What Prohibition Does! A New Publication by Stephen Leacock

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Filed under Library News:  Archives & Research Collections

It is the duty of a bibliographer to record and to describe all publications of an author’s canon or of a particular subject matter faithfully and accurately. When bibliographies are completed–whether they are mere checklists or grand-scale, descriptive bibliographies–we often hear the word “definitive”, suggesting that the compilation expresses the last word in capturing an author’s published record of achievement or the subject in question. Most bibliographers know that there is no such thing as a definitive bibliography. Completeness is a will o’ the wisp, especially with an author who is prolific and has published widely with many publishing houses and in countless periodicals in all the nooks and crannies of the world. Nonetheless, it is the bane of a bibliographer’s calling to hear the dreaded words, “Not in _”, expressed with delight by scholars and booksellers. In the introduction to my work, A Bibliography of Stephen Leacock (1998), I predicted: “A hundred years hence, bibliographers will be reporting newly discovered writings of Leacock.” Reviewers have been generally charitable in their scrutiny of my Leacock bibliography, although one reviewer pointed out that I don’t know the difference between “prostate” and “prostrate” and another reviewer suggested that I should take remedial classes in elementary arithmetic. In 2004 The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box (a bizarre but wonderful name for a publisher) re-issued my Leacock bibliography as an e-bibliography (a PDF version of the book on CD). I took the opportunity then to issue a pamphlet in which I appended a list of errata and changes and noted omissions and newly published posthumous publications. The pamphlet seemed to be a good stop-gap measure to silence the captious critics of my bibliography, but it has not stopped the appearance of newly discovered publications by Leacock.

A week before Christmas, I was contacted by Debbie Dearlove of David Mason Books. “We have acquired the following Leacock item which does not seem to be `in Spadoni’ although A36a & b [The Case Against Prohibition] are similar. Details are: LEACOCK, Stephen. What Prohibition Does! Leaflet, measuring 15 cm × 8 cm printed on recto only. (Toronto): J. Bowden Printer, 186 Parliament St, nd. Fine. I've attached a scan as that seemed the path of least resistance.” I phoned Debbie and ordered the leaflet for the University Library. “Where did you get this unique gem?,” I inquired. “We found it in a carton of paper that once belonged to a book collector,” she replied.

A bête noire of Leacock’s derision was the temperance movement. In 1919 the Americans passed the Eighteenth Amendment which prohibited the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol for national consumption. It was a boon to Canadian bootleggers in spite of the fact that during the early 1920s, imports of alcohol from the outside of Canada were cut off by provincial referendum. Leacock never wavered in his opposition to the prohibitionists. In case of emergencies or for a quick pick-me-up, he kept a flask of whisky in his vest pocket. One of his books, entitled Wet Wit & Dry Humor (1931), was “compiled in friendly appreciation of Prohibition in the United States, the greatest thing that has ever happened−to Canada.” Leacock’s leaflet was issued by the Citizens’ Liberty League apparently in early April 1921 when he gave an address in Toronto on the subject. Newly discovered publications by Leacock will continue to appear. I don’t blame Leacock for this. He didn’t lie awake at night wondering about the vexatious problems of a future bibliographer. When not writing or fishing, he was sipping whisky with his pals at McGill’s University Club or at Old Brewery Bay in Orillia, ON. Here’s to you, Stephen Leacock. I raise my glass to your prodigious, satirical pen.

by Carl Spadoni