The papers of samuel mar.., p.13
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       The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks, p.13

           Robertson Davies
 

  17 John L. Lewis (1880–1969) was a mighty figure in the miners’ union but was chiefly noted for his immense eyebrows. Much of his authority was thought to originate in these growths with which he could both beetle and beat. Marchbanks’ seminal study, The Eyebrow, Secret of Charisma is much admired in political economy departments in the more advanced universities.

  18 This poem is The Slave’s Dream by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–82), whose popularity has dimmed, owing to his being wholly comprehensible. Aspiring poets, take note.

  19 At the present time Marchbanks has eleven Bibles, some of which include the Apocrypha, the books puritan scholars decided to omit, as being more fun than is proper. Very saucy stuff!

  Summer

  -XXVII-

  • HEYDEGUISE SUNDAY •

  Off on my annual holiday today, to the United States for the first time since 1938. Crossed the St. Lawrence on a ferry, in company with fifteen million fuzzy insects; asked a man with a glass eye what they were; “Sand fleas,” he replied laconically. Did not believe him…. Stayed tonight in a hotel in the Adirondacks, which is famous because Theodore Roosevelt once changed horses there. Many relics of him were on display, including his raincoat, rucksack, and a horseshoe which was wittily labelled as “not from one of his horses.” Reflected that I have many such relics at Marchbanks Towers, including a bed in which Queen Elizabeth never slept, a pen which was not used to sign the Treaty of Versailles, and a cake which was not burned by King Alfred. Take this negative attitude towards antiques, and we all are richer than we ever imagined.

  • MONDAY •

  On the road all day, with pauses for refreshment and to look at dubious antiques. Visited the New York State Capitol at Albany, and saw a drum displayed in its entrance-hall which had been seized from the British in the Revolutionary War. Was filled with a wild impulse to break the glass, snatch it back again, and run like hell for the Canadian border, but as I had just finished lunch I decided that it would not really be a practicable plan. Pressed onward, and gaped in amaze at the magnificent palaces which line the Hudson River. Stopped for dinner at Tarrytown, and in the Florence Hotel there had an adventure so frightful that I shall not even confide it to the private pages of this Diary. Never, since Mr. Pickwick found himself trapped in the bedchamber of the Lady with Curl Papers, has a traveller suffered so acutely and so undeservingly.1

  • TUESDAY •

  Entered New York this morning; it cost me ten cents at the Hendrick Hudson toll-bridge, which I thought rather expensive; I am used to getting into cities for nothing. However, when one is travelling, one must expect to spend a certain amount of money foolishly…. Had lunch in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art, which was about as pleasant as anything could be, for in addition to serving a top-notch lunch these enlightened Americans permit one to have a bottle of their own California wine at meals. In spite of this freedom I did not see anyone who was even slightly drunk, much less in a condition to swoon upon the ground, or hack at the modern statuary…. Afterward rode in Central Park in an open carriage (I am essentially a barouche man, and have never really accepted the motor car) and the driver attempted to cheat me out of a dollar, but was foiled. After some argument I drew myself up: “Shall we submit this to the arbitrament of a constable?” said I. “Aw Cheest!” he said, and drove away. New York, I perceive, contains almost as many rogues as Toronto.

  • WEDNESDAY •

  Having heard many travellers’ tales of the dreadful deceptions practised upon strangers in New York, I walked about the city today expecting to be accosted by men who wanted to sell me gold bricks, or possibly the controlling interest in Brooklyn Bridge. However, nothing of the sort happened. Decided that perhaps my appearance was too urbane, so this afternoon I tried chewing a straw and saying, “Wal I swan to thunderation!” every time I looked at a high building. Still no rush of confidence men. Perhaps the perils of New York are exaggerated…. The shops are full of things to buy—possibly too full. At any rate I suffer from a sensation of surfeit, when faced with so much merchandise, and don’t want to buy anything. I am content to stroll about the streets and admire the beauty of the women, which is somewhat standardized, but breathtaking none the less. Strawberry shortcake is standardized, but nobody ever gets too much of it…. And the charm of this city is that when one is tired it is possible to get a glass of beer without resorting to a stinking pest-hole called a Beverage Room.

  • THURSDAY •

  Wandered about the streets, enjoying whatever sights came my way. Looked into the Temple Emanu-El, the principal synagogue, and thought it vastly more beautiful than St. Patrick’s, which, by the way, is having its face washed, and nothing can be seen of the outside of it but scaffolding and irritable, plethoric pigeons…. Saw also a man in sackcloth, with unkempt beard and hair, bearing a sign which read “Indict Senator Bilbo; UNO and World Government.” Recollecting J. S. Mill’s warning that a country where eccentricity is a matter for reproach is in peril, I tried not to stare at him too curiously, though his lacklustre eye and general appearance of madness fascinated me. Was talking to a lady this afternoon who said, “Have you been to the theatre yet, Mr. Marchbanks?” I replied, as politely as I could: “Madam, when I am in a city which possesses a theatre I am on hand whenever it is open to the public. I consider the theatre to be the most rational, enspiriting, rewarding and ecstatic of human entertainments, greatly superior to music and painting. Does that answer your question?” She fled in dismay, poor witling.

  • FRIDAY •

  Henceforth, when anyone asks me “Were you in ‘Twenty-One’ when you were in New York?” I shall say that I was, but my answer will be disingenuous. This evening a New Yorker took me to dinner, and as we discovered a mutual passion for Chinese food he whisked me to 21 Mott Street, an unimpressive establishment in Chinatown where I ate such food as only the gods and a few particularly favoured mortals are privileged to taste. After a careful inspection of the menu we decided to order the Wedding Banquet For Eighteen, and eat it all ourselves. This we did, augmenting it with many bowls of rice and uncounted cups of delicious Chinese tea. (At least, I stopped counting after my tenth cup.) Together, this congenial soul and I waded through such a mass of fried shrimps, chicken, pork, almonds, bean shoots, bamboo sprouts, ginger, soybean and crisp noodles as I never saw before in my life, while our female companions picked away daintily (in the way of women) at a few poor trifles provided for them. After this we went for a ride on the Staten Island ferry, to enjoy the air and contemplate our inward bliss.

  • SATURDAY •

  Left New York today. Passed through a ghost town called Piercefield, which contained more derelict houses than inhabited ones. I suppose young ghosts go there to get a little preliminary experience in haunting. I don’t know why they complain of a housing shortage in the U.S.A. when Piercefield is wide open…. On into the Adirondacks for the night and slept amid scenery that would delight a Welshman or a Scot.2 Mountains, like the sea, are in the blood.

  -XXVIII-

  • SUNDAY •

  Some important atomic bomb tests were held today, but no consequences were observable in my part of the world. Half-consciously I had been expecting the end of everything, and had made preparations accordingly. I burned a few letters which I did not wish to have vaporized; when we are all reduced to atoms, who can tell what atoms will read other private atoms, as they hurtle through space? I put a few of my more prized possessions in prominent places so that they would be vaporized as prominently and showily as possible. I threw a few bricks and rocks into my furnace, so that its vaporization might be painful. Then I spent as much time as I could manage lying on a sofa so that if necessary, I might enter Eternity in a relaxed posture. But nothing happened.

  • MONDAY •

  Cut my grass today. I neglected it over the weekend, thinking that the atomic bomb might settle all such problems forever. As I plodded back and forth I reflected miserably upon my own political rootlessness, in a wo
rld where politics is so important. When I am with Tories I am a violent advocate of reform; when I am with reformers I hold forth on the value of tradition and stability. When I am with communists I become a royalist—almost a Jacobite; when I am with socialists I am an advocate of free trade, private enterprise and laissez-faire. The presence of a person who has strong political convictions always sends me flying off in a contrary direction. Inevitably, in the world of today, this will bring me before a firing squad sooner or later. Maybe the fascists will shoot me, and maybe the proletariat, but political contrariness will be the end of me; I feel it in my bones…. Tiger, my kitten has wandered away.

  • TUESDAY •

  Tiger not back for breakfast; that cat treats its home like an3 hotel … No mail this morning. It is a constant source of surprise and indignation to me that, although half my life is spent in writing letters, nobody ever writes to me. Of course I got mail; there were the usual government handouts, addressed to me by chairwarmers at Ottawa and Toronto; there were the usual printed appeals urging me to hasten to Palestine and give my life in the cause of Jewish freedom; there were the usual people who wanted to give me a course in short-story writing, or convert me to the cult of colonic irrigation; there were thick reprints of speeches delivered by the presidents of insurance companies; there was a letter from a woman urging me to take up in this Diary the unsatisfactoriness of modern underpants, in which (she says) electricians tape is used instead of elastic. But not a word addressed to me personally—not even a postcard. Disheartening.

  • WEDNESDAY •

  Still no Tiger; worried about her. Enquired of some children if they had seen her. “Perhaps she has wandered off with the Toms; two of our kittens did,” said they. This alarmed me greatly. Wandered off with the Toms! What an appalling thought! What a revelation of feline delinquency! Do the Toms engage in a hideous traffic in young cats—White Slavery in the cat world? At night, when all is still and the human world lies wrapped in sleep, do raffish crews of roystering Toms rush through the streets, curling their silky moustaches and luring innocent little pussies to a Fate Worse Than Death? Is Tiger at this very moment living in Guilty Splendour in some underground Haunt? Surrounded by every luxury—fish-skeletons galore, Jersey cream in kegs, catnip unlimited—does she ever think of her simple home and the toads she used to play with in the back garden? I shall advertise for her.

  • THURSDAY AND THE DELICATIZING OF ST. AUDREY •

  Answer to my advertisement for Tiger. “Did youse lose a cat?” said a voice over the phone. “What kind of cat have you got?” I countered. “Kind of a yalla cat,” said the voice. “My cat was not yellow,” I replied indignantly, and hung up.

  • FRIDAY •

  A man said today that he supposed I got a lot of free meals on my press-card when I was in New York; apparently he believes that legend that a newspaper writer has only to go into an expensive restaurant, eat himself out of shape, drink the bar dry, and then present his press-card in order to have the proprietor fall on his neck in gratitude. It is not true. When in New York I did have a sandwich in a modest grill, and did present my press-card when the bill arrived, but I had to pay all the same. It was not until I was outside that I realized that I had presented, not my current press-card, but an old one which I had preserved for sentimental reasons from the days when I was the entire editorial staff on the Skunk’s Misery Trombone, a lively little paper with a rather limited circulation. I suppose the restaurant proprietor had never heard of it; he was an uncultivated type, and addressed all his customers familiarly as “Joe.” I did not think that anything would be gained by arguing with him; people who call other people “Joe” are not usually strong in logic.

  • SATURDAY •

  Tiger is home again! She had not run off with the Toms but had, I suppose, lost her way in one of her tree-climbing expeditions and had passed a comfortable few days with people who fed her and (if I can judge by the condition of her coat) brushed her, as well. Reproached her bitterly for all the anguish of spirit she had caused…. Passed the afternoon cleaning my cellar. Hercules, cleaning the Augean stables, had an easy task in comparison. Ran to and fro with driblets of coal; piled wood which had been lying under coal; resurrected and viewed with dismay bits of linoleum which had lain under coal. Wretched though present-day coal is as a heater, it has one undeniable characteristic—it is dirtier, and gets into more obscure corners, than any coal ever previously sold. Finished the afternoon looking like Old Black Joe, and with a dismaying collection of rubbish which the garbage man will be too haughty to remove. I suppose I shall have to bury it by stealth in the flower beds.

  -XXIX-

  • SUNDAY •

  Tiger, my kitten, is suffering from an ailment which is not uncommon among animals and children in hot weather. This is an intolerable nuisance, for when she ran away she was beautifully housebroken, and now she has forgotten her good manners. When a child has this trouble it is able to give a warning shriek when the demon seizes it, and one can then rush it to the proper quarter, strengthening its moral fibre with threats and entreaties as one runs; but Tiger is crafty, and watch her as I will, she always evades me at the critical moment, leaving her little surprise in a corner, or under a chair. I think she likes to see me on my knees, in a prayerful posture, plying the floor-cleaner and disinfectant, and soliloquizing in Old Testament language.

  • MONDAY •

  To visit some friends at their summer cottage, and had a very fine ride on the river in a power boat. When speaking to the owners of boats I become tongue-tied, for there are some of them who resent having their property called anything but “craft,” and turn green if one speaks of a “boat-ride.” I am not the ideal passenger, either, for I am no good at shoving the boat away from the shore, or snatching at ropes when we return to the dock. True, I come of a sea-going race, but not very recently; when Caesar approached the shores of Britain several members of the Marchbanks family painted themselves blue and set out in their coracles to drive him away; owing to some miscalculation they failed to do it. But a coracle is a round affair, more like a soup-plate than a boat, and since the introduction of banana-shaped craft no Marchbanks has ever been anything but a land-lubber.

  • TUESDAY •

  To the movies tonight to see a film in which Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck played the parts of a female psychiatrist and an amnesia patient respectively. I can feast my eyes on Miss Bergman’s beauty without paying too much attention to what she says or does, but Master Peck is another matter. His notion of acting is directly contrary to that of such exponents of the art as Irving, Coquelin and Stanislavsky; he does not use his head, but casts the full burden upon his face, which he works furiously, breathing meanwhile through his mouth. His resemblance to Buster Keaton is disturbing to me also; I am always expecting him to be hit with a pie, or to fall into a tub of cement.

  • WEDNESDAY •

  Tiger is not better, so I took her to the veterinary this evening. He diagnosed her case as one of garbage-eating; when she ran away she must have treated herself to a bit of over-ripe fish. He gave me some pills for her, and also demonstrated the proper way to give pills to a cat; you suddenly draw the cat’s head backward, pry open its mouth, shove the pill down into its stomach with a pair of forceps, and whisk the pill briskly around in its insides. Then you let go, and the cat uses language that scorches its whiskers. I decided that I would use the alternative method, which is to powder the pill and slip it slyly into the cat’s food. A man who is accustomed to going right to the seat of the trouble with a sick cow, and giving pills like baseballs to Percheron stallions, may safely take liberties with Tiger, but I am not in his class as a beast-tamer, and I know it. “A cat is no fool, and she may resent this,” he said: I knew that, too.

  • THURSDAY •

  A man came to me today in a state of great agitation because he thought that there should be more streetlights, and that they should be turned on earlier. “Young people park in cars in t
hose dark places and The Dear knows what goes on,” he said, trembling at the thought. I tried to calm him, telling him about Chastity, and how she that has that is clothed in complete steel, but he did not seem to put as much faith in Chastity as in Electricity…. I wonder why people always think that dreadful things happen in the dark? When I look back over my own past, and examine my police record and my conscience, I find that the peak-hours of Sin in my wild youth were between 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. If I were a Puritan, I would not worry about parked cars, where nothing much happens beyond the conventional slap-and-tickle which is virtually obligatory in youth;4 but I would creep abroad at mid-day, peeping behind the lace curtains of sober houses on quiet, tree-lined streets. It is there that I would find things to make my mouth go dry and my eyes pop.

  • FRIDAY •

  To the movies to see Charles Laughton as Captain Kidd. Although the period of the film was supposed to be the reign of William and Mary (1694–1702) we were treated to a panorama of London, in which the principal feature was Tower Bridge, which was built in 1894; Hollywood is particularly prone to such bone-headed errors, even though it does spend large sums on experts and historical research.

  • SATURDAY •

  I see that a girl who was in the Hamilton beauty contest is complaining that twelve of the sixty-two contestants wore “falsies” to give greater impressiveness to their pectoral development. This reminded me of the fact that before the war the cadets at the Royal Military College wore “falsies” also, concealed in their scarlet tunics, in order to add a few inches to their chests. I have seen many a convex cadet remove his tunic, only to reveal that he was concave. This was standard military practice until the red tunic went out, about the time of the South African War, and many a dashing cavalry officer was saved from death because the Zulu assegai, or hill-tribesman’s snickersnee, had become imbedded in his “falsies.” But now, alas, anything might lurk beneath the blouse of a battledress and the military “falsy” has fallen into disuse. Chest-wigs for the pectorally bald are still sold by the principal military outfitters, I am told.