The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks. Revised Edition (1966) by Robertson Davies

Thursday: Every day I learn something new. Today I read of a movement among artists of the Left Wing to destroy art altogether. The leader of this jihad is a fellow called Julian Symons, who writes: “The arts are disintegrating; the objective of art today is to divert attention from the class struggle. The intelligentsia who try to nurture the coy bloom of art as we know it are tending a dying flower. . . The transition from the bourgeois art of the last three hundred years to any possible Socialist art of the future will not be made without. . . sacrifices.” Ha, Ha, Symons old boy! You should come to Canada, where the great mass of the public hasn’t even found out about the bourgeois art of the last three hundred years, let alone this new Socialist art of which you speak in such trenchant terms. Get wise to yourself, Julian, you old red carnation, you!

Friday: As I trudge to my work every day I pass a house which has what architects call an ogival window in its woodshed; that is to say, the window is in the form of a little Gothic arch, of the sort usually seen in churches. Why this woodshed is so quaintly adorned I cannot say, but across the street from it is a house with an oriel window — an upstairs window which sticks out of the side of the house, and has romantic Gothic arches. Thus, for a moment, as I pass on my way, these two windows — one in the woodshed and the other on the wall — breathe the last enchantments of the Middle Ages in my direction, and I am grateful. They are pleasing reminders of that attempt, over a century ago, to revive Gothic architecture for domestic use; like all other architectural movements, it arrived in Canada, hopelessly battered and discredited, when the rest of the world had rejected it. It was a crack-brained scheme; Gothic buildings are not to live in; they are to be instructed in, edified in, and pitifully afraid in; nobody could live an ordinary life in such surroundings. But it was a notion of such commanding craziness that it inspires respect, and I freely accord it such respect, for thirty seconds every day.

Saturday: Raked and rolled my lawn this afternoon; some of my neighbours are gardeners born and bred, and thoroughly enjoy an afternoon of back-breaking labour in the great outdoors; but to me it is nothing but toil and a concession to popular opinion. I am afraid that people will look down on me if my lawn is a hayfield, and I would rather work myself into a decline than have them think that I am lazy (which is the real truth of the matter). . . As a result of this unwonted activity my spine shrank a couple of inches and I was forced to walk in an uneasy posture, and when I sat down invisible daggers assailed me in the small of the back. Some of us are built for physical toil, and some for mental toil; every time I lift a rake I get a pain, but I have not had a headache in twenty years. But alas, most of us have to spend many hours a week at work for which we are unsuited.

– XIII –

Sunday: Had lunch out-of-doors for the first time this year, and further welcomed the fine weather by getting a touch of sunburn. Went for a stroll in the afternoon and admired babies; I find that the most successful approach to the subject of babies is to discuss them as though they were hams; the firmness of the flesh, the pinkness of the flesh, the even distribution of fat, the sweetness and tenderness of the whole, and the placing of bone are the things to praise. Carrying on the ham approach, you may safely say that the baby makes your mouth water, and you may pinch it appraisingly, but if your enthusiasm gets the better of you, and you stick a fork in it, you had better prepare to sell your life dearly.

Monday: Magnificent spring day, recalling to my mind those lovely lines of Keats:

Oh, how sweet the morning air,

Oh, how sweet the morning air,

When the zephyrs,

And the heifers,

Odoriferous breaths compare!

Met a man who must have been deeply affected by spring, for he wanted to talk about love, a subject on which he had no particularly novel or interesting views. But he gave me a description of how he proposed to his wife, and of his nervousness upon that occasion. He asked me if I thought most men were nervous when proposing? I replied that I thought that formal proposals were rather uncommon, and that couples usually arrived at an understanding without ceremonious palaver, kneeling on the drawing-room carpet, blushing, fainting, bursting a corset-string, and the like; I have never heard of a formal proposal between people of reasonably equal age, and I have given more advice to the lovelorn than Ann Landers, in my time.

Tuesday: Some people I know were telling me of a curious experience which they had recently; they put a collection of old and rejected household articles in their car and drove to a dump to dispose of them. While busy at the dump, they were accosted by a strange figure, a woman of tall and stately presence, wearing a paper crown and carrying a staff in her hand, who strode majestically through the avenues of ashes, tin cans, dishonoured wash-boilers and superannuated bathtubs, attended by a rabble of admiring children. This apparition hailed my friends in a strange, incoherent, but musical language, and her breath was richly perfumed with bay-rum, or it may have been lilac lotion; she was in fact as high as a kite and as mimsy as a borogrove. Having said her say, she strode off in queenly style, and she and her raffish crew were soon lost in the mazes of the dump. . . My theory is that this was Titania, the fairy queen, fallen upon evil days, but magnificent in ruin; or it may simply have been some rum-dumb old bag with a sense of humour. In either case the matter is worth investigating.

Wednesday: Received news today that a friend of mine, a scientist of highly complex mentality, is about to marry a lady who is also a scientist of equally daedal intellect. This impresses me as an excellent scheme; then when they are tired of love they can always talk about science, and if love grows cold, science will keep them together, until it warms up again. I have long held the opinion that community of interest is more important to a marriage than scalding passion. People who mean to marry should make sure that there is something more than love between them. In the words of the old song:

Will the love that you’re so rich in

Light the fire in the kitchen

And the little god of Love turn the spit, spit, spit?

Love, like ice-cream, is a beautiful thing, but nobody should regard it as adequate provision for a long and adventurous journey.

Thursday: Had to do some motoring today. I have two characters, my Pedestrian Character, in which I am all for the Common Man, the freedom of the roads, and the dignity of Shank’s Mare; and also my Motorist Character, in which I am contemptuous of the rights of walkers, violent in my passion for speed, and arrogant in my desire to kill anybody who gets in my way. As I have never ridden a bicycle, I am the enemy of cyclists in both characters. If I am walking, they sneak up behind me, and slice the calves off my legs with their wheels; if I am driving, they wobble all over the road, never signal, and seem to be deaf, blind and utterly idiotic. In spite of their stupidity, cyclists rarely get themselves killed; the roads are slippery with defunct cats, squashed skunks and groundhogs, and hens who have been gathered to Abraham’s bosom, but I have never seen a mass of steel, leather wind-breaker and hamburger which was identifiable as the cadaver of a cyclist.

Friday: Went today to view the X-rays which were taken of my inside some weeks ago. They were hung up on a rack and lighted from behind. I saw what was wrong at once; a long, thin, jagged monster was gnawing at my vitals; it was at least two feet in length, and on every joint there was a cruel hook. The doctor was very kind. He showed me my pylorus, and commented pleasantly on the nice appearance my spine made in the picture. But I could not take my eyes off the monster. Was it a tapeworm? Or was it something infinitely worse — something hitherto unknown to science? How long could I last with a thing like that in my vitals? As the doctor drew attention to the wonders of my inner world I grew more and more apprehensive, for I knew that he was saving the worst for the last. But the time came when he seemed to have finished. Summoning up all my courage, I asked the fatal question. “And that, doctor,” I said; “what is that?” He lowered his voice, in case one of the nurses might overhear. “That is your zipper, Mr. Marchbanks,” said he.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson