National Treasure #19: Stephen Leacock

“I know no way in which a writer may more fittingly introduce his work to the public than by giving a brief account of who and what he is. By this means some of the blame for what he has done is very properly shifted to the extenuating circumstances of his life.” – from the Preface, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town

Stephen Leacock was a Canadian professor of political science and economics at McGill University, but that’s not why most of us have heard his name.

“Although frequently unfaithful to his credo that humour be kindly – he was at times racist, anti-feminist and downright ornery – the unique alchemy of compassion and caustic wit remain the elements which accord his humour a timelessness few Canadian writers have achieved.” – Canadian Encyclopedia

Ah, that distinctively Canadian combination of compassion and caustic wit. But, then, if we all had this combination, Leacock wouldn’t stand out.

And he does.

If we now see his humour as a little gentle, well, after 100 years that’s hardly surprising.  What is surprising is that we still see the humour.

“The Lord said “Let there be wheat” and Saskatchewan was born.”  My Discovery of America

“With the thermometer at 30 below zero and the wind behind him, a man walking on Main Street in Winnipeg knows which side of him is which.”  My Discovery  of the West

“You know, many a man realizes late in life that if when he was a boy he had known what he knows now, instead of being what he is he might be what he won’t; but how few boys stop to think that if they knew what they don’t know, instead of being what they will be, they wouldn’t be?”  How to Make a Million Dollars

“Lord Ronald said nothing; he flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions” Gertrude the Governess, in Nonsense Novels

 


This is one of a series on Canadian national treasures – my sesquicentennial project. They reflect people (living and dead), places and things that I think are worth celebrating about our country, and are done in no order of precedence.

 

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4 Comments

  1. John Whitman

    Isabel:
    The next time you are in Orillia (preferably during the summer months), I highly recommend you visit the Stephen Leacock Museum if you haven’t already done so.
    John W

  2. Marion

    I was familiar with “madly off in all directions” as one of my university teachers used it, but I didn’t know it came from Leacock. I’m glad to read it in situ, so to speak.

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