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J. Murray Beck.

Kingston, McGill-Queens University Press, c1982.
Distributed by University of Toronto Press.
389pp, cloth, $35.00.
ISBN 0-7735-0387-0.

Grades 12 and up.
Reviewed by Robert Nicholas Bérard.

Volume 11 Number 4.
1983 July.

No Nova Scotian is better known within or without the province than Joseph Howe. A courageous newspaperman who fought to establish a free press in British North America, a fiery politician who is credited with having secured the first responsible government in Britain's colonies and who valiantly, if unsuccessfully, campaigned to prevent his homeland's entry into Confederation, Howe was regarded by Premier Angus L. MacDonald, himself a legend in this century, as the greatest Nova Scotian. Surprisingly, no scholarly biography of Howe has been available before this first of two volumes by J. Murray Beck, professor emeritus of political science at Dalhousie University. It has been worth the wait.

Howe is characterized as a conservative, almost reluctant, reformer. His lack of formal education and social position and his upbringing by a deferential Loyalist father, whom he revered, left Howe with a blind, uncritical faith in the British constitution and the integrity of the men who administered it in Nova Scotia. Ultimately the corruption and insensitivity of the Tory clique that dominated provincial life led him gradually and haltingly to press for reforms of an increasingly radical nature. Never exhibiting any capacity for clear and consistent abstract political thought, Howe frequently appeared to betray his friends and his principles to compromise with his conservative and imperial opponents. Yet he never lost touch with his grass-roots supporters, and he almost single-handedly fashioned the Liberal electoral victory of 1847 that brought responsible government to Nova Scotia.

Beck's portrait is far from adulatory. Howe could be aggressively outspoken, naive, or superficial in his political judgments, servile towards his social betters, and unctuously smug towards vanquished adversaries. But through his frequent "rambles" throughout the province, his work as a newspaper editor and legislative reporter, and his unceasing activities to promote industrial and agricultural development and domestic arts and letters, Howe came to know Nova Scotia, its people, and the issues that concerned them better than any man alive. Murray Beck combines his own monumental knowledge of Joseph Howe with a sensitive and perceptive understanding of the society that produced him and that honours him today. Readers will anxiously await the second volume of this masterful biography.

Robert Nicholas Bérard, Dept. of Education, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS.
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