In my previous post I referred to Leacock as a literary figure. He was that, but much more. At our event yesterday afternoon in Regina we were asked if Canada had ever seen anyone like him, except himself of course. The concentrated ratiocination of twenty-four minds, including our own, failed to come up with a name.
We throw the question out to our readers. Can you think of anyone who said so much, in so many different ways, over such a wide field? We would be a rich country indeed if we had several of that stature.
Having stature in a particular time and place, memorable as that ought to be, does not of course mean that all opinions are worth retaining. As I have said before, and will say often, ideas evolve in a process of natural selection. We keep the best that has been said and thought and work to keep it alive. We throw out the bad stuff. We turn the middling stuff into works in progress. This is a natural, organic process, and closed-mindedness is to it what Agent Orange is to natural vegetation.
I myself completely reject Stephen Leacock’s ideas on race, and I view his views on women as amusing anachronisms, beyond which we have most emphatically progressed. But I love the quality of his mind, the mind that saw complex public affairs as Unsolved Riddles, that gloried in humour as a way to stay human in the face of dehumanizing forces and ideas, the mind that read so widely, and thought so broadly, and ranged so freely that it sometimes did not know itself, the mind that bathed itself in the spirited romance of the Canadian project, the mind that saw potential where others saw only barriers and difficulties, the mind of a truly humane human being.
The longest entry in the index of Leacock’s works (credit to Carl Spadoni for the Bibliography) concerns Education, and the terms of reference that he laid out for education, and higher education in particular, centre on the cultivation of Knowledge, Imagination, and Compassion. What could possibly be finer than that, or more compelling for the present and the future. There is no anachronism in that ideal whatsoever.
And what about the idea that “every child” should have the same opportunity to succeed, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? No anachronism there either.
And the Unsolved Riddle of poverty in the midst of plenty? We haven’t solved that one yet.
And so we continue our Re-Tour, re-tracing Stephen Leacock’s footsteps, talking about his ideas, performing his works so that people can laugh (although we make no claim to his talent), trundling our way onward through the snow, mile after mile, place after place, for over two weeks now, and almost four to go before the performances end and we head for home.