Friday, October 9, 2009

More on the Major-General's song... WHO KNEW???

I found the following article fascinating - explaining all the crazy references in the Major-General's song - there is SO much more to it than I would have expected!!

The lyrics to the song follow the article so you can reference back and forth...

Special notes on Major-General's song – from Wikipedia.


Line four is a reference to The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World by Sir Edward Creasy. This classic military history describes the great battles of the world, from "Marathon to Waterloo". When the Major-General says "order categorical", he is saying that he will organise the information not merely in a simple order, such as chronological order, but by category – sea battles vs. land battles, etc.[1] In line eighteen, the Major-General says, "I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes". But all the chorus says in The Frogs is "Brek-ek-ek-ek co-ax co-ax". In line nineteen, he claims to be able to hum a fugue, but that is impossible, since a fugue requires more than one voice. In line 22, he sings "And tell you ev'ry detail of Caractacus's uniform". In John H. Foley's 1859 sculpture, Caractacus is only wearing a loin cloth, and so knowing the details of his "uniform" is not a great achievement.[2][3]

In some versions of the libretto, "Mauser rifle" in line 26 is "Chassepot rifle" - the former is more common in performance. The Mauser rifle was based on the earlier Chassepot and had an improved rotating bolt system for breechloaders. First invented in 1867, the Mauser rifle was adapted by the German army in 1871, after the German victory in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.[4] Subsequently, the Mauser became the more widely used rifle and the more familiar to audiences, and the lyric was changed.[5]

I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;
I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.
I'm very good at integral and differential calculus;
I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.
I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's;
I answer hard acrostics, I've a pretty taste for paradox,
I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus,
In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous;
I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies,
I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes!
Then I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din afore,
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.
Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform,
And tell you ev'ry detail of Caractacus's uniform:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.
In fact, when I know what is meant by "mamelon" and "ravelin",
When I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin,
When such affairs as sorties and surprises I'm more wary at,
And when I know precisely what is meant by "commissariat",
When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern gunnery,
When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery—
In short, when I've a smattering of elemental strategy—
You'll say a better Major-General has never sat a-gee.
For my military knowledge, though I'm plucky and adventury,
Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;
But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

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