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Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan
Chapter XXXI

The Funeral.—Characteristics and Recollections.—Conclusion.

THE writer of this endeavoured to fulfil his promise to reach Toronto in two months from the day of his sailing from Quebec; and he left Liverpool in time to effect this. But a slow-sailing steamer was, for that trip, made to take the place of the one of greater speed which should have sailed, but unfortunately had been crippled on her homeward voyage and was laid up for repairs. On this account, and with constant and heavy head winds, the passage was a few days longer than the ordinary ones; and he missed reaching Toronto in time to take a last leave of his venerated friend. He had the melancholy gratification, however, of witnessing his calm features in the repose of death,—not a line or expression of the well-known face apparently altered; but like one who had yielded up his last breath in cheerful contentment that his work was done, and that he was called upon to face a Master whom he had tried faithfully to serve, but on whose mercy and merits alone he after all relied.

The funeral was fixed for Tuesday, the 5th November; and, by universal desire, it was made a public one. Professional men of all orders,—the Judges and leading men of the Bar; the Physicians of the town; a large gathering of the Clergy from all quarters of the Diocese, including very many of other religious communions; of the Military, Hussars and foot-soldiers; the members of the City Corporation; the officers and members of the various Societies 33 of the town; and others, of all conditions and persuasions, —formed the vast procession from his late residence to the Cathedral of St. James. The Church was darkened, and dimly lit with gas; and, as the great mass wound slowly in, the organ pouring forth soft and mournful strains, the scene was indescribably solemn. In keeping with the deep gloom of the building, was the drapery of mourning all around; and, in the vast throng within, there was not, we believe, one heart- untouched by the imposing, impressive burial-service, read with a calm distinctness by the Dean. His remains were interred in a vault, expressly constructed for the purpose, beneath the chancel, and as near as possible to the spot where he was wont to sit within the rails in the discharge of Episcopal duties.

His successor in the See,—hardly ten months his Coadjutor,—preached his funeral sermon on the following Sunday; the Cathedral draped and darkened just as it was on the funeral day. A very large congregation was present; and, in the evening, the same sad subject was eloquently dwelt upon by the Rector of the Parish and Dean of the Cathedral.

Several meetings were subsequently held to decide upon a fitting memorial to one who had filled so large a space in the civil as well as the religious history of the Province; but differences of opinion as to the character and suitableness, of such a testimonial, have so far retarded the adoption of any. Yet, after all, it is hoped that something may be decided upon to mark, first, the zeal and success of the late Bishop in the cause of Education,—his efforts in this direction culminating in the establishment of Trinity College; and something, secondly, to be exhibited as a memorial of his energy and ability in the discharge of his duties as a Bishop of God's Church. What would testify the first, has, we think, been happily suggested in the erection of a Convocation Hall for Trinity College; the supply of which would be a great practical benefit to the

Institution itself, as well as uphold the memory of its founder. To transmit to posterity some visible memento of his pastoral work, a Synod Hall, to bear the name of “Strachan,” has been fitly suggested; and all, we think, must agree that this, while a useful, would be a most appropriate memorial.

But we must not omit to mention that, if here we are passive and undecided though not slumbering, there has been commenced in another Diocese a most fitting memorial, in the erection of a handsome and substantial Church at the very spot where his first ministrations in the service of his Divine Master were given. At Cornwall, the scene of his first labours as a Minister of Christ, through the untiring zeal and energy of Archdeacon Patton, this Church is now in vigorous progress, and will probably be completed before anything in our own Diocese has actually been commenced. The Churchmen of the Diocese of Toronto will, we trust, take this fact to heart.

The character of the late Bishop of Toronto, in its marked outlines, so fully develops itself in his varied and active life which we have endeavoured to pourtray, that reference to its minuter points is hardly necessary. There are, nevertheless, traits and characteristics of his thoughts and habits,—phases of his retired and inner life,—which the world at large, from an observation of his outer walk and work, world hardly recognize. A few recollections of such, we shall try to call up and set before our readers.

And if we regard, first, his domestic life,—his relations as a husband and a father,—we shall see in him a remarkable example of indulgent tenderness and self-sacrificing love. Never was there a brighter or more cheerful home; never one of more unrestrained and playful intercourse between old and young. And while every thing was done to secure the appliances of comfort and elegance, assiduous care was taken to uphold the associations and habits that serve to refine the character and adapt for the best positions to which they might be raised in after life. And never was there any sacrifice too great for him to make, that he might secure the advancement of his children, whether they adopted a profession or chose a mercantile life. He was willing, as indeed he did, to hazard a fortune, if that good object could be attained.

His hospitalities were great, and always on an elegant scale. He early took a lead in this respect, and never relinquished it till the declining health of Mrs. Strachan rendered the continuance of it impossible. He shewed a wonderful adaptedness to the positions in society which he was called upon successively to fill Nothing, in advancing exaltations, came new or strange to him; as has been so well said by another, he “sustained, with a graceful and unassuming dignity, all the augmentations that naturally accumulated round them, as the community, of which he was so vital a part, grew and widened, and rose to a higher and higher level, on the swelling tide of the general civilization of the continent” 

Cheerfulness, as at his fireside, reigned at his board; and no one relished more a humorous story or a harmless joke. This he encouraged in his youthful guests especially; and no one laughed more heartily than he at a fair sally of wit, or a pleasant anecdote. In travelling, he would recount stores of amusing incidents that had occurred during his earlier acquaintance with the country; and his memory was keen and mirthful of excursions by sailing boat up the Bay of Quints from Kingston, with companions of social notoriety in their day.

There was a large benevolence in the character of the late Bishop; and to the distressed and poor he gave with a liberal hand. If he had been favoured with worldly means beyond his hopes, he bestowed a fitting share of them in relieving individual want, and in aiding Institutions of piety and charity. He would never hoard for the probabilities or the contingencies of an after day, when he could, by the expenditure of what he had, smooth the present path, and promote the present good, of those around him. And for this cause it was, that, although for nearly half a century he possessed a handsome income, and had acquired a considerable private property, he died a poor man.

He was, too, a philanthropist in another form. He spared no pains, and grudged no trouble, to promote the settlement and advance the interests of those who came introduced to him from the Mother Country. He would pitch upon a farm or locality for them which he thought would suit; and forthwith he would write their friends to send the means of purchasing it. Once an intelligent, honest farmer, by marriage well connected, came introduced to him from Scotland, and engaged his hearty interest. He knew well his wife’s friends, and made a great venture in purchasing a farm for him in the township of Dumfries, at double the cost he was authorized to pay. "I told them,” he said, “what I had done, and had done for the best, and informed them that I had drawn for the money. They stormed a little about my extravagance and rashness, but they paid the draft; and the result soon shewed them that I had acted wisely.”

To one and all of his numerous Cornwall pupils, he was invariably kind. In trouble they never appealed to him in vain; his counsels were always wisely given, and given with the spirit and affection of a father. He was free, too, in rousing and rebuking, where he discerned any thing like lassitude or want of energy; in plain terms he would say they must bestir themselves, and make ventures abroad if they could not succeed at home. One of his early pupils, an eminent barrister in Lower Canada, and who as a Member of Parliament had bravely fought the battle of the Constitution there in the troublous times anterior to the Union, once complained to him of the ingratitude and injustice he was experiencing from the existing government, and the impossibility of his obtaining redress. “Get into Parliament, man,” was his prompt reply; “and make yourself heard there. Meet your opponents where you can best confront them.”

There was something very cheery and inspiriting in his manner of dealing with difficulties, and making those who proposed them gather up confidence and vigour. He had the happy faculty of divesting trouble of its harsher lines and aspects, and giving to the darkest prospects the colouring of hope. An excellent Clergyman, in the neighbourhood of Toronto, somewhat advanced in life, often called upon him for counsel in difficulties, and consolation and direction and in those little trials which the man of refinement and sensibility is often made to feel so acutely. For such spirits as these the jostling of the world about them is too rude; they shrink from it, or they pine under it. With a fatherly tenderness, he would explain away the grounds of these troubles, and shew that in most cases the causes for such suffering were imaginary. This good man was wont to say at parting,—“I never, my dear Lord, call to tell you of my little troubles, but I go away refreshed and brightened. I get a supply of strength and cheer to support me for many an after day.”

The late Bishop was a man without prejudice, and wholly free from party spirit. This was evinced in the distribution of the patronage at his command; for the best he had to give was often bestowed upon those who differed from him in religious opinions. He would not, perhaps, studiously seek out such to befriend them; but, if their services had been long, and zealous, and successful, and their claims to advancement were unquestionable, any thing like the tie of party was out of consideration, and the favour he had to confer was cordially bestowed. “We want earnest, working men,” he was often heard to say, “and no matter from what section of the Church they come, I shall welcome them, if they are faithful and loyal to her.” The strong doctrinal opinions, however of a portion, at least, of the “Evangelical Clergy,” were very distasteful to him; and he often said that Calvinism must lead, in many instances, to infidelity. Of one of these Clergy, whom he very highly esteemed, he used to say “I wish he would preach upon the Ten Commandments, as well as upon election, faith, and grace. People should be taught how to live, as well as what they are to believe.”

The Bishop had, in many quarters, the character of being short, and stern, and uncourteous sometimes in his remarks. This was rarely the case; and seldom manifested, unless he discerned any thing like duplicity or insincerity in those who were brought into contact with him. He had also a great dislike to any thing like pretension or forwardness; and could not brook that any one, recently come into the Diocese, should be too free in his counsels or criticisms. Such a one he would put down very peremptorily. But if he ever felt that he had found fault wrongfully, or done any man an injustice by his remarks, none was more ready than he, at the fitting time, to make amends. A Clergyman, now no more, somewhat impulsive and eccentric in his manner, though most upright and ingenuous, expressed himself once in Synod on the duty of making provision for a vacancy in the See, in a manner which the Bishop considered abrupt and indelicate. He accordingly reprimanded him with some severity. The following year, however,—having in the interval discovered that he had misapprehended that. Clergyman’s meaning,—he said in reference to the action he had proposed: “This suggestion I discouraged at the time with greater warmth than was perhaps necessary. Satisfied that nothing offensive was intended by the reverend gentleman who mentioned the matter, and that I had expressed myself somewhat hastily, I now tender him my apology.”

The clearness of intellect and quick perception of things and men for which the late Bishop was remarkable, shewed their natural development in firmness of character and decisiveness of action. Yet he was by no means a man of rigid inflexibility, or obstinate adherence to his own opinions. Where, after mature and careful deliberation he had made up his mind upon any subject, it was needless to attempt inducing him to change it; he would be as uncompromising with the highest in the land, as with the humblest individual who ventured to offer his counsel. But if there was an admitted opening for further consideration, he listened very kindly to what others had to suggest, and very often adopted the opinions of friends in whom he had confidence, in preference to his own. He sometimes,— though rarely,—made appointments to vacant parishes without reference to his usual advisers; but in other cases where he asked their counsel, he received their suggestions with great respect and kindness, and often adopted them without further discussion of the subject. This was the case not only in his declining years, but at his first entrance upon the duties of the Episcopate.

About five-and-twenty years before his decease, on the death of one of his Chaplains, I suggested, unasked, the name of a Clergyman to take his place, who deserved the compliment and whose appointment would gratify the much respected friends of the deceased. Without objection or expostulation, he smilingly said, “Make out his commission, and send it to me for signature, and I shall forward it with a few pleasant words.”

He was always prompt and kind in giving his advice to young Clergymen when they solicited it. The following letter is worthy of record, as shewing his readiness, as well as judgment, in offering counsel:—

“It is not my desire to find fault with you on this occasion, because .your proceedings, though unwise, are not, after all, unnatural in a young roan entering life; but, as your spiritual father, to advise you not to be hasty in replying to communications which you may deem offensive. Keep them a few days; then consider whether it be necessary to reply to them at all. If you must answer, confine yourself strictly to facts, and avoid acrimonious language and disagreeable insinuations. Then put by the answer a day or two, and read it as one who must give an account, and perhaps you will not send it at all, or you will so smooth and modify it as to give no just cause of offence.

“Some such process has been my practice; and experience has often taught me its great value. Every one in such cases should inquire of the Lord in the spirit of prayer, and more especially the ordained ministers of the Gospel; and it is most wonderful how soon an earnest reference to the Saviour’s example calms all passionate and undue excitement, and -opens to us the clear path of duty.”

It was, no doubt, the truthfulness and guilelessness of the Bishop’s own nature which drew him so strongly to “little children” As he journeyed on his visitations, he was always attracted to them; and they, from his playfulness and powers of amusing, were always drawn to him. On one occasion, having been invited to the house of a retired army officer to partake of some refreshment after a morning Confirmation, this gentleman became rather free and caustic in his remarks upon his Clergyman. This the Bishop felt to be in bad taste, and so he changed the subject as speedily as possible. To preclude its recurrence, he took the two youngest children of the house, one on either knee, and chatted with them and drew them out, amused them and was amused, until the repast was ready. He laughed much at this harmless manoeuvre afterwards, as we journeyed homewards.

The Bishop had a great objection to any thing like a studied show or pretence of religion. He disliked “cant”; and, from his repugnance to any thing like an affectation of sanctity, he might, by some very good and conscientious men, be thought deficient in personal piety, and without strong religious feelings. Nothing could be more erroneous than such a conclusion. What he did, and expressed, in this respect, was certainly without ostentation, and perhaps with reserve; but there was an undercurrent always of simple, genuine piety. This was exemplified particularly at the bed-side of the sick, or in soothing counsels to the sorrowful. He exhibited at such times what were the convictions and workings of his own mind; what was his own deep faith, his own bright hopes. He might not clothe them in impassioned words; but there was a solid, sterling honesty in all he uttered, that made its way far more effectually to the understanding and the heart. Often, too, he would speak with an unfeigned humility of his own short comings; of his confidence in the Saviour; of the need of God’s fatherly indulgence to the very best. He spoke fearlessly of death; and often, when as yet unshaken in strength or activity by the advance of years, he would speak of his probable decease at no distant time, and express his anxious desire to have every thing so established and settled as to ensure peace and prosperity in the Diocese after his departure. He was unquestionably a man of prayer; and in this he would indulge quietly by the way-side and at any hour, as well as more formally in his secret chamber.

He was, as all know, a fast friend; in whose regard and interest neither prosperity nor adversity made any change. He was consistent alike in his treatment of poor and rich. There were sometimes temporary breaks with his old friends, sometimes even with his old pupils; but in no case was not every wound healed, every hard feeling obliterated, long before he died. There was not one, we believe, of his wide-spread acquaintance with whom, at the close of life, he was at variance.

But we must not be too discursive in these citations of characteristics; we must not, by prolixity, risk the weariness of our readers. We have done, then: we have executed a task undertaken with cheerfulness and pursued with pleasure, but, we fear, very inadequately accomplished. It is the career of really a great man which we have attempted to describe; and greater powers, we feel, should have been enlisted to do it the justice it deserves. We have done our best, amidst many toils, and cares, and interruptions; and we shall be satisfied if, after overlooking its defects in material or composition, it shall be felt to be a faithful portrait of one fresh in the thoughts, and dear to the hearts, of every Canadian Churchman. We repeat here what was said on another occasion:— “Though we have had his vacant place filled up, we cannot hope to have his loss supplied: in the thoughts and hearts of, at least, the present generation, there will be a recurrence always to the surpassing gifts and work of The first Bishop of Toronto.”


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