John Strachan, "Verses . . . 1802"
Edited, with an Introduction and Notes, by D.M.R. Bentley and Wanda Campbell
The young schoolmaster who was to become the first Bishop of Toronto and, arguably, "the dominant personality in Upper Canadian life until his death in 1867" (Black 26), arrived in Kingston in 1799. Born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1778, John Strachan attended Aberdeen Grammar School where, "after a slow start, he did well enough to obtain a bursary at King's College, Aberdeen" (Craig 752). Forced by the death of his father to support himself after one session at the University (1793-94), Strachan held various teaching positions in the environs of Aberdeen (1794-96) and St. Andrews (1796-99). In these positions, he "learned how to teach and assess strengths and weaknesses in human character," and became increasingly "determined . . . to achieve his academic ambitions and to enter the world of gentlemen with literary tastes" (Craig 752). During his time near St. Andrews he attended the University as a part-time student, taking classes in divinity that would stand him in good stead later. In the spring of 1797, he graduated from the Universtiy of Aberdeen. Both by education and experience Strachan was thus well qualified to accept an offer in 1799 to "tutor the children of Richard Cartwright" and other prominent Kingston families (Craig 752). Among Strachan's pupils at Kingston were Andrew Stuart, the son of the local Church of England clergyman, and John Beverley Robinson, a future attorney general of Upper Canada. Strachan "fervently held to the idea of an educated aristocracy," writes David Flint in John Strachan: Pastor and Politician, and "[n]ot once did he loose sight of the fact that he was training the future leaders of the country" (7, 29).
The full title of the poem printed here for the first time is "Verses Written August 1802 and Recited at the Examination of My Pupils September 9th." According to the manuscript in which it appears, the poem was recited, not by Strachan himself, but by James Cartwright ("the first 66 lines") and Andrew Stuart ("the remainder"). This division accords with the poem's structure and themes, which are not only appropriate to a formal academic occasion but also a reflection of Strachan's knowledge of classical history and rhetoric. (At the University of Aberdeen he was a member of the "Marischal Disputing Society, a small group of keen debators" [Flint 11].)1 Cast in the mould of a classical oration, "Verses . . . 1802" divides into six parts: an exordium treating of the prehistoric migration of the Greeks to the Ionian coast of Asia Minor (1-66); a narration dealing with recent British and Canadian history (67-104); a partition introducing the argument that education is crucial to Canadian culture (105-12); andparts 4, 5, and 6a confirmation (113-20), refutation (121-42), and conclusion (143-48) securing, defending, and restating the educational argument (see Kennedy 92-95). Among the many aspects of "Verses . . . 1802" that should make it interesting to students and scholars of Canadian literature and culture are the parallel drawn in its exordium between ancient Greek and early Canadian transmarine migrations2 and the emphasis placed in its final sections on the importance of cultivating the young minds as well as the fertile lands of Upper Canada.3
Strachan's record of the examination that surrounded the recitation of his "Verses" at Kingston in September, 1802 indicates that the poem's climactic urgings on behalf of "instruction" and "Science" were part of a carefully orchestrated performance. "The order of the Examination," he writes, "was first, Poole England [who] read a speech on polite literature and recited part of Akenside's 'Ode on Science.' John McAuley then recited `The Sword of Rennes' from Sterne's Sentimental Journey. Richard Cartwright read an eulogy on Mathematics which I had dictated." Further examinations (including one of the Newtonian Science of "optics") followed, as did other recitations (including one of "Sterne's apostrophe on slavery"), and there were speeches by James Cartwright on "Natural Philosophy" and Andrew Stuart on "Moral Philosophy." The examination concluded in "pleasant humour" with a comic rehearsal of the proceedings by (or, at least, read by) John Beverley Robinson.
The following transcription of "Verses . . . 1802" is based on the holograph manuscript in the John Strachan Papers in the Archives of Ontario (F 983, MU 2907, Note Book, Poetry, Translations, pp. 30-36), the source also of the above information about Strachan's "Examination." We are very grateful to the Archivist of Ontario, Ian E. Wilson, for his kind permission to publish "Verses . . . 1802" in Canadian Poetry.
In the following edition of the poem, Strachan's corrections and revisionsfor example, "parent" for "former" in line 68have been accepted and incorporated, and his marginal comment and note to lines 65-66 have been preserved in the Explanatory Notes. Since the poem is entirely unpunctuated in manuscript, punctuation has been added by the editors in a manner consonant, it is hoped, with the usage of Strachan's day as manifested, for instance in the two lengthy poems that he published in The Port Folio in February and March 1807. In a few instances, capitalization has been added or removed in the interests of consistency and ease of comprehension. The abbreviation "Septr. ." in Strachan's title has been expanded to "September".
In another poem in his "Poetry" Note Book, "A Dialogue,"
Strachan refers to Scotland's master-teachers of classical rhetoric, Hugh Blair ("The
British Quintilian") and George Campbell (see Kennedy 232-41). Blair's Lectures on
Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783) contains a detailed discussion of the parts of an
oration, and Campbell, whose Philosophy of Rhetoric appeared in 1776, was the
professor of divinity and principal of Marischal College in the University of Aberdeen.
"Of all [Campbell's] productions," writes Strachan in a footnote to "A
dialogue," "I prefer his Philosophy of Rhetoric, a book too much
See my "Breaking the `Cake of Custom'" for a discussion of the Atlantic
crossing in early Canadian writing by women. [back]
See also Strachan's chapter on "Education" in A Visit to the Province
of Upper Canada in 1819, a work that contains several echoes of "Verses . . .
Bentley, D.M.R. "Breaking the `Cake of Custom': the Atlantic Crossing as a Rubicon for Female Emigrants to Canada?" Re(Dis)covering Our Foremothers: Nineteenth-Century Canadian Women Writers. Ed. Lorraine McMullen. Reappraisals: Canadian Writers. Ottawa: Ottawa UP, 1990. 91-122.
Black, Robert Merrill. "Stablished in the Faith: the Church of England in Upper Canada, 1780-1867." By Grace Co-Workers: Building the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 1780-1989. Ed. Alan L. Hayes. Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1989. 21-41.
Craig, G.M. "John Strachan." Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 9: 751-66.
Flint, David. John Strachan: Pastor and Politician. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1971.
Kennedy, George A. Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1980.
Strachan, John. Note Book, Poetry, Translations, John Strachan Papers, F 983, MU 2907, Archives of Ontario, Toronto.
----------, A Visit to the Province of Upper Canada in 1819. Aberdeen: James Strachan, 1820.
By John Strachan
1. Ionia Region on the northern portion of the coast of Asia Minor, including the northern islands of the Cyclades, occupied by Greeks who had migrated across the Aegean Sea in prehistoric times. The development of early Greek literature and philosophy is credited principally to the Ionian Greeks.
7 The sister arts Any two related arts, but usually poetry and painting.
8 science Knowledge.
9 bulwarks Fortifications; ramparts; breakwaters; sea-walls.
10 Parian marble Marble from Paros, an island in the Cyclades, famed for a white marble that was highly valued by the ancient Greeks for statuary.
14 Jove A poetical name for Jupiter, the highest deity of the ancient Romans. By echoing the Hebrew Jehovah, the word Jove suggests the equivalence of the supreme deities of the Roman and Christian religions.
15 verdant lawns Opens spaces of grass-covered (verdant: green) land.
16 Ceres Roman goddess of agriculture.
18 dales Valleys.
18 swain Poeticism: young man; peasant; rustic; lover.
19 purling Murmurings; eddying; trickling.
20 Naiads In Greek mythology, the beautiful female personifications of springs, rivers, and lakes.
20 lave the glassy tide Swim in the smooth and reflective water.
25-38 Persia's king . . . Darius (c. 550-486 BC), King of Persia from 521 to 486 BC, suppressed a revolt in the Greek cities in Ionia in 499-494 BC and thereafter attempted to punish the mainland Greeks for their role in the rebellion. His efforts ended in the Greek victory at Marathon (see 37) in 490 BC.
32 Neoclus' gallant son Themistocles (c. 528-462 BC) Athenian statesman and naval commander responsible for the decisive victory against the Persians at Salamis (480 BC). Forseeing that the Persians would send another stronger force against Greece after their defeat at Marathon, he made plans to evacuate Athens and prepared for naval battle. Curiously, he was later exiled from Greece and made his home with Artaxerxes I, son of Xerxes of Persia, who made generous provision for him.
37 Marathon Plain north of Athens where the Athenians defeated a Persian army in 490 BC.
39-50 Salamis . . . Xerxes . . . In the straits between the island of Salamis and the western coast of Greece, the Greek fleet defeated the Persian fleet under Xerxes in 480 BC. The son of Darius, Xerxes was king of Persia from 486 to 465 BC. He inherited his father's mission of punishing the Greeks for their support of the Ionians. After initial victories in 480 BC on sea (Artemisium) and land (Thermopylae) he was defeated on both sea (Salamis) and land (Plataea) in the following year.
43 hoary Greyish-white with age; old.
46 Solon Early (c. 640- c. 558 BC) Greek statesman and poet. One of the traditional Seven Sages, Solon enacted many economic and political reforms in Athens, including the abolition of serfdom and slavery for debt. He is credited with laying the grounds for democracy.
61 deck with palms In ancient times, branches of the palm tree symbolized victory or triumph.
62 Nile In 1798 a British fleet under Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated a French fleet in Aboukir Bay off the coast of Egypt. The defeat of the fleet that had brought Napoleon Bonaparte's army to Egypt at the Battle of the Nile placed insuperable difficulties in the way of the French ambition to establish an empire in the East.
62 Camperdown In 1797 a British fleet under Admiral Adam Duncan defeated the fleet of the Batavian Republic (the Dutch Netherlands) off Camperdown on the coast of Holland, thus putting an end to the invasion of Ireland which had been planned by the Dutch and their French and Spanish allies.
63 Abercrombie During the assault on the French army in Egypt that followed the naval Battle of the Nile, Sir Ralph Abercromby (1734-1801) was mortally wounded. In 1795-96, as commander-in-chief of the British forces in the West Indies, he had seized several islands and settlements, including Demerara, Grenada, and Trinidadhence the reference to "Ind" in Strachan's footnote (see 65, below).
65 Gallant Wolfe British General James Wolfe
(1727-1759) was mortally wounded while leading his troops to victory on the Plains of
Abraham outside Quebec City. This battle on Sept 13, 1759 was decisive in securing British
control of France's Canadian possessions.
66 the great hero of the Theban name Epaminondas (c. 420-362 BC), the Theban commander who died at the Battle of Mantinea, a crushing defeat of the Spartans by the Thebans. Thebes was the principal city in Boeotia (Strachan's "Beotia" [65n.]).
69 haughty Louis Probably Louis XV (1715-1774), the King of France during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), a principal issue of which was the struggle between Britain and France for supremacy in Canada, India, and elsewhere. In Canada under Wolfe and in India under Robert Clive, the British "sunk th'ambitious hopes" (74) of the French and, after the Treaty of Paris (1763) that ended the war, became the supreme European power in the colonial arena. It is also possible, however, that Strachan's reference is to Louis XVI (1754-1793), whose reign (1774-1793) saw a revival of French naval power and colonial amibiton (see the note to 80-84, below).
75-76 civil discord . . . western shore The American War of Independence, which began in 1775 (the Battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill) and ended, for practical purposes, in 1781 (the surrender of Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown) and, in formal terms in 1783 (the Treaty of Versailles).
80-84 . . . coming war . . . Either (or both) a longer or a shorter view of history may be behind this passage. In 1778, France openly allied itself with the Americans against the British, providing crucial assistance to General George Washington at Valley Forge and establishing a naval presence off the American coast. In 1779, Spain allied itself with France and the Americans against Britain, and in the summer of 1779, a combined French and Spanish fleet took control of the English Channel. In 1780, Britain declared war on the Batavian (Dutch) Republic, which had resisted the right claimed by British ships to search vessels on the high seas and to confiscate enemies' goods found aboard them. A reprise of these allegiances and alliances occurred in 1797 when the Dutch, (again, since 1795, an ally of France), the Spanish (also and again, since 1796, an ally of France), combined with the French to attempt a great naval attack on Britain. This was prevented by the defeat of the Dutch fleet off Camperdown (see the note to 62, above) and the Spanish fleet off Cape St. Vincent in 1797. The "Gauls" (French) were later defeated at the Battle of the Nile (see the note to 62, above) and elsewhere. An overture for peace between Britain, France, and their allies was made by Napoleon in 1799. A preliminary peace was signed in October, 1801 and a definitive treatythe Treaty of Amiensin March, 1802.
94 dismal Depressingly dark; gloomy; dreary.
96 meads Meadows; fields; pasture grounds.
106 amend Repair; make better; improve.
117, 119 Science Knowledge acquired by study.
119 bewilder'd Lost in a pathless place; confused; tangled.
121 fanes Temples.
122 strains Tones; styles; modes of expression.
123 nymph In Greek mythology, female personifications of various natural objects such as trees ("silvan": of woods).
125 Diana An early Roman goddess who was perhaps originally a spirit of the woods and wild nature and who came to be associated with the moon.
126 Pan The Greek god of flocks and shepherds, responsible for the fertility of the flocks.
130 plant instruction on Ontario's shore Kingston is on the shores of Lake Ontario.
139 Milton An English Puritan poet John Milton (1608-1674), wrote many works of poetry and prose, the most celebrated of which are Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes.
140 Dryden's lyre The poetry of John Dryden (1631-1700), the English poet, dramatist and critic, whose "calmer" works include a translation of Virgil's Georgics.
141 Bacon Francis Bacon (1561-1626), a pre-eminent English lawyer and an influential philosopher, worked consistently for the advancement of learning. In Novum Organum, he advocated the inductive method of scientific inquiry, thus laying some of the foundations for the Royal Society (1660) and modern science.
142 Newton A seminal English mathematician and physicist, Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1746) is most famous for his account of the laws of mechanics and gravitation, but he also made major discoveries in such fields as calculus and optics.