Friday 15 January 2021

Twang Dillo Dee, the Amen to Nonsense

 On this day in 1820, John Keats, writing to his sister-in-law Georgiana out in Kentucky, tells her that 
'This is a beautiful day. I hope you will not quarrel with it if I call it an american one. The Sun comes upon the snow and makes a prettier candy than we have on twelvth-cakes. George is busy this morning in making copies of my verses. He is making one now of an Ode to the nightingale, which is like reading an account of the Black Hole at Calcutta on an iceberg.'
(How strange to think of that Ode as a newly written poem being copied out...) Keats picks up again on the temperature contrast when he goes to sit in the sun with snow all around, apricating (I wonder if he knew the word): 
I have been sitting in the Sun whilst I wrote this till it’s become quite oppressive this is very odd for January. The vulcan fire is the true natural heat for winter: the sun has nothing to do in winter but to give "a little glooming light much like a Shade". – Our Irish servant has piqued me this morning by saying that her father in Ireland was very much like my Shakspeare only he had more colour than the Engraving.'
That 'little glooming light' is from the Faerie Queen. What train of thought could have led from the sunshine and snow to the Irish servant? The joy of Keats's letters – one of the joys – is that you never know what is coming next. 
 This letter to Georgiana is one of a sequence written between the 13th and 28th January and sent as one letter. Keats professes to be 'dull', but Keats dull is worth a hundred other letter writers in good spirits. He comforts Georgiana in her Kentucky isolation (her husband, Keats's brother George, is in England) and amiably teases the proud parents: 
We smoke George about his little Girl, he runs the common beaten road of every father, as I dare say you do of every mother – there is no Child like his Child, so original! original forsooth However, I take you at your words; I have a lively faith that yours is the very gem of all Children. Aint I its Unkle?'
Later Keats becomes misanthropic, in a general way: 'Upon the whole I dislike Mankind: whatever people on the other side of the question may advance they cannot deny that they are always surprised at hearing of a good action and never of a bad one.' He goes on to describe how dull he is finding London and its society – probably intending to console Georgiana for the deeper dullness of Louisville society. Anyway it is a theme that is soon sending him off into flights of fancy that are anything but dull:
I know three people of no wit at all, each distinct in his excellence. A, B, and C. A is the foolishest, B the sulkiest, C is a negative – A makes you yawn, B makes you hate, as for C you never see him though he is six feet high. I bear the first, I forbear the second, I am not certain that the third is. The first is gruel, the second Ditch water, the third is spilt—he ought to be wip’d up. A is inspired by Jack-o’-the-clock – B has been drilled by a Russian Sargeant, C – they say is not his Mothers true Child but that she bought him of the Man who cries, "Young Lambs to sell." Twang dillo dee...This you must know is the Amen to nonsense. I know a good many places where Amen should be scratched out, rubb'd over with pounce made of Momus’s little finger bones, and in its place "Twang-dillo-dee" written. This is the word I shall henceforth be tempted to write at the end of most modern Poems. Every American Book ought to have it. It would be a good distinction in Saciety. My Lords Wellington, Castlereagh and Canning and many more would do well to wear Twang-dillo-dee written on their backs instead of wearing ribbands at their Button-holes. How many people would go sideways along walls and quickset hedges to keep their Twang-dillo-dee out of sight, or wear large pigtails to hide it. However there would be so many that the Twang-dillo-dees would keep one another in countenance ..... Some philosophers in the Moon, who spy at our Globe as we do at theirs say that Twang dillo dee is written in large Letters on our Globe of Earth – They say the beginning of the T is just on the spot where London stands, London being built within the Flourish – w a n reach downward and slant as far as Timbuctoo in africa, the tail of the G goes slap across the Atlantic into the Rio della Plata – the remainder of the Letters wrap around new holland, and the last e terminates on land we have not yet discovered. However, I must be silent, these are dangerous times to libel a man in, much more a world.'
I don't think we would have far to look in these times for worthy recipients of the Twang-dillo-dee...

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