Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Stephen Leacock, fully Stephen Butler Leacock

English-born Canadian Teacher, Political Scientist, Humorist and Author

"The work that the schoolmaster is doing is inestimable in its consequence. He is laying the foundation of the careers of men who are to lead the next generation. He is also knocking all the best stuff out of a great number of them."

"Life, we learn too late, is in the living, in the tissue of every day and hour."

"`A', whispered C, `I think I'm going fast.' `How fast do you think you'll go, old man?' murmured A. `I don't know,' said C, `but I'm going at any rate.'"

"“How did they save her?” My dear sir, if you can ask that question you little understand the drama as it was. Save her? No, of course they didn’t save her. What we wanted in the Old Drama was reality and force, no matter how wild and tragic it might be. They did not save her. They found her the next day, in the concluding scene—all that was left of her when she was dashed upon the rocks. Her ribs were broken. Her bottom boards had been smashed in, her gunwale was gone—in short, she was a wreck."

"“God pity all the poor souls at sea!” he says. (They all say that. If you get used to it, and get to like it, you want to hear it said, no matter how often they say it.) The waves rage beneath him. (I threw it at him, really, but the effect was wonderful.)"

"“Yes,” I said, “I can, if it’s wanted. I’ll look through the cast, and no doubt I can find one at least of them that ought to be put to death.” “Yes, yes,” said the manager enthusiastically, “I am sure you can.”"

"“See,” one cried with his arm extended, “there is lightning in yon sky.” (I was the lightning and that my cue for it): “God help all the poor souls at sea to-night!” Then a woman cried, “Look! Look! a boat upon the reef!” And as she said it I had to rush round and work the boat to make it go up and down properly. Then there was more lightning, and some one screamed out, “Look! See! there’s a woman in the boat!”"

"A half-truth, like half a brick, is always more forcible as an argument than a whole one. It carries better."

"A 'Grand Old Man'. That means on our continent any one with snow white hair who has kept out of jail till eighty."

"A sportsman is a man who, every now and then, simply has to get out and kill something. Not that he's cruel. He wouldn't hurt a fly. It's not big enough."

"A rotten play? Oh, I am sure it must have been. But, somehow, those of us who were brought up on that sort of thing, still sigh for it."

"Advertising - A judicious mixture of flattery and threats."

"And then, as he comes in from the storm to the still room, the climax breaks. A man staggers into the room in oilskins, drenched, wet, breathless. (They all staggered in these plays, and in the new drama they walk, and the effect is feebleness itself.) He points to the sea. “A boat! A boat upon the reef! With a woman in it.”"

"And we always took care that the action happened in some place that was worthwhile, not simply in an ordinary room with ordinary furniture, the way it is in the new drama. The scene was laid in a lighthouse (to story), or in a mad house (at midnight), or in a power house, or a dog house, or a bath house, in short, in some place with a distinct local color and atmosphere."

"And then the kind of climax that a play like this used to have! The scene shifted right at the moment of the excitement, and lo! we are in the tower, the top story of the lighthouse, interior scene. All is still and quiet within, with the bright light of the reflectors flooding the little room, and the roar of the storm heard like muffled thunder outside."

"And I recall a conversation with Sir Henry Irving one night when he said to me, “Fetch me a glass of water, will you?” and I said, “Sir Henry, it is not only a pleasure to get it but it is to me, as a humble devotee of the art that you have ennobled, a high privilege. I will go further—” “Do,” he said. Henry was like that, quick, sympathetic, what we call in French “vibrant.”"

"Advertising: the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it."

"And the lighthouse keeper knows that it is his only daughter—the only one that he has—who is being cast to death upon the reef. Then comes the dilemma. They want him for the lifeboat; no one can take it through the surf but him. You know that because the other man says so himself."

"But the deep background that lies behind and beyond what we call humor is revealed only to the few who, by instinct or by effort, have given thought to it. The world's humor, in its best and greatest sense, is perhaps the highest product of our civilization. Its basis lies in the deeper contrasts offered by life itself: the strange incongruity between our aspiration and our achievement, the eager and fretful anxieties of today that fade into nothingness tomorrow, the burning pain and the sharp sorrow that are softened in the gentle retrospect of time, till as we look back upon the course that has been traversed, we pass in view the panorama of our lives, as people in old age may recall, with mingled tears and smiles, the angry quarrels of their childhood. And here, in its larger aspect, humor is blended with pathos till the two are one, and represent, as they have in every age, the mingled heritage of tears and laughter that is our lot on earth."

"Buy them, forget about them, and never sell them."

"Charles Dickens' creation of Mr. Pickwick did more for the elevation of the human race - I say it in all seriousness - than Cardinal Newman's Lead Kindly Light Amid the Encircling Gloom. Newman only cried out for light in the gloom of a sad world. Dickens gave it."

"Coming up home the other night in my car (the Guy Street car), I heard a man who was hanging onto a strap say: “The drama is just turning into a bunch of talk.” This set me thinking; and I was glad that it did, because I am being paid by this paper to think once a week, and it is wearing. Some days I never think from morning till night."

"Concealed from view a face so face-like in its appearance as to be positively facial."

"Astronomy teaches the correct use of the sun and the planets. These may be put on a frame of little sticks and turned round. This causes the tides. Those at the ends of the sticks are enormously far away. From time to time a diligent searching of the sticks reveals new planets. The orbit of the planet is the distance the stick goes round in going round. Astronomy is intensely interesting; it should be done at night, in a high tower at Spitzbergen. This is to avoid the astronomy being interrupted. A really good astronomer can tell when a comet is coming too near him by the warning buzz of the revolving sticks."

"But if he goes in the boat then the great light will go out. Untended it cannot live in the storm. And if it goes out—ah! if it goes out—ask of the angry waves and the resounding rocks of what to-night’s long toll of death must be without the light!"

"Any man will admit if need be that his sight is not good, or that he cannot swim or shoots badly with a rifle, but to touch upon his sense of humor is to give him mortal affront."

"But I think of all the settings that we used, the lighthouse plays were the best. There is something about a lighthouse that you don’t get in a modern drawing room. What it is, I don’t know; but there’s a difference. I always have liked a lighthouse play, and never have enjoyed acting so much, have never thrown myself into acting so deeply, as in a play of that sort."

"Electricity is of two kinds, positive and negative. The difference is, I presume, that one comes a little more expensive, but is more durable; the other is a cheaper thing, but the moths get into it."

"Fishermen in those plays used to get fearfully excited; and what with the excitement and the darkness and the bright beams of the lighthouse falling on the wet oilskins, and the thundering of the sea upon the reef—ah! me, those were plays! That was acting! And to think that there isn’t a single streak of lightning in any play on the boards this year!"

"Forbes Robertson I shall never forget: he owes me 50 cents. And as for Martin Harvey—I simply cannot call him Sir John, we are such dear old friends—he never comes to this town without at once calling in my services to lend a hand in his production. No doubt everybody knows that splendid play in which he appears, called “The Breed of the Treshams.”"

"Golf may be played on Sunday, not being a game within the view of the law, but being a form of moral effort."

"He flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions."

"Hockey captures the essence of Canadian experience in the New World. In a land so inescapably and inhospitably cold, hockey is the chance of life, and an affirmation that despite the deathly chill of winter we are alive."

"Humor may be defined as the kindly contemplation of the incongruities of life, and the artistic expression thereof."

"I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it."

"I detest life-insurance agents: they always argue that I shall some day die, which is not so."

"Each section of the British Isles has its own way of laughing, except Wales, which doesn't."

"I never realized that there was history, close at hand, beside my very own home. I did not realize that the old grave that stood among the brambles at the foot of our farm was history."

"I remember in the case of the first play I ever wrote (I write plays, too) the manager to whom I submitted it asked me at once, the moment he glanced at it “Where is the action of this laid?” “It is laid,” I answered, “in the main sewer of a great city.” “Good, good,” he said; “keep it there.”"

"I wish you could have seen it—you who only see the drawing-room plays of to-day—the scene when the lighthouse man draws himself up, calm and resolute, and says: “My place is here. God’s will be done.” And you know that as he says it and turns quietly to his lamps again, the boat is drifting, at that very moment, to the rocks."

"If every day in the life of a school could be the last day but one, there would be little fault to find with it."

"If I were founding a university I would begin with a smoking room; next a dormitory; and then a decent reading room and a library. After that, if I still had more money that I couldn't use, I would hire a professor and get some text books."

"If their occupation is actual work they prefer to pump water into cisterns,"

"I'm a great believer in luck. I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."

"In ancient times they had no statistics so they had to fall back on lies."

"In Canada we have enough to do keeping up with two spoken languages ... so we just go right ahead and use English for literature, Scotch for sermons, and American for conversation."

"In earlier times they had no statistics and so they had to fall back on lies. Hence the huge exaggerations of primitive literature, giants, miracles, wonders! It's the size that counts. They did it with lies and we do it with statistics: but it's all the same."

"In the case of another play the manager said to me, “What are you doing for atmosphere?” “The opening act,” I said, “is in a steam laundry.” “Very good,” he answered as he turned over the pages, “and have you brought in a condemned cell?” I told him that I had not. “That’s rather unfortunate,” he said, “because we are especially anxious to bring in a condemned cell. Three of the big theaters have got them this season, and I think we ought to have it in. Can you do it?”"

"It is to be observed that 'angling' is the name given to fishing by people who can't fish."

"It may be those who do most, dream most."