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

Friday: Talked for a couple of hours to a group of young people today, and enjoyed myself very much. But I was amazed to find them so solemn; they approached every subject, however trifling, with knit brows and a high moral attitude; they obviously thought that seriousness and solemnity were the same thing. I made a few little jokes in an attempt to cajole them into happier mood, but they looked at me with pain, and pretended not to notice these excesses of ribald eld. . . Met some of them tonight at a party, where jelly-doughnuts made up a part of the fare. It takes a high degree of social accomplishment to hold a cup of coffee in one hand, and eat a jelly-doughnut from the other, and this cannot be done by anyone who wants to indulge in deeply serious conversation at the same time. In consequence many of my heavy-minded young friends squirted doughnut-blood on themselves because they did not approach their food in a realistic frame of mind. A jelly-doughnut is deadlier than a grapefruit in the hands of an unwary eater.

Saturday: Was talking today to a man quite high in the Civil Service about the censorship of books and put my question to him: What do the censors know about literature and, specifically, how can they decide whether a book is fit for me to read or not? I expected him to confess that the censors knew nothing, but instead he told me that the censors have a long and special training: first of all they attend a series of lectures on Sin, delivered by unfrocked clergy of all denominations, then they pursue a course of reading which comprises most of what is to be found on the Reserved Shelves of university libraries (the books you can’t get unless you know the librarian or his secretary); then they travel widely, taking in the spicier entertainments of Naples, Port Said and Bombay; then they are brought back to Canada, and if they still wear bedsocks, and blush deeply whenever they pass a cabbage patch or a stork in mixed company, and are able to tame unicorns, they are decorated with the Order of the Driven Snow and given jobs in the censorship department.

– IX –

Sunday: I meant to get up early this morning and cleanse my soul with hard work and godly reflection but a profound torpor settled upon me and I did not waken until a crash outside put me in dread that the chimney had fallen off the house. But it was no such thing; several large chunks of ice had dislodged themselves from the roof and had fallen to the ground. Dare I take this as the first hint of Spring?

Monday: A day of dissolution and thaw, and very welcome to me, for if all this winter’s snow were to melt at once, my cellar would be flooded, and my furnace might get wet feet, and a cold in the head, and be even uglier than it is. . . During lunch the phone rang, and I galloped to it, chewing vigorously; it was a wrong number. . . Mentioned my passion for bathtub reading to a lady of my acquaintance, who told me of an ingenious scheme devised by an aunt of hers, who hung a framed chart of Kings of England, from Egbert, son of Ealhmund (827-839) down to Victoria (1837-1901) in the bathroom in full view of the obligatory seat, with the result that all her children and visitors, over a period of years, gained a fine knowledge of the skeleton of British history, and were even certain of where such obscure kings as Stephen and Henry II came in. The shortest reigns, she informed me, were those of Ethelbald, Hardicanute, Harold II and Edward V; the longest, of course, was that of Queen Victoria with George III hot on her trail. . . Phone rang at 7:30 and at 9:25; wrong number both times.

Tuesday: One of the hazards of the literary life, even on the shabby level at which I live it, is that one is constantly being asked to look at the outpourings of amateurs. Was bamboozled today into promising to look through a large manuscript volume of verse, by a lady who suffers from a poetical seizure two or three times a week. Dipped in, languidly, and was transfixed to find a poem called Tan I Tum In Wiz Oo? It had been the habit of the poetess, when a tot, to rouse her Mum in the middle of the night, asking if she might turn in wiz her, as she was afraid of bogies. Now time has passed, the poetess is middle-aged, and her Mum is far gone in tottery eld. Now it is the Mum who rouses the poetess in the night, saying pitifully, “Tan I tum in wiz oo?” Rose from a perusal of this gem calling loudly upon the Supreme Being, and gagging. How much simpler life would be if I could weep over such ordure, and greet the poetess (who will be on my doorstep next week) with a bunch of flowers.

Wednesday: Decided to take a firm line with wrong numbers today; in the past I have feebly said, “I’m afraid you have the wrong number,” though in actual fact I am not in the least afraid; usually the boob at the other end of the line, who dialled the wrong number in the first place, grunts nastily as though it were my fault. So when my first call came today, it was, as I had expected, a wrong number, and a voice said, “Is Mrs. Blank at home?” “Not to the likes of you!” I roared in a feigned Irish accent. My next chance came in the afternoon; “Can you send me out a dozen fresh eggs?” asked a voice; “Sure thing; right away, lady,” I promised. At 7:30 the phone rang again; “Is Effie there?” inquired a mouse-like voice, “She is,” said I, assuming the tones of a schoolgirl, “but she’s too drunk to come to the phone; shall I ask her to call you when she can stand up?”. . . Altogether it was a most successful day, and I shall adopt this procedure in future with all wrong numbers.

Thursday: Observed a young lady of my acquaintance using a man’s handkerchief to stanch her cold. This seems to be the final and decisive piece of evidence that women have emancipated themselves from the superstitions which have surrounded them for centuries. A generation ago no woman, whatever her needs, ever carried a handkerchief larger than four inches square, with nose-abrading lace at the edges. This was tucked in her bosom, from which insecure rest it usually descended inside her clothes to the region of her stomach, so that she could not get at it without unseemly self-exploration. If she had a cold and really wanted to blow her nose, she had to retire to a private place and blow on a duster, or a torn-up piece of nightdress; sometimes, in moments of extreme stress, petticoats were thus violated.

Friday: To the movies tonight and saw yet another picture about a girl who marries a soldier on short acquaintance. In this particular Hollywood nugacity the girl was a multimillionairess, who tested her suitor by pretending to be a secretary, to discover whether he loved her for herself alone; of course, he did so, and I think this was a fault in the plot, for money, especially in very large quantities, is so much more desirable than the average young woman that no man of real wisdom would hesitate for an instant between the two. Of course, money will not bring happiness to a man who has no capacity for happiness, but neither will the possession of a woman who has no more brains than himself. But money will greatly increase the happiness of a man who is already happy (like me). Wisdom is the greatest possession in the world; money comes next; the intimate caresses of Hollywood stars come a long way down the list. . . The hero of this movie was noticeably fat; he was greasy, too. Is the fat, greasy man to be the Adonis of the future?

Saturday: Took advantage of the thaw this afternoon to dig a few drains; every spring I am seized by the idea that I would have made an excellent engineer, and I construct an elaborate system of drains to prove it. The effect is not always what I intend, but bona fide engineers have told me that my schemes are far ahead of the times; my attempts to make water run uphill have been particularly admired. The streets are so clear these days that when I go out in my overshoes, I frequently feel as though my feet were muffled in rags (which is partly the case, of course). To discard overshoes is to court influenza; to wear them is to cultivate the shuffling gait of a hobo. This is a pedestrian’s crossroads.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson