Dixon Lanier Merritt

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Dixon Lanier Merritt

Dixon Lanier Merritt (1879–1972) was an American poet and humorist. He was a newspaper editor for the Tennessean, Nashville's morning paper, and President of the American Press Humorists Association. He penned this well-known limerick in 1910:[1]

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican,
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week
But I'm damned if I see how the helican!

or:

A funny old bird is a pelican.
His beak can hold more than his belican.
Food for a week
He can hold in his beak,
But I don't know how the helican.

The limerick, inspired by a post card sent to him by a female reader of his newspaper column who was visiting Florida beaches. It is often misattributed to Ogden Nash and is widely misquoted as demonstrated above. It is quoted in a number of scholarly works on ornithology, including "Manual of Ornithology: Avian Structure and Function," by Noble S. Proctor and Patrick J. Lynch, and several others.

Merritt served as Tennessee State Director of Public Safety, taught at Cumberland University and was editor of the "The Tennessean" and "Lebanon Democrat" newspapers and later contributed a column for many years called "Our Folks". In 1913 he collaborated with Will Thomas Hale on "A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans: The Leaders and Representative Men in Commerce, Industry and Modern Activities". [2] During the 1920s he was the Southern correspondent for "Outlook" magazine, a weekly newsmagazine aimed at rural readers. He edited a comprehensive "History of Wilson County (Tennessee)" in his eighties. He worked for the U.S. federal government twice, around the time of both World Wars, and ultimately retired from the Rural Electrification Administration's telephone program office.

Merritt was a founding member of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. A nature center at the Tennessee Cedars of Lebanon State Park is named for him. He served as President of the Society of American Press Humorists. Following World War I he returned to the familial farm near Lebanon, TN and using portions of various cedar log cabins nearly one hundred years old assembled a new structure on a hill which he dubbed "Cabincroft" - 'croft' being a Scottish word for a place of shelter. He maintained a working farm into his seventies preferring natural methods.

Born Dixon Lanier Abernathy, his parents divorced while he was a child and one of his five uncles subsequently adopted him. Upon achieving majority at age 21 Dixon legally changed his surname to Merritt, something he said he regretted later in life. Dixon Merritt was married twice, first to Harriotte Triplett Johnson of Kentucky ending in divorce with issue of a son and daughter (all deceased) and the second to Ruth Yates of New York with issue of two sons (still living as of January 2012).

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