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

Wednesday: To the movies, to see a piece which exalted the virtues of country life; the chief incident was the burning of a barn which belonged to an elderly farmer, and the eagerness of his neighbours to give him livestock and produce with which to start farming again. But this is not a form of generosity exclusive to the country. I well recall when the Astor mansion in New York burned to the ground in 1896; all the rich city folk hastened to do what they could for the poor Astors, who had been burnt out. Old Mrs. Van Rensellaer threw a shawl over her head and ran over at once with a big tureen of real turtle soup. The Vanderbilts sent silk bed sheets and down pillows; the Van Courtlandts offered the Astors their ballroom to bed down in for the night; the Goulds insisted on sending them a full set of crested fish-knives, and a large salmon as well; the Rockefellers sent their butler with a big block of Standard Oil stock, and a dish of out-of-season fruit. It was a wonderful outburst of spontaneous kindness on the part of all the Astor’s neighbours. It is simply foolish to think that only the humble have kind and generous instincts; many a great heart beats beneath a ruby and sapphire stomacher.

Thursday: Rain today, and frost coming out of the ground. A black day at Marchbanks Towers, which is so situated that water pours into the cellar every spring and during the January thaw. There is something about the sound of water pouring into one’s cellar which cannot be ignored; I sat by the fire for a time, trying to distract my attention with a good book; this failed, so I tried a bad book, (the latest selection of the Bawdy Book Club, of which I am a member), but even that was useless, and at last my conscience drove me down into the depths to see what was happening. There was no doubt about it; the water was mounting. So I seized a broom and tried to sweep it toward the drain; I was alarmed that my furnace might get its feet wet, and develop one of its fits of sulks. My woodpile was soggy at the base; my window screens were beginning to shift in an uneasy way. For a mad moment I contemplated scooping up all the water I could in a bucket and rushing upstairs to empty it out into the garden, but Reason regained her throne almost at once, and I rejected the notion as unworthy. Fortunately the rain stopped soon afterward, and I was able to go to bed with a fairly calm mind.

Friday: Was talking to a friend of mine, and noticed that he had a strange smell. When I commented on this he blushed becomingly, and said that it was some shaving lotion which he had been given for Christmas. It was manufactured especially for masculine use, and was called (I think he said) “Horse.” A number of scents for the male are now on the market and all of them guarantee to make the wearer smell of something wholesome and rugged like heather, or the harness-room in a livery stable. They have short, rugged masculine names, like “Gym,” “Running Shoes,” “Barn,” “Cheese,” “Glue,” and the like. I think that they have a definite place in modern society. A sedentary worker, like myself, has no characteristic smell; anybody who met me in the dark might think that I was a professional woman of some kind (not the oldest kind, of course). But if I sprinkle a few drops of “Corduroy Trousers” on my handkerchief, it is obvious for several yards around me that I am a man. Business women always use scents like “Riot,” “Delinquency,” “Turpitude,” and the ever-popular “Beast-Goad.”

Saturday: Listened to Tales of Hoffman broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, this afternoon; Hoffman was sung by Raoul Jobin, a Canadian, and Pierette Alarie, another Canadian, was the leading coloratura; the conductor was Wilfred Pelletier, also a Canadian. Reflected for the millionth time that it is a pity that Canadians with this sort of ability have so little chance or encouragement to use it for the advancement of their native land. Canada exports brains and talent with the utmost recklessness, as though we had a surfeit of them at home, instead of having one of the highest living standards, and one of the lowest artistic and aesthetic standards in the world. . . Going to bed, discovered that my tube of toothpaste was suffering from severe hernia, and gushed in the most unexpected places when squeezed. Tried to weld the ruptured place over the electric stove, with desperate results, and the odour of frizzling dentifrice spread nauseatingly through the house. Abandoned myself to despair for a few minutes, and then burned some brown paper to dispel the stench of failure.

– VI –

Sunday: Took a dish of tea this afternoon with some people who served the strongest mixture that I have ever swallowed under that name. It was the colour of a spaniel’s eyes, and when I supped it my tongue was immediately numbed. I ventured to ask for a little hot water, but it was powerless against such tea; I estimate that a cup of it, poured into a wash-tub full of boiling water, might have made an endurable drink for me, but I will not guarantee it. . . I ventured to remark to my hosts that they liked their tea very strong. “Oh yes,” said they; “Tea is no good to us unless it will trot a mouse.” I asked a few questions about the latter expression, and learned that what they meant was that they liked their tea so strong that a mouse could trot over the surface of the cup without sinking. . . It occurred to me, in a horrible revelation, that they probably kept a mouse in their kitchen for testing purposes, and I lost all my thirst at once.

Monday: Had a great argument this afternoon with a musician who was angry with me because I said that composers should keep their hands off the plays of Shakespeare, which they degrade with their tuneful nonsense. But I was able to knock him right out of the ring by reference to that tasty opera Amletto, by Ambroise Thomas in which the noble verse of Hamlet is cast aside in favour of this sort of thing:

O wine! the gloom dispel,

That o’er my heart now weighs;

Come grant me thine intoxicating joy;

The careless laugh — the mocking jest!

O wine! Thou potent sorcerer,

Grant thou oblivion to my heart!

Yes, life is short, death’s near at hand.

We’ll laugh and drink while yet we may.

Each, alas, his burthen bears.

Sad thoughts have all; grim thoughts and sorrows;

But care avant, let folly reign,

The only wise man he,

Who wisdom precepts ne’er obeys!

The stage direction after this outburst reads “The curtain falls on a scene of merriment.” The merriment, I presume, is from Shakespeare-lovers in the audience who are comparing this wind-egg and the silly tune to which it is sung with Hamlet as the Master wrote it.

Tuesday: “You should never lie down in your clothes, Mr. Marchbanks; after all, you can see what it does to your pyjamas,” said a tailor to me today, when I complained that my clothes never looked as well on me as I thought they should. I had unwisely confided to him that I always snatch a nap after lunch. Now I have no intention of stripping for this little daily indulgence. For years it has been my custom to fling myself down as I am, and let the wrinkles come where they may. Sometimes I take off my jacket, but more often I pull it up over my head, for warmth. The after-lunch meditation has been a Marchbanks custom for several generations, and I believe it contributes to the longevity of the tribe. Some of us sleep sitting up in chairs, with a handkerchief over the face; others lie down, wallowing among the cushions. Not, mind you, that this after-lunch period is one of utter idleness. It usually coincides with the peak-hour for telephone calls, and although it is possible to sleep while answering the phone, it is not possible to sleep soundly, particularly if one has removed one’s shoes, and the floor is cold.

Wednesday: My mail this morning included some information about this season’s Valentines, though why I should be interested in them I do not know. But I was tickled to read in choice advertising agency English that “thoughtful creators of Valentine varieties have not overlooked the emotional needs of the bachelor girl who doesn’t ‘go steady’ but sports the odd gentleman friend. . . If she’s still uncertain of her boy friend’s intentions and emotions, a Valentine could be found which might provide either an encouragement to the shy swain, or ‘no thoroughfare’ to the wolf, without in any way compromising the young lady’s dignity or affections.”. . . In my young days it was easy to short-circuit a wolf by sending him a one-cent comic Valentine entitled, “The Masher,” the verse on the latter being:

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