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

Thursday: Was talking to a woman today who kept giving out strange squeaks and groans, as though she had mice in her corsage; I soon diagnosed her trouble; her corsets were creaking, and whenever she moved the stresses and strains of her underpinning were audible. This reminded me of one of my earliest business ventures, when I patented and attempted to sell Marchbanks’ Patent Stay Oil, a scented unguent which was rubbed well into the corsets before putting them on. It rendered the stays supple, without weakening their repressive powers. I was unlucky in the time I chose to market my invention; it was just when rubber corsets were coming into fashion, and the heavier corset of canvas, steel, whalebone and leather thongs was falling into disuse. But there are still a few women who need my Stay Oil, and I am thinking of getting one of the big cosmetic houses to try it on the public again.

Friday: Was talking to a young woman today who informed me that she had no soul. I think she hoped to shock me by this declaration, but it was old stuff to me. The world is full of bright young things and cynical old things who think they have no souls. They appear to regard the soul as a part of their personalities upon which the Christian Church has established squatters’ rights, and they very properly resent such intrusion. As to defining the soul, they never attempt it, though I gather that they regard it as a sort of vapour floating about the heart — not unlike gas on the stomach. For a belief in the soul, and the deity of which the soul is a reflection, they substitute belief in such chimaeras as Progress, General Education, Single Tax, cold baths, colonic irrigation, free love, women’s rights, vegetarianism, the Century of the Common Man, the infallibility of TV commentators, social security, and their laughable congeners and equivalents. As a result, their souls become anaemic and debilitated, and their faces have the unlit look of vacant houses.

Saturday: Passed the day very agreeably laughing, patting myself on the back and drinking toasts to myself. The reason for my satisfaction was that I was comfortably at home, and not in Toronto watching the Santa Claus Parade. As I grow older, and the Christmas Frenzy begins earlier and earlier, my relish for Christmas dwindles. The spirit of love and friendship which should fill us all at Christmas is very dear to me, but it has to struggle against gifts which I don’t want, vulgarized Christmas carols, hysterical appeals from the Post Office for mercy, ill-considered entertainments from which the real spirit of Christmas is painfully absent, and a commercial bombardment which sets my nerves jingling. Santa Claus, now utterly divorced from the St. Nicholas of legend, is a crazed old slob, hounding me to buy things I don’t like, and give them to people who don’t like them either. So on this balmy Indian Summer day, I worked in my garden, made firm but not excessive demands upon my cellar, and laughed and sang the hours away, precisely as though Santa, the patron of the Chamber of Commerce, were not making triumphal entry into the Ontario Babylon.


Sunday: Impossible to postpone any longer the tidying of some attic closets so faced the task with a heavy heart. Under the debris of the years discovered an astonishing quantity of old wallpaper. I have never seen an attic yet which did not contain a lot of old wallpaper, and this makes me wonder why it is that a paperhanger doesn’t feel safe unless he has a lot more material than he really needs. I learned how to calculate the amount of paper needed for a room when I was at school: you multiply the square footage of the walls by the cubic contents of the floor and ceiling combined, and double it; you then allow half the total for openings such as windows and doors; then you allow the other half for matching the pattern; then you double the whole thing again to give a margin for error, and then you order the paper. Result: every attic contains enough extra wallpaper to print a complete Sunday edition of the New York Times.

Monday: Peeped nervously from behind my lace curtains today to see if the Offal Officer would really take away all the assorted junk which I banished from my attic yesterday; he did, and he even wore some of it as he drove down the street. . . Christmas draws near, with its desperate challenge to every man to buy presents for people whose taste he does not know, or who have no discernible taste of any kind. I buy a few Christmas cards as a beginning, knowing full well that they will not be enough for my needs. The Christmas spirit has not yet taken possession of me.

Tuesday: In the course of a conversation about drinks this evening, a man told me that I am wrong in supposing that no joy goes into the making of Ontario wines. Vintage time in the Niagara Peninsula, he says, is a season of Bacchic revel and riot; the merry Niagara farmers and their plump, rosy-cheeked wives roll up their blue jeans and tread out the grapes in an elaborate ritual dance, singing this song the while:

Io, Father Bacchus, Io, Io!

And hurrah for the Chairman of the L.C.B.O.!

Merrily we sing

As we dance in a ring,

Banishing our troubles

With gulps of gas and bubbles!

Io, Father Bacchus, Io, Io!

And hurrah for the Chairman of the L.C.B.O.!

When night falls, they all drape exquisite garlands of flowers about the priapic statues of the Chairman of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario which stand in every vineyard, and then depart into the woods in pairs. It is very dangerous to follow them.

Wednesday: A year ago today I was in a motor accident — not a large one, but big enough to make me nervous of cars even yet. Without wishing to do so I still press hard on the dashboard of any car I am riding in, mumble warnings to the driver under my breath, and cringe and scrunch whenever another car comes within spitting distance. For peace of mind I should really ride with my back to the engine, and sometimes I do, but on a long drive I get tired of kneeling on the back seat, and besides it gives people in other cars a wrong impression.

Thursday: To Toronto, the Ontario Babylon, on business. Passed hastily through Toyland and saw children being introduced to Santa Claus. Two or three harassed men were busy shooing the tots away from S. C. down a ramp; they all wanted to turn around and barge back into the crowd whence they had come, disarranging the queue. This is an instinct deep in the childish heart. What does Omar Khayyam say? —

Myself when young did eagerly frequent

A Santa Claus to Toyland yearly sent —

Then turned, and vainly tried to butt my way

Outward by the same path as in I went.

Saw also a toy train big enough to pull children and a few adults. Would fain have had a ride on it, but I had no child with me, and feared that I might excite remark and even rebuke if I tried to pass myself off as a nursery-school type. The train had an excellent whistle which sent me, just as the Beatles send the bobby-sockers. Whoo! it went, mellowly and invitingly: Whoo! Whoo!

Friday: Toronto is already in the toils of Christmas, and from several windows the hollow Ho Ho! of a mechanical Santa Claus may be heard. Children watch these creatures with hard calculating eyes, wondering if the old man is really crazy, or only pretending to be, like Hamlet. . . Everywhere I went Christmas preparations were going on, but they all seemed to be of a secular nature. Gnomes, elves, giants and Disney oddities abounded, and there were a few angels, but even they had been Disneyized, and made cute, rather than spiritual. A Man from Mars would never know that Christmas was a religious festival from what he sees here. Is it the final triumph of Protestantism that it has pushed the sacred origin of Christmas so far into the background that most people are able to ignore it?

Saturday: Dashed out this morning to get some more Christmas cards; I am not what could be called a greeting-card type, but at Christmas I bow to the general custom. Saw a great many which inspired me with nausea, being depictions of jolly doggies hanging up their stockings, or pretty pussies doing the same thing; several cards were in what is called “the semi-sacred manner,” showing the Holy Family with figures and postures strongly recalling the kewpies who used to appear in the advertisements of a famous tomato soup. St. Nicholas, too, appeared on many cards as a frowsy old drunk in a red ski suit, fingering his bulbous nose. In short, everything possible had been done to rob Christmas of its beauty, dignity and significance. It was not in this spirit that Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, and it is not in this spirit that I, personally, shall celebrate Christmas. I can stand almost anything except vulgar infantilism, and against that I shall war as long as there is breath in my body.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson