It was very much like being mad, only it was worse because one was aware of it

From Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Sharer. It is a hard tale to excerpt in that the quality is in the simmer and under the surface, but this portion hits enough to hint at the whole.

It was a rather high bed place with a set of drawers underneath. This amazing swimmer really needed the lift I gave him by seizing his leg. He tumbled in, rolled over on his back, and flung one arm across his eyes. And then, with his face nearly hidden, he must have looked exactly as I used to look in that bed. I gazed upon my other self for a while before drawing across carefully the two green serge curtains which ran on a brass rod. I thought for a moment of pinning them together for greater safety, but I sat down on the couch, and once there I felt unwilling to rise and hunt for a pin. I would do it in a moment. I was extremely tired, in a peculiarly intimate way, by the strain of stealthiness, by the effort of whispering and the general secrecy of this excitement. It was three o’clock by now and I had been on my feet since nine, but I was not sleepy; I could not have gone to sleep. I sat there, fagged out, looking at the curtains, trying to clear my mind of the confused sensation of being in two places at once, and greatly bothered by an exasperating knocking in my head. It was a relief to discover suddenly that it was not in my head at all, but on the outside of the door. Before I could collect myself the words “Come in” were out of my mouth, and the steward entered with a tray, bringing in my morning coffee. I had slept, after all, and I was so frightened that I shouted, “This way! I am here, steward,” as though he had been miles away. He put down the tray on the table next the couch and only then said, very quietly, “I can see you are here, sir.” I felt him give me a keen look, but I dared not meet his eyes just then. He must have wondered why I had drawn the curtains of my bed before going to sleep on the couch. He went out, hooking the door open as usual.

I heard the crew washing decks above me. I knew I would have been told at once if there had been any wind. Calm, I thought, and I was doubly vexed. Indeed, I felt dual more than ever. The steward reappeared suddenly in the doorway. I jumped up from the couch so quickly that he gave a start.

“What do you want here?”

“Close your port, sir—they are washing decks.”

“It is closed,” I said, reddening.

“Very well, sir.” But he did not move from the doorway and returned my stare in an extraordinary, equivocal manner for a time. Then his eyes wavered, all his expression changed, and in a voice unusually gentle, almost coaxingly:

“May I come in to take the empty cup away, sir?”

“Of course!” I turned my back on him while he popped in and out. Then I unhooked and closed the door and even pushed the bolt. This sort of thing could not go on very long. The cabin was as hot as an oven, too. I took a peep at my double, and discovered that he had not moved, his arm was still over his eyes; but his chest heaved; his hair was wet; his chin glistened with perspiration. I reached over him and opened the port.

“I must show myself on deck,” I reflected.

Of course, theoretically, I could do what I liked, with no one to say nay to me within the whole circle of the horizon; but to lock my cabin door and take the key away I did not dare. Directly I put my head out of the companion I saw the group of my two officers, the second mate barefooted, the chief mate in long India-rubber boots, near the break of the poop, and the steward halfway down the poop ladder talking to them eagerly. He happened to catch sight of me and dived, the second ran down on the main-deck shouting some order or other, and the chief mate came to meet me, touching his cap.

There was a sort of curiosity in his eye that I did not like. I don’t know whether the steward had told them that I was “queer” only, or downright drunk, but I know the man meant to have a good look at me. I watched him coming with a smile which, as he got into point-blank range, took effect and froze his very whiskers. I did not give him time to open his lips.

“Square the yards by lifts and braces before the hands go to breakfast.”

It was the first particular order I had given on board that ship; and I stayed on deck to see it executed, too. I had felt the need of asserting myself without loss of time. That sneering young cub got taken down a peg or two on that occasion, and I also seized the opportunity of having a good look at the face of every foremast man as they filed past me to go to the after braces. At breakfast time, eating nothing myself, I presided with such frigid dignity that the two mates were only too glad to escape from the cabin as soon as decency permitted; and all the time the dual working of my mind distracted me almost to the point of insanity. I was constantly watching myself, my secret self, as dependent on my actions as my own personality, sleeping in that bed, behind that door which faced me as I sat at the head of the table. It was very much like being mad, only it was worse because one was aware of it.

I’ve read relatively little Conrad but I can’t think of him without recalling Nabokov’s criticism (from Strong Opinions) and remembering that Nabokov’s hatreds are reliably strongest when directed against those who worked in the same themes as himself – here, the doubling and dopplegangers he includes through his career from Despair to Lolita to Look at the Harlequins!:

But I cannot abide Conrad’s souvenir-shop style, bottled ships and shell necklaces of romanticist clichés. In neither of those two writers [Hemingway and Conrad] can I find anything that I would care to have written myself. In mentality and emotion, they are hopelessly juvenile

One night, wishing to say hello, I knocked on the door of the heart

Three from Rumi: Unseen Poems (trans. Brad Gooch and Maryam Mortaz), a recent anthology pulled together from the mass of Rumi’s work that isn’t included in the Masnavi, its abridgements, or the relative handful of other anthologized pieces.

One night, wishing to say hello, I knocked on the door of the heart.
A voice called out, “Who’s there?” I answered, “It’s me, the servant of the heart.”

The shining light of the moon, through the half-opened door,
Struck the hearts and eyes of passersby as I uttered the beautiful name of the heart.

A wave of light from the heart’s face filled the alley.
A jar of sunlight and moonlight waited to fill the cup of the heart.

Knowledge wishes to lead but is always at the heart’s service.
The neck fo knowledge is trapped within the noose of the heart.

Cries have reached the heavens. The world is full of turmoil.
The crowd has broken their chains, listening to the message of the heart.

The heart’s light has suffused the throne of the Almighty.
The soul is seated at the door gazing toward the roof of the heart.

“A dervish is no mere mortal,” he only said this much to me,
The rest was just a glimpse into the silent words of the heart.

The whole world drunk with heart, helpless in the palm of the heart.
Surely the nine heavens are within the two stops of the traveling heart.


Who says the eternal one is dead?
Who says the sun of hope is dead?
An enemy of the sun climbed on the roof,
Closed his eyes, and said, “The sun is dead!”


Being lost in being lost is my faith.
Not existing in existence is my way of life.

When walking in the alley of my friend,
I am riding the white horse of paradise,

Instantly passing through a hundred worlds,
Feeling as if I am taking a single step.

Why keep circling the world? My friend
Is in the midst of my sweet soul.

Shams of Tabriz, the pride of saints,
The “S” of his name is my “Salvation.”

We wear the mask that grins and lies

We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar – found in the selection from his writings in last year’s Library Of America African American Poetry anthology:

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
       We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
       We wear the mask!

And – since Dunbar seems, at least initially, to have been better known for his poetry in dialect – here also is his When de Co’n Pone’s Hot. Co’n Pone – Corn Pone – seems to have some trouble in definition but the Wikipedia one feels neutral enough.

Dey is times in life when Nature
Seems to slip a cog an’ go,
Jes’ a-rattlin’ down creation,
Lak an ocean’s overflow;
When de worl’ jes’ stahts a-spinnin’
Lak a picaninny’s top,
An’ yo’ cup o’ joy is brimmin’
‘Twell it seems about to slop,
An’ you feel jes’ lak a racah,
Dat is trainin’ fu’ to trot—
When yo’ mammy says de blessin’
An’ de co’n pone’s hot.

When you set down at de table,
Kin’ o’ weary lak an’ sad,
An’ you ‘se jes’ a little tiahed
An’ purhaps a little mad;
How yo’ gloom tu’ns into gladness,
How yo’ joy drives out de doubt
When de oven do’ is opened,
An’ de smell comes po’in’ out;
Why, de ‘lectric light o’ Heaven
Seems to settle on de spot,
When yo’ mammy says de blessin’
An’ de co’n pone’s hot.

When de cabbage pot is steamin’
An’ de bacon good an’ fat,
When de chittlins is a-sputter’n’
So’s to show you whah dey’s at;
Tek away yo’ sody biscuit,
Tek away yo’ cake an’ pie,
Fu’ de glory time is comin’,
An’ it’s ‘proachin’ mighty nigh,
An’ you want to jump an’ hollah,
Dough you know you’d bettah not,
When yo’ mammy says de blessin’
An’ de co’n pone’s hot.

I have hyeahd a’ lots o’ sermons,
An’ I’ve hyeahd o’ lots o’ prayers,
An I’ve listened to some singin’
Dat has tuck me up de stairs
Of de Glory-Lan’ an’ set me
Jes’ below de Mastah’s th’one,
An’ have lef’ my hea’t a-singin’
In a happy aftah tone;
But dem wu’ds so sweetly murmured
Seem to tech de softes’ spot,
When my mammy says de blessin’,
An’ de co’n pone’s hot.

A silence that was intolerable because perfectly negative

From Alberto Moravia’s Contempt (Il Disprezzo) (ch. 10). I’m too delicate to find Moravia’s dark intensity purely enjoyable, but he’s too good in his line not to appreciate regardless.

I do not wish to give a description here of our dinner in all its details but merely to depict my own state of mind, a state of mind which was entirely new to me that evening but which was thenceforth to become normal in my relations with Emilia. They say that, if we manage to live without too great an effort, it is entirely owing to the automatism which makes us unconscious of a great part of our movements. In order to take one single step, it seems, we displace an infinite number of muscles, and yet, thanks to this automatism, we are unaware of it. The same thing happens in our relations with other people. As long as I believed myself to be loved by Emilia, a kind of happy automatism had presided over our relations; and only the final completion of any course of conduct on my part had been illuminated by the light of consciousness, all the rest remaining in the obscurity of affectionate and unnoticed habit. But now that the illusion of love had faded, I discovered myself to be conscious of every one of my actions, even the smallest. I offered her something to drink, I passed her the salt, I looked at her, I stopped looking at her: each gesture was accompanied by a painful, dull, impotent, exasperated consciousness. I felt myself completely shackled, completely numbed, completely paralyzed; at each act, I found myself wondering: am I doing right, am I doing wrong? I had, in fact, lost all confidence. With complete strangers one can always hope to regain it. But with Emilia, it was an experience of the past, a thing defunct: I could have no hope whatever.

And so, between us, there was a silence that was only broken from time to time by some quite unimportant remark: “Will you have some wine? Will you have some bread? Some more meat?” I should like to describe the intimate quality of this silence because it was that evening that it was established for the first time between us, never to leave us again. It was, then, a silence that was intolerable because perfectly negative, a silence caused by the suppression of all the things I wanted to say and felt incapable of saying. To describe it as a hostile silence would be incorrect. In reality there was no hostility between us, at least not on my side; merely impotence. I was conscious of wanting to speak, of having many things to say, and was at the same time conscious that there could now be no question of words, and that I should now be incapable of finding the right tone to adopt. With this conviction in my mind, I remained silent, not with the relaxed, serene sensation of one who feels no need to speak, but rather with the constraint of one who is bursting with things to say and is conscious of it, and runs up against this consciousness all the time, as against the iron bars of a prison. But there was a further complication: I felt that this silence, intolerable as it was, was nevertheless, for me, the most favorable condition possible. And that if I broke it, even in the most cautious, the most affectionate manner, I should provoke discussions even more intolerable, if possible, than the silence itself.


Non voglio qui descrivere il pranzo nei particolari, voglio soltanto dipingere il mio stato d’animo, per me nuovissimo quella sera, ma che in seguito doveva diventare normale nei miei rapporti con Emilia. Dicono che noi riusciamo a vivere senza troppa fatica grazie soltanto all’automatismo che ci rende inconsapevoli di gran parte dei nostri movimenti. Per fare un sol passo, a quanto sembra, spostiamo un’infinità di muscoli e tuttavia, in virtù dell’automatismo, non ce ne rendiamo conto. Lo stesso avviene nei nostri rapporti con gli altri. Finché avevo creduto di essere amato da Emilia, una specie di felice automatismo aveva presieduto ai nostri rapporti; e soltanto il fiore terminale della mia condotta era stato illuminato dalla luce della coscienza, tutto il resto rimanendo nell’oscurità di una consuetudine affettuosa e inavvertita. Ma adesso che l’illusione d’amore era caduta, scoprivo di essere consapevole di ogni mia benché minima azione. Le offrivo da bere, le porgevo il sale, la guardavo, cessavo di guardarla, ogni gesto era accompagnato da una consapevolezza dolorosa, ottusa, impotente, esasperata. Mi sentivo tutto legato, tutto intorpidito, tutto paralizzato; ad ogni mio atto, mi rendevo conto di domandarmi: farò bene, farò male? Avevo insomma perduto ogni confidenza. Ma con gli stranieri completi si può sempre sperare di riacquistarla. Con Emilia, essa era un’esperienza passata e defunta: non potevo sperare nulla.

Così, tra noi, c’era il silenzio, appena interrotto ogni tanto da qualche frase senza importanza: “Vuoi del vino? Vuoi del pane? Ancora della carne?” Vorrei descrivere la qualità intima di questo silenzio perché fu quella sera che esso si stabilì per la prima volta tra noi, per non abbandonarci mai più. Dunque era un silenzio insopportabile perché perfettamente negativo, fatto della soppressione di tutte le cose che avrei voluto dire e che mi sentivo incapace di dire. Definirlo un silenzio ostile, sarebbe inesatto. In realtà non c’era ostilità tra noi, almeno da parte mia; ma soltanto impotenza. Io mi rendevo conto che volevo parlare, che avevo molte cose da dire, e nello stesso tempo mi rendevo conto che non era ormai più questione di parole e che non avrei più saputo trovare il tono che ci voleva. In questa convinzione, restavo zitto; ma non con la sensazione distesa e serena di chi non senta necessità di parlare, bensì con quella di chi scoppi di cose da dire e ne sia consapevole, e tuttavia urti invano contro questa consapevolezza come contro le sbarre di ferro di una prigione. Ma c’è di più: sentivo che questo silenzio tanto intollerabile era per me tuttavia la condizione più favorevole. E che se l’avessi rotto, sia pure nella maniera più accorta e più affettuosa, avrei provocato discorsi ancor più intollerabili, se era possibile, del silenzio stesso.

A pack of cards is a book of adventure, of the kind called romances

From Anatole France’s The Queen Pedauque (La Rôtisserie de la reine Pédauque) (ch17):

“That’s well,” sail M, d’Anquetil. “You have some wine, I have dice and cards in my pocket. We can play.”

“It is true,” said my good master, “that is a pleasant pastime. A pack of cards is a book of adventure, of the kind called romances. It is so far superior to other books of a similar kind that it can be made and read at the same time, and that it is not necessary to have brains to make it, nor knowledge of reading to read it. It is a marvellous work, also, in that it offers a regular and new sense every time its pages are shuffled. It is a contrivance never to be too much admired, because out of mathematical principles it extracts thousands on thousands of curious combinations, and so many singular affinities that it is believed, contrary to all truth, that in it are discoverable the secrets of hearts, the mystery of destinies and the arcanum of the future. What I have said is particularly applicable to the tarot of the Bohemians, which is the finest of all games, piquet not excepted.

It’s probably either a trope I don’t recognize or a chance convergence of thought but this reminds me much of the notion behind Italo Calvino’s The Castle of Crossed Destinies. Either way, Calvino’s explanation of the formation of that work – in which characters, unable to speak, tell their tales through setting out Tarot cards and are given verbal interpretations by the narrator – is curious enough to deserve quoting. At bottom is an image of how this process played out:

I publish this book to be free of it: it has obsessed me for years. I began by trying to line up tarots at random, to see if I could read a story in them. “The Waverer’s Tale” emerged; I started writing it down; I looked for other combinations of the same cards; I realized the tarots were a machine for constructing stories; I thought of a book, and I imagined its frame: the mute narrators, the forest, the inn; I was tempted by the diabolical idea of conjuring up all the stories that could be contained in a tarot deck.

I thought of constructing a kind of crossword puzzle made of tarots instead of letters, of pictographic stories instead of words. I wanted each of the stories to have a coherent significance, and I wanted them to afford me pleasure in writing them—or in rewriting them, if they were already classic stories…. And so I spent whole days taking apart and putting back together my puzzle; I invented new rules for the game, I drew hundreds of patterns, in a square, a rhomboid, a star design; but some essential cards were always left out, and some superfluous ones were always there in the midst. The patterns became so complicated (they took on a third dimension, becoming cubes, polyhedrons) that I myself was lost in them.

To escape from this impasse I gave up patterns and resumed writing the tales that had already taken shape, not concerning myself with whether or not they would find a place in the network of the others. But I felt that the game had a meaning only if governed by ironclad rules; an established framework of construction was required, conditioning the insertion of one story in the others. Without it, the whole thing was gratuitous.
There was another fact: not all the stories I succeeded in composing visually produced good results when I set myself to writing them down. There were some that sparked no impulse in the writing, and I had to eliminate them because they would have lowered the tension of the style. Then there were others that passed the test and immediately acquired the cohesive strength of the written word which, once written, will not be budged.

Suddenly, I decided to give up, to drop the whole thing; I turned to something else. It was absurd to waste any more time on an operation whose implicit possibilities I had by now explored completely, an operation that made sense only as a theoretical hypothesis. A month went by, perhaps a whole year, and I thought no more about it. Then all of a sudden, it occurred to me that I could try again in a different way, more simple and rapid, with guaranteed success. I began making patterns again, correcting them, complicating them. Again I was trapped in this quicksand, locked in this maniacal obsession. Some nights I woke up and ran to note a decisive correction, which then led to an endless chain of shifts. On other nights I would go to bed relieved at having found the perfect formula; and the next morning, on waking, I would tear it up. Even now, with the book in galleys, I continue to work over it, take it apart, rewrite. I hope that when the volume is printed I will be outside it once and for all. But will this actually happen?

Does it only need an empty purse to make me dream, like so many other people, of the rebirth of humanity?

From Alberto Moravia’s Contempt (Il Disprezzo) (ch 3):

There was another factor which contributed at that time to increase my feeling of anguish and impotence in face of material difficulties. I felt that the metal of my spirit, like a bar of iron that is softened and bent by a persistent flame, was being gradually softened and bent by the troubles that oppressed it. In spite of myself, I was conscious of a feeling of envy for those who did not suffer from such troubles, for the wealthy and the privileged; and this envy, I observed, was accompanied—still against my will—by a feeling of bitterness towards them, which, in turn, did not limit its aim to particular persons or situations, but, as if by an uncontrollable bias, tended to assume the general, abstract character of a whole conception of life. In fact, during those difficult days, I came very gradually to feel that my irritation and my intolerance of poverty were turning into a revolt against injustice, and not only against the injustice which struck at me personally but the injustice from which so many others like me suffered. I was quite aware of this almost imperceptible transformation of my subjective resentments into objective reflections and states of mind, owing to the bent of my thoughts which led always and irresistibly in the same direction: owing also to my conversation, which, without my intending it, always harped upon the same subject. I also noticed in myself a growing sympathy for those political parties which proclaimed their struggle against the evils and infamies of the society to which, in the end, I had attributed the troubles that beset me—a society which, as I thought, in reference to myself, allowed its best sons to languish and protected its worst ones. Usually, and in simpler, less cultivated people, this process occurs without their knowing it, in the dark depths of consciousness where, by a kind of mysterious alchemy, egoism is transmuted into altruism, hatred into love, fear into courage; but to me, accustomed as I was to observing and studying myself, the whole thing was clear and visible, as though I were watching it happen in someone else; and yet I was aware the whole time that I was being swayed by material, subjective factors, that I was transforming purely personal motives into universal reasons. I had never wished to become a member of any political party, as almost everyone did during that uneasy period after the war, just because it seemed to me that I could not take part in politics, as so many did, for personal motives, but only from intellectual conviction, which, however, I had so far lacked; and I was therefore very angry when I felt my ideas, my conversation, my whole demeanor going very gradually adrift on the current of my own interests, slowly changing color according to the difficulties of the moment. “So I’m really just like everyone else,” I thought furiously; “does it only need an empty purse to make me dream, like so many other people, of the rebirth of humanity?”


Un altro fatto contribuì in quel tempo ad accrescere il mio senso di angoscia e di impotenza di fronte alle difficoltà materiali. Simile ad una sbarra di ferro che una fiamma persistente ammollisca e pieghi, sentivo allora che il metallo del mio animo veniva gradualmente ammollito e piegato dalle angustie che l’opprimevano. Mio malgrado, mi rendevo conto di provare invidia per coloro che non soffrivano di queste angustie, per i ricchi e i privilegiati; e all’invidia, sempre mio malgrado, mi accorgevo che si accompagnava il rancore verso di loro, il quale, a sua volta, non si limitava a prendere di mira particolari persone o condizioni, ma, come per un’invincibile inclinazione, tendeva ad assumere il carattere generale ed astratto di una concezione della vita. Insomma, pian piano, attraverso quei giorni difficili, sentivo che la mia irritazione e la mia insofferenza della povertà diventavano rivolta contro l’ingiustizia e non soltanto quella che colpiva la mia persona, ma anche quella di cui soffrivano tanti altri simili a me. Mi rendevo conto di questa insensibile trasformazione dei miei più interessati risentimenti in stati d’animo e riflessioni disinteressate, attraverso la piega dei miei pensieri, che prendevano sempre e irresistibilmente la stessa direzione; attraverso i miei discorsi, che, senza che lo volessi, battevano sempre sullo stesso argomento. Nello stesso tempo, mi accorgevo di provare una simpatia crescente per quei partiti politici che proclamavano di lottare contro i mali e le storture di quella stessa società alla quale io avevo finito per attribuire le angustie di cui soffrivo: una società, come pensavo con riferimento a me stesso, che lasciava languire i suoi figli migliori e proteggeva i peggiori. Tutto questo, di solito, nelle persone più semplici e incolte, avviene inconsapevolmente, in quel fondo oscuro della coscienza in cui, per una specie di misteriosa alchimia, l’egoismo si trasforma in altruismo, l’odio in amore, la paura in coraggio; ma a me, avvezzo a sorvegliarmi e a studiarmi, questo processo era chiaro e visibile, come se l’avessi seguito in un altro; e però mi rendevo conto tutto il tempo di ubbidire a determinazioni materiali e interessate, di trasformare in ragioni universali motivi meramente personali. Io non avevo mai voluto iscrivermi ad alcun partito, come facevano quasi tutti in quel tempo inquieto del dopoguerra, appunto perché mi sembrava di non poter far della politica, come tanti, per motivi personali, bensì soltanto per una convinzione di pensiero, che, tuttavia, mi era sinora mancata; e perciò molto mi indispettiva di sentire le mie idee, i miei discorsi, il mio contegno andare insensibilmente alla deriva sulla corrente dei miei interessi, cambiare pian piano colore secondo le difficoltà del momento. “Sono dunque fatto alla maniera di tutti quanti”, pensavo con rabbia, “mi basta, come a tanti, di aver la borsa vuota per sognare la palingenesi dell’umanità?”

And in days of yore it was the saying in Gaul that the soldier’s best friend was Madame Marauding

From Anatole France’s At the Sign of The Reine Pédauque (La Rôtisserie de la reine Pédauque).

“Well then,” M. d’Anquetil continued, “whatever may be printed of it in the gazettes, war consists, above all things, of stealing the pigs and chickens of peasants. Soldiers in the fields have no other occupation.”

“You are right,” said M. Coignard, “and in days of yore it was the saying in Gaul that the soldier’s best friend was Madame Marauding.


—Eh bien! reprit M. d’Anquetil, quoi que disent les gazettes, la guerre consiste uniquement à voler des poules et des cochons aux vilains. Les soldats en campagne ne sont occupés que de ce soin.

—Vous avez bien raison, dit mon bon maître, et l’on disait jadis en Gaule que la bonne amie du soldat était madame la Picorée.

As best I can trace it, the Madame Marauding/madame la Picorée witticism makes its first appearance in the 16th century memoirs of François de la Noue which cover the early wars of religion. In his description of the 1562 fall of Boisgency (modern Beaugency, I think) and the cruelty of the soldiers towards the inhabitants he says:

…So our infantry lost its virginity and from this illegitimate conjunction followed the conception of Madamoiselle La Picorée, who has since so increased in dignity that we now call here Madame. And if the civil war continues on, I have no doubt that she will become a Princess.


The passage and full text are here on google books

‘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.

ON TOUR IN FRANCE
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.


STRADIVARIUS
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?’


IN THE COFFIN
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.