Monday, November 19, 2018

George Brown Days 6: Dear Egerton Ryerson UPDATED

One of my favourite George Brown anecdotes is one I previously published on this blog more than a decade ago:  a revealing moment in the history of Victorian morality:
On his sixty-fifth birthday, 8 March 1868, Egerton Ryerson, the founder of Ontario's education system and a man of deep Christian faith, contemplated his mortality. He decided that before his inevitable end he should settle his relationships with all the people he had been in dispute with. At the top of that list was editor and politician George Brown, who, he reflected, was the only person with whom he had had really personal disagreements
So he wrote to Brown that day and said, "I wish to assure you of my hearty forgiveness of the personal wrongs I think you have done me in the past…."\
Brown replied the same day. "I am entirely unconscious of any ‘personal wrong’ ever done you by me, and have no thought of receiving forgiveness at your hands."
Brown lived another twelve years, Ryerson fourteen. There was no further correspondence.
Update, November 20:  It gets better. Allan Williams, who consulted his personal copy of  C. B. Sissons, Egerton Ryerson His Life and Letters, to confirm the details -- "I had heard of old books in which the pages were uncut, but didn’t know I had one myself. Some of the pages towards the back of the Sissons book had never been cut, including the pages containing this story, and so I had to cut them myself." --  advises me that while Brown wrote his reply the day he received Ryerson's letter, he delayed more than two weeks before sending it. "Was he having second thoughts about the unforgiving tone or simply letting poor old Ryerson stew?" Allan wonders.

To me it indeed suggests Brown was capable of prudent reflection before going ahead with his original response. Who knew?

Allan also confirms there was indeed further correspondence. Ryerson responded promply, "taking the opportunity to detail all the grievances which he had left out of the original letter. There the correspondence ended."
Historical skill rediscovered: cutting bound pages 

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