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Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan
Chapter IV

Domestic and parochial life at Cornwall.—His marriage.— Appointment to York.

We must turn for a little from the more public to the domestic life of the late Bishop at Cornwall.

We have many anecdotes of the discomforts and privations he experienced during the early days of his bachelor house-keeping; when it was difficult to procure competent servants, and when a straitened income did not allow of a satisfactory choice. But all this was remedied by his marriage in 1807 to the lady with whom, for more than half a century, he lived in the fullest harmony and happiness. This was the second daughter of the late Dr. Wood, a respectable physician of Cornwall; but who had become the youthful widow, with a handsome annuity, of the late Mr. Andrew McGill, of Montreal. As the event proved, no choice could have been more fortunate. She was a devoted wife and mother, had great personal attractions, was of gentle and amiable manners, and unsurpassed as a house-keeper. A large family blessed this union; but out of four sons and four daughters, only one survives,—a son, the eldest born; the sole inheritor, out of that numerous family, of the name of Strachan1 At Cornwall, in connexion with his large and flourishing school, he paid due attention to his clerical duties. Service was performed with great regularity each Sunday morning in the parish church; and the sermons, composed evidently with great care, were listened to with eager attention, and often elicited the admiration of the boys as well as of the ordinary panshoners. “I have heard,” said one of his pupils who spent a few years in England, "many attractive sermons here, with much learning and elegant composition; but I rarely came away with the glow we felt at the conclusion of many of our friend the Doctor’s animated and practical addresses at Cornwall” In reference to this, we may offer an extract from a letter of the Reverend Dr. Stuart, dated November 2, 1803, and alluding evidently to a visitation of the Clergy. "In regard to Mr. P—’s opinion of your performance in the pulpit, it was much in your favour. The sermon, he says, was an elegant composition, that would have done you credit in the public hall of a college.”

We have to the same purport a characteristic letter of the late Reverend John Langhom, the good but eccentric Missionary of the Bay of Quinte; for all that skirts that beautiful sheet of water was embraced in his sphere of duty. To this day many of the old inhabitants speak of his travels on foot; his plain admonitions in public and private; his catechising the children at the kitchen fire-side, or under a shady tree in summer. One of these, when grown to manhood, mentioned to me his being suddenly surprised by Mr. Langhorn in one of his rambles; put through his catechism carefully; and sharply rebuked because he omitted to kneel down on the dusty road on coming to the Lord’s Prayer. The following is the letter he addressed to Mr. Strachan, written in a clear large hand and with colons and periods almost as large as peppercorns:—

“I received yours of August 28, 1807, together with your printed performance. In point of style I imagine you must come the nearest to our Lord Bishop, (who is a lovely writer) of any of the clergy in this Province. The printing of your pamphlet is considerably well done, and I remarked a few errata; but however proper the language of it may be for your pupils, to whom it is addressed, I hope you do not use such learned style in your common preaching; I hope you do not tell your vulgar hearers of ‘misanthropic seclusion, insulated occurrences,’ &c.; and you may believe me, I am right well pleased that we have in our little number a man of your abilities. If I am good for some uses, I do not look upon it I am proper for every purpose.

“I wonder where you light on all these Deists. I cannot say I ever found out but one here. It is a long time since, and I cannot now perfectly remember the conversation we had ; but it was somehow thus. He told me he was a Deist; I asked him what his rule of religion was. He answered, reason; then I asked him what would reason teach you, if you should light on a man who shewed you that he had all Nature at his command! To this, I think, he made no answer, and so the conference ended. I afterwards put Leslie in his hands; but he turned out a young fellow not of the best of characters, and I do not know what became of him.

"At page 7, you do not talk about ridicule quite to my satisfaction. One might imagine you condemned all ridicule, which is not reconcilable with Scripture. For we find the figure of Irony used with uncommon force by Elijah to the priests of Baal. A parcel of injudicious Americans would have said that Elijah made a mock of religion ; but such a great and extraordinary man knew very well how to conduct himself. I should have been better content if you had said, 4 with young and uncultivated minds, unjustifiable ridicule has frequently more weight than the strongest arguments.’

“There is another passage in your pamphlet I would ask you about- At page 20, you say, ‘if the Jews, although the keepers of a law written by wisdom itself, were unable to reach those pure and sublime virtues which sprang from the mission of Christ,’ &c. Here I would ask, what great matters have Christians done for these many hundred years that the Jews do not equal them in? Here I presume you would have obliged the world, if you would have let them see particularly that the morals of Christians were wonderfully superior to those of the Jews. Here is a lame place in your reasoning, I fear. You may consider it.”

The confinement and intellectual toil of a school are very trying to the physical energies; and after a day of hard labour in this vocation, there is usually a prostration of the system which unfits for much other duty. But the subject of this memoir, as all his friends remember, was not one to be thus affected : his robust and vigorous frame was proof against such influence; and frequently has he been seen, after these trying labours were closed for the day, mounting his horse and galloping off to visit some sick parishioner. His intercourse with the people was well maintained; and if his visits were not very frequent, they produced a great impression, and were always remembered and spoken of as a high privilege. There was always a pleasant word for father and mother, and uniformly a marked kindness to the children of the household. Even these who looked upon him with awe in the school, shewed a little creeping familiarity when they met him in their parents’ abode.

In 1811, the Degree of Doctor in Divinity was conferred upon him by the University of Aberdeen, in reference to which his friend Dr. Stuart writes,—“I congratulate you upon the honour conferred on you by your Alma Mater, which I do sincerely; and according to Mr. Cartwright’s account the manner of bestowing the academic distinction has been as flattering as the matter itself, being unsolicited by yourself or friends, and conveyed to you through the hands of a person who had been actually your tutor. May you live long to convince the world, that your friends know how to discover and reward modest merit!”

In the same letter is a reference to the serious illness of their eccentric friend Mr. Langhorn, and the expression qf a desire from him to be relieved from the actual discharge of his ministerial duties. It will surprise many of our readers to hear Dr. Stuart say, “In the event of the success of his application for leave of absence, I recommended Mr. Osgood (provided he would return and accept 5 the situation) as Mr. Langhorn’s Curate, and contingent successor. The Bishop has consented to this arrangement.” This was Mr. Thaddeus Osgood, so well known subsequently in the religious history of Canada; a quiet inoffensive man; of earnest piety, and much devoted to the spiritual welfare of the young. Although a Presbyterian in some American connexion, he never in his after life, shewed any violent contradiction to what seemed to have been his early partialities.

The long intercourse and affectionate friendship that subsisted between Dr. Stuart and Dr. Strachan, was now about to be brought to a close. This excellent man and zealous clergyman died in August, 1811, in the 70th year of his age; of whom his friend has given this brief memoir in the “Christian Recorder,” of March, 1819 :—

“The Reverend Dr. John Stuart was born of very respectable parents in the State of Virginia, in 1741. Of his early life, little worthy of notice is known, except that he soon discovered a strong attachment to serious studies; a bias which appeared the more remarkable as he was naturally of a lively disposition. In acquiring the knowledge which was necessary to qualify him for the arduous and important office of a minister of Christ, he met with many difficulties, which a mind less vigorous and persevering would never have been able to surmount. His father was a rigid Presbyterian, and though sufficiently indulgent to liis children in every thing else, he looked for their implicit obedience in adopting his religious system. The doctor incurred his father’s displeasure by thinking differently in this matter. He was startled at a very early period of his life, at the dogmatical tone of the Shorter Catechism, which was correctly repeated by himself and his brothel's every Sabbath evening. After much inquiry and reflection, he attached himself to the Church of England, being thoroughly convinced of the excellence of her doctrine, aud primitive purity of her worship and discipline. But though he was fully prepared for the ministry, and had attained the legal age, he deferred taking orders, that he might not wound the feelings of an aged and beloved parent.

“This magnanimous forbearance he continued to exercise for several years, till his father, struck with the greatness of the sacrifice, and the unequivocal proof which it afforded of the purity of his motives, besought him to follow his own inclination, giving him his blessing, and praying sincerely for his future usefulness. After this amiable contention between filial love and parental affection, Dr. Stuart went to England, and was ordained by the Bishop of London.

“Being now a minister of Christ, he left the more attractive path to eminence which his talents might have opened, and devoted himself to the Indians on the Mohawk River. He laboured with unwearied assiduity, to inspire them with living Christianity, and he was blessed with a degree of success proportioned to his active and rational zeal. During the seven years that he spent among the Five Nations, his leisure hours were employed in translating a part of the New Testament into their language, the credit of which, however, was given to another.

“The Revolutionary War in America followed, but nothing could induce him to renounce his allegiance to his Sovereign. Leaving his native land, he was appointed Chaplain to a provincial regiment, and regarded by officers and men with esteem and veneration. When peace was established he settled himself amongst his fellow-loyalists in Canada.

“The last twenty-six years of his valuable life were spent at Kingston, instructing a congregation that was continually increasing, and which loved him the more, the better he was known, for his life was a living example of what he preached. He may be truly named the father of the Episcopal Church in this Province, and a most worthy father he was; ever ready to instruct his younger brethren how to surmount the many difficulties which are apt to discourage them on their first entrance upon their ministry.

“He resigned his spirit into the hands of God who gave it, in August, 1811; but he still lives in the hearts of his friends, and shall be had in everlasting remembrance.”

The death of Dr. Stuart necessarily involved some changes in the ecclesiastical arrangements of Upper Canada, slender as the staff of its clergy was at that time; and its effects upon the interests of Dr. Strachan were of a very marked and important character. They involved nothing less than his removal from Cornwall, and the commencement of a ministerial career in the capital of that Province, which was only terminated by his death fifly-five years afterwards, Yet, on the lamented demise of Dr. Stuart, very different arrangements had been contemplated. It was the anxious desire of the Hon. Richard Cartwright, concurred in by a large number of other influential friends, that Dr. Strachan should succeed to Kingston; and this was a wish he eagerly cherished himself. But Mrs. Stuart had intimated to several friends of her departed husband, her earnest desire that her son, Mr. George Stuart, should take his father’s place, and be removed there from York, his present charge. “I instantly relieved my excellent friend Mr. Cartwright,” says Dr. Strachan in a letter to the Bishop of Quebec, “from his difficulty, though not from his regret, by declaring it to be my firm resolution never to oppose the son of my venerable friend, but to forward with all my power, whatever his respected widow might conceive conducive to her comfort. This was a sacrifice not easily made, but I owed it to Dr. Stuart, and I found strength to make it.” He went further, and urged Mr. Cummings, the Churchwarden, to call a meeting, which should invite Mr. George Stuart to become their minister, subject to the approbation of the Bishop, and of the Lieutenant Governor of the Province.

Immediately following this arrangement, was the offer to Dr. Strachan of the parish of York,—an offer voluntarily made by Mr. Gore, the Lieutenant Governor, who entertained for him the highest regard and esteem, and which was unhesitatingly sanctioned by the Bishop of Quebec. This offer led to long and anxious consideration. Cornwall, with its flourishing school, furnished an excellent income, and had besides a comfortable parsonage-house on which the incumbent had spent a considerable sum from his private means. In York, the clerical income was not much, if at all, larger; there was no parsonage; and the chances of a school on a remunerating scale were very doubtful. Moreover, the expenses of living, at the seat of Government, would be much increased; and the cost of moving, when the means of transport were so few and inferior, would be very serious.

All these considerations decided him on declining the offer; but Governor Gore, his unvarying friend, intimated the willingness of the Bishop of Quebec to give him the appointment of Official in Upper Canada,—an office of dignity and responsibility, and to which a suitable income was attached. The assurance of this determined his acceptance of York; but it appears that Mr. Gore had been too sanguine, for the Bishop of Quebec felt it his duty to confer the appointment upon the Rev. George Stuart, the son of him who had so worthily filled it for many years. The reason assigned was, “the high estimation in which the late Dr. Stuart was held, and the laudable motives which induced the son to move to Kingston, at a diminution of his income.” What the Bishop had said, and how he interpreted the whole matter, is best given in his own words:—“It appears to me proper to say, that in confessing to Mr. Gore (by way of accounting for delay) that I had considerable hesitation in making up my mind upon the appointment of an Official for Upper Canada, in disclosing some of the reasons for that hesitation, and in adding that upon the whole I inclined to Dr. Strachan, but should give the matter further consideration; I did not, in any manner, hint that my final determination in the least degree depended upon any opinion that Mr. Gore might be likely to express upon the subject, or that I looked to, or wished for, any such opinion from him; but, on the contrary, took some pains to guard against any probability of such a misinterpretation.”

This was satisfactory, as the world outside might interpret the matter; but the disappointment to Dr. Strachan can easily be conceived. In his mind, it completely dissipated those hopes of advancement in which he had been led to indulge; and perhaps there was never, in after years, that cordiality between him and his Diocesan which had previously existed. He felt himself wronged; and without the intention on any side of inflicting a wrong, or committing an injustice, we cannot wonder that he should have so regarded it, and that he was unable to control the apprehension that he did not enjoy the full confidence of his Bishop. Many indications exist that it weighed heavily on his mind, and that it was likely to give an entirely new direction to his plans of life. In a letter from his friend and constant correspondent, Professor Brown, of St. Andrews, dated January 11, 1812, there is a reference to an expressed desire on the part of Dr. Strachan for a transfer to some University post in Scotland,—growing, no doubt, out of the disappointment to which he had been subjected in Canada:

“This country,” the Professor says, “is still more infested than yours, with miserable factions and illiberal politics both in Church and State; so much so, that the best man cannot hold any prominent office without having his happiness embittered by these causes. Although it is. just what I expect in ninety-nine out of a hundred instances, I cannot help feeling for you under the fallacy to which you have lately been exposed, both in a moral and physical view of human affaire. Judging from what I know of your ardent and honourable mind, 1 suspect you have been too sanguine; and your superior’s conduct has been clearly unguarded, I believe no man of my acquaintance is more honest, or more conscientious, than you are ; but from the language of some of your excellent pamphlets which you have been good enough to send me, I am afraid that you have at times been intemperate; 1 know that, in the present state of society, there is no surer way of giving offence than a fearless discharge of duty at all times, and in all circumstances..... It is very possible that the situation to which you were so well entitled, might, on trial, not have yielded all the comfort you expected. For the reasons you urge, you were quite right, I think, in declining the other situation ; but comparing the two letters exchanged, you may fairly venture to change places with your superior. There is an old Scotch saying I have lately heard, ‘Better ane sit, than ane flit. If you cannot previously be translated to an eligible office in this country, which 1 most anxiously wish, I do not despair of seeing you in the first ecclesiastical stations in Canada." There were, however, subsequent negotiations. The inhabitants of York, headed by Chief Justice Scott, urged on Dr. Strachan his acceptance of that parish; and as this was warmly seconded by Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, at that time administering the government of the Province,— accompanying it with the offer of the Chaplaincy to the Troops, which would add £150 per annum to the income of the parish,—he at once consented. General Brock, in a letter to the Chief Justice, dated February 24, 1812, thus writes: “I rejoice that Dr. Strachan has consented to come to the capital. I write to the Bishop by this day’s post, and request you to assure the Doctor that every possible indulgence will be extended to enable him to repair to York in the most convenient manner."

This, then, was a settled arrangement; and preparations for the removal, fraught with so many important future consequences, were vigorously entered upon.

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