The papers of samuel mar.., p.3
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks, p.3

           Robertson Davies
 

  • MONDAY •

  Was chatting with a man who has been suffering from bad dreams, which he erroneously describes as nightmares. As I understand the matter the only genuine nightmare is the sort of dream in which you suffer from increasing dread and shortness of breath, accompanied by pressure on the chest, until it seems that you must either throw off the weight or be smothered.7 It is at this point that you find yourself sitting bolt upright, screaming blue murder. If you don’t you are probably found in your bed in the morning, quite cold and stiff. I have only had nightmares once or twice in my life, and many people never have them at all. Bad dreams, however, are common with me, and I rather welcome them, as they break the monotony of the long hours of sluggish slumber…. A psychologist once tried to attach great significance to my bad dreams, but I did not play quite fair with him, for I withheld from him one relevant fact i.e., that I never go to bed without having a bite to eat, and my digestion sometimes gives me bad dreams even when I am wide awake. Of course, my nightly snack may merely act as a porter who throws open the gates of my repulsive Unconscious, letting all the bugaboos and hobgoblins out for a frolic, but frankly I don’t care. Better a bad dream than no dream at all.

  • TUESDAY •

  A child asked me to mend her doll today; it has broken up into a trunk, a head and four limbs, like a country with too many parties.8 I gave her the usual speech about my inability to mend anything, and then set to work. It was a gruesome experience, reminiscent of the scene in Mrs. Shelley’s romance where Frankenstein puts together his monster out of bits of slaughter-house waste. But more by good luck than good management I outfitted the doll with new entrails made of strong string, and tightened these by winding one leg around for twenty-three revolutions. Now the doll is better than new, for it kicks, twists and squirms like a real infant…. This evening heard Carmen on the radio, and reflected how hard it was to vamp a man while singing at the top of one’s voice. That is the operatic problem; the singer must keep up a big head of steam while trying to appear secretive, or seductive, or consumptive. Some ingenious composer should write an opera about a group of people who were condemned by a cruel god to scream all the time; it would be an instantaneous success, and a triumph of verisimilitude.

  • WEDNESDAY •

  As I want to get the remainder of my winter’s coal in tomorrow, I had to shovel my drive today; it had not been touched since the first snowfall, and this was no task for a child; it was no task for a hypochondriacal diarist, either, but I tackled it with the valour of ignorance. In ten minutes I was sweating freely, in spite of a cutting wind. After twenty minutes I could think of nothing except a recent warning by a coroner that shovelling heavy snow was a good way to bring on a stroke. After half an hour I had what I am certain was a slight stroke, and went inside for a dose of a special stroke-medicine I keep. It did me a lot of good, and after that I took stroke-medicine every half hour regularly. As a result I finished my drive magnificently and did not have even a touch of stiffness from the unusual exercise. I know plenty of people who would have been as stiff as frozen mackerel if they had done what I did, the way I did it.

  • THURSDAY •

  My coal came today, and went into the bin with the usual amount of banging and thumping. A fine black dust settled on everything in the house, and when I looked in a mirror inadvertently, I was startled to see that I had been metamorphosed into a blackamoor…. Then I went down into the cellar, and addressed my furnace in these words: “O Furnace (I always model my speeches to my furnace9 on Cicero’s orations)…. O Furnace, three winter months having now gone by and the Yuletide and New Year seasons having been completed I, Marcus Tullius Marchbanks, have purchased all the coal, wood, coke, charcoal and kindred combustibles that I intend (to purchase, understood). Look to it, Furnace, for I shall feed you justly, but not wastefully, and if it should so hap that when all these good things are gone the gods still send us inclement weather, I shall cram your maw with broken chairs and cardboard boxes, but not another morsel of coal will I buy. Witness, O ye gods of the household, and you, O Furnace, that M. Tullius Marchbanks will throw himself upon his poker and perish before he will spend another denarius on coal.” … The furnace was impressed and roared politely, but there was a faint contemptuous smell of coal gas when I went to bed.

  • FRIDAY •

  Read too long and too much today, resulting in a severe attack of the Miseries. Reading is a form of indulgence, like eating and smoking. Some men smoke heavily and some drink heavily; I read heavily, and sometimes I have the most awful hangovers. Tobacco manufacturers, I understand, hire men to make continual tests of their product, and these poor wretches get shaky hands and tobacco hearts, and when they take a bath nicotine comes out of their skins into the water. It is the same with whisky-testers. Well, I am a book-tester and I have an occupational disease, which is called the Miseries…. To make matters worse, I ate an apple and got hiccups, and was convulsed three times a minute for almost an hour. Hiccups are very funny to everyone but the man who has them. To have the Miseries and hiccups together is to drain a bitter cup. Bup!

  • SATURDAY •

  This afternoon climbed out on the roof of my verandah and shovelled snow down into the garden; it had piled up to the point where I could hardly get my bedroom window open, and although I am no fanatic for fresh air it is convenient to be able to hurl slops into the road, or lean out and shout “Who’s there?” at late callers. I become dizzy when standing on a soapbox; the roof of a verandah is as high as the Eiffel Tower to me. Consequently I did my shovelling with the utmost caution and paused now and then to cling to the wall with my eyes shut, recovering my balance. Knocked down several icicles and was interested to find how sharp they were. If ever I decide to murder somebody, I shall stab him with an icicle, which will melt, destroying my fingerprints and all traces of the weapon. The melted ice will mingle with the victim’s blood, and I shall go to his funeral in that state of profound satisfaction which we all feel when we have done something dangerous and illegal without being caught.

  -III-

  • SUNDAY AND ST. FISTULA THE STALAGMITE •

  Pursuing my policy of “See Your Home First” I investigated my heating system today, trying to find out why one room which I use a great deal never gets any heat. I took the face off the hot-air register, lay on my stomach and groped; soon I fished up a large mass of shredded paper, pencil shavings, old bridge tallies, saw-dust and other breakfast food, which some former occupant had used to block off that room. This impressed me as a very subtle way of starting a fire, and I determined to search further, so I inserted as much of myself as I could into the bathroom register, and salvaged thirty-two used razor blades, a large piece of stick, and a thimble in good condition. I was now aroused; it was a forebear of mine, Gaston l’Immerdue Marchbanks, who mapped the sewers of Paris for Napoleon; therefore I investigated a cold-air pipe near the telephone, and recovered a great gross of pencil stubs. Next spring I must dismantle my whole heating system, to see what I can find.

  • MONDAY •

  Drug addiction is horrible, addiction to drink is pitiable, but to be a slave of the salted-nut habit is to be lost indeed. Years ago I realized my weakness in this respect, and vowed never to set tooth to salted nut again as long as I lived. But tonight I visited the home of my friend X (a prominent prohibitionist, by the way) and turned as white as a blanched almond when I saw the nut-dish at his elbow. It was obvious from the dry, salty tone of his voice that he had been hitting the cashews pretty hard, and as we talked he ate bowl after bowl of the insidious dainties. His wife (in rags, and barefoot, for their home and fortune had been ruined by his vice) patiently filled the bowl whenever it was empty. Once, however, when she attempted to take a fat filbert from his hand, he struck her brutally across the mouth. I walked home sadly, determined to urge the government to take over the salted-nut industry—vile traffic!—not for profit, but for control.10

  • TUESDAY •

 
; There are days when nothing seems to happen to me at all; I passed today in a coma…. But I did read the suggestion of a scientist that men over forty-five, with physical defects, should be made to fight the next war, in order that young men may be spared. This convinces me of something which I have suspected for a long time, namely that scientists are simpletons who happen to have a knack with test-tubes, but possess no real intelligence at all. The logical thing to do, when the next war comes, is to recruit an army from all those of whatever age or sex who are unable to pass certain basic intelligence tests. This would be a good way of getting rid of a lot of the stupid people who cumber the earth; probably there would be a high percentage of scientists, Civil Servants, uplifters and minor prophets in an armed force collected in such a way. But if every country adopted this method the country with the biggest population of boobs, yahoos and ninnies would win, and I am not entirely convinced that we have overall superiority in this respect, though we seem bound in that direction.

  • WEDNESDAY •

  Reflected today on the sinful luxury which is sapping the morale of our country. My brother Fairchild has just bought himself an “electronic janitor,” a costly device which, I understand, keeps his house at an even temperature of 70 degrees without any effort on his part whatever. I don’t know quite how it works, but it has something to do with molecules and the quantum theory…. Another man I know has a method of sprinkling his ashes with common household substances (salt and pepper, I think he said, and a dash of vinegar) and burning them again; in this way he never has any ashes to carry out, because last week’s ash is this week’s fuel…. The hardy pioneer virtues which made Canada what it is (a nation of ash-choked grouches) seem to have disappeared everywhere except in me. I still get up before dawn—which on these winter mornings means before 8:30 a.m.—and give myself an appetite for breakfast by wrestling with my Cellar Demon.

  • THURSDAY •

  Had to do some travelling today, so rose early and discovered that it was very cold; would gladly have stayed at home and hugged the fire, but duty called, and I obeyed. Made the first stage of my journey by car and was thoroughly chilled; as the conversation for several miles was about ghosts, I cannot blame it all on the weather. Sponged my lunch from some people I know who keep a very warm house, so I thawed out there, but I had to go at once to a meeting, the chairman of which was either a disciple of Bernarr McFadden11 or a wearer of long underwear, for he insisted on opening the window and letting merry little breezes creep up my trouser legs. I must remember to get some long underwear of my own. Then home again by train; my seat was by the door, and three news butchers kept bursting into the coach, letting the Arctic in with them. I got some valuable exercise jumping up to shut the door, but it was not enough to keep me warm. Made the final stage of my journey by bus, which really was well heated. Listened to a CWAC vamping a sailor in the seat behind. She had hair of a rusty mouse-colour, but she referred to herself as a “redhead” and hinted broadly that she was a specialist in the arts of love. I doubted if this were true, but I admired her self-confidence.

  • FRIDAY •

  Woke this morning to find that I had a chill, the result of yesterday’s junketing. Managed to do some work in the morning, but by noon it had settled in the small of my back, and I was doubled up like a jack-knife. There is only one place in which this position can be maintained without severe pain, and that is bed, so to bed I went and passed several miserable hours wishing I were not a prey to so many foolish and humiliating ailments. I have the less desirable characteristics of a number of great men—the digestion of Napoleon, the eyesight of Dr. Johnson, the breathing apparatus of Daniel Webster, the lumbago of Disraeli, the neuralgia of De Quincey and the deafness of Herbert Spencer—but none of their genius. I am a walking textbook of pathology, and I would sell myself to any university medical school which would make a decent bid. But they all refuse to do so, because they think that I will leave my cadaver to them, free, after my demise. But I shall cheat them: I shall be buried with all my invaluable diseases; no pinchpenny university is going to get me cheap.

  • SATURDAY •

  A slight improvement in my condition today. I was able to struggle downstairs and roast my back in front of an open fire…. Somebody told me a few days ago that they got the impression that I disliked children. Not at all: I love the little dears. But I have no patience with ill-mannered, noisy, destructive, rude, rampaging little yahoos and it is my misfortune, from time to time, to come in contact with herds of these, roaming wild in the streets; can anyone blame me if I drive them away with curses and blows? But I love to see children playing happily and quietly, while I watch from behind barbed wire, about 300 feet away…. Ah, the sweet innocence of childhood! What a delightful thing it is in the young; what a pain in the neck it is in those who are assumed to have reached maturity! No, Marchbanks unhesitatingly declares himself to be a Child-Lover, but that is no reason to expect him to dandle young baboons upon his knee, and he flatly refuses to do so.

  -IV-

  • SUNDAY •

  Was out for a walk this afternoon, and was joined by a dog; it was unknown to me, and was obviously of mixed ancestry; it was not a Social Register dog. What there was about me which struck its fancy, I cannot say, but it romped under my feet, smelled me searchingly, licked my gloves and hindered my progress seriously. Its most irritating trick was to run just ahead of me, with its head turned back so that it could stare rudely into my face; naturally it fell down a lot because it did not look where it was going, and every time it fell down I had to dance an impromptu jig to keep from falling over it…. I like dogs, just as I like children. I like to think about them, and I like to read in the papers that dogs have been given medals for life-saving. But I do not particularly relish dogs in the flesh. When I meet a dog socially, with its owner, I am prepared to pat it once, and to allow it to smell me once, and then, so far as I am concerned, the matter is closed. Dogs who go beyond this limit are asking for a kick in the slats, and they usually get it.

  • MONDAY •

  Was looking through a catalogue of new recordings for player-pianos today and noticed a heading saying “Hymns and Religious Rolls,” which included such sanctified ditties as Come To The Church In The Wild Wood; elsewhere I found another roll listed called I Won’t Give Nobody None Of My Jelly Roll. The question which puzzles me is this: is the antithesis of a religious roll a jelly roll? … Why, by the way, is music written on religious or pseudo-religious themes called “sacred music”? And why, under that title, is it thought to be immune from the criticism which affects other music? Much of it is the most arrant tripe, but nobody ever says so. I once heard of a clergyman who said that he thought that “God must grow tired of this perpetual serenading”; I quite agree, particularly if God has a sensitive ear and a fine taste in lyric and panegyric verse…. This evening picked up an old volume of Hannah More’s Sacred Dramas and took a quick look at David and Goliath. All the s’s in the book were the 18th century kind which look like f’s, and the opening spasm, as sung by David, ran thus:

  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.12

  • TUESDAY •

  Prepared for a relaxed evening, and was sitting happily in my pyjamas and dressing gown (a pre-war 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 me
re 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 “Re-Shape 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 AND EPICŒNIA •

  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, uplifters, 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.