Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies


Your lucky colours are light blue, greeny-blue and bluey-violet. Your lucky flowers are the tulip, pansy and daffodil. Your lucky stones are the opal, sapphire, beryl and lapis-lazuli. This latter sounds better than it is, being a sort of sulphurous silicate; however, it is a very pretty blue. Wizard Marchbanks suggests that instead of wearing it, which might prove inconvenient, as it looks best in very large chunks, you bring it into the conversation casually. “Your eyes,” you say to any young woman whom you wish to impress, and who does not happen to be a geologist, “have the lovely, changing, mysterious shades of lapis-lazuli.” She will probably like this, as she has almost certainly never seen the stone in question and does not know that it is no more changeable in hue than the slate of a blackboard. Her appreciation will make it a lucky stone for you. Similarly, a young woman may say, at the right moment, “The night sky has an almost painful beauty — like lapis-lazuli.” Do not try this remark upon escorts of coarse nature, however, or third-year students of mining engineering.

Health Hints for Those Born Under Aquarius

Candour before everything: you must be on your guard against constipation. Don’t ask me why. Nobody has ever died of it, and the old wives’ tale about auto-intoxication ( accepted as scientific fact for a few decades ) has now been exploded. But there is a widespread belief that this tardy habit of body is harmful, and an astrologer is no man to fly in the face of old beliefs. Wizard Marchbanks is of the opinion that constipation of body is a trifle — a mere idiosyncrasy like double-jointedness or being able to wiggle your ears — but he warns against constipation of mind, which is a widespread and neglected illness. Costiveness of body afflicts no one but the person concerned: costiveness of mind afflicts everybody with whom the sufferer comes in contact. If he occupies a high place in the world (and the ailment is a positive recommendation in many professions) he may do more harm than a hundred men of normal mental processes can undo in a lifetime.

From My Notebooks

FRANKNESS DEPLORED / There are too many people in the world who think that frankness is an excuse for anything: so long as a man is frank and sincere, say they, he may talk as he likes. They also cling to the stupid and mistaken notion that people like and admire frankness and respond well to it. For instance, I was standing on a street-corner today, when a man in a windbreaker approached me and said: “Lookit, I’m goin’ to give you no bull; I wanta get a coupla beers; will you gimme the money?” I looked deep into his eyes, and in low, thrilling voice I said “No.”. . . Now if he had given me some bull — some richly-ornamented tale of poverty, of undeserved ill-fortune, of being robbed while on some errand of mercy — anything in fact which would have revealed a spark of imagination in him, I would have given him a small sum, knowing full well that it would be spent on beer. But to ask me, flatly and baldly, for money to buy beer –! Is that the way to appeal to a Welshman, a lover of the spoken word and the gem-encrusted lie? No, no. Let such ruffians beg beer-money from those who admire frankness. Anybody who wants a quarter from me must first produce a quarter’s worth of fascinating bull.

ARS CELARE ARTIS / Chatted with a lady who once saw the Russian Imperial Ballet in the Czar’s own theatre, in 1912. I asked her for a description: “Like being in Heaven,” said she. I asked for more detail: “Oh, just like Heaven!” she replied. I have ofter observed that people who have had some experience of this kind — have seen Irving, or heard Melba, or Chaliapin — are unable to give any satisfactory account of it. They remember only that they were uplifted; they do not know why or how. Perhaps it is best that this should be so. The aim of great art is to produce this sensation of ravishment, and not to explain its methods or reveal its secrets. The chief dancer on this occasion, the lady said, was the Czar’s “how do you say? — Favorita? What is favorita in English?” “Girl-friend?” suggested another guest. The lady’s face filled with distaste. “Oh no,” said she, “a favorita is much diffierent. More — how do you say it — elegant.” So much for girl-friends.

FOOLISH CONTEMPORANEITY / In a news vendor’s today I noticed a pile of books with bright covers, which proved to be such titles as Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, and Romains’ Jean Christophe. Wondering idly how such long books were crammed into such a small space I picked one up and found that it was marked “abridged for the Modern Reader.” Laughed out loud, and a few people stared at me, as if I were mad. But I was delighted by the shoddy flattery of that word “modern.” It implied that the modern reader was a very busy fellow, who had no time to be bothered with the windy nonsense even of first-rate authors; he had to have everything boiled down for him, so that he could gulp the essence in an evening’s reading. The real fact of the matter is that many modern readers are pin-headed neurotics, who have not the staying power to read a great book at full length. They must have it cut so that they can read all the bits which describe how the heroine went to bed, and with whom, and any murders which may creep into the tale. Beyond that, they can’t understand and don’t care. Modern reader! Pah!

From My Files

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

Dear Dr. Cataplasm:

I am greatly worried, and I am worried because I am worried, for I read in several magazines with large circulations (which means that they must be good) that worry causes high blood pressure and ulcers, and that high blood pressure and the things which go with it kill more people than any other group of ailments. How can I stop worrying about worrying? If I could do that I could begin on the job of ceasing to worry altogether.

The notion that worry shortens the life-span is a new one to me, for my family are remarkably long-lived, and they are all master-worriers. And after they have passed the age of eighty they raise worry to the virtuoso level, worrying about things which cannot even be understood by less gifted people. But if worry is a shortener of life I must root out this ingrained ancestral habit, or I may drop off my perch at some disgracefully early age.

All the magazine advice to worriers stresses the need of relaxation. Apparently one ought to be as relaxed as possible all the time. Now when I relax completely, I fall down; I have to keep a tiny bit strung-up in order to get my work done, and to retain the respect of my colleagues. The only way for me to achieve complete relaxation is to go to bed in a darkened room. But that makes me fall asleep, and the magazine articles say that too much sleep is worse than too little. I can also relax after eating a very large meal, but over-eating is not only bad for the blood pressure, but a cause of ulcers, as well.

I am doing my best to live a healthy, relaxed, temperate, unworried life, but you doctors are making it very hard for me. In fact, you are worrying me, and you know what worry does.

Yours confusedly and miserably,

Samuel Marchbanks.


To Haubergeon Hydra, ESQ.

Dear Mr. Hydra:

I see that Parliament is much concerned about the quality of modern Canadianism. Apparently it is not Canadian enough — there are still big lumps of British Influence and Colonial Inferiority Complex swimming around in it. May I make a suggestion to you as Deputy Assistant Sterilizer of Canadian Patriotism? We need bigger and better Canadian heroes. We have the raw material, but we must work on it. You know how Canada hates anything raw. We have heroes, but we have not yet blown them up to full heroic stature.

Look at what has been done in the States with Washington, Lincoln, Barbara Frietchie and others. Unpromising material to begin with. Just men and women. But by the use of gas and mirrors they have been given heroic stature. Think what that story about the Cherry Tree has done for Washington! We couldn’t copy it, of course, for in Canada we still admire people who cut down trees, and could not see any particular nobility in admitting such an action. In Canada, a tree is still looked upon as a Big Weed, to be hoiked up or chopped down, or mutilated with impunity. But there are other stories which we could bend to our use, and I submit the following examples for your consideration.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson