Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

WORD OF HORROR / Was talking to a musical person who informed me that a celebrated pianist would “concertize” in Toronto next month. This remark nearly caused me to swallow my pipe, for though I have seen the vile word “concertize” in print for several years this was the first time I had ever heard anyone use it in conversation. I was taken aback as if my hostess had said, “Won’t you climax your meal with another cup of coffee?” Such words fill me with an urge to seize the person who uses them in a commando grip and twist him (more often the offender is a she) until I have broken every bone. Then their broken-boned walking would be appropriate to their broken-boned speech. O Mighty Music! Did David concertize before Saul, or Bach before Frederick the Great? Did Beethoven concertize? (In the time, of course, when they were not composerizing.) No, apes and dung-beetles, they played!

SUPER-BOY / To a concert given by a group of choir boys from Vienna. It was an admirable evening’s entertainment, which was more than I had expected for I am not an enthusiastic admirer of the Human Boy. In my reckoning boys range from Good Boys — that is, boys who can pass the Towers without upsetting garbage cans and throwing rubbish on the lawn — to the lowest dregs of humanity, depraved slubberdegullions who do the above things, and worse. But these Viennese boys were quite unusual in several respects; they were clean; they were well-behaved; their hair was brushed; they looked as though they might be trusted with whole rows of garbage cans. . . This was the first time I have ever heard choir boys who were not trained in the English tradition of fruity hooting; an English choirboy sounds like a lovesick owl, and although it is a pretty sound it moves me to a gentle melancholy — a kind of Sunday-night-and-another-week’s-work-starts-tomorrow feeling. . . Sometimes people say to me: Were you never a boy yourself, Mr. Marchbanks? Answer: Yes, for several years I was a noble, dutiful, clean, respectful Super-Boy.


(Dropped at my door by an escaped prisoner)

To Big Chief Marchbanks.

How, Marchbanks:

You got any old magazines, Marchbanks? Magazines in jail awful. Sent here after long hard life in dentist office. All girl pictures got bustles. Educated fellow in jail read story out loud other day. Good story about detective. Name Sherlock Holmes. Magazine say this first story about him ever. But last page gone. Doctor leave magazine bundle here yesterday. Magazine all about how have babies. We know that already. Anyway that squaw work. You got magazines tell us what we don’t know?

Osceola Thunderbelly

(Chief of the Crokinoles).

Culled from the Apophthegms of Wizard Marchbanks

Be most alert when most victorious, for though you may not hit your adversary when he is down, it is considered plucky in him to kick you.

(February 20 to March 21)

Pisces is the sign of the Crossed Fish. As in the case of Capricorn, Wizard Marchbanks advises you to make the best of this, and in particular to take fullest advantage of the cool temperament and the calmly reflective eye with which nature has endowed you. Always remember that the Crossed Fish are moving in two directions and one of them is inevitably the opposite direction from whatever trouble may be brewing. Because you are elusive and slow to take a bait you may miss some of the spectacular fun of life, but you will find your amusement in observing what happens to those born under more impetuous signs. It is especially necessary for the Pisces — born to be careful in marriage and business associations, for any prolonged association with a Hot Water Aquarian will prove disturbing if not downright fatal. The Virgo- and Cancer-born should be more in your line, and in the professional world accountancy, corporation law and other pursuits which are in the world but not of it should prove most congenial to you.


Your lucky colours — or to be more scientific about it, your planetary colours — are blue, violet and grey. Your lucky flowers are a miserable collection — mignonette, jessamine and yarrow. This last is the familiar weed Milfoil; Wizard Marchbanks declines to be drawn into any discussion of what distinguishes a flower from a weed. Your lucky stones are the pearl, the chrysolite, and — rather curiously — “all unpolished blue and black gems.” Chrysolite is a silicate of magnesia and iron which is found in lava and is not very interesting; pearls are much better. Perhaps it would be wiser to wear your unpolished gems under your clothes; it is one of the painful facts of life that gems look like other pebbles until they are cut and polished, and a necklace of dingy pebbles might win you a reputation for eccentricity which you would be unable to support. People born under Pisces are supposed to have a lively sense of the ridiculous; this should prevent you from making any extravagant and unsuitable parade of your supposedly lucky adornments.

Health Hints for Those Born Under Pisces

Your weak spot is your chest, and you must be on guard against colds. It is also asserted that people born under this sign are more susceptible to liquor than others, and if this is true, it is unlucky indeed, for how can you keep colds at bay without the most popular of all medicines for cold prevention, cold treatment, and convalescent encouragement? However, medical science has recently come to the aid of astrology by asserting that onions, and garlic in particular, are prophylactics against colds. Therefore, when you go to a cocktail party, load up on the pickled onions, and leave the drinks alone. Accept a martini, but when you have eaten the onion, pour the drink into a vase of flowers. It is not true that onions give you an offensive breath. People who have eaten onions may have a bad breath the next day, but the odour of fresh onion is rather agreeable than otherwise. Your plan, clearly, is to eat onions every day, and in bad weather wear a little bunch of garlic tied around your neck. Disguise it, if you like, with some blossoms of yarrow.

From My Notebooks

HABILOGRAPHY / For some time several newspapers that I read have been publishing hokum by graphologists, who profess to estimate character by handwriting. It is not to be compared with my own, recently-developed study of Habilography, or the Reading of Character by Clothing. I can tell volumes about a man by the ties he wears, and I place women by their shoes. The number, and nature, of the pens and pencils a man carries in his waistcoat pocket affords deep insight into his character, and a woman who wears junk jewellery combined with genuine fine stones lays bare her soul to my searching eye. What can a woman conceal from the trained Habilographer, as he mentally estimates the variations of her hemlines? And socks, those windows of the soul, usually tell me more about a man than I really want to know. What is more truly characteristic of a human being than the draperies he sees fit to assume, the ornaments he chooses, and the way in which he has assembled the junk which conceals four-fifths of his person? Graphology — bah! Habilography — aha!

THE PAST REARRANGED / I was looking at some records today, belonging to a friend who collects oddities for the gramophone, and was interested in a series called Immortal Voices and History Making Events. It was an odd jumble, but I found a record of Sarah Bernhardt reciting a Prayer for Our Enemies, and put it on. Amid the rustling and scratching inseparable from old recordings there was barely audible a passionate, female voice, speaking — or to be exact, howling — in French. In the descriptive note which went with the thing Sarah Bernhardt was described as “a great lady of the American stage,” and thus France was robbed of one of its glories. The US and the USSR between them are dividing not only the earth, but the past thereof.

ORGY / To a movie called Faust and the Devil, made in Italy, which I enjoyed greatly, and particularly an Orgy scene, where Faust made genteel and ineffective plays for several girls in filmy frocks. The Devil, meanwhile, sat at a table loaded with goodies, but ate nothing save a few grapes. Watching his weight, I suppose. Have not seen an Orgy in a movie since the days of the silent film; they often had Orgies, and they always took the form of a light meal, eaten in the company of jolly girls in peek-a-boo nighties. I have never been at an Orgy, though I suppose my garbage this morning filled the neighbourhood with dark suspicion.

LIFE AND ART / To Ottawa to attend a performance of a play by my old friend Apollo Fishorn, the Canadian playwright. Fishorn got on the train at Smith’s Falls, with a live hen in a net, and a basket of fresh eggs, which he said he was taking to the actors, who appreciate these little comforts from the farm. He also had a carpet bag with a bad catch, which kept falling open and revealing the sorriest pair of pyjamas I have ever seen. . . I liked the play, but joining a party of knowledgeable persons in the lobby at one of the intervals, I learned that there was too much talk in it, and not enough action. Now this puzzles me. There are only a very few kinds of action which can be shown on the stage. Love is a great theme of playwrights, but if they try to develop it as action rather than as talk, the censor cracks down. Murder is good, but if you murder more than one person an act, people think you are trying to be Shakespeare, and complain. I mentioned this criticism to Fishorn, and he sighed, and said: “Yes, but life is 99 per cent talk. Look at the people who want more action in my play; what are they doing? Talking! What are you doing? Talking!” And sure enough when I caught sight of myself in a mirror, he was right.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson