Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

Don’t you think you could extend your patients’ lives indefinitely, and make your fortune and ruin the insurance companies, simply by giving your patients some simple drug to slow down their hearts to the speed of a crocodile’s?

Your perennial patient,

Samuel Marchbanks.


To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Dear Marchbanks:

I can’t go on like this! It half-kills me to live near a man who hates me the way you do! My lawyers say that if you take that case to court it might cost me my shirt, even if I win. I’m sorry I put the skunk in your car. Honest, Marchbanks!

So here’s what I’ll do. I’ll sell you my car, at a sacrifice. It is a Pierce Arrow 1923, and I’ll let you have it for $1,500, cash.

I can’t say fairer than that, can I?

Your despondent neighbour,

Dick Dandiprat.


To Richard Dandiprat, ESQ.

Abhorred Dandiprat:

The jaws of our irresistible legal system are closing upon you. It will be my pleasure, when the jaws open, to pick you out of their teeth.

Yours with demoniacal laughter,



(Written on brown paper previously used for wrapping meat)

To Big Chief Marchbanks.

How, Marchbanks!

You been in West, Marchbanks. I once in West. Went with harvest excursion but not like work so get job carving totem poles for Haida tribe. Haida sell poles to tourists, but can’t carve fast enough so start production line. My job always carve big Thunder Bird on top of pole. You know Thunder Bird, Marchbanks. Fierce face with big nose, like magistrate. I carve Thunder Bird to look like every magistrate ever put me in jail. Good fun. But awful hard work, so every day I take 4 quart pail of beer to totem pole factory so I can rest my mind once in a while. One day big fat woman tourist come to factory. You Haida Indian, she say. No me Crokinole Indian, I say. Then you are impositor, she say. No, that kind of printer, I say. What you make there, she say. That Thunder Bird, I say. What that tin pail, she say. That Thunder Mug for Thunder Bird, I say. Joke, Marchbanks. Always joke with squaw. But she screech and tell her friends I am bad man and talk dirty to her. Lie, Marchbanks. Her man friend get cross with me. Why you talk dirty to my wife, he say. She lie to make herself important, I say; I only talk dirty to pretty squaw. He get mad and make big noise and fat woman screech. When they go away I resign from Thunder Bird job. Artist got delicate nerves, Marchbanks. Can’t stand uproar. You buy any totem poles, Marchbanks? You got money? I need money

How, again,

Osceola Thunderbelly,

Chief of the Crokinoles.

From My Files

To Mr. Adam Mulligrub, Landscape Architect.

Dear Mulligrub:

You ask what kind of hedging I want along the southern boundary of the pleasure grounds at Marchbanks Towers. As a matter of fact I have a special problem there, of which I should have told you. It is at that point that my neighbour, Richard Dandiprat, invades my property in order to take my wheel barrow or my hose, or to recover the ball which he childishly bounces against the side of his house, or to make a shortcut to the bus stop. I have considered various types of thorn bushes but none of them, I fear, would quite fill the need.

Therefore I want you to fill a somewhat unusual order. Will you send to Central Africa for forty small Upas trees, and plant them in hedge formation at the necessary point. The Upas, with which you may not be familiar, is a tree which possesses long tentacles, like those of an octopus; at the end of each tentacle is a sucker of exceptional strength; when any living thing comes within reach of the Upas tree it grabs it with its suckers and drags it to the centre of the tree, where it tears off the flesh, and throws the bones upon the ground; it is upon flesh obtained in this way that the tree is nourished. A good planting of Upas will give me just the hedge I need, I think, and if Dandiprat and any of the neighbourhood dogs disappear it will be a good lesson to trespassers.

Warn the Customs men to be careful when examining the plants, will you? I don’t want any trouble with the Government, which would probably expect me to pay for the uniforms of any missing officials.

Yours faithfully,

S. Marchbanks.

Les Pensées de Marchbanks

BABIES AND THE ADULT MALE / Across the street from my workroom window is an apartment which has a bay-window at my level; during the past few weeks a baby has been making regular appearances there, so that the doings in the street below may entertain it. I judge that it is a male baby, and it is a fine, large child, with a solemn and philosophical countenance. The baby views the street and I view the baby. I like babies, under special circumstances, and by a lucky chance the relationship between me and this particular baby perfectly fulfils all my conditions. I can see it, but I cannot hear it; I can admire its winning ways, and laugh indulgently when it topples over, but it is not near enough to wet me; when it wants anything, a pair of hands appear from behind it with the desired object. This is ideal, and I am thinking of putting this baby in my will. I believe that if the truth were known, my attitude toward this baby is that of most adult males; men like children, but they do not like them to be too close. Some barrier — as for instance a wide street, filled with traffic — between a man and a baby, acts as a powerful stimulant to affection between them.

THE MAGIC OF LATIN / Among the tools of my trade I possess a number of books of quotations, most of which bear titles such as Familiar Quotations, Quotations The Whole World Loves, and the like. The only honestly named one is The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. The fact is that no great fat thick book of quotations can be called “familiar”; very few people can identify more than a dozen of them. Furthermore there are hundreds of quotations in such books which I solemnly swear are not familiar to anybody. The fake profundities of dead politicians, the treacly outpourings of fifth-rate poets, the moonlit nonsense of minor essayists — this junk makes up the bulk of most quotation books. I like Mencken’s book of quotations because it is full of sin and impudence and does not pretend to be familiar; I like the Oxford book because it is unashamedly highbrow and contains a great many quotations in Latin. But the “familiar” nonsense I scorn. I love Latin quotations. I suspect that nobody ever said anything in Latin which was above the level of barber shop philosophy, but it has a wondrous sonority.

LASS WITH DELICATE AIR / In a periodical I found a picture of a lovely girl in evening dress; she was able to keep up the social pace, the advertisement said, because she took two indigestion pellets after each meal. Now this is melancholy reading, if you like! I do not choose to think of beautiful girls as eating at all, much less digesting. And the notion that a beautiful girl stuffs herself with dyspepsia tablets all the time is utterly repugnant to me. As an amateur of physiology I know that every human creature has enough acid in its gizzard to eat a hole in a heavy steel beam; as a romantic admirer of Womanhood I decline to apply my knowledge to the young and fair. A girl with indigestion is a traitor to her sex and, much worse, a traitor to mine.

From My Letter Book

To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Dear Mr. Marchbanks:

I write to enlist your support and membership in the Canadian Laudable Litter League which I am forming. Do you realize, sir, that every day thousands of pounds — nay, tons — of material of one sort and another which should be returned to the soil of our country is burned, or washed down our waterways to the sea, never to be recovered? Vital vitamins, irreplaceable minerals and animal and vegetable matter of all kinds is wasted in this way. The time has come to Call a Halt.

During the Summer I have been doing my bit to preserve what is Canada’s for Canada. Whenever I have been on a picnic I have taken care to throw my hard-boiled eggshell back on the land, to preserve minerals. I have thrown my banana skins and other peelings into farmers’ fields, to put vitamins back into the soil. When others have gathered up their waste paper, I have left it to blow where the wind listeth, for it came from the soil and should return whence it came.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson