John Strachan, "Verses . . . 1802"

Edited, with an Introduction and Notes, by D.M.R. Bentley and Wanda Campbell

• The Text of  "Verses . . . 1802"

The young schoolmaster who was to become the first Bishop of Toronto and, arguably, "the dominant personality in Upper Canadian life until his death in 1867" (Black 26), arrived in Kingston in 1799. Born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1778, John Strachan attended Aberdeen Grammar School where, "after a slow start, he did well enough to obtain a bursary at King's College, Aberdeen" (Craig 752). Forced by the death of his father to support himself after one session at the University (1793-94), Strachan held various teaching positions in the environs of Aberdeen (1794-96) and St. Andrews (1796-99). In these positions, he "learned how to teach and assess strengths and weaknesses in human character," and became increasingly "determined . . . to achieve his academic ambitions and to enter the world of gentlemen with literary tastes" (Craig 752). During his time near St. Andrews he attended the University as a part-time student, taking classes in divinity that would stand him in good stead later. In the spring of 1797, he graduated from the Universtiy of Aberdeen. Both by education and experience Strachan was thus well qualified to accept an offer in 1799 to "tutor the children of Richard Cartwright" and other prominent Kingston families (Craig 752). Among Strachan's pupils at Kingston were Andrew Stuart, the son of the local Church of England clergyman, and John Beverley Robinson, a future attorney general of Upper Canada. Strachan "fervently held to the idea of an educated aristocracy," writes David Flint in John Strachan: Pastor and Politician, and "[n]ot once did he loose sight of the fact that he was training the future leaders of the country" (7, 29).

The full title of the poem printed here for the first time is "Verses Written August 1802 and Recited at the Examination of My Pupils September 9th." According to the manuscript in which it appears, the poem was recited, not by Strachan himself, but by James Cartwright ("the first 66 lines") and Andrew Stuart ("the remainder"). This division accords with the poem's structure and themes, which are not only appropriate to a formal academic occasion but also a reflection of Strachan's knowledge of classical history and rhetoric. (At the University of Aberdeen he was a member of the "Marischal Disputing Society, a small group of keen debators" [Flint 11].)1 Cast in the mould of a classical oration, "Verses . . . 1802" divides into six parts: an exordium treating of the prehistoric migration of the Greeks to the Ionian coast of Asia Minor (1-66); a narration dealing with recent British and Canadian history (67-104); a partition introducing the argument that education is crucial to Canadian culture (105-12); andparts 4, 5, and 6a confirmation (113-20), refutation (121-42), and conclusion (143-48) securing, defending, and restating the educational argument (see Kennedy 92-95). Among the many aspects of "Verses . . . 1802" that should make it interesting to students and scholars of Canadian literature and culture are the parallel drawn in its exordium between ancient Greek and early Canadian transmarine migrations2 and the emphasis placed in its final sections on the importance of cultivating the young minds as well as the fertile lands of Upper Canada.3

Strachan's record of the examination that surrounded the recitation of his "Verses" at Kingston in September, 1802 indicates that the poem's climactic urgings on behalf of "instruction" and "Science" were part of a carefully orchestrated performance. "The order of the Examination," he writes, "was first, Poole England [who] read a speech on polite literature and recited part of Akenside's 'Ode on Science.' John McAuley then recited `The Sword of Rennes' from Sterne's Sentimental Journey. Richard Cartwright read an eulogy on Mathematics which I had dictated." Further examinations (including one of the Newtonian Science of "optics") followed, as did other recitations (including one of "Sterne's apostrophe on slavery"), and there were speeches by James Cartwright on "Natural Philosophy" and Andrew Stuart on "Moral Philosophy." The examination concluded in "pleasant humour" with a comic rehearsal of the proceedings by (or, at least, read by) John Beverley Robinson.

•  •  •

The following transcription of "Verses . . . 1802" is based on the holograph manuscript in the John Strachan Papers in the Archives of Ontario (F 983, MU 2907, Note Book, Poetry, Translations, pp. 30-36), the source also of the above information about Strachan's "Examination." We are very grateful to the Archivist of Ontario, Ian E. Wilson, for his kind permission to publish "Verses . . . 1802" in Canadian Poetry.

     In the following edition of the poem, Strachan's corrections and revisionsfor example, "parent" for "former" in line 68have been accepted and incorporated, and his marginal comment and note to lines 65-66 have been preserved in the Explanatory Notes. Since the poem is entirely unpunctuated in manuscript, punctuation has been added by the editors in a manner consonant, it is hoped, with the usage of Strachan's day as manifested, for instance in the two lengthy poems that he published in The Port Folio in February and March 1807. In a few instances, capitalization has been added or removed in the interests of consistency and ease of comprehension. The abbreviation "Septr. ." in Strachan's title has been expanded to "September".


  1. In another poem in his "Poetry" Note Book, "A Dialogue," Strachan refers to Scotland's master-teachers of classical rhetoric, Hugh Blair ("The British Quintilian") and George Campbell (see Kennedy 232-41). Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783) contains a detailed discussion of the parts of an oration, and Campbell, whose Philosophy of Rhetoric appeared in 1776, was the professor of divinity and principal of Marischal College in the University of Aberdeen. "Of all [Campbell's] productions," writes Strachan in a footnote to "A dialogue," "I prefer his Philosophy of Rhetoric, a book too much neglected." [back]

  2. See my "Breaking the `Cake of Custom'" for a discussion of the Atlantic crossing in early Canadian writing by women. [back]

  3. See also Strachan's chapter on "Education" in A Visit to the Province of Upper Canada in 1819, a work that contains several echoes of "Verses . . . 1802." [back]

    Works Cited

    Bentley, D.M.R. "Breaking the `Cake of Custom': the Atlantic Crossing as a Rubicon for Female Emigrants to Canada?" Re(Dis)covering Our Foremothers: Nineteenth-Century Canadian Women Writers. Ed. Lorraine McMullen. Reappraisals: Canadian Writers. Ottawa: Ottawa UP, 1990. 91-122.

    Black, Robert Merrill. "Stablished in the Faith: the Church of England in Upper Canada, 1780-1867." By Grace Co-Workers: Building the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 1780-1989. Ed. Alan L. Hayes. Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1989. 21-41.

    Craig, G.M. "John Strachan." Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 9: 751-66.

    Flint, David. John Strachan: Pastor and Politician. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1971.

    Kennedy, George A. Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1980.

    Strachan, John. Note Book, Poetry, Translations, John Strachan Papers, F 983, MU 2907, Archives of Ontario, Toronto.

    ----------, A Visit to the Province of Upper Canada in 1819. Aberdeen: James Strachan, 1820.




    Verses Written August 1802 and Recited at the Examination of My Pupils September 9th.

    By John Strachan

    Ionia's fertile fields receiv'd the hosts          
    Of wand'ring heroes from the Grecian coasts;          
    Too num'rous grown to share their native plains,     
    They leave their weeping friends for new domains;      
    The Goddess Liberty in radiant charms               5 
    Points out the way and ev'ry bosom warms.         
    The sister arts in gorg'ous robes array'd          
    With solid science tend their vig'rous aid:         
    Inspir'd by these, the bulwarks quickly rise;          
    The lofty turrets seem to meet the skies;           10
    The temples built of Parian marble blaze,
    As placid lakes reflect the Solar rays;
    The altars smoke beneath the sacred grove,
    And poets chant the praise of mighty Jove.
    The verdant lawns the distant prospects cheer,      15
    And Ceres' treasures crown the passing year;
    The neighbouring mountains num'rous flocks sustain,
    And dales re-echo to the singing swain.
    The purling streams through pleasant valleys glide,
    And gentle Naiads lave the glassy tide,             20 
    While gilded ships unfurl their swelling sails
    In quest of wealth, and court the rising gales
    The city built in innocence and peace, 
    The heroes rest, but often think of Greece, 
    Till Persia's King the Grecian freedom saw,         25 
    Whose word was life or death and will the law.
    He flew to check its pow'r without delay
    And crush its blossoms with his iron sway,
    But Greece, indignant, spurn'd the galling yoke,
    And from her children's neck the fetters broke.     30
    The tyrant fled and, trembling for his throne, 
    Admir'd and fear'd Neoclus' gallant son.
    In aftertimes, the aged champion stands 
    And views with smiling looks the youthful bands.
    "My sons," he cries, "let patriot virtue shine.     35
    Your country's claims for no reward decline. 
    In Marathon our fathers fought and bled,
    O Glorious day when dastard Persia fled.
    The rocks of Salamis proclaim their fame;
    Thermopyle insures a deathless name.                40 
    The Savage nations lost in wonder cry,
    `O happy Greece,' and chock the rising sigh."
    Thus speaks the hoary sage; his visage glows.
    The grateful tear of sweet remembrance flows.
    The youth, exulting, catch the sacred fire.         45 
    Their throbbing hearts to glorious deeds aspire.
    They grieve they were not born in former days
    To share the actions they can only praise,
    When boasting Xerxes press'd th' Athenian shore,
    And Grecian fields enrich'd with Persian gore.      50
      Shall soft Ionians boast their Grecian name,
    Admire their fathers cloth'd in lasting fame,
    With rapture trace the venerable line
    Of poets, heroes, law-givers divine,
    In golden urns preserve their hallow'd dust,        55
    And drop the gen'rous tear at Solon's bust,
    And shall not Britain's sons, with joy elate, 
    Commend the glories of their parent state.
    Be witness, gracious pow'rs. Our hearts sincere,
    Tho' distant far, their noble deeds revere.         60 
    We gladly deck with palms of just renown
    The heroes of the Nile and Camperdown; 
    We dropt a tear when Abercrombie fell
    And, crown'd with victory, bade the world farewell
    Like gallant Wolfe, forever dear to fame,           65 
    And the great hero of the Theban name.
      But British valour always challeng'd praise.
    'Tis not the light'ning's gleam or Comet's blaze,
    When haughty Louis, threat'ning half the world,
    Destructive thunder through the nations hurl'd.     70
    Our noble fathers, freedom's stablest rock,
    The tempest met, and brav'd its furious shock.
    It burst recoiling on the tyrant's head
    And sunk th' ambitious hopes that flatt'ry fed.
      When civil discord British bosoms tore            75
    And Kindred slaughter stain'd the western shore, 
    When neighb'ring nations triumph'd in our woe
    And hasten'd to support our sinking foe,
    Britannia saw the thick'ning storm afar, 
    Forgot her grief and met the coming war.            80
    Her fleets triumphant humbl'd haughty Spain.
    They swept Batavia's squadrons off the main.
    The crafty Gauls who long the contest fled 
    Engag'd at last and sunk among the dead.
      'Twas yours, ye loyal bands, that dreadful day    85
    At risk of life your country to obey;
    To spurn the prudent road the dastard steers,
    A friend to either side as fortune veers.
    Nor have your merits passed without regard:
    Our grateful parent gives the just reward.          90 
    To her we owe that peace delights our plains,
    That joyous plenty through the hamlets reigns, 
    That rising towns present a grateful view
    Where lately dismal wilds no op'ning knew;
    That gentle Spring assumes her annual toil          95
    And balmy roses in the gardens smile;
    That flow'ry meads and infant buds appear -- 
    The hope and glory of the circling year --
    That frugal bees delicious fruits distill 
    And pleasant creams our spacious goblets fill;      100 
    That swains returning as the day declines
    Exult o'er prostrate oaks and burning pines,
    A pleasure greater than the conqu'ror knows,
    Whose doubtful triumph costs ten thousand woes.
    But Britain's precious gifts will nought impart     105 
    To rouse to glory or amend the heart,
    So long as mental pleasures cease to flow --
    The chief delight of mortals here below --
    For when a fertile field no culture knows,
    The Sun his genial warmth in vain bestows.          110
    No gold harvest glades the lazy swain, 
    But weeds luxur'ant cover all the plain.
      Inquire the latent cause of each excess;
    Of vicious deeds the secret motives trace.
    In ignorance a certain cause you'll find            115
    That leads to vice from vacancy of mind. 
    'Tis yours to change the scene, bid Science rise
    And cheer the prospects of these Northern skies,
    Bid Science brighten each bewilder'd thought,
    And speed the schemes with social pleasure fraught. 120
      What tho' no columns, busts, or crumbling fanes
    Exalt the pensive soul to classic strains,
    Who tho' no nymph o'er silvan scenes presides,
    No wat'ry God the rapid river guides,
    No woodland groves resound Diana's name,            125 
    Or artless shepherds Pan's protection claim;
    Here simple nature nobler thoughts inspires
    And views of grandeur banish low desires. 
    Attend, your country calls. Delay no more
    To plant instruction on Ontario's shore;            130 
    Nor let your rising offspring wildly roam 
    To seek the knowledge they should find at home -- 
    To change their patriot love for deadly hate
    And wish the int'rests of a foreign state,
    Corrupt the noble feeling nature gave               135
    And find for filial love a speedy grave;
    For when they see no parent's tender cares
    They quickly learn to mock their distant fears.
      At Kingston, bards may glow with Miltion's fire,
    Or seek a calmer bliss from Dryden's lyre;          140
    A Bacon, too, may grace some future age,
    Or Newton reading nature's inmost page.
      Hail mighty Science! hail the fruitful cause
    Of Commerce, order, liberty and laws;
    The passions gently move at thy control,            145
    And sweet compassion melts the rugged soul; 
    All cares and wants before thy footsteps fly:
    Those teachest how to live and how to die.


    Explanatory Notes

    1. Ionia Region on the northern portion of the coast of Asia Minor, including the northern islands of the Cyclades, occupied by Greeks who had migrated across the Aegean Sea in prehistoric times. The development of early Greek literature and philosophy is credited principally to the Ionian Greeks.

    7   The sister arts  Any two related arts, but usually poetry and painting.

    8   science  Knowledge.

    9   bulwarks  Fortifications; ramparts; breakwaters; sea-walls.

    10   Parian marble  Marble from Paros, an island in the Cyclades, famed for a white marble that was highly valued by the ancient Greeks for statuary.

    14   Jove  A poetical name for Jupiter, the highest deity of the ancient Romans. By echoing the Hebrew Jehovah, the word Jove suggests the equivalence of the supreme deities of the Roman and Christian religions.

    15   verdant lawns  Opens spaces of grass-covered (verdant: green) land.

    16   Ceres  Roman goddess of agriculture.

    18   dales  Valleys.

    18   swain  Poeticism: young man; peasant; rustic; lover.

    19   purling  Murmurings; eddying; trickling.

    20   Naiads  In Greek mythology, the beautiful female personifications of springs, rivers, and lakes.

    20   lave the glassy tide  Swim in the smooth and reflective water.

    25-38  Persia's king . . .  Darius (c. 550-486 BC), King of Persia from 521 to 486 BC, suppressed a revolt in the Greek cities in Ionia in 499-494 BC and thereafter attempted to punish the mainland Greeks for their role in the rebellion. His efforts ended in the Greek victory at Marathon (see 37) in 490 BC.

    32   Neoclus' gallant son  Themistocles (c. 528-462 BC) Athenian statesman and naval commander responsible for the decisive victory against the Persians at Salamis (480 BC). Forseeing that the Persians would send another stronger force against Greece after their defeat at Marathon, he made plans to evacuate Athens and prepared for naval battle. Curiously, he was later exiled from Greece and made his home with Artaxerxes I, son of Xerxes of Persia, who made generous provision for him.

    37   Marathon  Plain north of Athens where the Athenians defeated a Persian army in 490 BC.

    39-50   Salamis . . . Xerxes . . .  In the straits between the island of Salamis and the western coast of Greece, the Greek fleet defeated the Persian fleet under Xerxes in 480 BC. The son of Darius, Xerxes was king of Persia from 486 to 465 BC. He inherited his father's mission of punishing the Greeks for their support of the Ionians. After initial victories in 480 BC on sea (Artemisium) and land (Thermopylae) he was defeated on both sea (Salamis) and land (Plataea) in the following year.

    43   hoary  Greyish-white with age; old.

    46   Solon  Early (c. 640- c. 558 BC) Greek statesman and poet. One of the traditional Seven Sages, Solon enacted many economic and political reforms in Athens, including the abolition of serfdom and slavery for debt. He is credited with laying the grounds for democracy.

    61   deck with palms  In ancient times, branches of the palm tree symbolized victory or triumph.

    62   Nile  In 1798 a British fleet under Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated a French fleet in Aboukir Bay off the coast of Egypt. The defeat of the fleet that had brought Napoleon Bonaparte's army to Egypt at the Battle of the Nile placed insuperable difficulties in the way of the French ambition to establish an empire in the East.

    62   Camperdown  In 1797 a British fleet under Admiral Adam Duncan defeated the fleet of the Batavian Republic (the Dutch Netherlands) off Camperdown on the coast of Holland, thus putting an end to the invasion of Ireland which had been planned by the Dutch and their French and Spanish allies.

    63   Abercrombie  During the assault on the French army in Egypt that followed the naval Battle of the Nile, Sir Ralph Abercromby (1734-1801) was mortally wounded. In 1795-96, as commander-in-chief of the British forces in the West Indies, he had seized several islands and settlements, including Demerara, Grenada, and Trinidadhence the reference to "Ind" in Strachan's footnote (see 65, below).

    65   Gallant Wolfe  British General James Wolfe (1727-1759) was mortally wounded while leading his troops to victory on the Plains of Abraham outside Quebec City. This battle on Sept 13, 1759 was decisive in securing British control of France's Canadian possessions.
         In a note, Strachan gives credit to Richard Cartwright for this line and the one that follows:

                     These two are Mr. Cartwright's.
                     The 65 and 66th lines were first:  
                           Thus fell Beotia's chief she had no more,  
                           And gallant Wolfe on Laurence rocky shore.
                     And then again into these:
                           Thus fell the Youth whom Britains still adore,
                           The Gallant Wolfe on Laurence rocky shore.
                           The first through Ind gave rule without control;
                           The second stretch'd it to the Northern pole.
                     which was again changed into what they are in the poem.

    66   the great hero of the Theban name   Epaminondas (c. 420-362 BC), the Theban commander who died at the Battle of Mantinea, a crushing defeat of the Spartans by the Thebans. Thebes was the principal city in Boeotia (Strachan's "Beotia" [65n.]).

    69   haughty Louis  Probably Louis XV (1715-1774), the King of France during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), a principal issue of which was the struggle between Britain and France for supremacy in Canada, India, and elsewhere. In Canada under Wolfe and in India under Robert Clive, the British "sunk th'ambitious hopes" (74) of the French and, after the Treaty of Paris (1763) that ended the war, became the supreme European power in the colonial arena. It is also possible, however, that Strachan's reference is to Louis XVI (1754-1793), whose reign (1774-1793) saw a revival of French naval power and colonial amibiton (see the note to 80-84, below).

    75-76  civil discord . . . western shore  The American War of Independence, which began in 1775 (the Battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill) and ended, for practical purposes, in 1781 (the surrender of Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown) and, in formal terms in 1783 (the Treaty of Versailles).

    80-84   . . . coming war . . .  Either (or both) a longer or a shorter view of history may be behind this passage. In 1778, France openly allied itself with the Americans against the British, providing crucial assistance to General George Washington at Valley Forge and establishing a naval presence off the American coast. In 1779, Spain allied itself with France and the Americans against Britain, and in the summer of 1779, a combined French and Spanish fleet took control of the English Channel. In 1780, Britain declared war on the Batavian (Dutch) Republic, which had resisted the right claimed by British ships to search vessels on the high seas and to confiscate enemies' goods found aboard them. A reprise of these allegiances and alliances occurred in 1797 when the Dutch, (again, since 1795, an ally of France), the Spanish (also and again, since 1796, an ally of France), combined with the French to attempt a great naval attack on Britain. This was prevented by the defeat of the Dutch fleet off Camperdown (see the note to 62, above) and the Spanish fleet off Cape St. Vincent in 1797. The "Gauls" (French) were later defeated at the Battle of the Nile (see the note to 62, above) and elsewhere. An overture for peace between Britain, France, and their allies was made by Napoleon in 1799. A preliminary peace was signed in October, 1801 and a definitive treatythe Treaty of Amiensin March, 1802.

    94 dismal  Depressingly dark; gloomy; dreary.

    96 meads  Meadows; fields; pasture grounds.

    106  amend  Repair; make better; improve.

    117, 119  Science  Knowledge acquired by study.

    119  bewilder'd  Lost in a pathless place; confused; tangled.

    121  fanes  Temples.

    122  strains  Tones; styles; modes of expression.

    123  nymph  In Greek mythology, female personifications of various natural objects such as trees ("silvan": of woods).

    125  Diana  An early Roman goddess who was perhaps originally a spirit of the woods and wild nature and who came to be associated with the moon.

    126  Pan  The Greek god of flocks and shepherds, responsible for the fertility of the flocks.

    130  plant instruction on Ontario's shore  Kingston is on the shores of Lake Ontario.

    139  Milton  An English Puritan poet John Milton (1608-1674), wrote many works of poetry and prose, the most celebrated of which are Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes.

    140  Dryden's lyre  The poetry of John Dryden (1631-1700), the English poet, dramatist and critic, whose "calmer" works include a translation of Virgil's Georgics.

    141  Bacon  Francis Bacon (1561-1626), a pre-eminent English lawyer and an influential philosopher, worked consistently for the advancement of learning. In Novum Organum, he advocated the inductive method of scientific inquiry, thus laying some of the foundations for the Royal Society (1660) and modern science.

    142  Newton  A seminal English mathematician and physicist, Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1746) is most famous for his account of the laws of mechanics and gravitation, but he also made major discoveries in such fields as calculus and optics.