Friday, 24 June 2011

1905-11-18 Saturday Musings

Saturday Musings Spectator November 18, 1905
        How sharper than a serpent’s tooth is a thankless child, or words to that effect. Parents with young children look forward to the time when the boy or girl will become their mainstay. Parents never think it’s a burden to work and provide for their children, and are always ready to make any sacrifice rather than they should suffer for a moment. To the credit of our humanity, it can be said that if a majority of the children remember the obligations they owe to their parents, and under no circumstances forget those who cared for them in their childhood days. To this, however, there are some sad exceptions. Talk with Relief Officer McMenemy and he can tell you stories of parents in old age being forgotten by children and left to the care of public charity. Many years ago, a man was engaged in business in Hamilton, who prospered fairly well, and he might have done better had he only taken care of some part of his earnings. He was married and had a family, and while his children were growing up, there was nothing too good for them. His boys were given a good education in the public schools and business college, and were all prepared to make their way in the world. No money was spared in their education or in providing them with many of the luxuries of life. The boys went out into the world and prospered. Not so with the father. He built up a strong appetite for intoxicating liquors and in due course of time, the foundation was knocked from under his business. Look in the old directories that were published in the fifties and there you will find his name as one of the prosperous businessmen of the city. Whiskey drinking and business success never go hand in hand; you must love one and despise the other. A red nose and a bright eye never go together. The harder the man drank, the quicker his business went down. His good wife, who had prayed for his reformation and had suffered all the misery of living with a drunkard, one day laid down and died. The burden of life was too much for her. She could have bourn with poverty caused by misfortune in business, but to be dragged down from comfort and affluence through the depraved appetite of the man she loved in her youth and the father of their children was too much for the weary soul. The home was broken up and the boys went out, never to return. The business kept dwindling down but he only drank the more. Did you ever know a man who could not get a wife, even if he wanted one? Our old Hamiltonian, even though he drank deeply, was able to get another wife, for he still had his business and some property. He was insured in one of the fraternal orders and also was a member of other lodges.


          The crash came one day and the sheriff closed the business house, and the man who had a mortgage on his real estate foreclosed. The second wife, who had married him for a home, gathered up what she could of the remnants and left. Deserted by his children, the wife of his youth lying out in God’s acre at the end of York street, and wife No. 2 enjoying freedom from a drunkard’s home, he went down step by step until even old associates, and men who patted him on the back and called him a good fellow so long as he had a dollar to pass over the bar, dropped him. Only a few stood by him, and they were real friends indeed. His policy of insurance provided that after a certain age, a part of it would be available for his support, and it it that today that pays his board. The sons he had educated and spent money on lavishly in his days of prosperity, before whiskey had downed him, were appealed to by Relief Officer McMenemy to send even the smallest pittance to help their father to keep out of the House of Refuge, but their ears and their hearts were closed. The wife found out that he had a sum of money to his credit in the fraternal insurance order, and she has been making great efforts to secure it, but has failed. The old man still drinks whiskey when he can get it and people will give a man whiskey when they will not give him bread – and now and then his bilious habits run him into trouble with the police. Half a century ago that poor unfortunate who is now down at the lowest depths, was a prominent figure in social and business circles in Hamilton. Strong drink dragged him down from the heights of prosperity to be a gutter drunkard. His life is a lesson that might well be studied by young men who are educating their appetites to a love of intoxicants. There is nothing surer in this world than poverty and a drunkard’s grave for the man or woman who begins life in moderate dissipation. Appetite grows quickly, and before one knows it, the inevitable has come. A man died in Muscatine, Iowa, the other night of delirium tremens. When the reporters called the next morning, the wife and ten children were gathered about the kitchen fire. When asked for particulars, the released wife took pencil and paper and wrote te following for the reporters :
          “Please do not say that the family deeply mourn for their dead. For years he has been husband and father only in name. For affection given, only blows and curses have been given in return. It is better for him that he is dead and better for us. Now that the long dark chapter is ended, do not make us hypocrites by publishing that which is not true.”
          My tippling friend, save your good wife the necessity of writing such a terrible note for the Hamilton papers.


          In Charles Durand’s reminiscences, one finds many interesting items about the early days in and around Hamilton. It was the custom in the first settlement of this country to bury the dead on their farms. There were no public cemeteries. One among the first burial in Hamilton was the block on the southeast corner of King and Wellington streets – now owned by the First Methodist Church – and among the old headstones will be found names of people who died early in the century. Many were buried in fields or small nooks in farms. Durand’s mother was buried near the home under the mountain ridge, and George Hamilton, who afterward bought the Durand farm, also sleeps in the same spot. One of the ancient owners of the Peter H. Hamilton farm by the name of Wedge was buried near where Wm. Hendrie’s residence stands. Out at Dundurn, Sir Allan Macnab had a family graveyard where he and his son are buried. In Dundas, there was no cemetery prior to 1835. Old Mr. Leslie, who kept a drug and book store in that village in the early days was buried on the hill to the south on the Hamilton road, and a number of the ancient citizens of Dundas were buried on the same hill. In 1832, a young man named Baby, belonging to a respectable French family, committed suicide by taking laudanum. He was the first body buried on the south hill. There is no more beautiful spot than the Hamilton cemetery, out on the Burlington heights, and since it has passed under the care of the cemetery board, it has become a credit to the city. There is no more sacred spot than where our beloved sleep. In the course of time when all the old fences are removed from the lots and the graves are leveled and sodded so that they can be kept neatly, then will the cemetery comfort the hearts of those who mourn and not be repulsive when one visits the graves of friends. Across the bay, the Holy Sepulcher cemetery is finely located and its maintenance is creditable to the church that controls it.


          In that venerable copy of the Hamilton Free Press, printed in 1836, of which we made mention in last Saturday’s musings, we find a prophecy which will read queer in these advanced days of the twentieth century. The prophet believed the time not far distant when steamships would run from Halifax to Valencia, on the coast of Ireland, in less than a week, and guests from New York might dine in London on invitations of a fortnight’s standing. This has been more than realized, for the ocean greyhounds now make the passage in five days, and even less. His prophetic eye could see the steam cars running from New York to Boston, to Portland and then on to Halifax. Canada had at the time about twelve to fourteen miles of railway, from Laprarie to St. John’s. With these great facilities of railroads and steamships, he prophesied that foreign travel would increase, and if the civilized world would only live in peace, its increased prosperity and wealth would supply unexampled means. Canada was then an undeveloped country, and had the Free Press prophet lived till now, he would be overwhelmed with the great mining industries; and, getting down to Hamilton, the manufactories in the northeast end would take away his breath and he would thank the good Lord for the protective tariff that has accomplished such marvelous results. Nations, said the seer of ’36, will yet become acquainted with one another, and feel the force of each others’ opinion, as districts of the same country had in times past. It will be a mighty power, and must be beneficial. It must act upon a broad scale, and not be, like village opinion, a vexatious and almost personal interference with private life. It must mainly be sound and wholesome; it cannot skulk into lanes and bypaths, like a penny newspaper; its rebuke will be flung abroad upon the winds of heaven, and no noble act of government that can bear the light need fear it. It must be powerful. Let every unrighteous government fear something more immediately than the faint echoes of distant history. Let the outraged rights of humanity speak in thunder tones from every quarter of the heavens. Ah! Those old dreamers of three quarters of a century ago lived in an era of Arcadian simplicity. Bossism rules our politics of today and the thoughtful men leave the irresponsible to fight out the battle. Let all summoning voice call the oppressors of humanity before the bar of public opinion to answer.

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