W2260 TO ISAAC BALDWIN MCQUESTEN from his school friend William Bickford
Aug 25 1869
To: Isaac Baldwin McQuesten [Toronto??]
From: Metropolis of Pembroke, Co'y [County] Renfrew--Ontario
Most jovial Youth:-
Thy manuscript for which I have long been straining my eyes, at last his before me; and before friend William proceeds to answer it, permit him to blow off a little superflous steam.
To begin then: ([??] No. 1)- Why, in the name of all that's horny did you so long delay replying to my last inspired effusion?
And ([??] 2) why didn't you scratch off something anyhow? Not content with leaving your old chum to bother himself with all sorts of horrid fancies--at one moment imagining that his fine-looking friend had in truth fallen into the mushes [sic] of the law--at another that he, in some desperate fit, had shuffled off his legal coil and was rashly approaching too near the bright eyes of a certain fair,--You ask, when you do see fit to tell him your whereabouts,--"Aren't you a nice fellow?" A nice fellow indeed! But, pshaw!--'tis no use adding any more of those grammatical pokers to the ends of my sentences:--Everyone [sic] would be lost on you; So I'll leave you to imagine a string as long as a clothes-line, and after thus easing my conscience a little at least--endeavour to give you some idea of my "dorms" in this quiet old village. Perhaps, however, 'twould be better first to tell you why I could not go down and turn you out of your own house.
I fully intended doing so--in fact should have done so, and with the utmost "sang froid";1 but in trying to arrange that little dispute in re University College vs. Hank, Brown et als [sic], almost every moment of my time was employed; and when by dint of many "talks" etc, my Father got things partially settled, he insisted in my accompanying him on a trip to the Ottawa valley. For my own part I had as lief2 be loitering around the banks of the Salt river, for all the pleasure to be found in this country of lazy whites and ragged (supply the ellipses yourself.)--Indians. I most sincerely wished to pay a parting call to any old friends beginning with the aged and patriarchal Pill and finishing up with the Brockville boys.
As it was I did manage to spend a week with Ben & Billy Richards on my way to this plain; but of course missed the pleasure of seeing the remainder of my friends.
This is the reason why I refrained from my poking my "ugly old [phiz??]" into your [??] window. You know I am to start for France ere long, and having but a little while to spend with my friends, I considered myself in duty bound to devote them to Mother & Father in preference to all else. Of course then I
accompanied them on their trip; and thus it was that I failed to pay a pastoral visit to you.
And now for a few words about the "jumping off" place of creation.
When a body looks about him & considers how oddly things are arranged, he can hardly help believing but that what remained after the formation of this continent was carelessly dumped down here.
The country is most irregular and the very streams run in [such??] contrary directions that I scarcely know what points of the compass to refer them. And as far as I can see the same irregularity applies to the inhabitants. Here are Whites (including English, French, Dutch & Canadians) Reds--from the thourough-bred [sic] to the white gilled, game little papoose, and for the purpose I suppose of capping the climax, Dame Nature kindly dropped an ebony-faced Congo among the rest--thus setting up an idol for long-winded enthusiasts to howl before. For a further idea of this valley town, just imagine a long strut flanked on either side by old frame shanties with here and there a brick one, said thoroughfare (damn that word!) terminated at one end by a tin-steepled catholic church; at the other by an old, moss covered sand pile, and the idea, limited as it is, will be of sufficient dimensions to comprehend the whole settlements. Opposite the "city" the river widens out into what is called "Lake Calumet"; though, lest you should picture to yourself a second Ontario, I should add--You can touch bottom anywhere with a 40 ft pole. All around fishing seems to be pretty good; so between this recreation and an occasional game of billiards I manage to keep soul and body together. On glancing your kind letter I notice a little remark that calls for a brief comment. That "little business" of mine is wound up forever. About a month ago Father sent me off to the Falls for a day or two, and on my return I found that "somebody had been there whilst I was gone." Of course I knew why the little game was played; but after due consideration, instead of allowing them to "make it," I "ordered it up" and "played it alone." On second thought I am convinced that I should have dispensed with such immoral technicalities; for of course you will never understand them--you don't play "Euchre" you know. In plain language, then, I'm once more "fancy-free," and ready to accede to any proportion which carries the least tinge of fairness about it. Perhaps it is not exactly generous nor gentlemanly to mention it, but I can't refrain from telling you, Ike, that my "play" was quite unexpected. I was supposed to be so deeply interested in the game that nobody dreamed that I would coolly withdraw from the table after showing [sic] them that I could "play it alone." This, mind you is "entre nous." When I see you again I shall give you a detailed account of the whole affair from beginning to end.
A word more and I'll drop the subject--If bitter pills were swallowed you may bet your bottom dollar that mine was the smallest! Day before yesterday I received a letter from Macdonald.3 He was rejoicing at the notion of Murdock, who, it seems has been off on some pleasure trip, and rubbing his hands at the speedy termination of his Military-school duties. His father is anxious that he should begin law at once with J. Hillyard Cameron; but Mac says he shall wait until the 1st of October. By the by, speaking of the law, recalls another of your sentences. You say you do not dislike it so much as you anticipated. I'm glad to hear that, though 'tis no more than I supposed I should listen to some day or other.
Indeed for you as well for myself it is about the only profession our sins could select.4 You know doctoring wouldn't do--the fingering, etc., so necessary in certain cases would make old Adam "bust" his chains altogether--and as for divinity the few thimblefuls of piety which we could distil from our moral faculties would not go far towards blistering the sins of poor humanity. Unlike Mac, we are too practical to think of tagging after the army in time of peace; so all that remained for our fathers was to select some calling, which, while calling forth what native abilities we posses, would at the same time put a bridle on the sinful proclivities so thoughtlessly developed within the halls of University College. The "Law" then, Ike, for you and me; "physic" for Master Hen, and Heaven grant a good practice for all three! And so you play disconsolately? Now my dear old fellow what's the use in causing the harmonious undulations in that tin-tube of [??] so to mix up their "modes" and "muddle points that the column of air crawls sluggishly out, and on gaining its liberty, vents its indignation in long-ear-vending screechings?
Toronto, Sept 8/69
I have just returned to my old quarters, "No. 155 Adelaide St. West," and at this, my first leisure moment, proceed to finish the letter begun way up on the Ottawa. On my way up I stopped at Brockville long enough to shake hands with the Richards boys and telegraph to Macdonald to meet me on the boat at Kingston. Almost the first thing I saw was his familiar old phiz, which, simply protected by a "billy-cock" hat, was peering anxiously into the wondering faces of the passengers. Beside him, in one of those semi-heroic attitudes of his stood that brilliant representation of Univ: Coll.--Smythe. His classic features were from some cause or other considerably tanned; Yet from certain well-remembered characteristics I managed to make out the youth. Mac thought I was going to stop off for awhile but I assured him I should have to postpone it for a Year at least.
The rest of the folks are either in Montreal or on their way to this place. We shall be here about two weeks--then Mother & Father go South; Him & I set sail for Europe via New York, in one of the French steamers. Even now I have not the least desire to go; in fact, I would give almost anything to get out of it. I suppose I must though; and so there's an end of it. I have been down town but once since my arrival--and that only to see if I could get hold of a good price of tobacco. Since I've been away the weed has grown worse & worse the further I penetrated towards the "Shanties." Now, my dear old fellow, my letter, 'tis true, is somewhat rambling and disconnected, but I trust you will give me credit for doing the best I could under the circumstances, and allow its length to make up for a few of its shortcomings. Believe me I am most grateful for your kind invitation and, if possible, I would avail myself of it. Sometime I hope to do so and also act the host myself. If you can time just take a run up this way some fine day this or next week. I've a nice double-bed & plenty of good "wittles."
Let me hear from you soon with all sorts of good wishes for your welfare I remain as ever,
1 Cold blood.
3 H.J. MacDonald, a mutual friend to William and Isaac who was living in Kingston Ontario at this time. See W-MCP5-6.247, W-MCP5-6.248.
4 William Bickford and Isaac were both lawyers, friends from University of Toronto. William often wrote long letters, often teasing Isaac. See W-MCP5-6.256 for more on Bickford.