Chapter 1: Case Study

W.H. Withrow and the Canadian Methodist Magazine

W.H. Withrow, sketch

January 1875 saw the launch of a substantial Methodist monthly devoted to the “promotion of religion, literature, and social progress.”1 Initially known as the Canadian Methodist Magazine, in later years it would bear the titles of The Methodist Magazine and then the Methodist Magazine and Review. The publication endured for thirty-one years, remaining throughout under the editorial control of Reverend W.H. Withrow (1839-1908). Prior to his editorship, Withrow had completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees and, after being admitted to the Methodist ministry in 1866, served several congregations and then taught at the Wesleyan College, Hamilton. During these years, he also established himself as a writer, publishing multiple articles and a book.2

The Book Committee of the church began contemplating a periodical aimed at an adult readership as early as 1871.3 Planning over the next few years gave rise to an illustrated, ninety-six page monthly with an initial subscription rate of $2 per annum; a budget of $500 per year was earmarked to pay for contributions.4 Under Withrow’s editorial hand, the contents of this magazine ranged widely. It included articles with a religious, historical, scientific, biographical, or literary focus, as well as poetry and serial fiction. Authors came from inside and outside the Canadian Methodist clergy. Among its prominent authors were: E.H. Dewart, William Kirby, Archibald Lampman, Nellie McClung, Charles G.D. Roberts, Egerton Ryerson, Duncan Campbell Scott, Goldwin Smith, and Egerton Ryerson Young. Withrow also contributed his own writing. Notwithstanding the budget for contributions, according to one of Withrow’s contemporaries, the magazine “never added to the profits of the publishing house, and kept its head above water largely for two reasons; first its Editor’s untiring industry and versatility as a writer, so that there was always excellent ‘copy’ for the printer; and next his good fortune in securing reasonably good and occasionally superior contributors who were willing to write without payment.”5

Canadian Methodist Magazine for 1885, advertisement

While material from foreign authors certainly appeared within the magazine’s pages, Withrow was deeply committed to including materials authored by Canadians. In the first issue, he indicated the magazine would not only be “an exponent of the religious and intellectual life of our rapidly expanding Church,” but also foster “the growth of a sound native literature in our young Dominion.”6 His inclusion of serial fiction was particularly notable, and not without criticism: even by the mid-1870s, the genre was not looked upon favourably by many Canadian Methodists. A letter he wrote to friend and fellow writer William Kirby in 1881 reveals that Withrow had to walk a fine editorial line. “The ‘Methodist Magazine’ is a distinctively religious & denominational periodical, official organ of the Methodist Church of Canada,” he explained. “I am entrusted with the … editing [of] it in harmony with the views of a Book Committee composed chiefly of … members & ministers of the church. I have run counter to the judgment of several of the Senior and more conservative … of these by admitting & even writing fiction for its pages. But my fiction I have had to make instructively religious in its teaching. Yet some members of the Com. whose judgment I respect have said that the Mag[azine] is too secular & not sufficiently religious in tone.”7 Even given these constraints on his editorial freedom, the magazine under Withrow’s editorship must be recognized for the commitment it demonstrated to nurturing Canadian literary endeavour in the broadest sense of the term. Notices of Canadian-authored books regularly appeared in the magazine’s book notes section; contributions by Canadian writers, as well as articles about them and their work, consistently featured in its pages. The final issue appeared in December 1906.

1 “Current Topics and Events,” Canadian Methodist Magazine 30.6 (1879): 557.

2 See Janet B. Friskney, “Beyond the Shadow of William Briggs, Part I: Setting the Stage and Introducing the Players,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada 33.2 (Fall 1995): 143-44.

3 Minutes of 2 August 1871, Journal of the Book Committee, Methodist Church, 4 July 4 1855 to 15 October 1874, box 1, Board of Publication Papers, United Church of Canada Archives.

4 Minutes of 2 October 1874 and 15 October 1874, Journal of the Book Committee, Methodist Church, 4 July 1855 to 15 October 1874.

5 S.P. Rose, “2. William Henry Withrow, M.A., D.D., F.R.S.C. (1839-1908)” in The Chronicle of a Century, 1829-1929, ed. Lorne Pierce (Toronto: United Church Publishing House/Ryerson Press, [1929]) 108.

6 W.H. Withrow, “Editorial,” and “A Native Methodist Literature,” Canadian Methodist Magazine 1.1 (1875): 73, 76-77.

7 W.H. Withrow to William Kirby, 22 January 1881, William Kirby Papers, Archives of Ontario.