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 on Thomas Chandler Haliburton

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 Biography Sources

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