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

– X –

Sunday: Did some tidying in my cellar this morning; it has long been my custom to do some work of this kind on the seventh day, meditating meanwhile on the beauties of humility and simplicity. The occupational disease of people in my line of work is infallibility, complicated by loquacity and carbonic acid gas in the blood. The proper corrective for the mental ills of the man who deals primarily in words is a brief spell of dealing with things; the contrariness and obduracy of such things as dirt, boxes and old potato bags, which he cannot charm into subjection with his honeyed tongue, bring humility to the writer’s heart. . . Contrariwise, of course, men who spend their lives dealing with things ought to try to clarify their thoughts on Sundays; the fault is as great on one side as on the other. The impotent man of thought: the bonehead man of action — what is there to choose between them?. . . Then wrote some letters. I am one of the few people who uses sealing wax on private correspondence; I like it, for it makes the letter gay and gives it a decidedly personal air. I have a couple of very pretty seals; the one I use most frequently is a goddess (or a nymph or a dryad or some such young woman) in pur is naturalibus kneeling by a stream. Postmen love it; it feasts their eyes, they tell me. I have never thought highly of the modern custom of sealing letters with horse-hoof glue and spit.

Monday: A man I know happened to mention on the bus this morning that he was suffering from a trifling complaint — an ingrowing hair. Immediately he was bombarded with tales of horror about ingrowing hairs; one man had known of a case in which such a hair grew three feet into the flesh, and was removed only after major surgery; another knew of a case in which an ingrowing hair developed a hard ball of gristle on its root and left a crater when extirpated; a third had heard tell of an ingrowing hair which, when removed, proved to be a continuation of the patient’s spine, so that he was left with nothing to connect his vertebrae. . . I was reminded of the stories women tell any other woman who is going to have a baby. . . To a meeting tonight, and reflected upon the excessive hardness, smallness and shakiness of folding chairs which, combined with speech-making, always reduce me to the lowest depths of melancholy. Why are all good causes inextricably bound up with folding chairs? Is there no virtue in springs and cushions?

Tuesday: To the movies tonight to see a film dedicated to the exposition of one of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Hollywood Faith, to wit, that a fellow who chews gum, wears his hat in the house, and rapes the English language every time he opens his mouth is a better matrimonial choice for a nice young girl than a suave fellow who has lots of money and has been successfully exposed to education. The Apotheosis of the Yahoo is one of the primary objects of Hollywood.

Wednesday: The movies last night — an organ recital tonight! It seems to me that I just stagger from one hotspot to another, wallowing in the pleasures of the senses. . . To a party afterwards, where I met several ladies called Mrs. Mumbledemum; this Mumbledemum family must be very large, for I am introduced to members of it everywhere. The name is hard to hear, and not too easy to pronounce, and it seems to fit almost anyone, so there must be a lot of people who were born Mumbledemums, or who have become Mumbledemums by marriage. Nowadays when anyone smiles at me whose name I don’t know, I just smile in return, and say, “How do you do, Mrs. Mumbledemum?” in a low, indistinct voice, and they always reply. On occasion I have been addressed as Mr. Mumbledemum myself, and I always grin and pretend that I am a member of that fine old family.

Thursday: A man of remorselessly statistical bent got at me this morning and told me that I have 8,760 hours to spend every year, and that when time for work, sleep, vacation, travel and meals has been deducted from that total I still have 1,930 hours every year — or 80 glorious, 24-hour days, to do with as I please. He then grinned and asked me what I did with them. Hating him for a pestilent pragmatic, I lied valiantly, but in my heart I know what I do with at least 60 of those days: I wait for people who are late for appointments; I read magazines and papers in which I am not really interested; I gape at movies which do not enthrall me; I listen to tales of woe from people for whom woe is too good; I trudge about the streets, pretending that I am thinking; I look at chess problems in the papers and wish that I could solve them; I wish that I had followed my early ambition and become a circus clown; I — but why extend the catalogue of futility? Yet I am a reasonably happy man, and I get modest pleasure even from my regrets for time past and opportunities missed. Only the mad or the very innocent expect to live richly every hour of those 80 magic days.

Friday: Today I found myself in the peculiar position of having to restrain my furnace: it was in high spirits, chewing up the coal and spitting out the cinders, and outside the thermometer was pushing upward toward 60 degrees Fahrenheit, birds were twittering, drains were gurgling, and snow was yielding up the smell of rich brown earth, subtly mixed with cat and dog. When I opened the furnace door gusts of heat and flame belched forth, shrivelling my cheap celluloid waistcoat buttons. I toyed with the idea of raking out the fire and throwing pails of water on it, as I once saw a railroad fireman do, but I wanted the fire again, and I knew that it would never forgive such an insult. . . As the snow melts, leaves which I should have raked last year come into view, looking discouraged and sad, like soggy breakfast cereals. My lawn, which I left reasonably tidy in the autumn, looks like a garbage dump, and I know why. The jolly dogs (man’s best friend) who live round about have thrown their old bones and chocolate bar wrappings there all winter. A pox on man’s dumb chum! If I behaved like that, around their doghouses, they would bite me.

Saturday: This afternoon slept soundly through the first act of a broadcast of Beethoven’s Fidelia, but I heard enough of it to discover that all of the all-American cast spoke English with thick foreign accents, and in that too-rich, fruity speaking voice which opera singers don’t seem able to help. . . Went out and chopped some ice off a walk, which was hot work, and was amazed to find that crocus, iris, thrombosis and early haemophilia are all coming up on my borders, thereby making work and ruining my Saturday afternoons for weeks to come. . . To a meeting to choose artists for a concert series. How glorious it must be to rise from the miserable status of a $500 artist to the altitude of a $3500 one! But how bitter, as old age advanced and one’s fingers stiffened, or corns appeared on one’s vocal cords, to slip from the $3500 eminence back to $500 a night, and from that to entertaining at political rallies and lodge benefits for a measly $5 and all one could eat in doughnuts and coffee! Congratulated myself that I am a writer, a job in which advancing senility is rarely detectable.

– XI –

Sunday: Confined to my bed with a desperate and unspecified internal malady, which my friends interpret in the light of their own experience. Those who have had gallstones say that I have all the symptoms of a rock-bound gall; appendix martyrs assure me that I shall know no peace until I have my appendix snipped out; the man who came on an emergency call to look at the plumbing tells me that I must have what he calls “an ulster.” I reply that it can’t be an ulster, as I haven’t even a coated tongue, and the joke is so bad that it makes me feel much worse. However, any sort of joke is praiseworthy from a man in my condition. I hug a hotwater bottle to my breast (or a little lower down) and groan.

Monday: I feel no better today. Reflect that Mind is the lord of Matter, and that if I were a Yogi I should dispel my ailment with a few breathing exercises and repetitions of the mystic syllable “Om.” But I am not a Yogi and the only syllable I feel like uttering with any regularity is “Ow.” The boredom of this ailment is becoming intense.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson