“Extraordinary Canadians: Stephen Leacock” by Margaret MacMillan

leacock.jpeg Robertson Davies once said: “Don’t try to analyse Stephen Leacock”. Margaret MacMillan avoids this, but she does give a sympathetic, as well as provocative picture of perhaps the most extraordinary Canadian in this series.

She is of course the renowned writer/historian now warden of St. Antony’s College, Oxford. In his introduction to this book, John Ralston Saul says she is a master of the imperial mind, being a descendant of Lloyd George and equally at home in both the UK and Canada. Leacock was born in England, coming to Canada as a young boy in l870. For a long time England was “home” in all his public lectures, although he would change that as time went by. MacMillan understands his point of view – in both his professional life as a professor at McGill of Political Science and his humourous books, full of satire on Canadian life.

Leacock first discovered his ability to make people laugh when he published, at his own cost, “Literary Lapses” in l9l0 and “Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town” in l9l2. They took off in the UK and then around the world. Leacock said the best humour is dignified and gentle, about the incongruities of life. He also said it is blended with pathos, i.e. both tears and laughter.

MacMillan writes sensitively about Leacock’s private life. He was happily married but lost his wife in l925, when she was 45, he 55. More importantly their only son, born in l9l5, was showing a defect, and did not grow past five feet. Leacock was left to care for him on his own and young Stevie proved a tragic figure, not able to earn his living. Indeed Leacock’s last years were sad ones when he was retired from teaching at McGill and missed the congenial Montreal ambiance. But this is not what the world knows or cares about when chuckling over his books. They show the high courage Leacock displayed til the very end and still provoke laughter everywhere.

Review by Anne McDougall

“The Lady Who Lassoed Me” by Colin Alexander – Saturday September 18, 1pm to 3pm

Local Ottawa author, Colin Alexander, will be in the store on Saturday, September 18 from 1pm to 3pm signing copies of his book “The Lady Who Lassoed Me: Popular and Humorous Traditional Verse about Living, Loving & Money.” The book includes stories such as “The Lady Who Lassoed Me,” “Dinah Saw the Dinosaur” and “The Ghost of the Yellowknife Inn.”

From the book jacket: “This book is fun for readers of all ages. It’s a collection of comic and narrative verse that rhymes, scans and (mostly!) makes sense – like the tongue-twister Dinah Saw the Dinosaur. The Lady Who Lassoed Me was inspired by a real lady of the street on a sunny summer day in Ottawa. The Ghost of the Yellowknife Inn is a narrative ballad about the epic search for gold in the Canadian Arctic. This book is in the traditional light verse by A.A. Milne, Alfred Noyes (The Highwayman) and Kipling, and by Robert Service (The Cremation of Sam McGee). It also looks back to comedians whose work was literary, clever and acerbic, like Tony Hancock, Peter Ustinov, Peter Cook, and the Harvard Maths professor Tom Lehrer.”

We hope to see you at the event!