The main topic of "My Financial Career" is a confession of Leacock's phobia about banks. This humorous essay is one of his most popular pieces because many of his readers share his fear of big, imposing institutions. Banks in Leacock's time were more intimidating places than most of them are today. In fact, it is possible to do most banking without ever entering a bank. But Leacock picks out the aspects of the old-fashioned bank that were most intimidating. They had thick stone walls, high ceilings, uniformed and armed guards, bars separating tellers from customers, and imposing vaults with incredibly thick steel doors. The men and women handling all that money were deadly serious and also suspicious of any stranger. Leacock seems to have been most intimidated by the people in the bank. No doubt Leacock received many penetrating looks when he first went in to open his modest account. As with most humor and comedy, we laugh at him because we are really laughing at ourselves.
When I go into a bank I get rattled. The clerks rattle me; the wickets rattle me; the sight of the money rattles me; everything rattles me.
After his interview with the manager, Leacock rose to leave the office.
A big iron door stood open at the side of the room.
"Good morning," I said, and stepped into the safe.
"Come out," said the manager coldly, and showed me the other way.
Leacock wrote excellent and very readable biographies of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. He must have been influenced by the humor pieces in which Mark Twain confesses some of his own foibles and idiosyncracies. One of his best is about his feelings about barber shops. Another is about how he allowed a traveling salesman to put so many lightning rods and metal coils around his house that the big Victorian building attracted every bolt of lignting in the county. Another very funny essay by Mark Twain deals with how he couldn't get a ridiculous little jingle out of his mind until he passed it on to a friend, who was then stuck with it himself.
Leacock's humor, like Mark Twain's, is built on exaggeration. Leacock's style is unpretentious, personal, friendly, and informal like that of Mark Twain. Notice how short all of the paragraphs are in "My Financial Career." Such short paragraphs and short sentences have eye-appeal.
Leacock was an extremely popular writer at one time, both in Canada and the United States. He ranked with Robert Benchley and James Thurber as a popular humorist. He is not so well remembered today. But humor essays can become dated quickly.