5 April 2011

Of Keats & Chapman...

Having attended the inaugural Mylesday celebrations in Dublin late last week, it seems only appropriate, in the spirit of centennial celebration, to share with you a hitherto undiscovered copy of one of Myles na gCopaleen's Keats and Chapman columns from the Irish Times. Having dropped a euro cent, I bent down to pluck it up, and caught sight of a snatch of bent and yellowed paper tucked into the crease of the chair I was perched upon in the Palace Bar. Unfolding it, I was astonished to read the following. We can only surmise that the author left it there during one of his debauches, forgotten, until now. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the various lives of Keats and Chapman, I can only apologise, and beg pardon, for what follows...

Keats and Chapman...

Owing to an unexpected inheritance, bequeathed on Keats by a distant relative's aneurysmal spasm, the fortunes of Keats and Chapman, usually so marked by impoverished equity, were put into a jealous disequilibrium. While Keats was neatly sustained in punch and plum pudding by this stipend, Chapman's days proved intolerably leaner, forcing him to quit quill and abandon paper, accepting an apprentice's place in Macbeth's, a London provender-merchant of Cheapside. Little trusting in the dexterous capacities of her poetical tyro, the proprietrix, a Mrs Euphemia Macbeth, jealously reserved the wrapping of her precious goods to herself, only permitting the sour Chapman to pack away her neat bundles into crisp, brown paper bags, and to present them to customers.

Keats, swollen intolerably by his fine fortune, took to presenting himself at the merchant's counter on an hourly basis, making purchase of bonbons or tobacco, on every occasion requiring that Chapman enact his humiliating packet-obeisances. Disjointed by his friend's unseemly and uncharacteristic persecutions, and pocket heavied by his hard won apprentice's remuneration, Chapman repaired to the Tyger Tavern, there determined to meet, and humble, Keats' overweening pride. The innkeep having set a bottle of claret on the table before them, Chapman proposed a friendly trial of wits, employing the board and regulations lately devised by a Mr Scrabble of Manchester. Keats, keen to rout his companion on all fronts, thus to complete his triumph, eagerly assented. Chapman offered a double tablet of CUPIDITY, parried by Keats' QUIETUS, counted thrice. Their word-play was bitter, the claret was emptied, but their scores were even. Being in funds, Keats dispensed with sober caution, resolving on a second bottle, "to toast his imminent triumph", leaving Chapman to ruminate over the poised board. Consulting the penultimate tabulations, Chapman inspected his letters, realising that he could clear his hand with a single DISGRACE, but to do so would be to assure Keats' victory, by a single point. 

Such was Chapman's vexation with his spendthrift opponent, and the distempering vapours which afflict a poet reduced to a life in business, he determined ungallantly to chip the D's defeating score of "two" into a triumphant "four". When Keats returned with secondary libation, Chapman slapped his keys across the table, crowing: "Lay on Macduff!" Keats squinted at the deployment, his look first aghast, then sceptical as his gaze snagged on the mutilated D. Spearing the offending tablet with the borrowed, guilty poniard, Keats waved it under Chapman's increasingly shame-stained phizog.  

"Is this a bagger I see D-four me?", Keats gloated.


  1. read the third policeman, at swim two birds and the poor mouth 40 years ago... had forgotten all about mr o'brien in the interim.

    Not sure if I re-read these books again today I would understand them...

  2. O'Nolan's columns are (somewhat) less anarchic and surreal than his novels, I find. I read At Swim Two Birds when I was an undergraduate, which seems like apposite timing. I hope I was at rather less precious than the protagonist, but for me, he rather plausibly captured a certain literary student type one can still encounter across these islands.

  3. Astonishing!

    Inspired by your blog, and sure that I still had a copy of the third policeman somewhere stacked away, I climbed into the loft prepared for a long dusty search.

    Right there, on top of the first pile, a literally moth-eaten 1967 Penguin edition of At-Swim-Two-Birds, priced at 6/-.

    Didn't find the polis book, but the first line of At-Swim-Two-Birds, made me laugh out loud,,..

    "having placed in my mouth enough bread for three minutes chewing , I withdrew into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression...".


    Could I get up the energy to read it again after all these years..?

    probably not...

  4. Happy serendipity!

    Or perhaps a kindly house mouse, arranging your affairs for you.

  5. Please encourage all your friends to enter the 2013 International Open Keats and Chapman competition. Please see http://essaydensushing.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/2013-international-keats-and-chapman.html