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Prefatory sketch about John Charles Dent (1888) by R.W.D.

and other weird tales

by John Charles Dent

Rose Publishing Company 1888.


JOHN CHARLES DENT, the author of the following remarkable stories, was born in Kendal, Westmoreland, England, in 1841. His parent; emigrated to Canada shortly after that event, bringing with them, of course, the youth who was afterwards to become the Canadian author and historian. Mr. Dent received his primary education in Canadian schools, and afterwards studied law, becoming in due course a member of the Upper Canada Bar. He only practised for a few years. He found the profession profitable enough but uncongenial--as it could not well help being in an obscure Canadian village, twenty years ago--and very probably he was already cherishing ambitious dreams of literary labours, which he was eager to begin in the world's literary centre, London. He accordingly relinquished his practice as soon as he felt himself in a position to do so and went

  Dent produced no very long or ambitious work. Perhaps he found that the requisite time for such an undertaking could not be spared. At this period he had a wife and family depending on him for support, and it speaks well for his abilities, that he was able to amply provide for them out of the profits solely derived from his literary labours. But of course to do this he had to devote himself to work that could be thrown off readily, and which could be as readily sold.

  After remaining in England for several years, Mr. Dent and his family returned to America. He obtained a position in Boston, which he held for about two years. But he finally relinquished it and came to Toronto, having accepted a position on the editorial staff of the Telegram, which was then just starting. For several years Mr. Dent devoted himself to journalistic labours on various newspapers, but principally the Toronto Weekly Globe. To that journal he contributed a very notable series of biographical sketches on "Eminent Canadians." Shortly after the death of the Hon. George Brown, Mr. Dent severed his connection with the Globe, and immediately thereafter commenced his first ambitious undertaking, The Canadian Portrait Gallery, which ran to four large volumes. It proved to be a most creditable and successful achievement. Of course in a brief sketch no detailed criticism of either this or the succeeding works can be attempted. Suffice it to say that the biographies of Canadian public men, living and dead, were carefully prepared, and written from an un-partisan stand-point. In this book there was no padding; every individual admitted had achieved something of national value, and the biographies are, therefore, of importance to the student of Canadian history. This book deserved and attained a considerable circulation, and brought to its author a comparatively large sum of money.

  Mr. Dent's second book was "The Last Forty Years: Canada since the Union of 1841." This work has been highly praised in all quarters, and is in every way a credit to its author's really brilliant powers as a literary artist.

  The third work was a "History of the Rebellion in Upper Canada." Although written in his best manner, with the greatest possible care, from authentic sources of information not hitherto accessible, this work has had the misfortune to meet with undeservedly severe criticism. When Mr. Dent began his studies for the book he held William Lyon MacKenzie in high esteem, but he found it necessary afterwards to change his opinion. He was able to throw a flood of new light on the characters of the men who took part in the struggle, and if the facts tended to darken the fair fame of some of them, the historian certainly ought not to be censured for it. The tendency of the book was decidedly in opposition to the ideas entertained to this day by the partizans of the "Old Family Compact" on the one side, and also to the friends and admirers of William Lyon MacKenzie on the other. But the severe criticism the work sustained has left it stronger than before, and it will stand undoubtedly as by far the best history of the "Rebellion" that has appeared.

  In addition to these important works on which his reputation as a writer will rest, Mr. Dent has written from time to time a great many sketches, essays and stories, some of which are exceedingly interesting and worthy of being preserved. All of Mr. Dent's work contains a charm of its own. In writing history, he was in accord with Macaulay. He always believed that a true story should be told as agreeably as a fictitious one; "that the incidents of real life, whether political or domestic, admit of being so arranged as, without detriment to accuracy, to command all the interest of an artificial series of facts; that the chain of circumstances which constitute history may be as finely and gracefully woven as any tale of fancy." Acting upon this theory, he has made Canadian history very interesting reading. He is to my mind the only historian, beside Mr. Parkman, who has been able to make Canadian events so dry in detail, fascinating throughout.

  In private life, Mr. Dent was a most estimable man. He possessed qualities of mind and heart, having their visible outcome in a courteous, genial manner that endeared him very closely to his friends. With all his wealth of learning, which was very great, he was light-hearted, witty and companionable, and his early death leaves a gap not very easily closed.

  The four stories composing the present volume were contributed by their author at considerable intervals to different periodicals. Some time prior to his death he contemplated publishing them in book form, and actually selected and carefully revised them with that purpose in view. He thought they were worthy of being rescued from obscurity, and if we compare them with much of a similar class of work constantly issuing from the press, we cannot think that his judgment erred. They are now published in accordance with his wish, to take their chances in the great world of literature.


  TORONTO, Oct. 25th, 1888.