Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

A brand of cider which I particularly like is sold here under the brand name of “Woodpecker.” I think this must be because the explosion of the bubbles in the throat and stomach of the drinker is exactly as though some jolly woodpecker had crept in there and was pecking happily away, right, left and centre.

Yours merrily,

Samuel Marchbanks.


To Samuel Marblinks, ESQ.

Dear Mrs. Matblanks:

Your letter re cider to hand and contents noted. In reply would beg to state that (a) the Civil Service cannot entertain suggestions from unofficial sources and (b) cider is objectionable to the Medical Association, the apple being a notorious Physician Repellent, and a prominent feature in the coat-of-arms of the Royal College of Chiropractic Healers.

Yours semi-officially,

Haubergeon Hydra, for Government Alcoholic Discouragement Board.


To Mrs. Kedijah Scissorbill.

Dear Mrs. Scissorbill:

As you wished it, I visited the National Portrait Gallery and verified your suspicion that it contains no portrait of the Canadian heroine, Laura Secord. I made enquiries about this and was told by a person in authority that only portraits of eminent persons who have lived in the British Isles were sought for the Gallery; obviously this is a mere excuse. The truth is, the British are jealous of Laura Secord, and want to belittle her.

I feel that while I am on this subject I should tell you of an ugly rumour I heard yesterday from a fellow-Canadian; he said that the famous portrait of Laura Secord was really a picture of an early and obscure premier of Ontario, upon whom a bonnet had been painted. You had better take this up with your women’s club, and kill the rumour before it runs across Canada like wildfire, destroying the national pride of little children.

Yours agitatedly,

S. Marchbanks.


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

Dear Dr. Cataplasm:

Do you want to make a fortune? Convince the Canadian people that they need another meal. Already Canadians are addicts of the English custom of morning coffee: convince them that they need afternoon tea and you will be hailed as a medical genius equal with Dr. Abernethy (who invented a biscuit) and Dr. Graham (who invented a new kind of bread).

Canada has a vast sweet tooth. Think of the oceans of pop, the glaciers of ice-cream, the deluges of milk-shakes, and the tons of chocolates that we descendants of the hardy pioneers consume every year. You have but to persuade the Canadians that they need a meal consisting of rich pastries every afternoon at four, and your reputation is made! Tell them that their efficiency sags at four, and that they need food to stave off heart failure, and the rest will be easy. The road to a nation’s pocket-book is through its stomach; don’t tell anybody else.

I offer this suggestion quite without strings: of course, if you choose to knock anything off my next bill, that is entirely your affair.

Your perennial patient,

S. Marchbanks.


To Haubergeon Hydra, ESQ.

Dear Hydra:

As a civil servant you are undoubtedly interested in new categories of human beings, so I write to tell you of one which came my way yesterday, when I stopped for a drink at the Hop Pole Inn, in Tewkesbury, with my uncle Fortunatus. We had been travelling, as had another man who entered the bar just before us: he wandered disconsolately to the far end of the room, and shortly returned looking more woeful than before. “Gents?” said Uncle Fortunatus, helpfully: “No, only Ladies and Telephones,” said the man, and disappeared toward the street.


Samuel Marchbanks.


To Mrs. Morrigan.

My very dear Mrs. Morrigan:

Knowing how fond you have always been of gypsies, I write to tell you that yesterday I saw a tribe of them converging on the ancient and beautiful Shropshire town of Ludlow. As I drove along the road from Wales to Ludlow I passed ten gypsy caravans — surely the most romantic dwellings in the world, shining with brass ornaments, and gay with shawls, quilts and bits of tinsel. Every caravan horse was led by a man, usually an old rascal, but sometimes a handsome, black-eyed lad: in front of the van would be a young woman, nursing a baby; in the back of the van other children tumbled, dirty, fat and lively. The women were all either young beauties or old hags: are there no middle-aged women among gypsies? And how the beauty of a gypsy woman surpasses that of the simpering lollipops of the films! How wondrously they dress, and how they make even their very dirt become them!

A few days ago I was passing through the Welsh hamlet of Penegoes, where Richard Wilson was born. A group of gypsy children were playing around a fire there, outside a queer tent made of skins, and obviously half as old as time. How Wilson could have painted them! Do you suppose that he would have agreed with Augustus John that, “it is always worth half-a-crown to have a good look at a gypsy — front or back view”? I accepted the invitation of a gypsy girl to touch her baby for luck. One shilling. Cheap at double the money.

Your humble servant,

Samuel Marchbanks.


To the Rev. Simon Goaste, B.D.

Dear Mr. Goaste:

I am sorry to hear that your thrombosis has been at you again. You should come to North Wales. There is no thrombosis here — at least, not under that name. There is a similar affliction, but it moves in three stages. The first of these, usually marked by a coma lasting a few hours, is called a “warning.” The next, which usually involves partial paralysis, is called a “seizure.” The final stage of the ailment is called a “stroke.” I was looking at my great-grandfather’s grave the other day, and the message on the headstone was: “Behold I shall take away the desire of thine eyes with a stroke.” And that is precisely how my greatgrandfather died.

But the usual age for demise here is in the 90’s. It is an uncommonly healthy part of the world. The mountain air, I suppose.

Your obedient parishioner,

S. Marchbanks.

From My Notebooks

A RIVAL ALMANACK / An almanac from a patent medicine company arrived in the mail this morning — a gaudy reminder of the immense tonnage of pills, the vast ocean of jalap, the heaped-up mountains of salts which are consumed by the Canadian public every year. Not that I have any prejudice against patent medicines. They are a relatively harmless indulgence and may even contribute to human well-being. It does a man good to take a few pills every day. It gives him a feeling that he is taking care of himself, and this persuades him that he is in good health — but only just. It is not advisable to feel too well. People who boast about their good health are apt to overtax it. They want to lift things which should be left on the ground; they insist upon walking when it would be much simpler to ride. Everybody should have some slight, not too obtrusive ailment, which he coddles. Nobody should be without some harmless medicine which he takes. These things enable him to husband his strength, harbour his resources, and live to a ripe old age. And, what is more, the patent medicine people, who are a good and useful social group upon the whole, must live.

LAUGHABLE NUDITY / This evening some worldly acquaintance took me to a nightclub, where I watched the floor-show with simple-minded wonder. One of the chief attractions was a blonde young woman, said to be Finnish, who danced in an Eastern costume that afforded her strategic but not complete protection. She was less graceful than supple, and when she had got her feet very dirty she showed us how she could waggle them over her shoulders. Then she turned herself into a wheel of irregular contour and rolled lumpily about the floor. Her abdomen was rubbery and less taut than many I have seen, and every time she fell on it there was an audible and rather comical Splat! which amused me greatly. However, I was frowned on for laughing. In Toronto, it appears, one may leer desirously at under-dressed girls, or gape at them with the costive expression of one who considers Nudity and Art to be synonymous terms, but one must not laugh. Which is unreasonable, considering that many people are even funnier stripped than clothed.

ILLUSION OF PROGRESS / A child showed me a comic book that sought to show how much better life is today than it was in the 18th century. It pointed out rather smugly that in those days there was no electricity, that many people could not read, and that life was somewhat inconvenient. So far as I am concerned life is still far from convenient, but pleasant for all that, and many people who can read do not seem to do so. Further, some things achieved a perfection in the 18th century which has never since been surpassed: we have never bettered their window-sashes, for instance; nor have we designed any chairs which combine beauty and comfort as theirs did; our glass and chinaware are not, on the whole, as good as theirs, nor are our textiles. In fact, in virtually every phase of architecture and industrial design, they beat the heads off us and we still copy them because we cannot do better. It is dishonest to give children the notion that we are cleverer than our ancestors in every respect. We make many things more easily than they, but not necessarily better.

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