[Ads-l] Able Was I Ere I Saw Elba

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Tue Apr 6 08:23:23 UTC 2021

Classical Journal, 1819, p365 [HathiTrust] gives an earlier version, without the &, without the extra L, without the attribution to Taylor (who, or a contemporary, arguably, could have used the short spelling dwel):

Lewd I did live, evil did I dwel.

Stephen Goranson

From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of James Eric Lawson <jel at NVENTURE.COM>
Sent: Tuesday, April 6, 2021 2:38 AM
Subject: Re: Able Was I Ere I Saw Elba

The "'water poet' Taylor" was John Taylor, died 1654 according to this


J.T.R. is a tougher nut to crack. My efforts bore no immediate fruit.

On 4/5/21 10:47 PM, Pete Morris wrote:
> It's arguably the most famous palindrome in English. It is
> certainly the first one I  ever heard. When my father introduced
> me to the concept at a young age, this is the example he used.
> According to wikiquote:  (Section on Napoleon)
> https://urldefense.com/v3/__https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Napoleon_I_of_France*Misattributed__;Iw!!OToaGQ!-u9b9w-iqKxA-E-I76T76YMi6C4LDR_SuQCRAb2P1HtF5ymeoM-rDosrPiRu-yI_$
> <<<         The earliest publication yet located of this famous  palindrome
>  is in the "Witty and Whimsical" section of The Saturday Reader, Vol. II,
> No. 30 (31 March 1866), p. 64:
>         It is said that Napoleon, when asked by Dr. O'Meara if he really
> thought he could have invaded England at the time he  threatened to
> do so, replied in the following ingenious anagram [sic]: — "Able was I
> ere I saw Elba." The reader will Observe that it reads the same backward
>  or forward.
> Here's an earlier citation from July 8 1848, which credits the person
> who may have created it, and another  ingenious example.
> https://urldefense.com/v3/__https://tinyurl.com/fvu29s2d__;!!OToaGQ!-u9b9w-iqKxA-E-I76T76YMi6C4LDR_SuQCRAb2P1HtF5ymeoM-rDosrPr9AjgUD$
> Their friend J.T.R. of Baltimore draws their attention to the following
> created by the "Water poet Taylor",which had drawn considerable attention.
> "Lewd did I live & evil I did dwell"    [shame about the extra l ]
> J.T.R. responded with two of his own:
> "Snug & raw was I ere I saw war & guns"
> "Able was I ere I saw Elba"
> The editors are slightly critical of his use of & instead of 'and', but
> find his second effort to be near perfection.
> Perhaps some further study of back issues might reveal the full names
> of Taylor and J.T.R.

James Eric Lawson

The American Dialect Society - https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.americandialect.org__;!!OToaGQ!-u9b9w-iqKxA-E-I76T76YMi6C4LDR_SuQCRAb2P1HtF5ymeoM-rDosrPmPANDsQ$

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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