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Louis-Joseph Papineau
Chapter XV - Conclusion


THE portrait at the head of these pages tallies well with our mental conception of Papineau. What energy in the lines of the expressive face! What manly beauty in the contour of the head! And do not the eyes seem to bid defiance to all comers? Everything in his attitude reveals the obstinate fighter he showed himself to be throughout the whole of his long career.

To the psychologist, Papineau's character presents but little complexity; his mental attitude inclined to a singleness of purpose which well suited the unity of his life, devoted, as it was, wholly to one great cause, towards which the efforts of his intellectual faculties unceasingly tended.

A man such as Papineau is not to be judged merely by the events with which he was connected, notwithstanding that they may have very greatly influenced his career. His ideas were the outcome of certain antecedents and early associations and influences. The son of an important political personage who had seen the early days of English rule, he of necessity inherited his father's hardened feelings and prejudices resulting from the arbitrary spirit which characterized the new regime in its early days. No man was more conversant with its gloomy annals than Papineau. His antipathy for the authors of the real or fancied wrongs of his country was augmented by the reversion of the accumulated antipathy cherished by his father and his close friends. His childhood was spent in an atmosphere impregnated with the most violent passions, and thus it was that he became such a lover of strife. His life-long struggle with the government was anything but calculated to subdue his leaning towards harsh criticism; and when brighter days dawned for the country, the sunlight did not fall soothingly for him as it did for LaFontaine and his friends. Were we not aware that his course of action on his return to Canada was inspired by motives deserving of respect, though manifestly erroneous, we should feel constrained to say that the habit of opposition had so warped his mind that nothing could remove the bias.

His career is divisible into two parts very differently filled, and the errors of the one should not be allowed to efface the merits of the other. What a man was the Papineau of 1822! He embodied in himself and voiced, at that moment, all the aspirations and demands of the Canadian people, at a time when their national existence was in imminent peril. It was in truth the voice of his country that burst forth in his fierce denunciations of con-186 spiracies hatched against the liberties of his people. From 1820 to 1837, he stood forth the grandest figure in our history. His was a life of glory during that period, a glory purchased by endless sacrifices, —a life immolated to a great cause which he upheld unflinchingly with small hope of final victory.

His public career should have closed with the catastrophe of 1837. What a pity that he did not grasp the position of the province and his own, in 1845! It was a great mistake on his part not to have given himself up to a fife of study and reflection, and a greater still to have encouraged division in the ranks of the little Canadian army. He has been held responsible for the establishment of the Radical party and of Le club d&mocratique; but we nowhere find evidence of his connection with the latter organization, though many of his ideas are included in the celebrated programme of the club, drafted, if we are not mistaken, by one Blan-chet (surnamed Le citoyen Blanchet), and some other advanced spirits of the period. But was the connection between Papineau and the Democratic Club such as would justify the statement that he was its founder? Let us bear in mind that anti-religious ideas were for a time the fashion, especially among the educated class, prior to 1837 and under the union. Disciples of Voltaire, encyclopaedists, deists like Papineau, and partisans of free morals, were to be found here and there.

It is well to point out that his opposition to LaFontaine was but an incident in his struggle with the English government, which he carried on over the heads of his adversaries in Canada. His laudations of democracy, his sarcasms and his assaults on aristocracy, as found in the ninety-two resolutions, show the drift of his mind in 1834. His stay in Paris, where he consorted with La-mennais, Beranger, and Louis Blanc, left its imprint on his mind and thrust him. into the very focus of radicalism, which was concentrated to a white flame by the revolution of 1848. His fixed idea on return to Canada was this: "We must get rid of aristocracy in every shape and form, for it keeps us under a shameful vassalage." This was his view of the colonial condition and status. His antipathy makes him see the dark side of everything. "But let us be patient," he writes to Aubin, the editor of Le Canadien, in 1848, "emancipation [for which he constantly prayed] will come, and meantime we shall be rendering good service by making our people revert to the policy followed from 1791 to 1835. We must love democracy now, during our period of servitude, so as to put it in practice after our emancipation."

Was Papineau merely an irrepressible agitator, a democrat dreaming of nothing but the triumph of his own ideas, and without any plan or system denoting grasp of mind? Of course circumstances often determine the scope of man's conceptions, and it is evident that Papineau, acting on the limited field of provincial politics, had no opportunity to evolve schemes such as Richelieu conceived. Still there was nothing of the particularist in the plan he conceived, prior to 1837, of forming alliances with our neighbours of the east and of the west. He maintained a lengthy correspondence with William Lyon Mackenzie of Toronto and with certain Liberals in the maritime provinces, with the manifest intention of uniting with them with a view to bringing about a combined effort against England. He was at one time confident of the success of his scheme. In the broad outlines of his plan, which never went beyond the incipient stage, one can perceive the leading idea: a confederation of colonies independent of England, the reverse of that which was subsequently carried out. Pushing even beyond the frontiers his efforts to secure allies, he managed to find ardent helpers in the United States. These were the American sympathizers who came to the assistance of Mackenzie in 1837, and of Robert Nelson in the days of the second uprising in 1838.

The influence of the authorities successfully checked Papineau's manoeuvres. But the results would appear to show that this early blending of the Liberals of Lower Canada with those of the western province, initiated by Papineau, was the first step towards the subsequent momentous alliance between Baldwin and LaFontaine.

After having said farewell to politics in 1854, Papineau retired to his manor house of La Rivi&re de la Petite Nation, and there remained until death closed his career in 1871. Here it is that, during the period of his life subsequent to his return to Canada, we find his character most attractive. In the midst of his books, in communion with his favourite authors, he shows himself with the captivating countenance which was natural to him, but which the struggles incident to his active political life in the earlier years of his home-coming, had many a time shrouded in gloom. In friendly intercourse, he was, in his day, one of the most amiable of men. An accomplished man of the world, he exhibited in social life all the grace and ease of manner of a grand seigneur. His condescension towards his inferiors, his respectful affability and courtesy in conversing with women, and his many other social qualities made him a most fascinating companion. He cultivated successfully that exquisite grace of perfect courtesy, so rare in our day, and which can hardly be expected to flourish at its best in our democratic atmosphere. He was like a survival of a former age. From his father, who had associated with the Canadians of the old regime, and was reared amidst the traditions of Versailles, he had imbibed the grace of manner and refinement which lent such a charm to social intercourse in the days of old. All Papineau's letters, except, of course those treating on politics, breathe this fragrance of good society and are, moreover, imbued with a cor-190 dial spirit of warm friendship. Our readers will not be sorry to behold side by side with the tribune armed for the fray, a Papineau clad in the peaceful garb of home-life in the midst of his family and friends, revelling in the thousand details of domestic and social intercourse. On returning from a trip to Quebec where he had been the guest of Christie—a former adversary, who had since become his friend— he wrote as follows from Montebello, on July 13th, 1856:

"My Dear Christie:—Ever since our return from Quebec we have talked of nothing but the many friendly attentions paid to us, all the festal gatherings held expressly for us, and the many other demonstrations of kindness showered upon us, at your hospitable home, in the first place, and, as a consequence of your kindly initiative, at the hands also of many other obliging and courteous friends. For my wife, my children and myself, those delightful holidays will ever be remembered, as days of perfect happiness, which we shall recall in our gayest hours in order to enhance their brightness, and in times of depression and sorrow in order to sustain our drooping spirits. . . . Our young girls had their first taste of the delights of your charming social life and enjoyed to the full those many enchanting gatherings, which Quebec has the wonderful knack of organizing at a few hours' notice. In Montreal the mixture of various races has introduced a little too much etiquette and restraint. Social gatherings are rarer and more formal, and consequently less enjoyable and pleasant. I ought to have told you all this as soon as we got home, but the fact is my absence had retarded much of the work on my improvements which had been begun, and for the last few days, I have spent a great part of my time with the workmen, and devoted the remainder to the company of our fellow-travellers, whom I cannot sufficiently thank for having accompanied us home. If, on our return, we had found ourselves alone in our rustic solitude, the transition would have been too sudden; but with Miss Doucet to chat with anent the days of our youth, and Miss Trudeau to speak of her early days and those of her charming friends of her own age, time glides pleasantly along. Kindly say to Monsieur and Madame Trudeau that I thank them every hour of the day for entrusting to me such gentle and charming companions for my daughters as well as for their old parents. There is not very much variety in our store of amusements, but the young ladies are good enough to say that they are happy with us. Nevertheless, they will be still better pleased when you yourself and Madame Christie come to us; for the joy of having you with us will brighten our lives and make us more pleasant companions than when we miss you and are longing for your presence amongst us. Ezilda is never tired telling of the wonderful party Madame Christie improvised at such short notice, for so large a gathering. She quite admits that she met more than her match; 'but,' she said, when offering this as a model to me, 'I shall improve now, for I have made a beginning.'

"It would be useless to attempt to parcel out compliments and praise when we owe them to so large a circle of friends. Nevertheless, I feel that for a good part of the most friendly disposition manifested by them all, we are indebted to the fervour of our old mutual friendship, which induced you to speak of us in terms of praise far beyond our deserts. I beg to offer my heartfelt thanks to each and all, but more especially to those who organized our delightful trip to the Saguenay; to M. Buteau, who took so much trouble in the matter, and to all the ladies and gentlemen who took part in it with us. Three young ladies absolutely perfect and accomplished in all respects, and three men well above the average of our sex, then two little girls and myself made up a party of nine, always a lucky number and which proved to be so at least during our three days' trip. Shall that happy trip ever be repeated? Who knows? Should it not be so in very truth and reality, it will at least be many a time renewed in the vivid pictures of living memory. To behold the grandest scenery in the world, in the best possible company, is something to be long remembered; something never to be forgotten."

We have just seen Papineau enjoying peace and happiness in the bosom of friendship—the joy of living; but such is not the normal condition of human life, which is only too often clouded by sorrow and misfortune. The early death of his grandson plunged him into deepest grief, and in a letter to Christie, dated March 15th, 1855, he opened in the following terms the floodgates of his heartfelt sorrow:

"When your letter reached me, I was in deep affliction, owing to the death of my dear and only grandson, a splendid child of about eleven months, carried off by his first sickness. Knowing the extreme sensibility of my son and daughter-in-law, and their delicate health, which nothing but the greatest and unceasing care and medical skill had hitherto preserved, I have so wept and been so torn by anxiety and trouble on this account, and from our great loss, that the burden has overtaxed my strength. Amedde [his son, the recently deceased Seigneur of Montebello] had written saying that he himself would come and bring the remains of the dear child with him. I attempted through the medium of a friend, to divert him from undertaking a task which would be dangerous for him, and suggested to a good friend and relative to come in his place. But the dear mother fancied that it would be an act of culpable indifference to entrust the sacred and precious remains to any other hands but those of the father himself. My dear son discharged his sad task with real courage, and together we laid the relics of the sweet little angel in the family chapel, 194 erected in a grove a couple of acres distant from the house. On the death of my Gustave, whom I caused to be buried in the parish church, my son Amedde was the first to suggest the building of this family chapel, a matter which I myself had under consideration, though I had not mentioned it, with a view to depositing therein the remains of my father and Gustave, to be followed some day by my own, should I be spared to finish it. And now it was in order to receive the mortal remains of Amed^e's own child that the first grave was to be opened therein! Such is life with its disappointments and its forecasts. One must, nevertheless, do his duty while he is able to stand, and then lie down without regret."

This, it must be said, is an admirably written and most touching letter. The group formed by the old man depositing the remains of the little grandson in the grave opened for himself, stands out before us in bold relief, and it is impossible to behold it unmoved. We share the anguish of this venerable parent struggling in the grasp of a two-fold sorrow; grief for the loss of the child and for the affliction which has befallen his son.

It would be an injustice to his memory to conclude from Papineau's attitude as depicted in accordance with the facts herein stated, that he was a man imbued with race prejudice. His hostility had never been directed against the English people, but solely against the ministers who refused to grant us in their full integrity the rights as British subjects which we were entitled to claim. It would be impossible to point out in any of his speeches a single aggressive expression applied to the English people. The natural drift of his mind was rather towards a cosmopolitanism in conformity with the aspirations of the democracy. In that respect he was in advance of many of his contemporaries whose national and religious prejudices too often, even in our own day, remind one of the unlightened and backward races of former ages. On one occasion when Colonel Gugy, a Swiss by origin, and a tool of the English party, declared in the House at Quebec, that he preferred to see in office a ministry composed of citizens born in the country, Papineau answered him thus: "For my part, what I desire is a government consisting of friends of the law of liberty and of justice, men who will protect all citizens without distinction, and give to each and all the same privileges. I hold such men as these in high esteem, whatsoever their origin may be; but I detest those haughty descendants of conquerors who come to our country to deny us our political rights. . . . You say to us: 'Let us be brothers I' I answer, yes, let us be brothers; but you want to grasp everything—power, place and money I This is the injustice we cannot endure."

Note further that, on several occasions, Papineau was supported in the House by a majority of the English speaking members, and that he numbered amongst his followers such important men as Neil-son, Leslie, Chapman and Andrew Stuart But we shall be asked: What say you of his angry outbursts of 1837? Our answer is that they in no way contradict our assertion. All that occurred at that period was an outbreak provoked by the resolutions of Lord John Russell depriving us of the control of the finances, which was equivalent to a suspension of the constitution of the country, an act of high treason against the nation. Is it surprising to find that excess in the exercise of arbitrary power on the one hand, should cause an out-pouring of extravagant language from indignant hearts on the other? So great was this provocation on the part of Lord John Russell, that Roebuck declared that "in order to make the province accept the resolutions, it would be well to send out at the same time a few regiments of soldiers."

Papineau, like many of his contemporaries, wrote much and at great length. His letters, written in a large and most legible hand, generally covered from four to eight pages. His style is not always very clear, and his phrases, like the periods of his speeches, are often laboured. Correspondence took up a great part of his leisure time at La Petite Nation, where boundless hospitality ever awaited his friends. One felt at home at once under the roof of the charming Manor House of Montebello, with its vast apartments, affording through noble bay-windows, widely extended views of the beautiful waters of the Ottawa. There was nothing surely here to suggest the ruder elements of democracy! Papineau was evidently a Pierre Leroux in theory only, his tastes and manners were rather those of an aristocrat.

His splendid constitution and robust health enabled him to live an active life up to 1870, when he seemed to collapse all of a sudden beneath the weight of his years, while still retaining the full strength of his intellect, and died on September 23rd, when just about to enter on his eighty-fifth year. His fellow-countrymen, nearly all of them men of faith and deeply imbued with the principles and practices of religion, regretted to notice the absence from his bedside, at the supreme moment, of the minister of divine mercy. But in these delicate and sacred matters of conscience man is accountable only to his God, whose supreme judgment may greatly differ from ours. Papineau was, it is true, a philosophe, a spiritualist, and a deist, but while opposed to the intervention of the priest in politics, he was never an anti-clerical. On several occasions, in fact throughout his career, he was to be found claiming religious liberty for the church in Canada with the same zeal and ardour with which he fought for political freedom for all. When, in 1837, the ecclesiastical authorities rightly deemed it necessary to warn the Canadian people against Papineau's revolutionary course, he Conceived a bitterness towards the clergy which the lapse of time only served to exasperate.

He was rarely seen to leave Montebello after his retirement from public life. On one occasion, however, as we have already stated, he consented to gratify the wishes of his admirers in Montreal, who desired to meet him. He attended for that purpose a meeting of the Institut Canadien, and delivered an address. He showed himself throughout this lecture an impenitent radical, with all the ideas of his long life crystallized in his intellect. And this consistency and unity of his career was the result of so many sacrifices on his part that some allowance must surely be made for it Had Papineau fallen into line under the new order of things, why might he not also have aspired to high position in the land? But to return to the lecture—after a rapid glance at the history of Canada from the Treaty of Paris (1763), he depicted in broad outline the phases of our colonial system up to 1867—"Confederation, the most culpable of all, now for three months in operation." In this lecture his old antipathies reappear in full vigour, in spite of his advanced age, which usually softens them. His arch enemy, the English aristocracy, could hardly escape without a blow, and in truth he hits it unmercifully. Nor does he spare the authors of confederation, "those ill-famed, self-interested men." His wrath had not aged. But let us not scrutinize this indictment; it was not the death song of the gentle swan, but the last defiance of the Indian warrior, shouted out with his death rattle. Let us cull from this lecture, ere we close, but this pathetic profession of love for his country: "You will believe me, I trust, when I say to you, I love my country. 1 have loved her wisely, I have loved her madly! . . . . Opinions outside may differ. But looking into my heart and my mind in all sincerity, I feel I can say that I have loved her as she should be loved. The sentiment of love of my country I imbibed from the breasts of my nurse—my saintly mother. The brief expression in which it is best enunciated: 'My country first!' I learned to lisp at my father's knee."

With these burning words of love for his country, words which atone for many an excess of language, we deem it well to close these pages devoted to the memory of one who gave the best part of his life to defending his people against the assaults of their enemies, and raised the French Canadian race in its own estimation, in the face of the powerful men who sought to humiliate and annihilate it. Obstacles of many kinds prevented his work from reaching the perfection he had pictured to himself, but it is manifest to all that the struggles during which his high-spirited eloquence was heard above the fray for a quarter of a century, scattered broadcast those life-giving principles which have borne fruit and flower in our free political institutions. On this ground, as well as for his great fame as an orator, of which we are all justly proud, he is entitled to the homage of posterity, in common with all who unselfishly devote their lives to the triumph of a great cause.


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