Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

Health Hints for Those Born Under Sagittarius

If you have an affliction, it is likely to smite you hip and thigh, for lumbago, sciatica and all the ills which make it hard to walk are considered by astrologers to have a particular fancy for people born at your time of the year. Painful as these troubles are, they are excellent themes for conversation, and if you have to do a lot of sitting, you will need something to talk about. You may discuss them freely without embarrassing anyone; talk about malignant or contagious diseases is likely to make your friends uneasy, but nobody has ever caught lumbago from another, and nobody ever thinks he will suffer from it until the moment when it strikes. Therefore your afflictions will serve to make you popular, for we always tend to like people who are less fortunate than ourselves, particularly when we are not called upon to do anything to lessen their misfortunes.

Sweetly Solemn Thoughts

REMOVAL OF COUSINS / Listened to a family discussion among some people who were trying to decide the relationship to themselves of the children of a brother of their grandfather’s second wife. It was perfectly clear to me, but they made a sad hash of it. The Welsh and the Scots are the only people who really understand the fine points of relationship, and I think that the Welsh have a slight edge on the Scots in this matter. Indeed, I have given some thought to writing a book on the subject with a special Appendix dealing with the Removal of Cousins. The number of people, apparently well-educated and intelligent, who cannot distinguish between a Second Cousin and a First Cousin Once Removed, is staggering and reflects unpleasantly on our educational system. What these poor softies do when they get into the flood-tide of genealogy, with Intermarriage of Cousins and Collateral Cousinship In The Second Generation, I dread to imagine.

CRITICS CRITICIZED / I always read newspaper criticisms of concerts I have attended, but often I wonder if the critic and I can have been at the same affair. It is not their discontent that puzzles me; tastes differ, and after all a critic’s stock-in-trade is a finer sensibility than that of the vulgar herd. And I make allowances for the fact that going to concerts is work for a critic, and there are plenty of people who have lost all love for the work by which they get their bread. No, it is the way most of them write that stuns me. They attempt to deal with the performances of artists who have spent not less than ten years acquiring insight and a formidable technique, in a maimed and cretinous prose which could not possibly give anybody any impression except one of confusion and depleted vitality. They are poor grammarians, and their vocabularies are tawdry. It is hard enough to interpret one art in terms of another under the best of circumstances, but when the critic has not understood that writing also is an art, his criticism becomes embarrassing self-portraiture.

RESTAURANT COWARDICE / What is wrong with me? I seem to be the sort of man whom waiters immediately put at a table near the kitchen which smells of other people’s food, or in a draught, or too near the orchestra, or someplace where nobody wants to sit. If anything is spilled, it is mine; if anything spilled is scraped up from the floor, and served with carpet-fluff in it, it is mine. Am I so broken a creature that I fear to make a row in a restaurant? Well, all the evidence points in that direction. I am even so base that I lack the courage to refuse when the waiter suggests that I eat something which I do not want. This evening, for instance, I was thus dragooned into eating a Greek sweetmeat called Baclava; it tasted like a Bible printed on India paper which had been thoroughly soaked in honey, and took just as long to eat. When I had chewed my way down to Revelation the waiter asked me if I had enjoyed it and I, spiritless wretch, managed to nod.

From the Marchbanks Muniments

To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Dear and Valued Customer:

With a sensation of sick shock we find that you have not yet been in to do your Xmas shopping. Already the best of our stock is picked over and unless you hurry! Hurry!! Hurry!!! you will miss out on the finest array of Xmas yummies of all kinds that it has ever been our privilege and pleasure to stock.

Everything that you could possibly wish to give to a relative is to be found in our Pharmacy Department, and may be purchased by presenting a doctor’s prescription. Many goods in this line may be secured by signing a simple statement that you want to poison a dog.

In our Jewellery displays we have every sort of simulated gem with which husband or lover could wish to simulate affection.

In our Gigantic Kiddyland we have no less than three Santa Clauses, which avoids much of the queuing to shake hands with the genial saint which has caused irritation among busy tots at past Christmases.

You owe it to yourself to do your Christmas shopping RIGHT NOW. Stop owing it to yourself. Owe it to us.

J. Button Hook

(For the Bon Ton Elite Shoppery)


To the Rev. Simon Goaste, B.D.

Dear Rector:

I suppose you have observed, in the course of your professional duties, the sad decline of literary exuberance in the writing of epitaphs? The modern epitaph is hardly worthy of the name, when one compares it with the great epitaph-writing of the eighteenth century.

Because I do not wish to be slighted on my tombstone, I am sending to you herewith my own epitaph, in order that you may circumvent any of my descendants or executors who want to do the thing on the cheap after I am gone.


of the Marchbanks family)

Beneath this stone

Lies all that was Mortal

Of one

Who, in this transitory Life

Seemed to sum up in himself all those


Which we are taught to admire

but which, alas,

We rarely see in action.

Pause, Passer-By and Ponder:

This man, beside an ample fortune for

Those Left to Mourn Him

Leaves a sum in trust to provide

Every child in this Parish

With copies of his own works

Durably bound in waterproof material,

As well as a medal bearing the impress of his

Noble Countenance

on the front, and on its rear

These Words:

‘For Memorial Purposes only:

Not Negotiable as Currency.’

Drop a Tear and Pass On

Drawing Such Consolation As You Can

From the indisputable fact


We Shall Not Look Upon His Like Again.

There. I think that covers the ground pretty thoroughly, and will gladden the heart of the stone-mason, if not of my relatives. Oh yes, and on the top of the stone, please, an effigy of my own head, with the left eyelid drooping slightly, as though in salute to the living.

Yours cheerily,

Samuel Marchbanks


To Amyas Pilgarlic, ESQ.

Dear Pil:

I have just been writing to Pastor Goaste about my epitaph. While I am clearing things up with regard to my funeral, permit me to inform you that among my gramophone records you will find one marked “For Pilgarlic only.” This is my funeral eulogy.

When my funeral is arranged, I want you to have a large public address system in the church, and a record player. Then when the time comes for the usual address, play the record. You had better warn the parson beforehand, or there may be some competition.

The address is, I flatter myself, rather novel. I personally admonish several people who are sure to be at my funeral, and make a few remarks that I have been hankering to make all my life. I also give a brief estimate of my own character, which is more interesting than anything the parson can do, for it is founded on first-hand information. I expect that my action in this matter will set a new style.

Yours gaily,



To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Dear Neighbour:

Aw, gee, I never thought you would mind me playing the hi-fi with my windows open! Aw, heck, I never thought you would resent a little thing like that skunk getting into your car! Not that I admit I did it. My lawyers told me that I shouldn’t. But I never thought you’d go to court about it. Gee, Marchbanks, you’re a cranky guy! Gee, haven’t you any spirit of give and take?

I’m just sick about the whole thing, and so is Lambie-Pie. She says you’re the worst crab in the world, but we ought to try to be friends with you because we’re neighbours, and after all, even you are human. She says we got to extend the Right Hand of Fellowship. Consider it extended. How about it, Marchbanks, old pal? By the way, I borrowed your lawn mower last month when you were away. I accidentally ran it over a big bolt somebody dropped on my lawn. I’ll bring it back just as soon as it is fixed. Or would you rather have it fixed to suit yourself?

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