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

Monday: Drug addiction is horrible, addiction to drink is pitiable, but to be a slave of the salted-nut habit is to be lost indeed. Years ago I realized my weakness in this respect, and vowed never to set tooth to salted nut again as long as I lived. But tonight I visited the home of my friend X (a prominent prohibitionist, by the way) and turned as white as a blanched almond when I saw the nut-dish at his elbow. It was obvious from the dry, salty tone of his voice that he had been hitting the cashews pretty hard, and as we talked he ate bowl after bowl of the insidious dainties. His wife (in rags, and barefoot, for their home and fortune had been ruined by his vice) patiently filled the bowl whenever it was empty. Once, however, when she attempted to take a fat filbert from his hand, he struck her brutally across the mouth. I walked home sadly, determined to urge the government to take over the salted nut industry — vile traffic! — not for profit, but for control.

Tuesday: There are days when nothing seems to happen to me at all; I passed today in a coma. . . But I did read the suggestion of a scientist that men over 45, with physical defects, should be made to fight the next war, in order that young men may be spared. This convinces me of something which I have suspected for a long time, namely that scientists are simpletons who happen to have a knack with test-tubes, but possess no real intelligence at all. The logical thing to do, when the next war comes, is to recruit an army from all those of whatever age or sex who are unable to pass certain basic intelligence tests. This would be a good way of getting rid of a lot of the stupid people who cumber the earth; probably there would be a high percentage of scientists, Civil Servants, uplifters and minor prophets in an armed force collected in such a way. But if every country adopted this method the country with the biggest population of boobs, yahoos and ninnies would win, and I am not entirely convinced that we have overall superiority in this respect, though we seem bound in that direction.

Wednesday: Reflected today on the sinful luxury which is sapping the morale of our country. My brother Fairchild has just bought himself an “electronic janitor”, a costly device which, I understand, keeps his house at an even temperature of 70 degrees without any effort on his part whatever. I don’t know quite how it works, but it has something to do with molecules and the quantum theory. . . Another man I know has a method of sprinkling his ashes with common household substances (salt and pepper, I think he said, and a dash of vinegar) and burning them again; in this way he never has any ashes to carry out, because last week’s ash is this week’s fuel. . . The hardy pioneer virtues which made Canada what it is (a nation of ash-choked grouches) seem to have disappeared everywhere except in me. I still get up before dawn — which on these winter mornings means before 8:30 a.m. — and give myself an appetite for breakfast by wrestling with my Cellar Demon.

Thursday: Had to do some travelling today, so rose early and discovered that it was very cold; would gladly have stayed at home and hugged the fire, but duty called, and I obeyed. Made the first stage of my journey by car and was thoroughly chilled; as the conversation for several miles was about ghosts, I cannot blame it all on the weather. Sponged my lunch from some people I know who keep a very warm house, so I thawed out there, but I had to go at once to a meeting, the chairman of which was either a disciple of Bernarr McFadden or a wearer of long underwear, for he insisted on opening the window and letting merry little breezes creep up my trouser legs. I must remember to get some long underwear of my own. Then home again by train; my seat was by the door, and three news butchers kept bursting into the coach, letting the Arctic in with them. I got some valuable exercise jumping up to shut the door, but it was not enough to keep me warm. Made the final stage of my journey by bus, which really was well heated. Listened to a girl vamping a sailor in the seat behind. She had hair of a rusty mouse-colour, but she referred to herself as a “red-head” and hinted broadly that she was a specialist in the arts of love. I doubted if this were true, but I admired her self-confidence.

Friday: Woke this morning to find that I had a chill, the result of yesterday’s junketing. Managed to do some work in the morning, but by noon it had settled in the small of my back, and I was doubled up like a jack-knife. There is only one place in which this position can be maintained without severe pain, and that is bed, so to bed I went and passed several miserable hours wishing I were not a prey to so many foolish and humiliating ailments. I have the less desirable characteristics of a number of great men — the digestion of Napoleon, the eyesight of Dr. Johnson, the breathing apparatus of Daniel Webster, the lumbago of Disraeli, the neuralgia of De Quincey and the deafness of Herbert Spencer — but none of their genius. I am a walking textbook of pathology, and I would sell myself to any university medical school which would make a decent bid. But they all refuse to do so, because they think that I will leave my cadaver to them, free, after my demise. But I shall cheat them: I shall be buried with all my invaluable diseases; no pinchpenny university is going to get me cheap.

Saturday: A slight improvement in my condition today. I was able to struggle downstairs and roast my back in front of an open fire. . . Somebody told me a few days ago that they got the impression that I disliked children. Not at all: I love the little dears. But I have no patience with ill-mannered, noisy, destructive, rude, rampaging little yahoos and it is my misfortune, from time to time, to come in contact with herds of these, roaming wild in the streets; can anyone blame me if I drive them away with curses and blows? But I love to see children playing happily and quietly, while I watch from behind barbed wire, about 300 feet away. . . Ah, the sweet innocence of childhood! What a delightful thing it is in the young; what a pain in the neck it is in those who are assumed to have reached maturity! No, Marchbanks unhesitatingly declares himself to be a Child-Lover, but that is no reason to expect him to dandle young baboons upon his knee, and he flatly refuses to do so.

– IV –

Sunday: Was out for a walk this afternoon, and was joined by a dog; it was unknown to me, and was obviously of mixed ancestry; it was not a Social Register dog. What there was about me which struck its fancy, I cannot say, but it romped under my feet, smelled me searchingly, licked my gloves and hindered my progress seriously. Its most irritating trick was to run just ahead of me, with its head turned back so that it could stare rudely into my face; naturally it fell down a lot because it did not look where it was going, and every time it fell down I had to dance an impromptu jig to keep from falling over it. . . I like dogs, just as I like children. I like to think about them, and I like to read in the papers that dogs have been given medals for life-saving. But I do not particularly relish dogs in the flesh. When I meet a dog socially, with its owner, I am prepared to pat it once, and to allow it to smell me once, and then, so far as I am concerned, the matter is closed. Dogs which go beyond this limit are asking for a kick in the slats, and they usually get it.

Monday: Why is music written on religious or pseudo-religious themes called “sacred music”? And why, under that title, is it thought to be immune from the criticism which affects other music? Much of it is the most arrant tripe, but nobody ever says so. I once heard of a clergyman who said that he thought that “God must grow tired of this perpetual serenading”; I quite agree, particularly if God has a sensitive ear and a fine taste in lyric and panegyric verse. . . This evening picked up an old volume of Hannah More’s Sacred Dramas and took a quick look at David and Goliath. All the s’s in the book were the 18th century kind which look like f’s, and the opening spasm, as sung by David, ran thus:

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Categories: Davies, Robertson