Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

Under an aristocratic system of government countries supported a class which did no work and probably could not work, and that class in turn fostered the arts and sciences and brought great credit upon their native lands. A Union of the Unemployable would, in the course of time, probably do the same. The time is ripe for this daring advance in social legislation, and Canada can be first in the field. The taxpayers will howl, of course, but they are a chronically disgruntled lot, and may safely be disregarded.

Yours in hope of a favourable reply,

Samuel Marchbanks.


To Chandos Fribble, ESQ.

Dear Fribble:

It is already rather late in the year to be thinking about the summer tourist business, and such reflection immediately turns my mind toward monsters. Canada, I assert, is wretchedly under-monstered. Tourists come up here to see what? Architecture? Ha, ha! Large objects, such as cities, buildings or slum areas? They have them much bigger at home. Natural beauties? They will quickly tell you that they live in the most beautiful country in the world. No, Fribble, they come here to see strange and improbable things, and not, as is sometimes said, to enjoy the voluptuous idleness of our Canadian Way of Life.

Some parts of Canada have awakened to this fact, and have taken the proper measures. British Columbia has two splendid monsters — “Caddy” the sea-serpent, and the “Ogopogo” which is to be seen in the Okanagan Lake. Saskatchewan has a half-alligator, half-calf. In Manitoba there is a moose so large that it crosses lakes by walking along the bottom.

In this type of tourist enterprise our part of Canada is laggard. Tourists coming here are habitually underwhelmed, and if we hope to overwhelm them we must have some monsters at once. We need a genuine, eye-filling monster and it must be clearly recognizable as such, so there is no use sending me a list of names of politicians, none of whom look nearly as monstrous as they are.

If you should have any ideas, let me know.

Your admirer and crony,

S. Marchbanks.


To Miss Nancy Frisgig.

Charming Nancy:

Of course you will get parking tickets if you leave a sports-car with a mink coat in it double-parked for two hours; only soft-drink trucks are permitted such liberties. And it is hopeless to try your charms on the police; they are the kind of men Cromwell used to recruit for his Ironsides, and to them feminine charm is as piffle before the wind.

My dentist, who is a man of wide and principally sad experience, tells me that he has professionally attended soldiers, sailors, hardrock miners, tax-collectors, and other nerveless and fearless people, and that they all bear pain like heroes; the exceptions are policemen, who are as sensitive as children to a touch of the drill.

So don’t try to charm them. Pay your fine, shout, “Yah, who’s chicken at the dentist?”, put your foot on the accelerator and get away.




To Miss Minerva Hawser.

Dear Miss Hawser:

You are forever asking me questions; how would it be if you answered a question of mine, for a change? What makes my goldfish die?

A few weeks ago a false friend gave me a small bowl containing a goldfish and another black fish, with long transparent trailing stuff hanging from it, so that it looked like Salome in all her seven veils. Salome had pop eyes, in which it was possible to read the secrets of her fishy soul. Almost from the time she entered my house she pined, and it became obvious to her best friends that she was covered with a rather nasty scum. It was no surprise to me when, one day, I found her floating on the top of the bowl, a husk from which the lovely spirit had flown.

Being a humane man I trotted to the pet shop and bought a companion for the goldfish. I got a small sardine with stripes on it. I also bought a snail, as the woman in the shop said it would keep my fish from growing scummy. Within a week the goldfish was no more. The vital spark had fled. And my sardine is beginning to look a trifle peaked.

Soon I shall be left with nothing but the snail. I cannot love my snail. It grips the side of the bowl with its single foot in a way which repels me. Have you ever examined the sole of a snail’s foot through a magnifying-glass? I have. It is a sight to make the gorge heave. Indeed, I almost hove my gorge right into the goldfish bowl.

What have I done wrong? Do I simply lack a green thumb with goldfish, or what?

Yours in deep puzzlement,

Samuel Marchbanks.

P.S. Just looked in the bowl, and the snail is now in Abraham’s bosom. A merciful deliverance, perhaps.


To Chandos Fribble, ESQ.

Dear Fribble:

Isn’t it odd how the same bit of information will crop up two or three times in the course of a week’s reading? Recently I have run across several references to the nineteenth century custom of drinking champagne out of a lady’s slipper, upon occasions of merrymaking. The usual thing, when the party was at its height, was to hoist the belle of the ball onto a table, laughingly remove her slipper, fill the heel of it with champagne, and quaff it off, while the lady shrieked with delight, and other fellows stood about, enviously wishing that they had thought of it first.

Plagued with a desire to test this for myself I have tried an experiment: I have a fairly new pair of bedroom slippers, and I poured some tap water into one of them and attempted to drink it. It is very hard to do this without slopping, and the liquid has a tendency to run down into the toe. It was a rather woolly drink. Further, it took my slipper eight hours to dry.

Now what do you suppose happened at those parties? When the toast had been drunk from the slipper was it then squelchily replaced on the dainty foot? And if not, how did the lady get home? So far as I know, these matters have never been satisfactorily settled. Are there any old-timers who have performed this slipper feat, who can throw light on what came later?

Yours curiously,

S. Marchbanks.


To Apollo Fishorn, ESQ.

Dear Mr. Fishorn:

You want to be a Canadian playwright, and ask me for advice as to how to set about it. Well, Fishorn, the first thing you had better acquaint yourself with is the physical conditions of the Canadian theatre. Every great drama, as you know, has been shaped by its playhouse. The Greek drama gained grandeur from its marble outdoor theatres; the Elizabethan drama was given fluidity by the extreme adaptability of the Elizabethan playhouse stage; French classical drama took its formal tone from its exquisite candle-lit theatres. You see what I mean.

Now what is the Canadian playhouse? Nine times out of ten, Fishorn, it is a school hall, smelling of chalk and kids, and decorated in the Early Concrete style. The stage is a small raised room at one end. And I mean room. If you step into the wings suddenly you will fracture your nose against the wall. There is no place for storing scenery, no place for the actors to dress, and the lighting is designed to warm the stage but not to illuminate it.

Write your plays, then, for such a stage. Do not demand any processions of elephants, or dances by the maidens of the Caliph’s harem. Keep away from sunsets and storms at sea. Place as many scenes as you can in cellars and kindred spots. And don’t have more than three characters on the stage at one time, or the weakest of them is sure to be nudged into the audience.

Farewell, and good luck to you,

S. Marchbanks.


To Haubergeon Hydra, ESQ.

Dear Mr. Hydra:

The five-day week is undoubtedly a fine thing; the less work people do the less mischief they are likely to cause. It has been my observation that it is men’s work, rather than their recreations, which create trouble. But, Oh, Mr. Hydra, do you think you could do anything to prevent those who work a five-day week from using Saturday to pester those who don’t?

I make this appeal to you, as Special Commissioner of Nuisances. There is springing up in our fair land a whole class of people who use Saturday morning, especially, as a time for social calls, practical jokes, foolish questions, and kindred knavery. As one who works a six-and-a-half-day week I find that it adds intolerably to my burdens. Could you not form a Sixth Day Alliance, to protect Saturday workers from the floating population?

Yours distractedly,

Samuel Marchbanks.


To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Dear Mr. Marchbanks:

Capital news, Mr. Marchbanks, sir! At last we see our way clear to bring your case against Richard Dandiprat to court. I fear that perhaps the proceedings may not be precisely as you have envisioned them in your layman’s imagination. You have asserted that Mr. Dandiprat, with malice aforethought, induced a skunk to enter your car, and there to comport itself in such a manner as to constitute a nuisance. But as you appear to have lost all the documents which establish you as owner of the car our case breaks down at that point. We can only bring action against Dandiprat on charges of having behaved with cruelty toward a skunk, by incarcerating it in a stationary vehicle without food or water. You enter the case only as undoubted owner of the garage in which the car stood at the time. If the defence should claim that you were negligent in not locking the garage you may be censured by the judge, but I doubt if you will be asked to share Dandiprat’s fine.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson