Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

If we are very fortunate we may be able to get this case on the docket for the Autumn Assizes; otherwise it will hold over until Spring. The law is a dreadful engine, Mr. Marchbanks, and when set in motion it moves with frightening speed.

Yours in high glee,

Mordecai Mouseman

(for Mouseman, Mouseman and Forcemeat).


To Amyas Pilgarlic, ESQ.

Dear Pil:

This is a world of rush and bustle, but I have found one point of calm in the maelstrom, one unfailing fountain of surcease. For some years I have subscribed to two or three English weekend papers, deceiving myself that I do so in order to keep up with what is doing abroad. I take the New Statesman, and the Spectator, and the Sunday Times, but I have long realized, at the back of my mind, that I do not read these to keep up with the news, but to put a brake on the news. When I get these journals — or I suppose they should be called hebdomadals — they are about a month old, and I have the delightful sensation of reading about the past, laughing at the predictions which have been proved untrue, and the fears which have become groundless. It is a thoroughly god-like amusement.

Why they arrive so late I cannot really discover. In my grandfather’s day it took about a month to get a paper from England, and it still does. The English attitude toward such things is leisurely. I imagine the Editor of the New Statesman saying to his secretary, “Oh, Elsie, have you sent the parcel to that Canadian chap — Matchbox or whatever his name is?” And Elsie says, “Not this week; the new ball of twine hasn’t come yet; I shall attend to it first thing next week.” Then the Editor says, “Oh, plenty of time; the mail-packets leave Tilbury every second Thursday.” And thus it goes. I pray that modern efficiency may never reach the circulation departments of the radical journals, or I may lose this delicious sensation of repose.

Your crony,


A Garland of Musings

BARN ENCHANTMENT / Visited a friend who has recently acquired a house with a barn behind it. I am fond of barns; there is a pleasant air of mystery about them, particularly when they have not had cement floors, aluminum mangers and fluorescent lighting installed in them. This was a good old barn, smelling still of horses, and it carried me back to my childhood so powerfully that I climbed the ladder into the haymow, and discovered that I am either less nimble than I was as a child, or that the ladders leading to haymows are frailer. The ladder trembled, and I trembled, but at last I reached the top and cracked my head smartly on a beam which was over the ladder-hole. The loft was just as dark and full of exciting possibilities as I had hoped it would be, and when I dimly descried the stuffed head of a bison hanging on one wall my cup of joy was full. A visit to a good barn is like a plunge into the fountain of youth.

DISINGENUOUS DEDICATIONS / Picked up a book, a new edition of a classic of fully a hundred years standing, and found that it had been dedicated, not by the author, but by the illustrator, to somebody called Alison. There were the words, “The illustrations in this volume are dedicated to Alison.” I consider this impertinent. If one may dedicate the illustrations of a book, why not the binding? Why should not the paper manufacturers insert a note saying, “The genuine mashed pine parchment upon which this volume is printed is dedicated to Susan”?. . . The whole business of dedications is interesting. What does a dedication really mean? I have never heard of an author who made over the royalties on a book to the person to whom it was dedicated. The person to whom the dedication is addressed — the dedicatee, I suppose he should be called — has no control over what appears in the book. I shrewdly suspect that dedications are, in nine cases out of ten, attempts on the part of an author to seem generous without incurring any painful outlay of money. The saddest dedications are those which scholars make to their wives, as when the dedication of A New Exegetical Consideration of Second Thessalonians reads, “To Effie, who read the proofs and prepared the index.”

CAPTIVE AUDIENCES / Received a letter from a wretch who is obviously suffering from a bad case of Stenographer Fever. This disease, which is well known in business circles but unaccountably ignored by medical science, is a condition in which a man dictates letters to impress his stenographer, rather than the true recipient of his message. His letter becomes rhetorical and hectoring in tone. He tends to call his correspondent by name several times, thus; — “Now, Mr. Marchbanks, as you are no doubt well aware, it is not my custom to mince words with such a man as you, Mr. Marchbanks, seem to be . . .” — generally I deal with such letters by replying in this strain: — “Samuel Marchbanks has received your note. His answer is No.”. . . No man, we are told, is a hero to his valet, but the world of business abounds with men who wish to be heroes to their stenographers and to this end they soar and bombinate, keeping an appreciative eye on the Captive Audience on the other side of the desk.

From My Files

To Raymond Cataplasm, M.D., F.R.C.P.

Dear Dr. Cataplasm:

I have just had a brilliant idea which, if you can make it practical, will revolutionize medical science. I am, as you know, of partly Celtic ancestry, and I have for many years been fascinated by the institution of the Sin Eater, once so popular in Wales and its border country. At every funeral there attended some old man who, at the proper time, accepted across the body of the corpse a piece of cake, a cup of wine, and a small piece of money; he ate these — not the money, of course — saying before everyone present that he took upon him the sins of the dead person, whose soul was then free to go to Heaven without any burden upon it.

Could not medical skill arrange for someone, to be called the Fat Eater, to undertake a similar service for people whose metabolism disposes them to put on excess weight? As the stout party sat down to meals he could hand a few victuals across the table to the Fat Eater, on the understanding that the latter would take upon himself any poundage which might result from his feeding. And thus, while the employer had the fun of the food, the Fat Eater would take on the burden of the weight.

Like all great ideas, this is essentially simple. It just needs a little working out, which I am sure you can manage easily.

Your perennial patient,

Samuel Marchbanks,


To Amyas Pilgarlic, ESQ.

Dear Pil:

I attended an admirable concert recently and enjoyed myself very much, but whenever the singer was about to tackle a song in a foreign language I would cast my eyes at the translation of the words which was included on my program, and would see something like this: “Beautiful lips, shuffling to and fro with indecision, why don’t you render me the delicious happiness to say yes, again yes, oh yes, lips, hurry up lips, yes, yes.” I am no great hand at understanding German and Italian, but I venture to say that the words of the songs were on a slightly higher literary level than the translations indicated.

Do you suppose that in Italy and Germany songs in English are translated in the same way for concert audiences? If so, I can imagine Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes working out something like this: “Let us agree, when drinking, to employ the eyeballs only; similarly with kisses; I sent you some flowers recently and you sent them back after blowing on them; they are still alive but are impregnated with your personal odour.”

Could UNESCO unesco do anything about this confusing question of translating songs?

Your crony,



To Haubergeon Hydra, ESQ.

Dear Mr. Hydra:

There is a matter of some delicacy which I feel should be brought to your notice, as Deputy Expediter of the Plan for the Beautification of the Dominion Capital. I had occasion to visit Ottawa recently, and as I entered the city by train, and again as I left it, I was painfully struck by its resemblance to a foreign capital which I shall only describe as M-sc-w.

Pause, Mr. Hydra, before you put the BCMP to work to investigate me. I mean no disloyalty. Quite otherwise. This resemblance grieved me more than I can say, and I would like it to be minimized. I am sure that it has not come to your personal attention because, like all Civil Servants, you rarely leave the capital, and when you do you take a sack full of papers to work at on the train, and never look out of the window. Consequently you have never been struck, as I was, by the resemblance of Parliament Hill to the Kr-ml-n. Those spires, surrounded by grey mist, that air of brooding secrecy, that sense of doom — oh, Hydra, they won’t do at all! They give quite the wrong impression.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson