Buchanan's Letters


To Charles G.D. Roberts


My dear Chuckles,

     Please forgive my delay in writing. After my return from the Royal Pork1 Walter was in very bad humour and left me not a spare moment for letters or poetry. Hasten January 6th.! When the Lord made Walter he put the head on the wrong end. Not so you, my Adam—thanks be from Eve for your spare rib!
     Now that the ground is all covered with snow, I have a sort of sea-feeling here at Breezy Brae. I look out of my window in the morning when I rise as I would out of the port-hole of a ship in the Atlantic. My room seems a ship’s cabin, and at night when I wake up and hear the breeze soughing, I almost fancy that I’m on the Parisian,2 and could take a turn on the deck with the captain, or one of the crew.
     Do you want to know how I pass my time? I rise at six—thereabouts—and go to the barn, and say good morning to Walter and the pigs and give them their breakfast: to every hog his own apple. (It goes to my heart to give them a cold one, but it cannot be helped.) Then, I pay a visit to the ducks—toss out a handful of feed to them, and stand to watch them eat it, for it is a pleasant sight to see ducks move their bills—they do it so busily and with such a “clatter, clatter, clatter.” My own breakfast—back bacon and duck eggs—over, I go to my kitchen and light my fire, then spread out my paper on the table, take one business squint at it, and fall to with a will. At 2.30 p.m., I hear a timid knock from Walter at my door, which serves to wean me from my writing, however engrossed I may be. My friends the pigs and ducks now demand their dinner, and I go and give it to them. That will do piggy, say I—that will do duckie. My own dinner—duck soup and a roast of pork—over, I may join Walter on the sleigh and set off for the village, and if it be a Women’s Institute Fowl Supper, great is the satisfaction thereof. My other evenings I spend reading, learning, and “inwardly digesting” books3—and writing. “Piggy” is fattening slowly, and will soon be ready for show.
     You say (and do I detect a hint of jealousy?) that I am wrong in my affection—in truth, my envy—of the pig, but reflect, my Chuckles, how it would be if you had an immensely long [word crossed out and illegible] barrel-shaped and capacious body carried on four very short legs; if you had a nose (or snout) especially constructed and designed to go to the root of matters; if you had a mouth of peculiar capacity, stretching almost from ear to ear—Would you not enjoy your food even more than you do now? Would you not grunt, and even slightly squeal, with the excrusciating ecstasy of creamy, rich barley-meal, as it entered your long and wide mouth, gurgled in your roomy throat and flowed on into that vast stomach forever clamouring to be soothed? My lips moisten just to think of it! O to be on Circe’s island!4
     Re. “Duckies,” thank you for the suggestion of a rhyme for “duck” but I think after all I will leave it unrhymed. “Corker” and “porker,” though, may help with “Piggy.”
     Of course, I was thinking only of lard when I penned “sometimes soft, sometimes hard.” Naughty!

Your very own,


     P.S. Mrs. Hollingsworth prescribes a spider and lettuce or other green foods for the ailment that you describe, and some linseed oil to ease the passage.5

  1. A slip of the pen. Buchanan is surely referring to the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. [back]
  2. In “On Board the Parisian (Written at Sea, January 24th, 1902.),” Buchanan describes the Parisian as the “Favourite of the Allan Line” and observes that “Here the stewards are most attentive, / Here they do their very best / For the comfort of their patrons / Whether going east or west.” “[A] life upon the ocean, / Friends, I say, I like it fine,” concludes Buchanan; “I’ve enjoyed it, so can truly recommend the Allan line.” Although the identities of the stewards serving on the Parisian in 1902 are not known, the ship’s captain at that time was John Mooncalf (1864-?), an erstwhile plumber’s apprentice who subsequently emigrated to Canada and eked out a career writing book reviews and advertising copy for The Clarksburg Reflector and other newspapers in which Buchanan’s poetry appeared. [back]
  3. Cf. Francis Bacon, “Of Studies”: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” [back]
  4. Buchanan is referring to Book 9 of the Odyssey where, on the island of Aeaea, the temptress Circe turns Odysseus’ men into swine. [back]
  5. Buchanan is quoting from the entry on “costiveness” in the section on “Diseases of Birds and their Remedies” in The Columbia Cook Book by Adelaide Hollingsworth (Chicago: Columbia Publishing, 1892), p. 666: “Symptoms: Difficulty in making the evacuation from the bowels. Remedy: Get a spider for the bird to eat, or apply linseed oil to the anus with a blunt pin. Feed on lettuce and other green foods.” To what end Buchanan offers this advice is not known. Roberts does not appear to have owned a bird at this time. [back]