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The Scot in British North America
Mr W. J.  Rattray


Our thanks to Norman A. Rattray, a relation of Mr W. J. Rattray,  for sending in this information.

The Toronto Mail, Friday, September 28, 1883
Death of Mr W.J. Rattray

We have this morning to announce, with a regret which words are weak to express, the death of Mr. W. J. Rattray, the author of "The Scot in British North America", and one of the most valued members of THE MAIL staff. Mr. Rattray's health has been for some years weak, but with care he has been able to do very brilliant work, on his book and in these columns. Within a few weeks, however, his system rapidly gave way, and after a week of prostration he died on Wednesday night at half-past ten.

We have very little hesitation in saying that Mr. Rattray possessed, if not the best, one of the best equipped minds in this country. The brilliancy of his scholarship was familiar to a generation of men and scholars now arrived at middle age. His University career was unusually brilliant. He entered Toronto University in the same year as the late Chief Justice Moss, in, we think, 1854 or thereabouts. Between these two they divided all the prizes and fellowships of their year. The University lists show that in the earlier years of his course Mr. Rattray devoted himself chiefly to classics, English history, and logic, and that subsequently he took up metaphysics and ethics and natural science, obtaining on graduation the gold medal in Mental Science. He was Prize Speaker and President of the Literary Society, which has always contained the most brilliant young men of their time, and the old members for years took pleasure in reading his brilliant essays and hearing his logical speeches.  As a student, we are informed by those who knew him well, he was remarkable not only for the breadth of his knowledge but its depth. His insight into metaphysical questions was extraordinary. Indeed in that department he may be said to have been largely self-taught. Like all men or original minds, he early had his own system of philosophy, from which he was not compelled to depart much, if at all, in after-years, himself in accord with the soundest thinkers on the subject. He was to the last interested in the fortunes of the University, and ready at all times to devote his talents to its service.

Mr Rattray's book, "The Scot in British North America," is a mine of valuable historical and genealogical knowledge, presented in a style equalled by no other Canadian writer in that field. It should be a monument to his memory which Scotsmen should enthusiastically hold in esteem. His work on the Canadian Monthly, in its early days, was well-known. The Current Events were very finished and scholarly criticisms and invariably attracted wide interest. His work on The Mail, has been for some years a daily task, which was also a daily pleasure to him. The range of his contributions was extensive. His knowledge of history and foreign politics was unsurpassed, and he applied truly conservative intellect to every question he discussed. His conservatism was not an affair of current politics, but of history, philosophy, and logic, in which all things make for conservatism in thought and principle. There was never, or seldom, any doubt as to how Mr. Rattray would look at any given question. He was quite certain to apply an orthodox faith and logical conservative opinion to any subject of discussion; and all that was required by him was the mention of the topic, the treatment of it could be predicted beforehand with almost unerring certainty. His mind had the quality of certitude in a high degree; but his modesty never allowed that facility to become overbearing. As a general rule there was no reply possible to those articles in which Mr. Rattray grappled with the facts, say of the Boundary question or the Streams Bill. His treatment of such topics was overwhelmingly strong. The feebleness of his body never once interfered with the vigorous grasp of his mind on certain premises and logical conclusions.

We need not say with what extraordinary measure of favour his articles (which appeared in The Mail every Saturday), in assault of the agnosticism of the day were received by all the intelligent and thoughtful people in the country. There was probably no other man in Canada so fully equipped for such a warfare, no other that we know of who could have continued for so long a time to pour forth such a series of brilliant, thoughtful papers on questions of so such moment to the religious mind of this country. The clergy of the country, of this province in particular, were to a man the friends of the writer of those articles.

For our own part we find language weak to express the sense of the loss sustained in the death of Mr. Rattray. The regularity with which his work was done was a source of constant wonder. The reluctance he always exhibited to being allowed freedom from work; the industry with which he signalized his return from his yearly vacation; his modesty, his wit, his cheerfulness and his high sense of honour were qualities which endeared him to us all. It was at his return from his summer vacation that the death of Mr. Elder, of St. John, was announced. He wrote at once asking to have the topic of that very sad occurrence reserved for his treatment. He had but a few days before parted company with Mr. Elder at St. John, and the New Brunswick Liberal had been, as was his kindly wont, most cordial to his Conservative confrere from Ontario. Mr Rattray's tribute to Mr. Elder was, as some of our readers may remember, a very touching and eloquent one.

He said, among other things: "The writer bade him farewell only a fortnight since, and can understand, in part, the bitterness of more intimate sorrow. Singularly enough our conversation turned upon sudden death. The subject was suggested by the drowning of young Mr. Burpee, for whom the flags of St. John and its harbour were at half-mast. No shadow of the future had cast its premonitory gloom over Mr. Elder. It is not unnatural, therefore, that the unprosaged tidings of his death should strike one who grasped his hand so lately in the apparent possession of health, and certainly in the full tide of honest courtesy to a brother journalist, albeit a Conservative, and professionally, therefore, an opponent."

Now both are gone; Mr. Elder dying suddenly in his home, Mr. Rattray sinking with alarming swiftness into the valley of the shadow, lingering for a day or two in unconsciousness, unbroken to the end. The last article from his pen published in these columns was the weekly religious article published last Saturday-week, September 15th, on "Christian Union," an article which drew from the venerable Bishop of Niagara a testimony to its merits which the author was not destined to acknowledge in any way. The previous article had been on the general question of Christianity vs. Comtism, and these were the closing sentances:

"The morality of Comtism is inherited from Christianity, and without it would never have been. Its immortality, as we have seen, is a cruel mockery. Beside it let us place the consoling words of the Saviour, 'I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.' This is the real apex of time, not immortality through eternal death and the faith which proclaims it is the true religion of humanity."

In that belief he who had preached it so often from the week day pulpit died. After the writing of the article on "Christian Union" on Friday night, September 14th, Mr Rattray began swiftly to decline. A brief hope was entertained that a rest would restore him. But the arrow had reached him, and he was stricken to death. His weakness became unconsciousness and after lingering two days he died on Wednesday night. He carries away with him a rare fund of scholarship and ability. He leaves behind him a name unstained by a dishonourable act or an untruthful word.


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