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Daniel Galef

An apology for Stephen Leacock

In today’s world, we would not hesitate to call Stephen Leacock what he was – a violent, racist, woman-hater.   We should be ashamed that Stephen Leacock worked at McGill.   The above two sentences were printed almost exactly one year ago in the McGill Daily, and in what may be a record for the paper, one of them is true.   They are the first and last sentences in the article “Prejudice with a Grin,” and I would like to take a moment, if not to argue with them, then at least to examine them and point out what I believe to be misconceptions or faulty logic in the condemnation of the legacy and entire body of work of an extremely influential, readable, and very funny author.   Stephen Leacock was a conservative, an unapologetic apologist for the British Empire, even a British Imperialist, and, perhaps worst of all to some people, he was old-fashioned in his ways. From this we can, fairly logically, if unfairly, correctly assume that Stephen Leacock was a racist, a misogynist, and an all-around Anglocentric bigot. He was. It is almost entirely irrelevant.   Other statements that are not incorrect, only to no point: Tennyson was a colonialist, Charles Dickens an antisemite, and William Shakespeare, the poor hopeless case, a racist, misogynist danger to himself and others. Writers (and I will go out on a limb here by not using a citation) are judged by their writing. The Ring cycle could have been composed by a machine (as music now is), or found inscribed by coincidence in the pattern of watermarks on a cave ceiling, but it wasn’t. It was written by Wagner, a horrific brute of a racist proto-Nazi no one in their right mind would want to have dinner with, living or dead.… Read More