Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

Until I wearied and went back to the Triple Goddess, with Astrology thrown in for fun.

Because as a Celt, you see, I am at once credulous of everything and sceptical of everything, and not a whole-hogger, who rushes from the Mother of God to Mary Baker Eddy, and from her to LSD, expecting some revelation that will settle everything. I don’t want everything settled. I enjoy the mess.

So with all the fiery planets opposed to Uranus I am

Yours sincerely,

Samuel Marchbanks.

Maunderings at Nightfall

VOICE OF REASON / Was talking to a man about politics today, and he expressed several opinions with which I disagreed, gently but firmly. “The trouble with you is that you are disillusioned,” he said at last. “No,” said I, “that is not true; I can never recall a time when I was illusioned, if you will permit such an expression. Even as a child I had a firm grasp of the fact that human beings are that and nothing more, and that it is unreasonable to expect them to behave like angels. It is unreasonable to expect the uneducated to behave like the educated; it is unreasonable to expect the ethical to behave like the unethical; it is unreasonable to expect the hungry to behave like the replete, the poor like the rich, and the unhappy like the happy. We must not find fault with people because they often fall short of perfect virtue. We may hope for the best, but we should not be unduly downcast when it does not come to pass. A great part of the world’s misery is the result of this foolish expectation that people are always going to be on their best behaviour. Man is born sinful; the remarkable thing is not that man fails to be wholly good, but that he is as good as he is.” He continued to eye me sadly, but I knew that my Stoicism had got under his skin. But am I wise. . . or just a master of low-pressure platitude?

ODIOUS COMPARISON / Business took me to Ottawa and I reflected, as I do whenever I approach Ottawa by train, that it has a romantic and fairy-tale appearance. I also pondered on the fact that Ottawa, at present, has a population about equal to that of Athens in the days of Pericles, and that a city does not have to be huge in order to be great. It might be argued that great numbers of Athenians were slaves, and it could be replied that great numbers of Ottawans are slaves also, but I cannot see that this alters the comparison in any important way.

VAIN BOAST / There can be no doubt that future historians will look upon this present age as an Age of Decline. True, it will have its glories, and may be referred to in histories of philosophy and humanism as the Age of Marchbanks, but it is scarcely possible for a single man to redeem a whole era. Today, for instance, I found myself in the company of several men of business, and they were boasting, which is no cause for surprise. But of what were they boasting? They were blowing, to my grief and astonishment, about the rate of Income Tax they paid. “Fifty per cent of all I make goes in Income Tax,” cried one. “Laughable pauper!” cried another, “I have paid sixty-five per cent for years!” “To the House of Refuge with you!” cried still a third, and revealed that he keeps only fifteen per cent of what he makes. When all men have left to be proud of is the poor moiety which the tax-gatherers leave them of their wealth, a greater decline than that of Imperial Rome is far advanced. Mark the words of Marchbanks the Prophet.


(Delivered by a Dove with an olive twig in its beak)

To Big Chief Marchbanks.

How, Marchbanks:

Not out of jail yet, Marchbanks. This awful late Spring. No want freedom. Want jail. So when day come for let me out I kick Turkey awful hard when he inspecting beds. What for you kick me, he say. Seat your pants awful shiny, I say. Dazzle my eyes. Make me think sunrise. I kick for do Sun Dance. Ha, ha. Joke Marchbanks. Turkey get red neck. O, he say, funny fellow huh. Yes, I say. So he say I get no time off for good conduct and have to stay in jail another week. This good, Marchbanks. Maybe Spring in one more week. This awful snow remind me poem my grandmother Old Nokomis teach me.

March winds

And April showers

Always a month late

In this dam country of ours.

Nokomis fine poet, eh Marchbanks?

How, again

Osceola Thunderbelly

(Chief of the Crokinoles).

Culled From the Apophthegms of Wizard Marchbanks

As Goethe said, it is the Eternal Feminine that beckons us ever onward: he did not mention the Eternal Old Woman who holds us back.

The Author

Playwright, novelist, critic, essayist, humourist, former actor, newspaper publisher, Professor of English and Master of Massey College, Robertson Davies is a man of infinite variety. He was born in Thamesville, Ontario, in 1913, the son of the Hon. William Rupert Davies, and the extension of a long line of progeny “. . . especially lacking in U.E.L. blood.”

A long attachment to processes of education began in Renfrew and Kingston schools, and continued through Upper Canada College, Toronto, Queen’s University, Kingston, and Balliol College, Oxford, where he received his B.Lit.

Since his return to Canada in 1940 he has been Editor of Saturday Night, and of the Peterborough Examiner, to which he was appointed Publisher in 1958. He became the first Master of Massey College (at the University of Toronto) when it opened in 1963, a position which he still maintains. He has also become a full professor there, and has acquired a number of other degrees over the years.

Mr. Davies’ many plays include Fortune My Foe, the best Canadian play at the Dominion Drama Festival of 1949, At My Heart’s Core, Hunting Stuart and Love and Lihel. He collaborated with Sir Tyrone Guthrie on three books about Ontario’s Stratford Shakespearean Festival (of which he is a Governor), and he displays his gifts as an essayist par excellence in A Voice From the Attic. His other books include three novels, Tempest Tost, Leaven of Malice and A Mixture of Frailties, and two other “Marchbanks” books, The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks, and The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks; his work has appeared in such magazines as Atlantic Monthly, Saturday Evening Post, and the New York Times.

Mr. Davies is married to Brenda Mathews, former Stage Manager of the Old Vic in London, and has three children. He lives in Massey College, and is at present working on his fourth novel, and one volume of a projected History of Drama in Canada.

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