Poems in Early Canadian Newspapers


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 Quebec Gazette



The Quebec Gazette/La Gazette de Quebec
began publication on June 21, 1764, a little less than five years after the Battle of the Plains of Abraham had delivered Quebec into the hands of the British on September 13, 1759.  Consisting primarily of government announcements and news items that appear in both English and French, the newspaper's purposes and aims are defined in the Prospectus that appeared in its first issue:

The P R I N T E R S to the P U B L I C K.

As every kind of knowledge is not only entertaining and instructive to individuals, but a benefit to the community, there is great reason to hope, that a N E W S-P A P E R, properly conducted, and written with ACCURACY, FREEDOM, and IMPARTIALITY, cannot fail of meeting with universal encouragement; especially as it is allowed by all, that such a paper is at present much wanted in this colony.

Every one expects, and expects with reason, that when the attention of the publick is sollicited, the principles should be laid down, on which the claim to publick favour is founded.

Our design is therefore to publish in English and French, under the title of THE QUEBEC GAZETTE, a view of foreign affairs, and political transactions; from which a judgment may be formed of the interests and connections of the several powers of Europe: We shall also take particular care to collect the transactions, and occurrences of our mother-country, and to introduce every remarkable event, uncommon debate, extraordinary performance, and interesting turn of affairs, that shall be thought to merit the notice of the reader as matter of entertainment, or that can be of service to the publick as inhabitants of an English colony.

With regard to the MATERIAL OCCURRENCES of the American Colonies, and West-Indian Islands, we may venture to affirm, that from the extensive correspondence established for this purpose in each of them, many interesting TRUTHS will be laid before the publick, with all becoming impartiality and candour.

The rigour of winter preventing the arrival of ships from Europe, and in a great measure interrupting the ordinary intercourse with the southern provinces, during that season, it will be necessary, in a paper designed for general perusal, and publick utility, to provide some things of general entertainment, independent of foreign intelligence; we shall, therefore, on such occasions present our readers with such Originals, both in Prose and Verse, as will please the FANCY, and instruct the JUDGMENT.   And here we beg leave to observe, that we shall have nothing so much at heart, as the support of VIRTUE and MORALITY, and be considered as necessary to this collection; interspersed with other chosen pieces, and curious essays, extracted from the most celebrated authors: So that blending PHILOSOPHY, with POLITICKS, HISTORY, &c. the youth of both sexes will be improved, and persons of all ranks agreeably and usefully entertained.——Upon the whole, we will labour to attain to all the exactness that so much variety will permit; and give as much variety as will consist with a reasonable exactness.  And as this part of our project cannot be carried into execution without the correspondence of the INGENIOUS, we shall take all opportunities of acknowledging our obligations, to those who shall take the trouble of furnishing any matter which shall tend to entertainment, or instruction.

As many disappointments may accrue to such subscribers as reside in the remote parts of the country, by want of care in those to be employed in distributing our papers; we pray such gentlemen as may hereafter subscribe, as also those who have already subscribed to this undertaking, to point out to us (in writing) their proper address, and the particular conveyances by which they would chuse to have their papers sent.

Advertisements, the use of which is so well known to every body, by their effects on the sale of lands, and goods, will be inserted with particular care, and at reasonable prices.  And as our papers will not only circulate through the several capitals, and other cities and towns of the British colonies in America, and through the Islands in the West-Indies, but also through the trading ports of Great-Britain, and Ireland, by which means, those who advertise therein, cannot fail of a very extensive correspondence.

This is a sketch of the plan on which we propose to establish this paper, and as such an undertaking must in its infancy be attended with a heavy expence, we flatter ourselves that it will meet such father encouragement as the execution thereof may deserve.

We take this earliest opportunity of acknowledging the favours we have received from the GENTLEMEN of this city, who have generously subscribed to our paper, and whose example will, we hope, influence a number sufficient to enable us to carry on our undertaking with a prospect of success.

Our intentions to please the Whole, without offence to any Individual, will be better evinced by our practice, then by writing volumes on this subject.  This one thing we beg may be believed, That PARTY PREJUDICE, or PRIVATE SCANDAL, will never find a place in this PAPER.

To the
P U B L I C K.

As every considerate mind is solicitous to know the State of the World about him, and the Circumstances of the several Nations, joint Inhabitants of the Universe with him, so it must be an additional Satisfaction to be acquainted from Time to Time with the Events and important Transactions in the different Quarters of the Globe: And tho' the Ferment into which all Europe was lately thrown, by the Calamities of a general War, is now happily subsided, yet there is an inherent Propensity lodged in every Breast to pry into the daily Events that happen in the World, and even into Futurity itself: This Principle can only be gratified in its most extensive Latitude by Means of the Press.  "The "Knowledge of Letters, says a late celebrated Writer, is one of "the greatest Blessings that ever God bestowed on the Children "of Men: By this Means we preserve for our own Use, through "all our Lives, what our Memory would have lost in a few Days; "and lay up a rich Treasure of Knowledge for those that shall "come after us: By Means of the Press we can sit at Home and "acquaint ourselves with what is done in all the distant Parts of "the World, and find what our Fathers did long ago, in the first "Ages of Mankind: By this Means a Briton holds "Correspondence with his Friend in America or Japan, and "manages all his Business: 'Tis this, which brings all the past Ages "converse together, and grow into Acquaintance."  Wherefore, a well regulated Printing-Office has always been considered as a publick Benefit, insomuch that no Place of Note in the English Dominions is at this Day destitute of the Advantages arising therefrom.

Much might be here laid in enumerating the peculiar Advantages that must in a more particular Manner result from the Establishment of a Printing-Office in Quebeck, whether we consider it as the most effectual Means of bringing about a thorough Knowledge of the English and French Language to those of the two Nations now happily united in one in this Part of the World; by which Means they will be enabled to converse with, and communicate their Sentiments to each other as Brethren, and carry on their different Transactions in Life with Ease and Satisfaction: Or, as the Means only of bringing to their Knowledge the Transactions of the different and most distant Nations of the World, of which they must otherwise remain almost entirely ignorant:----But as these important Advantages, will appear at first View to every one capable of the least Reflection, it will be needless in us here to enlarge.

Our Design is, in Case we are fortunate enough to succeed, early in the Spring to settle in this City, in the Capacity of Printers, and forthwith to publish a Weekly News-Paper; which, as the present Condition of the Country renders it in a great Measure necessary, we purpose to publish in French and English: This Method will afford a Weekly Lesson for Improvement, to every Inhabitant willing to attain to a thorough Knowledge in the Language of the Place, different from that of his Mother Tongue, whether French or English.   And as in a Paper design'd for general Perusal, it will be necessary to add some Things of general Entertainment, therefore, as we have Opportunity, shall present our Readers with such Originals, both in Prose and in Verse, as may at once please the Fancy and instruct the Judgment: In this Respect, our Paper will be considered as the Channel of Amusement, as well as of real Improvement and Intelligence:-----But as our coming hither, and setting up a complete Printing-Office, will be attended with a much greater Expence than our present Circumstances will admit of, we offer the following Proposals to the Inhabitants of this Place, their encouraging of which will determine our settling among them.

FIRST,   That as soon as Three Hundred Subscriptions for the News-Paper above proposed, can be procur'd, we will engage to set up a genteel Printing-Office, in some convenient Part of Quebeck; consisting of a good Assortment of new Types, a good Press, and all other Materials necessary for carrying on said Business in the most extensive Manner, and with Expedition.

SECONDLY,   That the Price to Subscribers shall be per Year, current Money of Canada.

THIRDLY,   Such of the Subscribers as may chuse, are at full Liberty to withdraw their Subscriptions at the end of the first Year, and at the End of ever succeeding Half Year, as they may chuse.

FOURTHLY,   No Money will be required, till such Time as the Paper is actually set on Foot, when it is expected, that each Subscriber will advance one Half of the first Year's Subscription Money, the better to enable the Printers to prosecute the Work.

FIFTHLY,   Our best Endeavours shall be used to convey our Papers to such Subscribers as may reside in Montreal, and even in the remotest Part of the Country, till such Time as there can be regular Messengers procured for these Places.

Brown and Gilmore.

Implicitly rather than propagatively conservative in its political stance (except, of course, during the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars),1 The Quebec Gazette looked to official British culture for its values, its perspective on current events, and, not infrequently, its literary materials.  Both in content and in format, its parallel columns in English and French reflect the division and the "interface" that have continued to characterize society and culture in Lower Canada/Canada East/Quebec long after The Quebec Gazette merged with The Chronicle to become The Chronicle and Quebec Gazette on May 1, 1924.

Founded by William Brown and Thomas Gilmore, The Quebec Gazette became the property of Brown alone in 1774 and subsequently passed first to John Nielson (1789), then to Samuel Nielson (1822) and, finally, to John Middleton (1849), who superintended its absorption into his Morning Chronicle between 1874 and 1892 (after which it reappeared as a separate publication until 1924).  Primarily because it was conceived first and foremost as a news organ but also because none of its proprietors was himself a litterateur, The Quebec Gazette was not as hospitable to poetry as Thomas Cary's Quebec Mercury.  Nevertheless, Brown, Gilmore, and their successors did "fe[el] it necessary to add some Things of general Entertainment" to their newspaper and did "present [their] readers with such Originals, both in Prose and Verse, as may at once please the Fancy and instruct the Judgement."  As amply demonstrated by the poems that appeared in its pages, what this meant in practice was that The Quebec Gazette published a combination of poems on frivolous and serious topics, the former—and again in the words of the Prospectus—for the "Amusement" of its readers and the latter for their "Improvement and Intelligence."  The poetry in The Quebec Gazette was thus intended to reflect and encourage the wit, knowledge, and moral seriousness that were deemed during the Georgian period to be defining characteristics of a "well-regulated" person in a "well-regulated" society.

It is an indication of the cultural function of The Quebec Gazette in the decades following the Conquest that in May 1804 John Strachan, who was then a grammar-school teacher in Cornwall, Upper Canada (Ontario), chose its pages to report a recent "conversation. . .upon [a] projected monument for GENERAL WOLFE":

[t]he company agreed that it was impossible to say more than he deserves in his Epitaph; but they wish'd it not to reflect on the nation he opposed.  For it was observed, that this might not only hurt feelings, which it were better to conciliate, but detract from its elegance, since comparative praise is frequently disputable, and seldom sufficiently appropriate.

(May 26, 1804).



For a further discussion of the political orientation of The Quebec Gazette during the pre-Confederation period, including its positive response to the French Revolution prior to the Reign of Terror, see Elzéar Gérin's La Presse Canadienne: La Gazette de Québec (Québec: J.-N. Duquet, 1864). [back]



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