Like Roger Viets's Annapolis-Royal (1788), The Beauties of Belleville: a Poem (1864) by T.J. Breeze is a celebration of a particular Canadian townBelleville, Canada West (Ontario)that places special, indeed, almost exclusive, emphasis on the community's religious life. But whereas the religion celebrated in Viets's poem is the Church of England, the principal focus of The Beauties of Belleville is Methodism, its benefactors, its ministers, and its architectural homes"churches" where "God's truth" is preached "To guide to that city of glory and light / Those hearts that kind Heaven succeeds to make right" (242-43). The churches of other denominations in Belleville are treated with due courtesy and respecteven the Roman Catholic church of St. Michael's is credited with "towers and spires. . .[of] beauty and grace" (391)but the poem leaves no doubt whatsoever that Methodism stands at the top of Breeze's hierarchy of faiths. Methodist churches and ministers are thus given primacy in the survey of Belleville's religions in which Breeze salutes the town for devoting its "wealth. . .to raise up on high / Pure altars to worship the God of the sky" (230-31), and the poem as a whole is fulsomely dedicated to Billa Flint (1805-1894), the member of the Legislative Council for the Treat Division since 1863, and, surely at least as important, the founder of a temperance society in Belleville in 1829, a founder of the Canadian Temperance Society in 1845, and "the superintendent [for twenty-one years] of the Bridge Street Methodist Church Sunday School" (Turner 322-23). In the section of the poem inscribed to "The Hon. Billa Flint," Breeze lugubriously anticipates the time when "A tear of affection from Belleville will fall, / Where slumber the ashes of Flint's relics all," but not before proclaiming that "those mighty walls that do tower on high, / Raising their breastworks aloft to the sky," are a visible declaration of the wealthy businessman's "affection and love to that cause, / Whose most precious treasures are God's sacred laws" (125-26).
Breeze's unstinting praise of Flint's commitment and generosity to Bridge Street Methodist Church confirms the conventional nature of his pretense of relief that Belleville is innocent of ancient architectural structures:
Towards the end of his poem, Breeze lavishes
praise on Susanna Moodie who had settled in Belleville early in 1840 after
her husband, Dunbar Moodie, was appointed sheriff of the Victoria District
of what was to become Hastings County. Likening Moodie to a
"bird. . .of the forest," Breeze asserts that "out of her
spirit flow music and love" and urges her to "tell us how. .
.we. . .May bloom in rich beauty" through "being governed by
righteousness, equity, [and] truth" (510-37). Despiteeven
becauseof the extravagance of these gestures, it is difficult to
believe that Breeze was unaware of the caustic comments about
Belleville in Moodie's Life in the Clearings (1853). Indeed,
it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that one purpose of The
Beauties of Belleville was to counteract the negative assessment of
Methodism in the chapter on Belleville in Life in the Clearings:
In her survey of Belleville's religions and churches, Moodie comments only
in passing on the Wesleyan Methodist Church (a "large edifice")
and the Episcopal Methodist Church ("composed of red brick") and
she has harsh words for the Church of England church ("a homely
structure; and. . .a great eyesore"), but she has very positive
things to say about the Roman Catholic church ("how much its elegant
structure and graceful spire adds to the beauty of the scene") and
about the Scotch Residuary and Free Church buildings ("very pretty. .
.The latter is built of dark limestone quarried in the neighborhood, and
is a remarkably graceful structure. . . .[The former] is a small neat
building of wood, painted white" (6-17). These and other
observations such as the following in Life in the Clearings throw
into stark relief the relative paucity of details about the built
environment in The Beauties of Belleville:
The Beauties of Belleville is a topographical poem (see Bentley, "Introduction," Thomas Cary's Abram's Plains) and it is written in the decasyllabic couplets characteristic of that genre. That Breeze repeatedly has recourse to the word "power" as a rhyme word is as much an indication of poverty of his poetic talent as of his admiration for wealth and authority. The poetic weaknesses of The Beauties of Belleville are all the more surprising in view of the fact that Breeze was the author of at least a dozen other booklets of poetry that included long poems on Toronto (The Poet's Rambles through Toronto ), Kingston (The Poet's Glance of Kingston Scenes ), and his birthplace of Picton, Canada West (The Poet's Memento of Picton ). The concentration of these poems in 1864-65 suggests that they are part of a planned series and may well account for their poor literary quality.
The Present Text
The present text of The Beauties of Belleville: a Poem is based on the 1864 edition of the poem (Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions No. 41619), which was published in Belleville, probably by one of the newspapers mentioned by Breeze towards the end of the poem (see 470-509).
Works Cited in the Introduction