William Dawson LeSueur

William Dawson LeSueur, critic, historian, civil servant (b at Québec C 19 Feb 1840; d at Ottawa 23 Sept 1917).

LeSueur, William Dawson

William Dawson LeSueur, critic, historian, civil servant (b at Québec C 19 Feb 1840; d at Ottawa 23 Sept 1917). Of French Huguenot and English parentage, LeSueur became the most important Canadian-born man of letters of his generation, introducing a spirit of critical inquiry into journalism and historical writing. An Ottawa civil servant from 1856, LeSueur rose to prominence in 1871 with the publication of an essay on the French critic, Sainte-Beuve, in the Westminster Review. This was followed by articles on science, social philosophy and religion in Canadian, American and British periodicals in the 1870s and 1880s.

A convinced Comtean positivist, LeSueur became notorious for the heterodoxy of his religious views. From the 1890s on, however, his attention turning to historical writing and political criticism, he came ironically to be seen as a man harbouring a "Tory" bias. His 1908 biography of William Lyon MACKENZIE for the MAKERS OF CANADA series was critical of the "patron saint" of Canada's liberal tradition, and protracted litigation prevented it from being published; it finally appeared in 1979.