Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

Dr. Johnson’s cat Hodge

Was up to every feline dodge:

When the Doctor shouted “Sir!”

Hodge would disarmingly interject “Purr.”

Rather good, don’t you think?



To Chandos Fribble, ESQ.

Learned Fribble:

Yesterday a picture in a magazine for women, called Glamour, was drawn to my attention; it showed a reasonably toothsome young woman wearing spectacles, engaged in reading a large leather-bound book; with one hand she was thoughtfully scratching her head. Underneath the picture was advice, addressed to women in general, to curl up with a good book.

This is an expression which I am at a loss to understand. I read a good many books myself, but I never feel disposed to curl up while doing so. Now and then in the course of my duties as a book-reviewer I read a book which causes me to curl, slightly, but not with pleasure; I uncurl at once and write something nasty about the books. Why are women such curlers, in their literary moods?

I may say, in passing, that I would never dream of lending a book to a woman who was a head-scratcher. Human hair and dandruff are nasty things to find between the pages of a book. I once knew a man who used his pipe as a bookmark. At least women are free from that disgusting trick.

But to return to our curling; have you ever tried to curl up with a book? It brings about cramp; it makes you read sideways, which is bad for the eyes; persisted in, it gives you not only curvature of the spine, but curvature of the brain, and a low literary taste.

You have heard people say of somebody that he has a wrong slant on things. He got it by curling up with the wrong books, and reading them sideways.

Yours, from my armchair,

Samuel Marchbanks.


To Waghom Wittol, ESQ.

My good Wittol:

I am flattered that you should appeal to me so often for advice, but really I cannot suggest any means by which you may regain Mrs. Wittol’s wandering affections. At least, nothing which I think will work.

However, if you are interested in a scheme which probably won’t work, may I suggest that you have recourse to the Language of the Eyes? I was reading about it the other day in a novel by Ouida, an authoress who is unaccountably neglected these days. The passage ran thus: “Olga Brancka looked at him with some malice and more admiration; she was very pretty that night, blazing with diamonds and with her beautifully shaped person as bare as court etiquette would allow; there was a butterfly, big as the great Emperor moth, between her breasts, making their whiteness look like snow. The glance was not lost upon him; in the Language of Eyes it seemed to say, “This might be yours.'” See — he could have had that moth for the asking.

As it happens, I am one of the few great masters of the Language of Eyes living today. I practise it at my dentist’s. When I lower my lids to half-mast it means “You are brutal.” When I push them out of their sockets like ping-pong balls it means “This is unbearable.” When I cause them to roll around the edges of their sockets, like billiard balls wondering whether or not to fall into the pocket, it means “I am about to faint.” When I cross and uncross them, with an audible clicking, it means “Pain has bereft me of reason.” You say that it is useless to talk to Mrs. Wittol; why don’t you try the Language of Eyes? Ouida and I both recommend it.

Yours in hope (but not high hope),

Samuel Marchbanks.


To Chandos Fribble, ESQ.

Worthy Fribble:

It is indeed good news that you intend to prepare a book on the Rights of Women in Canada. I shall await the appearance of the Fribble Report with keen expectation. Is it true that the French translation is to be called, with greater frankness, L’Amour au Canada?

Meanwhile, let me report for you a curious conversation which I heard the other night, when I attended an entertainment where a great many adolescents were present. Behind me sat a boy and a girl, both about fifteen.

BOY: (Laughing at one of his own jokes) “G’wan, cut out that laffin.’ ”

GIRL: “Gee, I can’t. You got me laffin’ so’s I can’t stop.”

BOY: (delighted) “Cut it out, I tell yuh. Everybody’s lookin’ at yuh.”

GIRL: (trying to stifle mirth) “Fsssst! Splut! Eeeeeeeek!”

BOY: (transported) “Cut it out! Cut it out!”

GIRL: “Gee I can’t! Not if you’re gonna say funny things like that!”

BOY: “Juh want me to take yuh out in the hall and slap yuh around? That’ll stopyuh!”

GIRL: (ecstatic at the idea) “Aw, yer killin’ me! Fsssst!”

Here, I think we have a fairly typical pattern of Canadian sexual behaviour. The male, having subdued the female by his superior intellectual power, dominates and even threatens her. This produces in her a mounting physical and psychological pleasure, like the rising of steam in a boiler. This psychological pressure causes her to kick the back of my seat in an irregular rhythm, similar to the mating-dance of the Whooping Crane. It is this sort of thing that makes Canada the Amorist’s paradise it is.

I shall inform you of any other interesting manifestations of the biological urge which may come under my eye.

Scientifically yours,



To Dionysus Fishorn, ESQ.

Dear Mr. Fishorn:

No, I will not support your application for a Canada Council grant to enable you to write your novel. I know nothing about you, but I know a good deal about novels, and you are on the wrong track.

You say you want money to be “free of care” for a year, so that you can “create,” and you speak of going to Mexico, to live cheaply and avoid distraction. Fishorn, I fear that your fictional abilities have spilled over from your work into your life. You see yourself in some lovely, unspoiled part of Mexico, where you will stroll out of your study onto the patio after a day’s “creation,” to gaze at the sunset and get into the cheap booze; your wife will admire you extravagantly and marvel that you ever condescended to marry such a workaday person as herself; the villagers will speak of you with awe as El Escritor, and will pump your beautiful servant Ramona for news of your wondrous doings; you will go down into the very depths of Hell in your creative frenzies, but you will emerge, scorched and ennobled, in time for publication, translation into all known languages, and the Nobel Prize.

Ah, Fishorn, would that it were so! But take the advice of an old hand: you won’t write any better in Mexico than in Tin Cup, B.C., and unless you are wafted into a small, specially favoured group of the insane, you will never be free from care. So get to work, toiling in the bank or wherever it is by day, and serving the Triple Goddess at night and on weekends. Art is long, and grants are but yearly, so forget about them. A writer should not take handouts from anybody, even his country.

Benevolently but uncompromisingly,

Samuel Marchbanks.

Obiter Dicta

DREAM MAIDENS / Saw a motor-bicycle parked in the street today, and on its wind-screen were several alluring pictures of girls, one of whom wore what appeared to be a scanty outfit of leopardskin underwear; she stretched her arms above her head (presumably in order to give greater freedom to her considerable bosom) and carried a banner upon which was written “If you don’t see what you want, ask for it.” As I looked, the owner came out of a house, mounted the machine, kicked it fiercely in the slats several times, and at last goaded it into action. He was a smallish, mousey fellow with rimless glasses, and did not look to me as though his acquaintance included any girls who wore leopard next their skins. And it has been my usual experience that all those wildly improbable girls who exist only in the minds of artists appeal chiefly to young men who either know no girls at all, or know only girls of a mousiness equal to their own. Pin-up girls are dreams, and dreams unlikely to come true. And a good thing, perhaps, for what would the average young man do with a girl who never put on her clothes and whose bosom accounted for one-third of her total weight?

FEATHERED FUTURITY / I see by the paper that Rhythmic Arithmetic has been abandoned in the schools. I never understood what it was, though much time was wasted by adult educators explaining it to me, and I never met a child who could explain it. But I have long recognized that I have no mathematical facility whatever. Plato, who was a brainy fellow, said that “innocent, light-minded men who know no mathematics will become birds after death”; I rather look forward to being a bird, and taking a bird’s revenge on all my enemies. Plato also thought that men who had no philosophy would become animals after death; really stupid people would continue their existence as fish; “cowardly and unrighteous men,” he asserted, would find that in the next world they had been turned into women. Plato had a poor opinion of women, which would make life difficult for him if he were born again in this century; he also thought little of the professional educators of his day, an attitude which would make it utterly impossible for him to get a certificate to teach in a one-room country school in Twentieth Century Canada.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50

Categories: Davies, Robertson