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

Friday: The humidity today was intense, and I was talking to a man who told me (not without a note of pride in his voice) that he had taken four baths since morning. It occurred to me to warn him that he would wash away all his natural oils and develop a nasty, mealy skin, but I refrained; if you warn people against too much bathing they tend to jump to the conclusion that you never bathe yourself, and begin sniffing at you unpleasantly whenever the mercury rises. . . As a confirmed movie-goer, I am in a position to assure the public that the average Canadian does not bathe too much, and that his or her natural oils are in a splendid state of conservation.

Saturday: Was talking to a man today who advanced the theory that the violence of the recent election was attributable to the bad weather; wet, cold politicians, he said, were markedly more vicious than warm, sundrenched ones. Politicians, he continued, are like grapes; when they are allowed to ripen long upon the vine, they achieve a sweet, rich flavour, and give off a delightful aroma of wisdom and urbanity; but when they get too much rain and frost they are small, sour, thick-skinned and inclined to seediness. . . Parliament he said (by now intoxicated with the insidious liquor of metaphor) was a wine, composed of all these diverse political grapes, and sometimes we got fine old fruity Parliaments, full flavoured and of exquisite bouquet, and sometimes we got little, sour Parliaments, provocative of bellyache; it all depended on the grapes. . . Fascinated by his eloquence, I suggested that we should throw a few newly-elected members into a vat, and trample them with our bare feet, singing merry vintage songs the while, in order to see how the new brew would turn out; O for a beaker full of the Twenty-sixth Parliament, Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene!

– XXIV –

Sunday: Had some notion of a picnic today, but it rained. A man I know who lives in the woods tells me that the mosquitoes this year will be as big as sparrows, and may be expected to last until well into December. He bases this prediction on the way the beavers are building their dams. As everyone knows, beavers eat a lot of insects, and particularly mosquitoes (for the formic acid which the latter contain, and which assists the beaver in seeing under water) and a beaver’s burrow contains a special chamber for the storage of the insects caught during the summer season. Apparently the beavers this year are making these chambers unusually big, and from this my friend deduces that they expect a bumper crop of mosquitoes, of particularly large size. . . I have always wished that I were better versed in nature lore of this kind.

Monday: To a picnic this afternoon on the shores of a lake which contained many islands; because of the soft dampness of the air and some tricks of light, the scene was strongly reminiscent of the Hebrides. Saw a garter snake, the first in a long time, and observed its beautiful squirmings and darlings from a prudent distance. I am told by my naturalist friends that these creatures are about a foot long and completely harmless, but in the matter of snakes I suffer from telescopic vision; if I stand too near a garter snake it assumes the proportions of a boa constrictor. . . Fear of snakes seems unrelated to other kinds of physical courage. I have seen large, tough men jump and squeak like school-girls at the sight of a grass snake, and I have known two girls who thoroughly enjoyed a romp with any snake they met. Personally I have developed a suave but distant politeness toward reptiles of all sorts, and I prefer to see them in zoos, if at all.

Tuesday: Noticed a mixed group of dogs playing today, and wondered whether they had any consciousness of breed, as we have of race; I can see no sign of it. The lordly Afghan seems willing to play tag with a terrier, and a spaniel plays with a St. Bernard without any apparent consciousness of the difference in size between them. There seems to be no Apartheid, no Jewish Problem, no Quebec and Ontario feeling among dogs. . . Tonight to the movies — one of those dreary pieces about a musical genius who has fits and kills people. Why is it that genius on the screen is so frequently represented as a form of idiocy? Is it to comfort the mediocrities who have paid the price of admission to sit and think, “O how lucky we are not to be geniuses; how fortunate we are to be happily dumb and imperturbably numb!”

Wednesday: The continuing Canadian Flag controversy concerns no class of society more deeply than elocutionists, as one of them was explaining to me today. For years they have made a specialty of a rousing poem by the late E. Pauline Johnson (“Tonakela”) called Canadian Born, every verse of which ends with some such assertion as:

But each has one credential

Which entitles him to brag

That he was born in Canada,

Beneath the British Flag!

Canadian Born is what elocutionists call, in the parlance of their trade, “a ring-tailed peeler,” containing such noble and rampageous lines as:

The Dutch may have their Holland,

The Spaniard have his Spain;

The Yankee to the south of us

Must south of us remain!

— these latter words being delivered in a loud, quarrel-picking voice. I have heard it recited often (sometimes even in Indian costume) at church socials, political picnics, Dominion Day Celebrations, and kindred uproars, and it never fails to rouse the audience to blood-thirsty fury — sometimes directed toward the foes of their country, and sometimes toward the elocutionist herself (for it is generally assumed to be a piece for a lady to speak). Tonakela has gone to the Happy Hunting Ground, and the chances that any of our ice-bound modern Canadian poets will write another such patriotic bobby-dazzler are slight indeed.

Thursday: Hot all day, and hot tonight — too hot to do any work, though I had plenty to do. So went to a movie instead. Its charm lay in the fact that it lacked “love interest” completely. I am not interested in anybody’s love affairs except my own, and I think that many people feel the same way. Who wants to sit through several reels of inanity which has no purpose except to postpone the inevitable kiss or bedding? Love, as a theme for the movies, has had its day; give me more movies about money and other such interesting things. I know exactly what the Beloved in the Song of Solomon meant when she cried “Comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love”. . . Thunder storm in the night, which meant that I had to rise from my bed and flit about the house, like a wraith, shutting windows and falling over things people had left on the floor.

Friday: Since I got a cat of my own, my life has been full of cats. Visited a lady today who has two beautiful black and white cats named Inky and Pinky. I hear news occasionally of my brother Fairchild’s Persian, named Button Boots. I see cats on the streets and by the roadside, where I never saw a cat before. A few days ago, making my way toward the In and Out shop, I was almost knocked over by a black Persian, as big as a spaniel, dashing past me, pursued by a man carrying a wrapped bottle. Whether it was a jinni which had escaped from the liquor I did not have time to enquire. As for my own kitten, Tiger, I am learning things from her that I never knew before. First of all, I never knew that a kitten could burp, which Tiger does with all the abandon of an old mariner. Second, I never realized that a kitten could be completely and infallibly house-trained, and suddenly forget all it had been taught, reverting to intolerable Bohemianism. Also, why does she like to hide in the piano, plucking ghostly music from the strings with her claws? Is she a sphinx, or merely a humorist of a somewhat earthy sort?

Saturday: Worked in my garden this afternoon, until rain drove me indoors. Fed the kitten and observed that she ate from the front of her plate toward the back, thereby keeping all her food under her chin, in case an enemy should try to snatch a morsel from her. I have noticed many human beings who eat in precisely the same way, and I deduce that it is a continuance of jungle behaviour. Next time I see a man who crouches over his plate and scoops all his food from the outside edge, I shall let out a howl like a pterodactyl, and watch him give a primordial, prehistoric jump.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson