The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks, Page 6Robertson Davies
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 AND SEPTICÆMIA •
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.
• SUNDAY •
Did some tidying in my cellar this morning; it has 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 puris 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.23
• 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 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 speechmaking, 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 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 •
An Indian I know (a chief of the great Swivel Chair tribe) was pointing out sun-dogs in the sky to me tonight, and prophesying stormy weather from them. I had never heard of sun-dogs before, but it appears that they are the roots of a rainbow, of which the arch is invisible. It is an impressive sight to see a Swivel Chair Chief, sitting as straight as an arrow on the back of his Buick, gazing into the setting sun and forecasting the weather…. But this evening I happened to be with this same Indian (we had been sitting around the campfire with a friend, a medicine man of the Long Bill tribe, chewing the pemmican) and on our way back to our tepees we met a third Indian of the Bifocal tribe, who looked up at the sky and said, “By the look of the stars we should have fine weather,” and my Swivel Chair Chief agreed heartily! I never know what to make of these Indians when they start looking into the future. Stars, sun-dogs, stray dogs, dog-catchers—everything they see has a deep meaning for them, but I have to take the weather as it comes.
• 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 wastecoat 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 Fidelio, 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 $2500 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 $2500 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.24
> • 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.
• TUESDAY •
The doctor tells me that I must have a test tomorrow to discover what is going on inside me. This throws me into a frenzy of apprehension. Respectful and even reverential as I am toward the medical fraternity, I wish upon occasions like this that I could escape to some desert island where no doctor had ever set foot. Such dreadful things happen when doctors begin their tests. I think about the Blue Baby which has been so much in the press of late. Could it possibly be that I am a Blue Adult, and that all the tests will be for nothing? I roll and toss in my bed (which has become as hot as a blast furnace) and wish that I had lived a better life, and given more to the poor. I resolve that if I survive the test I shall become a holy hermit and live in a cave, giving good advice to all who visit me. The only thing which deters me is the reflection that the standard of cooking in hermitages is notoriously low, and most hermits have ulsters.
• WEDNESDAY •
The Test: I am forced to swallow about a pint of liquid cement, flavoured with chocolate; this stuff is apparently impervious to X-rays, and a giant X-ray lamp is placed behind me; a doctor who looks like a scientist in a Boris Karloff film puts on a large pair of red goggles and stares right through me; I have even less concealment than a movie star in one of those new bare-bosom evening dresses. He watches the cement on its odyssey through my gizzard; every once in a while he murmurs with pleasure as my digestive system does something particularly clever; I wish that I, too, could have a peek, but it is impracticable…. This process goes on for some time, and I begin to wonder if it is a deep plot to turn me into a living statue by stuffing me with cement, so that I may be stood outside the clinic with a lamp in my hand, as a sort of advertisement. I begin to wriggle slightly just to make sure that I retain the power of movement…. At last it is over, and I can go home. The Test is finished. But what did it reveal? Shall I ever know?
• THURSDAY •
Spent the day recovering from The Test. Fortunately quite a number of people dropped in to see me, and I was able to describe it to them in juicy detail. But all my friends are amateur doctors, and insisted on diagnosing me themselves. Those who had gallstones were morally convinced that I was also a mass of limestone, and should be quarried immediately. The appendix veterans, on the contrary, maintained that I showed every symptom of appendicitis in the last and most horrifying stages, and urged me to be separated from my appendix within twenty-four hours or never to speak to them again. The ulster man came to put a washer on a tap and looked through the door to ask after my ulster. I denied that I was harbouring an ulster. He said that his brother-in-law had taken the same pigheaded attitude, and had eventually been seized with something resembling spontaneous combustion, and had been taken to the hospital, screaming for a drink out of a fire extinguisher. Upon the whole it was a lively day.
• FRIDAY •
A woman whom I know slightly, and who knows me, sent me the following clipping from a Toronto daily: “Bristol, England, March 14. Five pints of beer, leeks, figs and liquid paraffin have been given recently to Alfred, the Bristol zoo’s 15-year-old gorilla, who has been suffering from stomach trouble. Keepers said what finally cured him, however, was a pint of cider.” I suppose this is meant to be a jocose reference to my indisposition. Humph! I reflect cynically upon Cornelius Whurr’s deathless couplet:
What lasting joys that man attend
Who has a polished female friend!
She does not realize what I have been going through; she has not heard about The Test; probably if I told her about ulsters she would interrupt with some irrelevancy about the time she had a baby. The idea that women are sympathetic is grossly overdone. Fifteen-year-old gorilla indeed!
• SATURDAY •
Received a letter today, which promised me good luck in four days if I would only copy it and send it to four other people. Gracie Fields is alleged to have won $40,000 after receiving it, and David Van Brooks (whoever he may be) is said to have lost $20,000 after breaking the chain…. I am joining David Van Brooks’ party, although I have no $20,000 to lose. I am capable of many varieties of idiocy, but sending chain-letters is not one of them….
• SUNDAY •
Was delighted this morning to receive a tribute from the other inhabitants of my tenement on the able manner in which I have coped with the furnace this winter; it had never been cold, they said, the fire had never gone out, the ashes had not penetrated too searchingly into the living rooms, and the cries of anguish and the profanity and execrations from the furnace room had not too far transgressed the bounds of reverence and decency. I mumbled my thanks from a full heart, and dived into the cellar, to look at my old enemy. The thermometer outside registered 62, and he looked sick and beaten; I gave him a malignant kick in the lower draught and left him.
• MONDAY •
Had an opportunity this afternoon to examine the finest two-headed calf I have ever seen; it was no monstrosity, but a calf with two perfect Durham heads on one pair of shoulders; it lived for a week in this interesting condition, and when I saw it, it was well preserved in ice and on its way to the taxidermist’s. It is destined to become a macabre little ornament on somebody’s dining-room wall, and probably a nasty shock to anyone who has been too free with the dandelion wine…. I am sure that I would not make a good taxidermist; the temptation to improve upon nature would certainly be too strong for me. Think how easy it would be, when stuffing somebody’s pet terrier, to slip a couple of human glass eyes into the sockets, instead of the usual buttons. Then the owner would really be justified in saying that his pet looked almost human. If I were stuffing this two-headed calf, for instance, I could not resist making one head smile and the other one frown, so that they looked like masks of Comedy and Tragedy. But such irreverent antics would ruin a taxidermy business, in which self-restraint is the first requirement.
• TUESDAY •
Was passing some time in a barbershop, turning over the pages of that sterling periodical The Police Gazette, when I came upon a page of pictures of lightly-clad girls who were described in the letterpress as “beauties.” To prove that they were beautiful, their measurements of ankle, calf, thigh, hip, waist, bosom and neck were given. But I maintain that this mechanical, mathematical symmetry has nothing whatever to do with beauty. Beauty in a woman is largely made up of mystery, charm, and aloofness; these girls were about as mysterious, charming and aloof as those paper cups which are supplied with water-coolers…. Musing thus I laid aside The Police Gazette and took up The Gospel Witness and permitted my mind to heave and roll upon the troubled seas of its passionate prose.
• WEDNESDAY •
If I were a burglar, I should choose the houses I would rob by a careful inspection of their garbage cans. High livers, whose houses are sure to be stuffed with valuables, have large garbage cans from which pheasant carcasses and the rinds of costly fruits protrude. Less favoured mortals have small cans, smelling of old tripe and onions. As it is
the quaint custom in Eastern Ontario to expose the garbage cans to the public several times a week, this handy credit index is always available, and peeking under the lids is quicker than wiring Dun and Bradstreet. I offer this suggestion, gratis, to book agents, magazine salesmen, and such needy riff-raff.
• THURSDAY •
Every day I learn something new. Today I read of a movement among artists of the Left Wing to destroy art altogether. The leader of this jihad is a fellow called Julian Symons, who writes: “The arts are disintegrating; the objective of art today is to divert attention from the class struggle. The intelligentsia who try to nurture the coy bloom of art as we know it are tending a dying flower…. The transition from the bourgeois art of the last three hundred years to any possible Socialist art of the future will not be made without … sacrifices.” Ha, Ha, Symons old boy! You should come to Canada, where the great mass of the public hasn’t even found out about the bourgeois art of the last three hundred years, let alone this new Socialist art of which you speak in such trenchant terms. Get wise to yourself, Julian, you old red carnation, you!
• FRIDAY •
How I abhor candid people! Today a candid friend told me that this Diary was drivel. What is the diary of any man likely to be but drivel? How many of us are able to record a deed of daring every day, or a ponderous reflection on the nature of the universe? How many of us are able to record that we have been reasonably honest, that we have kept our hands from picking and stealing, and that Lust and Covetousness have been strangers to our hearts? In my time I have read many diaries, published and in manuscript, and the noble and uplifting ones were invariably the work of men whom I knew to be engine-turned, copper-bottomed self-lubricating liars and hypocrites…. One of the most irritating diaries I ever read was written by a fellow I know who used to pinch all the best remarks I made and attribute them to himself. Hell gapes for such villainy.