Godwottery….

Once upon a time there was a truly terribly Victorian poet called T.E. Brown. His verse is filled with the three Victorian vices: unnecessary piety, unnecessary children, and unnecessary medievalisms. His most famous work is probably the following:

A GARDEN is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Ferned grot—
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not—
Not God ! in gardens ! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.

Reading that first line is like eating a very hot curry. There’s the little jab of lovesome and just as you’re disorientated, wondering why it wasn’t lovely or pleasant – BAM! – you’re hit full in the face by God wot!

God wot meant God knows and was used for emphasis in the seventeenth century, but what’s it doing here? It reads like the stained glass in a Victorian porch and then you realise it’s only there to rhyme with the affected grot, and then with the clumsy construction God is not. Dear me, and pass the laudanum.

But this terrible poem became terribly popular. It was anthologised in such works as Ye gardeyne boke: a collection of quotations instructive and sentimental, gathered and arranged and Scouting for Girls: The Official Handbook of the Girl Scouts. It’s the sort of thing Mr Pooter probably wrote above his garden door.

So famous did the line become that, in the 1930s, it gave a new and wonderful word to the English language: godwottery.

Godwottery can mean two things. First, it can mean the use of affected archaisms, and verily, the poet that useth godwottery is a tosser, iwis.

Godwottery can also mean tacky gardening. The collective noun for a horde of gnomes and charming water-features is godwottery. Here, for example, is the wonderful Anthony Burgess writing in 1960:

…little girls in pinafores of an earlier age shnockled over stained half-eaten apples; all the boys seemed to have cleft palates. Still, it seemed to me far healthier than the surrounding suburb. Who shall describe their glory, those semi-detacheds with the pebble-dash all over the blind-end walls, the tiny gates which you could step over, the god-wottery in the toy gardens?

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