He grew up on a farm near Lake Simcoe, Ont, and was educated at Upper Canada College (where he taught for 9 years), the University of Toronto and the University of Chicago, where he studied economics and political science (PhD 1903). He joined McGill's department of economics and political science in 1903, rose quickly to become department head, and remained there until his retirement in 1936. A prolific magazine supplier of humorous fiction, literary essays and articles on social issues, politics, economics, science and history, Leacock claimed near the end of his life: "I can write up anything now at a hundred yards." Most of his books are collections of these magazine pieces.
His first book, Elements of Political Science (1906), a workmanlike treatment of its subject, was his best-selling book in his lifetime. Although he was not an original or particularly incisive political economist, Leacock's professional opinions on matters such as the need for a gold standard have proved prophetic in their commonsense approach to what he considered a jungle of statistics. His writings on the theoretical and technical aspects of humour are similarly refreshing for their accessibility, as are his views on education.
He was politically active in the Conservative Party in both his home riding of Orillia and nationally. In the 1911 general election, his propagandist writings and public addresses on the issue of RECIPROCITY helped defeat Sir Wilfrid LAURIER's Liberal government. Although Leacock was a man of many seeming contradictions, generally his stance was traditionally conservative. A Tory in the precapitalist sense, he valued the community over the individual, organic growth over radical change, the middle way over extreme deviation. Such values form the basis of Leacock's satiric norm, the authorial position from which he attacked rampant individualism, materialism and worship of technology. 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.
His 2 masterpieces are SUNSHINE SKETCHES OF A LITTLE TOWN (1912) and ARCADIAN ADVENTURES WITH THE IDLE RICH (1914). The first humorously anatomizes business, social life, religion, romance and politics in the typical small Canadian town of Mariposa, whose name has attained mythic significance in the Canadian psyche. Perhaps the greatest creation of Sunshine Sketches is the narrator himself, who, in his affection for and bemusement at the community of Mariposa that he so admirably represents, reveals the essential Leacock. Arcadian Adventures dissects life in an American city with sharper satire, less qualified by the author's affection and pathos. Taken together, these 2 books reveal the imaginative range of Leacock's vision - the nostalgic concern for what is being lost with the passing of human communities and his fear for what may issue. However, Leacock believed that the best humour resides at the highest reaches of literature.
Any list of his own best works, both fiction and nonfiction, would have to include the following selection from some 60-odd books: Nonsense Novels (1911), Moonbeams from the Larger Lunacy (1915), Further Foolishness (1916), Essays and Literary Studies (1916), Frenzied Fiction (1918), The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice (1920), My Discovery of England (1922), The Garden of Folly (1924), Winnowed Wisdom (1926), Short Circuits (1928), Lincoln Frees the Slaves (1934), Humor: Its Theory and Technique (1935), Humour and Humanity (1937), My Discovery of the West (1937), Too Much College (1939), My Remarkable Uncle (1942), Our Heritage of Liberty (1942), Happy Stories (1943), How to Write (1943), Last Leaves (1945) and his unfinished autobiography, The Boy I Left Behind Me (1946).
Author GERALD LYNCH
Links to Other Sites
Stephen Leacock Museum
The Stephen Leacock Museum in Orillia, Ontario, is devoted to the life and literary works of one of Canada's most beloved writers.
The Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour
Some of Canada’s wittiest writers are recipients of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humor. This site offers the latest news about the award and a list of previous winners.
Stephen Leacock: Humorist and Educator
This website is dedicated to Canada's quintessential humorist, Stephen Leacock. Features a bibliography, samples of his writing, audio clips, and analysis of some of his most popular stories. From Library and Archives Canada.
Click on the brief profiles of "extraordinary Canadians" and the authors who wrote about them in this Penguin Group (Canada) series. Also includes bios of artists who created the cover art for each book.
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
Read excerpts from "Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town" by Stephen Leacock. From Google.com.
A wise guy, eh?
A CBC News article about Margaret McMillan's biography of humourist Stephen Leacock.
Stephen Leacock's Dark Side
An review of Margaret MacMillan's biography of Canadian humourist Stephen Leacock. From tyee.ca.
View brief videos from a television series profiling some of Canada's most distinguished Canadians. Click on "Older Posts" at the bottom of the page to see additional videos.
CBC: Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
Watch the film "Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town," which blends Stephen Leacock's own life with his literary creation. From the CBC website.
Stephen Leacock Museum / Old Brewery Bay National Historic Site of Canada
A description of the heritage characteristics of the Stephen Leacock Museum/Old Brewery Bay National Historic Site of Canada. From historicplaces.ca.