MÉZIÈRE, HENRY-ANTOINE (he signed Meziere), printer, publisher, journalist, and author; baptized 6 Dec. 1771 in Montreal, Que., son of Pierre-François Mézière, a lawyer and notary, and Michel-Archange Campeau; d. some time after 1819, probably in France.
One of 15 children of whom nine reached adulthood, Henry-Antoine Mézière early demonstrated his independence and his taste for adventure. He ran away from home for the first time at the age of seven, crossing the St Lawrence River. At 15, alone and with no means of subsistence, he took ship for Quebec; his father brought him back, paying the expense and insisting on filial obedience in return. His father’s authoritarianism seems indeed to have provoked a good deal of conflict and may explain why Henry-Antoine and his two brothers, Pierre and Simon-André, wanted to escape. Nevertheless, from 1782 to 1788 Mézière studied at the Collège de Montréal, where he proved a good student, his name being on the honours list each year for a few prizes and honourable mentions. He finished after his sixth year (Rhetoric), as did most of his Montreal contemporaries, since the college of the Messieurs de Saint-Sulpice did not offer the Philosophy class until 1789. For the college and the Sulpicians, Mézière had nothing but disrespect, even scorn. “A college in the hands of ignorant ecclesiastics was the tomb of my early years; there I acquired a few words of Latin and utter contempt for my teachers,” he later wrote.
His studies ended, Mézière familiarized himself with the philosopher and joined the Enlightenment circle, a small group of intellectuals gathered around Fleury Mesplet*, his printing shop, and his weekly newspaper, the Montreal Gazette/La Gazette de Montréal. In January 1788 Mézière published his first poetry in the Gazette and for five years he contributed irregularly to the paper, writing poems and articles on the usefulness of science and on patriotic and filial love – texts in which contemporary realities lurked behind the tawdry finery of mythological allegory. Mesplet must have been glad to count this Young Turk as one of his coterie of initiates who were then in the forefront of the struggle against despotism and superstition, a struggle inspired and intensified by the progress of the French revolution. Mézière showed enthusiasm for the revolution although his commitment at times appeared to falter, for example in May 1791 when he publicly repudiated an anti-religious text he had published in the Gazette, claiming that he had “gone astray in seeking satisfaction from the philosophy of the age.” The fact none the less remains that he was carried away by his interest in the revolution and, with the added impetus of resentment of his father’s authority, he fled to the United States in May 1793. He went to New York and then to Philadelphia, Pa, where he approached Edmond-Charles Genêt, the French revolutionary government’s minister to Congress, who had been given the assignment of rousing Canadians against Great Britain. In June Mézière presented him with his memoir “Observations sur l’état actuel du Canada et sur les dispositions politiques de ses habitants,” in which he maintained that he and his compatriots, enlightened by the revolution, were conscious of the ruling government’s despotism and tyranny and were ready to fight against British domination. Genêt took this information into account when he wrote his address “Les Français libres à leurs frères du Canada,” a revolutionary pamphlet that Mézière was to take to the Canadian frontier. Returning to New York, Mézière, as Genêt’s political agent, sailed on the Éole, one of the ships of the French fleet stationed at Saint-Domingue (Haiti). Disregarding its assigned mission to destroy the Newfoundland fisheries, retake Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, burn Halifax, N.S., and sail up the St Lawrence, the fleet sailed back to France and cast anchor in Brest on 2 Nov. 1793.
On 4 Jan. 1794 Mézière presented to Citizen Jean d’Albarade, the minister of Marine, his “Mémoire sur la situation du Canada et des États-Unis” in which he described the fate of his unhappy compatriots and their enthusiasm for the revolution. For unknown reasons he spent some months in prison before settling down to live in Bordeaux as an official. He wrote several letters to his sisters, Charlotte-Archange and Suzanne, describing his boredom and his desire for news of the family, but he received no reply. In 1816, at the time of the Bourbon restoration, he returned to the United States and took up residence in New York, where he gave French lessons for a living until he could return to Lower Canada. In order to get back he made contact with his sisters and his old friend Louis-Charles Foucher, who had been a member of the Enlightenment circle and had become a judge. Foucher was so effective that Mézière was back in Montreal on 3 Sept. 1816, when he signed a declaration of repentance and future loyalty in the presence of Jean-Marie Mondelet*, a justice of the peace.
Mézière expressed a desire to open an educational establishment to instil respect for the constitution in the young and to make up for the mistakes of his wild youth, but nothing came of his plans. In February 1817 he went into partnership with Charles-Bernard Pasteur and became co-owner of the newspaper Le Spectateur canadien. The partnership was short-lived because Pasteur, learning that Mézière had been paid by the North West Company to take up its side in disputes with Lord Selkirk [Douglas], broke off their association, and Mézière left the newspaper in June. However this experience did not end his involvement in journalism. On 1 Aug. 1818 Mézière launched a bi-monthly newspaper in Montreal, L’Abeille canadienne, which primarily published articles from French periodicals, mainly La Ruche d’Aquitaine from Bordeaux. During its six-month duration Mézière wrote only the prospectus and three articles; the paper closed down on 15 Jan. 1819. That year Mézière and his family returned to France permanently since Marie-Eugénie de Passy, his second wife, had inherited from an uncle in Bordeaux ownership of his personal property and the usufruct of his real estate, and their children had come into ownership of the real estate itself.
Henry-Antoine Mézière is the author of a memoir kept at AN, Col., C11E, 11: ff.243–51, 262–64 (mfm. at PAC); it was published in its entirety under the title “Un mémoire de Henry Meziere” in BRH, 37 (1931): 193–201.
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