Friday, 30 December 2011

The Fate of a Humorist

'A half truth, like half a brick, is always more forcible as an argument than a whole one. It carries better.'
The wise words above - whose truth is daily demonstrated in the blogosphere - were written by Stephen Leacock, economist and humorous writer, born on this day in 1869. In his heyday, the 1910s and Twenties, Leacock was probably the most famous humorist in the world, and one of the most famous writers - indeed it was said that more people had heard of Leacock than had heard of Canada (the country of his birth). But who now has heard of him? It seems Leacock's humour - like most humour - was of the kind that doesn't long outlast its time.
Oddly, I discovered a relic of Leacock's fame while looking through the books left behind by my old English teacher (and friend and mentor) when he died. There was a copy of Leacock's Nonsense Novels, in an edition from the 1920s, already in its umpteenth printing. It was a notably handsome volume, with jolly illustrations (by John Kettelwell), so I took it, but I must confess I haven't even attempted to read it. As Groucho Marx (a Leacock admirer) once wrote to a man who had sent him an unsolicited volume: 'I laughed from the moment I picked it up to the moment I put it down. One day I'll read it.'


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