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Literary Lapses [Hardcover]

Stephen Leacock
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 1 2008 1603125760 978-1603125765
Who but Stephen Leacock would endeavor to describe a boarding house -- in terms of schoolroom geometry? ("The landlady of a boarding-house is a parallelogram -- that is, an oblong angular figure, which cannot be described, but which is equal to anything.") Or to detail the terrible ordeal of Melpomenus Jones, unable to say, "Good-bye"?

Leacock (1869-1944) did have his serious side -- for he wrote learnedly of Twain and Dickens, and was a professor of political science and economics at McGill University . . . but it was when he set aside seriousness for levity, with such sketches as "How Tennyson Killed the May Queen" or "Hoodoo McFiggin's Christmas," that he has won over the English-reading public everywhere.


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About the Author

Stephen Leacock was born in Swanmore, Hampshire, England, in 1869. His family emigrated to Canada in 1876 and settled on a farm north of Toronto. Educated at Upper Canada College and the University of Toronto, Leacock pursued graduate studies in economics at the University of Chicago, where he studied under Thorstein Veblen.

Even before he completed his doctorate, Leacock accepted a position as sessional lecturer in political science and economics at McGill University. When he received his Ph.D. in 1903, he was appointed to the position of lecturer. From 1908 until his retirement in 1936, he chaired the Department of Political Science and Economics.

Leacock’s most profitable book was his textbook, Elements of Political Science, which was translated into seventeen languages. The author of nineteen books and countless articles on economics, history, and political science, Leacock turned to the writing of humour as his beloved avocation. His first collection of comic stories, Literary Lapses, appeared in 1910, and from that time until his death he published a volume of humour almost every year.

Leacock also wrote popular biographies of his two favourite writers, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. At the time of his death, he left four completed chapters of what was to have been his autobiography. These were published posthumously under the title The Boy I Left Behind Me.

Stephen Leacock died in Toronto, Ontario, in 1944. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

“Now, ladies and gentlemen,” said the conjurer, “having shown you that the cloth is absolutely empty, I will proceed to take from it a bowl of goldfish. Presto!”

All around the hall people were saying, “Oh, how wonderful! How does he do it?”

But the Quick Man on the front seat said in a big whisper to the people near him. “He — had — it — up — his — sleeve.”

Then the people nodded brightly at the Quick Man and said, “Oh, of course”; and everybody whispered round the hall. “He — had — it — up — his — sleeve.”

“My next trick,” said the conjurer, “is the famous Hindostanee rings. You will notice that the rings are apparently separate; at a blow they all join (clang. clang, clang) — Presto!”

There was a general buzz of stupefaction till the Quick Man was heard to whisper. “He — must — have — had — another — lot — up — his — sleeve.”

Again everybody nodded and whispered. “The — rings — were — up — his — sleeve.”

The brow of the conjurer was clouded with a gathering frown.

“I will now,” he continued, “show you a most amusing trick by which I am enabled to take any number of eggs from a hat. Will some gentleman kindly lend me his hat? Ah. Thank you — Presto!”

He extracted seventeen eggs, and for thirty-five seconds the audience began to think that he was wonderful.

Then the Quick Man whispered along the front bench, “He — has — a — hen — up — his — sleeve.” and all the people whispered it on. “He — has — a — lot — of — hens — up — his — sleeve.”

The egg trick was ruined.

It went on like that all through. It transpired from the whispers of the Quick Man that the conjurer must have concealed up his sleeve, in addition to the rings, hens, and fish, several packs of cards, a loaf of bread, a doll’s cradle, a live guinea-pig, a fifty-cent piece, and a rocking-chair.

The reputation of the conjurer was rapidly sinking below zero. At the close of the evening he rallied for a final effort.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “I will present to you, in conclusion, the famous Japanese trick recently invented by the natives of Tipperary. Will you. Sir,” he continued, turning toward the Quick Man, “will you kindly hand me your gold watch?”

It was passed to him.

“Have I your permission to put it into this mortar and pound it to pieces?” he asked savagely.

The Quick Man nodded and smiled.

The conjurer threw the watch into the mortar and grasped a sledge hammer from the table. There was a sound of violent smashing. “He’s — slipped — it — up — his — sleeve,” whispered the Quick Man.

“Now, sir,” continued the conjurer, “will you allow me to take your handkerchief and punch holes in it? Thank you. You see, ladies and gentlemen, there is no deception, the holes are visible to the eye.”

The face of the Quick Man beamed. This time the real mystery of the thing fascinated him.

“And now, sir, will you kindly pass me your silk hat and allow me to dance on it? Thank you.”

The conjurer made a few rapid passes with his feet and exhibited the hat crushed beyond recognition.

“And will you now, sir, take off your celluloid collar and permit me to bum it in the candle? Thank you, sir. And will you allow me to smash your spectacles for you with my hammer? Thank you.”

By this time the features of the Quick Man were assuming a puzzled expression. “This thing beats me,” he whispered, “I don’t see through it a bit.”

There was a great hush upon the audience. Then the conjurer drew himself up to his full height and, with a withering look at the Quick Man, he concluded:

“Ladies and gentlemen, you will observe that I have, with this gentleman’s permission, broken his watch, burnt his collar, smashed his spectacles, and danced on his hat. If he will give me the further permission to paint green stripes on his overcoat, or to tie his suspenders in a knot, I shall be delighted to entertain you. If not, the performance is at an end.”

And amid a glorious burst of music from the orchestra the curtain fell, and the audience dispersed, convinced that there are some tricks, at any rate, that are not done up the conjurer’s sleeve.


From the Trade Paperback edition. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An acquired taste, but fun satire Nov. 3 2001
By knord
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This book contains a collection of ironically satirical essays. Satire is not my favorite form of humor, so it took me a few essays to get "into the swing" of the book, but I can say that once I came around to the appropriate frame of reference, I quite enjoyed the book. When reading this book, you must also remember that it was originally published in 1910; the humorous themes of the essays have aged well, but some of the settings have not.
As I read the essays, I kept having the nagging thought that the author's style reminded me of a contemporary author. Once I reached the "How to Make a Million Dollars" essay, it hit me: I would not hesitate to call Stephen Leacock the Dave Barry (Miami columnist and author) of the early 1900s. They both have the same sort of perverse logic to their points of view. Thus, if you can picture Dave Barry writing in the early 1900s, you can get some idea of what reading this book of essays would be like.
Was this review helpful to you?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Stephen Leacock was a Canadian author who wrote his works with an optimistic yet realistic view of life. His light-hearted, bubbly diction impressed me all the way through the novel. Each short story was unique and had true-to-life situations and entertaining characters to whom readers of all ages can relate. His stories are full of good advice for everyone from the socially elite, eager-to-please teenager to the hard-working businessman to the overprotective father. Leacock exaggerates in many of his sketches, but that aspect of each story fits in perfectly with the separate ideas he presents. I recommend this novel to anyone who agrees that life should be lived to the absolute fullest, taking all chances and having a good time. As Stephen Leacock says, "Eat what you want. Eat lots of it. Yes, eat too much of it. Eat till you can just stagger across the room with it and prop it up against the sofa." (Leacock Literary 31)
Was this review helpful to you?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars good sense of humor required! March 23 2002
By Herzog
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is for those who love that dry English humor. I love this book! It mocks so beautifuly stupidities, naivete, and human anxietes. If you like slap stick humor, please look somewhere else.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An acquired taste, but fun satire Nov. 3 2001
By knord - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book contains a collection of ironically satirical essays. Satire is not my favorite form of humor, so it took me a few essays to get "into the swing" of the book, but I can say that once I came around to the appropriate frame of reference, I quite enjoyed the book. When reading this book, you must also remember that it was originally published in 1910; the humorous themes of the essays have aged well, but some of the settings have not.
As I read the essays, I kept having the nagging thought that the author's style reminded me of a contemporary author. Once I reached the "How to Make a Million Dollars" essay, it hit me: I would not hesitate to call Stephen Leacock the Dave Barry (Miami columnist and author) of the early 1900s. They both have the same sort of perverse logic to their points of view. Thus, if you can picture Dave Barry writing in the early 1900s, you can get some idea of what reading this book of essays would be like.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars good sense of humor required! March 23 2002
By Herzog - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is for those who love that dry English humor. I love this book! It mocks so beautifuly stupidities, naivete, and human anxietes. If you like slap stick humor, please look somewhere else.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful mixture of comedy, nonsense and compassion Nov. 20 2000
By Valerie M. Herd - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Stephen Leacock was a Canadian author who wrote his works with an optimistic yet realistic view of life. His light-hearted, bubbly diction impressed me all the way through the novel. Each short story was unique and had true-to-life situations and entertaining characters to whom readers of all ages can relate. His stories are full of good advice for everyone from the socially elite, eager-to-please teenager to the hard-working businessman to the overprotective father. Leacock exaggerates in many of his sketches, but that aspect of each story fits in perfectly with the separate ideas he presents. I recommend this novel to anyone who agrees that life should be lived to the absolute fullest, taking all chances and having a good time. As Stephen Leacock says, "Eat what you want. Eat lots of it. Yes, eat too much of it. Eat till you can just stagger across the room with it and prop it up against the sofa." (Leacock Literary 31)
4.0 out of 5 stars Dated But Still Very Funny March 17 2013
By K. E. Falvo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I think this man is hilarious. The language is a little dated but there are many points that can still have you laughing your head off. Here is an article that says it better.
[...]
4.0 out of 5 stars Wicked-smart satire in the Benchley mold Oct. 21 2012
By D. E. Dickerson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A truly wonderful collection of pieces, ranging from silly to savage, by the Canadian equivalent of Robert Benchley. I say Robert Benchley because, like Benchley, Leacock has a wide range of interests that include poking fun at himself (the first essay, where he makes a fool of himself opening a bank account, is a classic for a reason), poking fun at social trends (the then-new fitness craze, the then-new obsession with doctors and medicine), and--at his best--sheer lunacy. (Like Benchley, he will launch into storytelling mode in order to mock entire types of stories--such as one about a nobleman's secret, which builds up the suspense and then ends with no one caring about the secret after all.) While some of his obsessions have dated, these pieces are almost perfectly constructed: they are all very short and efficient so as not to wear out their welcome. And from a construction point of view, not a line is out of place, not a single joke feels less than perfectly aimed. It's truly impressive and wonderful; humor collections this strong are rare. If you like the writers of the Algonquin Round Table, his Canadian equivalent is also their equal. I can't see anyone regretting owning this.
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