Haliburton, Thomas Chandler

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HALIBURTON, Thomas Chandler

Nationality: Canadian. Born: Windsor, Nova Scotia, 17 December 1796. Education: The King's College School, Windsor, Ontario, and King's College, Windsor, B.A. 1815; studied law; admitted to the Nova Scotia Bar, 1820. Family: Married 1) Louisa Neville in 1816 (died 1840), 11 children; 2) Sarah Harriet Williams, 1856. Career: Lawyer in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, from 1820; member for Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia House of Assembly, 1826-29; contributor to the Novascotian, 1828-31, 1835-36; judge, Inferior Court of Common Pleas, Nova Scotia, 1829-41. Toured England, 1838-39, 1843. Justice, Nova Scotia Supreme Court, 1841-56. Moved to England, 1856; lived in Isleworth, Middlesex, from 1859; member of Parliament (U.K.) for Launceton, 1859-65. Member: Canadian Land and Emigration Company (chairman); British North American Association of London (chairman). D.C.L.: Oxford University, 1858. Died: 27 August 1865.



Sam Slick in Pictures: The Best of the Humour of Haliburton, edited by Lorne Pierce. 1956.

The Sam Slick Anthology, edited by R. E. Watters. 1969.

The Clockmaker: Series One, Two and Three. 1993.

Short Stories

The Clockmaker; or, The Sayings and Doings of Samuel Slick of Slickville. 3 vols., 1836-40.

The Attaché; or, Sam Slick in England. 4 vols., 1843-44.

Yankee Yarns and Yankee Letters. 1852.

Sam Slick's Wise Saws and Modern Instances; or, What He Said, Did, or Invented. 1853; as Sam Slick in Search of a Wife, 1855.


The Letter-Bag of the Great Western; or, Life in a Steamer. 1840.

The Old Judge; or, Life in a Colony. 1849; edited by M. G. Parks, 1978.

Nature and Human Nature. 1855.

The Season-Ticket. 1860.

The Courtship and Adventures of Jonathan Hombred; or, The Scrapes and Escapes of a Live Yankee. 1860.


A General Description of Nova Scotia. 1823.

An Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia. 2 vols., 1829.

The Bubbles of Canada. 1839.

A Reply to the Report of the Earl of Durham. 1839.

The English in America. 2 vols., 1851; as Rule and Misrule of the English in America, 1851.

An Address on the Present Condition, Resources, and Prospects of British North America. 1857.

The Letters, edited by Richard A. Davies. 1988.

Editor, Traits of American Humor by Native Authors. 3 vols., 1852.

Editor, The Americans at Home; or, Byeways, Backwoods, and Prairies. 3 vols., 1854.


Critical Studies:

Haliburton: A Study in Provincial Toryism by V.L.O. Chittick, 1924 (includes bibliography); Language and Vocabulary in Sam Slick by Elna Bengtsson, 1956; Canadian History and Haliburton by Stan Bodvar Liljegren, 1969; On Haliburton: Selected Criticism edited by Richard A. Davies, 19; Haliburton by N.H. Percy, 1980; The Haliburton Symposium edited by Frank M. Tierney, 1984; Family Ties: The Ancestral and Familial Connections of Thomas Chandler Haliburton by Gordon Haliburton, 1996.

* * *

The accepted canon of Canadian literature begins with writers who had no idea of themselves as being Canadian. The first "Canadian" novel (The History of Emily Montague, 1769) was actually written by the transient Englishwoman Frances Brooke, wife of the English military chaplain at Québec. And the first Canadian short fiction consisted of the sketches—hardly yet short stories—written by two men who would have seen themselves as British North Americans and perhaps, with a wry smile, as "Bluenoses"; but they would have shuddered at the thought of being identified with either Lower or Upper Canadians. They were two Nova Scotians writing in the early nineteenth century, Thomas McCulloch (1776-1843) and Thomas Chandler Haliburton.

It is impossible to discuss Haliburton without first mentioning McCulloch, for between them they developed the semirealistic sketch—heavy in characterization, adventurous in speech, and moral in humor—that has recurrently appeared as a favorite form among Canadian writers.

Both men were in a sense pillars of the Nova Scotian establishment, McCulloch principal of a Presbyterian academy and Haliburton a judge; and both used the newspapers, which appeared earlier in Nova Scotia than elsewhere in British North America, to embark on the satirical sketches by which each of them meant to reform the Bluenose by mockery. McCulloch's "Letters of Mephibosheth Stepsure" first appeared between December 1821 and May 1822 in the pages of The Acadian Recorder but afterwards were virtually ignored until a volume of them, dated 1860, was distributed in 1862. McCulloch did not in fact gain his deserved repute until the middle of the twentieth century when his work (as The Stepsure Letters) was published in the New Canadian Library with an introduction by Northrop Frye. Frye rightly praised him as "the founder of genuine Canadian humour; that is of humour that is based on a vision of society and is not merely a series of wisecracks on a single theme."

Long before this Haliburton, so largely inspired by McCulloch, had gained an international reputation as a humorist that extended well beyond the bounds of the Maritimes to the United States and Britain. Haliburton, like McCulloch, began with sketches in newspapers, but he abandoned the letter form McCulloch had borrowed from eighteenth-century writers; he retained, though, the single commenting voice, in his case that of the Yankee itinerant clockmaker Sam Slick, whom the narrator encounters on his journeys about Nova Scotia. Originally called "Sketches of Nova Scotia," these pieces were almost immediately reprinted as a discontinuous work of fiction, united by Sam's contemptuous criticisms, under the title of The Clockmaker; or, The Sayings and Doings of Samuel Slick of Slickville.

Such popularity did the volume gain that Haliburton wrote second and third series, published with the same title in 1838 and 1840 respectively. Later Sam was taken to England, and out of his visit there appeared two two-volume books, dated 1843 and 1844. Before he finally discarded him, Haliburton took Sam back over the Atlantic as an agent of the president of the United States, sent to examine the Nova Scotian fisheries; he offered the last of him in two more, rather sententious volumes, Sam Slick's Wise Saws and Modern Instances; or, What He Said and Did, or Invented.

Some critics, it must be said, see Haliburton's best writing in The Old Judge, two volumes that in 1949 broke the Sam Slick sequence with some witty semifictional and semiautobiographical sketches of a High Tory judge on his circuit and the characters he meets. But while The Old Judge is less strident and more mellow and stylized, it is still the Sam Slick sketches that voluminously embody Haliburton's true contribution to British North American fiction; it is his acute concern for popular vernaculars (slang as it was then called) that made him the first writer really to find a North American language to deal with North American situations. Sam's rich colloquial vocabulary is built up in catalogue-like and cumulative harangues as he observes the Nova Scotian countryside while talking its complacent inhabitants into buying his overpriced timepieces and discussing them contemptuously at the same time:

Them old geese and vet'ran owls, that are so poor the foxes won' steal 'em for fear o' hurtin' their teeth: that little yallar, lantern-jaw'd long-legg's, rabit-eared runt of a pig, that's so weak it can't curl its tail up; that old frame of a cow, a standin' there with her eyes shot to, a-comtemplatin' of her latter end; and that varmint-looking horse, with his hocks swelled bigger than his belly, that looks as if he had come to her funeral.

Haliburton shows few of the concerns that were evident in later short story writers. His human situations are simple ones, the relations he portrays mostly dispassionate ones between vain and foolish people upon whom Sam preys with his flattery and "soft sawder." But in the process he builds up the picture of a somnolent society, serving his own purpose of stirring his fellow Nova Scotians to improve their farming methods and social attitudes, and it is for Sam Slick's speech and the portrait of a society he wishes to reform that we read the Sam Slick sketches today. Much in later Canadian writing—and not merely the work of that obvious disciple Stephen Leacock—is indebted to him.

—George Woodcock

See the essay on "Sam Slick, the Clockmaker."

Thomas Chandler Haliburton

views updated May 11 2018

Thomas Chandler Haliburton

Thomas Chandler Haliburton (1796-1865) was a Canadian judge and author who is chiefly known for his humorous sketches and essays. He was also the first Canadian writer to achieve a significant international reputation.

Born in Windsor, Nova Scotia, of loyalist stock, Thomas Haliburton was educated at King's College, Windsor, and was called to the bar of his native province in 1820. He began his law practice at Annapolis Royal and represented that constituency in the legislative assembly from 1826 to 1829. In the latter year he succeeded his father as a judge of the Court of Common Pleas. He became a judge of the Supreme Court in 1841 but in 1856 moved from Nova Scotia to England, where he became a member of Parliament in 1859. He died in Isleworth-on-Thames.

Haliburton began his literary career in 1823 by publishing an anonymous pamphlet entitled General Description of Nova Scotia. In 1829 he published a history of his province, A Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia. His literary fame was established, however, by the publication of The Clockmaker; or, The Sayings and Doings of Sam Slick of Slickville, first as a series of sketches in Joseph Howe's magazine, the Novascotian, and then, in 1836, as a book.

This book is satire of a high order:it ridicules, chiefly in the person of Sam Slick, the itinerant Yankee clock salesman, the arrogance and sharp practices of Americans and at the same time pokes fun at the slothfulness, conservatism, and naiveté of his fellow Nova Scotians. The book was praised highly by reviewers in both the United States and the United Kingdom, and Sam Slick reappeared in later books by Haliburton—The Attaché; or, Sam Slick in England (1843-1844), Sam Slick's Wise Saws and Modern Instances (1853), and Nature and Human Nature (1853)— but lost some of his original luster.

Haliburton wrote a number of other books, including such serious political tracts as The Bubbles of Canada (1839), A Reply to the Report of the Earl of Durham (1839), and Rule and Misrule of the English in America (1851). The best of his later books, however, were three further collections of humorous sketches, The Letter-Bag of the Great Western (1840), The Old Judge; or, Life in a Colony (1849), and The Season Ticket (1860). Haliburton also edited two popular anthologies of American humor: Traits of American Humour by Native Authors (1852) and The American at Home; or, Bye-ways, Back-woods and Prairies (1855).

Haliburton's political position can best be described as that of a Tory radical:deeply conservative by nature, he was nevertheless quite ready to challenge the establishment. His most enduring achievements were, however, his comical portraits of persons, his shrewdly witty anecdotes, and his droll "tall tales."

Further Reading

The best book on Haliburton is still V. L. O. Chittick, Thomas Chandler Haliburton (1924). See also the sections on Haliburton in Ray Palmer Baker, History of English-Canadian Literature to the Confederation (1920); Desmond Pacey, Creative Writing in Canada (2d ed. 1961); and Carl F. Klinck, ed., Literary History of Canada (1965).

Additional Sources

Percy, H. R., Thomas Chandler Haliburton, Don Mills, Ont.: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1980. □

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