30 April 2015

The Murder of George Brown: He Died with Grit

I could not let National Poetry Month pass without presenting verse by James Gay, Poet Laureate of Canada (self-proclaimed) and Master of All Poets (self-proclaimed, I guess). One of his longer poems, this concerns the tragic death of George Brown.

Not much attention is paid Brown these days, but he once held great sway as unofficial leader of the federal  Liberal Party and editor of the Toronto Globe. Such was his stature that three of the Four Jameses wrote verse about the man. James MacRae, who lived and died in a house not a five minute walk from mine, believed Liberals to be in league with Satan.

It would be inappropriate to quote his verse here.

The Ingersoll James – James McIntyre – wasn't so partisan. His 1884 poem 'Departed Statesman" features these lines:
George Brown, thou man of renown,
Confederation you did crown;
You now are all free from the strife
The wrangle and jangle of political life.
Though I've seen it described as such, Brown's death was not a political assassination. What happened was this: On 25 March 1880, George Bennett, a drunk and disgruntled former employee, walked into the Globe offices demanding a certificate recognizing past service. Brown, who did not know his visitor, suggested he see the foreman. Bennett pulled out a gun. One presumes he meant to shoot his former employer in the chest or head, but Brown pushed down his assailant's arm. The bullet entered the editor's right thigh.

Look up, way up, to the dramatic illustration at the top of this post. Between Bennet's feet you'll see that artist Henri Julien has titled his work "Attempted assassination of George Brown, Toronto". The engraving was published in the 10 April 1880 edition of the Canadian Illustrated News, a little over two weeks after the incident. At the time, Brown was reported to be recovering nicely.

He wasn't. Gangrene set in. One hundred and thirty-five years ago this week he was struggling for life.

Sadly, Brown ended up another victim of those long-drawn-out nineteenth-century assassinations. American readers will remember that President James Garfield hung on for nearly twelve weeks after he was shot.

Brown managed only eight.

I've made you wait enough.

Here it is, our Poet Laureate's tribute:

Poor George Brown is gone at last,
O'er his wound could not surpass;
His politics we don't mind a bit,
Knowing well he died with grit.
Politics with man are no disgrace,
When kept in their proper place;
The best politics ever man possessed
Are truth, honesty, and his mind at rest.
A party man may act civil;
He cannot please God and the devil.
In this poem you may well understand,
No happiness for a party man;
If he wants to enjoy a happy mind.
He must live in peace with all mankind.
I give it to all in my straightforward way—
As the motto of your poet, James Gay.
When on this earth George done his best,
I hope he now has found his rest.
No more wrangle and jangle of political life.

"The Late Hon. George Brown"
James L. Weston
Canadian Illustrated News, 15 May 1880

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