Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

I reflected that this theory about us and our hair has been held by the English for a century. Hearken to Susanna Moodie’s opinion of our women, from Roughing It In The Bush:

The Canadian women, while they retain the bloom and freshness of youth are exceedingly pretty; but these charms soon fade, owing, perhaps, to the fierce extremes of their climate, or the withering effect of the dry, metallic air of stoves, and their going too early into company and being exposed, while yet children, to the noxious influence of late hours, and the sudden change from heated rooms to the cold, bitter winter blast.

Do you think there is anything in this? Are our women so early faded because of exposure to hot stoves, or exposure to the chilling blast of Canadian masculinity? Or to both at once? This is a matter upon which I ruminate.


A. Pilgarlic.


To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Honoured Sir:

You have been most indiscreet, Mr. Marchbanks, indeed you have! Now that Mr. Dandiprat’s lawyers have been brought into the matter, I confess that I scarcely know which way to turn. Craven and Raven, whatever you may say to the contrary, are very astute. Indeed, they took a case to court and won it, so recently as 1924. I have consulted with the elder Mr. Mouseman, and also with Mr. Cicero Forcemeat, and we are agreed that we are pitted against some of the keenest legal talent in the country.

Oh, Mr. Marchbanks, why, oh why did you utter libel against Mr. Dandiprat? Before we know where we are this matter will come to court and, as I have told you before, anything can happen in court.

Your grieving attorney,

Mordecai Mouseman

(for Mouseman, Mouseman & Forcemeat).


To Amyas Pilgarlic, ESQ.

Dear Pil:

Business called me to Montreal this week, and I found myself in a nightclub. You are a wise man, and have delved deeply in the mysteries of the human mind: can you tell me why nightclubs are always so dark? In this one I could hardly see my plate, and twice dug a fork into my partner’s hand, mistaking it for a devilled chop.

Returning home I found myself the sole inhabitant of the parlour car from Montreal to Westmount, where an old lady came aboard. Later in the day a few other people joined us, but by that time the old lady and I had established ourselves as the Old Families of the parlour car, the aristocracy; we frowned upon the upstarts and shushed them when they dared to raise their voices. When caste asserts itself in such trivial things, how can anyone talk seriously of social democracy? Why, the old lady and I were barely ready to grant political democracy to the poor whites who joined us at Cornwall and Smith’s Falls.

Yours sincerely,



To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Dear Sam:

I have been curious lately to discover what notable or merely notorious persons in history have at some time been actors. The list is surprisingly long and contains some strange fish. Did you know, for instance, that Oliver Cromwell once appeared, when a young man, in a play called Lingua, or the Combat of The Tongue and the Five Senses for Superiority? It sounds rather a dull piece. Cromwell played Tactus, which, as you are rather an ignorant creature, I hasten to explain means Touch. Appropriate, is it not, that a man with Cromwell’s views on taxation should have played such a part? It is said that his experience as an actor inspired him with ambition to rule.

Possibly so. Many a man who has had a taste of acting takes to politics. The critics are less severe toward politicians than toward those who pursue the player’s art in its more demanding form.


A. Pilgarlic.


To Mrs. Morrigan.

My dear Mrs. Morrigan:

I went to Montreal this week to make a speech to a ladies’ club there, and while I held forth I noticed a woman in the second row of my audience who was fast asleep. I have written the following lines to her, which I offer for your inspection, as I know you dote on poetry:

To a Lady Who Fell Asleep

During My Address

Lullaby lady,

Lullaby dame;

While I address ye,

Slumber caress ye:

Sleep without fear, madam,

Sleep without shame.

Speeches are boring;

Tend to thy snoring:

I, too, am bored

But my sleep is to come.

Restful and numbing,

I go on humming —


‘Cause it brings me

A flattering sum.

Let my words weave thee

A tent dark and deep:

You’ve paid your fee, dame;

Sleep, madam, sleep.

Yours most devotedly,

Samuel Marchbanks.


To Amyas Pilgarlic, ESQ.

Dear Pil:

I suppose that even you, buried in your academic boneyard, have heard something of the uproar caused by the visit of the Royal Ballet to Canada. By a stroke of entirely undeserved good luck I obtained admission to two of their performances, and found them all that their most enthusiastic trumpeters had avouched.

One question about ballet I address to you as a scholar, and a professional unveiler of mysteries. Why do male dancers shave their armpits, but leave their chests hairy? Is the wool of the oxter in some arcane sense less aesthetically pleasing than the wool of the bosom? Perpend, Pilgarlic, and reply.

Yours impatiently,



A FANCIFUL NOTION / Bruce Hutchison, whose love-affair with the Canadian nation takes many a strange turn, writes this of Sir John A. Macdonald who gave us, he says, “our first portrait of a Canadian.” Here, it appears, is the portrait: “In that strange old man with the wine-red face and fantastic nose, in all the queer clutter, contradiction, comedy and tragedy of his life, we can see ourselves as in a mirror.”. . . Can we, indeed? I look eagerly at my fellow-Canadians, and not a wine-red face do I behold, except in early spring, when the sun-bathing mania claims its first victims. Fantastic noses, likewise, are all too few. Clutter, contradiction, comedy and tragedy are, I confess, to be met with on every hand, but they are not exclusive to Canadians. . . . No, I cannot think that Sir John A. was much like a Canadian, or like anything else, except his excellent self. As well say that Laurier was a mirror of Canadians. If any statesman really epitomized the Canadian character and appearance, it was probably Sir Oliver Mowat. I do not hold with pretending that our exceptional and great men are made in our image. We honour and follow them for the very reason that they are not.

NOT TO THE HAVANA BORN / Read in a paper about a man in Vancouver who made one pipeful of tobacco last for an hour and 57 minutes; this same smoker said that anybody whose pipe is exhausted in less than 40 minutes smokes too fast, and lacks the proper phlegmatic attitude for a pipe-smoker. This humbled me, for although I smoke a pipe regularly I am a hasty, hot smoker, and produce vast clouds of gas and mountains of ash. A large pipe lasts me 7 mins. 30 secs. In an attempt to solve my problem I have lately taken to cigars, but they are not for me. There are two kinds of cigar smokers — patrician fellows, who look as though they had been born to smoke the finest Havana, and people like myself, who look like cannibals gnawing a finger from their latest victim. If one does not belong to the very small first class, one should smoke cigars in private; nothing makes a man look so degraded as a drool-soaked, tattered, burning stump of tobacco stuck in one corner of his mouth. Whatever a man does, he should try to do with a certain decency and regard for the feelings of others. I know that when I smoke a cigar I bring sorrow to many hearts, and regret for the degradation of mankind.

MARRIAGE IS AS YOU LIKE IT / A bachelor was talking to me about the insistent and sour propaganda against marriage which is to be found everywhere in our civilization. “Do you wonder that I am unwed,” said he, “when the movies, the comic strips, the newspaper jokes and hundreds of novels and short stories are founded upon the theme that marriage is a long, rancorous fight in which a trapped and wretched male is victimized by a scheming, mercenary, domineering wife?” I admitted that this was true. Although we are assured from time to time that marriage is sacred, and that divorce, polygamy and adultery are hideous things, a surprising amount of popular entertainment is devoted to showing marriage in the worst possible light. Personally I know a great number of married people, and in my opinion most of them are much happier than they would be if they were single. Marriage is not the ideal condition for everybody, but the persistent representation of marriage as a condition of degrading servitude is nonsense. Nobody has to live in the pattern of Dagwood and Blondie or like a creation of Jimmy Hatlo, who does not choose to do so. “Cherish in your hearts some images of magnificence,” said W. B. Yeats to the youth of Ireland. It should be engraved on every marriage certificate.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson