CHISHOLME, DAVID, editor, office holder, and author; b. 1796 in Ross-shire, Scotland; m. 16 May 1822 Rachel Cuthbert Robertson in Montreal; d. there 24 Sept. 1842.
David Chisholme arrived in Lower Canada in 1822, probably under the auspices of Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay], who was, he later said, “pleased to deem me not altogether unworthy of his friendship in private life, and of his patronage as Governor in Chief.” Chisholme had studied law in Scotland and had held legal appointments there, but following his sudden immigration to the Canadas he turned his “talents” to literary and political affairs. In 1823 he became editor of the Montreal Gazette ; at the same time he served as the first editor of the Canadian Magazine and Literary Repository, which began to appear in July. He left the Montreal Gazette after 1 March 1824 and the Canadian Magazine shortly afterwards because of a dispute over financial and probably political affairs with the new proprietor of both publications, Thomas Andrew Turner. He was succeeded by Alexander James Christie. In May Chisholme became editor of the Montreal Herald and he soon established the Canadian Review and Literary and Historical Journal, undoubtedly supported by Dalhousie, who had founded the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec earlier that year. Chisholme left the Montreal Herald in May 1826, and the Canadian Review and Literary and Historical Journal, which had become the Canadian Review and Magazine, ceased publication in September.
Chisholme was appointed clerk of the peace for the district of Trois-Rivières by Dalhousie on 11 Nov. 1826. From 1829 to November 1835 he acted as agent for the provincial secretary in issuing shop and tavern licences and on 2 April 1834 he was appointed coroner for Trois-Rivières. In November 1835 Chisholme was summoned before a select committee of the House of Assembly investigating the fees and emoluments of government officials. The assembly accused him of “fraud, oppression, malversation” in his role as clerk of the peace and demanded his dismissal. Charged, among other things, with framing indictments for more serious offences than had actually been committed (and thus obtaining higher fees), Chisholme defended himself in a lengthy address to Lord Gosford [Acheson]. The governor-in-chief took no action but forwarded the case to the colonial secretary, Lord Glenelg, in August 1836. The following month, the provincial secretary, Dominick Daly*, became aware of complaints that during Chisholme’s tenure as agent he had received payment for licences but had failed to issue them and had not reported the revenue. Another inquiry was set up and Gosford explained to Glenelg that, after studying its evidence, he had ordered Chisholme’s removal from the posts of coroner and clerk of the peace. Chisholme was informed on 28 October. The administration had decided, however, not to press charges, feeling that dismissal was punishment enough. In 1839 Chisholme again defended himself in a long statement addressed to the governor-in-chief, Sir John Colborne*, giving an account of the supposed injustice and illegality of proceedings against him, but he was never reinstated.
From 1837 until his death, Chisholme was again employed as editor of the Montreal Gazette [see Robert Armour*]. He continued to pursue policies which had created antagonism towards him in the assembly and which may have prompted his summons in 1835. An extreme tory in his defence of the Legislative Council and the governor and in his opposition to any significant power for the assembly, he constantly demonstrated bias against French Canadians in linguistic, cultural, and political affairs. He supported the recommendations of Lord Durham [Lambton] for union of Upper and Lower Canada, trusting that union would make British interests preponderant and lead to “the entire destruction of French Canadian ignorance and prejudice.”
Chisholme’s view of himself as a “literary and political writer” is supported by his authorship of several works on the Canadas. According to the Vindicator and Canadian Advertiser, he was the author of a pseudonymous work published in 1827, Letter from Delta to Senex, a vituperative response to a manifesto written by Louis-Joseph Papineau* and other members of the assembly. The work that brought him the most notoriety among reformers was The Lower-Canada watchman, a series of 13 political essays first published in the Kingston Chronicle in 1828–29. As reform politician William Lyon Mackenzie* noted mildly in a letter to John Neilson on 25 April 1830, Chisholme was “not a prudent writer” and his essays were so full of invective and abuse that he did his tory patrons more harm than good. He attacked all persons inclined to reform, but was particularly vicious in his denunciation of Papineau and of French Canadian character generally. On the other hand, he defended any action by Dalhousie, who was thought to have paid him to write the essays. In 1832 appeared Chisholme’s Observations on the rights of the British colonies to representation in the imperial parliament, a treatise in political economy, encyclopedic in its use of classical and modern sources, its consideration of natural and constitutional rights of the colonies, and its survey of the consequences of representation. Not unexpectedly, the primary motive for such representation was to subordinate French Canadian to British interests.
Chisholme’s Annals of Canada for 1837 and 1838 was initially published serially in the Montreal Gazette from January 1838 to February 1840. While evidencing Chisholme’s opposition to the rebellion and the destruction of life and property, it is chiefly a military history, giving much detail on persons, conditions, and objectives of various campaigns. Although the account is biased, it provides a good impression of the broadness of action and the difficulty of military engagements. The Annals is the most readable of Chisholme’s books because of its narrative character and the relative absence of political invective. Toward the end of his life Chisholme was working on a history of Lower Canada, but he never completed the task.
Chisholme’s literary interests have a more positive role in the history of Canada than his political interests. He played an important part in the development of literature in English in Montreal during the 1820s as editor, reviewer, and writer of essays. As a periodical editor he was notably successful in attracting original matter for publication, especially in the Canadian Review, where over 75 per cent of the articles were on British North American topics. In his own contributions to the magazines as reviewer and as essayist, he was optimistic about the development of an indigenous literature. He advocated local subjects and was convinced that “our climate, soil, productions, scenery and inhabitants are so different from those of old countries, that every work on those subjects the result of study and observation on the spot would necessarily bear the impression of its origin.” He consistently urged writers to delineate the nature of the new country and to emphasize the useful and didactic in literature rather than the delightful. He disparaged the sentimental and sensational, not approving of poetry and fiction generally, although he did review favourably Oliver Goldsmith*’s The rising village . . . (London, 1825) and George Longmore’s The charivari . . . (Montreal, 1824) because of their documentary nature. Although Chisholme was always an exponent of education and literature as the agents of light and morality in the conquest of darkness and ignorance, he was never able to get beyond his own single-mindedness, displaying even in the periodicals he edited his bias against French Canadians.
David Chisholme is the author of The Lower-Canada watchman (Kingston, [Ont.], 1829); Observations on the rights of the British colonies to representation in the imperial parliament (Trois-Rivières, [Que.], 1832); Annals of Canada for 1837 and 1838 (Montreal, [1849?]); and Memorial and case of David Chisholme (n.p., 1839). In addition, he probably wrote Letter from Delta to Senex . . . (Montreal, 1827). From 1823 to 1 March 1824 and from 1837 to September 1842 he was the editor of the Montreal Gazette, and he held the same post with the Montreal Herald from May 1824 to May 1826, with the Canadian Magazine and Literary Repository (Montreal) for issues 1 (July–December 1823) to 2 (January–June 1824), and with the Canadian Rev. and Literary and Hist. Journal (Montreal), no.1 (July 1824)–no.3 (March 1825), and its successor, the Canadian Rev. and Magazine (Montreal), no.4 (February 1826)–no.5 (September 1826).
ANQ-M, CE1-126, 16 mai 1822; CE1-130, 26 sept. 1842. PAC, MG 11, [CO 42] Q, 263–64; MG 23, GI, 3; MG 24, 19; Reference file 1974; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841. [Launcelot Longstaff] [George Longmore], The charivari, or Canadian poetics, intro. M. L. MacDonald (Ottawa, 1977). Montreal Gazette, 26 Sept. 1842. Vindicator and Canadian Advertiser, 13, 21 Dec. 1830; 13 Dec. 1836. H. J. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 74. C. P. A. Ballstadt, “The quest for Canadian identity in pre-confederation English-Canadian literary criticism” (ma thesis, Univ. of Western Ont., London, 1959). M. L. MacDonald, “Some notes on the Montreal literary scene in the mid-1820’s,” Canadian Poetry (London, Ont.), no.5 (fall–winter 1979): 29–40.