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Inventing Sam Slick

Inventing Sam Slick: A Biography of Thomas Chandler Haliburton

Richard A. Davies
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 340
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt1287wrd
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  • Book Info
    Inventing Sam Slick
    Book Description:

    Based on over ten years of archival research, Richard A. Davies's scholarly biography of Haliburton is the first since 1924. It is an engaging examination of a controversial and contradictory Canadian writer and significant figure in the history of pre-confederation Nova Scotia.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2735-2
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Part One: ‘This is my own, my native land’

    • Chapter 1 Alias ‘Sam Slick’
      (pp. 3-8)

      For fifty years after 1837, Sam Slick the Clockmaker was the most celebrated literary Yankee of the day. The mere mention of him brought smiles to the faces of readers in Victorian Britain. He struck the funny bone of a nation with his barrage of Yankee slang. Few readers knew that his creator, Thomas Chandler Haliburton, was a gentleman, a Judge of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas in the colony of Nova Scotia. Today, Sam Slick is still more famous than his creator.

      Haliburton began his writing career as a historian of local repute, yet he developed into an...

    • Chapter 2 Yankee Heritage
      (pp. 9-14)

      Thomas Chandler Haliburton’s paternal grandparents, William and Lusanna, had deep roots ‘in Puritan Massachusetts.’¹ They were first cousins: William’s mother, Abigail Otis, and Lusanna’s father, Ephraim Otis, were brother and sister. The consequences of first cousins marrying have always been a matter of some delicacy. In the case of the descendants of William and Lusanna, some mental instability did arise. At various times, MacLean’s private lunatic hospital in Somerville, Massachusetts, admitted William and Lusanna’s son, George Mordaunt, as well as Thomas Chandler Haliburton’s eldest son, Tom, for treatment of mental infirmities.² The marriage of the two Otis cousins may have...

    • Chapter 3 King’s College and Marriage
      (pp. 15-23)

      From the beginning, the Haliburton family was ambitious to succeed in their adopted colony. Thomas Chandler Haliburton’s education became part of that plan. There is an episode inThe Old Judgewhere a Mr Channing, a Halifax merchant, who doesn’t know how to behave in polite company, has undertaken to mask his own social deficiencies by sending his son to the University of King’s College, Windsor, where ‘under the paternal instructions of its excellent principal, he was made a scholar and a gentleman.’ In due course, Mr Channing’s son becomes ‘one of the greatest ornaments of the bar in the...

    • Chapter 4 Annapolis Royal and the General Description
      (pp. 24-31)

      One era in the Haliburton family ended when William Haliburton died on 21 February 1817. According to Thomas Chandler Haliburton’s stepmother, the family patriarch’s mind had remained clear until the last moment. Another era began the following day, when Louisa gave birth to her first child. Whatever grief Haliburton felt at the death of his grandfather turned to elation the next day. ‘Tom has a little Louisa, he almost went mad when he found himself papa,’ wrote William Bliss, then a lawyer in training at the office of James Fraser of Windsor.¹

      Fraser’s presence is what drove Haliburton to look...

    • Chapter 5 The Legislature and the ‘Club’
      (pp. 32-38)

      Haliburton honed his talent for satirical commentary in the Legislative Assembly in Halifax, where he found it increasingly difficult to curb his wit. In 1840, well clear of his three brief years in the legislature, he described politics as a series of follies. Slick yearns to erase those follies from his memory: ‘Doin’ big and talkin’ big for three months in the year don’t help a person adjust to the real world when they have to return to it’ (Clockmaker, 3rd series, 459–60). Haliburton uttered more negative remarks about politics than almost any other subject: ‘I wonder if folks...

    • Chapter 6 Historian and Judge
      (pp. 39-46)

      The appearance of theHistorical and Statistical Accountin 1829 unsettled Lewis Bliss and his brother William, who, in their letters to brother Henry in England, reported on its progress. ‘Haliburton’s book, History of Nova Scotia, is to be printed, if there can be found subscriptions enough to defray expense – 2 Vols – 20/- a map of the province annexed,’ Lewis wrote to Henry on 9 February 1828.¹ Why not enter the lists with Haliburton, suggested Lewis to Henry? ‘Write something on the Colonies – on the currency – on the law & the Catholic question – Halliburtons book is nearly completed –’² William...

    • Chapter 7 Clifton and The Clockmaker
      (pp. 47-51)

      Haliburton was now the father of a large family. After Susanna, born in February 1817, Louisa had given birth to William Neville (baptized 1 December 1819), who died young, then to twins, Thomas and Lewis (baptized at Windsor 18 January 1821). Thomas survived but his twin brother died two days later.¹ Thomas himself grew up with a congenital mental problem. William Bliss, writing to his brother Henry in 1837 to introduce young Tom (who was travelling in the company of a German tutor and heading for Germany to study music), described him as ‘rather defective in his upper works.’² The...

    • Chapter 8 A Tradition of Yankee Humour
      (pp. 52-59)

      Haliburton’s Yankee connections gave him the confidence to draw the Yankee character. When Sam Slick rode intoThe Clockmakeron his horse, ‘Old Clay’ Haliburton may well have been genuflecting toward his uncle, Samuel Fales, merchant and businessman. Fales knew as well as Slick how to cypher. ‘We have but one mill in operation,’ he wrote to his son in 1835. ‘Should we conclude to sell our water power it will pay as equal to the Locks of Canals at Lowell you know the owners of these locks of Canal have each made handsome Fortunes by them.’¹ In theCalendar...

    • Chapter 9 Career in Crisis
      (pp. 60-66)

      Haliburton was deeply immersed in the realities of Nova Scotia. While Joseph Howe’s printing house was preparing to issue the firstClockmaker, Haliburton attended a meeting, on 28 December 1836, at Daniel Bishop’s – or the ‘half-way house’ – between Horton Mountain and Wolfville Ridge, in his capacity as president of the Avon Bridge Company.¹ Despite severe weather, representatives from Kings County, Hants County, the Stage Coach Company, and the Avon Bridge Company gathered to discuss the need to improve the approach roads to the new bridge. The legislature had voted £25 to ascertain the best route.

      Haliburton had been involved with...

  5. Part Two: A Literary Career

    • Chapter 10 The Greatest Lion in London
      (pp. 69-73)

      On 26 April 1838, with the manuscript of a second series ofThe Clockmakerin his portmanteau, Haliburton sailed for England aboard theTyrian, accompanied by Joseph Howe, Charles R. Fairbanks (who kept a journal that has since disappeared), Major Robert Carmichael Smith (William Makepeace Thackeray’s brother-in-law), and a Dr Walker of New Brunswick. Until the day prior to departure, Haliburton continued transacting routine court business.¹ In public, Haliburton masked his anger over the impending dissolution of the Inferior Courts. After receiving a ‘flattering address’ from the bar at Lunenburg, Haliburton printed his polite response in theNova Scotia Royal...

    • Chapter 11 Moving in the Best of Circles
      (pp. 74-80)

      While abroad, Haliburton spent time with his Nova Scotian friends, but he also began developing social contacts that they could only admire from afar. At first, he and Joseph Howe toured the continent together. Howe exhausted himself trying to see as much as he could of Belgium, Germany, and France in three or four weeks. Together he and Haliburton visited Antwerp, Brussels, Waterloo, Koblenz (where Haliburton saw his son Tom, Jr), and Paris. The differences in their personalities were accentuated by their reactions to common experiences. In Paris, where their continental journey came to an end, during the celebrations for...

    • Chapter 12 Bubbles of Canada and Reply to the Earl of Durham
      (pp. 81-89)

      Haliburton returned to Nova Scotia having left a lasting political legacy behind him in the shape of the two works he published in London:Bubbles of CanadaandReply to the Earl of Durham. Together, they strongly affected how his fellow Nova Scotians perceived him. Georgianna Haliburton commented that although Haliburton was reluctant to writeBubbles of Canada, ‘eight hand carts of assorted documents were brought to his Lodgings in Picadilly.’¹ In a matter of several weeks, he had reduced these eight handcarts to 325 pages of text, demonstrating considerable determination in the face of so many dinner invitations. As...

    • Chapter 13 Microcosms: Clifton and the Great Western
      (pp. 90-98)

      Haliburton had returned home from England with a new perspective on the world. He had tasted fame and broadened his horizons considerably. His exhilarating experiences abroad deeply affected life at Clifton. Life there that summer buzzed with activity. On 24 June 1839, Haliburton informed Robert Parker that his twenty-four-year-old cousin, Haliburton Fales (1815–69), had arrived in Windsor for a visit.¹ Haliburton Fales’s father, Samuel Fales, began his career as a shopkeeper and in time became president of the First National Bank in Boston. After his death he passed a handsome fortune on to his children. Haliburton Fales made the...

    • Chapter 14 More Clockmaking and More New Relations
      (pp. 99-103)

      The Letter Baghad simply popped into Haliburton’s mind. It was in many ways an experiment. He knew that his fame rested withThe Clockmaker. He was soon ready with a third series, which he mailed to Bentley on 1 September 1839 after spending the whole summer revising it: ‘I flatter myself that this work will give you much satisfaction – I wrote it easily, and have taken great pains in touching it since.’¹ Posterity has all but buried it. Only with the recent publication of the Centre for Editing Early Canadian Texts edition of the first threeClockmakershave audiences...

    • Chapter 15 The Death of Louisa
      (pp. 104-111)

      In 1840, the Haliburton family began to mix socially with the new lieutenant-governor of the province, Lucius Carey, Lord Falkland, and his wife, Amelia. Lady Falkland’s brother-in-law, Charles R. Fox, had taken the first series ofThe Clockmakerto England and shown it to Richard Bentley. Lady Falkland, a stunningly beautiful woman, was the daughter of William IV and the actress Mrs Jordan. She brought a touch not only of the aristocratic but also of the exotic to Halifax society, evoking memories of the short but amorous stay of Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria’s father, who regaled...

    • Chapter 16 A Three-Hundred-Year-Old Tory Returned to Life
      (pp. 112-119)

      More adverse criticism of Haliburton followed in 1844, this time from outside the province, when the president of Harvard University, Cornelius Conway Felton, in a review ofThe Attachéin the January issue of theNorth American Review, accused its author of propagating an insulting American stereotype.¹ Sam Slick, wrote Felton, had leaped from a provincial writer’s brain. Almost as if he were a Southerner, Haliburton had created ‘a mythical and highly imaginative’ Yankee who was no ‘proper representative’ of his world: ‘He [Slick] is badly conceived; his character is an incongruous mixture of impossible eccentricities.’ Felton saw Haliburton as...

    • Chapter 17 The Death of Tom Jr
      (pp. 120-127)

      The continuing illness and incapacity of Judge Lewis Wilkins meant that Haliburton and the other four Supreme Court judges had to share the existing workload among themselves. As a result, progress on the new book was slow: it was almost three years before it was published in London. This was also a time of intense personal stress for Haliburton brought about by the mental deterioration of his eldest son, Tom.

      Some of the earliest evidence that Tom suffered from mental problems is found in remarks made by the Bliss brothers in the 1830s.¹ That Haliburton’s eldest son died in an...

    • Chapter 18 Stepping Out of the Frame
      (pp. 128-137)

      In early 1849, while Haliburton was writingRule and Misrule, Nova Scotians were experiencing a hard winter, ‘the hardest winter here I ever knew, for the last 3 months I have not seen the ground, so heavy has been the snow.’¹ For Haliburton, the harder the winter, the harder the work: ‘Winter is my time for work, in summer I live with the birds in the open air – in winter with the bears –.’² His judicial duties had prevented him for seven straight years from crossing the Atlantic. As he explained to Alexander Fowden Haliburton, his routine was fixed by...

    • Chapter 19 Sam Slick Rides Again
      (pp. 138-147)

      In a letter to the Duke of Newcastle on 31 August 1853, Haliburton explained his need to visit England to arrange for a ‘new edition’ of hisHistorical and Statistical Account.¹ No new edition ever appeared, although Haliburton had clung to the idea of revising it for nearly ten years since 1840, when he first tried to interest Bentley in financing it. ‘For this purpose a sum of two hundred and fifty pounds would be requisite,’ Haliburton had said.² Bentley did not respond at that time. Nevertheless – and surprisingly, considering its complete lack of commercial success when first published – the...

    • Chapter 20 End of an Era
      (pp. 148-156)

      TheNiagarasteamed into Halifax on 14 September 1853, after a passage of ten-and-a-half days.¹ Once again, the contrast between his reception in Britain and the one at home must have shocked Haliburton. At home, his appeal against the loss of his quarterly salary of £175 was falling on deaf ears.² He consulted two local lawyers, James Johnston and James Stewart, who agreed with him that his salary ought to be paid.³ He travelled to Halifax on 29 October and submitted his request to the accountant general, but it was refused. In his letter of that date, Haliburton argued that...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
  6. Part Three: Sam Slick in England

    • Chapter 21 A New Career
      (pp. 159-165)

      It is doubtful that in the new life Haliburton was creating for himself he ever intended to write another book.Nature and Human Naturereads and feels like his finale. Its two volumes are filled with reflections on both his life and his writing. There is a strong sense inNature and Human Naturethat he was beginning to feel posterity looking over his shoulder: ‘Now a biographer ... would ruin me for everlastingly. It ain’t pleasant to have such a burr as that stick on to your tail, especially if you have no comb to get it off, is...

    • Chapter 22 A Hectic Social Life
      (pp. 166-180)

      Haliburton was very much in demand as an after-dinner speaker. Sam Slick had opened doors for him. Furthermore, Haliburton could sense that there were both political and business opportunities associated with being a North American in England. He had retired from his professional duties as a judge, yet he still possessed sufficient physical and mental energy to begin writing another book. He discovered, once again, that the easiest way to shift the British gaze from the United States to the British colonies to the north was by mimicking the Yankee tendency to brag. In what turned out to be his...

    • Chapter 23 Member of Parliament for Launceston
      (pp. 181-191)

      With only two chapters of the new work published, Haliburton’s life took another unexpected turn when he was offered a seat in Parliament in a way that must have surprised even him. At sixty-four, he was given the chance to represent Launceston in north Cornwall. It might as well have been the Outer Hebrides. Launceston could not easily be reached from London (four or five hours by railway, said Haliburton, though he knew well that the railway had not yet reached Launceston). It had somehow survived the sweeping changes of the 1832 Reform Act, being one of the few remaining...

    • Chapter 24 The Clash with Gladstone
      (pp. 192-202)

      Haliburton wrote the last number ofThe Season Ticketin the first week of February 1860, just after the opening of the new parliamentary session on 24 January. In it he alluded to Gladstone having ‘put off his budget till Friday’ (363). Gladstone had been ‘stricken down on 3 February.’ By the next morning (a Saturday) he had become worse, and this caused a fourday postponement of his budget speech.¹ TheTimespronounced that the ‘question of the day had become “How is Mr Gladstone’s throat?”’ Haliburton quipped that Gladstone had eaten too many of his own words. On 10...

    • Chapter 25 The Canada Land and Emigration Company
      (pp. 203-211)

      The parliamentary year meant a long off-season. In three of the five remaining years of his life, Haliburton used it to travel to North America. Three times he gathered up his remaining physical resources, conquered his disposition to gout, and boarded a steamer for North America. In so doing he opened one of the final North American chapters of his life through his involvement in the Canada Agency Association and its offshoot, the venture that became known as the Canada Land and Emigration Company.

      Haliburton became the first chairman of the Canada Land and Emigration Company, whose business dealings he...

    • Chapter 26 Launceston, Parliament, and Isleworth
      (pp. 212-220)

      At the end of March 1861, Haliburton told Richard Bentley, ‘On Thursday I am off to Launceston.’¹ He had promised to lecture to an audience that ‘comprised most of the gentry of the town and neighbourhood’ in order to raise money for the ‘Building Fund of The Grammar School, Launceston.’² He delivered his talk in the Central Subscription Room; the announced subject was ‘“Circuit Reminiscences.”’³ In compliance with local custom, his arrival in Launceston, at one p.m. on the day of the talk, was greeted with the peel of church bells.⁴

      At the last minute, Haliburton decided to change his...

    • Chapter 27 The Banting System
      (pp. 221-225)

      Although Parliament would not reopen until 4 February 1864, Haliburton took a lease on a property in London – 8 Albert Terrace, Knightsbridge – from early January. Besides chairing the Canada Land and Emigration Company, he had become a director of the Credit Foncier (based on the Credit Foncier in Paris) and the Credit Mobilier. As W.D. Rubinstein notes, ‘some rather significant legislation’ passed in 1856 permitted ‘all companies, apart from banks, to become limited liability concerns.’¹ Companies could ‘expand, by issuing shares for sale, without any liability for the debts or losses of the company being incurred by shareholders apart from...

    • Chapter 28 The Last of the Tories
      (pp. 226-232)

      On 24 June 1864, Haliburton’s friend William B. Watkins died at Leigh House, Ardwicke, at seventy-five. His remains ‘were consigned to the tomb on Thursday, in the presence of a large concourse of sorrowing friends and relatives.’¹ Haliburton, surprisingly, did not attend the funeral, although he was capable of doing so. They had been good friends despite the differences in their political philosophies. Haliburton had not allowed Watkins’s membership in the Anti–Corn Law League or his ‘Liberal’ politics to stand in the way of their friendship.

      Watkins died just as Haliburton was preparing for another trip to Nova Scotia,...

  7. APPENDIX: Haliburton Family Tree
    (pp. 233-236)
  8. Notes
    (pp. 237-288)
  9. Works by Thomas Chandler Haliburton
    (pp. 289-290)
  10. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 291-292)
  11. Index
    (pp. 293-316)