir John
that "Protection would never do for Canada" he was
assured, "You need not fear that I am going to get into
that hole." One does not understand how Mr. Goldwin
Smith could give any such warning, for he was oppos-
ing the Mackenzie Government, petting Hon. Edward
Blake as the repressed believer in a more liberal com-
mercial policy, and cultivating close personal and poli-
tical relations with the Conservative leader. In a letter
to The Toronto News in 1901 Mr. Nicholas Flood
Davin said: "Now as regards Sir John Macdonald's
opinion, he is on record quite early in his career on the
side of protection. On the other hand, in 1876, I was
in The Mail office talking to the late Mr. Charles
Belford, who was then editor under Mr. Patteson, who
was manager and editor-in-chief, when Sir John Mac-
donald entered and said: 'Belford, what do you mean
by that article on protection? I'm not a protectionist.'
Belford replied : 'It doesn't commit you or the paper.
It is marked "communicated." But that policy is tak-
ing hold of the public mind, and that is the question on



which you will have to go to the country.' The policy
of protection was preached on platforms and advocated
in The Mail before Sir John Macdonald took it up
heartily. He had undoubtedly gone over to free trade
with the Disraelian Conservatives, and was fully aware
what a hold belief in it had taken of the public mind.
He, however, took to studying protectionists' books,
and when he began to advocate protection he brought
to bear on its popularization his fine power of illustra-
tion, sometimes homely, sometimes whimsical, always
effective. It is the good fortune of the leading states-
men to get credit not only for the work, but the idea,
whereas they are never the first to conceive the idea."
What Mr. Davin, Mr. Maclean and Mr. Mc-
Carthy have said Mr. T. C. Patteson, who was the
editor of The Mail during that period, often admitted
and emphasized. But if it was the fortune of Mr. Mac-
kenzie to take the wrong turning, this was not so much
through devotion to low tariff as through submission to
a wing of the Liberal party which by high concern for
principle or through zeal to save itself gave the whole
position to the enemy. After 1 896 the common injunc-
tion among Liberals was to remember "Mackenzie's



From boyhood I thought of journalism as the pur-
suit to which I would like to devote myself. I do not say
profession, because journalism is not exactly a profes-
sion, nor exactly a trade, nor always a means of liveli-
hood. In confidential intercourse with my companions
I often declared, not in sheer vanity or arrogance, that I
would be editor of The Globe. Behind the conviction
there was more of instinct than of conceit. So far as I
know I come of a stock of writers and preachers and
publishers. But I have never been interested in the pur-
suit of ancestry. That is not because I have read Bret
Harte's "First Family of Tasajara," nor because I have
been deterred by the experience of the man who paid
500 to discover his ancestors and 1,000 to have the
facts suppressed. Who was it that said the vital question
is not where you came from, but where you are going,
not what you inherited from the past, but what you
leave to the future?

Still we are directed by forces that are in our "bones
and blood." There are voices within us that call across
great distances. In a second-hand bookshop in Birm-
ingham I found a book more than 200 years old by
John Willison, M.A., "Late minister of the Gospel at
Dundee," entitled "The Balm of Gilead for Healing a
Disfeafed Land." One scoffs, but what is the true mis-
sion of the journalist, whether one confesses it or not,
but to find this "Balm of Gilead" for the humours and
distresses of his time? If one does not possess the



evangelical spirit, and strive to make the world cleaner
and better, what profit hath he "of all his labour where-
in he laboureth under the sun." There may be the
flavour of cant in the suggestion, but I do believe that
the true journalist is most happy in the prosecution of
movements which assail abuses and diffuse social bless-
ings. If he thought chiefly of wealth or position he
would not plant his ladder upon any such unstable
foundation. It may be that occasionally there is the
clink of dollars between the sobbings for "the people."
In the business office there may be "wicked partners."
If it were not so possibly the sheriff would forever hover
in the offing.

My first contribution to a newspaper appeared in
The Whitby Chronicle, then edited by Mr. W. H. Hig-
gins, who like so many of the craft found his final
refuge in the civil service. This was a poem of de-
jected spirit and portentous solemnity. Never was
there a sadder message for a gray world, ailing by
heredity, evil by tendency, and vicious by instinct and
practice. At the moment I was under the inspiration
of Swinburne, and if my verses were not as mellifluous
as the master's they were as evasive and mysterious. It
was not my fault that those who read would not under-
stand nor "return from iniquity." Fortunately the
verses had no gift of life, and I am comforted by knowl-
edge that the fyles of The Chronicle have not been

I also imposed verses of flagrant sentimentality upon
The London Daily Herald. The Herald departed this
life long ago, and it may be that my verses contributed
to its demise. The first letter on any public question
that I offered for publication appeared in 1876 in The



Guelph Mercury. The Dunkin Act, which was the
forerunner of the Scott Act, was submitted in Welling-
ton county. There was a hard contest and ultimate
defeat for the prohibitory measure. On some phase of
the controversy I expressed a weighty opinion, and The
Mercury was hospitable. I forget whether I wrote
over my name or as "Total Abstinence," "Pioneer,"
"Ratepayer" or "Pro Bono Publico." Any one of these
would have carried more authority than my own signa-

Many excellent speakers appeared in Wellington
during that contest. Among these were Mr. E. King
Dodds, Mr. Joseph Gibson, Mr. James Fahey, and
Mr. Marvin Knowlton. The chief protagonists were
King Dodds and Gibson. Generally they met each
other at joint meetings. Mr. Gibson was a ready, eager
and versatile debater with style and method greatly in
contrast with those which Mr. King Dodds adopted.
The champion of the prohibitionists was fluent, direct,
sincere and eloquent without tinsel or tawdriness. King
Dodds was verbose and torrential. He was a master of
all the artifices of platform advocacy. Fertile in sym-
pathy or indignation, as the occasion required, he often
produced striking, immediate effects. The fashion of
oratory which King Dodds affected is passing as the
cause for which he contended has gone down to defeat.
It is the fortune of Joseph Gibson, in a serene and hon-
ourable old age, to rejoice in the victory for which he
fought so long with unquenchable ardour and unfalter-
ing courage. I like to think that between Mr. Gibson
and Mr. King Dodds on the platform there was con-
flict without acerbity and contention without detrac-
tion. When I asked Mr. Gibson if this was so he said:



"Yes, E. King Dodds and myself were on the best of
terms. I can see no reason why public men who differ
about some public question should allow the difference
to affect their personal relations." In the old days the
joint meeting was often a school of courtesy and, if
there was much raillery and banter, accuracy and mod-
eration of statement were essential if any permanent
effect was to be produced. If sometimes joint meetings
were disorderly and turbulent we know that the later
fashion does not always ensure quiet and decorum.

On the night before the polling in Wellington
county a meeting in the City Hall of Guelph was an-
nounced by the prohibitionists. Mr. James Fahey ap-
peared as the champion of the opposing forces. There
is reason to think that Mr. Fahey had deliberately set-
tled upon the course that he would pursue. Whether
the dispute that arose before the meeting could be
organized was over the selection of a chairman or the
time to be allotted to the various speakers I do not
recollect, but it is certain that the meeting never was
organized nor any speech delivered. With consum-
mate strategy Mr. Fahey made objection to every pro-
posal that was submitted by the temperance party,
excited furious controversies on the platform and in the
audience, and finally created a pandemonium of con-
fusion and disorder. Before the hall could be cleared
many benches were broken. There were actual physical
collisions between the disputants, defiance of the police,
and all the happy manifestations of riotous free men
in a sanguinary combat.

We forget James Fahey. He ran well for a season,
but health failed and the road became dark at mid-day.
So far as one can learn he joined the staff of The Guelph



Mercury in 1879, and a year later became editor of The
Herald. He and Mr. A. W. Wright were among the
speakers for Mr. James Goldie, the Conservative pro-
tectionist candidate in the bye-election of 1876, which
became necessary when Mr. David Stirton was ap-
pointed post-master at Guelph. In the contest Mr.
Donald Guthrie, whose son now represents South Wel-
lington, was the Liberal candidate, and even the "Na-
tional Policy" could not prevail against a man of such
solid ability and skill in debate as Mr. Guthrie. In
this contest Mr. Fahey established his reputation as a
speaker even in comparison with Mr. A. W. Wright,
and that is a test to which few men were equal. They
were formidable antagonists even for Mr. Donald
Guthrie. Why do we shut Wrights and Faheys out of
Parliament? To have youth, intellect, gifts of tongue
and a residuum of independence almost closes the gate-
way to the Canadian House of Commons. No young
man ever enters the Senate, and no old man ever leaves
it. How much we "democrats" have to learn from the
old mother of free communities where despite class and
caste talent is recognized, youth may serve, and inde-
pendent thinking is not always culpable eccentricity.

On the platform Mr. Fahey was brilliant alike in
defence and in attack. He had little personal magnet-
ism. His delivery was rapid and unrelieved by oratori-
cal artifices. But his language was chaste, felicitous
and impressive by its beauty and simplicity. One is
told of a lecture by Mr. Fahey, entitled "The Literary
Club," in which he wandered with Edmund Burke,
Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, Oliver Goldsmith,
David Garrick and other figures in that glorious com-
pany of immortals, revealing their wisdom and their



folly, their virtues and their failings, with sympathy
and insight and in language not so inferior to that of
the old English essayists. He had gone to school to the
masters. In political controversy Fahey was merciless ;
on the platform he could be unscrupulous. But he was
ever intrepid and never common-place.

From Guelph he went to The Stratford Herald,
but in a few years his health became so unsatisfactory
that he was ordered to California. In a letter from Mr.
J. P. Downey, superintendent of the Hospital for Fee-
ble-minded at Orillia, who was among Mr. Fahey's
successors on The Guelph Herald, and is himself an
attractive and effective public speaker, it is said:
"Fahey knew what it was to work hard for his wages
and work harder to get them when they were earned.
I think some of the wage cheques issued at that time by
The Guelph Herald are still in circulation." But this
condition of financial uncertainty was not peculiar to
The Herald forty or fifty years ago, nor even in these
days are newspapers always immune from the anxieties
and vicissitudes which follow upon an empty treasury.
There is a legend that once when Edward Farrer,
George Gregg and Alex. Pirie were engaged upon a
publication which suffered from a perennial shortage
of the medium of exchange they loaded the safe upon a
dray, drove to a pawnshop and secured enough cash
from the dubious dealer in pledges to meet the unrea-
sonable demands of printers who thought they should
receive actual money for their labour.

For a time, towards the end, Mr. Fahey was on the
editorial staff of The Toronto World. We were com-
rades in the Press Gallery of the old Legislative Build-
ings on Front Street, but the flame of his genius was not



burning with its early splendour. He was indifferent,
not sour, listless, often weary. Among Canadian jour-
nalists we have had good paragraphers, but they have
not been numerous. Few have had the quality which
gives distinction to many American newspapers. We
seem to labour over our humour. We seem to feel that
if the blow is not struck with a club it will be taken for
a caress. In the United States the editorial paragraph-
ers are many and they are keen, incisive, stimulating,
irreverent and delightful. In their work we have a key
to the strength, sanity and audacity of the American
character. It is curious, however, that of all the
humourists of the new world only Haliburton in
Sam Slick, Lowell in Hosea Bigelow, and Clemens as
Mark Twain survive. And Haliburton was a Nova
Scotian. Indeed, a Nova Scotian was the father of
American humour. Petroleum V. Nasby, who so often
brought healing to the soul of Lincoln, Mrs. Partington
and Ike, Josh Billings, Artemus Ward, Bob Burdette
and Bill Nye become shadowy memories. Lowell was a
teacher as well as a humourist. Clemens was a fine
craftsman and without humour would have had distinc-
tion among writers of English in America. Haliburton
blazed the trail in which so many have sought fame and
bread. The paragrapher must have humour. He can-
not have immortality. But he contributes richly to the
gladness of mankind. He gives the real impress of
nativity to American journalism. The best paragrapher
of his time in Canada was James Fahey. Nor can I
think that he has any successor of equal polish and
pungency. It is a pity that we have no memorial of
Fahey. Nor, so far as I know, has any of his work been
preserved. It is true that he wrote for the day only,
but he said things that should not have perished.



Among other leaders of the Temperance movement
whom it was my fortune to hear in the seventies were
Mr. George W. Ross and Mr. Edward Carswell, of
Oshawa. Of Mr. Ross there will be much to say later.
Mr. Carswell I heard often in South Ontario from
political and temperance platforms. In the press
notices he was "the Canadian Gough." As one who
heard John B. Gough I can testify that Mr. Carswell
was not greatly his inferior in mimicry and anecdote, in
moving appeal and homely argument. His hair was
long and luxuriant, almost falling upon his shoulders,
he was of commanding stature and altogether a pic-
turesque figure. Once at a meeting in Whitby he was
interrupted by the natural question, "Have you a bar-
ber in Oshawa?" The retort was instantaneous, "Yes,
and we have a barbarian in the audience." The first
time I heard Mr. George W. Ross was in 1875 at a
meeting of the Grand Lodge of Good Templars at
Guelph. He came as a fraternal delegate from the
Sons of Temperance. The hotels were crowded and
it had not been easy for Mr. Ross to secure accommoda-
tion. He had been married only a few days before and
when he was introduced to Grand Lodge it was ex-
plained that he might have written that he had married
a wife and therefore could not come, but since he had
come they had done him all the honour possible under
the circumstances; they had let him sleep with the
Grand Chaplain. In reply Mr. Ross was flippant if
not audacious in his references to the Grand Chaplain,
and grimly but slyly humorous over the method adopted
to atone for the separation from his wife and relieve
the pressure on hotel accommodation. v But he was
seldom unready and never unhappy. Among the chief



causes of his successes on the platform were those flashes
of candour which were as much defiance as confession,
and which so provoked audiences to levity that they
could not pronounce judgment with sober faces. A
striking figure at this Grand Lodge meeting was Dr.
Oronhyatekha, who had not yet set his hand to the task
to which so much of his life was devoted. A discussion
arose as to whether or not prohibitionists in Federal
and Provincial elections should ignore all other con-
siderations and support only candidates who were ab-
stainers and advocates of prohibitory legislation. De-
fining his own position Dr. Oronhyatekha explained
with severe gravity that when he had last voted he had
to choose between a sober Grit and a drunken Conserva-
tive, and that after anxious and mature consideration
he had given the Grit the benefit of the doubt.

Mr. Alex. Pirie, whom I have mentioned, had his
training on The Guelph Herald, while Mr. John R.
Robinson, his successor as editor of The Toronto Even-
ing Telegram, began his career on The Guelph Merc-
ury. Guelph seems to have been a school of journalism
as Brantford was a school of oratory. In 1887 Mr.
Pirie succeeded Mr. John C. Dent as editor of The
Telegram. For ten years he gave a pleasant humour
and a distinct individuality to its editoral columns. If
he was seldom aggressive he was adroit in controversy,
supple in defence and persuasive in argument. During
the parliamentary session of 1888 he represented The
Montreal Star in the Press Gallery at Ottawa. In 1890
he acquired The Dundas Banner. Gay, insouciant,
effervescent, irrepressible, Mr. Pirie was a stimulating
companion and a delightful after-dinner speaker. He
was often venturesome and occasionally audacious. I





would not say, as Bagehot said falsely of so great a man
as Disraeli, that "his chaff was delicious but his wheat
was poor stuff." His wheat was often the good seed of
sound counsel, but his more serious performances were
affected by his reputation as an entertainer. When Mr.
James Johnson, of The Ottawa Citizen, was elected
president of the Press Gallery, Mr. Pirie seized a pad
of copy paper from the desk where Mr. Johnson was
sitting, and giving the impression that Johnson had
prepared an address for the occasion read several pages
of extravagant gratitude for his election and absurd
exaltation of the office to which he had been elected.
It was done with becoming gravity and the sentences
were so rounded and followed each other in such
orderly sequence that it was not easy to believe he was
fabricating every word as he proceeded. I have known
few men who could equal Mr. Pirie at this sort of

In order that Mr. Johnson could attend the funeral
of Hon. Thomas White at Montreal, Mr. Pirie, at this
time his colleague in the Press Gallery, agreed to sup-
ply editorials for The Citizen during his absence.
There never was a man with less hair on his head than
James Johnson, and this suggested a subject to Pirie.
He contributed an editorial on baldheads, and a para-
graph on "Porridge as a Food." "Statistics," he said,
"show that baldness is spreading in all civilized coun-
tries, and some of the distinguished scientists, who put
their spectacles on their noses and look into these inter-
esting subjects, assert that the time will inevitably come
when the whole race will be baldheaded. This is not a
pleasing outlook. 'Bald as a billiard-ball' has become
a familiar simile by which people describe a bald-




headed person. But who can look with equanimity to
the coming of the time when people will be so bald that
nothing but their ears will prevent their hats from slip-
ping down upon their necks? Brain-workers grow
bald at an early stage of their existence. This should
teach us to reverence and respect bald-headed members
of the community rather than to jeer at them and make
them feel uncomfortable, as it is too much the custom
of modern society to do. Some of the most profound
thinkers the world has produced have been deficient in
capillary adornment, and civilization has lost nothing
in consequence. But taking a merely picturesque view
of the case, it is a matter of regret that the tendency of
the race to baldness should be as marked as it undeni-
ably is." As to porridge, Mr. Pirie said : "The circum-
stance that the oatmeal mills of the country can, if
worked to their full capacity, produce more oatmeal
than is required for the porridge of the people is
adopted by the Reform organs as an argument for Un-
restricted Reciprocity. How the admission free of duty
of cottons, woollens and other American manufactures
can promote the consumption of porridge it is impos-
sible to explain, except on the assumption that under
the trade system the people will be reduced to an oat-
meal diet. 'Much, of course, can be done with a little
oatmeal'; but porridge is liable to become tiresome
even to the sons of Scotland, if served up morning, noon
and night."

While Mr. James Dickinson, for a time night editor
of The Globe, and afterwards connected with weekly
journals at Fort William and Windsor, was speaking
at a meeting of the Canadian Press Association, Mr.
Pirie intervened with a humorous observation. To the



general surprise Mr. Dickinson intimated somewhat
angrily that he did not want to be interrupted. Mr.

Online LibraryJohn Stephen WillisonReminiscences, political and personal → online text (page 3 of 25)