Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies


Samuel Marchbanks.


To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Dear Mr. Marchbanks:

Oh, Mr. Marchbanks, sir! Oh, unhappiest of our clients!! Oh, luckless litigant!!! How often have I not counselled you against taking any step without consulting your lawyer; how often has not our senior partner, Mr. Jabez Mouseman (now, alack, prone upon a bed of pain — shingles, I grieve to say) given you the same tried and true advice? Tell me — though I dread the answer, knowing your fiery and impetuous nature — have you given any money to False Witness, Inc.? For if you have, all is lost indeed!

Understand, my dear sir, that not only do you sully the whole fabric of British justice by suggesting that we employ these people; you gravely endanger your case, as well. The fabric of British justice has been sullied, and dry-cleaned, many times; like an Oriental rug, it shows only the very largest stains; but there is not a judge on the bench in this country who does not know every employee of False Witness, Inc., intimately. For years they have paraded in and out of the witness boxes of Canada dropping the wigs, false whiskers, wooden legs and other unconvincing paraphernalia with which they seek to disguise themselves, and their appearance is now a signal for derisive laughter in every court in the land.

False Witness, Inc. employs all the Canadian actors who are so bad that they cannot even get jobs with CBC-TV. Far better no witness than a False Witness.

I am shocked, sir, that you should think a firm such as ours would lend itself to underhand practice. We rely entirely upon the probity of the court, and the forensic brilliance of our barrister, Mr. Cicero Forcemeat. You will understand the unique distinction attaching to Mr. Forcemeat when I tell you that he is one of the half-dozen lawyers in the country who is not a Q.C.

And if we feel that the support of expert testimony is required, we know where to get it without resort to the broken-down dialect comedians who work for False Witness, Inc.

Yours chidingly,

Mordecai Mouseman

(for Mouseman, Mouseman and Forcemeat).

Pensées de Marchbanks

CAUSE AND EFFECT / The wonders of science will never cease to stagger me. A friend of mine possesses a large powerful dog, so that I rarely go to his house, but today I met him on the street. He told me that he was well, “And Schneider is completely himself again, too,” he added. (Schneider is the dog.) I enquired politely what had ailed Schneider, though in my inmost heart I cared little. “Poor fellow went all to pieces a few weeks ago,” said my friend; “completely forgot his house-training. It was terrible. He knew it was wrong, and he looked ashamed — you know what an expressive face Schneider has — but didn’t seem to be able to help himself. With a big dog, you know, that’s serious. The wife began to resent Schneider. Said either one or other of them would have to go. Tried to get Schneider to wear diapers, but other dogs laughed at him. So I took him to the vet. Vet said, ‘That’s easy,’ and washed some big lumps of wax out of Schneider’s ears. ‘Now he’ll be all right,’ said the vet, and sure enough, he is. House-broken as a lamb. Schneider happy; wife happy; wonderful!” Is there a lesson here for the parents of small children?

FRIGID BOON / The modern enthusiasm for the deep-freeze interests me, but I am not in the forefront of the movement, for I have observed that quite a lot of frozen food has a taste of brown paper, and is not always completely unfrozen. I lost my appetite for snow and ice when I was a boy. But I feel that the real possibilities of the deep-freeze technique have not been explored. If it can halt decay and arrest all bodily processes, why can the machine not be used as a baby-tender? Consider: a week-end is being planned, and parents are wondering what they can do with the infant; aha! pop it in the deep-freeze, and thaw it out on Monday morning, unharmed and the better for a thorough rest. Junior is behaving badly at school; the family psychiatrist says that he is going through “a phase”; put him in the deep-freeze until the phase has run its course. An expectant mother, who adores the memory of Queen Victoria, is told that her offspring will be bom about May 10th; she deepfreezes herself until midnight, May 23rd, and little Victoria Alexandrina makes her debut, (perhaps a little stiff and blue) on the great Queen’s birthday. Deep-freezing may prove the boon of the age.

PANGS OF LEISURE / For the first time in several weeks I found myself this afternoon without anything to do. Of late I have suffered from congestion of the calendar; every hour of every day has been painfully crammed with duties and obligations. This afternoon I was free — free as a bird. But like a bewildered prisoner suddenly ejected from his dungeon I did not know how to use my liberty. I tried the TV, but the reception was terrible. I composed myself for a nap in my chair, but every five minutes or so I would leap up, wide awake, shouting, “All right! Don’t strike me! I’ll do it at once,” — a horrible reflection of my life for the past six weeks. I tried a few light household tasks, but they were like work, and I wanted to avoid work. I thought of going for a walk, but the outer world was an indecisive mess of hail, snow, rain and fog. I paced up and down, pretending that I was thinking, but soon tired of it. By four o’clock I was almost frantic with leisure; if I did not find some pleasant way of loafing soon, my afternoon would be gone. And sure enough, it did go, and the jaws of duty closed on me again. Oh, the pity of it!


(Scrawled in chalk on my front door)

To Big Chief Marchbanks.

How, Marchbanks:

In awful trouble, Marchbanks. Winter come soon. I got to get in jail. Been out two week now. No jail, no winter home. Two day ago I get drunk. Sick on cop. He mad. Ha, I think; jail for sure. But no. He take pants to cleaner and make me work cutting wood to pay for clean pants. Yesterday I throw brick at cop. Hit him hard. He jump. Ha, I think; jail now! But he say thanks pal; sergeant coming and you just wake me up in time. This one hell country, Marchbanks. Cops all too mean to put poor Indian in jail.

How, again,

Osceola Thunderbelly,

Chief of the Crokinoles.

Culled from the Apophthegms of Wizard Marchbanks

After 45 the differences which divide men from women are trivial compared with those which separate the wise from the unwise, the whole from the fragmented, the survivors from the fallen.

(November 23 to December 22)

Sagittarius is the sign of the Archer, the shooter of arrows or, if you prefer the phrase, the thrower of the harpoon. Your special gift is the knowledge of the power of the spoken word, and in particular the derogatory word. Persons of coarse fibre, born under this sign, may expend their gift in indiscriminate abuse, but the more intelligent Sagittarians husband their abilities and say no more than is absolutely necessary to discomfit or perhaps to explode their rivals. Those most highly developed of all are able to shoot their arrows (or throw their harpoons) with such grace that they seem to speak in positive praise of those they seek to destroy, as thus: “Yes, you have to admit that good old Taurus never does less than his best, even when he has completely missed the point;” or, “Virgo and I have been friends since we were girls, and if she can only overcome a few of those nervous little ticks she may expect to marry as well as anyone.” People born under this sign often go a long way, though seldom as far as their friends could wish.


Your lucky colours give you a reasonably free hand in dress; they are black, blue, orange, sea-green, violet and purple. You have only one lucky flower, according to astrologers, and that is goldenrod. If you suffer from hay fever your luck will, of course, consist in seeing as little of it as possible; it is always possible to discover something lucky about everything; astrology is the Pollyanna of the occult sciences. Your lucky gems are the turquoise, diamond, emerald, amethyst and carbuncle. If the word carbuncle conjures up memories of a painful lump some member of your family once had, be at peace; the jewel is the garnet, cut en cabochon. You will not, in all likelihood, have to worry too much about lucky gems for Sagittarians are thought to be romantic souls, and of such is the kingdom of the diamond merchants. You are virtually certain either to receive a diamond, or give one; when that important preliminary is over, you may set about acquiring your other lucky gems at your leisure.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson