Last modified on 19 September 2009, at 22:46

Salterton Trilogy

The Salterton Trilogy (1951-58), by Robertson Davies, consists of Tempest-Tost (1951), Leaven of Malice (1954) and A Mixture of Frailties (1958)


Tempest-TostEdit

  • St. Clement's was Broad, with a tendency to become Low under stress.
    • Part 1
  • It seems quaint to those whose own personalities are not strongly marked and whose intellects are infrequently replenished.
    • Part 1
  • "Wet", said he. Classics was his subject, and he sometimes affected a classical simplicity in social conversation.
    • Part 1
  • The Forresters, as they told everyone they met, had "neither chick nor child". Their failure to have a chick never provoked surprise, but it was odd that they were childless; they had not sought that condition.
    • Part 1
  • "Children, don't speak so coarsely," said Mr Webster, who had a vague notion that some supervision should be exercised over his daughters' speech, and that a line should be drawn, but never knew quite when to draw it. He had allowed his daughters to use his library without restraint, and nothing is more fatal to maidenly delicacy of speech than the run of a good library.
    • Part 1
  • But Freddy was not in a mood to be satisfied with herself, and as she put on her pyjamas and jumped into bed she wondered what Daddy would say if she suggested that in a year or two she should become a postulant in an Anglican nunnery. Somewhat illogically she broke off this train of reflection to read the large illustrated Rabelais which she had abstracted from the library. She found it very good fun, and made a mental list of several abusive terms to use in her next quarrel with Griselda.
    • Part 1
  • A slovenly action, thrice repeated, has become a habit.
    • Part 1
  • In her latest speech she had scored a double; she had condemned Griselda's legs because they were beautiful, and sneered at poor Pearl Vambrace's because they were not. Mrs Bridgetower had indeed benefited from higher education.
    • Part 1
  • Students today are a pretty solemn lot. One of the really notable achievements of the twentieth century has been to make the young old before their time.
    • Part 2
  • The thought which was uppermost in his mind, when at last Griselda stopped and turned to him, was that his mother never went to sleep until he had come home and that her displeasure and concern, issuing from her rather as the haze of ectoplasm issues from a spiritualist medium, filled the house whenever he came home late.
    • Part 2
  • His key seemed to make a shattering noise in the lock. And when he entered the hall, which was in darkness, maternal solicitude and pique embraced him like the smell of cooking cabbage.
    • Part 2
  • And because he had been born to this lot, he accepted it without question; as children always do, and as some adults continue to do, he invented reasons why he should be as he was, instead of seeking for means by which he might be delivered from his fate.
    • Part 2
  • She was a short, stout woman, shaped like a cottage loaf. A nubbin, with a twist of whispy hair on it, formed her head; a larger nubbin comprised her bust and upper reaches; the largest nubbin of all was formed by her spreading hips. She must have had legs, but her skirts concealed them. She had little to say, and it is doubtful if her mental processes could be called thought; they consisted of a series of dissolving views, mostly of possible disasters and misfortunes which might overtake her and her family.
    • Part 2
  • The young are often accused of exaggerating their troubles; they do so, very often, in the hope of making some impression upon the inertia and the immovability of the selfish old.
    • Part 3
  • Pass the buck. It's the secret of life. You can't fight every battle and dry every tear. Whenever you're dealing with something that you don't really care about, pass the buck. You've got me to do your music; that's what you wanted, isn't it? Very well then, let Mrs Forrester clean up the mess.
    • Part 4
  • "I am full of holy joy and free booze," said Cobbler. "I feel moved to sing. It is very wrong to resist an impulse to sing; to hold back a natural evacuation of joy is as injurious as to hold back any other natural issue. It makes a man spiritually costive, and plugs him up with hard, caked, thwarted merriment. This, in the course of time, poisons his whole system and is likely to turn him into that most detestable of beings, a Dry Wit. God grant that I may never be a Dry Wit. Let me ever be a Wet Wit! Let me pour forth what mirth I have until I am utterly empty -- a Nit Wit."
    • Part 5
  • Purcell! What a genius! And lucky, too. Nobody has ever thought to blow him up into a God-like Genius, like poor old Bach, or a Misunderstood Genius, like poor old Mozart, or a Wicked and Immoral Genius, like poor old Wagner. Purcell is just a nice, simple Genius, rollicking happily through Eternity. The boobs and the gramophone salesmen and the music hucksters haven't discovered him yet and please God they never will. Kids don't peck and mess at little scraps of Purcell for examinations. Arthritic organists don't torture Purcell in chapels and tin Bethels all over the country on Sundays, while the middle classes are pretending to be holy. Purcell is still left for people who really like music.
    • Part 5
  • "A pretty girl is like a melody," hummed Roger. "Excuse me," said Cobbler, turning toward him, "but I must contradict you. A pretty girl is nothing of the kind. A melody, if it is any good, has a discernible logic; a pretty girl can exist without the frailest vestige of sense."
    • Part 5
  • "Curiosity killed the cat," said Hector, who was a little embarrassed by the turn the conversation had taken; nevertheless, he wanted to show himself a man's man, and something witty seemed called for. "I deny that," said Cobbler; "the cat probably died a happy martyr to research."
    • Part 5
  • "Oho, now I know what you are. You are an advocate of Useful Knowledge." "Certainly." "You say that a man's first job is to earn a living, and that the first task of education is to equip him for that job?" "Of course." "Well, allow me to introduce myself to you as an advocate of Ornamental Knowledge. You like the mind to be a neat machine, equipped to work efficiently, if narrowly, and with no extra bits or useless parts. I like the mind to be a dustbin of scraps of brilliant fabric, odd gems, worthless but fascinating curiosities, tinsel, quaint bits of carving, and a reasonable amount of healthy dirt. Shake the machine and it goes out of order; shake the dustbin and it adjusts itself beautifully to its new position." "As a mathematician I can hardly agree with you that disorder is preferable to order." "Mathematician my foot! Do you know anything about linear algebra? How are you on diophantine equations? Could you tell me, in a few words, what Bertrand Russell has added to modern mathematical concepts? You are a mathematician in the way that a teacher of beginners on the piano is a musician!"
    • Part 5
  • She herself was a victim of that lust for books which rages in the breast like a demon, and which cannot be stilled save by the frequent and plentiful acquisition of books. This passion is more common, and more powerful, than most people suppose. Book lovers are thought by unbookish people to be gentle and unworldly, and perhaps a few of them are so. But there are others who will lie and scheme and steal to get books as wildly and unconscionably as the dope-taker in pursuit of his drug. They may not want the books to read immediately, or at all; they want them to possess, to range on their shelves, to have at command. They want books as a Turk is thought to want concubines -- not to be hastily deflowered, but to be kept at their master's call, and enjoyed more often in thought than in reality. Solly was in a measure a victim of this unscrupulous passion, but Freddy was wholly in the grip of it.
    • Part 6
  • The borborygmy, or rumbling of the stomach, has not received the attention from either art or science which it deserves. It is as characteristic of each individual as the tone of the voice. It can be vehement, plaintive, ejaculatory, conversational, humorous - its variety is boundless. But there are few who are prepared to give it an understanding ear; it is dismissed too often with embarrassment or low wit.
    • Part 6

Leaven of MaliceEdit

  • The letter was marked "Urgent -- Print This At Once". Wearily, Ridley laid it aside. This was, perhaps, the voice of the people, and the voice of the people, no editor is ever permitted to forget, is the voice of God. It was a pity, he reflected, that God's utterances needed such a lot of editorial revision.
    • Part 1
  • Oh, Wally, never go to law for simple vengeance; that's not what law is for. Redress, yes; vengeance, no.
    • Part 2
  • Life, as he conceived of it, was a long decline from a glorious past, and if a reader approaches a newspaper in that spirit, he can find much to confirm him in his belief, particularly if he has never examined any short period of the past in day-to-day detail.
    • Part 2
  • "What would you do if you were me?" Cobbler pondered for a moment. "Well," he said, "I suppose if I were you -- that's to say a somewhat inert chap, half content to be the football of fate -- I'd go right on doing whatever I was doing at the moment, and hope the whole thing would blow over."
    • Part 4
  • People who talk a lot about their troubles never commit suicide; talk's the greatest safety-valve there is. I always laugh at that bit in Hamlet where he pretends to despise himself because he unpacks his heart with words, and falls a-scolding like a very drab; that's why the soliloquy about suicide is just Hamlet putting on intellectual airs. A chatterbox like that would never pop himself off with a bare bodkin. No, the suicides are the quiet ones, who can't find the words to fit their misery.
    • Part 4
  • "Fool!" said the Professor, who had been growing very hot, and was now at the boil. "Do you imply that the sins of the mind are trivial and the sins of the flesh important? What kind of an idiot are you?"
    • Part 5
  • I am increasingly reminded of Oedipus. Do you not recall that in that tragic history, Oedipus met a Sphinx? The Sphinx spoke in riddles -- very terrible riddles, for those who could not guess them died. But Oedipus guessed the riddle, and the chagrin of the Sphinx was so great that it destroyed itself. I am but a poor shadow of Oedipus, I fear, and you, Mr. Yarrow, but a puny kitten of a Sphinx. But you are, like many another Sphinx of our modern world, an under-educated, brassy young pup, who thinks that gall can take the place of the authority of wisdom, and that a professional lingo can disguise his lack of thought. You aspire to be a Sphinx, without first putting yourself to the labour of acquiring a secret.
    • Part 5
  • Most hearts of any quality are broken on two or three occasions in a lifetime. They mend, of course, and are often stronger than before, but something of the essence of life is lost at every break.
    • Part 5
  • "Nitwit!", said Cobbler, "Your first book won't be a success. Don't make marriage conditional on the success of a book, or your mother dying, or anything unlikely of that sort. Put first things first. Get married, and plunge into all the uproar of baby-raising, and loading yourself up with insurance and furniture and all the frowsy appurtenances of domestic life, as soon as you can. You'll survive. Millions do. And deep down under all the trash-heap of duty and respectability and routine you may, if you're among the lucky ones, find a jewel of happiness. I know all about it, and I assure you on my sacred honour that it's worth a try."
    • Part 6

A Mixture of FrailtiesEdit

  • "Music is like wine, Bridgetower," he had said; "the less people know about it, the sweeter they like it."
    • Part 1, section 1
  • During the first day or two she attempted to get on with War and Peace, but found it depressing, and as time wore on she suffered from that sense of unworthiness which attacks sensitive people who have been rebuffed by a classic.
    • Part 4, section 6
  • Experience is wine, and art is the brandy we distill from it.
    • Part 6, section 1
  • She was conscious also, and for the first time, of why Domdaniel was regarded as a great man in the world of music. He conducted admirably, of course, marshalling the singers and players, succouring the weak and subduing the too-strong, but all that was to be expected. It was in his capacity to demand more of his musicians than might have been thought prudent, or even possible - to insist that people excel themselves, and to help them to do it - that his greatness appeared. With a certainty that was itself modest (for there was nothing of "spurring on the ranks" about it) he took upon himself the task of making this undistinguished choir give a performance of the Passion which was worthy of a great university. It was not technically of the first order, but the spirit was right. He had been a great man to Monica, for he could open new windows for her, letting splendid light into her life; but now she saw that he could do so for all these clever people, who thought themselves lucky to be allowed to hang on the end of his stick. Without being in the least a showy or self-absorbed conductor he was an imperious, irresistible and masterful one.
    • Part 7, section 6
  • His reply had that clarity, objectivity and reasonableness which is possible only to advisers who have completely missed the point.
    • Part 7, section 6
  • Moral judgements belong to God, and it is part of God's mercy that we do not have to undertake that heavy part of His work, even when the judgement concerns ourselves.
    • Part 7, section 7
  • But the character of the music emphasized the tale as allegory - humorous, poignant, humane allegory - disclosing the metamorphosis of life itself, in which man moves from confident inexperience through the bitterness of experience, toward the rueful wisdom of self-knowledge.
    • Part 9, section 1