THE UNKNOWN YEARS OF Stephen Leacock Conclusion
At boarding school, as the gangling “head of the family,” dabbling in the writings that would later bring him world fame, as a young man in love—these were
RALPH L. CURRY
Right after Christinas, in January 1882, Stephen Leacock helped his mother pack his clothes and his favorite books. With much excitement and some apprehension, he went to join his brothers Dick and Jim at Upper Canada College. It was here that he would begin the writing that led to his Sunshine Sketches and other books (both humorous and serious) that made him Canada's most famous author.
When his brothers had registered, they had listed their father as "W. P. Leacock, Farmer. Sutton, Georgina, Ont..” but Stephen found it necessary to identify his father as "Land Agt., Winnipeg, Man.” The boy. twelve years old now, found his new situation very difficult; in spite of the presence of his brothers, with whom he shared a room, he was unbearably homesick. Undoubtedly he would eventually have made the adjustment, but less than a week after he arrived
at the school he became ill with scarlatina. His mother came, and it was thought best for him to return to the farm with her. This decision w'as probably a very wise one, since part of Stephen’s trouble stemmed from classes having begun some time before he enrolled. (If his introduction to algebra was an example, the decision was certainly wise. As Leacock told it, the teacher turned to one of the students and said, “McKeown, take this boy to the back of the room and explain to him what algebra is.") Quite happy about the turn things had taken, the homesick boy returned to the farm with his mother and, during his convalescence, attended the "little red schoolhouse'’ again to learn Latin.
Stephen Leacock’s return to boarding school in September was a much happier experience for him. and soon he was as proud of being an "Upper Canada Boy” as any of his classmates.
UCC had been patterned after the English public schools, with some notable differences. There were no real social class distinctions and there was no fagging.
The campus supplied almost the total environment for its students; they w;ere allowed off it for only a few minutes a day — to go to the candy store, called the “Taffy” — except on weekends. On those weekends Leacock found that Toronto, like the school, was based on an English pattern, but “the barbershops spoke American.” At the end of his first full year at UCC Stephen returned to the farm for the summer with a good record. though he had not really applied himself.
The summer vacation w'as an eventful one for Leacock. The family went to Jackson’s Point as had been their custom for many years, but in addition to this, Agnes Leacock decided to rent the farm for enough to make the payment on the
mortgage and move to Toronto on the basis of a “casual legacy” from England. At this point in his autobiography Leacock made much of the poverty of the family, but in September 1883 his mother moved to Toronto with a large family, took a very good house on John Street, employed two maids, and kept a team and a carriage. The answer cannot be that Stephen was used to a luxury greater than this, for he was not. Part of the answer may lie in the peculiarity of their financial situation. The casual legacy which he mentioned was one of many, so that while there was generally enough money, no one ever knew when the next solvent relative would die. Perhaps, too, there was some economy in the move, since it allowed Stephen and Dick to re-enter Upper Canada as day students that fall.
In contrast to the summer which preceded it, the school year of 1883-84 saw little change in the fortunes of Stephen. He was still a betterthan-average student, but not very outstanding. He rather bragged once of being “licked” by Major Charles Gordon, a resident master, later to become famous as the writer Ralph Connor. But while Leacock probably took his lickings, none of them was administered by Ralph Connor. Although his brother, Gilbert, was a master at UCC, Charles Gordon never was.
The summer holidays were always great fun for Stephen, because he loved the lake and because the rest of the family had already preceded him there. He wrote his father one time about seeing the family off for Sutton:
My dear father,
The little ones all started for the lake this afternoon; they went this morning but they missed the train. The party were 8 in all, carrying about 10 trunks and some Vi dozen dogs and cats. In order not to be late they went to the station about an hour early, and, true to their orders not to go on to the platform, they sat patiently in the car for the best part of an hour before the train started. Of course they forgot some of their luggage. Miss Wilson headed the young Israelites and Miss Bertha made an able second. There will probably be a notice about it in tomorrow’s mail headed “Departure for happy hunting grounds” or something of that sort. Do you remember the fuchsia which you got mother at a butcher's shop on Queen St.? There are 76 buds on it now & the Italian primroses & violets are doing well. I got some checkers downtown and Mother & I played three games,
1 beat her in all of them, but she says it was only because she got stupid at the last, or the baby cried in the middle, or she thought that king was a common, or something of that sort.
Mother wants me to tell you that it was not the children’s fault that they missed the morning train, as they were all up at half past four, in fact they hardly slept at all, and their trunks had been packed about a week before.
Mother was out in the yard for the first time yesterday and had the pleasure of beating me in a game of croquet; she put in (sic) down in her diary (at least it’s very likely) in red letter capitals.
Yr. affec son
Stephen B. Leacock
With his return to school in the fall of 1884, having been inspired by the competitive rankings of the system, young Stephen started to study. At the end of the third form, he was first in everything except mathecontinued on page 34
continued on page 34
continued from page 27
“After he mimicked a teaching instructor, he learned the need for kindness in his humor”
matics. He did still better the next year by memorizing everything in mathematics. In 1886 having completed the fourth form, he was declared first in every subject. When he left school for the year, his father was home from Winnipeg.
The boom was over. Peter Leacock returned broke and bitter, and the family moved back to the farm. The interlude which followed was a “shadowed, tragic family life.” The father who had been something of a hero to his children turned into a tyrant. Stephen and the others were further driven from their father by his treatment of their mother, who had proved herself strong and dependable. In spite of his behavior, Agnes Leacock implied in her diary that the affection which caused her to marry Peter never completely died.
In the fall of 1886 Stephen again became a boarding student at Upper Canada College. He liked being a boarding student much better than being a day student. He was selected as editor for the College Times, the weekly paper of the school. In January he debated the question, The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, Was Justifiable, Stephen taking the negative side against Pelham Edgar, later famous for his scholarship. One would like to prove that it was Leacock who wrote of himself in an unsigned report:
The speech of one learned member (who shall be nameless) would have been more appreciated if he had known which side he was arguing for. The order of the meeting was, on the whole, excellent with the exception of a few factious remarks from some of the “funny" members . . .
N.B. — After the close of the debate the President might have been seen at the “Taffy,” in company with the champions of the negative.
Certainly the style does not keep it from being Stephen’s, since it is no more adolescent than his first identifiable publication which appeared the same year. I he Vision of Mirza (New' Edition). This piece, a take-off on the school and its faculty, is done in typical sophomoric style, filled with outrageous puns and references which are extremely local.
Stephen graduated in the spring of 1887 as head boy. No distinction granted Leacock in his honor - filled life ever pleased him more than that of being head boy at UCC. The title gave one a notability which followed him through life. Years later, in his biography of Dickens, he mentioned a little too casually that Dickens was not head boy of his school.
Now seventeen, Stephen added other responsibilities to his life. In the summer of 1887 the family difficulties came to a head. At this time Peter left his family for the last time and never came back. Leacock said simply, "I never saw him again," but a member of the family says it was Stephen who, pushed beyond endurance by the treatment of his mother, took his father to the Sutton station in the cutter. He picked up the buggy whip and flatly stated, "If you come back I’ll kill you.” It is true, then, that he never sawhis father again, but it was by choice. Peter Leacock, probably relieved to be rid of his responsibility, moved to Nova
Scotia where he lived more than half a century longer under the name of Captain Lewis, having survived his wife by six years at his death August 4, 1940. Leacock, who did not ordinarily hold grudges, never forgave his father and refused to go and see him even in his old age when some of the other children did visit him briefly on business.
His father’s departure left Stephen the oldest child at home, Jim not having returned with his father from Winnipeg and Dick having joined the Northwest Mounted Police in 1885. Stephen felt the responsibility of being head of the family, though his mother had managed on her own for a number of years. Of this part of his life, Leacock again spoke heavily of abiding poverty, but his duties as head of the family were not so onerous that he could not continue his education the next year. Neither was their financial condition actually desperate, though his mother had to remain on the farm when he returned to Toronto.
In June 1887 Stephen took the matriculation examinations for entrance into the University of Toronto. Except for mathematics, he ranked in the first class in all his subjects. The next November he entered University College, w'hose residence halls must have been filled, since he took quarters at Wycliffe College where he remained until the following spring.
The same matriculation exam which qualified him for second-year status showed results sufficient to grant him a scholarship of one hundred dollars for that year. Leacock’s first year at University College seems to have been pat-
terned after his early days at Upper Canada. He w-as a good student, as the results testify, but he made little impression on the social life of the campus.
At the end of the year he was tied for the general proficiency scholarship and had taken honors in all his subjects. He decided that his education had prepared him for "nothing except to pass it on to other people.” Besides, he did not want to ask for more financial help from his mother. He saw himself as a young man responsible certainly for his own expense, wanting to contribute to the welfare of the family. He found that three months as a teacher in training would qualify him to teach in a high school, and since this seemed the only solution, he sent in his application for teacher training.
In September 1888 Stephen was assigned with half a dozen others to the Strathroy Collegiate Institute, Strathroy, Ont. He took the train there, carrying his effects in a wooden trunk tied with an old piece of clothesline and a valise "of imitation straw or of imitation something else.” This indiscriminate luggage was typical of the bags Leacock carried the rest of his life. He never seemed to care what his clothes were in as long as he could carry it, or better yet have it carried.
In Strathroy he entered his first boarding house, a kind of living quarters he was to know well before he finished his education. His stay in this house was short indeed. He wrote his mother, as soon as he had unpacked, of his safe arrival. adding "but the boardinghouse I am in looks a pretty rotten place, so I don’t expect to stay long”; then he went
down to dinner leaving the letter on his desk. Going back upstairs from dinner, he met the landlady coming down from his room. She glared at him and announced huffily, “If you find this boardinghouse such a rotten place I guess you better not stay in it,” and charging him a quarter for the meal she put him out. Perhaps it was she who was responsible for the idea he proposed later in Boarding House Geometry, that
The landlady of a boarding-house is a parallelogram — that is, an oblong, angular figure, which cannot be described, but which is equal to anything.
When he reported to the institute, he found the system in effect whereby the prospective teacher listened to classes being conducted by regular teachers, and after a time of observation he took over the classes. Leacock was assigned to James Wetherell, principal of Strathroy, who was to become one of the great figures in Canadian education. Like all good teachers, Wetherell was distinctive in his teaching, even to mannerisms of voice and gesture.
One day after Leacock had been observing for some time, Wetherell turned to him rather abruptly and said, “Now will you take the lesson over at that point and continue it?” Leacock, bored by the professional education requirement which he considered mostly humbug until his death, did precisely what the man asked; he took over. He copied every gesture and intonation of speech. He did it so well and carried it on so long that even the teacher caught on. He flushed when Leacock finished and said with some sharpness, “I am afraid I admire your brains more than your manners.” Stephen Leacock, the man who in less than ten years would be publishing humor, was crushed. He had made people laugh, but someone else had gotten hurt. This injury he had neither intended nor expected. It was at this time, said Leacock, that he learned first that human kindness was a necessary element of good humor. No one remained angry with Leacock very long and. since .Stephen was contrite, the teacher and the pupil became rather close friends. In this class Leacock taught Arthur Currie, later Sir Arthur who was to become the first full general the Canadian army ever had.
When he had successfully finished his teacher training. Leacock went back to the farm and applied for every teaching job he heard of. In January of 1889 Harry Park, the "Mr. Park” who was his tutor on the farm in earlier days and was now headmaster at Uxbridge High School, wrote that Uxbridge needed a modern language teacher. In February Leacock entered Uxbridge's new brick building to take his first paying job. Uxbridge was then a small central Ontario town of about fifteen hundred, only eighteen miles from his mother's farm.
It is well that Uxbridge was a quiet town; his monthly salary of $59.33 would hardly have gone far in riotous living. As it was, Leacock found that the salary was sufficiënt. Board was twelve dollars a month, clothes — he could buy all he Ip needed for about a hundred dollars a p| year — eight dollars a month, laundry || around two dollars. His two beers a day
dollars and a half a month, the bars being closed on Sunday."
With his first pay check he felt so rich that he hired a cutter and drove to visit his mother. Once there he made his first contribution to her support — ten dollars from this first cheque. Thus Leacock entered a role he continued throughout her life.
At Uxbridge Leacock got Pitman’s Phonographic Dictionary and learned passable shorthand in about three weeks, a skill of which he was inordinately proud the rest of his life. This seems a small thing, but he liked men who did things themselves. The man who had learned to fiy a plane or explore a river occupied a high place in his estimation.
Finding nothing better to do, Stephen signed a contract with Uxbridge for the next year and left for the summer. Agnes Leacock had taken the Parsonage at Sibbald’s Point again, and he went back to the lake and the boats he loved. A few years earlier he had bought an awkward vessel known as a double lugger, and now with his new wealth, for five dollars he had transformed it into a sailing sloop. This was his first boat, but it was only the first of many. He swam and fished and sailed, exploring the shore line of Lake Simeoe until he boasted he knew it as well as a river pilot knew his river. Next to sailing and fishing, Stephen loved cricket. He would get up a game and, as his brother George said, "He would carry a bucket of beer out to second base and then shout them around the field."
Leacock had just gone back to Uxbridge when Upper Canada College offered him a job as a junior master at seven hundred dollars a year. Since it would mean that he could continue work toward his degree while teaching, he applied for a release. The Uxbridge trustees refused at first but he stubbornly demanded an audience with them, then persuaded them to let him go.
His position of assistant master at Upper Canada College did not require residence. so he moved into another of an estimated seventeen boardinghouses he occupied during his university days. Although he always retained the great facility in Greek and Latin that he had gained in his earlier education, he concentrated on his modern language program. taking five languages and history.
Leacock's splendid record upon his return to college may indicate his relief in getting back, or it may suggest a limited social life. Certainly his activities on the University College campus were widespread enough the next year, when his marks were not quite so good. It was this year that he joined Zeta Psi, the oldest fraternity at the university. He was elected poet of the class of '91 at the same time his roommate. G. Howard Ferguson —later premier of Ontario—-was selected as president.
While in school. Leacock began to get some reputation as a speaker. When the medical college had their annual dinner, they requested that he be the representative from University College. The Varsity reported that S. B. Leacock and T. E. Bennett spoke.
These gentlemen covered themselves with glory. Mr. Leacock especially distinguishing himself, making what many considered the speech of the evening. It was certainly the wittiest. very cleverly constructed, and delivered in a most pleasing manner.
Also, Leacock was chosen by his own fraternity to reply to the toast. "The Queen." at their spring banquet. Evidently the young Leacock showed some of
the charm for women that the older man was to abound in. The Varsity, just before his twenty-first birthday, carried this sly comment:
The Ladies '91 have suggested that the male portion of the Senior Modern Language Class furnish himself with a chaperone.
However much his classmates were attracted to him. Stephen Leacock, who had refused even to think of quitting short of the completion of his education, was still a man’s man with little time for women.
Certainly the most important of Leacock’s extracurricular connections was that with the Varsity. One of his duties as associate editor was the reading of unsolicited material. Two of his classmates had had so many offerings rejected by him that they spitefully submitted a sonnet by Keats. This was returned as speedily as the other submissions. Though gleeful at first, the hoys grew afraid to reveal that Stephen had apparently fallen into their trap. Knowing Leacock’s almost phenomenal memory, they could never be sure he had not simply recognized the poem and returned it without giving them the satisfaction of an argument.
Besides editing, Stephen contributed a column which appeared irregularly under the nom de plume of The Sanctum Philosopher. Some half dozen short articles seldom more than half a column long bore this heading, and three or four longer pieces rated the byline S. B. Leacock. Like one short bit done while he was a student at Upper Canada, these were humor, but they were done with far greater skill. The Leacock style was beginning to mature. There were still many local references, as in A Lost Work, a long parody of Hiawatha, but they were handled more universally so that they still have some meaning for the presentday reader. He had become a critic sufficient to the task of parody. He did rol simply follow the odd metrics of Longfellow—the cumulative repetitions came at the same speed, the narrative progressed at the same rate. He still had an addiction to a bad pun, as when the braves
Gathered in their neighboring temple.
Gathered round the shrine of Mouphtai
Gathered round his bier, and drank it.
The duties of editorship proved too much for the young man carrying a full academic course at University College and teaching a full load at Upper Canada College and he resigned from the Varsity. But the damage was done; when examination time came Stephen found himself less adequately prepared than he liked. Then his Italian teacher, young Professor Needier, volunteered to take Leacock’s classes at Upper Canada while he prepared for his exams. Leacock was saved. He gained the honors class in French. German, Spanish, and Italian, but only the third class in English and ethnology.
One of his contemporaries explained that Leacock thought he was taking an examination in English philology and that he was quite surprised when three months later he was given credit for ethnology, albeit in the third class. This is patently false; no one of the intelligence of Stephen Leacock would have confused a test in ethnology with philology. The truth is that Leacock and Ferguson were due to take an examination on algebra, but since both of them were language majors they were quite worried about it. Leacock searched through the fine print of the catalogue
and found an option. One could choose an examination in ethnology instead. He hurried to the library and got books on the subject. Sitting up all night, they took turns reading the books aloud. The next day Leacock and Ferguson took the exam and were happy to get even third class.
After the granting of his bachelor’s degree in 1891 Leacock was elevated to second modern language master and assistant house master at UCC, w'ith residence with the junior boys. The next year he became the first modern language master in an impressive staff: W. Allan Neilson, later one of America’s greatest Renaissance scholars, professor of English at Harvard, and still later president of Smith College; Edward Peacock, later Sir Edward, became one of the most important financiers of theBritish Empire; Pelham Edgar, who became a noted Henry James scholar, chief literary historian of Canada, and an influential fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. These men were naturally exceptions, but Upper Canada had a good faculty.
Stephen, a young man now, wore a light, sandy mustache, and his hair always seemed to need both combing and cutting. There was less of carelessness about his toilet than of casualness; his tousled but not unkempt hair lent a boyish quality that even his dress could not dispel. His clothes gave an effect of academic negligence which ordinarily comes with age to the absent-minded professor. Leacock had a kind of sleepy look about him except in his eyes which were, to the lower - form boys, almost frighteningly alive. He had something of the look of the sport about him and was early dubbed Stevie in private by his students. They liked him in spite of his quick sarcasm and his equally quick and knowledgeable use of the light cane he carried under one arm.
Whenever he found it necessary to punish a boy, he delivered his blows sharply on the fingertips, for schoolboy folklore taught that there were many ways the palm might be toughened in anticipation of falling from grace. The methods the boys tried were, of course, generally ineffective, but Stephen Leacock liked to stay a step or two ahead of his students, and he liked for them to know it. He said once:
It is the beginning which counts. Face the class. Begin talking to them at once. Get to business, not with one of them but all of them. Talk: don't mumble. Face them: don’t turn your back. Start work: don't get fumbling about with a class list of names and a roll call, which you may pronounce correctly or may not. Leave all that till later. Start work, and, once started, they are lost as far as disorder goes. In fact they won't expect any. Above all, don't try to be funny; feeble teachers attempt a footing of fun as a means of getting together. The real teacher descends to fun only when he has established a sufficient height to descend from.
Leacock was far from a martinet, but when he entered the dusty, stuffy classrooms on the upper floors, lighted by bare, faintly hissing gas jets in the darkness of winter months, both he and the students knew who was in charge.
If he took his teaching seriously. Leacock was less strict about his other duties. Some of the masters were assigned the duty of escorting the boarders to the churches they chose on Sunday morning. Leacock admitted he wrote down some of his best ideas while his attention was
distracted from the service to which he had taken the Church of England boys.
Because he was so cunning at finding time to get his work done, he had time to pursue almost anything that struck his fancy. It was during this time that he became interested enough in economics to take up the study on his own. Edgar introduced him to Professor Mavor at the University of Toronto as a man w'ho might guide his reading, but from the first Leacock and Mavor could not get along, and Leacock pursued his studies on his own.
Increasingly dissatisfied with teaching on the secondary level, he looked forward to his summers, spent wherever his mother was. She had left the farm in 1891 and lived variously at Sutton and Beaverton, and about 1895 settled at Orillia, where Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching meet. Stephen liked this little town: two lakes were better than one. And it was eventually here that he established his own summer home.
He frequently went sailing with his brothers, but he found that he had to do most of the work; they liked the ride
but they were not as keen on the sport as he. He demonstrated both his skill and his confidence on the water when a yachting party he had gotten up was forced to spend the night on a sand island because of a storm. He put the party ashore safely and then sailed through the booming wind and the running sea to get and deliver blankets and food for the women and children in the group.
As in his earlier days, he played cricket whenever he could and was rather good at it for a non-scrious player.
Although in Cricket for Americans
Leacock claimed that he once played in an All-Canada match before the governor-general at Ottawa, he failed to explain that the All-Canadian Cricket Team was one he had made up himself to travel around for the lark.
Perhaps it was his intense vitality that made the young man popular with his own social set. He was too much alive to need affectation.
One of his companions of this time recalls seeing Stephen sitting on the rail of the excursion steamer, Enterprise, dressed in the old shirt, rumpled flannel trousers, and worn tennis shoes which were his sailing costume. At the next moment he was gaily dancing with the young people, none of whom wore an outfit quite so casual as his. When they sang songs he sang with them in a voice slightly better than average. He was a good mimic and could copy to perfection the voices and mannerisms of others. But, his friend remembers, his imitations were very carefully without malice. He had learned his lesson at Strathroy well. As he sat among his friends, abstractedly twisting his forelock, he was still shy, but Stephen Leacock fitted into society because he was at ease with himself.
While a master at Upper Canada, Leacock made his dehut as a professional humorist. On October 6. 1894, Grip, a noted humor magazine of the time, carried his first commercial offering, a one-page sketch called That Ridiculous War in the East, for which he received the magnanimous sum of two dollars. Others of his writings have been claimed as first, but a careful study of the extant bibliographical sources allows only the Grip piece. Leacock’s rise as a writer was not fast; indeed, it was hardly a rise at all. He was a dilettante writer, having no thought of becoming a professional.
He still thought of himself as a teacher, though he was not pleased with what he was teaching. From 1894. a year in which he had only one published article, through 1897, he saw twenty-one of his essays and sketches appear in print. After that first year, he published five the next year, eight the following year, and seven in 1897. Some of his best — and best-known — pieces were published in these years. His most famous single sketch. My Financial Career, was among these, and so were Boarding House Geometry, An Experiment with Policeman Hogan, and The Awful Fate of Melpomenous Jones.
The genesis of Leacock as a writer is interesting. In the summer of 1894 he doggedly followed to Colorado a young lady with whom he was smitten. The romantically pale girl, suffering from tuberculosis, was taking a series of treatments on top of a mountain. Queenlike, from her heights, she directed that Leacock must remain at the foot of the mountain. Here he languished most of the summer in the most approved fashion. feeling very sorry for himself and working up a very sentimental mood, l.ate in the summer the lady fair relented. feeling that she was better, and allowed her courtier to visit her. Leacock arrived only to be treated to an evening of hymns, the girl and her mother and Leacock gathered around the piano. When he reached his quarters at the foot of the mountain, he didn't even stop; he packed up and headed hack to Toronto. But the mood he had manufactured for himself was not disspelled so easily. He tried about a half dozen highly senti-
mental stories, submitting them to Harper's. Charles Dudley Warner rejected them as enthusiastically as Leacock had sent them.
Leacock, never bothered much by criticism, turned his creative talent to the field of humor. From the beginning, he refused to handle his writing carelessly, though he did not think of it as his career. He carried a small book into which he scribbled story ideas and parts of the stories themselves; across some of them he very carefully wrote SOLD. This literary bookkeeping was a practice he continued until his death.
In 1895 the entire faculty of Upper Canada College received notice of dismissal. The board of governors had become dissatisfied with the principal, George Dickson, and deemed this the best way to solve the problem; the principal had split the faculty into factions, and the board had difficulty in determining which were his supporters. Leacock had not taken sides, nor was he prepared for the action of the administration. Seeing him upset, Pelham Edgar forged a note and placed it in his mailbox on April I. Leacock came into the room, waving the letter and shouting. "Look: I've been asked to stay.” When the date was pointed out, Stephen was, of course, chagrined, but he rebounded with his usual good humor. In time, as a matter of fact, he was rehired by the new principal.
When Leacock was retained as the first modern language master, he was also made senior house master, the highest ranking faculty member. Stephen got along well with Principal Parkin, the new man and Parkin came to depend on him. Parkin confided one day. “Leacock, I wfish I could break this pernicious habit of smoking and swearing in school.” Leacock, who had enjoyed his pipe since the days on the lake, soberly replied. "I know it’s a difficult habit to break oneself of. Dr. Parkin, but if you will put all your energy into breaking yourself of it, I am sure that grace will be given you."
In 1899 one of the most important hooks in Leacock’s life was published; Thorstein Vehlen produced his Theory of the Leisure Class. Stephen had continued his reading of economics and political science and Vehlen was a man
who could and did write of economics with a biting wit—and he was accessible, at the University of Chicago. Stephen evaluated his own situation. He had reached the top where he was. The instability of his position had been shown four years earlier when the whole staff was fired; he might not be so lucky next time. Not having written anything for two years, he had, at least for the moment. given up any pretensions to authorship. Teaching French and German was becoming just busywork for him. He had become seriously interested in political economy. The University of Chicago offered a good degree, and it had Thorstein Vehlen. Putting ten and a half years of schoolteaching behind him. he resigned his position at Upper Canada College to enter Chicago in the fall.
He entered the University of Chicago on September 25, 1899. and in the three quarters that followed he completed ten courses. He did so well that he was granted a fellowship in political economy for the next year. On the strength of this and the financial help he would be getting. Leacock married Beatrix Hamilton on August 7, 1900.
Leacock had met Beatrix at a tennis game at Orillia. Henry Pellatt, her grandfather, had a large summer place near Orillia called Southwood, where Beatrix and her mother, Mrs. R. B. Hamilton, frequently spent the summers. Southwood held open house on Friday nights, but the Leacocks were closer friends and their visits were not confined to these affairs. Henry Pellatt had retired as a broker while quite successful, and had turned his business interests over to his son. who later became Sir Henry Pellatt. It was Sir Henry who squandered the family fortune—partly on the elaborate castle. Casa Loma, in Toronto.
Trix. as all of her friends called her. was an accomplished person. Having had quite a bit of voice and dramatic training as part of the education of a proper young lady, she surprised her circle by going to Boston for further study; she added amazement to surprise by going on the stage. Physically she was admirably suited for a theatrical career. Above average in height, she was slight, dark, striking, and even beautiful, with lively dark eyes. She was a good enough actress to have appeared at one time with Maude
Adams. Because of her theatrical commitments in New York City, Trixie and Stephen were married there in the actors’ church, The Little Church Around the Corner.
On a grey January afternoon in 1901, Stephen Leacock began his long and distinguished alliance with McGill University in Montreal. Although he grew to love both the school and the city, neither had been his first choice. He had applied for a position at his own alma mater, the University of Toronto, but Professor Mavor, with whom he could not agree years before, would have none of him. Somewhat regretful and a little piqued, he turned to McGill. Not yet having his PhD. Leacock could demand no more than they offered, and he accepted a position of sessional lecturer in economics and political science bearing a salary of five hundred dollars a year.
Stephen gave his first lecture at McGill the day before Queen Victoria died. Even with his flair for the dramatic, he could not have planned it better himself. His whole life—politics, economics, manners —was to have a Victorian touch, and he was proud that his career in political economy had started in the reign of “the Queen.” That this might legitimately be called a beginning is indicated by the fact that he entered, on that January 21, the room which was to be his for the next thirty-five years, Room 5 in Arts Hall.
Celebrating his new doctor of philosophy degree in 1903, Leacock and his wife took a delayed wedding trip to Europe. Acutely aware of his new position, he said, he placed his name on the passen ger list as "Dr. Stephen B. Leacock." The boat had hardly cleared the harbor when there came a knock on the door. When Leacock opened it. lie found the steward standing there, cap in hand. “Excuse me. sir," he said, "but the stewardess has injured her leg and the captain wonders if you would mind having a look at it." Stephen said that, mindful of his re sponsibil¡ties, he hurried off behind the steward; but he was too late. A doctor of divinity had outrun him. Leacock returned from Europe to take up his duties at McGill at a salary of little more than two thousand, even including extra pay for night classes.
He had been living on savings for some time and he found the two thousand of the lectureship still inadequate. In hunting for a solution, he made the decision that any young teacher might. He determined to earn a reputation as a scholar so that he might command a higher salary. It is typical of the ability and confidence of Leacock that his first scholarly publication was not an article but a book. When his Elements of Political Science appeared in 1906, it was a much-needed work. In a short time after the book had been published, it had been chosen as the standard text by thirtyfive universities in the United States. It was the first such textbook used in China after the establishment of the Republic, and it was translated into Urdu for its use in the Mohammedan college of Hyderabad. Before the text was replaced by newer ones, it was translated into nineteen languages. It showed at an astoundingly early date, said one critic, a surprising grasp ... of the significance and influence of the South African Campaign then just concluded.”
In spite of the phenomenally quick success of some of his later books of humor, Elements of Political Science was Leacock s biggest money-maker.
This is an excerpt from Stephen Leacock: Humorist and Humanist, to be published this fall by Doubleday.