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J. Murray Beck.

Kingston, McGill-Queen's University Press, c1983.
Distributed by University of Toronto Press.
343pp, cloth, $35.00.
ISBN 0-7735-0388-9.

Grades 12 and up.
Reviewed by Robert Nicholas Bérard.

Volume 12 Number 3
1984 May

In this concluding volume of his definitive biography of Joseph Howe, Professor J. Murray Beck of Dalhousie University takes Howe's story from the winning of responsible government in-1848, through the agony of Confederation in 1867, to his death in 1873, less than a month after assuming office as Nova Scotia's Lieutenant-Governor. Although the latter part of Howe's life seems to be marked by failures and dreams unfulfilled by comparison with his earlier successful struggle for the principle of cabinet responsibility in Britain's colonies and for a leading role in the political life of Nova Scotia, Beck demonstrates that a person's most profound and memorable efforts may be advanced in a hopeless cause.

Howe's energy and enthusiasm for the growth and development of his country is evident in his tireless activity in promoting railway development, immigration schemes, and government initiatives in public works. His deeply-rooted loyalty to the British constitution led him to risk ruin and imprisonment by illegally recruiting volunteers in the United States for the British forces in the Crimea, to pursue dreams of closer political union between Britain and its colonies, and to place a naive and exaggerated faith in the British government's interest in and sympathy for the wishes of its colonial subjects. Recognizing Howe's frequent manifestations of vanity, temper, and lack of circumspection, Beck defends him against charges that he was a shameless place-seeker, an avaricious politician, an anti-Catholic bigot, and, worst of all to Nova Scotians, a traitor who abandoned his anti-Confederate supporters for a seat in Sir John A. Macdonald's cabinet and the right to control federal patronage in Nova Scotia. The "conservative reformer" described in the first volume of this biography* never really changed. When bitter experience convinced him that British indifference to Nova Scotia's opposition to Confederation made his position untenable, he sought to make the best of what he could not change.

Beck has again written as much a biography of Nova Scotia as of Howe. He captures the province's complex regional and religious divisions and the bitter and rancorous nature of politics in a small society, one in which partisans obstructed almost any measure proposed by an opponent. Indeed, it was Macdonald's skill in manipulating personal and partisan jealousies that enabled him to pacify Nova Scotia so effectively and so soon. Extensive extracts from contemporary newspapers also remind consumers of today's bland and predictable journalism of its robust ancestor, embodied in Howe's description of Sir Charles Tupper as "like a bayou, stagnant and full of . . .creeping, slimy reptiles. .. breathing nephritic gases, fatal to all living creatures." While it is to be hoped that this is not Beck's last work, the two volumes of this biography are a worthy crown to a distinguished academic and scholarly career.

*Reviewed vol. XI/4 July 1983p.l61.

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