Among the Forrest Trees
or How the Bushman Family got their Homes, by being a book of
facts and incidents of pioneering life in Upper Canada, arranged in the form
of a story, by Rev. Joseph H. Hilts (1888)
AVERSE criticism has sounded
the death-knell of so many literary productions, that I felt many misgivings
when I sent out my first book, "Experiences of a Backwoods Preacher," to
seek a place in the arena of Canadian literature. But the favorable comments
of the Press, and the hearty commendations of hundreds of the readers of
these "Experiences," have encouraged me to try and produce a work that would
be more worthy of public favor than my first effort can claim to be.
Acting on the advice of
persons of large experience in the book trade, I have written "Among the
Forrest Trees," in the form of a story. The book is really a narrative of
facts and incidents, around which the imagination has been permitted to
throw some of the draperies of fiction. But truth is none the less true
because some fancy pictures are found in its surroundings. A good piece of
cloth is no less valuable because, by coloring, it is made beautiful. And
although a man may be as good a man in an outfit made of sail-cloth, or of
an Indian blanket, as he would be if he were dressed in the finest
production of the weaver's and the tailor's art, yet no one will say that he
would be just as presentable in the one case as in the other. So facts may
become more impressive, when nicely clothed.
In writing the following
pages, three things have been kept steadily in view. 1st. The facts and
incidents must be substantially true. 2nd. All the drapery and coloring must
be in strict harmony with pure morality, and with the demands of a sound
religious sentiment. 3rd. And the whole must be illustrative of pioneer
life, in its conditions and surroundings, and calculated to show something
of the toils, privations, hardships, difficulties and sorrows of the early
Keeping within these limits,
I believe that I have produced a book that can with entire safety, and not
without profit, be put into the hands of either young or old, since there is
not one line from the beginning to the ending that will excite bad passions
or mislead the judgment. And while this is true, there is much that will
touch the finer sensibilities and sympathies of the reader.
It will be observed that the
author has recorded the narrations and conversations as though they were the
utterances of others. Hence the first person is generally left in the
This method was adopted,
because by it a great variety of characters could be brought on the scene,
and a larger diversity of style could be presented.
Another thing to which I
would call the reader's attention is the fact that dates and localities have
mostly been left out of the text of the book. Where these are given they are
found in the explanatory notes. This plan was adopted to afford greater
facilities for grouping together facts and incidents, that were separated by
time and distance, so as to give an aspect of unity to the whole production.
The reader will also observe
that the names of persons and places are mostly taken from trees and shrubs
and plants and flowers, as these are found in the forest wilds. It may be a
mere fancy of mine; but I thought that it would add to the inventiveness
of the book, if the names found in it coincided, as far as possible, with
the subject treated of in its pages.
John Bushman is a fictitious
name. But he is by no means a fictitious character. If you asked me where he
lived, I would answer, you might as well try to confine the most ubiquitous
John Smith to one locality, as to settle the question where John Bushman
lives, or more properly, to say where he could live. Every township and
every neighborhood have, at some time, had their first man and first woman,
their John and Mary Bushman.
Another thing that is to be
noted is this: among the varied characters, and diversified actions
described in these pages, there is not a wicked act, nor a vicious person
mentioned in the whole book. All the actors are strictly moral if they are
not pious, and all the actions are virtuous if they are not religious. I
have no sympathy with that style of writing that gives more prominence to
the bad than to the good, in human character. Therefore I resolved that, so
far as myself and my book are concerned, the devil shall he left to do his
And now as to why the book
has been written. Since the thousands of refugees, known as the U. E.
Loyalists, came to this country a little over a hundred years ago, wonderful
changes have been effected. And these will continue in the future. In the
race for ease and opulence, on the part of the people of this country, there
is danger that the brave pioneers and their works may be forgotten, unless
some records of their noble deeds are handed down to the future.
Not very few persons had
better facilities than the writer to gain from personal experience a
practical knowledge to pioneer life. Both of my parents were born on the
Niagara frontier soon after the Loyalists came to this country. I was but
three years old when my father cut his way to his shanty through seven miles
of unbroken wilderness: and five-sevenths of my whole life have been spent
among pioneer settlers. So that if a personal knowledge of the things
written about be of any advantage. I have that knowledge.
One word more. To those
readers who, like myself, make no claim to classical learning, I wish to say
that I have tried to produce a book that would at the same time both please
and instruct you. How far my effort has been successful can he decided only
after you have read it.
To my scholarly readers, if I
should be so fortunate as to secure any such, I wish to say, Don't use a
telescope in searching for defects; you can see plenty of them with the
naked eye. And when you find them, which no doubt you will, don't be too
severe with your criticisms. But remember that the writer never saw the
inside of a college in his life. Remember that he never attended a high
school until he went as a member of a school board to settle a rumpus among
the teachers. And remember that he never had twelve months' tuition in any
sort of school. His book-learning has been picked up by snatches of time and
while other people slept. No, don't be too severe in judging, nor too quick
in condemning. Please don't!
J. H. H.
October 1, 1888.
From the "Toronto Mail."
"'Among the Forest Trees; or,
How the Bushman Family got their Home,' by Rev. Joseph H. Hilts, is a book
of pioneer life in Upper Canada, arranged in the form of a story. The
author, whose former work, 'Experiences of a Backwoods Preacher,' has had
many readers, has spent five-seventh's of his life among the pioneer
settlers of Western Canada. It is needless to say, therefore, that the book
possesses much historic value as a picture of Canadian life in the early
days of this western peninsula. The story, moreover, is interesting and most
wholesome in tone, and as it will, no doubt, be widely read, it cannot fail
to serve the author's purpose, which is to prevent the deeds of the pioneers
from being forgotten."
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