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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Joseph Howe (1804–1873)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Archibald MacMechan
A TABLET marking his birthplace, a school bearing his name, his effigy in bronze beside the Province Building, where so many of his triumphs were won, serve to show that Nova Scotia cherishes the memory of her gifted son, Joseph Howe. He was born, December 13th, 1804, in a cottage on the beautiful fiord called the North West Arm behind the city of Halifax. His father, John Howe, was a Loyalist from Boston who became King’s printer and editor of The Halifax Gazette. A man of strong and elevated character, deeply religious, well read in the English classics, John Howe exercised a great influence upon the intellectual development of his son.  1
  At an early age Joseph left school and entered his father’s office to learn the mystery of printing. In 1827, he set up for himself by the purchase, with a partner, of The Weekly Chronicle; but, within a year, sold out his interest in it, and launched The Nova Scotian, a paper which he soon made a fine example of the old-fashioned personal journalism. In the same year, he married Susan Ann McNab, who made him an admirable wife. Howe’s novitiate as an editor coincides with a period of literary activity in Halifax, which demands more than passing notice. In 1826, The Acadian Magazine first appeared, modeled on Blackwood’s, and filled with a spirit of vigorous local patriotism. Howe’s first poem, ‘Melville Island,’ is mentioned in its pages with approval, and also ‘The Rising Village’ by Oliver Goldsmith, grand-nephew of the poet, as the firstlings of a nativist literature. This short-lived publication was followed in 1830 by The Halifax Monthly Magazine, which ran but two years. Both were ambitious and ably conducted, and in both there are articles which seem to suggest the hand of Howe. If his part in these magazines is difficult to trace, his relation to a more famous work is quite clear. This was Haliburton’s history of Nova Scotia, which appeared in 1829, with Howe’s imprint as publisher. It was the first history of a Canadian province and it told for the first time the story of the Acadians. It secured for the author the thanks of the Legislature; but it involved the publisher in debt. Between 1828 and 1839 Howe published, often at his own risk, and on the whole at a loss, ten volumes relating to the province.  2
  The verse which Howe wrote is largely derivative and follows contemporary fashions. None the less he had the temperament, the imagination, and emotional capacity of the poet. His own epigram puts the matter in a nutshell: “Poetry was the maiden I loved, but politics was the harridan I married.”  3
  The year 1835 marked the turning-point in Howe’s career. On New Year’s Day, his paper contained an anonymous letter attacking the magistrates of Halifax for maladministration. It was an assault on the citadel of Bumble. As editor, Howe was held responsible, and he was sued for libel. The lawyers told him that he had no case. He conducted his own case and secured an acquittal by an address to the jury which revealed oratorical powers hitherto unknown even to himself. He was borne home on the shoulders of the mob; and for two days Halifax kept holiday in honor of his triumph. His libel suit made Howe the idol of the Nova Scotian democracy. He had stood up for popular rights against entrenched unquestioned privilege, and had shown himself to be a master of the spoken word.  4
  In the autumn of the same year, his personal friend and political antagonist, Thomas Chandler Haliburton, began to contribute to The Nova Scotian those ‘Recollections,’ which, collected and published in London as ‘The Clockmaker,’ at once made the Halifax lawyer famous.  5
  Next year, Howe and his friend Annand were elected for the county of Halifax, and when the House met in 1837, the year of Queen Victoria’s accession and of the rebellions in Canada, he began the agitation for reform which ended, ten years later, in complete victory. What he accomplished was nothing less than a complete remodeling of the provincial constitution on a modern democratic plan. The fight with privilege entrenched was long and hard.  6
  Howe’s popularity with the masses was almost counterpoised by active hatred of the aristocratic Halifax faction for the detested “radical.” “They have scorned me at their feasts, and they have insulted me at their funerals,” he said once to a friend. A young Tory once attacked him on horseback with a drawn sword, in front of his own office. With his bare hands, Howe unhorsed and disarmed him.  7
  After reforming the constitution, Howe next labored greatly for the material development of his province. The age of steam had begun, and he had been among the first to perceive the possibilities of the new power in transportation by land and sea. His ambition was to obtain these advantages for Nova Scotia, to develop its natural resources, and open up communication with the sister provinces. He went to England to interest capital in Nova Scotia railways and to secure government assistance. He succeeded, but the ultimate results of his activity were not as splendid as he had hoped. What he foresaw was an iron highway linking the Atlantic and the Pacific, but he died without realizing the vision. In the opinion of a most sympathetic biographer, this failure had a demoralizing effect upon his character, and led to the “great refusal,” which must always be a blot on his memory.  8
  All his life Howe had been fascinated by the grandiose vision of organic union of the British Empire; but when the magnificent opportunity presented itself to further this all-important end, in the federation of the British American provinces, he failed to seize it. Circumstances combined with his egotism and perversity to thrust him into a false and unworthy rôle. Ever since the success of the American Revolution and the coming of the Loyalists to Canada, the idea of closer union among the component parts of the Empire had been in the air. In 1841, the two Canadas had been united, and in 1865, a larger scheme, for the union of all the provinces, was being mooted. Howe’s natural place should have been at the head of the movement. But he was out of office; he was jealous of the clever Nova Scotian Charles Tupper, who had supplanted him, and he stood apart altogether from it. Soon he began to oppose it, tooth and nail. In his journal he ridiculed Confederation as the “Botheration Scheme.” None the less, Tupper brought Nova Scotia into the union. Howe went to London to obtain repeal of the obnoxious measure. Again he failed; and in 1869, he became a member of Sir John Macdonald’s cabinet, a step which cost him the friendship of nearly all his old Liberal and “repeal” friends. His day was over, his health was broken; as a member of the Dominion cabinet he did not shine. In 1873, he was made Lieutenant-Governor of his native province, an honor he lived to enjoy only three weeks.  9
  Howe’s career affords one of the few instances of hero-worship in Canadian politics. Old men still remember with pride that they held his horse, or carried his letters, or heard his ‘kitten’ joke about Tupper. In truth, his was a rich, virile, magnetic personality. He lived in the habitual companionship of great ideas. He was a great patriot, although he failed at a supreme test. As Johnson said of Goldsmith, “Let not his faults be remembered; he was a very great man.”  10

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