A Voice from the Past

One of the most interesting things I’ve found out about my family history: My great great grandfather, Michael Patrick Riordan, was a professor of writing at the Jacques Cartier Normal School (pictured above) in Montreal during the 1870s-1890s. He emigrated from Cork, Ireland about 1860, and made his home in the Province of Quebec for the rest of his life. In fact, he owned a house right across the street from the school at 12 Rue de Champlain. He was interred in the Notre-Dame-de-Neiges Cemetery in 1903.

Recently I came across a front page article by MP Riordan in the Province of Quebec’s Journal of Education on the subject of writing, based on a lecture he had given to his colleagues. If you wish, you can see the original document and read the whole thing here: Journal of Education full edition 1875.

The speech must have gone well. A review, in French, from the Journal of Public Instruction, says: “Mr. Riordan was very interested in his audience. His word, easy and animated, often assumes the forms of poetry, from which it borrows harmony and brilliance.”

What an electric charge it was to hear the words of an ancestor I never knew, talking about the important of writing and teaching, and referencing the Ancient Greeks and Romans as part of his speech. It seems like writing and teaching are in the Riordan blood, and go back much farther than I realized.

Some of my favorite quotes from Michael Patrick Riordan:

On teaching:

“Whatever method is pursued, the teacher should engage in his work earnestly, zealously and with a genuine love for the children in his charge, and with a determination to permit no personal consideration of time or trouble to stand in the way of their interests.”

On writing:

“If writing be fairly viewed, it must rank side by side, with all the high and noble arts which have adorned the world, and which have contributed so greatly to the pure and intellectual refinement of man : for he who loves nature and admires all that is truly beautiful will always find in the art of writing something to enlarge and develop the highest faculties of his mind.”

Well said, great-great grandfather!

He also waxed poetic about how much he missed his native Ireland, and took pride in how Ireland had contributed to the history of writing:

“Be our lot ever so happy in the land of our adoption, still, still it can never be to us like the land of our birth, when the days of our youth lie smiling behind us in that spring time freshness, where every scene around our childhood’s home as a precious picture hung up within the picture gallery of the mind called memory. Yet other and more tender ties bind us to our native land.”

Of course, he also taught penmanship, and warned against the vices of poor posture and poor cursive.

“Carelessness, when allowed, is not only detrimental to good penmanship, but if long continued in, I here state that I believe it is injurious to good health also. I may here mention a few of these bad positions such as crossing the legs, bending the back, neck and head until they are quite crooked, bringing the chin in as close proximity to the hands as the hands are to the paper, crooking the fingers and pinching the pen with a vice like grasp, and finally opening the mouth and making the jaws and tongue keep time with the movement of the pen and hand.”

Whoops! Michael Patrick would not have approved of my bad posture and my chicken-scratch handwriting! Thank goodness for word processing.

Below is MP Riordan’s signature, which is much better than mine:

Rick Riordan