Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Selected Letters of Stephen Leacock

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Selected Letters of Stephen Leacock

Article excerpt

David Staines (ed.) with Barbara Nimmo, Selected Letters of Stephen Leacock (Toronto: Oxford University Press Canada, 2006), xii + 564pp. Cased. $21.95. ISBN 978-0- 1954-0869-0.

Stephen Leacock's niece, the late Barbara Nimmo, passed her collection of her uncle's letters to the distinguished Leacock scholar David Staines, who has now published a generous selection. For Leacock, correspondence seems to have been a tiresome half-way house between conversation, at which he excelled, and humorous writing, for which he became famous. Only rarely did he produce an ironic set-piece, such as his missive to a governor of McGill University in 1935 defending a professor who was in hot water for believing in socialism: Leacock gently pointed out that even the imperial cabinet had sometimes included such dangerous people.

Since Leacock was not a great letter-writer, long periods of his life are only sketchily covered. In those blessed days, academics did not yearn to retire, and Leacock was devastated when McGill told him to go at 65, but only two short missives attest to his humiliation. Equally predictable is the fact that much of the surviving material relates either to family gossip or to dealings with publishers. David Staines has opted for a light editorial touch, principally identifying contacts and episodes relating to the literary world, and the collection will certainly be of primary value for anybody interested in CanLit networks during a formative era.

But Leacock's correspondence throws light on his times more generally. In 1907-08 he toured the Empire to argue for a permanent imperial integration. …

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