This page is not about Stephen Leacock, who is well biographed elsewhere, by Ralph L. Curry, by David M. Legate (who new Leacock personally), most thoroughly by Albert Moritz and Theresa Moritz, and most recently by Margaret MacMillan. The oral history by Allan Anderson is indispensable to an appreciation of Leacockian complexes and complexities.
This page, rather, is about the idea of playing Stephen Leacock, as in the name of this blog. Some performers have interpreted that to mean pretending to be him. That is not what I mean, even when I am performing his stories. I suggested elsewhere that might play him as we “play Mozart or play the violin for the purpose of aesthetic and intellectual pleasure.” I have found no reason to change what I wrote when I set up the blog, even as the idea expanded. I have come to believe, however, that to play Stephen Leacock is the only correct way to use him in our contemporary context, especially if we are more interested in what he wrote that does not fit neatly under the headings of fiction or humour. (Some would call that body of work “non-fiction”. I object to the term. I would like to find a positive one to label such a massive and wonderful body of literature. We have “reality TV”. What we call “non-fiction” is “reality writing” in that its purpose is usually (inevitably?) to describe some aspect of reality or interpret it plainly and directly, to “realize” (or “realise”) it. We could call this kind of literature “realization” (or “realisation”), although I suspect that would be controversial in unproductive ways. We need to coin something new. Perhaps “realition” would do, or “realation”. Perhaps the latter is better, as echoing “relation” and “narration”. But I digress.)
When we survey Stephen Leacock’s body of realation we must be impressed by the sheer gall of the man. He refuses to be intimidated by any topic, however huge and outside his nominal field, which was political economy. He is the anti-specialist par excellence. He believes he has something to say, and he says it, relying on his exceptionally wide reading and capacious memory, on some research,—quite possibly sometimes not enough,—and on his ability to turn a phrase, to make it worth saying. This approach to serious subjects, which some might call slap-dash, lends itself to the kind of scorning that comes to easily and risks over-looking something valuable. Leacock’s opinions on women and race, truly dreadful to our ears nowadays, merely enhance the effect.
When we set out to play Mozart we do not have to play everything he wrote. In fact we are likely to play only the best, and are allowed to revere him for that. We should do the same with writers. We do ourselves no service when we dismiss them because they sometimes missed the mark, or lived in a different time.