“Many of my friends are under the impression that I write these humorous nothings in idle moments when the wearied brain is unable to perform the serious labours of the economist. My own experience is exactly the other way. The writing of solid, instructive stuff fortified by facts and figures is easy enough. There is no trouble in writing a scientific treatise on the folk-lore of Central China, or a statistical enquiry into the declining population of Prince Edward Island. But to write something out of one's own mind, worth reading for its own sake, is an arduous contrivance only to be achieved in fortunate moments, few and far between. Personally, I would sooner have written Alice in Wonderland than the whole Encyclopaedia Britannica.”— Stephen Leacock, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912)
How many people can say that they wrote both a standard text in political economy and some of the bestselling humor books of their time? Stephen Leacock—born on this date in 1869 in Swanmore, Hampshire, England—could. “My parents migrated to Canada in 1876, and I decided to go with them,” he recalled with tongue in cheek of the trip that took him across the Atlantic at age seven—and would, in time, make him the most beloved humorist—and, as an economist, one of the most influential intellectuals—of his adopted country.
Today, Leacock is not as widely known in the United States as he was during his lifetime—something that surprised comedian Jack Benny, who was introduced to his writing by fellow vaudevillian Groucho Marx. Nevertheless, Leacock remains a beloved figure in Canada, and he became a major influence on another American humorist besides Benny and Marx: Robert Benchley, whom he persuaded to compile his early writing into a book.
An example of Leacock’s wry wit can be found in this prior “Quote of the Day.”