‘For once I admire your mise en Seine,’ Keats said.

What better return from a holiday than Flann O’Brien. These are from The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman, a selection of stories from his Cruiskeen Lawn column in the Irish Times. The Keats and Chapman tales are all more or less elaborate setups to more or less terrible puns.

Chapman once went theatre-mad and started a small fit-up company with which he toured France playing Molière. Keats disapproved of this affectation but went along to take in the money. One night the company was scheduled to perform in a small village a few miles upriver from Paris, where Chapman’s small stock of execrable scenery had to be conveyed by barge. There was a frightful accident at the landing stage, all the stuff falling into the water. Chapman burst into tears.

‘For once I admire your mise en Seine,’ Keats said.

Keats was once presented with an Irish terrier, which he humorously named Byrne. One day the beast strayed from the house and failed to return at night Everybody was distressed, save Keats himself. He reached reflectively for his violin, a fairly passable timber of the Stradivarius feciture, and was soon at work with wrist and jaw.

Chapman, looking in for an after-supper pipe, was astonished at the poet’s composure, and did not hesitate to say so. Keats smiled (in a way that was rather lovely).

‘And why should I not fiddle,’ he asked, ‘While Byrne roams?’

Keats and Chapman were conversing one day on the street, and what they were conversing about I could not tell you. But anyway there passed a certain character who was renowned far and wide for his piety, and who was reputed to have already made his own coffin, erected it on trestles, and slept in it every night,

‘Did you see our friend?’ Keats said,

‘Yes,’ said Chapman, wondering what was coming.

‘A terrible man for his bier,’ the poet said.

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