Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

This Department has received a card from you bearing Christmas Greetings. We are returning the card which is the wrong size for our files, and enclose herewith proper forms for the expression of this wish, to be completed in triplicate, and returned at once.

Yours, but not as much as you are ours,

Haubergeon Hydra.


To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

(A greeting card, obviously home made, to which has been glued a snapshot of a stringy female of cheerful aspect, nursing what looks like a very old floor mop.)

Yuletide Greetings from self and dearest Fido.

Minerva Hawser.


To Big Chief Marchbanks.

(An exceedingly dirty and crumpled picture of an ample lady of brilliant complexion, showing a lot of leg, and smoking a cigar.)

How, Marchbanks:

Find this picture in top of cigar box. Make nice card for you. All us fellows in jail send you happy wishes. Warden promise good Christmas in jail. Chicken and mince pie. No women, he say. We need women. You got any women?

Osceola Thunderbelly

(Chief of the Crokinoles).

Holiday Reflections

NO ROAST OX, THANKS / New Year’s Day, and I hail the onset of another year by eating more than I should but not quite so much as I want. I yearn for the spacious days of the Middle Ages, when cooking was cooking. Those were the days when the lord of the manor was faced, at dinner, with a whole ox into which was stuffed a whole boar, into which was stuffed a lamb, into which was stuffed a hare, into which was stuffed a pheasant. When he had settled this difficult problem in carving, the lord ate the pheasant, and threw the wrappings to the scurvy knaves and lubberly churls who composed his household, and set to work on a venison pie and five or six pounds of mincemeat encased in marchpane. Only, if I had lived in the Middle Ages, I would undoubtedly have been a lubberly churl — or at best Pynne-Heade, the household jester — and would have had to eat over-cooked ox, swilled down with the water in which the mead-horns had been washed. I have no illusions about the glory of my ancestry. So I dismissed my dream of mediaeval gluttony, and picked at a few pounds of turkey and ham, and washed it all down with liquids so innocent that even the Government puts its stamp upon them.

A VULGAR ERROR / There is a widespread belief that all tobacco chewers are good spitters. I heard a friend talking today in a manner which showed that he subscribed to this superstition. But I know it to be false. In my childhood I used to spend much of my spare time around a blacksmith shop, and although some good spitting could be seen, most of it was poor. I have seen men — tobacco chewers of a quarter century’s standing — who could not hit anything, and sometimes failed to clear their own chins. I have seen chewers at that blacksmith’s shop spit at a crack for an hour, without hitting it once. De Quincey writes that the London hackney-coachmen of his day were so accomplished that they could spit around a corner, but I do not believe it. De Quincey was a dope fiend, and nothing that he says can be accepted as evidence. Show me one of these virtuoso spitters, and I may change my mind. But not until then.

THE INIQUITY OF FREE BOOKS / There is a great rejoicing in some parts of Ontario because the provincial government has decided to give free school-books to children, but I am not among the merry-makers. I am a writer of books myself, and any move which inculcates in children the idea that books are things which you get for nothing excites my implacable enmity. There are too many free books already, in public libraries and other institutions primarily designed to rob authors of their livelihood. A pox on the memory of Andrew Carnegie and his misplaced benevolence! There are in Canada, by actual count, 528 people who buy books for their own use; an author may count on these people buying a copy of any book he writes. There are 6,417,333 people who are on friendly terms with the 528, and they all borrow their copies of new books, read them, and then write to the author, pointing out typographical errors, plagiarisms from Holy Writ, faulty economics, and other blemishes. If the Ontario Government is going to teach children that books drop from Heaven, or are supplied from the public purse, like wheat subsidies, the profession of letters in Canada will drop below that of the nightsoil removers.

From the Marchbanks Archive

To Amyas Pilgarlic, ESQ.

Dear Pil:

I was at a Twelfth Night party last night — a wonderful affair. I haven’t much use for people who confine their merrymakings to Christmas Day; I insist on the full Twelve Days of Christmas from The Day itself to Epiphany. There was a man at the party who had some snuff, and as we all took tentative, apprehensive pinches he told us that he had acquired the habit while fighting in the East with Ghurka troops. A Scotch officer, he said, had asked for a large tin of snuff to be sent to him from home and in due course it was dropped from a plane in a package with other supplies. But he never got it. The kitchen troops got it, and not understanding its use and assuming that it was some rare condiment they curried their meat with it. The result was such fires in the tripes as were never known before in the Chindits.

During the course of the evening several Scots reels were performed with more spirit than science on the part of most of the dancers. As I watched it struck me that the Canadians present might well have done a folk-dance of their own; folk dances can be easily faked. A little nimble bobbing about, a little clapping of the hands, a little playful running at the ladies and then retreating from them in fright, and a final prance round the room in which everybody bashes into everybody else — and there’s your folkdance. I am working on one now, to be called “Marchbanks’ Brawl.”

Yours Januwearily,



To the Rev. Simon Goaste, B.D.

Dear Rector:

Can you tell me why it is that so many brides insist on having the Bridal Chorus from Wagner’s Lohengrin played as they stumble up the aisle at their weddings? It seems to me to be a singularly ill-chosen piece of music for such an occasion.

Consider the story of the opera: Elsa, a silly girl, has got herself into a mess; a young man comes along and very competently gets her out of it; he marries her, on the understanding that she will never ask his name or whence he comes; but Elsa and her relatives nag him insufferably until he can bear it no more, and leaves her. The lesson of the whole opera is that nosiness is a first-class way to break up a marriage, and Wagner, who was married to one of the great snoops of his time, knew what he was talking about. Why is it that girls want this prelude to a strikingly unfortunate marriage played at their weddings?

I have often wondered what happened to Elsa after Lohengrin ran away. My guess is that she set up in business as a Wronged Wife, forgot completely her part in breaking up her marriage, and passed her time very pleasantly at tea parties, warning younger women that Men Are Not To Be Trusted. What are your views?


S. Marchbanks.


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

Dear Dr. Cataplasm:

I was at a party recently where a lady was explaining a new medical theory to me, in which she said that her husband (who is a physician) is keenly interested. The nubbin of the theory is that placid and careful living is just as aging as rowdy living if you make a habit of it, and that the human metabolism needs frequent shocks, just to keep it on its toes, so to speak. For this reason everybody should take care to overeat grossly every now and then, or get drunk, or run a mile, or chop a cord of wood. Anything will do, so long as it is something to which the body is unaccustomed.

I have been testing this notion myself. You know that I will do anything to further the ends of science. I overate as much as possible all during the Christmas season, and washed the food down with strong waters. Result: except for a slight feeling of other-worldliness before breakfast I felt fine, and my metabolism chugged away like a Coin Wash. But during the past week I have run to and from my office, carrying a heavily-weighted briefcase, four times each day. Result: my metabolism has seized up, my circulation is at a stand-still, and I see everything upside down unless I keep a firm hold on the top of my head.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson