Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

Yours repentantly,

Dick Dandiprat.


To Richard Dandiprat, ESQ.

Unspeakable Dandiprat:

I take note that you have extended the Right Hand of Fellowship. I have examined it. Take it back and wash it.

My legal action against you continues according to plan. I shall also sue you for the damage to my lawnmower.

You may inform Lambie-Pie (whom I take to be your consort) that I am not human. I sprang, full-grown, from a riven oak one midnight many years ago.

Yours in a very limited sense,

Samuel Marchbanks.


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

Dear Dr. Cataplasm:

I have met a good many people during the past two weeks who have wagged their heads dolefully and said, “A green Christmas makes a fat graveyard.” As a physician and a man of science, do you think that this is true? Watching the way that some of them have been eating and drinking over the festive season I would be more inclined to say, “A fat Christmas makes a green graveyard.”

How did the illusion grow up that cold winters are healthier than mild ones? Is it part of our Puritan insistence on the superiority of whatever is disagreeable and inconvenient? And can you tell me if the graveyards in Florida and California are especially fat? Personally I dislike the expression “fat graveyard”; it suggests that the earth of the graveyard is of a squelchy, suety, gustful, mince-meaty quality, with headstones stuck in it like blanched almonds in a plum pudding. An obscene fantasy, and one unbecoming such pure and airy spirits as yours and mine.

Your perennial patient, S. Marchbanks.


To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Dear Marchbanks:

Will you lend me your Santa Claus costume? I want it for the annual party of the Rowanis Club, of which I am Grand Exalted Merrymaker this year. We are having a Christmas celebration, and I thought it would be an original idea if I dressed up as S.C. and gave everybody presents containing sneeze powder, white mice, dribble glasses and etc.

I hope you are not brooding about that little matter of the skunk? We have led the lawyers a fine dance, haven’t we? Ha ha! Still, we are both men of the world, eh Marchbanks?

Will you send the S.C. suit to the cleaners right away, so that I can pick it up next week? I want to look well at the party, and those suits get pretty dirty when they are not taken care of.

Your neighbour,

Dick Dandiprat.


To Mouseman, Mouseman and Forcemeat.

Dear Mr. Mouseman:

I am going out of my mind! That misbegotten ruffian Dandiprat has just written me a letter in which he virtually confesses that he put the skunk in my car!

Now Mouseman, what can you do to Dandiprat? Don’t talk to me about the gallows; it is too good for him. Is there a thumbscrew anywhere that we can borrow? Or what about the Chinese water torture? Should I ask my laundry man if he will co-operate? Or what do you say to Mussolini’s merry prank with a quart of castor oil? I warn you, Mouseman, if I do not have revenge I shall drown in my own gall! Get to work at once.

Yours furiously,

S. Marchbanks.


EPIDERMIS / A medical acquaintance mentioned idly that you can tell a good deal about the age of a human being by pinching the skin on the backs of the hands; according as it retains the shape of the pinch, the patient is advanced in decay. Spent much of the day pinching the skin on the backs of my hands, which snapped back into place very quickly at some points, and at others remained obstinately curled up. From this I conclude that my skin reflects the character of my opinions, some of which are young and fresh, and others far gone in senility.

FASHION IN KISSES / To the movies, and as I sat through a double feature I was interested to observe that the audible kiss has come back into fashion. When the first talking pictures appeared, kisses were all of the silent variety; it was just about then that silent plumbing made its first appearance, and there may have been some connection. But now the shadow-folk of Hollywood kiss with a noise like a cow pulling its foot out of deep mud. In my younger days there were two types of kiss: the Romantic Kiss was for private use and was as silent as the grave; the Courtesy Kiss, bestowed upon aunts, cousins and the like was noisy and wet, generally removing two square inches of mauve face powder. A visiting aunt, having been welcomed by two or three nephews, needed substantial repairs. The Romantic Kiss also involved closing the eyes, to indicate extreme depth of feeling, though it often occurred to me that if one cannot see what one is kissing, a pretty girl and a kid glove of good quality are completely indistinguishable.

CUT-RATE AUTOGRAPHS / Had an opportunity to examine a collection of autographs, and wondered once again what makes people collect them. The futility of collecting scraps of paper upon which people have scribbled (autograph-collecting) seems to me to be exceeded only by the futility of collecting scraps of paper which people have licked (stamp-collecting). There is a certain interest, perhaps, in the manner in which a great man signs his name, though not much. I would be delighted to own a page of manuscript written by Ben Jonson or Cardinal Bembo, for both were masterly calligraphers; but letters from most modern authors and statesmen are mere scribbles. In childhood most of us have a spell during which we carefully collect the autographs of our families, the milkman, the baker and the laundry man; then we lose the album. But I am surprised whenever I am reminded that the craze continues into adult life, and that great sums of money are spent on signatures of writers, musicians, criminals, politicians, and the like. I have a little skill in forgery, and I am thinking of going into a business where I shall undertake to provide a good facsimile of anybody’s signature for twenty-five cents. Thus, for a modest sum, the eager collector will be able to get some rare items.

VALIANT FOR TRUTH / Received a letter from a cow, or it may simply have been from somebody who takes orders from a cow; I couldn’t quite make out. It appears that when I made public my intention of keeping a cow in my cellar I suggested that cows shed their horns annually; the letter denied this. It is possible, though improbable, that I am wrong. I am not sure that I would know a cow if I met one. A certain cloudiness of vision, caused by long hours poring over the Scriptures, makes it impossible for me to identify an animal or even a human being at a distance of more than five feet. The cows which Santa Claus employs to draw his sleigh certainly have horns, for I have seen pictures of them. But if cows do not shed their horns, how comes it that cow horns are so plentiful? Cow horns are used to make horn-rimmed spectacles, snuff boxes for Scotsmen, powderhorns for outlaws, inkhorns for scholars, horns for automobiles, and for a variety of purposes. Am I expected to believe that all these horns come from dead cows and represent a lifetime of patient horn-growing? No, no, I am not so foolish as that. Until I am shown otherwise I shall believe that cows shed their horns each Spring.

From My Archives

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

Dear Dr. Cataplasm:

The other day I read the autobiography of an Armenian gentleman named Nubar Gulbenkian; he hopes to live as long as his grandfather, who died at the age of 106. The book described this ancient’s meals in detail. Two facts about them impressed me; each meal (he ate four times a day) took 45 minutes; each meal ended with a plate of Turkish sweets.

I have never taken 45 minutes to eat a meal in my life. I can eat eight courses in fifteen minutes. Can it be that I eat too fast for long life and health?

I detest Turkish sweets. They appear to me to be made of raw mutton fat into which low-caste Turks have ground caraway seeds by rubbing it between the soles of their feet.

However, Gulbenkian eats slowly and he eats nasty things, and he expects to achieve a great age. Perhaps you would like to quote his example to a few patients who are not so hasty and fastidious as,

Your perennial patient,

Samuel Marchbanks.


To Amyas Pilgarlic, ESQ.

Dear Pil:

A few days ago I visited Toyland, as I do every year, just to see how the Christmas Racket is getting along. Toyland is as hot as ever; the temperature was not a smidgeon under 90°F. Most of the customers, like myself, wore full Winter outdoor dress, and were suffering hideously. The only really comfortable people appeared to be the gnomes and elves who were helping Santa; these were young women ranging from the toothsome to the merely wholesome, dressed in shirts and very short shorts. This association between Santa Clause and the female underpinning fascinated me; Santa was there for the children, but the gnomes were there for the fathers — in a very limited sense, of course.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson