Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

This one hell country, Marchbanks.

Osceola Thunderbelly,

Chief of the Crokinoles.

Culled from the Apophthegms of Wizard Marchbanks

To judge from the number of books on the subject, it is easy for us to achieve the spiritual grandeur of Orientals by adopting their postures and systems of breathing. Oddly enough, no Orientals appear to believe that they can develop our scientific and governmental skill by posturing and breathing like us.

(December 23 to January 20)

Capricorn is the sign of the Goat, but this is not as bad as it sounds. There always has to be a goat, and if the obvious goat plays his cards skilfully, popularity, promotion and success await him. The secret of being the goat lies in these words: Never deny and never protest. Anticipate blame. When something goes wrong and everyone else is trying to show that they could not possibly have been responsible for it, say coolly and frankly: “It’s my fault; I wasn’t here when it happened, but I should have foreseen it, and if anybody has to take the responsibility, let it be me.” This will work like magic, and those who have been trying to escape blame will experience an indefinable sense that you have out-generaled them. Follow this course always, and with special firmness when you are obviously not to blame. Little by little an impression will spread that you are unaffected, fearless, ruthlessly honest and devoted to your job rather than personal advancement. For female Capricorns this is the secret of happiness in marriage. A wife who is always to blame is prized above rubies, as Wizard Solomon said.


Bad luck for you in the matter of lucky colours; your only good one is purple, and the others are grey, green, black and brown; you will need a lot of imagination to present a festive appearance in those. Your lucky flowers are the poppy, flax and holly. Your lucky gems are the onyx, the garnet, the sapphire and the amethyst, but the best of them all is the lodestone. Unfortunately this is simply magnetic oxide of iron, and it is not easy to make it into a pleasing adornment; even the genius of Faberge was stumped by it. When once the late Czar Nicholas commissioned the celebrated jeweller to create a suitable gift for an Imperial favourite who was a Capricornian, Faberge was unable to produce anything handsomer than an ordinary magnet with a golden handle, for a lodestone is simply a magnet. However, there is luck in everything; you can do your shopping at the hardware store instead of at the jeweller’s, and a corsage of holly, held in place with a small magnet, will set you up for a big night of romance.

Health Hints for Those Born Under Capricorn

You have no special point of weakness, and are supposedly gifted with an iron constitution. Remember, your astrological sign is that of the goat, and goats are not given to fits of the vapours (not in the Victorian acceptance of the word, that is to say ) and have never been pernickety about their food. But there must be reason in everything. You must not push your goatish-ness too far. Even a goat can ruin its constitution, though I cannot tell you how this is done. Nobody has ever seen a nauseated goat, or a drunk goat, and three veterinarians of long experience have assured me on their solemn oath that they have never seen a dead goat. However, as goats are mortal, they must be the inheritors of some of the ills of flesh, and my personal belief is that these are so dreadful that goats cannot bring themselves to speak of them. There is a look in the eye of certain elderly goats which tells a vague but hideous story. It looks like Disillusion, but is probably thirty-third degree ulcers.

From My Christmas Files

To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

(Written on a card bearing the message ‘A Merry Christmas and Good Wishes for 1949’: the date has been altered in pencil to the current year.)

Dear Nephew:

Thank you for your thoughtful present. I opened it, as you suggested, as soon as it arrived, and a prettier parcel of soap I have never seen. I shall distribute new cakes on Christmas morning to the whole household. Your notion of a cake of soap fashioned in the likeness of an Aberdeen terrier for your Uncle Gomeril will flatter his Scottish susceptibilities.

I already have quite a number of gifts to be returned and exchanged as soon as the shops open after Christmas. Someone has thoughtlessly sent your Uncle a dressing-gown in the tartan of a clan from which the Marchbanks have been estranged for over three hundred years. He very sensibly asks what need he has of even an acceptable dressing-gown? He never wears one, and goes to his bath lightly wrapped in an old copy of the Toronto Globe, the Scotsman’s friend.

Your affct. aunt,

Bathsheba Marchbanks.


To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

(Written on an expensive but aesthetically reprehensible card which reveals a robin sitting on a bare branch, with a twig of holly in its beak; the bird’s eye is a black bead, and the holly berries are red beads, cleverly glued to the paper. Spelled out in twigs of holly and mistletoe is the message: ‘Just the Old, Old Wish.’)

Dear Mr.Marchbanks:

I had hoped that this seasonable greeting might come from Mrs. Wittol as well as myself, but she has been absent from home for several days. I have not heard from her, but last night a man’s voice on the phone made some very insulting remarks to me, and I thought I recognized her hiccup among the background noises.

Yours regretfully,

Waghorn Wittol.


To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

(Written upon a card which bears a portrait of Santa Claus, wearing an expression possible only to one drunk, or mad; realism has been added to the picture by a feather, glued on to represent the Saint’s beard.)

At this gladsome tide I and Lambie-Pie hasten to freely offer yet once again the right hand of fellowship which you have so often spurned. As the angel’s message of Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men rings round the sad old world I beseech you to drop your legal action against me for hiding a skunk in your car, and as Ye Goode Shippe new year sets forth into uncharted seas of Time let the olive branch, symbol of neighbourly amity, wave freely from the poop.

Your repentant neighbour,

Dick Dandiprat.


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

(On a Greetings Telegram)



To Genghis Marchbanks, ESQ.

My Dear Cousin:

I really think your terms are ungenerous, considering the season of the year. If, as you suggest, I bring all the unwanted Christmas presents I receive to your pawnshop, I shall expect more than a mere one-third of their ordinary retail price. I hate to say it, Genghis, but I do not consider that you are showing the Christmas Spirit. You can skin the public, if you like, but you ought to draw the line at skinning a relative.

Yours reproachfully,



To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

My very dear Mr. Marchbanks:

It has never been the custom of Mouseman, Mouseman and Forcemeat to send out greeting cards at the Festive Season; to a firm as old as ours such conduct would seem flashy. We do, however, send letters bearing good wishes to our more valued clients, of whom you, my dear sir, are not the least.

All of the firm are, I am happy to say, well. The life of our senior partner, Mr. Jabez Mouseman, has been considerably brightened since he began — through what scientific accident we know not — to receive television programs on his hearing-aid. When reception is particularly strong phantoms of charming young women in low-cut evening gowns may be seen to move gracefully across his shirt-bosom; at first Mr. Jabez thought himself beset by evil spirits, but now he spends many hours each day happily regarding himself in the mirror.

Mr. Cicero Forcemeat is, as always, in rude health and his powerful voice — that boon of the successful advocate — is, if anything, stronger than before. His peroration in a divorce case last week cracked a chandelier in the court-room.

I am as always in good health and beg to subscribe myself, dear Mr. Marchbanks, with no legal qualification whatever, your servant and sincere well-wisher, Mordecai Mouseman

(for Mouseman, Mouseman and Forcemeat).


To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Dear Sir:

This department finds that in computing your Income Tax for 1963 you neglected to mention that when you addressed the Ladies Arts and Letters Club of Pelvis, Sask., in that year you were treated by the committee to a dinner which cost $1.25. This constitutes hidden income, and you must pay tax amounting to 67 cents, plus extra tax for late payment, amounting to 9 cents, making 76 cents in all, within ten days or we shall pursue you with the full rigour of the law.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson