Stephen Butler Leacock, (30 December 1869 – 28 March 1944) was an English-born Canadian teacher, political scientist, writer, and humourist. In the early part of the 20th century he was the best-known humorist in the English-speaking world.He is known for his light humour along with criticisms of people's follies.
Stephen Leacock was born in Hampshire. He was the third of eleven children in the family. When Stephen was six, he came out with his family to Canada, where they settled on a farm near the village of Sutton, Ontario.
Stephen Leacock, always of obvious intelligence, was sent by his grandfather to the elite private school of Upper Canada College in Toronto, also attended by his older brothers, where he was top of the class and was chosen as head boy. Leacock graduated in 1887, and returned home. In 1887, seventeen-year-old Leacock started at University College at the University of Toronto. His first year was bankrolled by a small scholarship, but Leacock found he could not return to his studies the following year because of financial difficulties. He left university to work as a teacher — an occupation he disliked immensely. As a teacher at Upper Canada College, his alma mater, he was able simultaneously to attend classes at the University of Toronto and, in 1891, earn his degree through part-time studies. It was during this period that his first writing was published in a campus newspaper.
The Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour was named in his honour. Leacock says that the basis of humour lies in the contrasts offered by life itself, but "the deep background that lies behind and beyond what we call humour is revealed only to the few who by instinct or by effort have given thought to it."
My Memories and Miseries As a Schoolmaster
The parents of the boys at school naturally fill a broad page in a schoolmaster's life and are responsible for many of his sorrows. There are all kinds and classes of them. Most acceptable to the schoolmaster is the old-fashioned type of British father who enters' his boy at the school and says:
"Now I want this boy well thrashed if he doesn't behave himself. If you have any trouble with him let me know and I'll come and thrash him myself. He's to have a shilling a week pocket money and if he spends more than that let me know and I'll stop his money altogether."
Brutal though his speech sounds, the real effect of it is to create a strong prejudice in the little boy's favour, and when his father curtly says, "Good-bye, Jack" and he answers, "Good-bye, father," in a trembling voice, the schoolmaster would be a hound, indeed, who could be unkind to him.
But very different is the case of the up-to-date parent. "Now I've just given Jimmy five pounds," he says to the schoolmaster, in the same tone as he would use to an inferior clerk in his office, "and I've explained to him that when he wants any more he's to tell you to go to the bank and draw for him what he needs." After which he goes on. to explain that Jimmy is a boy of very peculiar disposition, requiring the greatest nicety of treatment; that they find if he gets in tempers the best way is to humour him and presently he'll come round. Jimmy, it appears, can be led, if led gently, but never driven.
During all of which time the schoolmaster, insulted by being treated as an underling, has already fixed his eye on the undisciplined young pup called Jimmy with a view of trying out the problem of seeing whether he can't be driven after all.
(From "College Days" by S. Leacock)
1. Answer the questions below:
1. How does the author characterize two opposite types of "British father"?
2. Why, in Leacock's view, the "old-fashioned" type is more acceptable for a schoolmaster? Would you prefer to have Jack or Jimmy for a pupil?
3. How did the acquaintance with the fathers influence the schoolmaster's attitude to the boys? Do you find it natural?
4. Do you think the problems raised in the text are outdated? Justify your answer.
5. In what way should teachers and parents cooperate in educating the child?
2. Act as an interviewer. Let the rest of the group speak about why and how they decided to qualify as a teacher of languages. Find out:
1. if anybody or anything influenced their choice;
2. when they finally made up their minds;
3. what attracts them in the work;
4. what they consider its advantages and disadvantages.
3. Do the task in pairs. Imagine one of you is a teacher. Interview the teacher. Ask the questions from Exercise 1 and also try to find out:
1. how long he or she has been in teaching;
2. if he or she ever regretted having taken up the job;
3. what is the most notable feature of teaching;
4. what advice he or she can give to a teacher trainee.