Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Haliburton, Thomas Chandler

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HALIBURTON, THOMAS CHANDLER (1796–1865), author of 'Sam Slick,' only child of the Hon. William Otis Haliburton, a justice of the court of common pleas of Nova Scotia, by Lucy, eldest daughter of Major Grant, was born at Windsor, Nova Scotia, in December 1796, and educated at the grammar school and at King's College in his native town. In 1820 he was called to the bar. He practised at Annapolis Royal, the former capital of Nova Scotia, where he acquired a large and lucrative business. After a short time he entered the legislative assembly as member for the county of Annapolis. In 1828 he was appointed chief justice of the court of common pleas of Nova Scotia, which place he held to 1840, when the court of common pleas was abolished and his services were transferred to the supreme court, where he commenced his duties 1 Jan. 1842. In February 1856 he resigned his office of judge, and removed to England, where he continued to reside to his death. In 1825 and 1829 he published histories of his native province. His works were widely circulated, and the Nova Scotia House of Assembly tendered him a vote of thanks for his Historical Account, which he received in person in his place in parliament. He next began a series of articles in the ‘Nova Scotian’ newspaper in 1835, writing under the pseudonym of Sam Slick, a Yankee pedlar. The articles were popular, and were copied by the American press. They were then collected together and published at Halifax anonymously in 1837, and several editions were issued in the United States. A copy being taken to England by General Fox, was given to Richard Bentley, who issued an edition which had a considerable circulation. The only benefit which Haliburton received from this English edition was the presentation from Bentley of a silver salver, with an inscription written by the Rev. Richard Barham. Haliburton, writing as Sam Slick, told his countrymen many home truths. Those who laughed at Sam Slick's jokes did not always relish his outspoken criticisms, and his popularity as a writer was far greater out of Nova Scotia than in it; his fame, however, became general. None of his writings are regularly constructed stories, but the incidents and characters are always spirited and mostly humorous. ‘Sam Slick’ had a very extensive sale, and notwithstanding its idiomatic peculiarities was translated into several languages. In 1842 Haliburton visited England again, and in the next year embodied the result of his observations on English society in his amusing work ‘The Attaché.’ ‘The Bubbles of Canada. By the Author of “The Clockmaker,”’ issued in 1839, was a serious book on the political government of the country. It was suggested by Lord Durham's famous report, and attracted much attention in England. His other works are ‘The Letter Bag of the Great Western,’ 1839, and ‘The Old Judge,’ 1843. On resigning his judgeship in 1856 he applied for his pension of 300l. a year; the claim was resisted for several years, and he did not succeed in obtaining the first payment until after a decision in his favour made by the judicial committee of the privy council in England.

In 1856 he took up his residence in London, where he became a member of the Athenæum Club. In 1857 he was asked to come forward as member of parliament for Middlesex, a proposal which he declined, but two years afterwards, on the general election, at the solicitation of the Duke of Northumberland, he stood for Launceston in the conservative interest, was elected 29 April 1859, and sat until 6 July 1865. The university of Oxford created him a D.C.L. in 1858, the university of King's College, Windsor, having previously made him an honorary M.A. He died at his residence, Gordon House, Isleworth, Middlesex, 27 Aug. 1865. In 1889 a society (‘The Haliburton’) was established at King's College, Windsor, Nova Scotia, to promote a distinctive Canadian literature; the first publication (July 1889) was a memoir of Haliburton by F. Blake Crofton.

Haliburton married first in 1816 Louisa, daughter of Captain Lawrence Neville of the 19th light dragoons (she died in 1840); secondly, in 1856, Sarah Harriet, daughter of William Mostyn Owen of Woodhouse, Shropshire, and widow in 1844 of Edward Hosier Williams of Eaton Mascott, Shrewsbury.

Haliburton was the first writer who used the American dialect, and according to Artemus Ward founded the American school of humour. He was author of the following works, several of which went:

  1. ‘A General Description of Nova Scotia,’ 1823.
  2. ‘An Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia,’ 1829, 2 vols.
  3. ‘The Clockmaker, or Sayings and Doings of Sam Slick of Slickville,’ three series, 1837, 1838, 1840.
  4. ‘The Letter Bag of the Great Western, or Life in a Steamer,’ 1840.
  5. ‘The Bubbles of Canada. By the Author of “The Clockmaker,”’ 1839.
  6. ‘A Reply to the Report of the Earl of Durham. By a Colonist,’ 1839.
  7. ‘The Old Judge, or Life in a Colony,’ 1849, 2 vols.
  8. ‘Traits of American Humour by Native Authors,’ 1852.
  9. ‘Sam Slick's Wise Saws and Modern Instances,’ 1853, 2 vols.
  10. ‘The Americans at Home, or Byeways, Backwoods, and Prairies,’ 1854, 3 vols.
  11. ‘The Attaché, or Sam Slick in England,’ 1843–4, 4 vols.
  12. ‘Rule and Misrule of the English in America,’ 1851, 2 vols.
  13. ‘Nature and Human Nature,’ 1855.
  14. ‘Address at Glasgow on the Condition, Resources, and Prospects of British North America,’ 1857.
  15. ‘Speech in House of Commons on Repeal of Duties on Foreign and Colonial Wood,’ 1860.
  16. ‘The Season Ticket,’ a series of articles reprinted from the ‘Dublin University Magazine,’ 1860.

Pirated compilations from Haliburton's works were brought out under the following titles, which were invented by American publishers: ‘Yankee Stories and Yankee Letters,’ 1852; ‘Yankee Yarns;’ ‘Sayings and Doings of Samuel Slick, Esq., together with his Opinion on Matrimony;’ and ‘Sam Slick in search of a Wife.’

[Memoir, by F. Blake Crofton, 1889; Morgan's Bibliotheca Canadensis, 1867, pp. 166–71; Grant's Portraits of Public Characters, 1841, i. 291–304; Tallis's Drawing Room Portrait Gallery, 1860, 3rd series, with portrait; Illustrated London News, 15 July 1843, p. 37, with portrait, and 9 Sept. 1865, p. 245, with portrait; Bentley's Miscellany, 1843, xiv. 81–94, with portrait; Statesmen of England, 1862, with portrait; The Critic, 5 Feb. 1859, p. 126, with portrait.]

G. C. B.