Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

Do you think that in beautifying the capital you could alter all its architecture to something jollier — something more suggestive of democracy at work? Could the spires be swelled out a little, so that they became domes? Or perhaps the spires could be sawed off at the roots? For I assure you, sir, that those spires, rising above the low skyline of Hull, give quite the wrong impression to the visitor.

Yours for democratic architecture,

S. Marchbanks.


To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Dear Marchbanks:

This lawsuit you are bringing against me is getting to be a nuisance. I only put the skunk in your car for a joke. Have you no sense of humour?

I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You like pictures, I believe. If you will tell your lawyers to drop the case I’ll give you a picture my Aunt Bessie brought back from her tour of Italy before Great War I. I think she said it was Venus Rising from the Sea, by Botticelli. The family have always called it The Stark Tart, and we keep it in the attic. I believe it is the original, but maybe it is just a copy. Anyhow, it looks like the kind of thing you would like. It is a little stained by damp, but otherwise all right.

If this isn’t generosity, I don’t know what you could call it.

Yours fraternally,

Dick Dandiprat.


To Richard Dandiprat, ESQ.

Presumptuous Dandiprat:

I would call it gross impudence, and an attempt to clog the mighty engine of justice. Keep your foreign pornography, wretch, to comfort you in prison.




To Chandos Fribble, ESQ.

Dear Fribble:

You are a great investigator of the phenomena of our civilization. Can you tell me why magazines are getting smaller? Yesterday I wanted a magazine — an unusual thing with me — and hied me to a news stand. I counted 82 magazines on the racks, of which 53 were little ones. Many of these were called Digests of one sort and another. I have noticed the tendency for years for big papers to shrink into magazines, and for magazines to dwindle into digests, but I did not realize that it had gone so far.

Where will it all end? After digestion — what? The smallest of the digests — a new one — was about the size of a pocket notebook. What will happen if somebody decides to digest it? The result will have to be read with a microscope. Not that I care. They can get as small as they like without any protest from me. But I am curious to know the reason for this sudden passion for miniature magazines. Is it shrinking reading matter to suit the shrinking brain?

Yours nosily,

Samuel Marchbanks.


To Amyas Pilgarlic, ESQ.

Dear Pil:

Last week I was bidden to a graduation banquet where a large number of students — after consuming the tomato soup, green peas and deliquescent ice cream which are obligatory at such orgies — listened to speeches of good advice from their elders, and made a few speeches themselves.

What particularly impressed me was that the elders who spoke all assured the young people that they were going out into a World of Chaos, and the young people all agreed with them.

This moved me to ponder that I was born into a world of chaos — the chaos of the moment being the First World War. My childhood was passed amidst the chaos of the Post War World, and then came the chaos of the Depression; this, in time, gave way to the chaos of the Second World War, and now I wallow in the chaos of the Atomic Age. This is a pretty good record for one life — chaos every minute.

In spite of all this chaos, however, most people seem to lead humdrum lives, and badly want livening up. Do you think we should organize a Chaos-of-the-Month Club, guaranteeing to supply all members with something really unnerving every thirty days? For I greatly fear that most of those students, rushing eagerly out into a world of chaos, are going to find that their particular part of it quickly becomes a deadly routine.

Yours for more varied chaos,



To Waghom Wittol, ESQ.

Esteemed Wittol:

You write to ask me if I think that the smoking of a pipe would help you to bear your troubles more easily. You refer, I gather, to the unaccountable absences and occasional eccentricities of Mrs. Wittol. You mention the fact that Dr. Albert Einstein, in accepting a life membership in the Montreal Pipe Smokers Club said: “Pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgement in all human affairs.” Far be it from me to contradict such a man, but I feel that I should warn you that pipe smoking brings its own troubles.

Of course, if you buy one pipe and smoke it until it threatens to asphyxiate you, using any kind of tobacco you can get cheap, you may have no difficulty. But if you aspire to be a gentleman pipe-smoker you are in for a rough time. You will be overwhelmed with advice from pipe-smoking friends about kinds of tobacco, how to stuff your pipe, how and when to clean it, and how to knock the ashes out of it. You will learn to be anxious about the “cake” inside the bowl, which must be kept precisely one-sixteenth of an inch thick — no more and no less. You will worry about making each pipeful burn evenly, and you will agonize if your bowl grows hot. You will find that you cannot talk when smoking, and that you cannot think about anything except your pipe. You will lust after pipes which are beyond your means, and you will despise people who smoke cheap pipes and ordinary tobacco. You will, in short, be about as calm and objective as a whirling dervish.

I smoke a pipe myself — a dirty little affair made, I think, of pitch-pine. I tried to be a gentleman smoker but it was beyond me. Why don’t you take snuff, which is much easier and will make your eyes water so much that you won’t notice what Mrs. Wittol is up to.

Yours without prejudice,

S. Marchbanks.


To Chandos Fribble, ESQ.

My good Fribble:

You are a man of enquiring mind, and a psychologist of note. Can you explain the lamentable decline in the art of face-making among modern Canadian children? You will recall that when we were boys the making of faces was taken seriously; children devoted hours to the evolution of new and horrifying faces, and a certain distinction attached to the boy or girl who led his circle in this respect.

The child of today seems utterly dead to the delights of masterly mugging. Now and again they stick out their tongues in a lackadaisical fashion, but not far. I remember the days when tongues were tongues, and nothing under four inches of exposure was considered respectable. Gifted children could turn the tongue upward, touching the tip of the nose, and exposing the fraenulum, or blue string, which is one of the tongue’s special features. Dragging down the under lids of the eyes was carefully cultivated, so as to expose the maximum of wet red flesh beneath the eyeball. The nostrils were drawn upward with the fingers. The ears were violently wiggled. The combinations of these basic distortions were many and, in capable hands, produced brilliant effects. But all of this glory is departed. Why is it so, Fribble? Has some of the elasticity gone from youth?

Yours reflectively,

S. Marchbanks.


To Mrs. Kedijah Scissorbill.

Dear Mrs. Scissorbill:

It is useless to reproach me because I have publicly confessed that I am a regular reader of the comic strips. I have read them ever since I could read anything, and I am not likely to change now. Your concern about comics arises, I think, from the fact that you do not understand them. They are not as great an influence on the lives of their readers as you think. For instance, I read every day certain adventure strips, not because I like the characters but because I detest them. I sneer cruelly at their dreadful predicaments, their dangerous, overstrained lives, and at the tawdry charms of their women. I hope, in an idle sort of way, that they will at last get themselves into a fix so desperate that they will never escape. It troubles me not at all that they never do so.

There are certain strips, on the other hand, which are social comment. By reading them I can find out what millons of my fellow creatures believe and what they think.

And finally there are a few strips of great strength, of imagination, or of whimsical charm. I read them quite simply because I like them.

You may say that I might devote the ten minutes a day I give to the twenty comics I read to some better purpose. I reply that I doubt it. Hoping that the strain of policing your fellow citizens is not proving too much for you, I am

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Categories: Davies, Robertson