Stephen Leacock

Stephen Leacock

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

Early life

Born in Swanmore, Hampshire, England, at the age of six Leacock and his family moved to Canada, settling on a farm in Egypt, Ontario, near the shores of Lake Simcoe. [ [ The Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour] ] 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 Wright), Leacock's father, Peter, had been banished from the manor for marrying Agnes Butler without his parents' permission. The farm in Canada 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. 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

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. [cite book|last=Lynch|first=Gerald|title=The Canadian Encyclopedia|publisher=Historica Foundation|chapter= [ Leacock, Stephen] ] [cite book|last=McGarvey|first=James A. "Pete" |title=The Old Brewery Bay: A Leacockian Tale|publisher=Dundurn Press Ltd.|location=Orillia, Ontario|date=1994|pages=7|isbn=1550022164] [cite book|last=Leacock|first=Stephen |coauthors=Bowker, Alan|title=On the Front Line of Life: Stephen Leacock : Memories and Reflections, 1935-1944|publisher=Dundurn Press Ltd.|date=2004|pages=13|isbn=155002521X] [cite book|last=Moyles|first=R. G. |title=Improved by Cultivation: An Anthology of English-Canadian Prose to 1914|publisher=Broadview Press|date=1994|pages=195|isbn=1551110490]

During the summer months, he 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 Pellat who 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, [ [ Stephen Leacock Building] ] a theatre in Keswick, Ontario, and schools in Toronto and Ottawa.

creen adaptations

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


*"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 Sudies" (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)
*"The British Empire" (1940)
*"Canada: The Foundations of Its Future" (1941)
*"My Remarkeable 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"


* 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. [] .

External links

* [ Stephen Leacock, A Biographical Sketch] National Library of Canada
* [ Brief Chronology of Leacock's Life] National Library of Canada
* [ Chronology of Leacock's writings] National Library of Canada
* [ Commentary on "Sunshine Sketches"] National Library of Canada
* [ "Sunshine Sketches Radio Play"] CBC Radio Adaptation 1946
* [ Online Books by Stephen Leacock (Gutenberg texts)]
* [ Ontario Plaques - Stephen Butler Leacock]
* [ Many Stephen Leacock stories read in Mister Ron's Basement] Podcast
* [ The Stephen Leacock Building at McGill University]

NAME = Leacock, Stephen Butler
SHORT DESCRIPTION = writer and economist
DATE OF BIRTH = 30 December 1869
PLACE OF BIRTH = Swanmore, Hampshire, England
DATE OF DEATH = 28 March 1944

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