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

Great Lord of all thingf! Pow’r divine!

Breathe on thif erring heart of mine

Thy grace ferene and pure;

Defend my frail, my erring youth,

And teach me thif important truth

The humble are fecure.

This lisping bit about the humble being fecure interested me, for it is the earliest reference to focial fecurity for the Common Man that I have feen. And fertainly Goliath, who waf rather an Uncommon Man, got a frightful fock in the jaw. . . The Sacred Dramas are more sacred than dramatic, just as sacred music is so often more sacred than musical. There appears to be something so overwhelming about Biblical themes that artists — musicians, painters and dramatists — who essay them are thrown into paroxysms of ineptitude.

Tuesday: Prepared for a relaxed evening, and was sitting happily in my pyjamas and dressing gown (a creation of blue towelling) when some friends dropped in, but as they were pyjama friends, so to speak, this only added to my comfort. They told me that a passing reference to my truss in a recent conversation had encouraged them to wonder just what sort of truss I wear. As a matter of fact, that reference was mere pleasantry. Several years ago I read an advertisement which said “Throw Away Your Truss,” and I did so; to be precise, I sent it to the Grenfell Mission, for the relief of some ruptured Eskimo. A week or two later I saw an ad which said “Throw Away Your Surgical Boot,” so I did that, too, and got a wooden leg instead. It was only a few days until I saw another ad saying “Reshape Ugly Noses While You Sleep,” which I did, changing my warty proboscis to an elegant Grecian model. At the same time, I invested in a hearing aid (“fits in the ear but cannot be seen”) and gave my ear trumpet to a Boy Scout, who complained that he thrust it into his ear until it hurt, but was unable to produce the faintest toot. Now, when I go to bed, I pile all this salvage on the floor, with my false teeth and wig on top, and in the mornings it takes a female spot-welder half an hour to assemble me.

Wednesday: My eye was caught this morning by a statement in the paper that “76 per cent of adults have bad breath.” I am always puzzled by such dogmatic observations. How are these conclusions reached? Do investigators scamper about the streets, sniffing? For many years I have maintained that the breath is an emanation of the soul, and that people who have disagreeable breaths are in poor spiritual health. Plenty of people with bad teeth and a dozen diseases have sweet breaths, because they are at peace with God and man. Conversely I have met many athletes, fresh-air fiends, up-lifters, do-gooders and physical culture addicts whose breaths were a shocking revelation of their spiritual corruption and malnutrition. An unhealthy breath rises from an unhealthy soul, not from a disordered gizzard. For years I have fought shy of any business dealings with bad-breathed people, for experience has shown me that they are undependable, if not positive crooks. But I will trust any man, however unpleasing of aspect, if his breath whispers to me of April and May.

Thursday: A soft day, and I think it must be raining down the chimney, for I can’t get my furnace to go. I have shaken, and poked, and tinkered with the drafts, and removed the accumulation of overshoes from the cold air intake, but to no avail. I have even (I blush to write this) tried a propitiatory offering. I built a little altar before the furnace door, and offered up a bowl of delicious turkey-giblet soup on it, but the Fire-God remained sulky, so I ate the soup myself and resumed my hopeless poking. . . But I know what will happen; if I go to bed, leaving the drafts full on, I shall waken in the night semi-cooked, for the furnace will rage and roar at 4 a.m.; but if I check it ever so lightly it will congeal and go out, and in the morning I shall be faced with an immense clinker, like a piece of peanut-brittle. Sometimes I wonder why I don’t jump into the furnace myself, and end it all.

Friday: A man I know has been so broken by the restrictions on horse-racing that he has attempted to console himself by collecting calendars with pictures of horses on them: he has a very fine one with Northern Dancer on it just in sight as he works. I have heard of pin-up girls before, but this is my first experience of a pin-up horse. . . Nevertheless, I know one Senator whose Ottawa office is entirely hung with photographs and portraits of Holstein cattle. “Look at those flanks,” he will cry, as one enters the room, and as he goes on to even more startling intimacies, and as one looks eagerly for an art study of a film star, the realization dawns that he is talking about Buttercup-Nestlerode Springfilled III, queen of the dairy, whose butterfat production has never been equalled. Once a young divinity student visited this Senator, and as he knew nothing of his enthusiasm, and did not understand fully what was being said, he was convinced after twenty minutes of dairy-talk that he was in the presence of an eminent woman’s doctor or a libertine of Neronian abandonment.

Saturday: Tried to listen to the opera broadcast of Rigoletto this afternoon, but as a man in the cellar was doing something cruel to the furnace, and a horde of visitors descended upon me, I did not make much headway with it. . . Went to bed early and read about Dr. Johnson, a man after my own heart, for he loved tea, conversation and pretty women, and had not much patience with fools. Rose at 11:30, ate a big plate of breakfast food and an orange, put the snaffle on the furnace, and retired to sleep the sweet sleep of the deserving poor.

– V –

Sunday: Met a little girl today who was wearing a pair of high rubber boots, which she referred to as her Wellingtons, and of which she was very proud. Have not heard high boots called Wellingtons for a long time, and it reminded me of my Uncle Hengist, who was a clergyman and a great hand at organizing strawberry socials, bazaars, fowl suppers, local talent concerts and similar pious breaches of the peace. At all such affairs he set up a curtained booth, with a sign outside which said “See the Grand Historical Tableau — The Meeting of Wellington and Blucher at Waterloo. Admission Ten Cents. Proceeds for Missions” (or the Organ Fund, or the Abandoned Women, or whatever the good cause might be). Inside the booth was a table, on which a Wellington boot faced a Blucher boot. Uncle Hengist thought this very funny, and his parishioners put up with it for years, although they were all privy to the fraudulent nature of the exhibit. It was not until he became Bishop of Baffinland that he gave up obtaining money by this shady ruse.

Monday: Was talking today to a man and his wife who were groaning that their three children were boys; a girl, they thought, would be much easier to bring up, and a refining influence upon their young gorillas. This is a misconception about the nature of daughters which should be exploded. I think immediately of the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, that gentle man who had eight daughters, all beautiful and all possessed of the spirit of tigresses. The poor man would sit in his study at Lew Trenchard, trying to write Onward, Christian Soldiers, or some such ditty, when a servant would rush in, crying, “If you please, sir, Miss Angela has fallen off the roof, Miss Beatrice has fallen off her horse, Miss Cecilia has sprained her ankle (if you’ll pardon the expression, sir), Miss Dorothea has shot a gamekeeper, Miss Emily is riding the bull, Miss Frances has climbed the steeple, Miss Gertrude has fallen into the pond, and Miss Harriet is pumping water on the curate!” Such were the trials of that Devon vicarage — and all caused by daughters!

Tuesday: Everyone I meet these days asks me how my furnace is getting on. As a matter of fact, it is behaving very well; cold weather seems to agree with it thoroughly. I have only to whisper my desire down one of the cold air pipes and it obliges at once. . . But I am having unusual trouble with ashes. Twice a week I fill all the cans, hoppers, baskets, cartons and old hats in the house, and drag them out to the kerb, and even at that I am accumulating a little hoard of ashes in a corner of my cellar. . . There is fireplace ash too. My fireplace has a trapdoor in its hearth which allows all the ashes to tumble down into a cave in the cellar wall. When I remove the door of the cave all the ashes gush forth into my face, covering me so thickly with ash that I look like Boris Karloff in one of his mummy roles. Of course I hold a basket under the deluge, but never in the right place. . . Some months ago I went away for a few days and left a furnace man in charge of things. When I came back the cellar was full of ashes; “I couldn’t find enough o’ vessels to put ’em out in,” said he, in the rich accents of Old Ireland. That has always been my trouble. Not enough o’ vessels.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson