SOULARD, AUGUSTE (baptized Augustin), man of letters and lawyer; b. 13 March 1819 in Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies, Lower Canada, son of François-Marie Soulard and Théotiste Voisine; d. there unmarried 27 June 1852.
Auguste Soulard’s father, a militia captain known for his hospitality and his love of the poor, was one of the most highly regarded habitants of Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies. From 1831 to 1836 Auguste was a brilliant student at the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, and during these years he formed a strong friendship with François-Magloire Derome*. Soulard went to Quebec in 1837 and studied law successively under Joseph-Noël Bossé and George Okill Stuart*.
For a true estimate of Soulard, an understanding of the complexities of his period is required. At the time when he was beginning his studies, French Canadians for the first time since the conquest were experiencing normal conditions in the school system and the book trade. His generation was, then, a pioneering one. As a law student Soulard commanded the attention of his colleagues by his charm, cheerfulness, love of study, and above all his attachment to his native land, a sentiment he expressed in the poem “Mon pays,” first published in Le Canadien in 1841. Hence he gathered around himself a small group of young people who were eager to restore that land to its original vitality through progress in the sciences and humanities. They contributed as amateurs to the newspapers of Quebec, thus giving a considerable stimulus to the first stirrings of French Canadian literature. In October 1840 Soulard and Derome made plans to publish the Journal des familles, which was to forgo political debate in order to open its columns to “the writings of lovers of literature, the essays of studious youth, and discussions.” But not even the promise of collaboration by men such as Augustin-Norbert Morin*, Louis-David Roy*, François-Xavier Garneau*, and Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau* was enough to ensure the journal’s success, and only the prospectus appeared.
Soulard was called to the bar on 27 June 1842 and settled permanently at Quebec. The young lawyer won friendships everywhere by his selflessness. According to Chauveau, magistrates soon listened to him with a marked attention rarely bestowed on men of talent when still young. His smooth and correct diction, the restraint and logic of his pleading, and the diligence and zeal with which he studied his cases earned him a position of honour. He had numerous and significant successes in criminal cases.
In 1842 Soulard assisted in organizing the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste of Quebec. Then, in the autumn of 1843, he helped found the Société Canadienne d’Études Littéraires et Scientifiques, which in January 1844 inaugurated a series of public lectures. This initiative was imitated on 17 December by a number of Montrealers who founded the Institut Canadien. Soulard displayed his talents as a popular speaker at public meetings and in the patriotic addresses he delivered for three years at the banquets of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste. For the public lectures of the literary societies, Soulard gave a talk on the history of the Gauls, and another on trade in ancient times; these were carefully prepared pieces of work which he none the less declined to publish. A pleasant and even brilliant conversationalist, he was held in esteem by his close friends for his urbanity and the good humour tinged with melancholy that lent charm to his remarks.
Around 1846 Soulard’s law office on Queen’s Wharf became the meeting place for young people in the city who were eager for culture and progress. Some of them joined him as crew for the yacht La Belle Françoise. Among them was Charles-Vinceslas Dupont, a law student and poet, who fell off the ship and drowned. In October 1849 Soulard’s name appeared, along with those of writers Napoléon Aubin*, Télesphore Fournier*, and Marc-Aurèle Plamondon*, at the head of a list of citizens supporting annexation to the United States in view of the “commercial, political, and social difficulties of Canada . . . and in particular the lack of interest that the mother country seems to have in it.”
But Soulard was soon forced by tuberculosis to return to his father’s house. On the eve of his death, buoyed up by an unshakeable Christian hope, he consoled and fortified his father, who was also stricken with tuberculosis and who preceded him to the grave by six days. Auguste Soulard, who had long been preparing for his death by pious meditation, died on 27 June 1852.
Soulard’s literary output was slight: a few very witty articles published anonymously in Le Canadien and Le Fantasque, a Canadian legend, and a number of poems in a correct and elegant style. He left no work of major importance; on the other hand he displayed exquisite taste, sure judgement, and a fair but kindly critical spirit that enabled him to guide and stimulate others to thought.
Shortly after Soulard’s death, his contemporary and friend Chauveau emphasized the factors that made his accomplishments so meritorious: the effort that young people just out of college had to make at that time to acquire a station in life; the countless obstacles besetting a professional career; the difficulties involved in the study of law in particular, as a result of the chaotic state of the legal system in Lower Canada, which incorporated the remnants of three or four legislative systems. Soulard had overcome these impediments and within a few years his talent would have matured. His friend Derome devoted a long poem to various facets of his personality. His colleagues at the bar undertook to wear mourning for a month.
Auguste Soulard’s reputation as a brilliant lawyer and a skilful littérateur lasted until the end of the 19th century. Since then academic and specialized studies have occasionally mentioned his creative contribution. He deserves to be remembered as an unassuming, energetic, and determined architect of the cultural resurgence of the 1840s.
ANQ-Q, CE2-25, 20 oct. 1807; 13 mars 1819; 22, 27 juin 1852. Le Foyer canadien (Québec), 1 (1863); 4 (1866). Le Canadien, 26 oct. 1840; 31 oct. 1849; 23, 30 juin, 7 juill. 1852. Le Courrier du Canada, 21 mars 1866, 28 déc. 1870, 22 nov. 1889. P.-G. Roy, Les avocats de la région de Québec, 410–11. Jeanne d’Arc Lortie, La poésie nationaliste au Canada français (1606–1867) (Québec, 1975). Le Répertoire national (Huston; 1848–50), vol.2. BRH, 2 (1896): 128. D. M. Hayne, “Sur les traces du préromantisme canadien,” Rev. de l’univ. d’Ottawa, 31 (1961): 141.