DEWART, EDWARD HARTLEY, teacher, Methodist clergyman, author, and editor; b. 1828 in Stradone (Republic of Ireland), son of James Dewart and Margaret Hartley; m. 25 June 1856 Dorothy Matilda Hunt in Hamilton, Upper Canada, and they had three sons, of whom two survived childhood; d. 17 June 1903 in Toronto.
Edward Hartley Dewart and his parents arrived in Upper Canada in 1834 and settled in Dummer Township, in what is now Peterborough County. The family, of Scottish and English descent, had been adherents of the Anglican church, but were converted to Methodism in their new home. In 1847 Dewart went to Toronto to attend the Normal School there. He then taught in Dunnville, where he also began teaching at the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday school and delivered addresses for the Sons of Temperance. Church officials asked him to become a local preacher, a request that “produced a serious mental crisis.” He regarded the offer of a circuit as “a providential call that I ought not to disregard.” Dewart spent four years on probation and in June 1855 was ordained in London into the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada. Stationed first in Dundas, he preached on many different circuits throughout the 1850s and 1860s. He soon rose to prominence in the temperance movement and in church affairs: he was elected president of the Dominion Alliance’s Ontario branch in 1869 and of the Toronto conference of the church in 1871.
Dewart gained national recognition during this period as an essayist and poet. Some of his early writing was exhortative, encouraging readers to seek salvation immediately. Other essays defended Methodism and explored controversial themes. In particular, he warned that the “tendency to freer thought and a greater latitude of opinion in theology” was causing a dangerous drift away from Christianity and toward “hideous uncertainty.” It would appear from a poem written in 1869 that he himself had not escaped the contagion of doubt:
The truths I thought would aye abide
Totter and reel at every side
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Though doubts perplex and shadows lower,
I’ll trust His wisdom, love, and power.
Dewart’s most noteworthy literary accomplishment was the anthology Selections from Canadian poets, published by John Lovell* in 1864. Motivated by his emerging sense of Canadian nationalism, he lamented in his introduction the “coldness and indifference” with which Canadians regarded their own literature. He defined the Canadian cultural dilemma by pointing out “that the tendency to sectionalism and disintegration, which is the political weakness of Canada, meets no counterpoise in the literature of the country.” He further argued that poetry was sacred, since it disclosed the work of the Creator and elevated readers to “the Great Father of all in heaven.” The verse Dewart wrote and collected was either devotional or about the majesty of the Canadian wilderness. As his responsibilities in the church grew he was able to dedicate less and less effort to poetry. But in later life he would be called upon to help select hymns for the new Canadian Methodist hymn and tune book (Toronto, 1894), and three of his own compositions would be included.
In 1869 Dewart was named editor of the official Methodist newspaper, the Christian Guardian (Toronto). He soon became known for his incisive pen, strong convictions, and outspoken expression of opinion. Convinced that a union of the various Methodist churches was necessary in order to end expensive duplication of services, meet the missionary needs of the northwest, and deal with the challenges posed by a secularizing society, he convened a series of meetings of their union committees. His efforts helped lay the foundation of the Methodist Church of Canada, created in 1874. During the protracted negotiations for further Methodist union in the 1880s [see Albert Carman*], he hesitated initially over the powers being considered for the office of general superintendent, but reluctantly accepted them as a necessary condition of union. Dewart also regarded the federation of Victoria College with the University of Toronto as a necessary step for Methodism [see Nathanael Burwash*]. He doubted whether the college could continue to bear the financial burden of higher education; at the General Conference of September 1886 he stressed that federation was the only way to guarantee a significant Methodist influence in university life. Dewart did not hesitate to use the Guardian to advocate his position on these controversial church matters. As Francis Houston Wallace observed, “Upon opponents he rained sledge-hammer blows [of] argument.” His colleague Alexander Sutherland charged that he had become “fiercely partisan” and that freedom of expression in the paper was “cramped and fettered.”
Many commentators have suggested that Dewart was primarily a pessimistic and conservative force in the church. His early editorials for the Guardian had indeed sounded the alarm regarding the dangers of materialistic science and speculative inquiry. He believed, however, that some reform of the church’s beliefs and practices was essential, and he eventually reconciled Christianity with the concept of evolution by arguing that “evolution is one of God’s modes of working” in both the natural world and the spiritual realm. Upon receiving a dd from Victoria College in 1879, he delivered an address that advocated what Wallace called “the modern historical view of the Bible” and affirmed that there had been development in the understanding of Christian doctrine.
By the 1890s, however, the tenets of modern thought were pushing Dewart into a rigid conservative stance. In particular, he was alarmed by biblical critics who denied “supernatural manifestations of divine power in human affairs and especially [in] the Bible.” Such speculation only confirmed his long-held conviction that the church was under constant pressure “to reconcile Christianity with modern culture, by renouncing all that is essential and characteristic of religion.” Dewart saw an example of this danger in the argument, put forward by the Methodist theologian George Coulson Workman*, that the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament were not direct references to the historical Christ. He attacked Workman in his editorials and wrote a book-length rebuttal arguing that the Old Testament prophets were directly inspired by God and that their prophecies were fulfilled by the life and death of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the New Testament. Defence of the Bible as divinely inspired became the cornerstone of Dewart’s thinking.
During the confrontation with Workman it became apparent that the Guardian no longer reflected the liberal outlook of the Methodist Church, but had developed into a mouthpiece for Dewart’s own staunch orthodoxy. The General Conference of 1894 endorsed the book committee’s recommendation that he be replaced as editor of the paper. His last editorial indicated the degree to which he had fallen out of step with a church that was open to modern thought. He concluded by reaffirming his commitment to evangelical religion: “No modern culture can be safely substituted for the fire and faith of the early Methodists.”
In his final years, Dewart remained active in religious and public affairs. He was nominated the Liberal candidate in Toronto North for the provincial election of 1898, but was narrowly defeated by George Frederick Marter. In an age that tended to disparage doctrines, he hoped to instil reverence for them as the “foundation facts” of Christianity. Clear understanding of doctrine, in Dewart’s estimation, remained the best defence against speculative biblical criticism, heretical opinions, and the onslaught of doubt.
The best sources for Dewart’s thought are the editorials he wrote for the Christian Guardian between 1869 and 1895. No personal papers survive except for a few items on his early life in his Biog. file at UCC-C.
Listings of Dewart’s publications appear in Canadiana, 1867–1900 and the CIHM Reg. His writings include: Songs of life: a collection of poems (Toronto, 1869); “The church for the times,” Canadian Methodist Magazine (Toronto and Halifax), 5 (January–June 1877): 97–111; The development of doctrine . . . (Toronto, 1879); “Does materialism satisfactorily account for all things?” Canadian Methodist Magazine, 24 (July–December 1886): 140–45; The Scripture readings: a statement of the facts connected therewith . . . ([Toronto, 1886]), a pamphlet consisting of a letter by Dewart and one by the Presbyterian theologian William Caven; “The Methodist Church of Canada, 1873–1883,” Centennial of Canadian Methodism (Toronto, 1891), 127–47; and Essays for the times; studies of eminent men and important living questions (Toronto, 1898). The anthology of poetry which he edited, Selections from Canadian poets; with occasional critical and biographical notes, and an introductory essay on Canadian poetry (Montreal, 1864), has been reprinted with an introduction by Douglas Grant Lochhead (Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1973).
AO, RG 22, ser.305, no.16494. UCC-C, 3170, file 61 (“Memories: a family record,” vol.2: 318–19); 3182, private letter-books, 27 Feb. 1874; 18 March 1882; 24 Dec. 1885; 27 Dec. 1886; 21 Jan., 10 Feb. 1887. Christian Guardian, 2 July 1856, 22 May 1895, 24 June 1903. News (Toronto), 18 June 1903. Weekly Globe (Toronto), 4 Dec. 1878, 17 Oct. 1879, 18 June 1903. Nathanael Burwash, The history of Victoria College (Toronto, 1927). Cook, Regenerators. A. B. McKillop, A disciplined intelligence: critical inquiry and Canadian thought in the Victorian era (Montreal, 1979). D. B. Marshall, Secularizing the faith: Canadian Protestant clergy and the crisis of belief, 1850–1940 (Toronto, 1992).