Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

You will be able to find their address easily, I am sure, as they used to be very well-known people, and had a large house somewhere in London, or quite near. Do call on them and suggest that I would be most happy to write. I am sure they will be interested.

Yours expectantly,

Minerva Hawser.

P.S. All the Mawworms have dark hair and I believe one of them is titled. If you find them will you cable their address to me at once. — MH


To Amyas Pilgarlic, ESQ.

Dear Pil:

It is high time I came home. Dandiprat and his dog have sabotaged my car and that accursed old crone, Min Hawser, is hounding me to run down relatives of hers who have titles. I cannot write to them now, as I am on a train bound for Wales, and you are the only one who can read my train-writing.

Railway travel in this country has one great advantage over train journeys in Canada; I can get unlimited reading matter in every station. There is a book-and-paper stand on every platform offering the most delightful train literature. At present I have The Matrimonial Post, and The Girl’s Own Paper with me. Have you read either? They are very rich feeding, let me tell you. Consider this, from the Post: “Attractive, witty, physically opulent lady of modest means seeks correspondence with gentleman of refined but not inhibited mentality. Object, a mutual exploration of intellect, with a view to intimacy and possibly matrimony. Photograph offered and expected.” Or how does this appeal to you: “Lady, 28, who has lost one leg, seeks congenial gentleman friend with similar handicap. Friendship and possible matrimony.” Or what do you say to this choice offer: “Gentleman, mature but well-preserved, amusing, presentable, experienced, seeks ditto lady with private means. Offers unlimited comradeship and fun.” I can dream over the Post for hours, calling up the opulent ladies and comradely gentlemen before my mind’s eye.

The Girl’s Own Paper I read for its style. Here is a sample paragraph: ” ‘Crumbs, girls,’ cried Crackles Crompton, bursting into Dormitory Thirteen where her special chums Bubbles, Giggles and Foibles were washing their hair, preparatory to the great lacrosse match against their hated rival, St. Rawbones, the coming Saturday, ‘have you heard the news?’ ‘Oh go and eat coke,’ cried Giggles, lifting her ruddy head, thick with foam, from the basin, and cramming another fig-bar into her mouth, ‘your news is always about boys, since Foibles’ brother Derek took you to the Natural Science Museum last hols.’ ‘Oh boys are rot,’ cried Crackles, a flush mounting from the top of her navy blue serge blouse toward her chestnut hair, ‘boys are utter, piffling, footling rot, and you know it. There isn’t a boy on earth I wouldn’t give for a really spiffing hockey stick — except Daddy, of course,’ she said and her liquid brown eyes grew even more liquid as she thought of Major Crompton, who was in Africa subduing native tribes. ‘Miss Checkrein’s stopwatch has been stolen, and until it is found the whole school is confined to the grounds.’ ” — This sort of writing still flourishes in spite of all the books and films about St. Trinian’s; the really deep things of life are impervious to satire.

You know, I really think that I shall have to have the law on Dandiprat.

Yours determinedly,



To Mouseman, Mouseman and Forcemeat.

Dear Sirs:

Will you, as my legal advisers, give your attention to the following matter: A neighbour of mine, one Richard Dandiprat, has caused his mangy old dog Bowser to chase a skunk into my car, which I have left in my garage during my absence. The skunk has, I gather, done its worst. I know that Dandiprat did this on purpose, and now he wants to buy the car at a ridiculous price. I want to put Dandiprat in court, and take his shirt. He is a low scoundrel, and I want to show him that I am privy to his base design. If you will begin legal proceedings I shall be home in a week or so, and then we will get after him.

I hope that the rheumatism of the senior Mr. Mouseman is much improved.

Yours faithfully,

Samuel Marchbanks.


To Haubergeon Hydra, ESQ.

Dear Mr. Hydra:

I have now reached Wales, from which country some of my forbears emigrated to Canada. I became conscious that I was on un-English ground at Gobowen, a Welsh junctional point where the ticket-taker thanked me in the Welsh form — “ddiolch yn fawr.” How pleasant, I thought, and how characteristic. And this made me wonder whether some distinctive form of thanks could not be devised and adopted in Canada. “Thank you” is excellent, but formal and English in effect. “Thanks a million” is excellent, but it has an American extravagance which is unbecoming in Canadian mouths. What would you think of “Thanks a hundred thousand”? It seems to me to strike the right Canadian note.

I direct this suggestion to you because, as Permanent Secretary to the Royal Commission on the Arts in Canada, you might be able to popularize it. If you can do so, you may take all the praise which such a happy thought will surely evoke.

Yours self-effacingly,

Samuel Marchbanks.


To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Esteemed Sir:

I am in receipt of your letter in which you instruct this firm, as your legal advisers, to bring action against Richard Dandiprat for having wilfully and with malice aforethought induced, instructed or compelled a skunk to commit a nuisance in your motor car.

Immediately upon receiving your communication I dispatched my efficient and discreet secretary, or confidential clerk, Miss Prudence Bunn, to Marchbanks Towers to examine the scene of the alleged misdemeanour. Miss Bunn’s report was as follows:

Confidential to Mr. Mouseman: At a distance of a quarter of a mile from Marchbanks Towers the atmosphere became noticeably heavy. Asked to describe the odour in court I should use the phrase “burning old gym shoes.” At 100 yards from the Towers it was clear that a skunk, or some animal indistinguishable therefrom, had committed a nuisance. In order to carry out my instructions I was compelled to soak my handkerchief in eau de Cologne and hold it over my mouth and nose. Thus protected I examined the garage, but found no evidence of violence or felony. Determined not to fail in any requirement of duty, I opened the door of the car, and at once lost consciousness, collapsing head foremost into the rear seat. I regained consciousness to find that I was being sniffed in what can only be described as a searching manner by a large white dog with pink eyes — a bull terrier, I should judge. Whether this was Mr. Dandiprat’s dog Bowser I cannot say, though I have my opinion (which is not evidence). However, I can state without fear of successful contradiction, and if necessary upon oath, that a skunk or some animal indistinguishable from a skunk has been living with the utmost freedom in Mr. Marchbanks’ car and has sustained an emotional shock therein.

Yours faithfully,

Prudence Bunn.

Now, Mr. Marchbanks, we cannot advise you, as your lawyers, to prefer a charge against Richard Dandiprat without further evidence to show that it was he who put the skunk in the car. My father, Mr. Jabez Mouseman, is at present unable to attend to business, as rheumatism and great age render him incapable. However, I have consulted our other partner, Mr. Cicero Forcemeat, who does all our court business and his report is as follows:

Tell Mr. Marchbanks that unless we have something to pin the skunk to Dandiprat, we wouldn’t have a Chinaman’s chance in court.

“Chinaman’s chance,” Mr. Marchbanks, is Law Latin signifying “slight likelihood of success.”

Yours faithfully,

Mordecai Mouseman

(for Mouseman, Mouseman and Forcemeat).


To Amyas Pilgarlic, ESQ.

Dear Pil:

I am making a short stay in Wales with my Uncle Fortunatus before coming back to Canada, and to work. You have never been to Wales, I believe? A great country, and the people have immense charm. For some reason the English seem to think of the Welsh as rascals and cheats, and this unjust notion has taken hold in Canada. Of course some Welshmen are curmudgeons, but on the whole I think they are wonderfully high-spirited. As a matter of fact, the only man in medical history who died of joy was a native of the very district where I am now staying. His name was Edward Burton, and in 1558, when Queen Elizabeth came to the throne, his own patriotism and the celebrations drove him into such a frenzy of delight that it killed him. He died while roaring with laughter, and uttering loyal yells.

He was refused burial in the churchyard of St. Chad’s, in Shrewsbury. Presumably the authorities took the view that no real Christian can be as joyful as that, and didn’t want him making trouble among the glum ghosts. So he was buried at home. I would like to meet Burton in the hereafter, and ask whether the strange manner of his death caused him any trouble with St. Peter.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson