Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

Health Hints for Those Born Under Libra

The sign under which you were born disposes you to almost any ailment which strikes below the belt. Your kidneys, lower abdomen, lumbar region and knees are your weak points. Though in general full of advice on matters relating to health, Wizard Marchbanks confesses himself stumped by this situation, and is inclined to tell you to wear flannel drawers and hope for the best. However, it was not for such offhand advice that you bought this book. Therefore it is suggested that you collect a good mixture of herbs — any well-known herbs will do — and brew them into a strong tea; drink freely of this whenever you feel out of sorts. If you feel ill, the herbs will certainly make you feel worse; when this feeling passes the improvement will encourage you and may even bring you back to perfect health, out of sheer relief.


(Delivered by carrion crow)

To Big Chief Marchbanks.

How, Marchbanks:

Everybody in jail crazy, Marchbanks. Jail doctor bring old white squaw see us jail prisoners today. She squint at me through glasses. You got any sociable diseases, she say. Sure, I say. You want be sociable? How much you spend? Don’t know what she mean. Think she mean party. Everybody holler at me. Doctor tell Turkey turn hose on me. This one hell country, Marchbanks.

How, again,

Osceola Thunderbelly

(Chief of the Crokinoles).

Meditations at Random

REPULSIVE LITTLE STRANGER / While hanging about a friend’s house I picked up a book called The Culture of the Abdomen. It proved to be a gloomy work, holding out little hope for the future of Western Civilization unless we immediately get our abdomens into a condition resembling that of the Maoris and South Sea Islanders. These people, it appears, do elaborate dances in which no part of them moves but their abdomens. I don’t know that I would care to see the National Ballet go over to this technique, but apparently it is wonderful for the tripes. . . Even a mediocre writer may create one golden phrase, and the author of this book achieved it in the following sentence: “Upon many a death certificate we read the words Heart Failure, but we know that Fat and Gas are the parents of Heart Failure.” What a magically repulsive picture this calls up! Fat, the loathsome Slob-Mate, is approached by Gas, the fluttering, elusive, faintly-squealing Spectre-Bride, who whispers, “Honey, there’s going to be a Little Stranger soon — little H.F., that we’ve always dreamed of!” And then — BANG!

SANCTA SIMPLICITAS / After a longuish chat with some children today, I reflected that the child’s attitude toward humour differs sharply from that of the adult. In the world of mature people a joke is funny once, and should never be repeated in the same company. But children, having decided that a joke is funny, go on repeating it, laughing more loudly each time, until they collapse in hysteria. The mental age of a man might be gauged by observing how often he can laugh at the same joke.

KING OF THE BEASTS AT LUNCH / To an excellent film about Africa, with some of the best pictures of wild animals that I have ever seen. I was particularly interested in close-ups of a group of lions eating a zebra. Now I was brought up on picture books which insisted that the lion was a noble beast, that killed its prey with a single violent blow, and then stood upon the fallen carcass for a time, roaring; when it had thus worked up an appetite it tore off a leg, devoured it in lonely splendour and rushed off for further spectacular mischief. But here was a picture of five or six lions, all pushing and shoving like human beings, gobbling the guts of the zebra; there was no roaring, no defiance and no loneliness. One lion lay on its side near the feast, gorged and apparently slightly drunk. Vultures stood nearby, like waiters hoping to clear away the dirty plates. The lions ate messily, dropping bits and slobbering on their fronts. It seems that life in the jungle is rather more like life at a short-order lunch wagon than I had supposed. I do not know whether to be pleased or not.

From My Files

To Haubergeon Hydra, ESQ.

Dear Mr. Hydra:

I thought that you might like to know that I don’t believe the Old Age Pension should be increased. Old age is too delightful and dangerous a state to require a pension. Old people are usually very happy, and they are also subversive and a Bad Example. Let me tell you what I know.

Last Saturday I went to a nearby school for boys to watch their annual cadet inspection. I well remember when I was a schoolboy what an agony these affairs were. For weeks beforehand we marched till our legs were stiff; a sergeant-major with an immense stomach rudely urged us to suck in our non-existent stomachs; we polished our buttons till all the brass was worn off them; we polished our boots inside and out; we learned to march slowly, quickly and imperceptibly; we learned to perform complex quadrilles when other boys shouted hoarse and incomprehensible words. And when The Day came, in an agony of fear we performed these feats, believing that we had the admiration and enthralled attention of our elders. We didn’t know whether they admired us or not; our collars were so tight that we were bereft of the senses of sight and hearing. But we believed that they did.

Last Saturday I found out what really went on among the onlookers. While the boys marched, yelled, stamped and drove themselves toward hysterics their elders jabbered among themselves, laughed, averted their eyes from the sweating heroes and occasionally said “Aren’t the little boys sweet?” Some of those boys, Mr. Hydra, were daily shavers and not in the least sweet. And who were the worst offenders in this respect? Who mumbled trivialities during the General Salute? Who turned their backs and sniggered at private jokes while The Colours were being marched past? The Old, Mr. Hydra. The happy, carefree, irreverent, unpatriotic Old.

Don’t raise their pensions until they smarten up, and show a suitable respect for the Young.

Yours from the philosophical eminences of Middle Life,

Samuel Marchbanks.


To Mr. Adam Mulligrub.

Dear Mulligrub:

Please send me at once —

(1) 12 bundles containing twelve different Canadian leaves.

(2) 12 packages containing twelve different Canadian nuts.

Some schoolchildren in whom I am interested have been told by their teachers that they must make collections of leaves and nuts as specified above and it occurs to me that you, as a market gardener, are the man to supply them. I shall sell the collections to the children for 50 cents each, or $1.00 for both leaves and nuts, and will send you half. The teacher will be happy, you will be happy, and I shall be happy.

I do not know why the teacher wants this rubbish. The ways of teachers are past understanding. But she wants them, and I have been utterly unsuccessful in getting any together. The fact is, I can only recognize three kinds of leaf. There is the evergreen leaf, which is easy to recognize because it smells like bath salts and probably pricks you. Then there is the maple leaf, which has a jagged edge. All other leaves, to me, are beech leaves.

The teacher thinks differently. She sent one of my small clients back to me with a beech leaf which she said was from a Kentucky coffee tree. Did you ever hear of such a thing? Two other beech leaves she identified as cucumber tree and black cherry. She also asserts that there are 36 kinds of maple and even 6 kinds of willow, which I had always considered a straightforward, honest, one-type tree. The children who bother me about this talk wildly of the mockernut and hickory. I do not believe that such trees exist.

As for nuts, I believed until last week that nuts were made in those shops which smell so strongly of hot fat. To me a nut has always been a confection, something like a humbug or a Scotch mint. But it appears that nuts grow on trees.

Rush the collections as fast as you can, and I will see if I can drum up any more trade among the Nature Study set. They may be wanting stuffed birds next.

Yours faithfully,

S. Marchbanks.


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

Dear Dr. Cataplasm:

A physician who writes for the papers says that a slow heartbeat is a good thing. This is just what I have been saying for years, but nobody will listen. You doctors are really the most self-sufficient tribe!

What animals live longest? Those with the slowest heartbeat. I have no figures handy, but I remember hunting them up once in a medical book. An elephant lives to a great age, and its heart beats about 45 times a minute. A tortoise, if my memory serves me aright, has a heartbeat of approximately 22 thumps a minute. When you get down to really long-lived animals, like crocodiles, the beat is likely to be two or three times a minute. And I once pressed my ear to a parrot’s bosom (getting badly scratched for my pains) and I couldn’t hear any heartbeat at all.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50

Categories: Davies, Robertson