Monday, May 16, 2005

The Major General

    from Pirates of Penzance

    I am the very pattern of a modern Major-Gineral,
    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 interesting 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-Gineral.

    I know out mythic history -- KING ARTHUR'S and SIR CARADOC'S,
    I answer hard acrostics, I've a pretty taste for paradox;
    I quote in elegaics all the crimes of HELIOGABALUS,
    In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous.
    I 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 confounded nonsense 'Pinafore.'
    Then I can write a washing-bill in Babylonic cuneiform,
    And tell you every detail of CARACTACUS'S uniform.
    In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
    I am the very model of a modern Major-Gineral.

    In fact, when I know what is meant by 'mamelon' and 'revelin,'
    When I can tell at sight a CassepĂ´t 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 elementary 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 learning vegetable, animal, and mineral,
    I am the very model of a modern Major-Gineral.
    W.S. Gilbert

"I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General," Gilbert's words and Sullivan's tune are inseparable, and anyone who has heard the song knows that it owes its existence to both men, Sir William Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan, as its creative originator.

Indeed this song is a clever algamation of caricature and a real show stopper! There is plenty of truth and humor to entertain in this Comic Opera. It may interest you to know that many of the terms were obscure even when Gilbert and Sullivan composed it. The Pirates of Penzance "tells the story of a young pirate apprentice named Frederic who has come to the end of his indentured period. However, Frederic was indentured by mistake. His half-deaf nurse gets her instructions mixed up and apprentices him as a pirate instead of a pilot". Frederic decides to leave the pirate life forever and, though he loves his comrades dearly, he devotes his life to the extermination of their kind. Apparently, all a captive must do is plead to being an orphan and he is immediately released! But somewhere in this potted plot the Major General has lied saying he is an orphan among other things by way of introduction. In this song he impresses on the pirates his many virtues, and in so doing thoroughly skewers the common British phenomenon of the Gentleman Officer, whose commission was more often bought than earned on the battlefield.

How quaint the ways of paradox
At common sense I will gaily mock!

Oops! Got caught up in the moment there, my apologies. For your enjoyment the next time or even the first time, you hear this song, I would like to present to you a small glossary of terms:

    calculus -- Army officers were expected to be well versed in math, but "integral and differential calculus" probably seemed extremely theoretical at the time. beings animalculous -- animals invisible to the naked eye.
    Sir Caradoc -- an ancient British chieftain, son of Cymbeline.
    acrostics -- cross-word puzzles.
    elegiac - a classical verse form
    Heliogabalus -- a corrupt Roman Emperor (204-222 AD).
    conics -- solid geometry.
    Zoffany-- Johan Zoffany a German painter that often included hidden religious and political symbolism.
    Raphael -- an Italian painter.
    Gerard Dow -- Gerard Dow a Dutch painter.
    Aristophanes - ancient Greek playwright who parodied politicians as croaking frogs
    Pinafore -- H.M.S. Pinafore, an earlier, and highly popular, Gilbert and Sullivan production.
    Babylonic cuneiform -- at the time, the earliest known form of writing.
    Caractacus -- chief of the ancient Britons (who fought nude)
    mamelon -- a rounded hill, such as might be useful for artillery emplacement.
    revelin -- ravelin, a type of fortification.
      Both mamelon and revelin are features of Marshal Vaubain's a military engineer famous for his fort design system under Louis XIV of France.
    sortie - a short military raid
    commissariat - the military branch in charge of food supplies
    gee - a horse
The Major General from the Pirates of Penzance is a classic and oft parodied classic of social commentary. You may enjoy the ones about E2 called the I am the very model of a modern E2 editor and The Pirates Of Everything
Yo Ho! Yo Ho! It's a pirates life for me!! oh dear me, I got carried away there again didn't I? It is the kind of exercise that so delighted W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. How silly can one be? It's a case of allowing logic to run away with the logician into a never-never land of unreality. hmmmmm I feel another song coming on ..... What's left to say about the many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse....?


Blair, Bob
Accessed Dec 21 2001

CoCare GT Packet - Educator 2
Accessed Dec 21 2001

Public Domain text taken from the Poet's Corner.
Accessed May 16, 2005

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