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Stephen Leacock (Extraordinary Canadians) Hardcover – 31 Mar 2009


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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
What we have here is a failure to understand 26 Oct. 2010
By Theodore A. Rushton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like others in this series of presumptive books, MacMillan is long on knowledge, short on understanding and filled with the entertaining opinions of a columnist who is out to advance an idea more than to illuminate a subject.

Leacock was the quintessential Canadian; someone who loves Canada so deeply they cannot resist mocking their own self-absorption in a belief they feel must be in error, despite feeling absolutely justified in their beliefs. Like Americans, Canada was born with the Declaration of Independence on 1776; Canada is descended from the Loyalist faction who fled the United States after 1783 on the belief, "we must be right, or why else would we suffer so much?"

Ever since the arrival of the United Empire Loyalists, Canadian nationalism is a belief that all benefits of the Thirteen Colonies can be gained without the mad excesses of Yankee rum, revolt and revision. Canada never accepted the 'Common Sense' of Thomas Paine; instead the intellectual goal is the pain of "Subdued Sense ... if it's all right with you".

Leacock, as MacMillan shows again and again, deflated the temptation of pomposity based on ambition or achievement. 'Sunshine Sketches ...' is the story of a small town, one of the richest per capita in Canada in 1912, that Leacock said should not become overly impressed with its brief good fortune. Mariposa is a metaphor for Canada, a warning about excess instead of caution.

In many ways, Leacock's fears and warnings foretold the history of Canada.

Perhaps MacMillan didn't know that Orillia (Leacock's Mariposa) produced some of the first Canadian automobiles, supplied much of the heavy mining equipment and supplies used to develop northern Ontario (ever hear of Carss mackinaws?) and was a prime resort for the wealthy (ever hear of Weir's Folly?). Leacock warned about being too fixated on this early and brief success; just as he cautioned Canada about the perils of the easy wealth produced by the "Dutch Disease" during the first half of the last century.

The book is neither a history nor a biography; instead, it's an assertion of Canadian nationalism. So much the better. These are books written with a point of view, and Canada is better for them even if they are better suited for television docu-dramas than for serious study.

For an American effort at describing the same perils, read 'Babbitt' by Sinclair Lewis. It's the same theme as 'Sunshine Sketches ...", but done without a hint of humour or, as Leacock wrote, without a kindly contemplation of life's incongruities.
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