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

Wednesday: Was talking today with a man who collects antiques, and he showed me some of his treasures. Among them was a beer mug made of pottery which had a life-like pottery frog attached to the bottom of it. The purpose of this pretty thing was to scare the liver and lights out of the drinker as he finished his pint. I think poorly of this sort of humour, smacking as it does of itching-powder, fake bedbugs, rude noisemakers, dribble glasses, and the detestable like. The frog-mug was reputed to be about 150 years old, and I was surprised to find that such a comparatively mild joke was appreciated in the eighteenth century. My delving in history had led me to believe that no joke was admired in those days which did not result at least in a broken leg or the loss of an eye. Merely making a man’s stomach heave with a fake frog must have seemed very poor sport to our rude forefathers, and was probably left to the ladies.

Thursday: To another political rally tonight; my thirst for politics is not to be slaked by mere epicene listening to the radio. And speaking of radio, the radio boys nearly broke up this rally by tapping the microphones, pulling wires, climbing over the speakers, and hooting into the amplifiers during the first twenty minutes of its progress. This made clear to me what I have long suspected, which is that the average radio man doesn’t know what makes radio work, and when it won’t work he is the embarrassed victim of his own gadget — Man at the mercy of the Machine. While all this was going on, some poor fellow was trying to make a speech, but nobody paid any attention to him; they were hoping one of the radio boys would be electrocuted before their very eyes, and expire in agony with forked lightning coming out of his boot-heels. But the Leader arrived in the nick of time, and the radio decided to settle down and enjoy the fun. . . The Leader performed the amazing feat of speaking for 75 minutes without once taking a drink from the two glasses and the full jug on the table before him; I have seen lesser men consume a hogshead of water in the course of a fifteen minute speech. But a real statesman has something of the endurance of a camel; he fills up with raspberry vinegar in the morning, and speaks all day without further need for refreshment.

Friday: Read a criticism of Canadians which says that we are great brooders, and attributes this in part to the fact that our winter lasts for seven months. This is nonsense; our winter lasts for nine months, in a lucky year. Of course, we let our fires out, and peck at the frosty ground in our gardens, and huddle into any patch of white, watery sunshine which breaks through the clouds during April and May, but we pay for our haste in colds and lumbago. In June, July and August, Canadians may do without a fire, but September and May are not to be trusted. Is it any wonder then that we brood? Is it surprising that our incidence of insanity is so great that it is a shame and a scandal to our country? I am just an ordinary brooder myself; I make no claim to being a Big League brooder; but I brood about my furnace several hours each day, even when it is out for the brief summer season. And I do well to brood, let me tell you!

Saturday: Much mail for me today, from fellows anxious that I should vote for them on Monday; the newspapers, too, say that they do not care how I vote, so long as I vote. This constant harping on the subject reminds me that the word “vote” actually means “prayer,” and this in turn recalls the remark of a very wise man that when the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers. . . I am glad that we do not have automatic voting machines here, as they do in the U.S.A. Like all machines, they exist primarily to go wrong, and when the late F. D. Roosevelt cast his last vote for himself the machine stuck and he swore at it, and then had to waste much valuable time apologizing for his ribaldry to women’s lodges, preachers’ unions and similar groups. . . I have been listening to the radio hysterics of all three parties for a full week, and now I feel that the fate of the nation lies in my hands.


Sunday: Admitted defeat today, and re-lit my furnace. A stickler for tradition, I let it out on the fifteenth of May, arguing that if spring had not come it could not be far away. But Nature, always ready with a nasty surprise for those who take her for granted, asserted herself and an Ice Age set in at Marchbanks Towers; nothing would dry that was wet; nothing that was dry would stay dry; outside it was cold, wet and raw; inside it was cold, wet and stuffy. There was nothing else for it; I went downstairs and faced the Monster. As I shoved kindling into his maw it seemed to me that he leered. . . The life of Man is a struggle with Nature and a struggle with the Machine; when Nature and the Machine link forces against him, Man hasn’t a chance.

Monday and Election Day: An election today, and everyone I met had a slightly woozy look, as though he had been sniffing ether on the sly. The streets were filled with cars, lugging voters to the polls; sometimes I wonder if that haulage business really pays; what guarantee does the free passenger give that he will vote for the man who provides him with a car? A really astute politician would send cars to pick up his known opponents, and would then carry them off, twenty-five miles or so into the country, and jettison them. Few of them would be able to walk home before the polls closed. . . After the results were announced I was interested to see the wonderful unanimity of feeling which prevailed: the winning side was disposed to be generous, and told the losers that they wished they had done better; the losers, on the contrary, assured the winners that they had foreseen what would happen, and were in no way cast down by it; the socialists, who had been telling the world that they would win, proceeded forthwith to explain that they never dreamed of winning, and expressed delight that they had received any votes at all. Every one was so anxious to show complete satisfaction and good fellowship that a stranger, dropped by parachute, would have assumed that they were all on the winning side. . . The losers’ hangover will begin tomorrow, when the ether wears off.

Tuesday: To a circus tonight. A circus is the only entertainment which can follow an election without appearing to be anticlimax. The analogy between a circus and an election, indeed, could hardly be more complete: the tightrope walkers, the acrobats, the contortionists, the trained seals, the mangy old lions with no teeth and the clowns, the clowns, the clowns!!!

Wednesday: The coming of sunshine and warm weather has aggravated a tendency which I have observed for some time; I mean the custom of girls walking about the streets hand-in-hand. If I see a young man and a girl walking hand-in-hand I regard them as a little soft, but not beyond reclaim; but when I see girls walking thus, gazing into each others’ eyes, and laughing with laughter which is like the shattering of electric light bulbs in a tin biscuit-box, I wonder what’s afoot. This afternoon I saw a girl got up like Huckleberry Finn (blue trousers rolled up, an open shirt, and a rag round her head) squiring a smaller girl in a skirt across a street, and they were so lost in Love’s Young Ersatz Dream that they were almost run over by a car. . . In my experience, limited and monastic though it has been, women do not greatly like other women; they prefer men as conversationalists, walking partners, and hand-holders; they refer to gatherings of their own sex as “hen-parties,” and regard them as dull. . . I have always considered hero-worship in schoolboys, and heroine-worship in schoolgirls, as the most humiliating of adolescent diseases, worse even than pimples and damp hands.

Thursday: The circus flavour lasts. Everywhere I go these days I see little girls trying to make their dogs skip, little girls trying to balance themselves on rolling barrels, little boys trying to walk along fence-tops and little boys trying to evolve a “cod fight,” like clowns. The technique of the “cod fight” is simple; while the fighters seem to be hitting each other the most resounding blows, they are slapping their free hands together at about waist level; when they do this with enormous loose gloves, the effect is superb; but when two small boys try to do it with their bare hands, they usually hurt themselves, and discover that being a clown is a somewhat more specialized profession than they thought. This is an important discovery in anyone’s life.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson