Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

Yours unregenerately,

Samuel Marchbanks.


To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Esteemed Sir:

The costs of pursuing your case against Richard Dandiprat, ESQ., are mounting. As you know, there are many charges involved in legal proceedings apart from the charge brought in court. (Ha, ha: a legal jest, Mr. Marchbanks, and a great favourite with Mr. Mouseman, senior; pardon me for bringing it up but I could not help myself.) There is the cost, for instance, of having all the relevant documents copied in octuplicate. You may say that there were no relevant documents in your case, but you would be wrong; we have created several. That is part of the service a lawyer offers his client. And there are carrying charges, as well; these are the fees required to induce your lawyer to carry your case in his head; these are utterly indispensable. And there are incidental charges; for instance during the typing of some documents related to your case a typewriter ribbon frayed away to a juiceless shoe-string; there was nothing to be done but to replace it, the first time this has been necessary since the purchase of the machine in 1907.

We never plague our clients for money, but we suggest to you that we do not live upon air, though we have been known to live upon heirs. (I crave forgiveness, sir; another pleasantry of the elder Mr. Mouseman; it slipped out, somehow.) A little something to be going on with would be a lovely midsummer surprise for

Yours faithfully,

Mordecai Mouseman

(for Mouseman, Mouseman and Forcemeat).

From My Notebooks

OIL ODDITY / Had the pleasure today of viewing a beautiful indoor garden, owned by some very wealthy people, and marvelled foolishly because there were no weeds in it. Indeed, the earth had been topped with some black, velvety substance to set off the flowers which grew there. But what really made my eyes pop was a collection of ferns and decorative plants, the leaves of which had been lightly oiled in order to make them shine! This is gardening on a level undreamed of at Marchbanks Towers, where the only thing I ever oil is the head gardener (myself) when half an hour’s unbroken work has sapped his vitality. I apply a special oil inwardly. However, I am thinking of trying this treatment on my aspidistra, using what remains in a bottle of oil left at the Towers by a constipated visitor.

LAST ENCHANTMENTS OF THE MIDDLE AGE / To the movies, to see Ivanhoe, and enjoyed it thoroughly. It departs a good deal from the novel, but I am not one to complain of that, for Scott always put enough plot in a single book to last Hollywood for a year. Athelstane of Conningsburgh was cut out entirely, but I did not miss him; King Richard was trimmed to a mere sliver, but what remained was satisfactorily Lion-Hearted. The only change I deplored was in the death of Brian de Bois Guilbert; in the film he and Ivanhoe fought to the death with a Boppeur de la Tete (a chain with a spiky ball on the end) and a Hacqueur du Corps (a fire axe); my studies in mediaeval armoury enabled me to recognize these at once. But in the book Brian died in the most dramatic way possible; he simply exploded, a victim of the contending passions of love and hate, and died one of the most interesting psychological deaths in all literature. George Sanders is an excellent actor, with a vast repertory of sneers and leers, and he could have given us the biggest death-scene since Jumbo was hit by a train at St. Thomas. But Hollywood still fears these subtleties, and the final battle reminded me of one of my enraged assaults upon the furnace at the Towers.

IGNORAMUS / To my dentist, and as I sit in his chair I look through a large window toward the spire of a church which is surmounted by a cross. This reminded me of the inscription on Strindberg’s tomb — Ave Crux Spes. Unica. I know what this means, but it is hard to put it into English. “Hail Cross, You Unique Thing” does not sound right and “Hail the Cross, It’s The Only Thing” sounds like an advertisement for a patent medicine. But puzzling over this matter slightly distracted my mind while the dentist moved a small machine shop into my mouth and arranged things to suit his taste. Why such an old snorter as Strindberg chose such a pious inscription I cannot guess. . .

Realized later, when the pain was going out of my jaw, that of course it meant “Hail, Cross, our sole Hope.” It is translation of this quality that made me the despair of many a Latin teacher. I am an impetuous, rather than a pedantic, translator.


(Wrapped ’round a stone and thrown through my window)

To Big Chief Marchbanks.

How, Marchbanks:

I lucky Indian, Marchbanks. Why? I tell. Last week Chief Fishbone-in-Throat die. Young man, Marchbanks. Only 102. Once I nearly marry his daughter, Princess Blocked Drain. Now Fishbone dead, Ottawa want succession duties. They take wigwam, take wampum, take truss off corpse. Bury Fishbone all busted. Now Blocked Drain poor woman. Owe Ottawa money. She offer Ottawa corpse of Fishbone but Ottawa refused because of rupture. Only want fancy corpse. I lucky Indian, Marchbanks. If I married Blocked Drain might have to work too, now. Instead I got job on roads. Wave red flag. Authority, Marchbanks.

How, again!

Osceola Thunderbelly,

Chief of the Crokinoles.

Culled from the Apophthegms of Wizard Marchbanks

Wisdom is a variable possession. Every man is wise when pursued by a mad dog; fewer when pursued by a mad woman; only the wisest survive when attacked by a mad notion.

(July 24 to August 23)

Leo is the sign of the Lion. You who are born under it are born to rule, and to have your own way in everything, and therefore you should take special care never to be associated with persons born under Aries or Taurus, for they will dispute with you for top place. Avoid persons born under Gemini, for they may overthrow you by their subtlety. Have nothing to do with those born under Cancer, for their criticism may undermine you. The Leo-bom have a tendency to show off; this should not be resisted for, contrary to opinions spread chiefly by those born under Cancer, it is impressive and strengthens the feeling that you should be allowed to do as you please. This is what is important; get your own way, and if any misfortunes result therefrom, you will probably not notice them, or will attribute them to some other cause.


Lucky indeed are those born under Leo. Look at your fortunate colours — blood-red, orange, scarlet and yellow! Whee! And your lucky flowers — marigold and peony! And your lucky stones — diamond and ruby! If this doesn’t make you happy with your lot you are hard to please indeed. You will observe that red is lucky for you wherever it appears, but be sure you keep it for yourself. A Leo-born husband will be likely to think that his wife always looks best in a red dress; his Ideal Woman is dressed in red from top to toe, has red hair and a flaming makeup, and is sitting in a red chair eating red jelly. Try to moderate this passion. Do not force red meat upon your Cancer-born friends, when they are yearning for a bowl of blanc-mange. Get it through your head that red is for you to wear, and that it is not necessary for you to see red all the time.

Health Hints for Those Born Under Leo

You have wonderful health, but you must be careful of your heart and back. This will not be easy, for you are the kind of fellow who tries to move the piano single-handed, and delights in being anchor-man when tug o’ war is played. If something goes wrong with your heart, don’t tell people about it. Remember, your character is founded upon that of the Lion, and a hang-dog Lion is not a pretty sight. A Lion nobly inactive, however, is just as impressive as a Lion on the rampage. If you have perfect health, which is highly probable, don’t tell people less fortunate that they could be like you if only they would try. It is not true and they might give you a saucy and disconcerting answer.

Meditations at Random

BIBLE CONUNDRUM / A small child begged me to tell her about Adam and Eve, which I did. I then scored a great success by asking her a Bible riddle which was a favourite of my childhood: “What eight men in the Bible milked a bear?” The answer, to be found in Genesis 22:23, is Huz, Buz, Kemuel, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph and Bethuel, the eight sons of Abraham’s brother Nahor, by his wife Milcah; the Hebrew reads – “these eight did Milcah bear to Nahor, Abraham’s brother.” I am full of hallowed jocosity of this sort.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson