Page images

liament for private bills, he brought into parliament the o patent act, which he would afterwards have extended, but his bill for that purpose was defeated.—Yours most truly, “DENIs Le MARCHANT.” In the early part of the year 1836, Mr Thomson had found his health so seriously affected, by the long night sittings in the House of Commons, that he began to consider the necessity of some change from the position he then occupied to one which should be more compatible with his physical powers. The most obvious mode of accomplishing this end was by a removal into the House of Peers, retaining his office. Circumstances, however, for a time put a stop to this plan. But at a later period of the session, when, after the ineffectual attempt of Sir #. Peel to form a ministry in May, the government of Lord Melbourne had to be reconstructed with alterations in its composition, he renewed his wish to make some change in his own position. And in discussing the idea with his friends, the government of Canada was mentioned as a post that might be open to him. In conversation with Lord Spencer (his oldest and warmest political associate and friend,) the latter recommended him to accept this noble task. And Mr Thomson's private journal quotes one of the expressions he made use of, and which deserves to find a place here, as characteristic of the real motive and spring of the public conduct of both men. “Lord A. said he thought Canada ‘the finest field of exertion for any one, as affording the greatest power of doing the greatest good to one's fellow creatures.' I agree with him.” It was by this consideration, no doubt, that his determination was guided, when, towards the close of the session, new ministerial arrangements being in contemplation, (consequent partly on Mr Spring Rice's elevation to the peerage and appointment to the comptrollership of the exchequer,) he had to make choice between the chancellorship of the exchequer and the government of Canada, which were offered to him. Either alternative presented disadvantages perhaps of equal force as respected health. The continued fatigue of attendance in the House of Commons was likely to be quite as injurious in the one case, as the severity of a northern climate would be in the other. His decision was therefore chiefly influenced by the feeling of where he could make his abilities and energies most useful. The situation of affairs in Canada was perplexing, and the difficulties great in the way of an harmonious settlement of the all-important question of the union of the provinces, and the establishment of an entirely new constitution for their future government. But Mr Thomson felt confident of being able to surmount these difficulties. He expressed. this confidence repeatedly to his private friends. And the result justified his most sanguine anticipations. In truth his character and experience exactly fitted him for the purpose. He possessed the great qualities of tact and judgment in determining the course to be pursued; firmness and decision in the execution of his resolves; great quickness of perception as to the character and capacity of those with whom he had to deal, and a courteous and conciliatory manner which charmed all with whom he came in contact. Added to this, untiring energy and application, habits of business, information of the most extensive kind, and a perfect knowledge of the position of affairs in Canada, and of the sentiments of the home government upon it, acquired during his attendance in cabinet councils, where these matters were discussed. Lastly, although perhaps first of all in importance, he had enjoyed an experience of many years in parliamentary tactics, and the mode of carrying through public business in a popular assembly, of incalculable value to the particular object of his mission to Canada; namely, the establishment of a new representative system, such as would be likely to work in harmony with the home government and imperial parliament. His liberal principles and known public character were guarantees also to the people whom he went to govern, that their welfare would be the first and principal object of his labours. It was determined, in the changes of administration made at the same time, that Lord John Russell should take the seals of the colonial office. This was a matter of immense importance to Mr Poulett Thomson, as his confidence in and attachment to that noble Lord were ever unlimited, and he knew that he could depend upon having the support and sanction of his chief under every difficulty that o arise in the execution of his duties. The example of Lord Durham was a beacon to warn him of many of these difficulties; and the mass of information collected by that noble Lord, and the able coadjutors by whom he was accompanied, and embodied in his voluminous report, offered him no doubt wo material aid in the determination of his future policy. ith Lord Durham himself his personal friendship had never ceased; and from him, as well as from Mr Buller, he received whatever other information they had it in their power in private and friendly communications to afford. In consequence of the arrangement thus determined on, on the 27th August, the day before the prorogation of parliament, a new writ was moved for Manchester, on Mr Poulett


Thomson's acceptance of the post of Governor-General of the British provinces in North America;" and on the same day he issued his farewell address to the constituency between whom and himself so long and intimate a relation had existed —a relation which had proved a source of reciprocal pride and honour to both the constituent body and their representative. On the 29th of August he was sworn into his new office before the Privy Council, and on the 5th September he had an audience of the Queen to take leave, who graciously expressed her conviction that he would be successful in the great object of his mission, and her desire that he should reenter her service at home on his return. On the 13th (his 40th birthday,) his preparations being completed, Mr Poulett Thomson embarked at Portsmouth in the Pique frigate for his destination in Canada. He appeared to keep up his spirits admirably; but some of his relatives, who accompanied him for a few miles to sea in Lord Durham's yacht, observed and long remembered the last looks with which he quitted them, and the expression of his countenance which told the struggle within: a presentiment came over them that they saw him for the last time, and it was evident that he shared in the feeling. His health was, indeed, much shattered at this time by continued attacks of gout, one of which seized him the day after his embarkation; and the passage, which was very rough and unpleasant, was a period of much bodily suffering. An entry in his private journal, written when on board three or four days, will exhibit his view of the state in which he left public affairs, and of his own prospects. “Saturday, 21st September 1839.-I have thought a good deal within the last few days of my position; and upon the whole I think I have done right, both on public and on personal grounds. I have a better chance of settling things in Canada than any one they could have found to go; and if I had not taken it then, as I could not well have got out of the government, I should have shared in the disgrace next session. It is a great field, too, if I bring about the union, and stay for a year to meet the united assembly, and set them to work.

"On the other hand, in England there is little to be done by

me. At the exchequer all that can be hoped is to get through some BAD TAx. There is no chance of carrying the house with one for any great commercial reforms, timber, corn, sugar, &c.; party and private interests will prevent it. If Peel were in, he might do this, as he could muzzle or keep away his Tory allies, and we should support him. If he got in and had courage, what a field for him But he has not l” “On private grounds I think it good too. "Tis strange, however, that the office which was once the object of my greatest ambition (the exchequer) should now be so disagreeable to me that I will give up the cabinet and parliament to avoid it. After all, the House of Commons and Manchester are no longer what they were to me. I do not think that I have improved in speaking—rather gone back. Perhaps in opposition, with more time to prepare, I might rally again; but I do not feel sure of it. I am grown rather nervous about it. The interruption and noise which prevail so much in the house cows me. I have certainly made no good speech for two years. It is clear, from what has passed, I might have kept Manchester as long as I liked. But till put to the test by my leaving it, one could not help feeling nervous and irritated by the constant complaints of not going far enough or going too far. The last three years have made a great change in me. My health, I suppose, is at the bottom of it. On the whole I think it is as well as it is.” Another passage may merit extraction, as affording an insight into the secret sources of political eminence, in the estio mation of one who so unquestionably attained it. “Read life of Sir James Mackintosh. It is a melancholy picture of talents—not misapplied, for he did good—but failing to produce the effect they ought, either for the public or their possessor. With all his powers he never achieved eminence—for want of perseverance. What a lesson 1 My recollection of him certainly does not justify the high reputation which he seems to have had among distinguished men, who were his immediate contemporaries. But life, and especially the life of public men, has been far more active of late years; and his character was not that of an active man. He was more fitted to embellish society at Holland House, when there was time for literary and philosophical discussion, than for the duties of an active statesman in these later days, or even for the conversation of those who now form society in the political circles in which I move, and which he then moved in. It is strange though that I, who never had half his recommenda

* In the terms of her Majesty's commission, the appointment was that of “Governor-General of British North America, and Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief in and over the Provinces of Lower Canada and Upper Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the island of Prince Edward, and Vice-Admiral of the same.”


* This is now a remarkable passage. He had no reason from anything known of Peel that he would have courage to do so. But Sir Robert Peel got in, and performed those very acts of reform—the Whigs and free-traders assisting to defy his “Tory allies,” for “muzzle or keep them away” he could not.

WOL. I. 5


tions to the Whig aristocracy, and not a tithe of his talent,
nor a hundredth part of his information, should have been in
office with him as his superior, and for five years a cabinet
minister.” I believe that the cause of this is to be found in
the dependence of the one and the independence of the other.
The knowledge that I wanted not office for the sake of money,
nor patronage to procure me a seat, has done for me that
which his superior talents and knowledge, wanting both, could
not do.”
After a rough voyage of thirty-three days, the Pique an-
chored under the walls of Quebec; but the Governor-General
was obliged to delay his landing until the arrival of Sir John
Colborne from Montreal, which was not until the second day.
On the 19th of October Mr Thomson, on landing, was received
with the usual honours, and immediately sworn into office.
The reception he met with from the inhabitants was most
cordial, and augured well for the success of his mission. This
was the more agreeable to him, as circumstances had rendered
it not improbable that a contrary feeling should exist in the
His appointment to Canada had, of course, been canvassed
by the #. press, and by that party among the colonial.
interest which had always been at issue with him on the
questions of undue and extravagant differential duties for

"their supposed protection it had been protested against. The

usual weapons of abuse, ridicule, and calumny, were levelled
at him personally; and after he left the country, this con-
tinued for some time; a portion of the press exerting them-
selves, to all appearance, to prejudice his chance of succeeding
in his mission, and frustrate the great national objects which
he went out to accomplish. An address even was got up to
the prime minister, and signed by several of the merchants of
London interested in the timber and Canada trade, deprecat-
ing Mr Thomson's appointment. Even some of his soi-disant
friends, who feared, perhaps, that their intrigues or private
interests might be thwarted by his activity in the province,
joined in this illiberal and ungenerous conduct.
The effect, however, of these attacks was exactly the reverse
of what their authors probably expected. The papers con-
taining them had, of course, found their way to Canada before

* This is not a correct comparison, nor was Mr Thomson likely to draw a correct comparison. Mackintosh might have great talents and information of that worthless, though showy kind, which used to make head in the House of Commons, when leading men were mere debaters, like Burke, Sheridan, Fox, Canning, and a few others. Poulett Thomson had more information of a useful kind than all his predecessors, or all his contemporaries put together. Hence his eminence.

« PreviousContinue »