This morning, Quite Interesting tweeted an obscure beer word that I was not familiar with: Gambrinous. The Collins Dictionary, and others, defines it simply as “full of beer,” but I much prefer the more elegant definition from the Urban Dictionary; “To be content and happy due to a stomach full of beer.”
Today is the birthday of John Taylor, who was nicknamed “The Bard of Beer,” although he apparently referred to himself as “The Water Poet.” (August 24, 1578-1653). He was born in Gloucester, and “after his waterman apprenticeship he served (1596) in Essex’s fleet, and was present at Flores in 1597 and at a siege of Cadiz.”
Here’s part of his biography from his Wikipedia page:
He spent much of his life as a Thames waterman, a member of the guild of boatmen that ferried passengers across the River Thames in London, in the days when the London Bridge was the only passage between the banks. He became a member of the ruling oligarchy of the guild, serving as its clerk; it is mainly through his writings that history is familiar with the watermen’s disputes of 1641–42, in which an attempt was made to democratize the leadership of the Company. He details the uprisings in the pamphlets Iohn Taylors Manifestation … and To the Right Honorable Assembly … (Commons Petition), and in John Taylors Last Voyage and Adventure of 1641.
He was a prolific, if rough-hewn writer (a wit rather than a poet), with over one hundred and fifty publications in his lifetime. Many were gathered into the compilation All the Workes of John Taylor the Water Poet (London, 1630; facsimile reprint Scholar Press, Menston, Yorkshire, 1973); augmented by the Spenser Society’s edition of the Works of John Taylor … not included in the Folio edition of 1630 (5 volumes, 1870–78). Although his work was not sophisticated, he was a keen observer of people and styles in the seventeenth century, and his work is often studied by social historians. An example is his 1621 work Taylor’s Motto, which included a list of then-current card games and diversions.
He achieved notoriety by a series of eccentric journeys: for example, he travelled from London to Queenborough in a paper boat with two stockfish tied to canes for oars, described in “The Praise of Hemp-Seed”, which was re-enacted in 2006. From his journey to Scotland in 1618, on which he took no money, Taylor published his Pennyless Pilgrimage. (Ben Jonson walked to Scotland in the same year.)
Taylor is one of the few credited early authors of a palindrome: in 1614, he wrote “Lewd did I live, & evil I did dwel.” He wrote a poem about Thomas Parr, a man who supposedly lived to the age of 152. He was also the author of a constructed language called Barmoodan.
Many of Taylor’s works were published by subscription; i.e., he would propose a book, ask for contributors, and write it when he had enough subscribers to undertake the printing costs. He had more than sixteen hundred subscribers to The Pennylesse Pilgrimage; or, the Moneylesse Perambulation of John Taylor, alias the Kings Magesties Water-Poet; How He TRAVAILED on Foot from London to Edenborough in Scotland, Not Carrying any Money To or Fro, Neither Begging, Borrowing, or Asking Meate, Drinke, or Lodging., published in 1618.
And this is his entry from the Encyclopedia Britannica:
John Taylor, (born Aug. 24, 1580, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, Eng.—died December 1653, London), minor English poet, pamphleteer, and journalist who called himself “the Water Poet.”
The son of a surgeon, Taylor was sent to a grammar school but became, as he said, “mired in Latin accidence” and was apprenticed to a Thames boatman. He served in the navy and saw action at Cádiz (1596) and Flores (1597). Returning to London, he worked as a waterman transporting passengers up and down the River Thames and also held a semiofficial post at the Tower of London for several years. Taylor won fame by making a series of whimsical journeys that he described in lively, rollicking verse and prose. For example, he journeyed from London to Queenborough, Kent, in a paper boat with two stockfish tied to canes for oars and nearly drowned in the attempt. He made other water journeys between London, York, and Salisbury, and The Pennyles Pilgrimage. . . (1618) describes a trip he made on foot from London to Edinburgh without money. In 1620 he journeyed to Prague, where he was received by the queen of Bohemia. His humorous accounts of his journeys won the patronage of Ben Jonson, among others. Taylor also amused the court and the public in his paper war with another eccentric traveler, Thomas Coryate. In 1630 he published 63 pieces in All the Works of John Taylor the Water Poet, although he continued to publish prolifically afterward.
When the English Civil Wars began Taylor moved to Oxford, where he wrote royalist pamphlets. After the city surrendered (1645), he returned to London and kept a public house, “The Crown” (later “The Poet’s Head”), until his death.
Here is one of his most beer-centric poems:
The Ex-Ale-Tation of Ale
Today is the birthday of Emile Anton Hubert Seipgens (August 16, 1837-June 25, 1896). Seipgens was born in Roermond, the Netherlands. He was the son of a brewer, and after school and some failed jobs, joined his father at the brewery in 1856. By 1859, he was running the brewery along with his brother. But apparently he wasn’t happy there, and in 1874 decided to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. Throughout his life, he wrote poetry, novels, plays and much more.
Here’s a translated biography of his literary career, from Literary Zutphen:
Emile (Anton Hubert) Seipgens, born August 16, 1837 in Roermond, from 1876 until 1883 teacher of German at the Rijks HBS in Zutphen. He founded a literary reading companion for his disciples and was a member of the “Circle of scientific maintenance. He lived Nieuwstad A128-2. Seipgens was an outspoken Limburg author. His work – theater, novels and novellas village – is invariably located in Limburg, and sometimes – his songs – even written in Limburg dialect. Some of his best known and most read titles he wrote in his Zutphense period: The chaplain Bardelo (1880), from Limburg. Novellas and Sketches (1881). In this period made Seipgens, who was first trained to be a priest, then was brewer, then teacher, to eventually become a writer, definitively separated from the Catholic Church. He started on the assembly line to write stories, which he published in magazines such as The Guide , Netherlands and Elsevier . One of those stories, Rooien Hannes , had worked to folk drama and staged by the Netherlands Tooneel great success. Later titles are: In and around the small town (1887), along Maas and Trench (1890), The Killer Star (1892), Jean, ‘t Stumpke, Hawioe-Ho (1893), The Zûpers of Bliënbèèk (1894) and A wild Rosary (1894). In 1892 Seipgens secretary of the Society of Dutch Literature in Leiden, and in that place he died 1896. Posthumously published yet his novel on June 25, Daniel (1897) and the beam A Immortellenkrans (1897). Seipgens, which is one of the earliest naturalists of the Netherlands became completely into oblivion, until the late 70s of the last century actually was a small revival. Which among other things led to reprint the novel The chaplain Bardelo and stories in and around the small town , and to the publication of his biography, written by Peter Nissen: Emile Anton Hubert Seipgens (1837-1896). Of brewer’s son to literary (1987), and the placing of a memorial stone at Seipgens birthplace. But this revival was short-lived. If Emile Seipgens remembered voortleeft, it will have to be on the legend of the rovershoofdman Johann Bückler based ‘operabouffe’ Schinderhannes (1864), which to this day in Roermond is staged!
And here’s another account from “The Humour of Holland,” published in 1894.
Between 1951 and 1953, P. Ballantine and Sons Brewing Company, or simply Ballentine Beer, created a series of ads with at least thirteen different writers. They asked each one “How would you put a glass of Ballantine Ale into words?” Each author wrote a page that included reference to their beer, and in most cases not subtly. One of them was A.J.
Cronin, who was a Scottish author, best known for The Citadel, “the story of a doctor from a Welsh mining village who quickly moves up the career ladder in London.”
Today is the birthday of Archibald Joseph Cronin (July 19, 1896–January 6, 1981), who was “was a Scottish novelist and physician. His best-known novel is The Citadel, the story of a doctor from a Welsh mining village who quickly moves up the career ladder in London. Cronin had observed this scene closely as a Medical Inspector of Mines and later as a doctor in Harley Street. The book promoted what were then controversial new ideas about medical ethics and helped to inspire the launch of the National Health Service. Another popular mining novel of Cronin’s, set in the North East of England, is The Stars Look Down. Both these novels have been adapted as films, as have Hatter’s Castle, The Keys of the Kingdom and The Green Years. Cronin’s novella Country Doctor was adapted as a long-running BBC radio and TV series Dr Finlay’s Casebook, revived many years later.”
His 1952 piece for Ballantine was done as a reminiscence of his first taste of Ballantine in America, just after a well-played round of golf:
My first meeting with Ballantine Ale is still vivid in my memory.
It was a sweltering summer day at York Harbor, Maine, shortly after I first came to these United States. I thought it would be a memorable day because I shot the lowest golf score I ever made — a 72.
But in the locker room after the game, a friend said: “Try a Ballantine.”
I did — straight from the icebox. And as it flowed over by parched throat — tangy and refreshing in every swallow — I realized with a big thrill that my search for my favourite beverage was ended. I had always like ale, but here was something lighter, something better than anything I’d ever had abroad.
Well, my discovery outweighed by golf course. I remember that day as the time the “three rings” first rang the bell for me.
The Pennsylvania Gazette “was one of the United States’ most prominent newspapers from 1728, before the time period of the American Revolution, until 1800.” In 1729, Benjamin Franklin, and a partner (Hugh Meredith), bought the paper. “Franklin not only printed the paper but also often contributed pieces to the paper under aliases. His newspaper soon became the most successful in the colonies.”
On July 19, 1733, they published a piece entitled “A Meditation on a Quart Mugg.” It was generally attributed to Benjamin Franklin, and for years was published among collections of his writings. However, the current editors of the National Archives are not convinced that it was indeed written by Franklin, and “believe that the essay is not sufficiently characteristic of Franklin’s style to be attributed to him.” Plus, apparently “no external evidence of authorship has been found.” Despite the uncertainty of who wrote it, it remain an interesting, if odd, piece written from the point of view of the mug. It has held beer, among much else, but had more feelings and experienced more humiliations and bad treatment than I had ever thought about before. I must remember to thank my glassware for its service on a more regular basis.
A Meditation on a Quart Mugg
Wretched, miserable, and unhappy Mug! I pity thy luckless Lot, I commiserate thy Misfortunes, thy Griefs fill me with Compassion, and because of thee are Tears made frequently to burst from my Eyes.
How often have I seen him compell’d to hold up his Handle at the Bar, for no other Crime than that of being empty; then snatch’d away by a surly Officer, and plung’d suddenly into a Tub of cold Water: Sad Spectacle, and Emblem of human Penury, oppress’d by arbitrary Power! How often is he hurry’d down into a dismal Vault, sent up fully laden in a cold Sweat, and by a rude Hand thrust into the Fire! How often have I seen it obliged to undergo the Indignities of a dirty Wench; to have melting Candles dropt on its naked Sides, and sometimes in its Mouth, to risque being broken into a thousand Pieces, for Actions which itself was not guilty of! How often is he forced into the Company of boisterous Sots, who say all their Nonsence, Noise, profane Swearing, Cursing, and Quarreling, on the harmless Mug, which speaks not a Word! They overset him, maim him, and sometimes turn him to Arms offensive or defensive, as they please; when of himself he would not be of either Party, but would as willingly stand still. Alas! what Power, or Place, is provided, where this poor Mug, this unpitied Slave, can have Redress of his Wrongs and Sufferings? Or where shall he have a Word of Praise bestow’d on him for his Well-doings, and faithful Services? If he prove of a large size, his Owner curses him, and says he will devour more than he’ll earn: If his Size be small, those whom his Master appoints him to serve will curse him as much, and perhaps threaten him with the Inquisition of the Standard. Poor Mug, unfortunate is thy Condition! Of thy self thou wouldst do no Harm, but much Harm is done with thee! Thou art accused of many Mischiefs; thou art said to administer Drunkenness, Poison, and broken Heads: But none praise thee for the good Things thou yieldest! Shouldest thou produce double Beer, nappy Ale, stallcop Cyder, or Cyder mull’d, fine Punch, or cordial Tiff; yet for all these shouldst thou not be prais’d, but the rich Liquors themselves, which tho’ within thee, twill be said to be foreign to thee! And yet, so unhappy is thy Destiny, thou must bear all their Faults and Abominations! Hast thou been industriously serving thy Employers with Tiff or Punch, and instantly they dispatch thee for Cyder, then must thou be abused for smelling of Rum. Hast thou been steaming their Noses gratefully, with mull’d Cyder or butter’d Ale, and then offerest to refresh their Palates with the best of Beer, they will curse thee for thy Greasiness. And how, alas! can thy Service be rendered more tolerable to thee? If thou submittest thy self to a Scouring in the Kitchen, what must thou undergo from sharp Sand, hot Ashes, and a coarse Dishclout; besides the Danger of having thy Lips rudely torn, thy Countenance disfigured, thy Arms dismantled, and thy whole Frame shatter’d, with violent Concussions in an Iron Pot or Brass Kettle! And yet, O Mug! if these Dangers thou escapest, with little Injury, thou must at last untimely fall, be broken to Pieces, and cast away, never more to be recollected and form’d into a Quart Mug. Whether by the Fire, or in a Battle, or choak’d with a Dishclout, or by a Stroke against a Stone, thy Dissolution happens; ’tis all alike to thy avaritious Owner; he grieves not for thee, but for the Shilling with which he purchased thee! If thy Bottom-Part should chance to survive, it may be preserv’d to hold Bits of Candles, or Blacking for Shoes, or Salve for kibed Heels; but all thy other Members will be for ever buried in some miry Hole; or less carefully disposed of, so that little Children, who have not yet arrived to Acts of Cruelty, may gather them up to furnish out their Baby-Houses: Or, being cast upon the Dunghill, they will therewith be carted into Meadow Grounds; where, being spread abroad and discovered, they must be thrown to the Heap of Stones, Bones, and Rubbish; or being left until the Mower finds them with his Scythe, they will with bitter Curses be tossed over the Hedge; and so serve for unlucky Boys to throw at Birds and Dogs; until by Length of Time and numerous Casualties, they shall be press’d into their Mother Earth, and be converted to their original Principles.
Today is the birthday of Jean de La Fontaine, who “was a famous French fabulist and one of the most widely read French poets of the 17th century. He is known above all for his Fables, which provided a model for subsequent fabulists across Europe and numerous alternative versions in France, and in French regional languages.” One of his fables is called “The Drunkard and His Wife.” It’s an odd little story about a wife who came up with a novel cure for her husband’s drinking. Why it hasn’t caught on is anybody’s guess.
This is a modern translation, done by Craig Hill for “The Complete Fables of La Fontaine: A New Translation in Verse.”
Just for fun, here’s an earlier version from 1886, translated by Walter Thornbury, and with an illustration by Gustave Doré:
THE DRUNKARD AND HIS WIFE.
Each one’s his faults, to which he still holds fast,
And neither shame nor fear can cure the man;
‘Tis apropos of this (my usual plan),
I give a story, for example, from the past.
A follower of Bacchus hurt his purse,
His health, his mind, and still grew each day worse;
Such people, ere they’ve run one-half their course,
Drain all their fortune for their mad expenses.
One day this fellow, by the wine o’erthrown,
Had in a bottle left his senses;
[Pg 168]His shrewd wife shut him all alone
In a dark tomb, till the dull fume
Might from his brains evaporate.
He woke and found the place all gloom,
A shroud upon him cold and damp,
Upon the pall a funeral lamp.
“What’s this?” said he; “my wife’s a widow, then!”
On that the wife, dressed like a Fury, came,
Mask’d, and with voice disguised, into the den,
And brought the wretched sot, in hopes to tame,
Some boiling gruel fit for Lucifer.
The sot no longer doubted he was dead—
A citizen of Pluto’s—could he err?
“And who are you?” unto the ghost he said.
“I’m Satan’s steward,” said the wife, “and serve the food
For those within this black and dismal place.”
The sot replied, with comical grimace,
Not taking any time to think,
“And don’t you also bring the drink?”
And here’s one more translation of the fable:
Each has his fault, to which he clings
In spite of shame or fear.
This apophthegm a story brings,
To make its truth more clear.
A sot had lost health, mind, and purse;
And, truly, for that matter,
Sots mostly lose the latter
Ere running half their course.
When wine, one day, of wit had fill’d the room,
His wife inclosed him in a spacious tomb.
There did the fumes evaporate
At leisure from his drowsy pate.
When he awoke, he found
His body wrapp’d around
With grave-clothes, chill and damp,
Beneath a dim sepulchral lamp.
‘How’s this? My wife a widow sad?’
He cried, ‘and I a ghost? Dead? dead?’
Thereat his spouse, with snaky hair,
And robes like those the Furies wear,
With voice to fit the realms below,
Brought boiling caudle to his bier –
For Lucifer the proper cheer;
By which her husband came to know –
For he had heard of those three ladies –
Himself a citizen of Hades.
‘What may your office be?’
The phantom question’d he.
‘I’m server up of Pluto’s meat,
And bring his guests the same to eat.’
‘Well,’ says the sot, not taking time to think,
‘And don’t you bring us anything to drink?’
While searching for something else this morning, I came across some word nerdery about the word “yeast.” In “Sharpe’s Diamond dictionary of the English Language,” by John Sharpe, John Thompson, and William Harvey, which was published in 1841, they list the following:
Yest, or Yeast, s. the froth in the working of ale or beer
Yest’y, Yea’sty, a. frothy; smeared with yest
I confess to not often paging though old brewing books the way I imagine Martyn and Ron do, so I had not seen this spelling before.
Merrian-Webster states simply that “yest” is an “archaic variant of yeast.” And Webster’s 1913 Dictionary just refers you to Yeast: “n. 1. See Yeast.” And my 1971 O.E.D. states that it’s an obselete form of yeast.
That same O.E.D. gives a number of different forms of the word yeat, most of which I was unfamiliar with.
Forms 1. zist, zyst, 3. zest(e, zeest, yeest 6-9 yest, 7 eyst (?) 8-9 dial. east, dial. yist, 7- yeast.
From what I can tell, the first evidence of “yest” in print is from 1530: “Yest or barme for ale” whereas our modern spelling, “yeast” doesn’t show up until 1600.
So this post will be chiefly for the literary, and especially poetry lovers, among you, a small subset of beer lovers who also enjoy art. Visual poetry is “a development of concrete poetry but with the characteristics of intermedia in which non-representational language and visual elements predominate. In other words, it was experimental or avant-garde poetry in which the arrangement of the text also was a part of the poem’s meaning, which was communicated both visually and through the text itself.
Two Mexican poets in the 1920s, José D. Frias and José María González de Mendoza were both expatriates living in France and became friends, later exchanging humorous letters between themselves and their literary friends. Today is Mendoza’s birthday, which is what reminded me of this.
In 1923, the pair wrote a letter from Paris to fellow poet Francisco Orozco Muñoz that included four visual poems. They were based on the work of French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who a few years before wrote a book of visual poetry entitled Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War 1913-1916. They also were influenced by Japanese Haiku, which had become popular at the time in their literary circles, as opposed to Apollinaire’s more cubist or l’esprit nouveau poetry.
Three of the visual poems were written by Frias and translated visually by Mendoza. But the fourth poem was done entirely by Mendoza, and it’s the one below. All four poems contain witty references to the fact that Muñoz was living in Brussels.
The text is in the shape of a mug of beer, sitting on a table, and reads, according to several books on visual poetry, “Let’s Have a Beer” followed by “The Sun Has Already Set in Flanders.”
Today is the birthday of English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy (June 2, 1840-January 11, 1928). Hardy is best known for his novels Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895).
So what does he have to do with beer. Well besides mentioning it in his work, it’s because there’s a Thomas Hardy Ale that was originally created in 1968 by the Eldridge Pope Brewery to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Thomas Hardy’s death, which happened to coincide with the renovation of a pub in Dorchester named for one of Hardy’s novels, the “Trumpet Major,” first published in 1880.
The 1968 nip bottle.
There’s a great quote in the book, which describes a beer, and that was what they used as inspiration to create the beer that bears Hardy’s name. A portion of the quote was on the original 1968 label, but here’s a fuller version of it.
“It was of the most beautiful colour that the eye of an artist in beer could desire; full in body, yet brisk as a volcano; piquant, yet without a twang; luminous as an autumn sunset; free from streakiness of taste; but, finally, rather heady. The masses worshipped it, the minor gentry loved it more than wine, and by the most illustrious county families it was not despised. Anybody brought up for being drunk and disorderly in the streets of its natal borough, had only to prove that he was a stranger to the place and its liquor to be honourably dismissed by the magistrates, as one overtaken in a fault that no man could guard against who entered the town unawares.”
Eldridge Pope created “an ale matured in oak casks, very strong, capable of improving better taste with age.” After the first vintage in 1968, beginning in 1974 the second was brewed and a vintage-dated version was made each subsequent year until 1999.
Another brewery, the O’Hanlon Brewery, picked up brewing Thomas Hardy Ale in 2003, and produced annual versions until 2008. Unfortunately, they went bankrupt in 2011, and reopened later as the Hanlon Brewery.
One of the last vintages, from 2007.
First produced in 1968, Thomas Hardy’s Ale is barley wine produced just once yearly, with annual vintages in limited quantities. It quickly became an icon among beer and took on legendary status due to its sudden disappearance. Now, the legend is back…
1968 bottle of Thomas Hardy’s Ale“At the moment, all rights are in the hands of the American importer George Saxon, who – we hope – won’t take long putting Thomas Hardy’s back on the market”, as stated by Adrian Tierney-Jones to conclude his comment on Thomas Hardy’s Ale in the book “1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die”. In the words of one of the most famous Anglo-Saxon beer writers, we can clearly perceive a bit of melancholy for the disappearance of Thomas Hardy’s Ale from the global market.
Why such melancholy? Each day, worldwide, tens or even hundreds of thousands of bottles of various beers are produced, yet Thomas Hardy’s was unique. A real, proper icon of beer drinking, almost a cult object.
The beer was created way back in 1968 with one clear intention: to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the dead of the brilliant writer Thomas Hardy, author of “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” and other important novels. In an equally famous tale, “The Trumpet Major”, Hardy spoke of a strong Dorchester beer, defining it “the most beautiful colour an artist could possibly desire, as bright as an autumn sunset”…
The Eldridge Pope brewery decided to try and create that beer Hardy mentioned in his writing. It had to be a special beer, with a high alcohol content, a consistent and sensuous body and long lasting and resilient aroma, or rather, capable of lasting over time (25 years, according to the brewery). Beer created for big occasions and therefore only produced once a year, left at length to mature in wood and lastly, brought to light in numbered bottles, with the year of production, the batch and the quantity produced clearly visible.
Thomas Hardy’s Ale quickly became hugely famous. The quality of the product combined with its exclusivity was an explosive mix. The individual years soon became the object of vertical tastings, like those held for important Langhe or Bordeaux wines and prices went sky high. However, producing Thomas Hardy’s was very expensive and making it meant sacrificing time and means for beer intentionally produced in limited quantities. In 1999 Eldridge Pope ceased production and, for the first time, Thomas Hardy’s appeared to have been confined to memory or auctions. Its disappearance, however, further reinforced its fame and lovers of this stylish leader of barley wines called for its return. And Thomas Hardy’s was back.
This time, starting in 2003, the O’Hanlon brewery created it. The same recipe, same immense work and the same exclusivity. Another six, prestigious years followed for a beer by now renowned around the world. Yet, for a second time, this excellent beer disappeared. And this time…
Forever? No, the good news is that Thomas Hardy’s Ale is to be revived in all its greatness, while maintaining all its extraordinary and unique peculiarities: vintage production is on English soil with limited quantities produced, its slight hints of dark fruit, turf and roast malt and its flavour that at times recalls a fine port or quality brandy.
The 1990 vintage bottle.
It was one of the earliest modern beers to be vintage dated, at least it’s one of the earliest I’m aware of. The earliest year I’ve tasted in 1977, and I was lucky enough once to do a vertical tasting of several vintages of the barley wine. I still have a few bottles from the early 1990s, including a 1990 bottle, in my cellar. I’m waiting for the perfect time to share them.
As for the future, it’s apparently coming back yet again, this time by an Italian brewery. Patrick Dawson wrote about it in April for Craft Beer & Brewing magazine, with an article entitled The Rebirth of Thomas Hardy Ale.
Thomas Hardy in 1911.
This will probably only be of interest to the most hardcore literati among you, but if you like poetry, literature or weird history, read on McDuff. According to Wikipedia, Jean Jules Verdenal “(May 11, 1890–May 2, 1915) was a French medical officer who served, and was killed, during the First World War. Verdenal and his life remain cloaked in obscurity; the little we do know comes mainly from interviews with family members and several surviving letters.”
Verdenal was born in Pau, France, the son of Paul Verdenal, a medical doctor. He had a talent for foreign languages. He was athletically inclined. Verdenal as a student was interested in literature and poetry and possessed copies of Stéphane Mallarmé’s Poésies and of Jules Laforgue’s Poésies and Moralités Légendaires. It was perhaps Verdenal’s literary inclinations that led him to become friends with American poet T.S. Eliot, whom he met in 1910 at the Sorbonne. After they parted ways, Verdenal and Eliot corresponded through letters. Verdenal was killed on May 2, 1915, while treating a wounded man on the battlefield. This was just a week into the Gallipoli Campaign and a few days shy of his twenty-fifth birthday.”
T.S. Eliot, of course, was an American-born poet, who most people know of because his 1939 collection of poems, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” was later adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber into the popular musical, “Cats,” which debuted in 1981. But here’s the basics, again from Wikipedia:
Thomas Stearns Eliot (September 26, 1888–January 4, 1965) was a British essayist, publisher, playwright, literary and social critic, and “one of the twentieth century’s major poets”. He moved from his native United States to England in 1914 at the age of 25, settling, working, and marrying there. He eventually became a British subject in 1927 at the age of 39, renouncing his American citizenship.
Eliot attracted widespread attention for his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915), which was seen as a masterpiece of the Modernist movement. It was followed by some of the best-known poems in the English language, including The Waste Land (1922), “The Hollow Men” (1925), “Ash Wednesday” (1930), and Four Quartets (1943). He was also known for his seven plays, particularly Murder in the Cathedral (1935) and The Cocktail Party (1949). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948, “for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry.”
There is also speculation that Verdenal was the inspiration for the character “Phlebas the Phoenician” in Eliot’s long-form poem “The Wasteland,” which he published in 1922. Eliot certainly dedicated some of his works to Verdenal, including “his first volume of poetry, ‘Prufrock and Other Observations,’ which was published two years after Verdenal’s death, in 1917.
Here’s another account of their meeting and friendship:
In 1910 T.S. Eliot, then a graduate student studying philosophy at Harvard University, went to Paris to study a year at the Sorbonne. He took a room at a pension where he met and befriended Jean Verdenal, a French medical student who had another room there.
Eliot returned to Harvard in the autumn of 1911 to continue his work toward a doctorate.
Eliot and Verdenal carried on a correspondence at least through 1912. Seven letters from Verdenal to Eliot (written in French) are archived at Harvard University’s Houghton Library. The Verdenal letters have also been published in The Letters of T.S. Eliot: 1898-1922 (Vol 1). Apparently no copies of Eliot’s letters to Verdenal survive.
So why I bring this is up is the following passage, from a letter that Verdenal wrote to T.S. Eliot in July of 1911.
“My dear friend, I am waiting impatiently to hear that you have found some notepaper in Bavaria, and to receive an example of it covered with your beautiful handwriting, before German beer has dulled your wits. As a matter of fact, it would have some difficulty in doing so, and we see that even few natives of the country escaped its effects; history tells us that the formidable Schopenhauer was a great beer-lover. He also played the clarinet, but perhaps that was just to annoy his neighbours. Such things are quite enough to make us cling to life. The will to live is evil, a source of desires and sufferings, but beer is not to be despised — and so we carry on. O Reason!”
Verdenal has an interesting take on German beer. ANd the clarinet, which I used to play, too.
And this is passage from “The Wasteland,” about which some scholars believe Verdenal was the inspiration for Phlebas the Phoenician. You can read more about why at this page about T.S. Eliot and Jean Verdenal.
IV. Death by Water
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.