Samuel Marchbank’s Almanack by Robertson Davies

From my bedroom window I can see the hill upon which Thomas Parr lived his uncommonly long life, from 1483 to 1635 — 152 years. This remarkable old party married for the first time when he was 80, and was made to do penance for adultery when he was over 100. Rubens painted his portrait when he was 140.

I am not surprised that Parr refused to die: life here is too good to be given up — though I must leave soon.




To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Dear Mr. Marchbanks:

May I call upon you on Monday in order to borrow some books of reference of which I know you to be the possessor? I am about to begin work upon an historical study which I have long pondered, to be called The Rise, Decline and Fall of the Toothpick, with an Appendix on the Toothpick in Canadian Lumbering. Also, have you any old Toothpicks which I might have photographed for illustrations? My own forbears always used gold or silver toothpicks which they carried upon their watch chains. It occurs to me that someone of humbler birth, such as yourself, might have the wooden toothpicks I need.

Yours in hope,

Minerva Hawser.


To Mouseman, Houseman and Forcemeat.

Dear Sirs:

Are you men or mice? Of course we must take legal action against Dandiprat. I know he put the skunk in my car because I know Dandiprat, and it is just the sort of thing he would think of. I am amazed by Mr. Cicero Forcemeat’s suggestion that the case would not hold water in court. If Forcemeat wants watertight cases, he will not get them from me. A lawyer who cannot bridge a few unavoidable gaps in evidence is a disgrace to his profession. Now, think again gentlemen!

Yours in expectation of fireworks,

S. Marchbanks.

From My Notebooks

INTERIOR DECORATION / Had a nasty encounter with an interior decorator today. Showing me some rough cloth, he kept calling it “freezay,” and it was not for a while that I realized, with stupefaction, that he was talking about good old frieze, pronounced as in the folk-saying concerning the ill-fated brass monkey. He also showed me some furniture, and said that some of it was “Louis” and the rest was “Ompeer.” I quickly grasped the fact that the latter word was a fancy, frittered-French pronunciation of “Empire,” but I wondered what he meant by “Louis”? The French people managed, in their dishevelled history, to have no less than eighteen kings called Louis, and he gave no clue as to which one he meant. I can be patient with many sorts of nonsense, but the nonsense of decorators unseats my reason; they want to use my money to create some sort of uninhabitable hell, filled with furniture upon which I dare not sit, and daubed with colours which scald my eyeballs. They have a way, too, of describing bits of junk as “amusing,” and making electric lamps out of old chunks of trees and similar unlikely and essentially nasty materials. Better far the grotesqueries of my own taste than the fashionable foolishness of theirs.

THE CAMERA CAN LIE / Assisted this afternoon at one of those meetings where a concert committee decides what musicians it will engage for its series next season. Having decided how much money we had to spend, we passed two happy hours figuring out whom we could get for it — Monsieur Strummo, who plays the piano with his hands and feet, and who wants $5000 to do it for an hour and a half, or Signor Thumbo, who plays the musical saw all night for $25; Madame Y, who had a wonderful voice 25 years ago, or Mademoiselle Z, who is expected to have a wonderful voice in a few years? As we pondered, I looked at the pictures of the artists in the catalogue which we used; what liars photographers are! There was a picture of a soprano, looking like a virgin of 17, whom I saw recently, with a neck like the bellows of an accordion, and bags under her eyes like golf balls. There was a tenor, showing his magnificent chest and leonine head, but omitting his legs, which are about ten inches long. Another tenor was shown with his eyes closed in ecstasy; when they are opened, I happen to know that one of them is a bad glass job which he made himself, from the bottom of a beer bottle. Ah, human vanity! Ah, photographic artifice!

PERILS OF MUSEOLOGY / Visited the Royal Ontario Museum, and was concerned to notice that a lot of the stuffed animals are fading badly. The laborious researches of the Royal Society of Taxidermists, continued for over a century, has not yet discovered a way of preventing this deterioration, which can turn a beautifully striped tiger into something like a polar bear in ten or twelve years. Museums are by definition temples of probity, or the curators might touch up the animals with some of the preparations so lavishly advertised for fading hair. But if a Museum Director were to countenance such deceit he might be drummed out of the profession at the very next International Conference of Museologists. This is a dreadful ceremony, in which the offender, having been stripped naked, is locked into an Egyptian sarcophagus, upon the cover of which his former colleagues drop rare coins in an irregular rhythm, until at last he is released, raving mad, and good for nothing but light work as a Museum guard.

From My Post Box

To Amyas Pilgarlic, ESQ.

Dear Pil:

At last I am back in Canada. I flew home from Scotland. I made my way thither from Wales by two trains — the Flying Scot and the Creeping Scot. What a country Scotland is, and how wonderfully the characteristics of the countryside are repeated in the people! The British Isles is rich in eccentrics, and those of Scotland are among the most flavoursome. Consider those two wonderful 18th century Lords of Session — Lord Gardenstone, who always slept with his pet pig for warmth, and Lord Monboddo, who thought that all children were born with tails! What has Canada to show to equal them?

I may tell you that as I made my way to Prestwick, I passed the Johnny Walker distillery, and the works of Shanks of Barrhead, the great makers of sanitary pottery. “The Alpha and Omega of many a good party,” said my companion, raising his hat respectfully.

Yours as always,



To Haubergeon Hydra, ESQ.

Dear Mr. Hydra:

I am in bed with ‘flu just now and my pyjamas are a dreadful nuisance; they creep up. A lady visited me yesterday, and when I mentioned this to her she said that she had the same trouble with her nightdresses.

Then — in a flash! — inspiration came to me and I forthwith invented Marchbanks’ Nightwear Stirrup. This consists of two metal stirrups, to which stout elastic cords, with clamps, are attached. The wearer puts his feet in the stirrups, clamps the cords to the bottoms of his pyjamas (or the hem of her nightdress ) and the device keeps the garment in place all night long.

How does this appeal to you? As Preliminary Examiner for the Board of Patents and Copyrights, do you — as the current phrase is — go for it?

Yours in breathless anticipation,

Samuel Marchbanks.


To Solomon Muckbanks, ESQ.

Dear Mr. Mackbonks:

I was alarmed and displeased to receive a note saying that you are in bed with Flo, and as a servant of this Dominion I have no desire to enter into a correspondence with you so long as you occupy any irregular situation.

The device which you describe — a Nightwear Stirrup — does not interest me, for in common with many Civil Servants of the better sort, I have employed a sleeping-bag for many years.

Yours very conditionally,

Haubergeon Hydra.


To Samuel Marchbanks, ESQ.

Honoured Sir:

The tone of your last letter was very strong — very strong indeed. As your legal advisers, we must caution you against such layman’s phrases as “take the shirt off his back” and “make him eat crow,” when referring to a possible legal action. We lawyers do not like such expressions: they savour of violence.

In our opinion, your case against Richard Dandiprat is uncommonly weak. You have only circumstantial evidence that he introduced a skunk into your car. Your suggestion that we should in some way bridge the gap between guesswork and certainty alarms us by its sinister implication.

Lawyers do not like to go to court. Anything may happen in court. The magistrate may be a skunk-lover, or a card-companion of Dandiprat’s, or anything. Besides, courts are invariably draughty, and our court partner, Mr. Cicero Forcemeat, is trying to postpone catching his winter cold for as long as possible. We suggest that you empower us to seek a settlement with Dandiprat out of court. This is the proper legal way of doing business.

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