BARTHE, JOSEPH-GUILLAUME, author, lawyer, journalist, politician, and office holder; b. 16 March 1816 in Carleton, Lower Canada, eldest son of Joseph Barthe and Marie-Louise-Esther Tapin, and brother of Georges-Isidore; m. 23 Jan. 1844 Louise-Adélaïde Pacaud in Trois-Rivières, and they had seven children, including Émilie*, the mother of Armand La Vergne*; d. 4 Aug. 1893 in Montreal.
Joseph-Guillaume Barthe’s paternal grandfather, Thaddée-Alexis, came from Toulon, France. According to Joseph-Guillaume’s Souvenirs d’un demi-siècle he immigrated to the province of Quebec to escape the French revolution, crossing the ocean as a stowaway. This engaging story is doubtless fiction, since by 1784 Thaddée-Alexis Barthe was living in Carleton, where on 17 February he married Louise-Françoise Poisset. Their son Joseph started out as a farmer and then became a sea captain. He played quite an important political role in the Baie des Chaleurs region. As a result of his opposition to Robert Christie*, an influential lawyer, he lost his properties in Carleton and had to make a home for his family in Restigouche on a piece of land he had inherited. He later moved to Sorel At the time the family was settling in Restigouche, Joseph-Guillaume was sent to live with his maternal uncle Étienne Tapin in Trois-Rivières, where he attended elementary school. He entered the Séminaire de Nicolet in 1827 and remained until he finished his first year of Philosophy in the spring of 1834. Then he left for the Gaspé to visit his family, whom he had not seen since early childhood. Returning to Nicolet in the fall, he tried unsuccessfully to complete the Philosophy program. His attempt to study medicine with Dr René-Joseph Kimber also failed. He then began studying law with lawyer Edward Barnard, and was called to the bar on 17 March 1840.
Barthe took an interest in politics early in life. Tapin was a highly respected and active figure in Trois-Rivières circles within which moved the Kimber, Barnard, and Hart families and the Pacaud brothers, in particular Édouard-Louis* and Philippe-Napoléon*, whose sister was to become Barthe’s wife. On 26 July 1837 Barthe was one of the speakers at a protest meeting for Saint-Maurice County held in Yamachiche. By then he was beginning to make a name for himself beyond the confines of his own region through the poetry, more and more often of patriotic inspiration, that he wrote and published regularly, at first under the pseudonym Marie-Louise, in the Montreal newspaper Le Populaire. A poem entitled “Aux exilés politiques canadiens,” which appeared in the Quebec paper Le Fantasque on 26 Dec. 1838, earned him a permanent place on the honour roll of Patriotes. It was an innocuous piece, but in those troubled times it cost him three months in prison. His incarceration in the Trois-Rivières jail from 2 January to 3 April 1839 was but a passing inconvenience when weighed against the fame and glory this imprisonment brought him for the rest of his life.
On 8 April 1841 Barthe entered the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, representing Yamaska. One of his colleagues was the member for Richelieu, Denis-Benjamin Viger*, the patron who the year before had invited him to become editor of the Montreal paper L’Aurore des Canadas and to whom he always showed unquestioning loyalty. He invariably took the same political stand as Viger, and Viger’s enemies became his, first and foremost amongst them Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine*. Barthe too would have to endure the hostility of Ludger Duvernay* of La Minerve. In the election of 12 Nov. 1844 Barthe lost his constituency to the Reform candidate Léon Rousseau, but he angrily carried on the fight in the pages of his newspaper.
Viger, as president of the Executive Council, found an opportunity to reward Barthe by getting him appointed clerk to the Court of Appeals of Lower Canada on 16 June 1846. This patronage appointment to such a highly coveted and well-paid position was immediately and vigorously denounced, not only by the opponents of the government but also by the Quebec bar. It is not surprising, therefore, that Barthe could no longer retain the office after La Fontaine was returned to power in 1848. On 24 Dec. 1849 Barthe received a new commission, but he was to be paid by salary rather than by fees. Although he had hitherto acknowledged receiving only about £250 in fees each year, now that he saw his annual salary fixed at £250 he complained loudly of injustice. He claimed that his income had been reduced by three-quarters from motives of political vengeance. He refused to work under these conditions and appointed his brother-in-law, Louis-de-Gonzague Duval, deputy clerk to act in his place. None of the judges, except Thomas Cushing Aylwin*, would recognize this appointment or agree to sit in the absence of the clerk himself. In November 1850 Barthe finally tendered his resignation, which was promptly accepted. He denounced the affronts he had suffered as political revenge, railing mainly in the newspaper L’Avenir, but he gained no new support.
Unable any longer to “endure the haughtiness or the injustice of political adversaries,” Barthe decided to live in France for a couple of years. He was sure he could continue to serve his country there. He set himself two goals: to encourage emigration from France to the newly opened regions of his native land, and to win for the fledgling Institut Canadien of Montreal a supportive affiliation with the venerable Institut de France. On 15 June 1853, armed with a letter of recommendation from Louis-Joseph Papineau* to Pierre Margry of the Archives de la Marine, he took ship for Paris with his small family. By the time he returned two years later, he had obtained little of what he had sought: just 280 volumes for his institute’s library and a few reproductions of old masters. A formal link was out of the question. Indeed, he was probably the only one who saw any point in such a project; his colleagues at the Institut Canadien, including Joseph Emery-Coderre* and Alfred-Xavier Rambau*, whom he approached in 1854, refused to submit an official request for affiliation. The hope of recruiting French colonists to increase the French-speaking population of Canada was dashed. Barthe complained that he was unable to interest the Paris newspapers in this cause, because they knew nothing about what was at stake for French Canadians and were too preoccupied in 1854 and 1855 with the Crimean War.
What Barthe could not say in the French newspapers he put into Le Canada reconquis par la France, a book he published at his own expense before leaving Paris. The title was no doubt deliberately provocative, to attract readers. Barthe did not, however, advocate a military or even a political reconquest of Canada. He only dreamed that France, taking advantage of her new-found friendship with the United Kingdom, might strengthen the French presence in Canada by sending her former colony several contingents of new citizens and generous assistance of a cultural nature. To the uncaring mother country he first described at great length the struggles of French Canadians since 1763, their current political, social, and cultural situation, and the abundant resources of all kinds waiting in Lower Canada for those willing to come and take advantage of them. This account, which Barthe presented as thoroughly objective, was in fact the impassioned, personal point of view he held as a member of the Institut Canadien and a whole-hearted supporter of Viger, Papineau, and the Rouges. He was as generous in praising them as he was in disparaging La Fontaine, both personally and politically, for having sacrificed everything, even honour, to his personal ambitions and for becoming a traitor in the pay of “Bretons.” Several passages are nothing more or less than a settling of accounts. Filled with the partisan disputes, mostly petty, that divided politicians in Lower Canada, the work failed to hold the interest of the French readers for whom it was intended. It was, moreover, badly written, even incomprehensible in places. The book caused much more of a stir in Canada, where for several months it fuelled the war of words between the liberal Rouges and the Conservatives.
When Barthe returned home in 1855, a few weeks after the arrival of his book, he stopped only briefly at Montreal, where, according to his travelling companion Édouard-Martial Leprohon, he “was not very warmly received,” and went on to take up residence at Trois-Rivières. There he resumed work as an editor, first at L’Ère nouvelle and then at Le Bas-Canada, a newspaper founded by his brother Georges-Isidore in April 1856. It ceased publication when the workshops burned down that November. He then moved to Quebec to become editor of Le Canadien, along with François-Magloire Derome*. This was his last important position and he held it until August 1862. Four years later he was on the staff of Le Drapeau de Lévis, where he succeeded Louis-Honoré Fréchette*, and then at the Journal de Lévis. Around 1870 he moved back to Montreal. Thereafter he was heard of only occasionally, when he was guest of honour at a patriotic banquet or meeting.
In his semi-retirement Barthe wrote Souvenirs d’un demi-siècle, published in Montreal in 1885. His political passions had cooled with age and he had become more lenient towards his former opponents, but unfortunately he had kept his turgid style, with its long and convoluted sentences. Even more serious for a writer of memoirs, he continued to take liberties with the truth. An orator accustomed to rearranging reality to suit the causes he was defending, a megalomaniac prone to exaggerating facts and embellishing stories that made him seem important, he sprinkled his book with tales now known to have been invented and with assertions that can be refuted by current historical research.
Joseph-Guillaume Barthe, who for so long displayed a talent for attracting attention and for turning up at the centre of political disputes and wherever history was being made, soon disappeared from the collective memory of his compatriots. This disappearance should not be considered an injustice: nothing remained from all his agitation, no political or social achievement of which he could be considered the initiator or chief architect, no written work worth re-reading. Although he was undeniably an ardent and devoted patriot, he dedicated himself mainly to the service of a handful of men who for him were the embodiment of the nation and who knew well how to use to their own advantage his unconditional loyalty, a loyalty that was often short-sighted but also touching in its naïveté and courage.
A portrait of Joseph-Guillaume Barthe, engraved by one Pierdon, is reproduced as the frontispiece of Le Canada reconquis par la France (Paris, 1855). Barthe’s other writings include Souvenirs d’un demi-siècle; ou, mémoires pour servir à l’histoire contemporaine (Montréal, 1885), and three stories published in Le Populaire (Montréal): “Opium littéraire ou conte de ma grand’mère,” 15 mai 1837: 1; “La pauvre famille,” 16 juin 1837: 1; and “Des plaisirs; leur frivolité,” 12 juill. 1837: 1. He is also the author of about 80 poems, which appeared in Le Populaire, 10 mai 1837–26 oct. 1838; Le Fantasque (Québec), 26 déc. 1838; and L’Aurore des Canadas (Montréal), 9 mai 1840–30 déc. 1843. These poems, most of which are republished in vol.2 of Le répertoire national, ou recueil de littérature canadienne, James Huston, compil. (4v., Montréal, 1848–50), are detailed in an excellent bibliography in DOLQ, 1: 581.
ANQ-MBF, CE1-48, 23 janv. 1844; M-68. ANQ-Q, P1000-6-105. AP, Saint-Joseph (Carleton), reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 16 mars 1816. Lettres à Pierre Margry de 1844 à 1886 (Papineau, Lafontaine, Faillon, Leprohon et autres), L.-P. Cormier, édit. (Québec, 1968). Alphonse Lusignan, Coups d’œil et coups de plume (Ottawa, 1884), 186–91. L’Avenir (Montréal), décembre 1850. Le Charivari canadien (Montréal), 10 mai–3 oct. 1844. Le Fantasque, 27 juill. 1844. La Gazette de Québec, 10 févr. 1838. Le Journal de Québec, 31 juill., 4, 18 août, 4, 15 sept., 30 oct., 10 nov. 1855. La Minerve, 31 juill. 1837; 25–26 juill. 1844; 23, 30 juin 1846; 14, 31 oct., 7, 11, 14, 21 nov., 12 déc. 1850. La Patrie, juillet 1855. Le Pays (Montréal), 12 mai, 5, 10, 14, 19 juill. 1855; 29 déc. 1865. Le Temps (Montréal), 21 août, 30 oct. 1838. DOLQ, 1: 75–76, 582, 687–88. J. Hamelin et al., La presse québécoise, 1: 16, 100, 104, 137, 196; 2: 63. Henri Vallée, Les journaux trifluviens de 1817 à 1933 (Trois-Rivières, Qué., 1933), 24–25. Bernard, Les Rouges, 130–32. Aurélien Boivin, Le conte littéraire québécois au XIXe siècle; essai de bibliographie critique et analytique (Montréal, 1975), 51–52. Ægidius Fauteux, Le duel au Canada (Montréal, 1934), 317. Armand La Vergne, Trente ans de vie nationale (Montréal, 1934), 42, 50–55. Jacques Monet, The last cannon shot: a study of French-Canadian nationalism, 1837–1850 (Toronto, 1969; repr. Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1976), 249–51, 272–73, 290. J.-P. Tremblay, À la recherche de Napoléon Aubin (Québec, 1969), 16, 41–44, 54–55, 81. Marcel Trudel, L’influence de Voltaire au Canada (2v., Montréal, 1945), 1: 151–52; 2: 78. Armand Yon, Le Canada français vu de France (1830–1914) (Québec, 1975), 37–39. B. D. [Émile Castonguay], “Un grand méconnu ou le pèlerin passionné” and “Une poétesse trifluvienne fait la conquête des Montréalais,” L’Action catholique, supp. illustré (Québec), 10 août 1952: 17, 22, and 19 oct. 1952: 3, 17. Jean Bruchési, “L’Institut canadien de Québec,” Cahiers des Dix, 12 (1947): 93–114.
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