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George Brown
Chapter XXIV - Later Years


IN the preceding chapters it has been necessary to follow closely the numerous public movements with which Brown was connected. Here we may pause and consider some incidents of his life and some aspects of his character which lie outside of these main streams of action. First, a few words about the Brown household. Of the relations between father and son something has already been said. Of his mother, Mr. Alexander Mackenzie says: “We may assume that Mr. Brown derived much of his energy, power and religious zeal from his half Celtic origin: these qualities he possessed in an eminent degree, united with the proverbial caution and prudence of the Lowlander.” The children, in the order of age, were Jane, married to Mr. George Mackenzie of New York; George; Isabella, married to Mr. Thomas Henning; Katherine, who died unmarried; Marianne, married to the Rev. W. S. Ball; and John Gordon. There were no idlers >n that family. The publication of the Globe in the early days involved a tremendous struggle. Peter Brown lent a hand in the business as well as in the editorial department of the paper. A good deal of the writing in the Banner and the early Globe seems to bear the marks of his broad Liberalism and his passionate love of freedom. Gordon entered the office as a boy, and rose to be managing editor. Three of the daughters conducted a ladies’ school, which enjoyed an excellent reputation for thoroughness. Katherine, the third daughter, was killed in a railway accident at Syracuse; and the shock seriously affected the health of the father, who died in 1863. The mother had died in the previous year.

By these events and by' marriages the busy household was broken up. George Brown, as we have seen, married in 1862, and from that time until his death his letters to his wife and children show an intense affection and love of home. After her husband’s death Airs. Brown resided in Edinburgh, where she died on May 6th 1906. The only son, George M. Brown, was, in the last parliament, member of the British House of Commons for Centre Edinburgh, and is one of the firm of Thomas Nelson & Sons, publishers. In the same city reside two daughters, Margaret, married to Dr. A. F. H. Barbour, a well-known physician, and writer on medicine; and Edith, wife of George Sandeman. Among other survivors are, E. B. Brown, barrister, Toronto; Alfred S. Ball, K.C., police magistrate, Woodstock; and Peter B. Ball, commercial agent for Canada at Birmingham, nephews of George Brown.

From 1852 George Brown was busily engaged in public life, and a large part of the work of the newspaper must have fallen on other shoulders. There are articles in which one may fancy he detects the French neatness of William Macdougall. George Sheppard spoke at the convention of 1859 like a statesman; and he and Macdougall had higher qualities than mere facility with the pen. Gordon Brown gradually grew into the editorship. “He had” says Mr. E. W. Thomson, writing of a later period, “a singular power of utilizing suggestions, combining several that were evidently not associated, and indicating how they could be merged in a striking manner. He seems to me now to have been the greatest all-round editor I have yet had the pleasure of witnessing at work, and in the political department superior to any of the old or of the new time in North America, except only Horace Greeley.” But Mr. Thomson thinks that like most of the old-timers he took his politics a little too hard. Mr. Gordon Brown died in June, 1896.

Mr. Brown regarded his defeat in South Ontario in 1867, as an opportunity to retire from parliamentary life. He had expressed that intention several months before. He wrote to Holton, on May 13th, 1867, “My fixed determination is to see the Liberal party re-united and in the ascendant, and then make my bow as a politician. As a journalist and a citizen, I hope always to be found on the right side and heartily supporting my old friends. But I want to be free to write of men and things without control, beyond that which my conscientious convictions and the interests of my country demand. To be debarred by fear of injuring the party from saying that-is unfit to sit in parliament and that-is very stupid, makes journalism a very small business. Party leadership and the conducting of a great journal do not harmonize.”

In his speech at the convention of 1867 he said that he had looked forward to the triumph of representation by population as the day of his emancipation from parliamentary life, but that the case was altered by the proposal to continue the coalition, involving a secession from the ranks of the Liberal party. In this juncture it was necessary for Liberals to unite and consult, and if it were found that his continuance in parliamentary life for a short time would be a service to the party, he would not refuse. It would be impossible, however, for him to accept any official position, and he did not wish, by remaining in parliament, to stand in the way of those who would otherwise become leaders of the party. lie again emphasized the difficulty of combining the functions of leadership of a party and management of a newspaper. “The sentiments of the leader of a party are only known from his public utterances on public occasions. If a wrong act is committed by an opponent or by a friend, he may simply shrug his shoulders.” But it was otherwise with the journalist. He had been accused of fierce assaults on public men. “But I tell you if the daily thoughts and the words daily uttered by other public men were written in a book as mine have been, and circulated all over the country, there would have been a very different comparison between them and myself. I have had a double duty to perform. If I had been simply the leader of a party and had not controlled a public journal, such things would not have been left on record. 1 might have passed my observations in private conversation, and no more would have been heard of them. But as a journalist it was necessary

I should speak the truth before the people, no matter whether it helped my party or not; and this, of course, reflected on the position of the party. Consequently. I have long felt very strongly that I had to choose one position or the other—that of a leader in parliamentary life, or that of a monitor in the public press—and the latter has been my choice being probably more in consonance with my ardent temperament, and at the same time, in my opinion, more influential; for I am free to say that m view of all the grand offices that are now talked of— governorships, premierships and the like—I would rather be editor of the Globe, with the hearty confidence of the great mass of the people of Upper Canada, than have the choice of them all.”

Of Mr. Brown’s relations with the parliamentary leaders after his retirement, Mr. Mackenzie says: “Nor did he ever in after years attempt to control or influence parliamentary proceedings as conducted by the Liberals in opposition, or in the government; while always willing to give his opinion when asked on any particular question, he never volunteered his advice. His opinions, of course, received free utterance in the Globe, which was more unfettered by reason of his absence from parliamentary duties; though even there it was rarely indeed that any articles were published which were calculated to inconvenience or discomfort those who occupied his former position.”

Left comparatively free to follow his own inclinations, Brown plunged inte farming, spending money and energy freely in the raising of fine cattle on his Bow Park estate near Brantford, an extensive business which ultimately led to the formation of a joint stock company. The province of Ontario, especially western Ontario, was for him the object of an intense local patriotism. He loved to travel over it and to meet the people. It was noticed in the Globe office that he paid special attention to the weekly edition of the paper, as that which reached the farming community. His Bow Park enterprise gave him an increased feeling of kinship and sympathy with that community, and he delighted in showing farmers over the estate. It would be hard to draw a more characteristic picture than that of the tall senator striding over the fields, talking of cattle and crops with all the energy with which he was wont to denounce the Tories.

Brown was appointed to the senate in December, 1873. Except for the speech on reciprocity, which is dealt with elsewhere, his career there was not note worthy. He seems to have taken no part in the discussion on Senator Vidal’s resolution in favour of prohibition, or on the Scott Act, a measure for introducing prohibition by local option. A popular conception of Brown as an ardent advocate of legislative prohibition may have been derived from some speeches made in his early career, and from an early prospectus of the Globe. On the bill providing for government of the North-West Territories he made a speech against the provision for separate schools, warning the House that the effect would be to fasten these institutions on the West in perpetuity.

In 1876 Senator Brown figured in a remarkable case of contempt of court. A Bowmanville newspaper had charged Senator Simpson, a political ally of Brown, with resorting to bribery in the general election of 1872. It published also a letter from Senator Brown to Senator Simpson, asking him for a subscription towards the Liberal campaign fund. On Senator Simpson’s application, Wilkinson, the editor of the paper, was called upon to show cause why a criminal information should not issue against him for libel. The case was argued before the Queen’s Bench, composed of Chief-Justice Harrison, Justice Morrison, and Justice Wilson. The judgment of the court delivered by the chief-justice was against the editor in regard to two of the articles complained of and in his favour in regard to the third. In following the chief-justice, Mr. Justice Wilson took occasion to refer to Senator Brown’s letter and to say that it was written with corrupt intent to interfere with the freedom of elections.

Brown was not the man to allow a charge of this kind to go unanswered, and in th;s case there were special circumstances calculated to arouse his anger. The publication of his letter in the Bowmanville paper hid been the signal for a fierce attack upon him by the Conservative press of the province. It appeared to him that Justice Wilson had wantonly made himself a participant in this attack, lending the weight of his judicial influence to his enemies. Interest was added to the case by the fact that the judge had been in previous years supported by the Globe in municipal and parliamentary elections. He had been solicitor-general in the Macdonald-Sicotte government from May 1862 to May 1863. Judge Morrison had been solicitor-general under Hincks, and afterwards a colleague of John A. Macdonald. Each of them, in this case, took a course opposite to that which might have been expected from old political associations.

A few days afterwards the Globe contained a long, carefully prepared and powerful attack upon Mr. Justice Wilson. Beginning with a tribute to the Bench of Ontario, it declared that no fault was to be found with the judgment of the court, and that the offence lay in the gratuitous comments of Mr. Justice Wilson.

“No sooner had the chief-justice finished than Mr. Justice Wilson availed himself of the occasion to express his views of the matter with a freedom of speech and an indifference to the evidence before the court and an indulgence in assumptions, surmises and insinuations, that we believe to be totally unparalleled in the judicial proceedings of any Canadian court.”

The article denied that the letter was written with any corrupt intent, and it stated that the entire fund raised by the Liberal party in the general election of 1872 was only three thousand seven hundred dollars, or forty-five dollars for each of the eighty-two constituencies. “This Mr. Justice Wilson may rest assured of: that such slanders and insults shall not go unanswered, and if the dignity of the Bench is ruffled in the tussle, on his folly shall rest the blame. We cast back on Mr. Wilson his insolent and slanderous interpretation. The letter was not written for corrupt purposes. It was not written to interfere with the freedom of elections. It was not an invitation to any body to concur in committing bribery and corruption at the polls; and be he judge or not who says so, this statement is false.”

The writer went on to contend that there were perfectly legitimate expenditures in keenly contested elections. “Was there no such fund when Mr, Justice Wilson was in public life? When the hat went round in his contest for the mayoralty, was that or was it not a concurrence in bribery or corruption at the polls?” Mr. Justice Wilson had justified his comment by declaring that he might take notice of matters with which every person of ordinary intelligence was acquainted. Fastening upon these words the Globe asked, “How could Mr. Justice Wilson in his hunt for things which every person of ordinary intelligence is acquainted with, omit to state that while the entire general election fund of the Liberal party for that year (1872) was but three thousand seven hundred dollars, raised by subscription from a few private individuals, the Conservative fund on the same occasion amounted to the enormous sum of two hundred thousand dollars, raised by the flagitious sale of the Pacific Railway contract to a band of speculators on terms disastrous to the interests of the country.”

In another vigorous paragraph the writer said: “ We deeply regret being compelled to write of the conduct of any member of the Ontario Bench in the tone of this article, but the offence was so rank, so reckless, so utterly unjustifiable that soft words would have but poorly discharged our duty to the public.”

No proceedings were taken in regard to this article until about five months afterwards, when Mr. Wilkinson, the editor of the Bowmanville paper, applied to have Mr. Brown committed for contempt of court. The judge assailed took no action and the case was tried before his colleagues, Chief-Justice Harrison and Judge Morrison. Mr. Brown appeared in person and made an argument occupying portions of two days. He pointed out that the application had been delayed five months after the publication of the article. He contended that Wilkinson was not prejudiced by the Globe article and had no standing in the case. In a lengthy affidavit he entered into the whole question of the expenditure of the two parties in the election of 1872, including the circumstances of the Pacific Scandal. lie repeated on oath the statement made in the article that his letter was not written with corrupt intent; that the subscription asked for was for legitimate purposes and that it was part of a fund amounting to only three thousand seven hundred dollars for the whole province of Ontario. He boldly justified the article as provoked by Mr. Justice Wilson’s dictum and by the use that would be made of it by hostile politicians. The judge had chosen to intervene in a keen political controversy whose range extended to the Pacific Scandal; and in defending himself from his enemies and the enemies of his party, Brown was forced to answer the judge. He argued that to compel an editor to keep silence in such a case, would not only be unjust to him, but contrary to public policy. For instance, the discussion of a great public question such as that involved in the Pacific Scandal, might be stopped upon the application of a party to a suit in which that question was incidentally raised.

The case was presented with his accustomed energy and thoroughness, from the point of view of journalistic duty, of politics and of law—for Mr. Brown was not afraid to tread that sacred ground and give extensive citations from the law reports. Elis address may be commended to any editor who may be pursued by that mysterious legal phantom, a charge of contempt of court. The energy of his gestures, the shaking of the white head and the swinging of the long arms, must have somewhat startled Osgoode Hall. The court was divided, the chief-justice ruling that there had been contempt, Mr. Justice Morrison, contra, and Mr. Justice Wilson taking no part in the proceedings. So the matter dropped, though not out of the memory of editors and politicians.


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