Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

Marchbanks did not die in 1953. Recently paperback editions of the Diary and the Tabletalk have been published, in which some passages worn by time have been replaced by new passages. And now this Almanack. Like the Diary and Tabletalk, it has its own principle of selection and organization. It too follows an old popular literary pattern, for almanacks have been produced since the time of Ptolemies. Almanacks describe primarily the progress of the astronomical or astrological year, and have been laced with information about things agricultural, medicinal, social, gastronomical, and what not. Some have been comic; others full of tall tales; others full of wise-saws and worldly advice. Marchbanks’ is a miscellany. Many of the entries have been selected from Examiner columns of the late 40’s and early 50’s where Marchbanks expanded his range beyond that of the earlier columns. Others have been written more recently, and reflect experience amid the poison ivy and other undergrowth in the Groves of Academe. Like the Diary and the Tabletalk, this book is best savoured if read in small doses.

The title “Wizard” before Marchbanks’ name should not puzzle many readers. A Wizard is a man with unusual knowledge of the human heart and the power of insight into the future. There are still wizards in Wales; in North America they are called by other names: doctor, professor, advertising or marketing consultant, psychiatrist, artist or writer. Nowadays many of them use computers, or simulate computers. Marchbanks scorns mechanical aids. His wizardry lies in his horse-sense, his humanism, and his wit and candour; his power lies in his language.


Trinity College, in the University of Toronto


Which is is Unwise to Skip

If you are looking for an ordinary Almanac, containing information about the tides, postal rates, public holidays and the like, this is not the book for you. What I offer in these pages is a miscellany which may serve a variety of purposes, but the imparting of commonplace facts is not one of them. The themes of my book are Astrological and Inspirational.

The Almanack is divided into twelve sections which correspond to the signs of the Zodiac. At the beginning of each section a valuable Character Analysis will be found, compiled by Wizard Marchbanks. The special quality of these analyses is their utter frankness. There are scores of other astrological books on the market that attempt to soften the message of the stars. I have scorned subterfuge, which has done so much to bring astrology into disrepute. The twelve character analyses also permit the Almanack to be used as a Birthday Book, and a key to the nature of anyone you can persuade to entrust you with the date of their birth.

A word of warning: if you were born at a date which is within the last four days of any zodiacal period, or within the first three days of one, you are in an astrological mess called a “cusp,” and you partake of the characteristics of both the signs under which you were born. If you were born, let us say, on August 22nd, you are influenced by both Leo and Virgo; you are leonine and virginal in equal measure — a vexing predicament for you and all who know you. This confusion of temperament among those born in cusps has given rise to the astrological expression “a queer cusp” to describe such a person.

The Inspirational material in the Almanack is drawn from my private papers — Diaries, Commonplace Books, Soul Scrapings and accumulated Correspondence and Letter Files. Though no special coherence is attempted in the arrangement of this material I hope that these random recollections and revelations by myself and my friends may permit the reader to dip into the book at any point, and find some Sweetly Solemn Thought, suitable for reflection or Solace in a Dark Hour.

As a boy I spent many happy hours poring over a series of books bearing such titles as A Day With Walter Scott, and A Day With Tennyson. I have felt for some time that the moment was near to offer the public A Day With Marchbanks, but as you, my readers, have been most generous toward me in the past I am unwilling to hold you down to one measly day; it would ill become me to play the niggard in offering you these riches of the spirit.


from the Horoscope-Casting Chamber

Marchbanks Towers.

(March 22 to April 20)

Aries is the sign of the Ram, and those born under it are of robust physical health, strongly dominating disposition and destined to be leaders. If you are not a leader now, explain this to your friends and employers, and show them that, if you are to make fullest use of your powers, you must be given your own way in everything. Once you have made this important adjustment to fate, you should enjoy a life of considerable happiness. Do not worry that you are not strongly intellectual; instinct is your best friend and you should never hesitate to act upon it, even when others counsel caution. People born under your sign often die violent deaths, so choose your friends carefully, and always look under the bed before retiring. Your sex-life may cause remark among the jealous: frown them down.


According to the best astrological authorities, your lucky colours are red, white and blue; your flowers are the anemone, the hawthorn and the buttercup; your stones are the beryl, the green jasper, the coral, carnelian, amethyst, sapphire and diamond. You may easily deal with the matter of colours by keeping a small Union Jack or Stars and Stripes tucked in your pocket; the Canadian flag isn’t lucky enough for you. I admit that all your lucky flowers are difficult to make into any sort of presentable bouquet, and you have to be especially careful with hawthorn, which flowers for a week or so in June, but carries thorns as long as horseshoe nails for twelve months of the year. Of your lucky stones, the diamond is easily the most popular, and any suggestion that your engagement ring should contain a piece of green jasper instead of the brighter stone should be dealt with firmly. The amethyst, by the way, is said to be a safeguard against drunkenness, but do not test this to the uttermost; you may require a larger amethyst than you can conveniently afford.

Health Hints for Those Born Under Aries

Your weak points, astrologers agree, are your stomach and kidneys, and, to be frank, two more inconvenient places to conk out could hardly be imagined. Your best plan, perhaps, is to eat and drink all you can while your stomach and kidneys are still working and then, when they give up, you will at least have the wistful fun of poring over old menus. There are those who recommend great moderation in diet from earliest childhood, but if you investigate the personal history of those who give such counsel you will usually find that they were born under a strong-gizzarded planet, and eat and drink like refugees. Moderation in eating and drinking is to be avoided for as long as possible, as it is a great vexation while it is going on, and disposes you to regretful recollections when you are living on crackers and boiled milk. The kidneys, by the way, may be fortified by drinking rain water which has run off a tarred roof; the creosote in the water provides the organs with a useful extra lining which will resist virtually anything. Drink molten rubber, also, but never to excess; melted party balloons serve very well.

Meditations at Random

NAÏVETÉ OR CANADIAN FOXES / Was talking to one of the few people in Canada who hunts foxes on a horse, and with hounds, in the English fashion. It is not generally known that there is a small but persistent survival of the fox-hunt in this country. But this man told me that Canadian foxes are either stupider than English foxes, or do not realize what is expected of them; the last fox he hunted, he said, ran in a circle of about a hundred yards, rushing directly at the hounds, who ate it as best they could while rolling around on the ground, holding their sides and laughing in their rich, doggy voices. Because of this lack of gumption among foxes, it is usual to drag a sack of some strong-smelling stuff over a good long course, and let the hounds follow that. The question which occurs to me is: would there be any money in training foxes for this highly specialized work? It would be wearing for a man of my temperament to drag a fox on a rope through streams, in and out of holes, and over ploughed fields, but I am willing to try it if I can thereafter rent the fox to hunters at a stiff fee. If they kill my trained fox, of course, I shall expect to be pensioned for life.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson