Welcome to our final Christmas contributions by Stephen Leacock. Tonight's tales are both glimpses of a battered world at the end of 1941. It was the worst of times - Hong Kong fell to the Japanese on Christmas Day - but there was at least the potential for better times: On December 7th, Winston Churchill was dining at Chequers when news was brought to him of the attack on Pearl Harbor. "I went to bed," he wrote, "and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful." The British Commonwealth's long, draining eighteen months alone in resistance to the Third Reich was at an end.
In these two pieces, Leacock is full of admiration for what, he explains, he will always call England. And, if his conflation of God and Englishness and Empire is not likely to do anything to help his cause with the current commissars of McGill, the tone of these pieces nevertheless speaks to the strange fearful tenor of our own time:
This enchantment of Christmas always seems to me to be a part of that super-self, that higher self that is in each of us--but that only comes to the surface in moments of trial or exaltation and in the hour of death. The super-self is always within call, and yet we cannot call it. I don't mean here the thing called the sub-conscious self, that evil, inward thing... Not that hideous stuff; nor any of the 'complexes' and 'behaviours' and 'reactions,' the new hideous brood of the new Black Art. Oh no, I mean something infinitely more open, more above-board, more radiant than that... the light that shines in people's eyes who clasp hands and face danger together...
Ah, but our world is apparently so dangerous that we can only face it without the clasp of hands and with masks under the mistletoe. Leacock makes a good point about the transformation of worship ritual, the same age-old responses but rendered by the circumstances of 1941 vivid and literal, instead of merely "a compliment murmured in the dark".
Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear me read our two wartime Christmas vignettes simply by clicking here and logging-in. Our first four Stephen Leacock Yuletide tales can be found here - and a cavalcade of Christmas capers by everyone from Dickens to Steyn is awaiting you here.
Thank you for all your comments about our Christmas season of Tales for Our Time. Michelle Dulak, a First Day Founding Member of The Mark Steyn Club, writes of McGill University's well advanced cancelation of Leacock (its former economics professor) but maybe of McGill himself:
If McGill isn't correct enough for McGill University, what do you suggest they call it? Me, I vote for 'Canadian University,' along the lines of 'Washington Football Team.' Further, I'd suggest all such name-changes be permanent. Just leave the blank a blank; it can't possibly be any blanker than what you'll put in its place.
Well, it's in Quebec, so "Canadian" is problematic, and "University" is hardly the word for what these places have become. They should just call it "The Place That Dare Not Speak Its Name #1", and let all others follow.
If you'd like to know more about The Mark Steyn Club, please click here - and don't forget our Christmas Gift Membership. See you back here this coming weekend for more seasonal Tales for Our Time. And don't forget this year's Christmas poem.