Saturday, January 29, 2000
F A C T   F I L E

Stephen Butler Leacock
By Illa Vij

Some pithy comments by Leacock

THE world knew Stephen Leacock as an outstanding humorist, a warm and a wise teacher and a man who believed that the right of outspoken dissent was the free man’s most precious heritage. He was actually so simple and straightforward that people found him to be a mass of complexities. He taught thousands of people to think and inspired them to gain knowledge.

Stephen Leacock was born in 1869, in Swanmore, near South-ampton, England. He spent his early childhood there. When he was around six years old, the family moved to a farmhouse near Simcoe Lake in Ontario, Canada. He received his Ph.D from the University of Chicago in 1903. He became a distinguished professor of political science in McGill University, Montreal. He emanated warmth while he gave his lectures. He loved young people and was determined to give them as much wisdom as he could. His methods of teaching were unconventional and often what he taught went beyond the text, bringing in the world right into the classroom. Unlike his critics, he did not relate teaching to exams, he taught the students to think, taught them to use their mind and not merely the thumb.

  Leacock’s heart lay in humorous writing. His talent for stirring laughter came from the fact that he ridiculed many complexities of life, including his own. His humour lacked malice and he good humouredly conveyed whatever he wanted to. Intermittently he plunged into politics but turned down the Cabinet posts offered to him. He could not think of giving up his teaching profession. He loved his wife and children, and at the same time he was close to his students. He would put away everything to help a former student or any young individual struggling to go up the ladder of life.

Once a young woman approached him with a problem. She had a collection of illustrations but no written material for them. Usually the illustrator draws for the author, but in this case Leacock wrote a book to fit her drawings.

Stephen Leacock was also one of the first Canadians to qualify as "Pro-American British Imperialist". When he retired from McGill, his English friends requested him to return to England but Leacock preferred to stay on in the USA. He continued writing and produced some great pieces of writing. His collection or writings include short stories and essays that appeared in magazines and newspapers, Literary Lapses, parodies and biographies. He even wrote books related to political science, economics and literary criticism.

When throat cancer attacked Stephen, thousands of his admirers wept in grief. He had become too precious a man to be lost. He died in 1944. He left behind an unfinished autobiography titled The Boy I Left Behind Me. It was published in 1946, after his death. Stephen Leacock was a great writer, and a strong support to all young persons who touched his life.


Some pithy comments by Leacock

"With perfect citizens, any government is good."
Source: The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice (1920)

"I am a Liberal Conservative, or, if you will, a Conservative Liberal with a strong dash of sympathy for the Socialist idea, a friend of Labour and a believer in Progressive Radicalism. I do not desire office but would take a seat in the Canadian Senate at five minutes’ notice."

Source: The Hohenzollerns in America (1919)

But I say, -"Blessings on those who utter after me, my good things to record. That will be like being my own legatee and getting post mortem interest on my capital jest investment. Blessings, I say, on my posthumous humour. After-jokes, like after thoughts can be best."

It has long been my custom in preparing an article of a humorous nature to go down to the cellar and mix up a half a gallon of myosis with a pint of hyperbole. If I want to give the article a decidedly literary character, I find it well to put in about half a pint of paresis. The whole thing is amazingly simple.

Source: Humour as I See it, Further Foolishness (1916)

The day of annexation to the United States is past. Our future lies elsewhere.
Source: University magazine, February (1907).

The Americans come up here and admire us for the way we hang criminals. They sit in our club and say, "You certainly do hang them, don’t you!" My! they’d like to hang a few! The day may be coming when they will. Meantime we like to hang people to make the Americans sit up.
Source: Literary Lapses (1910)

Many a man in love with a dimple makes the mistake of marrying the whole girl.
Source: Literary Lapses (1910)

There are two things in ordinary conversation which ordinary people dislike - information and wit.

Source: Are Witty Women Attractive to Men, Last Leaves (1945)

Medieval education was supposed to fit people to die. Any school-boy of today can still feel the effect of it.

Source: Education eating up life, Too Much College (1939)

But, in the wider sense, what I want to advocate is not to make education shorter, but to make it much longer - indeed to make it last as long as life itself.

Source: Too Much College (1939)

I wish somehow that we could prohibit the use of alcohol and merely drink beer and whiskey and gin as we used to.

Source: "The Strenuous Age," Frenzied Fiction (1917)

It takes a great 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.

Source: Literary Lapses