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

I pressed a stem;


Now, when the moonlight falls on the jade

roof of the Imperial Brewery,

I am desolate.

Saturday: Had an inaugural use of my hose-reel today. It was not a success, being designed for hose of the type which some people attach (for reasons unknown to me) to their hot-water bottles. My hose was too strong for it, and the pretty little barrel kept unwinding just at the moment when I most wanted it to remain firm. The green paint came off on my hands in gobs, and the little hook which was supposed to keep the whole thing in a beautiful, shipshape roll, came off at once, and had to be replaced with a piece of string. What is more, when the machine is loaded with hose, the little wheels won’t revolve. Some day, perhaps, I may learn to resist the soft appeal of garden appurtenances which belong strictly in the category of toys.

– XX –

Sunday: Dirty weather today, culminating in hail later this afternoon. When I read about other people’s hail-storms in the papers, the hailstones are always described as being as big as pigeon’s eggs, and sometimes as big as baseballs; my hailstones were no bigger than grains of tapioca, and melted as soon as they reached the ground. It was a disappointing performance. Frankly, I think that there is a tendency deep in the human soul to exaggerate the size of hailstones. To combat the cold I relit my furnace, using some odds and ends of coal, coke, dust and semi-liquid black goo from the corners of my cellar. The fire gave off a strangling black smoke, but no heat whatever, and deposited something like coal tar on all my furniture, upholsteries, and even on my person. I was noticeably swarthy when I went to bed.

Monday: On the Late Movie tonight saw The Sign Of The Cross, with Charles Laughton having his feet tickled, Elissa Landi being eaten by lions, and Claudette Colbert bouncing up and down prettily in a bath of asses’ milk. It was one of those films in which Christianity and Romantic Love were inextricably confused; Christianity and Pure Love were equated with marrying the girl and restraining premarital caresses to an occasional light kiss on the lips; Paganism and Impure Love meant not marrying the girl, and occasionally joining her in her asses’ milk bathtub. But the most fascinatingly repulsive confusion of Christianity and Hollywood Mush that I have ever seen was in the early Ben Hur in which lovers were shown in the foreground of the scene of the Crucifixion, with the caption, “He died, but Love goes on forever.”

Tuesday: Heard about the engagement of two people known to me. Immediately the old question sprang into my mind: “What can they see in each other?” Pondered on this and decided that it was a stupid question. After all, I suppose everybody is lovable to some degree, if you approach them in the right way. Very often when I am introduced to women, I think, “What is she really like behind the disguise which she wears?” And very often I discover that she is pleasant enough, and probably would expand and glow if she received enough affection. . . This habit of mind is not unlike that of the wicked villains of French novels, who were frequently described as “stripping women with their eyes”; when I was younger I used to do that, but as my eyesight grew worse I had to depend more and more on guesswork, and finally gave it up altogether. Nowadays I never even take off a woman’s overcoat with my eyes. I am far more interested in the detection of wigs and false teeth than in conjectural revelations of a beauty which rarely exists.

Wednesday: My kitten Tiger is making the acquaintance of the whole world out-of-doors, and her amazement at such things as grass, plants and flower beds is pretty to watch; give her a border full of iris, and she thinks that she is in a jungle, and prowls realistically. Perhaps God made cats so that man might have the pleasure of fondling the tiger. . .The kitten has a luxurious, Bohemian, unpuritanical nature. It eats six meals a day, plays furiously with a toy mouse and a piece of rope, and suddenly falls into a deep sleep whenever the fit takes it. It never feels the necessity to do anything to justify its existence; it does not want to be a Good Citizen; it has never heard of Service. It knows that it is beautiful and delightful, and it considers that a sufficient contribution to the general good. And in return for its beauty and charm it expects fish, meat, and vegetables, a comfortable bed, a chair by the grate fire, and endless petting. The people who yelp so persistently for social security should take a lesson from kittens; they have only to be beautiful and charming, and they will get it without asking.

Thursday: Was not pleased this morning to receive a circular from an insurance company, addressed “To The Householder Or Roomer.” It is not the implication that I take roomers which annoys me; I have nothing against boarding houses or boarders and have indeed filled the role of Roger the Lodger myself in many homes. No; it is the word “Roomer” itself which I dislike. The English language contains excellent and honourable words to meet all cases; a man who eats and sleeps in a house kept by somebody else is a boarder (unless he is an in-law, of course); a man who merely lives there and eats elsewhere is a lodger. If we accept the nasty word “roomer” into the language, we must accept its beastly counterpart “mealer.” “Do you room at Mrs. Murphy’s?” “No, but I meal there.”. . . What is more, I hate letters addressed to “The Householder Or Roomer,” because they try to cover altogether too much ground with a miserable circular and a one-cent stamp. Furthermore, I loathe and condemn all circulars printed in type which tries to look like the print of a typewriter; I regard them as even baser than letters signed with a rubber-stamp of a signature. I have never bought a cent’s worth of insurance from any company dealing in such nasty deceits, and I never will.

Friday: Long letter today from a friend who loves cats, who calls me an “ailurophile,” which I realize, after a little thought, is Greek for cat-lover. “Glad you have a cat,” he says; “I don’t know how you managed so long without one. Every writer needs a cat. But you are wrong in saying that the names of the cats of great men are not on record. The earliest known cat was Bouhaki, who belonged to King Hana of the 11th Egyptian dynasty; and you must have heard of Mahomet’s cat Abuhareira. What about Mark Twain’s four cats, Apollinaris, Blatharskite, Sourmash and Zoroaster? What about Victor Hugo’s two — Chanoine and Mouche? What about Carlyle’s cat Columbine? What about Rossetti’s cat Zoe? What about Matthew Arnold’s cats Blacky and Atossa, and Horace Walpole’s two cats Fatima and Selima, and Theophile Gautier’s two, Seraphita and Zizi, and Swinburne’s Atossa, and Dickens’s cat Williamina (first called William, by mistake) to name only a few? Dr. Johnson owned not only Hodge, whom you mention, but also a kitten called Lilly. I am surprised that you could write without a cat; no other writer of the least consequence has been without one.”

Saturday: Have been thinking about what my correspondent said yesterday; maybe the trouble with modern literature is that too many writers have deserted cats and gone over to dogs; a dog is a physical, not an intellectual companion. Perhaps, after all, the Indians had a good idea in their system of totems; certainly some people seem to be Dog-men, whereas others are died-in-the-wool Cat-men; I have known quite a few Bird-women, and once I met a Monkey-woman, who was never happy unless accompanied by a small monkey which appeared to have had its trousers patched on the seat with bright green. It’s a strange world, and we are all more in the grip of primitive ideas than we care to acknowledge. The other day I saw a little girl trying to walk on a hardwood floor without touching the cracks. “The cracks are poison,” she explained, “and if you walk on them you’ll die.” Children invent magic; later in life we are still subject to this sway, but we invent “scientific” theories, and “philosophies” to make it intellectually respectable.

– XXI –

Sunday: The first picnic of the season, somewhat complicated by the difficulty of finding a piece of ground dry enough to sit on without receiving the impression that one had put one’s hind-quarters in cold storage. At last found a charming dingle (or gully, if you insist) and spread the refreshments; after all, a picnic is essentially a meal in the open air and there is no point in disguising the fact with attempts to appreciate the over-rated beauties of nature. There are two kinds of picnic which I hope to enjoy before I die; the first is the kind exalted in so many French paintings, in which the men lie on the grass and play mandolins and drink wine, while the ladies remove their clothes and paddle in a nearby river (see Le Déjeuner Sur L’Herbe by Manet); the second is an English Victorian picnic, with plenty of fine silver, a wine-cooler, a footman and a maid to serve the grub, and everybody dressed to the nines in sporting costume. The modern picnic, with peanut butter sandwiches and coffee, is good in its way, but lacks breadth and richness.

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