Scratch a rebel, find a poet: the unintentional verse of william Lyon Mackenzie

May 2 1966

Scratch a rebel, find a poet: the unintentional verse of william Lyon Mackenzie

May 2 1966

Scratch a rebel, find a poet: the unintentional verse of william Lyon Mackenzie

POLITICIAN AND PUBLISHER, editor and essayist, reformer and revolutionary — William Lyon Mackenzie, the vocal and often vicious critic of the Family Compact that ruled Upper Canada in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, was all these things and many more.

One thing he was not — at least consciously — was a poet. Yet the “poems” presented here are Mackenzie’s own — recently created out of the Little Rebel’s prose by an ingenious editor, poet and literary critic named John Robert Colombo.

“Without changing so much as a comma,” Colombo explains. “1 selected Mackenzie’s impassioned and imaginative paragraphs and broke them into rhythmical units, and then gave each paragraph the shape and feel of a poem.”

Reprinted here are a few of the eighty-two such Mackenzie - Colombo collaborations just published by Swan Publishing Co.. Toronto, in hard cover ($3.50) and paperback (75 cents).

“Found poems” aren't a new idea; William Butler Yeats produced one thirty years ago from the prose of essayist Walter Pater. And the opposite process — presenting poetry as if it were prose — is as old as the Bible. But Maclean’s editors believe that Colombo's discoveries — especially the ones reproduced here — will come as a pleasant surprise to many Canadians who have never before appreciated Mackenzie’s writings. Swan's editors evidently think so. too: they’ve scheduled the first editions of The Mackenzie Poems at an astonishing ten thousand copies.


One day last summer a poor black girl,

who had escaped from the whip-lash to this side the water,

was seized on a Sunday, near Queenston,

in broad daylight, between eleven and noon,

by two hired scoundrels,

who hauled and pulled her through that village; she screaming and crying in the most piteous and heart-rending manner,

and her ruffian cream-coloured tormentors laughing at her distress,

and amusing the villagers with the cock-and-bull story

that she had stolen five hundred dollars,

and that the money had been found in her bundle.

To the everlasting disgrace of the inhabitants of Queenston,

they stood by, many of them,

and allowed the poor African lass

to be placed by main force on board the ferry-boat

which was to carry her back into slavery

of a far worse nature than she had formerly experienced.

Her lot would now be, 1st, exemplary punishment, and 2nd, a slow murder (for so it may be called) in the unhealthy climate of the rice or sugar plantations.

Is it not time that kidnapping of this sort, in Upper Canada,

were put an end to

by the strong arm of the law?


I have constantly identified myself with the common people of the country,

have earnestly and anxiously sought to raise them higher and higher in the scale of intelligence, and will yet venture to believe . . . that instead of encouraging Orange Lodges, Established Priesthoods, close Corporations, and delegated Tyrannies, mankind will become brotherly-minded.

What else but this hope could have supported me through the struggles of the last fifteen years?


“We are enemies of war.” Very well —

come to the hustings and support that candidate

whose private character you esteem,

and who will pledge himself to be an enemy to war also.

War is a rare game for governments —

but the people are its dupes —

they rejoice in victories that bring them no benefit,

and toil and sweat for the honour of maintaining in affluence

those who have deceived them and abused their confidence —

this is a great evil.

“SLA VERY” IN CANADA Sincerely attached to freedom,

we yet think it not incompatible with a limited monarchy.

We would never wish to see British America

an appendage of the American Presidency;

yet would we wish to see

British America thrive and prosper

full as well as does that Presidency.

We trust to see this accomplished, if Britain does not fall into the error of considering her colonists as much her slaves as Virginia does her Negroes.


It is not a change in the form of Government which will remove any difficulties or grievances under which you labour; nor will railing at the United States perpetuate the dominion of your rulers.

The grand panacea is self reformation.


As to the friendship of the Canadians of French origin towards the English, Scotch and Irish — perhaps it is less warm than I had supposed — but, be this as it may, it is us who are to blame.

England conquered their country — turned their colleges into a barrack — kept their people in ignorance — insulted their leading men — neglected their best interests — forgot to conciliate and trust in them — preferred strangers to their language, manners and customs —

appeared to give them popular institutions forty years ago, and now declares them virtually unfit to enjoy them!



April 22nd to 25th.


One forenoon I went on board the ship Airthy Castle, from Bristol,

immediately after her arrival.

The passengers were in number 254,

all in the hold or steerage;

all English, from about Bristol,

Bath, Frome. Warminster. Maiden Bradley, &c. I went below,

and truly it was a curious sight.

About 200 human beings, male and female, young, old, and middle-aged; talking, singing, laughing, crying, eating, drinking, shaving, washing; some naked in bed, and others dressing to go ashore;

handsome young women (perhaps some) and ugly old men, married and single; religious and irreligious.

Here a grave matron chaunting selections from the latest edition of the last new hymn book; there, a brawny plough-boy “pouring forth the sweet melody of Robin Adair.’’

These settlers were poor, but in general

they were fine-looking people, and such as I was glad to see come to America.


The Scots Presbyterian church is shut up at present, owing to a difference between the ministers.


So let it be with British America — let every national distinction cease from among us —

let not the native Canadian

look upon his Irish or Scottish neighbour

as an intruder,

nor the native of the British Isles taunt the other about stupidity and incapacity. Rather let them become as one race, and may the only strife among us be a praiseworthy emulation as to who shall attain the honour of conferring the greatest benefits on the country of our birth —-

or the land of our choice.


A large newspaper requires many hands;

if one or two desert you,

you are most awkwardly situated.

Of journeymen printers there are. perhaps, more than in a great many other trades, of what may be fairly termed tipplers; men who will be sober one day, tippling the next,

and useless for one or two days in the week, all the year round.

These are the facts in newspaper printing which I have long tried to disguise even from myself.


Under existing circumstances

it may be admitted

that an irresponsible government

will just go as far

in injuring the people

in their persons,

property and labour,

as the spirit

of the people

to resist them

would allow them

to consider safe.


We have often repeated

that we want more legislators

who are able to sign their own names,

and write three words following each other

without misspelling,

and we must allow them

to get an education somewhere.