Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Stephen Leacock

I have decided that from now until the new year, I am going to devote myself to reading short fiction.  I have several anthologies that sit and sit, and I never seem to pick them up.  Well, now is the time, and what better place to start than with Stephen Leacock!

Stephen Leacock

Have you watched this lately: My Financial Career?  I remember that every year when I was a girl we would set up a projector and play rented NFB shorts all day in the darkened choir room whilst the parents were busy with the baked goods, the chicken barbecue and the used clothing tables at the church bazaar.  I have such good memories of The Log Driver's Waltz and The Blackfly Song and of course, the wonderful Paddle to the Sea, and of demanding, "Let's watch it again!"  Now there is a walk down Memory Lane!

But back to Stephen Leacock.  I went through a long Leacock phase when I was a teenager but have not read anything of his since.  I get the impression that his style of humour has fallen somewhat out of favour, but based on these two stories today, and watching the video of My Financial Career (which is the entire text of the short story), I'm still as keen on his writing as I was back in the day. 

"We Have With Us Tonight"
(from My Discovery of England)

After a lecture tour of England, Stephen Leacock wrote about his experiences in My Discovery of England.  "We Have With Us Tonight" deals with various introductions he was given to his audience by chairmen not always as tactful as one would hope.  Here is a sample:
A still more terrible type of chairman is one whose mind is evidently preoccupied and disturbed with some local happening and who comes to the platform with a face imprinted with distress.  Before introducing the lecturer, he refers in moving tones to the local sorrow, whatever it is.  As a prelude to a humorous lecture this is not gay.

Such a chairman fell to my lot one night before a gloomy audience in a London suburb.

"As I look about this hall to-night," he began in a doleful whine, "I see many empty seats."  Here he stifled a sob.  "Nor am I surprised that a great many of our people should prefer to-night to stay quietly at home - "

I had no clue to what he meant.  I merely gathered that some particular sorrow must have overwhelmed the town that day.

"To many it may seem hardly fitting that after the loss our town has sustained we should come out here to listen to a humorous lecture - "
"What's the trouble?"  I whispered to a citizen sitting beside me on the platform.

"Our oldest resident" - he whispered back - "he died this morning."

 "A, B, and C: The Human Element in Mathematics"
(from Literary Lapses)

Erin is preparing for a Math exam tomorrow, and for a little interlude I read this story to her.    Leacock writes about the hard-working men in school mathematical texts named A, B, and C who are constantly digging ditches, driving locomotives in opposite directions, racing in regattas and stacking piles of wood.  It was just the break we needed in the middle of all the graphs and charts and equations.  After a few laughs it was back to the books.
The first time that ever I saw these men was one evening after a regatta.  They had all been rowing in it, and it had transpired that A could row as much in one hour as B in two, or C in four.  B and C had come in dead fagged and C was coughing badly.  "Never mind, old fellow," I heard B say, "I'll fix you up on the sofa and get you some hot tea."  Just then A came blustering in and shouted, "I say, you fellows, Hamlin Smith has shown me three cisterns in his garden and he says we can pump them until tomorrow night.  I bet I can beat you both.  Come on.  You can pump in your rowing things, you know.  Your cistern leaks a little, I think, C."  I heard B growl that it was a dirty shame and that C was used up now, but they went, and presently I could tell from the sound of the water that A was pumping four times as fast as C.

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