Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

Health Hints for Those Born Under Cancer

Astrologers agree that you are apt to suffer from gastric disorders, and that you ought to drink sparingly, if at all. Bad news, for if you are typical of those born under your sign you are interested in the pleasures of the table and inclined to be a gourmet and a connoisseur of wines. Wizard Marchbanks urges you, of all people, to pay special heed to the counsel given under your Enchantment-of-the-Month; your role, in romance as in life, is that of the passive person, the acted-upon rather than the actor, the Desired One rather than the Pursuer. If you feel inclined to rebel against this fate, give it least one good try. Slip on that filmy negligee in shades of violet and green; tuck that large moonstone into your navel in such a way that it traps the light from your boudoir candles; lie down on a white sofa and sniff a few wallflowers. Sip a glass of milk. Now, with every planetary influence auspicious, you may find that Mr. Right will steal upon you unawares, or that some hearty, protective girl with a good job may beg you to be her mate.

Meditations at Random

AN ALIEN WORLD / Sometimes I have the sensation of one who has survived from an earlier age into a strange and uncanny era. Rode downtown today with a lady whose small child was in the back seat. Suddenly the moppet set up a great hullabaloo, and cried “Look! Look!” (In cold fact it cried “Yook! Yook!” but I have no intention of falling into baby talk.) What had excited it so much was the appearance of a horse — an ordinary draught-horse — on the street. Horses were as strange to that child as elephants. Its mother told me that the child was being taken to see — a camelopard? a unicorn? a hippogriff ? — no, none of these things, but a Jersey cow which has become a celebrity, and travels around to collect money for charity. What kind of a world do I inhabit, in which horses and cows are exotic rarities, and the combustion engine, that uncanny and devilish device, is taken for granted by the smallest child? I do not greatly like animals, but I like to see them about, for I am an animal myself; the horse is my brother and the cow my sister. But by the Beard of the Prophet, the combustion engine is no relative of mine, and a world where it is supreme will not tolerate me for long.

THE ENEMY WITHIN / Agreed with a man with whom I fell into conversation that it is, upon the whole, a bad thing to keep your temper at all times. Psychologists talk a good deal nowadays about something which they call “repressed hostility,” but which an old psychologist who used to do washing for my mother called “bottled-up mad.” She had a great deal of mad herself, which she rarely troubled to bottle, but when she did make the effort the vile substance could be seen mounting inside her, like mercury in a thermometer. It was said of Mary, Queen of Scots, that when she drank wine it could be seen bubbling down her lovely, transparent throat, like suds in a sink; the washerwoman’s mad worked the other way, rising from her bosom, up her neck, and rushing to the top of her head. Then she would unbottle some of it, at the top of her voice. But my friend and I decided that repressed hostility created tension, which led to ugly illnesses. It is better to beat your wife, or strike your little ones with a chair, than run such a risk. Bottled-up mad is probably at the root of many of the world’s baffling diseases.

NO NO / Was talking to a man today who spent a good deal of time in Madagascar during the war. He tells me that the Malagasy language spoken there contains no word for “no” and none for “virginity,” which may be regarded as a natural consequence. When a native of Madagascar wishes to express dissent or denial, he grins, trembles and shakes his head, which is of course a very unsatisfactory way of resisting anything. He learned this curious fact while seeking eggs to be devoured by his regiment. “Atoordi?” he would shout at any likely-looking native, and after a time he discovered that their embarrassed contortions meant that they had no eggs to sell. Eggs, he told me, are of great importance to an army, which quickly wearies of canned food and army meat. I had not realized that soldiers were interested in eggs, but a little reflection showed me how imperceptive I had been. Without eggs, the range of possible foods is reduced by at least one-third.

THE WEAKER SEX / Read an article in a woman’s magazine today called How to Keep Your Husband From Dying of Heart Failure. It was a sensible, well-written piece, pointing out that women are far less prone to heart injuries than men, and that women therefore should take on any heavy physical work that has to be done around a house, such as moving the furnace from one side of the cellar to another, or putting the car up on blocks for the winter. It included many anecdotes of poor, overdriven men who had been literally pushed into the Great Void by women who were afraid of such trifling tasks as carrying barrels of apples upstairs, or changing a tire on a truck. This strengthens a belief which I have long cherished, that in a few centuries women will be the larger, stronger sex, admired for their biceps and superfluous hair, and that men will be their toys and domestic comforters, exciting tenderness in the female breast by their small feet, pretty soft hands, and general helplessness. I do not think I have a heart, for I have never been able to locate my pulse, or any other symptom of a circulatory system, but I am willing to share any of the benefits of male delicacy.

From My Correspondance

To Amyas Pilgarlic, ESQ.

Dear Pil:

I was at a concert a few nights ago where a young woman sang Annie Laurie very well. I could not help wondering what impression she would have made on her hearers if she had sung the original version of the song. You know that it is always attributed to Lady Scott, who describes Annie thus:

Her brow is like the snaw-drift,

Her neck is like the swan;

Her cheeks they are the fairest

That e’er the sun shone on;

That e’er the sun shone on,

And dark blue is her ee. . .

And for this pleasing and rather delicate young party the singer declares himself ready to lay him doon and dee, which is an extreme measure, even for a Scotchman.

But I discovered quite recently that Lady Scott merely tidied up and watered down the poem of Annie Laurie. The original was written by William Douglas of Fingland in 1680, and he describes Annie in these words:

She’s backit like a peacock,

She’s breastit like the swan,

She’s jimp aboot the middle,

Her waist ye weel micht span;

Her waist ye weel micht span,

And she hath a rolling ee. . .

This is a very different girl, and one much more to my personal taste. This earlier and more interesting Annie might be glad to know that her lover would lay him doon and dee for her if need be, but a girl with a rolling ee can usually think of better ways of passing the time.

I am all for reviving the earlier Annie.




To Haubergeon Hydra, ESQ.

Dear Mr. Hydra:

I observe with interest that the government has signified its approval of a Union of the Unemployed, which will take care of the interests of unemployed persons and do its best to assure them of a square deal. May I entreat you, as Deputy Co-ordinator of Millenial Projects, to use what influence you have to carry this a step forward, and gain approval also for a Union of the Unemployable, which I am now organizing.

It is not generally realized by capitalists and even by labour unions that there are great numbers of people who are really unsuited for work of any kind. There is nothing reprehensible in this. The same Providence which makes one man a genius makes another a stumblebum. To lay any responsibility upon the man himself is out of key with all modern thought on such matters. But it is obvious that Society — meaning those who are happily in a position to pay taxes — has a duty to the unemployable, a duty which goes far beyond the provision of workhouses. For the unemployable are by no means deficient in ability; they are all good at attending meetings, and many of them are surprisingly eloquent. If their condition were ameliorated — that is to say, if they could be assured of the fruits of labour without any necessity to perform the labour — our country would be tapping an entirely new and untried source of intellectual energy.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson