The serial publication of The Clockmaker in 1835-36 launched Canadian judge Thomas Chandler Haliburton to literary fame. A broad satire with a garrulous, deceitful American clock-seller, Sam Slick, as its central character, the book was embraced by reviewers and readers internationally. Some Canadian reviewers were often less enthusiastic, however, with one calling Slick’s comical American slang “low, mean, miserable, and witless.” Almost two centuries later The Clockmaker is still central to Canadian literary history—and still highly controversial, particularly for its treatment of women and black Canadians.
Richard A. Davies provides a nuanced and illuminating discussion of the controversies about The Clockmaker from 1835 to the present, and of the complex historical and political factors that led to its mixed reception. Historical documents include other writings and speeches by Haliburton, earlier satires of Canadian and American culture, and contemporary reviews.
“In the 1830s, Thomas Chandler Haliburton gave us the figure of Sam Slick, a wily Yankee clock-pedlar of incomparable vigour and voice. Immediately, Slick leapt off the page, and he continues to do so in this new edition of The Clockmaker, carefully prepared by Richard A. Davies. Davies has done Haliburton a great service by reintroducing his series of sketches to a new audience of readers. One of Canada’s earliest and most significant writers, Haliburton once rivalled Dickens in popularity. Today he is known for ‘sayings and doings’ that are controversial but nonetheless invoke the temper of his times. This accessible edition will return Sam Slick to the reading room and the classroom, where he is guaranteed to spark fierce debate—the mark of his spirited and enduring character.” — Ruth Panofsky, Ryerson University