Chapman and the Premier League
Chapman's Hamlet
Cold Comfort
Seeking Mr Shaw
Ode to Freud
An Australian Traveller
In Italy
Poetic Justice
Modern Music
Two on a Tower
Keats and Chapman in Adelaide
The Last Days of Keats and Chapman

I have been writing anecdotes of Keats and Chapman since 1969, and this is intended to be a warts-and-all collection of them. At times I think I have almost just about come within cooee of Myles na Gopaleen's inimitable originals in these stories; mostly I'm embarrassed. But as Keats remarks somewhere, there's no accounting for taste, and you may grin where I cringe.
Collecting these stories is, to quote Myles approximately, that burial of a prehistoric beast a mammoth undertaking. They are sprinkled here and there in the last twenty years' issues of the Society of Editors Newsletter, in two or three hundred fanzines that I have published, and elsewhere. Establishing the place and date of first publication is something I feel obliged to attempt, but not yet. Where I am confident about this information I have given it; if it appears in parentheses it is a place and date, but not necessarily the first.
The stories are in no particular order, except that it seems appropriate to place "The Last Days of Keats and Chapman" at the end, and immediately before it "Keats and Chapman in Adelaide", a piece of fictive autobiography in which Keats and Chapman appear. Most of the stories have been lightly edited here, and all now have titles; except for "The Last Days . . .", the originals were untitled. "Seeking Mr Shaw" is based on a cartoon by the late Bob Shaw, sf writer and comic genius; for the rest I must take full blame.
For the sake of completeness I have included here stories that also appear elsewhere in these electronic pages. At the moment of writing (3.30 p.m., Tuesday 21 April 1998) I haven't decided what to do with the Keats and Chapman stories that other people have written for me. These people include Poul Anderson, George Turner, Jack Wodhams, John Julian, Elisabeth Le Guin . . . Hm. When I start thinking out loud on a Web page it's time I did something else. There is a disquisition on the nature, significance and abiding worth of Keats and Chapman anecdotes in Keats and Chapman (among others). OK. Press the button, Max.

Chapman and the Premier League

"Speaking of Manchester United . . ." said Chapman. "I don't believe we were," said Keats, "and I've heard the one about Marcuse." "Hm. Well, they've just paid five million pounds for young Andy Cole." "Yes," said Keats. "He's, um, from Newcastle, you know," said Chapman. Keats said nothing for a moment, then, judging that he had kept his friend waiting long enough, said "Five million, eh?" Chapman, suddenly sullen, silently vowed never to discuss football with Keats again.

The Society of Editors Newsletter, February 1995

Chapman's Hamlet

Not a lot is known about the stage careers of Keats and Chapman, but certainly Chapman's came to a sad end, and it was all Keats's fault. Chapman was playing Polonius in an otherwise unmemorable performance of Hamlet, and just as he was about to make his first entrance Keats wished him luck. Chapman turned pale and fell from the wings onto the stage, the first of a series of mishaps that ended in Act 3 when he fell over again and brought the arras down. "You fool," said Chapman, red with humiliation and limping badly, when he found Keats, "You should know that you never wish an actor luck!" "Oh, silly me!" said Keats, "Of course! -- you can't make a Hamlet without breaking a leg!" "Ohh," Chapman fumed, and turning on his heel, exeunted ominously.

Philosophical Gas, 1993

Cold Comfort

Keats and Chapman stood for twenty minutes in the rain one wintry evening, waiting for an omnibus. At last it arrived, and the friends hurried aboard, hoping that the proximity of their fellow humans would to some degree dispel the cold. It was certainly warmer inside the bus, but a cracked window and a hole (the purpose of which eluded them) near their feet directed chill draughts at them, causing them much discomfort.
"Freezing, isn't it," said Chapman.
"Indeed," said Keats.
"If", said Chapman, "we did not have of necessity to travel in this conveyance, and if you had to choose between standing in the rain and sitting here, with this vile breeze whistling about us, which would you prefer?"
"De gustibus non est disputandum," said Keats.

Scythrop 22, April 1971

Seeking Mr Shaw

[In memoriam Bob Shaw, 1931-1996]

Keats and Chapman journeyed to Belfast to see a Mr Shaw about some slow glass he had invented. Unfamiliar with the district in which the gentleman lived, they took the precaution of consulting some street directories, but on inspecting the publications available they could not decide which to purchase. Keats favored a slim volume published by Tate & Company, Chapman a solid tome issued by Flaherty & Sons. They bought both. Unfortunately, both directories were quite misleading, and the friends soon found themselves utterly unable to relate the ghostly streets depicted on the maps with the all-too-solid pavements beneath their weary feet. In desperation they hired a cabriolet, which conveyed them circuitously to their destination.
A gentleman opened the door to them.
"Are you Shaw?" asked Chapman.
"Absolutely!" said the gentleman, and bade them enter. The friends were soon engaged in a most pleasant and witty conversation with Mr Shaw, in the course of which he displayed much amusement over their purchase of the directories.
"Flaherty", he said, "will get you nowhere."
Keats remarked: "And he who has a Tate's is lost."

Scythrop 22, April 1971

Ode to Freud

Keats and Chapman once visited Vienna, where they were guests of an elderly friend, Professor Ottavio Funken, and his charming family. The gracious Funken mansion on Weltschmerzstrasse rang for days to the happy sounds of cultured talk, refined music of an intimate nature, and laughing children. The friends had not experienced such pleasant company for a long time, and their joy in themselves and their surroundings knew no bounds. But, alas, it was not to last.
On the fifth evening, over Frau Funken's excellent schnitzel, a genteel yet well-informed and wide-ranging conversation about German philosophy and literature in all its aspects, from Gottfried von Strassburg to Perry Rhodan, degenerated into an unsightly shouting match when Chapman innocently expressed enthusiasm for certain theories of Dr Sigmund Freud.
"Freud schmeud!" cried the professor, "Der Mann ist ein Teufel!" -- and proceeded, with references classical and biological, to damn the learned doctor and his works copiously and at length.
Keats and Chapman were deeply distressed. They excused themselves, retired early, and left the city on the first conveyance next morning.
"Well," said Keats, glumly looking out of the window at the beautiful Vienna woods, "Freud is sure no god to Funken."
"No," said Chapman, who could not bring himself to take his eyes off his boots, despite the beauty that surrounded him, "tactless sort of louse I am."
Suddenly the friends realized what they had said, looked at each other (with a wild surmise), and burst into spirited song.

Scythrop 22, April 1971

An Australian Traveller

Travelling through Germany, at Göttingen Keats and Chapman fell in with an Australian, and (having extricated themselves) discussed their plans with him.
"I reckon I'll just kick around here a bit, sink some beer, pick up a sheila or two . . ."
"You like to read poetry while you imbibe?" asked Chapman.
"Beg yours?" the Australian said politely.
"My friend refers to your interesting habit of reading Schiller over your beer," said Keats.
"Eh? No, you've got me wrong there, fellers! I said 'sheila' -- you know -- birds, broads, talent . . ."
"Ah," said Keats and Chapman.
"And what are youse blokes thinking of doing?"
"We thought", said Keats, "we might emulate Heine and go for a tour in the Harz."
"Well, strewth mate, you call it what you like, but why don't we all go together?"

Scythrop 22, April 1971

In Italy

Keats and Chapman once went on holiday in Italy with a bohemian singer named Michael Balfe. In Milan they met another acquaintance, the eminent campanologist Sir Nigel Batt, and the four spent many happy hours together in the sunny villages and vineyards of the north. Batt was investigating the local bells and belles (there was more than one string to this beau); Balfe was indulging an interest of his youth, looking at fortifications, gun emplacements and the like; Chapman was doing a bit of research for some footnotes he was writing about the Roman Census in Imperial Times; and Keats was just mooning about as usual, jotting down the odd rhyme, making the odd delicious moan upon the midnight hour (this was when he drafted his "Lasagna Recollected in Tranquillity", you may recall) and that sort of thing.
At a pub in Cremona they fell in with Louis Bettson, an earnest drinker and gifted conversationalist of uncertain antecedents, who kept them amused with his witty tales of art, life and Italian politics for as long as they cared to ply him with grog. One drowsy afternoon Keats found himself alone, alone, all, all alone -- and was about to jot that down until he remembered he had read it somewhere -- and he began to wonder where his companions were. Sir Nigel is probably up a bell-tower somewhere, he thought, and Balfe will be looking at some boring old earthworks, and Chapman will be wearing his brain down to the knuckle deciphering old Roman statistics. Keats sighed, and wondered all over again what he wanted to be when he grew up.
Just then, Chapman stumbled into the room. He had obviously been drinking, and there was an odd gleam in his eyes. "What have you been up to!" exclaimed Keats, "And where is everybody?" Chapman paused for a moment, then said, all in one breath, "Bettson the bar-fly says Batt's in the belfry and Balfe's in the battery!" "Good heavens, man!" cried Keats, "Have you taken leave of your census?" Chapman tripped over a pot of basil and lay on the floor, giggling his head off.

The Society of Editors Newsletter, February 1979

Poetic Justice

Keats and Chapman were discussing poetry.
"I have often wondered", said Keats, "what exactly is meant by the expression 'poetic justice'."
"I always imagined it to be a singularly appropriate punishment meted out to some wrongdoer," said Chapman. "And such a thing, with respect, seems to happen more frequently in poetic creations than in real life. On the other hand, it may have its origin in some historical occurrence."
"Such as?" said Keats.
"I am thinking," said Chapman, "if you will forgive me, of some possible connexion between the bard and the barred, the court and the caught, the, ah . . ."
"I am finding it difficult to forgive you," said Keats.
"So sorry," said Chapman. "But you can perhaps imagine some learned judge, in some far-off time, handing down his decisions in verse . . ."
"I cannot," said Keats.
". . . and becoming known far and wide as the Poetic Justice," Chapman continued. "I can just see him, addressing some quivering miscreant thus:
I find the accused a veritable worm!
Sweet Thames, run softly, till you end your term.
"Lord preserve us," moaned Keats.
"Or: Bid daffadillies fill their cups with tears,
For thou art in the jug for fifteen years.
"Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour!" sobbed Keats.
"Or: The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
But winding slowly o'er the rack's for thee!
"Enough! Enough!" cried Keats.
"Really?" said Chapman. "Do you accept my hypothesis?"
"Oh, certainly," said Keats, in a rare outburst of sarcasm. "I don't know how to thank you for this brilliant conjecture!"
"All retributions gracefully conceived," Chapman murmured modestly.

Stunned Mullet 7, June 1977

Modern Music

Keats and Chapman attended the world's first and so far only performance of Karlheinz Stochasm's massive composition for several large orchestras, chorus and regimental artillery, the Cantata for the Victims of Eureka. Afterwards, Keats asked Chapman what he thought of the work, and Chapman admitted that he had quite enjoyed some of the choral themes in the last movement. "You mean melodies," said Keats, who hadn't liked any of it. "Themes," Chapman insisted. "But themes aren't what they sing!" cried Keats. "They so rarely are," said Chapman.

Philosophical Gas 22, May 1973
This version from Australian Book Review, 1981


Keats and Chapman once got tired of standing around waiting for cheap air fares and stowed away on a tramp steamer, which, it turned out, wasn't going where they wanted to go anyway. Two days out they were discovered and offered the choice of working their passage or leaving the ship instantly. Some days later, while they were scrubbing the decks, Keats (who was in a foul mood) snarled at Chapman "Where's the bloody soap?" Chapman said, quite cheerfully, "By jove, it does, doesn't it!" Keats said a rude nautical word and threw his bucket at him.

The Times Bicycle Pump Supplement, February 1979

Two on a Tower

Keats and Chapman often had mystical experiences in towers. One of them happened while they were in Germany doing a spot of proofreading for a local publisher. The first few books they read in their rented tower did not overtax their knowledge of German, but during the third week they were given a job that nearly drove them crazy. It was a very long, intense, convoluted novel by someone named Dan Vinniken about twenty-four hours in the life of an ancient astronaut. This rather improbable being had spent a day in June 1904 wandering the streets of Darmstadt, apparently quite undetected, observing the stolid Hessian burghers and poking about in their minds by some sort of alien psychic means. The story was hard to follow, and the author's style was the most complicated abuse of the German language the friends had ever seen; after a while they gave up checking the spelling, as the typesetters had before them. Altogether they spent six weeks on the book, and for most of that time they were haunted by the feeling that they had been there before, a feeling intensified by the author's frequent use of the mystical term "déjà voodoo" and many other slogans and names that began with the letters DV. At last they reached the end, and were annoyed rather than surprised to discover that the last sentence in the book was the same as the first sentence. "Well," said Keats, "what do you make of that?" Stately, plump Chapman took off his spectacles, dusted them, and said: "Vinniken's fake." Keats fell sobbing on a great pile of galley proofs.

Keats and Chapman in Adelaide

[In memoriam Bill Rotsler, 1926-1997]

Keats and Chapman attended a seminar in Adelaide on intergalactic frogs, and having nothing better to do when the auction of first-edition toads and cruddy tadzines came on, accepted an invitation to go for a drive through the hills with Rotsler and the Bangsunds. There was a lot of good-natured banter about the dullness of the seminar and the incompetence of its organizers, about waiting around for hours for the elevators (or lifts, as these Australians called them) and then finding that the hotel didn't even have any, about skinny-dipping in the pond with those luscious femfräugleins ("I don't know what you see in us," said Sally coyly, reminding the men that she was still there and had fantasies of her own), about the lecturer in applied amphibiology with no apparent sense of humor who seemed to speak only in webbed-footnotes, and about all the pleasant and mildly irritating things that go on at any such gathering.
It was a mild, slightly overcast sort of day, with the chance of snow or fog at Stirling, but there is always that chance at Stirling, even in summer, and this day was in mid-winter, the seminar organizers having gone to some trouble to arrange this.
"If you look back," said Bangsund, "you can see the Mile End railway yards and other beauties of Adelaide."
"You watch your bloody driving!" said Sally, then blushed, but Keats was pretending to be asleep and Chapman was apparently absorbed in the fine detail of the Renault's interior appointments, and Rotsler kindly assumed the look of a man who is used to bad language and has heard everything.
"I never look back," Rotsler said.
Assuming the look of a man who can easily concentrate on driving and talking at the same time, Bangsund said "This little place up ahead is called Eagle On The Hill, and I've never been able to find out why." He then lurched into a prepared speech, which Sally had heard before, about the possibility that it had something to do with the Latin word for church, ecclesia ("Greek," murmured Chapman), which was often corrupted in English place-names to "eagles".
"Actually," said Rotsler, "it really does have something to do with an eagle on a hill. Back in 1843 when Tom (later Sir Thomas) Fitch was opening up this area, laying the foundation for his ruthless rise to power as absolute dictator of the timber trade -- and eventually, as you well know, Premier of South Australia five times, but that was after he had got into shipping and banking, of course, and thereby become respectable in the eyes of the Buffalo crowd (who had only arrived here three years before him -- but, my! they were the First Settlers, and they really thought they were something special!) -- one day, probably a day much like this, since it was about this time of year and there was fog and snow just over the hill, Fitch was out blazing a bit of a track with his friend Jack Norton (actually the Honorable John Eardley-Norton, though Fitch did not know that at the time, later Lord Thornbury), and suddenly Fitch caught sight of something, and he stopped what he was doing, and he said 'Damn my eyes, Jack, if that's not an eagle over there on that hill!' Norton suggested that it might be nothing more than a trick of the light -- perhaps a bird-shaped rock or something like that -- but Fitch was insistent. 'It's an eagle, damn it!' he said. By a pretty natural process that place became known as 'Fitch's Eagle On The Hill', and that's all there is to it."
For a moment there was silence, except for the well-mannered ticking of the Renault's clock, then Bangsund said "You just made that up, Bill." "Why sure I did!" said Rotsler, and chuckled. The three passengers in the back seat joined in the laughter, and from that moment on all five set about constructing an alternate ("Alternative," murmured Keats) history of South Australia, largely based on the exploits and dirty deals of Fitch, Norton and a shadowy figure named Lord Garth. When they reached Hahndorf, they all adopted German accents and told anecdotes of the much revered and entirely fictitious Pastor Nitschke, who by faith alone almost succeeded in having South Australia annexed as a colony by Prussia. At Marble Hill, surveying the ruins of the old Governors' summer residence, their imagination soared as they vied with each other in explaining the origin of this strange and beautiful place.
"It's just too much!" said Bangsund, chuckling despite his urgent need for a gentlemen's toilet as the party headed back down the freeway. "I never thought this seminar -- what's it called again?" "A-Con," said Sally. "-- would turn out to be such fun!" "Your turn, I think," said Keats to Chapman, and Chapman said "From little A-Cons great hoaxes grow!" and wet his pants laughing, again.

Parergon Papers 2, August 1977

Some readers have taken me to task for an apparent spatio-chronological inaccuracy in the second issue of these papers, namely my account of a visit by John Keats and George Chapman to Adelaide. Keats (I am told) died 15 years before the colony of South Australia came into existence, and Chapman died 161 years before Keats was born. There is just no accounting for the literal-mindedness of some people, and there are times when I wonder whether they've ever read science fiction or Ben Jonson in their lives. Ben Jonson? Yes, sir, immortal author of Timber: or, Discoveries, in which (as most of my readers will not need reminding) he said: "For to many things a man should owe but a temporary beliefe, and a suspension of his owne Judgement, not an absolute resignation of himselfe, or a perpetuall captivity." A wise saying, that, and one engraved on the hearts of politicians and sf readers everywhere. But as it happens, I have good authority for Keats's being in Adelaide.
the view over the plains, with Adelaide in the middle-distance, and the Gulf in the background, is, according to the poet Keats, "a joy for ever".
Cyclopedia of South Australia (1907), vol. 1, p. 498
So there! Besides, Rotsler was with us at the time. Frankly, I find it harder to believe that Bill Rotsler ever visited Adelaide. Probably he does, too.

Parergon Papers 5, December 1977

The Last Days of Keats and Chapman

"In the classifying of scleractinia," said Keats, "especially with regard to the families Thamnasteridae and Astrocoenidae, should one prefer genotypical to phenotypical criteria? And is it the done thing to use indiscriminately ecological and morphotaxonomic nomenclature?"
"Were you addressing me?" Chapman asked politely.
"I was," said Keats.
"Ah. Would you mind repeating the question?"
"I couldn't possibly," Keats sighed. "Some of those words only bear pronouncing once in a normal lifetime."
"May I ask what you are reading?"
"It is a slim scholarly volume by one Jeremy Benthos," said Keats.
"Ah," said Chapman, "author of the famous Coral Symphony."
"You are thinking surely of the famous Beethoven."
"I am not," said Chapman. "Benthos is as fond of the felicitous homophone, not to mention the infelicitous, as that nasty Bangsund chap who persists in writing apocryphal anecdotes about us. But Benthos writes apocryphal anecdotes about life on the ocean floor."
"Which that fellow Foyster refers to as polyp fiction," said Keats.
"Yes," said Chapman testily. "He's another one."
"Homonymous bosh," murmured Keats.
"That's precisely the kind of thing I mean!" Chapman said angrily. "Irrelevant, out of character, and utterly absurd!"
"We certainly used to get a better class of pun when that nice Irish chap Myles was writing about us," said Keats. "Do you recall how we used to make little quips in Latin? -- even Greek sometimes, if I am not mistaken."
"Ah yes," said Chapman. "'The dacent obscurity of a larned tongue', Myles used to call it. But this Bangsund! -- why, he wouldn't know an ipse dixit from a dog's breakfast!"
"You said it," said Keats.
"Things have never been quite the same since we were transported to Australia. It's the climate, I believe. Not so much the heat as the humidity. Rots the brain."
"Blazing Hyperion on his orbed fire . . ." mused Keats.
"I was thinking of those far-off happy days", said Keats, "when we were writers ourselves and not mere characters in others' imaginings."
Chapman looked thoughtfully at his friend. "Why," he said, "why don't we write ourselves out of Australia? -- indeed, out of Bangsund's reach altogether!"
"Could we?"
"Of course! Why not?"
"It is most tempting," Keats said. "But it seems a little unkind to leave the man with no-one to write about."
"He could always go back to writing about himself," said Chapman. Then a mischievous gleam came to his eyes. "I say! I know what we could do! Knowing the horrid Bangsund's penchant for writing cruel fictions about literary folk, why shouldn't we present him with two quite impossible people to replace us?"
"It sounds naughty," giggled Keats. "Have you anyone in mind?"
"I have indeed," said Chapman triumphantly. "Homer and Noddy!"
"Oh, bravo!" cried Keats, and the friends embraced and fell about in helpless glee.
Then, gaily, arm in arm, Keats and Chapman tripped off into the sunset.

An old, blind man in robe and sandals appeared in the twilight, and with him a small person -- a dwarf perhaps, or a boy.
"Is this the place?" said the old one.
"It is," said Noddy. "The place that launched a thousand quips, and bent the hapless powers of idiom."
They sat then, under a gum tree, and wept.

Stunned Mullet 4, January 1976

John Bangsund
Melbourne, Australia