Stephen Leacock Re-Tour 2017: Saganza #2: Oct 23 2016

Exactly a year from now we will begin a two-day festival where Stephen Leacock began his tour: in Thunder Bay, or Port Arthur and Fort William as it was (or they were) then. A “saganza”, by the way, is a stanza in a saga. This saga is in fact three sagas, unfolding in their distinctive ways in various places.

The first is the saga of Leacock’s 1936-37 Tour. Its first stanza appeared on this blog on September 22nd. You can scroll down to find it. The second is the just-beginning saga of our 2017 Re-Tour, unrolling day by day. The third is the multifarious saga of Stephen Leacock’s life, times and accomplishments, a very large saga that will take some time to recite.

In some future saganza I will explain why I think Stephen Leacock remains important. Many do not believe that he does, or that his importance if any is narrowly circumscribed. And perhaps it is if you take him out of context. But he was considered important in the context of his time and place. Our place is his place, and our time is proving to have some startling similarities. But more of that on some future occasion. Or possibly several of them.

What follows is the outline of our Re-Tour. The form of the whole Re-Tour is a “Litera-Tour”; its manifestation in each port of call is a “Leacock Litera-Tour Festival” or even perhaps a “Leacock Laughing Litera-Tour Festival” because whatever the substance of a Leacock appearance, laughing always came with it. So here we go, and if the whole idea appears laughable, well then, we’re off to a good start:

Friday and Saturday, October 20th and 21st, 2017: Launch Festival in Orillia. (Leacock set forth from Montreal and his route would have been via the CPR to Port Arthur. Orillia is on VIA Rail’s route (or rather Washago is) and has become the focal point for Leacockiana, being the place of his beloved summer home. For both these reasons we decided to start there.)

Monday and Tuesday, October 23rd and 24th: Thunder Bay

Wednesday, October 25th: Sioux Lookout (Leacock did not stop there, but nowadays the train does, and so will we, briefly)

Thursday to Sunday, October 26th to 29th: Winnipeg

Tuesday to Thursday, October 31st to November 2nd: Regina

Friday to Sunday, November 3rd to November 5th: Saskatoon

Tuesday to Friday, November 7th to November 10th: Edmonton

Saturday to Monday, November 11th to 13th: Calgary

Tuesday and Wednesday, November 14th to 15th: Medicine Hat

Saturday to Monday, November 18th to 20th: Vancouver

Wednesday to Saturday, November 22nd to 25th: Victoria

Monday and Tuesday, November 27th to 28th: back to Vancouver for the finale of the Re-Tour, as Leacock did.

We will be following Leacock’s footsteps as closely as train schedules allow, and spending about the same length of time in each place. Leacock made 32 appearances in his 10 ports of call; we expect to make about twice that many because we have formalized what must have been an important informal part of his tour. He was, after all, a celebrity, and would have been wined and dined, or more likely whiskeyed and dined, by prominent people in each of his ports of call. We do not expect the same, but will substitute what we are calling Leacock Talk Circles in the spaces between our performances. We will talk more about them, and about the other types of performance we have designed, in a subsequent saganza.

The next stage in our saga is to locate those organizations who hosted events or otherwise were Leacock’s partners in all his ports of call and ask them if they would like to be ours. We have already engaged the Leacock Museum and Leacock Associates in Orillia, and are delighted by their enthusiasm. We are working on events for that festival. We have also made contact with public libraries in all the other places, and are receiving most encouraging responses from them all, for which we are grateful.

As details emerge we will post them here, and in other places.


“My Discovery of the West”, Stephen Leacock’s 1936 Tour: Saganza #1

Late in 1936, after being forced to retire from McGill University, Stephen Leacock toured western Canada for six weeks, lecturing and entertaining audiences. He started in Port Arthur, Ontario (now part of Thunder Bay), and reached as far as Victoria, British Columbia. We know the details thanks to Carl Spadoni’s A Bibliography of Stephen Leacock and David Staines’ The Letters of Stephen Leacock. In outline, below is the story they tell. Unless otherwise stated it is likely that Leacock was the after-lunch or after-dinner speaker at events taking place in the hotel where he was staying.

November 25, 1936: Depart from Montreal

November 27, Port Arthur, Ontario. Prince Arthur Hotel. McGill Graduate Society Dinner: “Our Colleges and What They Stand For”. The local newspaper reported that Leacock turned “a barrage of sarcastic humour on sectional differences differences which threaten the Confederation of Canada”, and called for a re-confederation. How this all fitted into the title of his address remains obscure. Perhaps he did not stay on topic.

November 28, Fort William. Royal Edward Hotel. Men’s & Women’s Canadian Club lunch: “Canada and the United States”.

November 29 to December 4: Winnipeg. Royal Alexandra Hotel.

November 30: Women’s Canadian Club: “Literature at its Lightest, Latest and Most Foolish”.

December 1: University of Manitoba: “Education by the Yard”.

December 3: Winnipeg Press Club Dinner: “The Written Word” (off the record).

December 4: Men’s Canadian Club, Fort Garry Hotel: “When Can We Start the Next War?”

December 4: Women’s University Club, Fort Garry Hotel: “An Analysis of Humour”.

December 6 to 8: Regina. Hotel Saskatchewan

December 7: Women’s Canadian Club: “Literature and Progress”.

December 8: Men’s Canadian Club: “Brotherly Love Among the Nations”.

December 8: McGill Graduate Society: “The Value of Imbecility in Education”.

December 10 to 11: Saskatoon. Bessborough Hotel.

December 10: University of Saskatchewan: “Education by the Yard”.

December 11: Men’s & Women’s Canadian Club and McGill Graduates (and broadcast): “Murder at $2.50 a Volume and Love at $1.25”.

December 13 to 16: Edmonton. The Macdonald Hotel.

December 14: University of Alberta: “Recovery After Graduation”.

December 15: Political Science Club Students: “Is Adam Smith Dead?”

December 15: University of Toronto Alumni: “College As It Was and As It is”.

December 16: Men’s & Women’s Canadian Club and McGill Graduates: “Debit and Credit”.

December 16: Women’s Press Club and Canadian Authors Dinner: “The Theory of Comic Verse”.

December 17 to 18: Calgary. Hotel Palliser.

December 18: Canadian Club and Board of Trade (and broadcast): “Social Credit”.

December 18: Women’s Canadian Club: “Frenzied Fiction”.

December 18: McGill & Varsity (U of T) Graduates: reported as “Leacock Recalls Years at College”.

December 19: Medicine Hat. Cecil Hotel. Quota Club Dinner: “Hard Money, or Daniel in the Lion’s Den”.

December 21 to 28: Vancouver. Hotel Vancouver.

December 22: Men’s Canadian Club: “The New Economic World”.

December 24: Lunch at the Vancouver Club; speech, if any, unspecified.

December 28: Women’s Canadian Club: “Frenzied Fiction or Murder at Two Fifty a Volume and Love at One Twenty Five”.

December 28: Vancouver Board of Trade: “Social Credit and Social Progress: Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labour”.

December 29, 1936 to January 8, 1937: Victoria. Empress Hotel.

January 4: Canadian Club: “Economic Separatism in the British Empire”.

January 5: Women’s Canadian Club: “Humour As a Serious Manner”.

January 6: McGill Graduates Association: “Preserving College Traditions”.

January 7: Rotary Club: “How Soon Can We Start the Next War?”

January 7: Upper Canada College Graduates: “History of Upper Canada College”.

January 8: Victoria Teachers Association: “What I Don’t Know About Education”.

January 13, Vancouver: University of British Columbia: “Looking Back on College”

January 17: Arrive back in Montreal.

Stephen Leacock retired from lecturing early in 1937.

Leacock Greets the Spring in 1921

This piece appeared first in The Montreal Standard on April 2nd, 1921, and was reprinted several times by newspapers in the following years. It also appeared in Leacock’s 1923 collection of sketches called OVER THE FOOTLIGHTS, published in Toronto by S. B. Grundy, and the source of this copy. It illustrates very well the kind of writing (and editing, or lack thereof) that makes Leacock persistently both interesting and irritating.


First Call for Spring


Oh, Listen to the Birds

I gather that Spring is approaching. I am not an observant man, but as the days go by, the signs begin to multiply. Even for me that means that spring is at hand.

I take this early occasion to notify the public of my opinion and to support it with collateral facts. I am anxious this year to be among the first in the field. Among the signs on which I base my views that spring is near, I may mention that I observe that the snow has gone : that the income tax declarations are being distributed at the post-office; and that the sign BOCK BEER is hung out at the Marshal Foch Café, formerly the Kaiserhoh.

Spring then is upon us. The first call for spring has come : and I should like to suggest that this year we meet it firmly and quietly and with none of the hysterical outburst that it usually provokes in people of a certain temperament. I refer to those unfortunate beings called “lovers of nature.”

Each year I have been pained to notice that the approach of spring occasions a most distressing aberration in the conduct of many of my friends. Beside my house, a few doors on the right, I have an acquaintance who is a Nature Man. All through the winter he is fairly quiet, an agreeable friendly fellow, quite fit for general society. I notice him, it is true, occasionally grubbing under the snow. I have once or twice seen him break off a frozen twig from a tree, and examine it. On one occasion, indeed, last winter he was temporarily unmanned by seeing a black bird (otherwise harmless) sitting on a bough. But for the most part his conduct during the colder weather is entirely normal.

Spring, however, at once occasions in my Nature friend a distressing disturbance. He seems suddenly to desire, at our every meeting, to make himself a channel of information as between the animate world and me. From the moment that the snow begins to melt, he keeps me posted as to what the plants and the birds and the bees are doing. This is a class of information which I do not want, and which I cannot use. But I have to bear it.

My Nature friend passes me every morning with some new and bright piece of information : something he thinks so cheery that it irradiates his face. “I saw a finch this morning,” he says. “Oh, did you,” I answer. “I noticed a scarlet tanager this afternoon,” says my friend. “You don’t say so!” I reply. What a tanager is I have never known : I hope I never shall. When my Nature friend says things of this sort all I can do is to acquiesce. I can’t match his information in any way. In point of ornithology I only know two birds, the crow and the hen. I can tell them at once either by their plumage or by their song. I can carry on a nature conversation up to the limit of the crow and the hen ; beyond that, not.

So for the first day or so in spring, I am able to say, “I saw a crow yesterday,” or “I noticed a hen out walking this morning.” But somehow my crow and hen seem to get out of date awfully quickly. I get ashamed of them and never refer to them again. But my friend keeps up his information for weeks, running through a whole gamut of animals. “I saw a gopher the other day,” he says, “guess what the little fellow was doing?” If only he knew it I’d like to break out and answer, “I don’t care what the Hades the little fellow was doing.” But, like every body else, I suppose, I have not the assurance or the cruelty to break in upon the rapture of the Nature Man. Some day I shall : and when I do, let him watch out.

My particular anger with these Nature Men such as my friend, springs, I think, from the singularly irritating kind of language that they use : a sort of ingratiating wee-wee way in which they amalgamate themselves, as it were, with nature. They really seem to feel so cute about it. If a wee hepatica peeps above the snow they think they’ve done it. They describe it to you in a peculiar line of talk almost like baby language. “What do you think I saw?” says the Nature Man. “Just the tiniest little shoot of green peeping from the red-brown of the willow!” He imitates it with his thumb and finger to show the way the tiny little shoot shoots. I suppose he thinks he’s a little bud himself. I really believe that my particular friend actually imagines himself in spring-time to be a wee hepatica, or a first crocus, or the yellow-underleaf of a daffodil.

And notice, too, the way in which they refer to colours; never plain and simple ones like red or black or blue; always stuff like “red-brown” or “blue-green.” My friend asks me if I have noticed the peculiar soft “yellow-brown” that the water fowl puts on in spring. Answer: No, I haven’t : I haven’t seen any water-fowl : I don’t know where you look for them and I didn’t know that they put anything on. As for “yellow-brown” I didn’t know that there was any such colour. I have seen a blue-black crow this year, and I have noticed a burnt-indigo-sepia hen : but beyond that I have not seen anything doing.

Worst of all, and, in fact, verging on paresis is the state of mind of the Nature Man in regard to the birds. When he speaks of them his voice takes on a particular whine. My Nature friend told me yesterday that he had seen two orioles just beginning to build a nest behind his garage. He said he “tiptoed” to the spot (notice the peculiar wee-wee language that these people use)—and then stood rooted there watching them. I forget whether he said “rooted” or “riveted” : on occasions like this he sometimes reports himself as one and sometimes as the other. But why on earth, if he is once fairly rooted does he become unrooted again?

I therefore wish to give this plain and simple notice, meant without malice : If any other of my friends has noticed a snowdrop just peeping above the edge of the turf, will he mind not telling me. If any of them has noticed that the inner bark of the oak is beginning to blush a faint blue-red, would he mind keeping it to himself. If there is any man that I know who has seen two orioles starting to build a nest behind his garage, and if he has stood rooted to the ground with interest and watch the dear little feathered pair fluttering to and fro, would he object to staying rooted and saying nothing about it?

I am aware that I ought long ago to have spoken out openly to my nature friends. But I have, I admit, the unfortunate and weak-minded disposition that forces me to smile with  hatred in my heart. My unhappy neighbour does not suspect that I mean to kill him. But I do. I have stood for all that tanager and oriole stuff that I can. The end is coming. And as for that hepatica just putting its tiny face above the brown of the leaf—well, wait, that’s all. Some day, I know it, I shall all of a sudden draw a revolver on my friend and say, “Listen. This has gone far enough. Every spring for many years you have stopped me in the street and told me of this nature stuff. And I have stood for it and smiled. You told me when the first touch of brown appeared on the underwing of the lark, and I let you say it. You kept me posted as to when the first trillium appeared from a pile of dead oak leaves under a brush-heap and I let you tell it to me and never said that all I knew of trilliums was in connection with the German reparations indemnity. But the thing is exhausted. Meet your fate as you can. You are going where the first purple-pink of the young rhododendron will be of no interest to you.”

I don’t want to appear surly. But I am free to admit that I am the kind of man who would never notice an oriole building a nest unless it came and built it in my hat in the hat room of the club. There are other men like me too : and the time has come when we must protect ourselves. There are signs of spring that every sensible man respects and recognizes. He sees the oysters disappear from the club bill-of-fare, and knows that winter is passing; he watches boiled new California potatoes fall from 25 to 10 cents a portion and realizes that the season is advancing. He notes the first timid appearance of the asparagus just peeping out of its melted butter : and he sees the first soft blush on the edge of the Carolina Strawberry at one-dollar-and-fifty cents a box. And he watches, or he used to watch, in the old day beyond recall, for the sign BOCK BEER TO-DAY that told him that all nature was glad.

These are the signs of spring that any man can appreciate. They speak for themselves. Viewed thus, I am as sensitive to the first call for spring as any of my fellows. I like to sit in my club with my fellow members of like mind and watch its coming and herald its approach.

But for the kind of spring that needs a whole text book of biology to interpret it, I have neither use nor sympathy.

The Gold and the Dross: for the Love of Stephen Leacock

January 12, 2016

What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross

What thou lovest well shall not be reft from thee

What thou lovest well is thy true heritage …

—Ezra Pound

To love Stephen Leacock in the year 2016 is to beat against the stream. But since when have we, in this country, objected to up-stream travel? The whole story of Canadian discovery and settlement—and I am not talking only of the past few hundred years—rings with the strokes and steps of people working their way up-stream, or up-hill, or both, to see where the water came from, and what lay beyond. I believe we must do the same in the unending need to discover our literature. No coasting with the current in that sphere, nor in most others.

With Stephen Leacock we travel at a disadvantage, because the best of him that people loved died when he stopped speaking—to his students at McGill when he reluctantly retired in 1936; to his audiences when he returned from his western Canadian tour later that year; to his family and friends when the cancer gripped his throat and he died in early 1944. What remains is what he wrote.

Even if he had made recordings of his lectures—and I have as yet seen no evidence that he did—I do not think they would have captured what made them so funny. From all accounts, jokes and laughter bubbled up through him in a constant flow, making him wonderfully amusing company as long as you were able to catch his humour on the fly and did not try to think about what it was saying. Speech is ephemeral, and you can remember of it what you choose; what someone writes is much more exposed.

When we try to love him for what he wrote we must first get past the quantity of the stuff, and the carelessness with which he sometimes wrote. One does not read the bulk of the remnants of Stephen Leacock, one must mine it. Gold there is, in plenty, but dross too, even more. Monumental is the slag-heap of Leacock verbiage, because it is bad, because it is sloppy, because it is wrong-headed, or simply because it does not matter any more, if it ever did. But ah, the nuggets of gold, and the delight in finding!

I will continue to confess, as I have before, that I cannot discover much gold in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912), except perhaps of the pyritical kind. The portrait of John Henry Bagshaw, the “representative” politician, is pure gold. Occasional bits of coloured rock pop up here and there, often not well polished. But I cannot forgive the author for his treatment of the female characters, and some of the men, which I find unkind and reprehensible in a writer who claimed that kindliness is the foundation of humour. And I cannot join the whole school of interpretation that sees in the book a well-grounded satire or portrayal of small-town life. A few cheap shots perhaps, but I am not convinced even they were intended. I have experienced a great deal more small-town life than Stephen Leacock ever did, or ever claimed to do, and believe we do him and his book an injustice if we colour it in ways he never meant. He was trying to tell funny stories about comical characters in an imaginary comical place, and his concluding effort to railroad us into believing that we should view that Mariposa with nostalgia fails to convince. It’s a comic book, that’s all: Astérix in prose.

I find abundant gold in his first two collections of humorous sketches: Literary Lapses (1910), and Nonsense Novels (1911), not much in the remainder, which appeared almost annually for the rest of his life. The problem, I believe, lies in the fact that most sketches were written as magazine pieces, a form which tends to lose its vitality when concentrated into whole volumes—see also Robert Benchley, James Thurber, Richard Needham, and many others. Not all the good ingredients of a soup make a good whole meal.

The above is a long-winded way (for a blog) to say that I do not believe we in our time should try to love Stephen Leacock for his humour, enjoyable as bits of it remain. If he is, in fact, our greatest humourist, then that is a sad, not a triumphant, statement. And we cannot love him for his academic writings, which never rose above the commonplace (or even “extraordinarily commonplace”, as Keynes called some of them). We can respect him, warmly I think, for what he wrote professionally for teaching purposes, which was solid and useful in its day. He was first and foremost a teacher, a great gift to his students, almost all of whom must be dead by now. For his teaching to have carried forward into future generations, he would have needed to be a greater scholar than he was.

Despite all these reservations, however, I persist in believing that his legacy remains golden, well-loveable, a fitting part of our true heritage. I do so, because he had yet another voice, another vein. He was a public intellectual, who read widely, thought intensely, and cared deeply about his country and his world, and how they could be made better. He was distressed and angry at the poverty, the indifference, the ignorance and greed, the lack of principle, the injustice, the violence, the bad policy and governance, that surrounded him, and he would remain so today. He wrote about these evils with passionate common sense, rising to wisdom, and if we cannot love a man for that, then something is wrong with us.

For the next year, or however long it takes, I am going to interpret his life, his work, his essence, as the search for a Mariposa that is worthy of the nostalgia he invites us to feel at the end of his most famous book.  He didn’t find it then, and when he went back, thirty years later, almost at the end of his life—in his last collection: Happy Stories, Just to Laugh At (1943)—when he tried to make it worthy of our nostalgia, he was not strong enough to rise above the sentimental. He was old then, no doubt exhausted, deeply saddened by the Great Depression and the recurrence of hideous war, in the early stages of a mortal illness, and simply not up to the task.

I am just as old, but fresh to the quest. I am going to find the true Mariposa, and tell you about it. I am going to find it in his writings. I am going to mine them. But I have read enough already to know that I will find both gold and dross, that they together are our true heritage, that Nostalgia-Worthy-Mariposa is not an utopia, but an attainable place where we can live if we choose.

Setting Forth for the City of Mariposa

It’s time to gear up this blog for its next life.

There seems little doubt that Stephen Leacock, in the last chapter of Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, the little town called Mariposa, would like us to feel some nostalgia for places with a kinder and simpler way of life, such as we might have found in the little towns of our up-bringing. The fact that the Mariposa of the preceding eleven chapters is nothing like that, nor were the little towns of our youths, kind and uncomplicated though they could be on occasion as well as much else, is beside his point. He wrote the book serially, without much of a plan. “Mariposa and Its People” (later changed to “The Hostelry of Mr. Smith”) is where he began, in February 1912, and “L’Envoi: The Train to Mariposa” is where he ended, in June. Much can happen in four or five months to a well-meaning, thoughtful, reading and writing man setting off in a new direction.

It is interesting, and perhaps unfortunate, that Stephen Leacock did not pursue his quest for an imagined little town worthy of nostalgia. The only other place that he gives us in a full-length book is the unnamed “City” of Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich, two years later, and no thinking person could possibly feel nostalgia for that. I think it would be very interesting to see what kind of place he would have given us from the full maturity of his thought, twenty years later. It would no doubt have been a much more complicated and interesting place, and that’s where I would like to go.

I would like to find a place that is worthy of nostalgia, not only for a few attractive details, but for its full nature. I do not mean an Utopia; I dream no dreams of a perfect world. I will settle for slow generational change towards progressively less imperfection as long as the striving continues. I worry however that it has fallen on hard times. The striving, that is. For less imperfection.

I think that Mariposa is a good name for the place, a revered Canadian literary name that has not become obsolete. To confront today’s unsolved riddles, however, I am afraid it will have to be a city, because a little town in the sunshine, however valuable as a retreat, will be unequal to the task. Unless we are complete hermits we are all vitally connected to cities, so that even such an apparently silly construct as “The City of Kawartha Lakes” strikes a refreshing note of realism. Retaining Mariposa salutes that idea, because the real Mariposa (Township) now rests within the City of Kawartha Lakes, where the name is disappearing.

But the City of Mariposa is not the City of Kawartha Lakes. Let me be as clear about that as Stephen Leacock tried to be about the little town of Mariposa. It it is not a real town, he said, but “rather seventy or eighty of them.” Excellent! At five thousand people per town (the number assigned by Leacock to his Mariposa ), that gives us a city of population around four hundred thousand, which should be about right for the purpose.

Stephen Leacock gave his Mariposa a fairly specific geography, which because it bears some resemblance to the geography around Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching, where he was raised and subsequently built his summer home, has misled people into thinking that Mariposa is Orillia, which of course it is not, as any careful reading of the text and even slight comparison with the Town of Orillia, as it was then, makes plain. The City of Mariposa must have specific geography too, therefore. In order to avoid misunderstandings I am going to compile one from townships and urban places all across Ontario, lumping them together and distorting their boundaries until I have something of appropriate size and that makes at least as much sense as the boundaries of Wellington County, Grey and Bruce Counties, and others where the surveyors’ mania for rectilinearity was effectively over-ridden by Nature or politics.

The components of the City of Mariposa will be real places, with real geographies, demographics and histories; the resulting amalgam will not. I will choose them for their literary importance, their significance to me personally, and their usefulness to my project.

But Stephen Leacock’s little town of Mariposa is not primarily a place of geography, rather one of people with stories, and so must be the City of Mariposa. In deference to the original I will launch forth from the originals, as I have been doing in previous posts, on the assumption that their stories did not end when he stopped writing them down, nor did the evolution of the place.

In telling you the story of the City of Mariposa, while I do not intend to set aside my own imagination and understanding, I desire also to speculate on what Stephen Leacock would have made of Mariposa had he written about it in 1932 instead of 1912. I think that in the latter year there was room in the mind of a man of his background, intellect and imagination, for an essentially sunny outlook on the state of affairs. To write about a little town in the sunshine would be defensible, on the whole. By 1932 it would not. I find it amazing that somehow, although he became increasingly depressed, he never gave in to hopelessness. Remember that he was a scholar of economics, politics and history. What terrible branches of learning those would be, in those times, for anyone who cared as much as he did. And yet he always found ways to make people laugh, and to strive to enrich their understanding. I like that approach, both parts of it.

“A Pocketful of Mariposies”: Update

It has been a long time since I created a concert so sternly focussed in one direction.The last time, I believe, was when I wrote the libretto for a pastiche operetta with music borrowed from the plays of Gilbert and Sullivan. Before that it was a pastiche opera with music borrowed from Mozart. Since then I have preferred to draw my works from more diverse sources.

This summer, however, I have pointed the searchlight firmly at Stephen Leacock, being resolved not to let this elusive man get away. I tried at first to focus it simply on Mariposa, but it wouldn’t stay there. Despite my best efforts, Mariposa refused to present itself in its own right, persistently nestling among contexts formed by the man himself and his wider preoccupations. To do them justice, however, is the stuff of several concerts, supported by interpretive lectures, which hardly adds up to light summer entertainment.

“A Pocketful of Mariposies”, in other words, has taken on a life of its own, and is wafting itself through the summer now in good order. We have been performing it as a Country Supper Storytelling Concert, and will continue to do so once or twice a week until September. will tell you all about that. On Sunday, July 26th, at 11:00 am we take it to the Leacock Summer Festival in Orillia, an unusual kind of venue for us. We are looking forward to it. Fortunately, the weather has been very good, so that we have been able to rehearse on our own deck, getting the feel of it outdoors, which is where we will be at the Leacock Museum. will get you all the details of what else is going on at the Festival, and when.

We hope to see you there on Sunday the 26th.

The Next Great Leap Forward

When I last left off, all those weeks ago, I was just about to re-construct this summer’s Stephen Leacock concert, called A Pocketful of Mariposies. This job is done, rehearsal begun. It took some doing. I won’t go into details of my agonies. They are too tedious to recount. I don’t know whether it’s because I am getting old, or because this time around the subject is a tough one to tame for the purposes of a storytelling concert, but either way, so it proved, until I finally emerged on top. I think it’s going to be a good one, full of entertaining and interesting stuff for Leacockian neophyte and seasoned aficionado both.

As this was going on I embarked upon a concerted effort to collect Stephen Leacock books. This has gone very well, and has been great good fun. I have been travelling a little, and as soon as I know where I am going I search for bookstores there and along the route. Then I search their catalogues for Leacock books, either by or about him. When I scent game I write to the target bookstore, tell them I am going to stop by, with cash, and when, and ask them to hold the books I want. This has lead to pleasant encounters with booksellers all over the place, some of whom sported large Leacock collections at very reasonable prices. My Leacock shelf is now becoming both long and respectable. Occasionally, if I see something good at long distance, I make an on-line purchase in one of the standard ways. This works fine too.

I therefore want to kick off the new wave of this blog by saluting the used-book sellers of Canada, tucked away in their shops and frequently in their houses. I am amazed at what I have been able to find at reasonable prices, and most grateful for, but not amazed at, the good service I have received. Not amazed, because it is natural, I believe, for people who work surrounded by old books to be exceptionally nice people.

Thanks to these people I have come a long way in the collection of Stephen Leacock Literature, or StephLeaLit, as I suppose one might call it, but still have a long and I am sure equally pleasant way to go.

For the next few months of this blog, therefore, I am going to look at what Leacock wrote, not as a reviewer or literary critic, which I am not, but as a storyteller, which I am, telling the story of my encounters with his works, to the extent that I have been able to encounter them.

I started my Stephen Leacock Project with a focus on Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, a book about which I have a most mixed opinion. In order to grapple with it I started reading biographies, and discovered that the story of Stephen Leacock himself is, to my mind, more interesting than anything he wrote, which is saying a lot. I propose to look, therefore, one episode at a time, at what he wrote, and what was going on when he wrote it. I think it will make a good story, entirely blog-suited, and if it takes a while to tell it, I hope my readers will find the long process worth-while.

As I proceed, I will build a catalogue of my collection and reading, which I will post as a page on this blog.

This should keep me going until some other idea comes along.