“The Treasurer of the St. Andrew’s Benevolent Society was handed today $75 by M.C. Herbert, Esq., President of the Garrick Club, this being one-fourth of the proceeds of the two performances given in the Mechanics’ Hall for the benefit of the city poor. “Our Amateurs” deserve well of Hamiltonians, for whilst giving them first class entertainments, they at the same time are doing so for such a worthy object.”
Hamilton Spectator January 26, 1876
Following up on the Garrick’s Club’s efforts to use their talents to help alleviate the conditions of the deserving poor, a cheque was presented publicly to the St. Andrew’s Benevolent Society.
As the time for the trial of Michael McConnell approached, yet more arrangements were being publicly broadcast in an effort to keep control of the large numbers of people expected to attempt to attend the trail:
“Passes will not be issued to enter the court room during the trial. A constable will be placed at the gate, whose duty it will be to keep out all but the necessary number of persons from the court room.”
The previous day, the Spectator had commemorated the opening of the Royal Hotel, 67 years previously. There had been some concerns about some of the facts presented and the following letter appeared :
“To the Editor of the Spectator
Dear Sir : An article under the above heading appeared in your issue yesterday, and, as there are some misstatements in it at variance with some material truths, I beg leave to correct them. This “imposing building” was occupied by my brother, the late Thomas Davidson, but it was not opened by him. He had been dead, in the island of Cuba, nearly four weeks before that event. In search of repose and health, he had gone thither, having a power of attorney with the late James Stevenson, accountant, who was thus entrusted to act for him during a supposed temporary absence. The latter gentleman performed the duty of the trust consigned to him in a somewhat peculiar manner, which proved to be the beginning of the “chequered” history alluded to. The ownership of the building and the proprietorship of the hotel were not “relinquished by Mr. Davidson therefore, in the manner stated, but were seized upon by acts of violence. The “administrators” of the “Fisher Estate” did not hand the hotel over to Dr. Taylor. This gentleman got possession of it from three persons who obtained letters of administration for the chattel property, from the Court of Probate on the pretence of being creditors. Messrs. Fisher and McQuesten held mortgages upon the whole of my brother’s estate which they almost immediately commenced to foreclose. Their claim was chiefly for the price of the land upon which the hotel was built, (about $24,000) and the iron castings around the street level part of the building, etc. I was summoned here a few days after the opening of the hotel, intelligence having been received of the death of my brother. I left Richmond, Virginia, where I had been sojourning in the practise of my profession, and arrived in Hamilton about the 8th of February, 1858. Instead of meeting orderly, calm and collected businessmen with whom arrangements could be made and which might have been satisfactory to all parties, I met only clamour and tumult, pretensions to creditors’ claims which did not exist, and a disposition to grab the property of a dead man which they had not the slightest right to. Accompanying this state of affairs, I found myself, in person, the object of the bitterest hatred of the wrath of a crowd of these individuals, culminating in violent assaults, mobbing me, and even managing to get the policemen of the city to overpower me and imprison me. Such were the circumstances of the inauguration of the Royal Hotel. Could I have no protection – no redress? – it will be asked. No. Allow me to tell you, sir, that I was denied these, not from the want of seeking them, but from the disinclinations of lawyers and officials to interfere for me, from influences I need not name, and which I lacked. Fisher and McQuesten foreclosed upon all my brother’s property, and they or their agent, having seized possession of it from the commencement of these troubles, simply kept it without bringing it to a sale. Mr. J. M. Williams got possession of it, I presume, from arrangement, being connected in business with Mr. Fisher. Such is his title to it. I need not trouble you about the government, the law society, etc., in which I was invariably baulked from want of the influential element alluded to. The young men who now keep the “Royal” I have no reason to wish anything but success – they having had nothing whatever to do with the causes of the “chequered history.”
I am, Dear Sir,
Your obedient servant,
Hamilton, Jan. 26th, 1876.”
The previous day had been a major day of celebration among Hamilton’s Scots’ population, Robbie Burns’day.
The Spectator’s full coverage of the celebrations follows :
“Last evening the Caledonians of Hamilton celebrated the 117th Anniversary of the birth of Burns, the great poet of Scotland, by holding a supper in the International Hotel. Mine host, “Doc” Kane, threw open the dining room doors shortly before nine o’clock, when about one hundred Scotchmen poured in and took their seats at the well appointed tables. Chief Brown occupied the chair, Chieftain Chisholm the 1st vice-chair, and Mr. Macallum, the 2nd vice chair. After the cloth had been removed, Chief Brown proposed the usual loyal toasts, which were duly honoured by the company present, Mr. Acheson singing, “The March of the Cameron Man,” in reply to the Army and Navy.
At this moment, Chief Brown received the following telegram from Wm. S. Pettigrew, Chief of the Ottawa Caledonian Society, which he read to the company:
“Robert’s no forgotten here and kens Hamilton’s no’ unmindin’ either.”
The Chief called upon Mr. Hardy, who was present, to sing and that gentleman gave “Afton Water” in delightful style, and in response to a rapturous encore, he sang “Corn Riggs,” the company joining in the chorus.
Mr. Hill, a youthful clansman, gave “The Death of Marmion” as a recitation, and his effort was loudly applauded.
Mr. Lyght sang “Lowdens Bonnie Woods and Braes,” and in response to an encore, sang “Lassie gin you loo’ me.”
Chief Brown amid a deep silence then proposed the “Memory of Robert Burns,” coupling it with the names of Chieftain Macllum and Treasurer McClure.
He excused himself from making any observations of his own, and said he would best homour the occasion by reading some of the words of the great Professor Wilson on the genius of Burns. The extracts were most beautiful and touching, we regret our space prevents us from publishing them. After reading them, he called on the company to honour in solemn silence the toast of the evening, the “Memory of Robert Burns.”
The toast was drunk in solemn silence. In response, Chieftain Macallum said:
Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen:
One hundred and seventeen years ago tonight, he whose birth we celebrate first saw the light. It was the 25th January, 1759.
It is fitting that the Caledonia Society should honor his memory as his father , William Burness, as his spelt his name, came from that part of Scotland denominated the Highlands , the true home of Caledonians, and to the members of the Caledonian Hunt the first edition of his wonderful productions was dedicated. Into a cottage erected by his own hands, a couple of miles from the town of Ayr, this William Burgess led by special invitation of marriage, Agnes Brown, the mother of the poet, and our biography of the poet would not be complete without giving a clear insight into her life, habits, education and ancestry. Mind, says Issac Taylor, is from the mother; and though little is usually said about this person, I doubt not she was a woman of great excellence, force of character, strong mental if not pathetic bias. Philosophy has not thrown much light on the curious though intimate connection between the parents of the poetic family and its several members. Everything in this world is a sequence, and that law that governs this obscure class of astounding facts has yet eluded the scrutiny of our ablest observers. The ancient Egyptians believed in the transmigration of souls. Could we adopt this dogma it would be easy for us to account for the resplendent genius of our countryman – the poet Robert Burns. He belongs to a memorable class – a group composed of the brightest stars that appear in the clear evening in the canopy of heaven. And who are his compeers as well as his predecessors? Homer, “the blind old man of Sclo’s Isle,” who sang the fall of “Try Divine,” leads on the train. Virgil and Horace are close by, Dante is coming accompanied by the author of Jerusalem delivered; Goethe and Schiller represents the German schools, Moore and Scott, of course, are there, high among them appears the manly form of Milton and highest in the group we readily acknowledge the extreme and universal genius of Shakespeare, while of all who spoke to the heart and taught the coming ages, our distinguished countryman, Robert Burns, occupies a place among the highest of his class. While it may be a matter of regret among Scotchmen that Scotland has produced no man who stands head and shoulders above all competitors in the higher walks of literature, science or art, it is a subject of not a little pleasure, and honest pride that the second rank is crowded with sons of Auld Scotia. The bairn-time of giants, from causes to which we need not refer, was lost in North Britain, for Scotland has produced no Bacon, nor a Milton, much less a Shakespeare; but in the time of tall men, crowding close among the first rank, our country has yielded an abundant harvest of great and good men. Reference was here made to Hume, Robertson and Macaulay, to Hunter, Hamilton, and Broughan, and to Adam Smith, the greatest man Scotland has so far produced, for he has increased the wealth of nations by pointing out the proper methods of preserving it.
In some respects, Burns has done for Scotland what Moore failed to do for Ireland, and Milton and Shakespeare have scarcely done for England. It is estimated that Burns placed more ideas within the reach of the great bulk of his countrymen than these highly gifted men combined accomplished. He was emphatically the poet of the people, and surely the greatest good to the greatest number is in the end most anxiously to be desired. But a truce to comparisons. We hail these and many more who have shed the lustre of their name and splendid talents on the isles we all delight to honor with the endearing epithet of Old Country and Home.
The incidents of his eventful life are easily recounted. Born in Ayrshire, he died in the neighbouring shire of Dumfries – from 1759 to 1796, in the short space of 37 years was the short period allotted in which to enrich our literature and breathe the enlivening spirit in the glowing breasts of his country men. When seven years old, the family moved to Mount Oliphant, where Burns had the great privilege of attending one of Scotland’s parish schools. At 15, Robert was the principal hand on the farm, afterwards Lochlua and Irvine were for a time his principal abode, he wrote some of his inimitable pieces – got into some trouble – and determined to place the Atlantic Ocean between himself and his tormentors. He published a volume at Kilmarnock to defray the necessary expenses of his passage, and his trunk was on the way to the ship when a pressing invitation from Dr. Blacklock came to Edinburgh and changed the whole tenor of his subsequent career. The Kilmarnock edition netted 9 pounds; Milton, be it remembered, sold the copyright of Paradise Lost for 5 pounds. To the Capital he repaired in 1786, published the first Edinburgh edition in 1787, from which he realised the handsome sum of 5oo pounds, the following year, he took a farm and also married his long loved Jean Armour. The money was soon gone, for a considerable part of it went to assist his brother Gilbert, the neglected farm made poor returns, he applied for a situation on the staff of the excise men and was appointed at a salary of 50 pounds a year. His habits unfortunately were not good; his health rapidly gave way, and at the early age of 37 he, like Byron, sank into the small house appointed for all living.
In some respects, he was guilty to blame for the slights to which he was subjected. He keenly felt that a prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and the indignities stung him to the heart. It seems, however, there was no help for him from without, his greatest troubles were subjective, but this by no means excuses the neglect of which he was the victim. He has his revenge. The name of scarcely one of his detractors is ever mentioned, while he was left a name of which any country might be proud.
The poetry of Burns is replete with pathos, humour and fire; he was always natural, and this has invariably proved the “Open Sesame” to every heart. The object of poetry is to instruct the mind, to mould the heart, to improve the morals, refine the taste, and hand down to all time, the golden treasures of thought, of feeling, and of passion which found a lodgement in the author’s breast, and which he traced on the deathless page for the benefit of the coming ages.
In some of these peculiarities the better parts of the writings of Burns excel all others. They remind us of the “celestial fruits and flowers which the virgin martyr of Massinger sent down from the gardens of Paradise to the earth, distinguished from the productions of other soils, not only by their superior bloom and sweetness, but by the miraculous efficacy to invigorate and to heal.”
His fame is on the increase; its zenith has not yet been reached; the shadow it casts over all lands, and that by the common consent of his countrymen in every part of the globe shows the deep hold his poetry has taken on their hearts; the influence, potent though silent, exercised by the Wizard of the North, an influence which is felt alike in the palace and the cot, by the peasant and the prince, and to the spell of whose enchantment we all yield so ready and willing a submission. His name is a household word, and the country does not exist that singly contains his reputation. (Cheers.)
Treasurer McLure replied at some length, and we regret that lack of space prevents us from giving his remarks which were most beautiful and touching in referring to the history and fame of Burns.
Mr. Stoneman was called upon and recited “The Charge of the Light Brigade” in a stirring manner.
Mr. Geo. Henderson sung “Shreds and Patches from Scottish Songs” by Alexander Wingfield, and, as an encore, sung”I Wish my Granny Saw Ye,” with great success.
The “Commercial Interests of Hamilton” was responded to by Mr. Reid, and the “Press” was acknowledged by Mr. R.K. Kernighan of the SPECTATOR.
After spending another hour in singing Scottish songs and giving volunteer toasts, the company separated as the town clock was striking the hour of one.”
Finally, the Spectator office was the scene of an odd incident which was described in detail as follows :
He came into the sanctum this morning with a large walking stick across his left arm, the end of which he clutched in his right hand. The fighting editor’s muscles began to grow rigid and he was prepared to acknowledge in advance that he was the man who wrote “that little piece” with more regard for the chivalry which the occasion seemed to demand, then the strict accuracy of the confession. At first sight, the visitor’s face seemed to have a wild look, but notwithstanding this, his eye had a pleasant twinkle, and a closer inspection of his countenance showed that it beamed with a feeling of gratitude which took away all fears of the hostility of his intentions. Taking off his hat politely, he said he had just called to express the irreproachable honesty of the SPECTATOR establishment. Yesterday, he continued, he had come up to look at the new premises into which the paper was now removing, and for the editorial of that paper, he would say, by the way that he had a high respect. In course of his examination of the premises, he had inadvertently laid down his walking stick and had forgotten it. On returning this morning, his joy was most profound to find that the valuable article had not been disturbed much less stolen. It was his firm opinion that the incident deserved a paragraph in the paper, and that it would be no more than a fitting tribute to the high honour of those who resisted the temptation of appropriating the rare treasure. Here he displayed the walking stick and explained that there had never but the one of the same kind imported into this country. It was part of a limb of a very singular vegetable growth in the Island of Borneo, which much puzzled naturalists; which was rare even in that island, and was never found anywhere else. Had he lost that stick, it would have been an irreparable loss, and what he would have done in that case, he really did not know. As it was thought desirable to give him as high an opinion of the politeness of the SPECTATOR people as he already had of their honesty, it was not explained that such walking sticks could be purchased at Schraeder’s for about fifteen cents apiece, nor that the youngest “devil” in the office would have considered it dearly purchased at the cost of carrying it home.