Follow by Email

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

On Booze, Byron, and Keats

Despite my efforts to branch out, I find myself happy to remain in my Fitzgerald rut. (I did, however, just purchase a Jasper Fforde novel, thanks to your recommendations; I will start it next.) When I was home for Christmas, I found this book:

As you might imagine, I was dee-lighted. I'm planning a jazz age party, costumes required, featuring cocktails found here, and have already enlisted one of my outlaws (ie, my brother's inlaws) to bartend. Naturally, as I feel I ought to be an authority on the subject before hosting such an event, yesterday I bought Fitzgerald's On Booze. It's not a novel; it's a collection of relevant snippets from his notebooks and letters and a few longer stories and essays. All together it's not even 90 pages, and so far I've thoroughly enjoyed pages 1-30. A few teasers for you:
Look here, you take a girl and she goes into some cafe where she's got no business to go. Well, then, her escort he gets a little too much to drink an' he goes to sleep an' then some fella comes up and says, 'Hello, sweet mamma," or whatever one of those mashers says up here. What does she do? She can't scream, on account of no real lady will scream nowadays -- no -- she just reaches down in her pocket and slips her fingers into a pair of Powell's defensive brass-knuckles, debutante's size, executes what I call the Society Hook, and Wham! that big fella's on his way to the cellar.
Turkey Remains and How to Inter Them with Numerous Scarce Recipes:
1. Turkey Cocktail: To one large turkey add one gallon of vermouth and a demijohn of angostura bitters. Shake.
 On page 27, Fitzgerald refers to Keats as "The Fiery Particle." I did a little googling and discovered what you know to be one of my favorite things: writers writing about writers. Apparently there was a rivalry between Keats and Byron, one that Byron was unaware of, which of course makes it all the more pathetic for poor Mr. Keats. Is this true? At any rate, Byron dedicates eight lines of his Don Juan to a reflection on how an unfavorable review of Keats' poetry killed him -- a rather macabre though perhaps not entirely inaccurate view of this sensitive soul. It is from this passage that Fitzgerald takes the description of Keats as a "fiery particle":

John Keats, who was killed off by one critique,
Just as he really promised something great,
If not intelligible, -- without Greek
Contrived to talk about the Gods of late,
Much as they might have been supposed to speak.
Poor fellow! His was an untoward fate: --
'Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle,
Should let itself be snuffed out by an article.
                                        (Don Juan, Canto XI, 60) 
I confess, I wouldn't mind terribly if someone described me as a fiery particle, though I hope I've enough sand to avoid being snuffed out by an article. Byron elaborates on this thought in the following communication:
I know by experience that a savage review is Hemlock to a Sucking author -- and the one on me -- (which produced the English Bards &c.) knocked me down -- but I got up again. -- Instead of bursting a blood vessel -- I drank three bottles of Claret -- and began an answer. (26 April 1821 BLJ 8.102) 
No doubt Byron and Fitzgerald would get along fairly well. Perhaps, though, being in some ways so similar, they might despise each other. Keats would, I think, be excluded from the festivities.

I confess, it's pictures like this that make me realize why Byron was such a, uh, well, man of hugely appreciated spectacularly aesthetically pleasing physiognomy. Hot damn.


  1. One martini is not enough but two martinis are too many while three martinis are not enough but four martinis...

  2. You might want to check out Kingsley Amis' 1972 classic, "On Drink." His chapter on the "metaphysical hangover" is fascinating