Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

There are for sale in joke shops rubber masks, which give one the appearance of a gorilla. I think I shall get one and try it out. If it works I shall get a bronze job done. Do you know of any good cheap foundry which would undertake such a commission?

Yours faithfully,



To Mervyn Noseigh, M.A.

Dear Mr. Noseigh:

When you put the question to me so baldly — “What led you to become a writer?” — I am momentarily nonplussed. On what level do you expect me to answer? The objective? If so, I became a writer because it looked like easy money. But that won’t look well in your Ph.D. thesis, so let us try the subjective approach.

On this level, I became a writer because I suffered the early conditioning of the Unconscious that makes writers. That is to say, my Oedipus Complex was further complicated by the Warmefläsche-reaktion.

You know how this works. Think of the Infantile World as a Huge Bed; on one side lies Mum, on the other side lies Dad, and in the middle is Baby Bunting. The normal thing, of course, is for B.B. to work out his Oedipus Complex; he wants to kill Dad and mate with Mum — thereby fitting himself for some normal occupation like the Civil Service. But sometimes B.B., for reasons still unknown to science, turns from Mum and snuggles up to Dad who quite understandably shoves B.B. down to the bottom of the bed and warms his feet on him as if he were a hot-water bottle (or Warmefläsche). Thus, in the very dawn of his existence, B.B. acquires that down-trodden cast of mind that marks the writer.

Very often Dad kicks B.B. right out of bed onto the cold linoleum, bringing about that sense of Utter Rejection which turns B.B. into a critic.

I can hardly wait to read your thesis.


Samuel Marchbanks

(your topic).

From My Notebooks

THE UNIVERSAL FRIEND / As I stood on Yonge Street this afternoon, a man approached me with a happy smile. He stopped in front of me, rocked on his heels, puffed out a cloud of boozy breath and said, “Well, well, well!” As I am peculiarly attractive to persons in his condition, I feigned ignorance of his presence, but he came nearer, and peeped searchingly into my eyes. “Ain’t goin’ to speak t’an ole pal?” he said, coyly. “How do you do,” I said, stiffly. “Cheest,” said he “I wouldna thought ole Jock would gimme the brushoff.” “You are mistaken, my good fellow,” said I. “Gwan,” said he; “you’re old Jock McGladdeny.” “No,” said I, firmly. He looked at me, and a gummy tear crept sluggishly down one cheek. “Ole Jock,” said he, “an’ he won’t speak t’an old pal.” He took his cigar out of his mouth and prodded me with the wet end of it. “God love yuh, anyway, Jock,” he said, and stumbled on, and as he receded I heard him murmur, “Old Jock a Judas; Cheest!”. . . I wonder why I am so often mistaken for somebody else, especially by drunks? Do my features in some mysterious way suggest a Universal Friend — a man whom everybody, at some time or other, has known? This is a cross I bear with very ill grace.

VEXATIOUS VERGE / As winter draws on I sigh with gratitude, for soon one of the problems of Marchbanks Towers will be out of my hands for a few months. I refer to the condition of what I think of as My Verge. Outside my fence is a section of miserable grass which belongs not to me but to the whole community; and the whole community, when passing, throws candy-wrappers, cellophane, cigarette boxes, used paper handkerchiefs, banana skins, dead cats and soiled undergarments upon it, quite casually and without malice. But if I do not occasionally clean up this community trash-heap the Towers begins to look as though it were situated in the middle of a dump. So I stumble brokenly about, with a bag and a nail on the end of a stick, picking up junk, and little children say, “Mummy, shall I give that poor old man a nickel?” when they pass. But with the coming of winter the snow flings its veil of pristine whiteness over my Verge, and conceals the trash, eventually imbedding it in ice. There have been times when I have considered following the example of those citizens of Newfoundland, who have their lawns paved with asphalt, for I notice that few people throw trash on the sidewalks. But I am still a public park-keeper, and will probably continue in my servitude.

DIET SADISM / I have been reading a lot of books about dieting, for my physician has spoken prayerfully to me on this subject. What annoys me about diet books is that they are written either by people who are funny, or people who are angry. The funny ones think it is the most hilarious thing in the world to be compelled to eat less than one wants, of foods that one would not ordinarily choose; they write as though a diet were a huge joke. The angry ones are worse: they threaten the dieter with quick and unpleasant death if he doesn’t lose his excess weight, and they speak scornfully of the kind of life (cocktails and two-helpings-of-everything) which makes diets necessary. Both kinds of writers are crypto-Calvinists who have an addiction to gelatin in food; everything they recommend seems to contain either lettuce or gelatin. Now it so happens that an uncle of mine, Bellerophon Marchbanks, has devoted his life to the manufacture of gelatin and also of glue, and I cannot separate the two in my mind. Gelatin in moderation I accept; unlimited gelatin turns me cold and shaky to begin, and then produces the effect anyone could foresee as proceeding from a diet of glue — anyone but a doctor, that’s to say.

THE MEASURED STEP / A few weeks ago I bought myself a toy — a pedometer, which measures how far I walk when I am wearing it. Apparently I don’t walk very much. I have always assumed that in the course of an ordinary day’s work I walked four or five miles, but according to the pedometer an eighth of a mile is nearer the correct figure. The only time the pedometer gets much of a workout is when I am cutting my lawn, and then the miles tick up at a surprising rate. The instrument is worn on the right leg, and it has a psychological effect; it makes me stamp with that leg to make sure that the dial registers properly, and I am developing a gait like the Giant Blunderbore, or possibly Peg-Leg Pete the Pirate. The Pedometer cheats, too; when I am riding in a car it registers a step whenever the car goes over a bump; on a long journey I can cover as much as a quarter of a mile, according to the pedometer, although I have not exerted myself in the least. I have no desire to clock astonishing scores on this gadget; I merely want to know if I do much walking. I am disappointed by what it tells me, but at least I am now in a position to lure other people to boast of the walking they do in an ordinary day’s work, so that I may contradict them, and gain face as a statistician.

From My Archives

To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Dear Sir:

It comes to our ears from a professional source that you are bringing suit against your neighbour, Richard Dandiprat, whom you accuse of imprisoning a skunk (Mephitis Canadensis) in your motor car, with resultant damage to same.

We learn also that the success of your suit is jeopardized by your inability to bring forward a single witness who saw Dandiprat commit this misdemeanour.

May we offer our services? For a modest fee we can provide witnesses who will give your case all the corroboration which it needs, ensuring your success. We feel that three capable witnesses (two men and a woman) would amply meet your requirements, and we will provide these for five hundred dollars and expenses. You will agree that this is a ridiculously low sum, and it is only because we work on a very large scale that we are able to make this very special price. All correspondence strictly confidential.

Yours, etc.,

False Witness, Inc.

Telegraphic Address:



To Mordecai Mouseman, ESQ.

Dear Mouseman:

I enclose a letter which I have received from a firm which seems to have just what we want. The trial draws near — at least I hope it does, for it is now almost a year since Dandiprat ruined my car — and I will not tolerate any fumbling. I want Dandiprat to get at least two years hard labour. We want witnesses; these people have them. Will you attend to the matter?

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Categories: Davies, Robertson