The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

March 28, 2017

March 28, 1944

Stephen Butler Leacock (December 30, 1869 to March 28, 1944) was at one time considered among the funniest writers in the English speaking world.

A story from Behind the Beyond and Other Contributions to Human Knowledge (1913) support this assessment.

The child, I was saying, wears about two hundred dollars worth of visible clothing upon it; and I believe that if you were to take it up by its ten-dollar slipper and hold it upside down, you would see about fifty dollars more. The French child has been converted into an elaborately dressed doll. It is altogether a thing of show, an appendage of its fashionably dressed mother, with frock and parasol to match. It is no longer a child, but a living toy or plaything.

Even on these terms the child is not a success. It has a rival who is rapidly beating it off the ground. This is the Parisian dog. As an implement of fashion, as a set-off to the fair sex, as the recipient of ecstatic kisses and ravishing hugs, the Parisian dog can give the child forty points in a hundred and win out. It can dress better, look more intelligent, behave better, bark better – in fact, the child is simply not in it.

Here's a cover from a play derived from the book:

His biography makes clear his talents extended beyond humor.

The 1890s heralded his early success as a humourist with articles published in various magazines such as the New York periodicals Truth andLife and Toronto's Grip magazine. But Leacock had his sights set on bigger things. His real interests lay in economics and political science. He had come across The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) by Thorstein Veblen. In 1899 his application was accepted at the University of Chicago to pursue graduate studies under Veblen. Shortly after this, on 7 August 1900 Stephen Leacock and actress Beatrix Hamilton married. Their son, Stephen Lushington, was born on 19 August 1915.

During Leacock's third year at the University of Chicago he accepted the position of special lecturer in political science and history with McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. 1903 saw his dissertation The Doctrine of Laissez-faire completed and he received his Ph.D. magna cum laude. He was then to become a full-time assistant professor with McGill and began public lecturing, primarily about the British Empire, under the patronage of the May Court Club. His first book, Elements of Political Science (1906) became a standard university textbook for the next twenty years. Leacock was appointed full-time professor at McGill in 1908.....

In 1921 Leacock was a founding member of the Canadian Authors' Association. On the 31st of May 1936 he had to retire from McGill because of mandatory retirement at age sixty-five.

The "Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour" has been awarded yearly since 1947 for the best humorous book by a Canadian author. ....

Other of Leacock's books include

Further Foolishness and Essays and Literary Studies (1916)
The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice (1920)
My Discovery of England (1922)
Economic Prosperity in the British Empire (1930)
Mark Twain (1932)
Charles Dickens, His Life and Work (1933)
Humour: Its Theory and Technique (1935)
Canada: Foundations of Its Future (1941)
My Remarkable Uncle (1942)
While There Is Time: The Case Against Social Catastrophe
(This last sounds like another comedy but I cannot confirm that),

Another funny story from Leacock.  
The entire text of a story from Literary Lapses, (1910) one of his most popular books, is available. Now we excerpt from this short story: "The Awful Fate of Melpomenus Jones."

..... some people, find great difficulty
in saying good-bye when making a call or spending the
evening. ...

I think the saddest case of this kind of thing that I
ever knew was that of my poor friend Melpomenus Jones,
a curate--such a dear young man, and only twenty-three!
He simply couldn't get away from people. He was too modest
to tell a lie, and too religious to wish to appear rude.
Now it happened that he went to call on some friends of
his on the very first afternoon of his summer vacation.
The next six weeks were entirely his own--absolutely
nothing to do. He chatted awhile, drank two cups of tea,
then braced himself for the effort and said suddenly:

"Well, I think I..."

But the lady of the house said, "Oh, no! Mr. Jones, can't
you really stay a little longer?"

Jones was always truthful. "Oh, yes," he said, "of course,
I--er--can stay."

"Then please don't go."

He stayed. He drank eleven cups of tea. Night was falling.
He rose again.

"Well now," he said shyly, "I think I really..."

"You must go?" said the lady politely. "I thought perhaps
you could have stayed to dinner..."

After dinner mamma undertook to "draw him out," and showed
him photographs......At eight-thirty Jones had
examined seventy-one photographs. There were about
sixty-nine more that he hadn't. Jones rose.

"I must say good night now," he pleaded.

Just then it turned out that the favourite child of the
family, such a dear little romp, had hidden Mr. Jones's
hat; so papa said that he must stay, and invited him to
a pipe and a chat. Papa had the pipe and gave Jones the
chat, and still he stayed. Every moment he meant to take
the plunge, but couldn't. Then papa began to get very
tired of Jones, and fidgeted and finally said, with
jocular irony, that Jones had better stay all night, they
could give him a shake-down. Jones mistook his meaning
and thanked him with tears in his eyes, and papa put
Jones to bed in the spare room and cursed him heartily.

After breakfast next day, papa went off to his work in the
City, and left Jones playing with the baby, broken-hearted.
His nerve was utterly gone. He was meaning to leave all day,
but the thing had got on his mind and he simply couldn't.
When papa came home in the evening he was surprised and
chagrined to find Jones still there. He thought to jockey
him out with a jest, and said he thought he'd have to charge
him for his board, he! he! The unhappy young man stared
wildly for a moment, then wrung papa's hand, paid him a
month's board in advance, and broke down and sobbed like
a child.

In the days that followed he was moody and unapproachable.
He lived, of course, entirely in the drawing-room, and
the lack of air and exercise began to tell sadly on his
health. He passed his time in drinking tea and looking
at the photographs. .....

At length the crash came. They carried him upstairs in
a raging delirium of fever. The illness that followed
was terrible. ....At times he would
start up from his bed and shriek, "Well, I think I..."
and then fall back upon the pillow with a horrible laugh.
Then, again, he would leap up and cry, "Another cup of
tea and more photographs! More photographs! Har! Har!"

At length, after a month of agony, on the last day of
his vacation, he passed away. They say that when the last
moment came, he sat up in bed with a beautiful smile of
confidence playing upon his face, and said, "Well--the
angels are calling me; I'm afraid I really must go now.
Good afternoon."

And the rushing of his spirit from its prison-house was as rapid as a hunted cat passing over a garden fence.

One more humorous piece, surely you can read one more, from Behind the Great Beyond, and then we'll call it a post.

This Leacock is titled "Homer and Humbug – An Academic Suggestion,"

An ancient friend of mine, a clergyman, tells me that in Hesiod he finds a peculiar grace that he doesn't find elsewhere. He's a liar. That's all. Another man, in politics and in the legislature, tells me that every night before going to bed he reads over a page or two of Thucydides to keep his mind fresh. Either he never goes to bed or he's a liar. Doubly so: no one could read Greek at that frantic rate: and anyway his mind isn't fresh. How could it be? he's in the legislature. I don't object to this man talking freely of the classics, but he ought to keep it for the voters. My own opinion is that before he goes to bed he takes whisky: why call it Thucydides?

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