Voyageur Storytelling in Ontario, Canada: Leacock Sesquicentennial Missves

Voyageur Storytelling Lunar Loon

A Stephen Leacock Sesquicentennial in 2019


A Project of Voyageur Storytelling

in Northern Bruce Pennsula, Ontario


Missives 3 and 4

April 11, 2018


Missive No. 3

The Ballad of Stephen Leacock

Missive No. 4

Stephen Leacock Briefly

It is our invariable practice to begin our presentations and performances about Stephen Leacock with a song, a literary work song in the rousing “John Henry” tradition. It has its own tune.


Come, readers and writers and I’ll sing you the song
Of a man who could write, even when he was wrong;
He wrote his way to money and fame—
You’d best remember if you want the same;
He wrote, and he thought, and he talked, and he read,
Up early in the morning and early to bed :
A hard-working, hard-reading,
Hard-talking, hard-thinking,
Hard-smoking, hard-drinking,
Hard-writing man:
Stephen Leacock, the name of this man of fame;
Stephen Leacock: Remember if you want the same.

He wrote in the morning when the day was new;
He wrote the words that he thought were true;
He wrote in the hope that people would laugh,
But of all that he wrote that was never more than half;
He wrote of the rich, and he wrote of the poor,
Social Justice, Education, quite a lot more :
A hard-working, hard-reading,
Hard-talking, hard-thinking,
Hard-smoking, hard-drinking,
Hard-writing man:
Stephen Leacock, the name of this man of fame;
Stephen Leacock: Remember if you want the same.


He preached prosperity, he cursed at graft,
He teased their foibles and the people laughed;
He told the stories of the present and past—
Much that he wrote wasn’t fated to last;
He wrote for his time, and he wrote for his place;
He wrote stupid things about women and race :
A hard-working, hard-reading,
Hard-talking, hard-thinking,
Hard-smoking, hard-drinking,
Hard-writing man:
Stephen Leacock, the name of this man of fame;
Stephen Leacock: Remember if you want the same.

He wrote his country and the Empire wide,
He wrote his people and he wrote with pride,
He wrote through depression and he wrote through war,
He wrote for peace, and romance, and more;
He wrote for laughter, and he wrote to touch;
He wrote for money, and he wrote too much :
A hard-working, hard-reading,
Hard-talking, hard-thinking,
Hard-smoking, hard-drinking,
Hard-writing man:
Stephen Leacock! He had his moment of fame;
Stephen Leacock! Enjoy it if you get the same
As much as he did.

If you want the tune we’ll send it to you. To connect with this Stephen Leacock Sesquicentennial, send us an e-mail. The whole story of the Canadian Enlightenment, from Leacock to Frye and McLuhan, before him and after them, has yet to be set to music. Stay tuned.

THE DECADES OF STEPHEN LEACOCK


1870’s :: Born December 29, 1869, to poor, rejected (by their families), dejected, fecund (11 children eventually) gentry in Hampshire England; unwilling emigration (1876) to a bush farm near Lake Simcoe, Ontario.
1880’s :: Rescued into Upper Canada College (UCC), Toronto, (1882); graduates as Head Boy; enters University of Toronto (1887) but drops out due to finances. Trains to teach high-school Latin, Greek, French, German & English. Teaches one term in Uxbridge (1889).
1890’s :: Teaches languages at UCC; receives BA degree at U of T; discovers political economy; reads widely; writes and sells a few humorous sketches; enrols (1899) at U. of Chicago for graduate studies.
1900’s :: Marries Beatrix Hamilton (1900); begins lecturing at McGill U. (Montréal); awarded Chicago Ph.D. in Political Economy (1903); hired full-time by McGill; writes political science textbook; writes one other book and more humorous sketches; tours British Empire as public speaker; made professor and head of McGill Department of Economics & Political Science; buys land for summer place on Old Brewery Bay near Orillia; starts building.
From 1901 to 1936, for all his public fame as a writer and speaker of both humorous and serious works, he was primarily a teacher, professor and administrator at McGill University, spending his summers near Orillia.
1910’s :: 1st collection of humorous sketches: Literary Lapses (1910); Nonsense Novels (1911); Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912); Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich (1914); emerges into fame as humourist and successful academic, writer, & public speaker; tours eastern Canada for Belgian Relief during WW I; son Stephen (Stevie) born in 1915; ends decade with The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice.
1920’s :: Stupendous quantity of writing & speaking but nothing notable; tours England & Scotland as public speaker; Beatrix dies of breast cancer in 1925; completes building of summer place (1928).
1930’s :: More writing and speaking; notable works on Great Depression; unwilling and deeply hurtful retirement from McGill (1936); speaking tour of western Canada (1936); willing retirement from public speaking.
1940’s :: Continues writing both humorous & serious works; begins unfinished autobiography; final illness and death (March 28, 1944); posthumous publication of 3 final books.


STEPHEN LEACOCK’S KEY WORDS & IDEAS


UNSOLVED RIDDLES. An intellectually balanced way of thinking about difficult matters in the public and private spheres; a pragmatic concept; a humane response to complexity, contradiction, and uncertainty in human affairs.
SOCIAL JUSTICE. The human public imperative; a complex of individual and collective responsibilities fraught with Unsolved Riddles.
EDUCATION. The means to Social Justice and the infrastructure of Humane Progress and Civilization. A life-long, continuous weaving of four strands:
KNOWLEDGE. The acquisition of data, myths, and stories of all kinds, gathered by reading and experience.
IMAGINATION. The intellectual tool necessary to interpret the data rightly.
COMPASSION. The humane, sympathetic tool equally necessary.
HUMOUR. The balancing tool. He called humour “kindly contemplation of the incongruities of life, and its artistic expression”. Laughter is itself good, and helps with the Unsolved Riddles.


STEPHEN LEACOCK’S PEOPLE


Agnes (Butler) Leacock, his mother, a huge influence.
Peter Leacock, his father, a huge disappointment.
His Siblings, especially George, but ten in all: five brothers, five sisters.
Beatrix (Hamilton) Leacock, his wife, a gracious presence.
Stephen Lushington (“Stevie”) Leacock, his son, a fond worry.
Barbara Nimmo née Uhrichsen, his niece and general factotum.
René du Roure, his close, billiards-playing, drinking, McGill friend.
May (“Fitz”) Shaw, the dear female friend of his later years.
Plus many friends and colleagues, in Montréal and Simcoe County. He was a popular, sociable, if somewhat overbearing man.


Statistics: 74 years of life; 53 years of publication; 46 years of teaching; 53 books; 1,492 pieces (articles, sketches, etc.) including those collected into books; 739 speeches; 2 homes (Montréal & Old Brewery Bay, Lake Couchiching); 1 wife, 1 child; 0 grandchildren; many nieces, nephews & their descendants..

Paul W Conway

Producer


Voyageur Storytelling 2018

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