Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

Undoubtedly there is a great lesson for science in this. Perhaps you will explain to me what it is. Meanwhile I am going to lie down.

Your perennial patient,

Samuel Marchbanks


To Miss Minerva Hawser.

Dear Miss Hawser:

Thank you for your letter; if you really want my old Christmas cards, you can have them; your idea for cutting them up into bits and distributing them for use as confetti at the weddings of the Underprivileged seems to me to be an excellent one, and an accurate reflection of your kindly and ingenious nature. My cards may be a disappointment to you. They were classifiable under the following heads:

Ghastly Good Taste: plain white cards made of hard stuff like the icing of a Christmas cake, with an engraved greeting on them; indistinguishable from old-fashioned death notices.

Art Drearies: designed by people who are determined to get away from conventional Christmas colours and designs; they are usually executed in shades suggesting cheese mould. Some are religious, in a strictly ‘God-is-dead’ sense.

Stark Realism: cards to which snapshots of the senders have been pasted, showing them at their worst, and often in company with dead fish, half-dead dogs, and the like.

Canadian Art: showing the same French-Canadian farmer, driving the same sleigh through the same bluish snow, but in slightly different stages of his progress toward a village consisting of a Church and three huts.

Phoney Mediaeval: showing people eating and drinking and playing oversize guitars, and looking cleaner and healthier than was likely in the Middle Ages.

Unspeakables: on which a reindeer with a red nose is depicted.

I sent cards in all these forms myself, for there was nothing else to be had. But I really long for a decent old-fashioned Christmas card, with the Virgin and Child on it, and Santa Claus and his reindeer, and a robin with a twig of holly in its beak, and some mica clinging to it to simulate snow, and a really compendious and warm-hearted greeting in the manner of G. K. Chesterton:

Here’s for a bursting Yuletide

To my friends wherever they be!

With boozing and stuffing

And praying and puffing

All under the Evergreen Tree!

Yours sincerely,

Samuel Marchbanks.


To Amyas Pilgarlic, ESQ.

Dear Pil:

Last night I was at the movies, and as usual it was necessary to sit through a good deal of rather depressing stuff before we were allowed to see the film which had really brought us to the theatre. Among these shorts (why do you suppose they call them shorts? Surely shortness is a comparative thing? Judged by the anguish of spirit they induced, these affairs were immeasurably long) — but as I was saying, among these shorts was one in which the audience was asked to join in the singing of popular gems of modern minstrelsy. But the audience refrained from doing so, and sat in a glum and resentful silence until the short had dragged out its weary length.

This is a hopeful sign. Human beings are refusing to be cajoled into doing silly things by machines, and by celluloid shadows. For a group of people to sing because a movie machine asks them to do so is just nonsense, and they know it.

Mark my words, the revolution of Man against Machine is close at hand, and when it comes we shall see the end of that era which historians are already referring to in learned works as The Age of Boloney.



From My Note-Book

A BORE IN TRAINING / Talking to a young man I realized, with a shock, that in fifteen years he would be a bore. The young are never bores, though they are often boring, particularly when they talk about themselves. But it does not lie in the power of youth to be a self-sustaining, day-in-and-day-out bore; a man must be at least thirty-five before he can manage that. Youth has a buoyance, a resiliency, which makes it impossible for the young to keep to that dead-level which is the very heart and essence of the bore’s craft. The spirits of youth keep bobbing up and down; a bore must be steady as a rock. The eye of youth sometimes lightens; the eye of the bore is glazed with the film of stupidity. There are gloomy bores, and agreeable bores, and eager bores and stuffy bores, but once they have set their course and determined their character, they do not change. . . This young man, however, was in strict training to become an agreeable bore, and as he seemed naturally gifted in that respect he may achieve his aim before thirty-five, and become one of the youngest bores in Canadian history. And if he does he will be a lesson in what may be achieved by persistent effort.

JEOFFRY / Dined with some friends and admired their seven-toed cat; upon each of its forepaws it has an extra toe. Did this, I pondered, make him a better clamberer than ordinary cats? I was reminded forcibly of the cat Jeoffry, who belonged to the poet Christopher Smart, and about whom Smart wrote what I consider to be one of the most remarkable poems in the English language, praising Jeoffry’s excellence as a clamberer as an evidence of the glory of God —

For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.

For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.

For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.

For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.

My friends’ cat was named Sydney, but like every good cat he bore a resemblance to Smart’s Jeoffry.

LILLIPUT / Some children I know were showing me a doll’s house which they had been given at Christmas. It was a spacious and pleasant dwelling which, on the human scale, could not be built for less than $80,000 at present costs. I should judge that some doll of the junior executive class lived in it. Like so many doll’s houses, it lacked a staircase; dolls are used to being heaved from one floor to another. It was fully, though conventionally, furnished, and over the mantel in the drawing-room was that picture “The Boyhood of Raleigh” which suggested to me that the dolls were rather old-fashioned and romantic in their tastes, in spite of the modernity of some of their furniture. I envied the father-doll the neatness of his garage; mine, which doubles as toolshed, is a sorry thing beside it. The dolls had a remarkably nice bathroom, too, quite unlike the cornery afterthought at Marchbanks Towers. I enquired whether the dolls owned or rented, and was told that they were owners; roughly I computed their land-tax, school-tax and improvements tax, and decided that these dolls were not the sort of people I would be asked to dine with, if some sudden shrinkage should whisk me into their world.

CANADIAN CAUTION / It is wrong to say that Canadians have no distinctive national characteristics; what about our national custom of Keeping Down With the Joneses? In other countries people keep up with the Joneses; they vie with one another in the acquirement of showy and prestige-giving possessions. But the crafty Canadian always wants his neighbours to think that he has less money than he really has. He underdresses, for the possession of more than two suits might suggest affluence and a desire to seem glorious in the eyes of men. His wife probably has a fur coat, but she wears it to do the shopping, and to sweep off the stoop, so that it is really just a hard-wearing overall, and not a token of wealth. He eats good food, but he likes it to be disguised, so that even the tooth-test sometimes fails to reveal how good it is. It is only when he goes on a holiday to the USA that he splurges, takes suites in hotels, gives huge tips to hirelings, and drinks pearls dissolved in wine. At home he likes the neighbours to think that he is just keeping out of jail. Surely this is a striking and unusual national attitude?


(Delivered by a Police car, envelope stamped OFFICIAL)

To Big Chief Marchbanks.

How, Marchbanks:

Us fellows in jail fix New Year Dance. Ball and Chain Ball, we call it. We got no women, so no dance. We got no booze, so no drink. We got no money, so no gamble. But we got peace and plenty dirty story. You want ticket? Fight cop. He give you ticket.

Osceola Thunderbelly

(Chief of the Crokinoles).

Culled from the Apophthegms of Wizard Marchbanks

Do not be discouraged by lack of immediate success. Bernard Shaw flowered at 17, but nobody smelled him until he was 40.

(January 21 to February 19)

Aquarius is the sign of the Water Carrier and astrologers have long recognized that more famous people are born under this sign than under all the rest put together. The dualism of the sign explains this; the Water Carrier is always carrying water to somebody or something but whether it is hot water or cold water can rarely be determined in advance. Hot Water Aquarians are the prophets, the great conquerors and the dictators. Cold Water Aquarians are the philosophers, the satirists and the analytic thinkers. Those born under this sign should decide as early in life as possible which group they are best fitted to join. But do not be deceived: at first glance it appears easier to pour cold water on people and things than hot water, but remember that you may have to continue this for eighty years or more — because Aquarians are long-lived. For those in whom intellect is not a strong point, hot water is always best. A rare type of Aquarian is capable of pouring both hot and cold water — singly, both at once, or sometimes so mingled that the rare and valuable Lukewarm Aquarian emerges. The highest offices in the church, and the most prized editorial chairs await Aquarians so ambiguously gifted.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson