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

– XV –

Sunday: The press of the times forced me to work today, just as though it were any Monday or Tuesday, which afflicted me abominably. I hate work, regarding it as the curse of Adam, and am fully in sympathy with the medieval view that work is an ignoble way of passing the time, beneath the dignity of anyone of fine feelings or intelligence. However, as there was no escape, I pushed my pen and punched my typewriter all day, and all evening till bedtime, taking time off only for a short walk. When I returned, my furnace had gone out. Tired of being checked, it yielded up the ghost, leaving only a mass of clinkers in the firepot. Addressed myself to the task of relighting it, and at last when I was worn to a nubbin and hysterical with exasperation, the new fire was ready, and in time a gentle warmth stole through the house.

Monday: Tonight to the movies to see a Peter Sellers film of which I had heard and read a variety of conflicting criticisms. I enjoyed it very much, but I can understand that many Canadians would not care for it because it dealt with a kind of English life which is unfamiliar to most people here. So far as acting, directing and humour were concerned, I thought it far beyond all but the best Hollywood products. . . Right behind me was a fellow who had brought his deaf and blind fiancee to the films, and he explained every piece of action to her in detail, and repeated all the dialogue as well. I thought the girl was dumb, too, but whenever anything particularly moving came on the screen, she said “Jeeznitawful,” which I interpreted as an expression of emotion. . . When this picture was shown in Ottawa, there was a newspaper controversy about the accent in which the characters spoke, which refined Bytowners thought common. It is interesting that most Ontario people suffer from the delusion that they speak without an accent of any kind, and that corruption of the King’s English exists only outside the confines of this blessed spot, this earth, this realm, this Ontario.

Tuesday: Looked out of an upstairs window this morning and saw a squirrel apparently fast asleep on the roof of my woodshed; when I returned five minutes later, it was still dozing peacefully in the sun. I did not know that squirrels ever rested in this lazy way; I thought that only the more highly developed mammals, like man, had enough sense to keep still for long periods when the weather was fine. . . A friend who wants to save my soul has sent me three tracts, which I have added to my collection of works of edification. One of them tells of a “devoted Christian businessman” who was knocked down by a truck, and called his family about him for a deathbed orgy; to all of them he said “Good-night” except Charlie, the Black Sheep; to Charlie he said “Good-bye” in such a significant manner that Charlie was soon brought to his knees, “crying out in agony of soul” and repenting. “Charlie is now a preacher of the Gospel,” says the tract, triumphantly. . . Another is about a wicked sea-captain who repented on his deathbed in time to be saved; a cabin-boy with a Bible completed the job just in the nick of time. The eventual profession of this boy is not mentioned.

Wednesday: Woke early this morning, looked out of my window, and saw snow descending in large wet flakes; later when I had summoned up the energy to get out of bed, the sun was shining brightly; as I sat down to breakfast, the skies clouded and it began to rain. This reminded me of Sir William Watson’s painful lines:

April, April,

Laugh thy girlish laughter;

Then, the moment after,

Weep thy girlish tears.

I have long thought that these displays of meteorological hysterics might better be described thus:

Idiot April,

You dribble and grin;

Calm yourself, April,

Wipe off your chin.

This in turn reminded me of the girl in Schubert’s song who laughed and wept by turns, and didn’t know why, but coyly suspected that she must be in love. I have known plenty of girls who were in love, in my time, and I never saw one yet who behaved in this uncertain manner; they all looked like the cat who had just swallowed the canary.

Thursday: Attacks on my peace of mind are unpleasantly common this week. Today a man presented me with a volume called Seven Years Street Preaching in San Francisco, California, Embracing Triumphant Death Scenes. He said that he thought I needed it more than anybody. . . It has its lively side; I am particularly impressed with the author’s observations on an auctioneer whom he saw in San Francisco: “If we could get ministers to cry aloud as earnestly over living immortal souls as this man does over spoiled cheese at two cents a pound, what a waking up they would produce among the sleeping thousands of this land!”. . . The triumphant death scenes are very choice, particularly those of Orlando Gale and Romeo Darwin, both of Ohio, and I am amazed that dying women and men should be able to find breath to make such long and involved speeches. I notice that the author has little hope for those who died outside the Methodist faith, and is particularly scathing about the Church of Rome. Upon the whole I judged that the writer of this book has never been exceeded in zeal, even by auctioneers selling spoiled cheese.

Friday: Good Friday, and a holiday, which I employed in grooming the pleasure-grounds at the Towers. It was a perfect Spring day, and I sang a blithe song as I raked and rolled and tidied. A large number of bronze grackles and some pigeons walked about the lawn after me, hoping for something to eat, and I flattered myself that I looked rather like St. Francis preaching to the birds. A large dog came and dug a hole in a flowerbed, and I preached to it, sternly, and finally tossed a stick in its direction. It thought this was an invitation to play, and I had to do some more preaching. Then I distributed fifty pounds of pulverized sheep manure, and although I was conscious that it would work wonders for the garden at some future time, I found it a harrowing experience in the present. This done, I went to visit some friends, and observed that they shrank from me in an unaccustomed fashion and that one young woman whom I had not previously met eyed me with disapproval. It was her child who disturbed my calm, however. “Ma, why does that old man smell like wet corduroy trousers?” asked the tot. Then I explained about the sheep manure, but as this did not greatly improve the tone of the party I went home.

Saturday: Meant to do some gardening this afternoon, but as a heavy snowfall made it impossible, I enjoyed a pleasant swoon on a sofa for a couple of hours, and arose much refreshed. . . Then to a party, where I showed my prowess at those games where you have to fill out forms saying who Cain’s wife was, and whether it was Lincoln or Petrillo who said “We must save the Union at all costs.” I like games of that sort; the games I hate are those where somebody comes into the room and says that his first is in coffee but not in tea, and his second is in India but not in Canada, and so forth, until he has told you everything except what you want to know, namely, when the refreshments are going to appear.

– XVI –

Sunday: To the zoo this afternoon, and watched some boys who were busy trying to goad the bear into a display of temper. Reflected that their bravery depended entirely upon the strength of the wire around the bear-pen, and wished that the prophet Elisha would suddenly appear and repeat his vindictive trick as described in 2 Kings ii; of all created creatures, there is surely none capable of such bone-headed, thoughtless cruelty as a healthy growing boy. . . Looked at some owls which sat blinking and solemn in the daylight; a friend who was with me turned to me and said, “If you put that big one in an expensive suit and sat him behind a desk he could do as well as the manager of any business in the country.”

Monday: Saw seeds for sale in a shop today, and was sorely tempted. Every spring I have to fight the desire to go on a seed-buying spree; it has been my lifelong habit to plant three seeds where one would do, and I usually buy several packages of everything, including watermelon and century plant. I love the gay pictures on the little envelopes, and the brave, boastful directions on the back of each package. “Sow in open soil when all danger of frost is past”; “plant in a cold frame and set out in June”; “separate until plants are one-sixteenth of an inch apart” — I know all the directions, and could write a gardening-book myself. The only trouble is that I am rarely able to grow any flowers, because I always forget what I have planted, and when the time comes to thin the flowers, I never can tell them from the weeds. . . And fertilizer! My garden is all fertilizer; it is really too rich for anything but jungle growths. I might be able to raise bamboo or sugar cane, but not a sprig of miserable Baby’s Breath or Old Maid’s Buttonhole, or whatever that stuff is called.

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

Categories: Davies, Robertson