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

– XXX –

Sunday: Was reading a sermon by an eminent Montreal divine on the subject of frivolity, of which the divine disapproved. Pleasure, he said, was a legitimate indulgence; he would even go so far as to say that people needed pleasure in their lives; but he warned most seriously against frivolity. This interested me so much that I looked up the word in my dictionary, and found that it meant more than I had thought — “trivial, empty, paltry, lacking in character and depth of concentration” were only a few of the scathing comments in the definition. . . Sighed heavily, for my schoolmasters used to accuse me of frivolousness; my inclination toward untimely levity annoyed them. And it has grown with the years. If I tended toward frivolity as a boy, I am incorrigibly settled in it now.

Monday: Watched a group of children playing school today; it seemed to me to be a depressing game for the holidays, but they enjoyed it hugely. Not many lessons were taught, but there was a great deal of spanking, asking permission to leave the room, and being sent to the principal. The most prized role was that of Teacher; the largest child got that by sheer physical prowess and the smaller ones were reduced to submission by violent threats. . . I recall playing school when a child with a group of Roman Catholic children; the oldest was given the prized role of Sister Mary Somebody, who must have been an uncommonly severe disciplinarian. As a mere Protestant, I was only allowed to be the janitor; from time to time I was permitted to say “Is it warm enough for you, Sister?” whereupon Sister Mary Somebody would give me a stately nod of the head. I soon tired of the limited possibilities of the janitor’s part and went off to play by myself, while Sister Mary Somebody went on happily spanking, cuffing and scolding.

Tuesday: Business took me to Toronto today, and I was amazed by the number of dead animals I passed on the highway. Most of them were skunks, though from time to time one saw a defunct rabbit, a squashed squirrel or a jellied groundhog. Why are skunks more prone to die on the highway than other animals? Is it because skunks, for thousands of years, have been used to stopping everything by sheer force of personality, and have not yet accustomed themselves to the automobile age? Certainly it is a lesson in the mutability of all earthly things to see a skunk, once nobly menacing and vainglorious, lying — a poor rag of grizzled fur — by the roadside. But it cannot be said of skunks, as it is of men, that they all smell alike in death. . . And speaking of skunks, was it on purpose that the City of Toronto arranged that symphony of vile effluvia which assaults the nostrils on Fleet Street? Gas works, tannery, glue atelier and soap-rendering emporium all unite in a ferocious stench compared with which the bazaars of Calcutta are as morning roses washed with dew.

Wednesday: My garden is a failure again this year. My morning-glory is not more than an inch above ground; my castorbeans (which should be like trees by now) are sickly shoots; a cow appears to have nested in the remains of my peony bed. The only things that are doing well are my runner beans, and some gourds, which are growing like Jack’s beanstalk and seem likely to push down a wall. . . And do I care? No! If Nature doesn’t want to co-operate with me she knows what she can do.

Thursday: Because there is to be an Orange Walk tomorrow, I was drawn into a discussion of the Battle of the Boyne by two men who regarded it as a matter of the utmost contemporary importance. But I soon found that the Battle of the Boyne they were talking about was not the one I learned about in school; my Boyne was merely one in a series of small battles, and it was fought on July 1, and not on the Glorious Twelfth; and in my battle King William’s forces were principally composed of Dutch, French, Danish and English troops, and not of valiant Ulstermen; and in my battle the victory of King William was thought to have something to do with the fact that he had 35,000 men to his opponent’s 25,000, causing King James to run away, which was wise if not precisely valiant. . . But my friends seemed to be talking about an entirely different fight. I quoted them Bernard Shaw’s wise dictum: “Peter the Fisherman did not know everything; neither did Martin Luther.” But they would pay no attention. If we were all robbed of our wrong convictions, how empty our lives would be.

Friday: The Orange Walk today. I had to go to Toronto again and missed it, but all the way along the road I passed Orangemen gorgeously arrayed and wearing the set, determined expression of men who might have to fight for their convictions and rather hoped they would. Some of them carried bottles of fife-oil; this is a special lubricator which you drink yourself and then blow into the fife. . . Arrived in Toronto, which is the Rome of the Orange Order, too late to see the parade there, though I kept meeting Orangemen and Orangewomen all day long, and even saw an Orangeinfant, so covered in rosettes and ribbons that it could hardly breathe. . . It was a hot, exhausting day, and during the afternoon I was forced to refresh myself with a pot of Orange Pekoe tea.

Saturday: Should have worked in my garden, but lay in a deck-chair and read Damon Runyon instead. It is about this time of year that my gardening enthusiasm, so hot in the Spring, fails me, and I make my annual discovery that a weed is just as pretty as a flower if you look at it the right way. . . Sometimes I think I got too much gardening when I was a boy, and I know that many people suffered in the same way. Indeed, a friend of mine tells me that his father won a prize for the finest garden in his home town for two years in succession, and that this triumph was based firmly upon the back-breaking labour of my friend and his brothers and sisters. Thus it is in many families; the father is the planner and overseer; the children are the toilers and fieldhands; and from this uneven division of labour a fine garden springs. Gardening is an undemocratic pursuit. Somebody crawls through the flowerbeds, weeding and grovelling like the beasts that perish; somebody else strolls in the cool of the evening, smelling the flowers. There is the garden-lord and the garden-serf. When we are all socialists gardens will vanish from the earth.

– XXXI –

Sunday: I do not like showerbaths. I am a Wallower, a Prone Cleanser. Still, I admit that showers save time. When I have climbed into the tub with a few books I have withdrawn from life for at least an hour, and in the morning I have not an hour to spare, so I take showers. But as soon as I have put myself under the spray, violent hydraulic activity breaks out everywhere in the Towers; laundry-tubs are filled, toilets are flushed, teeth are cleaned, drinks are drawn, hoses are set to work and everything that can possibly be done with water is done immediately. First my shower becomes freezing cold, and as I scream and dance it becomes boiling hot again; parboiled, I work the taps feverishly, and instead of improvement, all water ceases to flow; I put my head around the curtain and roar like a sergeant-major; other voices roar back at me, but the sound of the distant Niagara makes it impossible to hear what they are saying. At some point in this struggle with the elements I manage to step on the soap, and I am thinking of hanging a strap from the ceiling of the shower, as in a street-car, or possibly getting a lineman’s safety-harness from the Bell Telephone Company. Showers will be the death of me.

Monday: When I was a lad naughty boys used to shout an offensive rhyme at Chinese citizens, accusing them of eating rats — of chewing them up like ginger-snaps, in fact. Today I read that Captain C. L. Cameron, the explorer, ate rats not merely from necessity, but because they were excellent food. He made a dressing of breadcrumbs, herbs, and the liver and heart of the animal, and then roasted his rat for a few minutes in a hot oven; he declared the flavour to be delicious and said it was not unlike snipe. Which just shows that we are missing a good thing through a foolish prejudice. There are constant complaints about the number and destructiveness of rats. We have merely to declare the rat a table delicacy and it will immediately become hard to raise, like turkey, and will only eat expensive special fodder, like mink. I have always said that the way to get rid of dandelions is to declare them a rare and costly flower; they would then become as fragile as orchids; the same technique would work with rats.

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