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

Monday: One of the candidates for the Prime Ministership is advertising that he was born in a log cabin, and apparently has a movie of the event to prove it. Why do so many people think it admirable to be born in a log cabin? To be born in a log cabin, during the past 60 or 70 years, merely indicates that one’s parents were shiftless; all the best people, whose parents were up-to-date in their views, were born in hospitals. A log cabin, with a dirt floor, wind whistling through the chinks in the walls, rain falling, snow drifting, and wolves howling outside the door, is no place to usher a child into the world; it is likely to pick up all kinds of nasty ailments right away. To the truly progressive mind, being born in a log cabin is a shameful circumstance, to be concealed from political opponents, who may insist that a child so born is likely to break out, even in middle age, with croup, or thrush, or diaper rash, or some other humiliating and unstatesmanlike disease, right in the middle of a peace conference.

Tuesday: Without either effort or invitation on my part, politics has begun to colour my whole life. In Canada this is inevitable; what horse-racing is to Irishmen, or singing-contests to Welshmen, politics is to the Canadian. It is his absorbing passion, bred in the bone and coursing through his blood. It weighs upon him like atmospheric pressure, 16 pounds to the square inch. There are Canadians who take no interest in politics, but they are chiefly drawn from the class which converses in sign-language, eats with its hands, and cannot count above ten. The true Canadian can be brought back from the grave, lured from his treasure-chest or beguiled from his mistress’ bower by two things — an argument about religion or an argument about politics. I have seen elderly ladies who looked like waxwork advertisements for Mother’s Day become raging tigresses when politics has been mentioned, and babes scarcely weaned bash babes of uncongenial opinion with their dollies, as election day draws near. Indeed, as a babe I swung a mean Teddy Bear myself in defence of my party prejudices.

Wednesday: Because I have let my furnace out I have to make grate fires every night, to dry out my armchair; otherwise its boggy embrace threatens me with sciatica and swimmer’s cramp. Making a grate fire means splitting kindling and lugging wood, and by the time I have finished these jobs I am too hot to want a fire. There is a saying, attributed to Lincoln, that “he who splits his own wood, warms himself twice.” Frankly I don’t believe that Lincoln said any such thing; he split lots of wood himself, and knew what a bore it is. But when great men die, preachers and schoolteachers, and others who are in constant need of support in their battle against human nature, invent sayings of this kind and attribute them to the dead, who are unable to talk back. Probably when I am gone I shall be represented to posterity as a man who always ate all his spinach, advocated hard physical exercise, and never left undone what he could do today. These will be gross untruths, of course, and no child who bases his life upon them will ever be anything like me; it is thus that mentors of the young hornswoggle their little pupils and prevent them from becoming wise and great.

Thursday: A holiday, which I observed by getting back to the land. That is to say, I cut my lawn for the first time this year. The pleasure-grounds at Marchbanks Towers present an interesting example of optical illusion applied to landscape gardening; they do not look particularly extensive, but when you begin to pace out their dimensions, behind a decrepit lawnmower, then they take on the proportions of Versailles.

Friday: When I was in Toronto last week I was suddenly confronted by a girl selling tags for the support of the Humane Society. I am a humane man, but humanity has limits; I am humane exactly twenty-five cents’ worth. But I had no silver, and like a craven I gave the girl a dollar and dared not ask for change. Since then my extravagant humanity has gnawed at me. But last night I dreamed that it was happening again; I gave the girl a dollar, and in return she handed me, not a tag, but a printed card, which read: “The whole Brute Creation hereby promises and guarantees that in future it will not leap upon you and shed its hair on your trousers; it will not lick your hands or face; it will not bury bones in your flower beds, nor use your lawns either as a privy or as an arena for noisy amour; it will not howl or miaow between 10:30 p.m. and 8 a.m., it unconditionally swears not to upset your garbage cans. Yours for brotherly love, The Animals’ Humane Society.” I was happy to receive this pledge, and when I awoke and found that it was all a dream, I was downcast.

Saturday: Painted some verandah furniture this afternoon, so that when summer comes I shall be ready to enjoy all four hours of it. Decided on a rather delicate and refined design — red and green on a white background — and paid twenty cents for a special brush to accomplish this work; I have never been one to skimp money on materials; a workman is as good as his tools, I have always maintained, and if I have to blow twenty cents on a paintbrush, I do it without a murmur. . . Completed my work, and, as I was admiring the effect, it began to rain; this means that my paint will probably not dry for several days, and will be tacky for years. Unwary visitors, sitting on my verandah furniture, will carry away impressions of my red and green arabesques which I never intended. . . I already have a green screen door, painted at enormous expense by a professional housepainter, which leaves every visitor with a green thumb. I can make a mess of my own house, without paying a professional painter to do so.

– XXII –

Sunday: Read an article in a Montreal paper about the proper way to be a New Canadian. This was a tidbit; “Kidding is hard to get used to, but you have to learn; it may consist of mimicking, to see if you can take it. . . Later you may learn to kid back. . .” I pondered this, and my advice to New Canadians is not to kid back; Old Canadians don’t like to be kidded or mimicked, though they are extremely fond of kidding and mimicking others. Stains on many a drawing-room carpet are all that remain of those who imitated the Ontario accent, or spoke slightingly of our folk-festivals, such as Mother’s Day. Kidding or mimicking is best done in your native land, with plenty of your compatriots around to see that the unfortunate foreigner takes it in the proper sporting spirit.

Monday: To a political rally tonight, a form of entertainment in which, like all Canadians, I take endless delight. Every country has its distinctive art form; in Spain the bullfight; in France the treading of the grapes; in Italy the battle of the flowers; in England the cricket-match; in Scotland tossing the telegraph pole and squeezing the bawbee; in Wales the Eisteddfod; and in Canada the political rally. The sight of six or seven serious-minded men in unpressed pants sitting on a platform on kitchen chairs throws us into an ecstasy; if their mild remarks are translated into hoarse roars by a public-address system, our joy knows no bounds; if the microphone is so cunningly adjusted that the stumpy have to strain to reach it and the lanky crouch to get near it, we are transported with delight. If we ourselves are sitting on chairs which squeal and complain when we move, we are happy; if a heckler is thrown out, we cheer; if the jamboree ends with the National Anthem three tones too high for our voices, we squeak like patriotic mice. O huzza for the political rally! Wow! Bam!! Powie!!

Tuesday: Seriously disappointed in my kitten Tiger today. During the evening a mouse climbed up through a cold air grating near my chair and surveyed the room with satisfaction. Aha, I thought, and fetched Tiger, who was sleeping elsewhere. I put her down by the grating, but she immediately climbed up on a sofa and went back to sleep. The mouse appeared again, but I made such a noise waking Tiger up that I frightened it away. But Tiger was now disposed to play, so I exercised her with her personal punch-bag for twenty minutes or so. Then the mouse came back. Anticipating a splendid display of jungle ferocity and agility I pointed it out to Tiger, who sat down and looked at it philosophically. Sensing the situation the mouse began to make free of the room and ran about happily, while Tiger watched, and I tore out my hair in double-handfuls. At last, however, this unnatural cat decided to chase the mouse, and bumped her nose on a door just as the mouse dashed under it. . . I wonder if Tiger’s glands work properly?

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Categories: Davies, Robertson