Stephen Leacock: Wikis


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Stephen Leacock

Stephen Butler Leacock, FRSC (30 December 1869 – 28 March 1944) was a Canadian economist, writer and humorist.


Early life

Leacock was born in Swanmore, near Bishop's Waltham, Hampshire, England, and at the age of six moved to Canada with his family, which settled on a farm in Egypt, Ontario, near the village of Sutton and the shores of Lake Simcoe.[1] While the family had been well off in England (the Leacocks had made a fortune in Madeira and lived on an estate called Oak Hill on the Isle of Wight), Leacock's father, Peter, had been banished from the manor for marrying Agnes Butler without his parents' permission. The farm in the Georgina township of York County was not a success and the family (Leacock was the third of eleven children) was kept afloat by money sent by Leacock's grandfather. Peter Leacock became an alcoholic.

Leacock, always of obvious intelligence, was sent by his grandfather to the elite private school of Upper Canada College in Toronto, also attended by his older brothers, where he was top of the class and was chosen as head boy. In 1887, defending his mother and siblings against his father's alcoholic abuse, Leacock ordered him from the family home and he was never seen again. That same year, seventeen-year-old Leacock started at University College at the University of Toronto, where he was admitted to the Zeta Psi fraternity, but found he could not resume the following year as a consequence of financial difficulties.

He left university to go to work teaching — an occupation he disliked immensely — at Strathroy, Uxbridge and finally in Toronto. As a teacher at Upper Canada College, his alma mater, he was able to simultaneously attend classes at the University of Toronto and, in 1891, earn his degree through part-time studies. It was during this period that his first writing was published in The Varsity, a campus newspaper.

Academic and political life

Disillusioned with teaching, in 1899 he began graduate studies at the University of Chicago where he received a doctorate in political science and political economy. He moved from Chicago, Illinois to Montreal, Quebec where he became a lecturer and long-time acting head of the political economy department at McGill University.

He was closely associated with Sir Arthur Currie, former commander of the Canadian Corps in the Great War and principal of McGill from 1919 until his death in 1933. In fact, Currie had been a student observing Leacock's practice teaching in Strathroy in 1888. In 1936, Leacock was forcibly retired by the McGill Board of Governors -- an unlikely prospect had Currie lived.

Leacock was both a social conservative and a partisan Conservative. He opposed women's rights (including the right to vote), and disliked non-Anglo-Saxon immigration. He was, however, a supporter of social welfare legislation. He was a staunch champion of the British Empire, and went on lecture tours to further the cause.

Although he was considered as a Federal candidate for his party, it declined to invite the author, lecturer and maverick to stand for election. Nevertheless, he would stump for local candidates at his summer home.

Literary life

Stephen Leacock House in Orillia, Ontario

Early in his career, Leacock turned to fiction, humour, and short reports to supplement (and ultimately exceed) his regular income. His stories, first published in magazines in Canada and the United States and later in novel form, became extremely popular around the world. It was said in 1911 that more people had heard of Stephen Leacock than had heard of Canada. Also, between the years 1915 and 1925, Leacock was the most popular humourist in the English-speaking world.[2][3][4][5]

Humorists admire other humorists, and greatly admire other great humorists. So it was that Stephen Leacock, in Toronto, was delighted to read the fresh humor and wit of a young man in New York named Robert Benchley. Leacock opened correspondence with Benchley, encouraging him in his work and importuning him to compile his work into a book. Benchly did so in 1922, and acknowledged the nagging from north of the border.

Near the end of his life, the American comedian Jack Benny recounted how he had been introduced to Leacock's writing by Groucho Marx when they were both young vaudeville comedians. Benny acknowledged Leacock's influence and, fifty years after first reading him, still considered Leacock one of his favorite comic writers. He was puzzled as to why Leacock's work was no longer well-known in the United States. [6]

During the summer months, Leacock lived at Old Brewery Bay, his summer estate in Orillia, across Lake Simcoe from where he was raised and also bordering Lake Couchiching. A working farm, Old Brewery Bay is now a museum and National Historic Site. Gossip provided by the local barber, Jefferson Short, provided Leacock with the material which would become Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912), set in the thinly-disguised Mariposa.

Although he wrote learned articles and books related to his field of study, his political theory is now all but forgotten. Leacock was awarded the Royal Society of Canada's Lorne Pierce Medal in 1937, nominally for his academic work.

Death and tributes

In 1900 Leacock married Beatrix ("Trix") Hamilton, niece of Sir Henry Pellatt (who had built Casa Loma, the largest castle in North America). In 1915 — after 15 years of marriage — the couple had their only child, Stephen Lushington Leacock. While Leacock doted on the boy, it became apparent early on that "Stevie" suffered from a lack of growth hormone. Growing to be only four feet tall, he had a love-hate relationship with Leacock, who tended to treat him like a child.

Predeceased by Trix (who had died of breast cancer in 1925), Leacock was survived by Stevie, who died in his fifties. In accordance with his wishes, after his death from throat cancer, Leacock was cremated and buried at Sibbald Point in Georgina Township, near his boyhood home and across Lake Simcoe from his summer home.

Shortly after his death, Barbara Nimmo, his niece, literary executor and benefactor, published two major posthumous works: Last Leaves (1945) and The Boy I Left Behind Me (1946). His physical legacy was less treasured, and his abandoned summer cottage became derelict. It was rescued from oblivion when it was declared a National Historic Site in 1958 and ever since has operated as a museum called the Stephen Leacock Memorial Home.

In 1947, the Stephen Leacock Award was created to recognize the best in Canadian literary humour. In 1969, the centennial of his birth, Canada Post issued a six cent stamp with his image on it. The following year, the Stephen Leacock Centennial Committee had a plaque erected at his English birthplace and a mountain in the Yukon was named after him.

A number of buildings in Canada are named after Leacock, including the Stephen Leacock Building at McGill University,[7] a theatre in Keswick, Ontario, and schools in Toronto and Ottawa.

Screen adaptations

Two Leacock short stories have been adapted as National Film Board of Canada animated shorts by Gerald Potterton: My Financial Career [8] and The Awful Fate of Melpomenus Jones. [9]


  • Elements of Political Science (1906)
  • Baldwin, Lafontaine, Hincks: Responsible Government (1907)
  • Practical Political Economy (1910)
  • Literary Lapses (1910)
  • Nonsense Novels (1911)
  • Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912)
  • Behind the Beyond (1913)
  • Adventurers of the Far North (1914)
  • The Dawn of Canadian History (1914)
  • The Mariner of St. Malo (1914)
  • Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich (1914)
  • Moonbeams from the Larger Lunacy (1915)
  • Essays and Literary Studies (1916)
  • Further Foolishness (1916)
  • Frenzied Fiction (1918)
  • The Hohenzollerns in America (1919)
  • Winsome Winnie (1920)
  • The Unsolved Riddle of Social Injustice (1920)
  • My Discovery of England (1922)
  • College Days (1923)
  • Over the Footlights (1923)
  • The Garden of Folly (1924)
  • Mackenzie, Baldwin, Lafontaine, Hincks (1926)
  • Winnowed Wisdom (1926)
  • Short Circuits (1928)
  • The Iron Man and the Tin Woman (1929)
  • Economic Prosperity in the British Empire (1930)
  • The Economic Prosperity of the British Empire (1931)
  • The Dry Pickwick (1932)
  • Afternoons in Utopia (1932)
  • Mark Twain (1932)
  • Charles Dickens: His Life and Work (1933)
  • Humour: Its Theory and Technique, with Examples and Samples (1935)
  • Hellements of Hickonomics in Hiccoughs of Verse Done in Our Social Planning Mill (1936)
  • Funny Pieces (1936)
  • The Greatest Pages of American Humor (1936)
  • Here Are My Lectures (1937)
  • Humour and Humanity (1937)
  • My Discovery of the West (1937)
  • Model Memoirs (1938)
  • Too Much College (1939)
  • Our British Empire (1940)
  • Canada: The Foundations of Its Future (1941)
  • My Remarkable Uncle (1942)
  • Our Heritage of Liberty (1942)
  • Montreal: Seaport and City (1942)
  • Happy Stories (1943)
  • How to Write (1943)
  • Canada and the Sea (1944)
  • While There Is Time (1945)
  • Last Leaves (1945)
  • The Boy I Left Behind Me (1946)
  • Wet Wit and Dry Humor
  • Laugh with Leacock
  • Back to Prosperity
  • The Greatest Pages of Charles Dickens
  • Essays and Literary Studies


  • "Lord Ronald ... flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions." -- Nonsense Novels, "Gertrude the Governess", 1911
  • "Professor Leacock has made more people laugh with the written word than any other living author. One may say he is one of the greatest jesters, the greatest humorist of the age." – A. P. Herbert
  • "Mr Leacock is as 'bracing' as the seaside place of John Hassall's famous poster. His wisdom is always humorous, and his humour is always wise." – Sunday Times
  • "He is still inimitable. No one, anywhere in the world, can reduce a thing to ridicule with such few short strokes. He is the Grock of literature." – Evening Standard


  1. ^ The Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour
  2. ^ Lynch, Gerald. "Leacock, Stephen". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Foundation. 
  3. ^ McGarvey, James A. "Pete" (1994). The Old Brewery Bay: A Leacockian Tale. Orillia, Ontario: Dundurn Press Ltd.. pp. 7. ISBN 1550022164. 
  4. ^ Leacock, Stephen; Bowker, Alan (2004). On the Front Line of Life: Stephen Leacock : Memories and Reflections, 1935-1944. Dundurn Press Ltd.. pp. 13. ISBN 155002521X. 
  5. ^ Moyles, R. G. (1994). Improved by Cultivation: An Anthology of English-Canadian Prose to 1914. Broadview Press. pp. 195. ISBN 1551110490. 
  6. ^ Anobile, Richard J., The Marx Bros. Scrapbook, New York, Outlet, 1973
  7. ^ Stephen Leacock Building
  8. ^ NFB - Collection - My Financial Career
  9. ^ NFB - Collection - The Awful Fate of Melpomenus Jones
  • Legate, David M. Stephen Leacock: A Biography. 1970. Doubleday, Toronto.
  • Moritz, Albert & Theresa. Leacock: A Biography. 1985. Stoddart Publishing, Toronto.
  • Ferris, Ina. 1978. "The Face in the Window: Sunshine Sketches Reconsidered," Studies in Canadian Literature University of New Brunswick, Fredericton. [1].

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

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?

Stephen Butler Leacock, Ph.D , FRSC (30 December 186928 March 1944) was a Canadian writer and economist.



  • 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", Nonsense Novels (1911)
  • Special Correspondence. I learn from a very high authority, whose name I am not at liberty to mention, (speaking to me at a place which I am not allowed to indicate and in a language which I am forbidden to use)--that Austria-Hungary is about to take a diplomatic step of the highest importance. What this step is, I am forbidden to say. But the consequences of it--which unfortunately I am pledged not to disclose--will be such as to effect results which I am not free to enumerate.
    • The Hohenzollerns in America (1919)
  • Presently I shall be introduced as 'this venerable old gentleman' and the axe will fall when they raise me to the degree of 'grand old man'. That means on our continent any one with snow-white hair who has kept out of jail till eighty.
    • On achieving fame in Canada.
    • Three Score and Ten
  • The Lord said "Let there be wheat" and Saskatchewan was born.
    • My Discovery of America (1937)
  • 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 (1937)

Literary Lapses (1910)

  • I detest life-insurance agents: they always argue that I shall some day die, which is not so.
  • It takes a good deal of physical courage to ride a horse. This, however, I have. I get it at about forty cents a flask, and take it as required.
  • 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?
  • The rushing of his spirit from its prison-house was as rapid as a hunted cat passing over a garden fence.

Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912)

  • Many of my friends are under the impression that I write these humorous nothings in idle moments when the wearied brain is unable to perform the serious labours of the economist. My own experience is exactly the other way. The writing of solid, instructive stuff fortified by facts and figures is easy enough. There is no trouble in writing a scientific treatise on the folk-lore of Central China, or a statistical enquiry into the declining population of Prince Edward Island. But to write something out of one's own mind, worth reading for its own sake, is an arduous contrivance only to be achieved in fortunate moments, few and far between. Personally, I would sooner have written "Alice in Wonderland" than the whole Encyclopaedia Britannica.
    • Preface
  • My parents migrated to Canada in 1876, and I decided to go with them.
    • On leaving England at age seven.
  • Of course, Pupkin would never have thought of considering himself on an intellectual par with Mallory Tompkins. That would have been ridiculous. Mallory Tompkins had read all sorts of things and had half a mind to write a novel himself--either that or a play. All he needed, he said, was to have a chance to get away somewhere by himself and think. Every time he went away to the city Pupkin expected that he might return with the novel all finished; but though he often came back with his eyes red from thinking, the novel as yet remained incomplete.

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