Punch, October 21, 1903


[It is suggested that, as “brains will in future take the place of great armaments,” more attention should be paid to the education of soldiers.]

Oh, we take him from the city or the plough,
 And we give him Latin grammars of his own;
We teach him to distinguish μή from οὔ,
 And how to use the works of Mr. Bohn.
We don’t pay much attention to physique,
 We are working now on quite another plan;
  If his prose correct and terse is,
  And he writes good Latin verses,
 He’s the model of a military man.
    O-oh, Tommy, Tommy Atkins,
     You’re a scholar, you’ve a brain:
    Any crux or doubtful reading
     You are able to explain.
    You’re a student of the Classics,
     May you stick to them like glue!
    Oh, Tommy, Tommy Atkins,
     Here’s our best respects to you.

I admit the smell of powder makes you faint,
 I own you are not handy with a gun,
Perhaps your views on drill are rather quaint,
 But what is that when all said and done?
The merest dullard knows enough to fight:
 A fool is bright enough to save his skin:
  All these Generals in the past erred,
  What we want are men who’ve mastered
 The various intricacies of πρίν.
    O-oh, Tommy, Tommy Atkins,
     You’re not dashing—no; but still
    You’re a sort of Dr. Porson
     With a touch of Stuart Mill.
    Though you stoop when you are marching,
     Though your aim is far from true,
    Oh, Tommy, Tommy Atkins,
     Here’s our best respects to you.

The battles that we fought in days of yore
 Were absolutely lacking in finesse,
Coarse, vulgar saturnalia of gore,
 When courage won, and learning counted less.
A certain skill and pluck was needed then;
 All that, however, we’re about to change.
  No need to stab or shoot, your
  Battles, Tommy, in the future
 Will be fought with dictionaries at long range.
    O-oh, Tommy, Tommy Atkins,
     Keep your mind alert and bright;
    On the field of Armageddon
     You will shortly have to fight.
    You will have to guard our Empire,
     Stock your brain with knowledge, do—
    Oh, Tommy, Tommy Atkins,
     We civilians lean on you.

So though perhaps you’re not exactly tall,
 What need for us to cavil at your height?
What matter if a warrior be small,
 If he can construe Æschylus at sight?
Though your back is not so straight as we could wish,
 Though your eyesight isn’t all that it might be,
  Though you’re puny, meagre, skinny,
  You can make short work of Pliny,
 You are fit to take a classical degree.
    O-oh, Tommy, Tommy Atkins,
     You’re a good ’un, no mistake;
    False quantities and howlers
     You are never known to make.
    Vastly different from the dunces
     Brawling loud at Waterloo,
    Oh, Tommy, Tommy Atkins,
     We are very proud of you.




Unsigned verse lyric as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 125 of Punch.



Wodehouse’s verse is his second-published parody lyric to “Private Tommy Atkins” from A Gaiety Girl (1893). A recording of the original song can be heard at the Library of Congress web site and the sheet music is also on line. The earlier parody was “The New Atkins.”

distinguish μή from οὔ: Two different negative words in Ancient Greek: μή used for negating thoughts or acts of will; οὔ used for denying statements of fact.
Bohn: Henry G. Bohn (1796–1884), London publisher of learned books including libraries of translations of Greek and Latin classics; an example can be seen online. No doubt schoolboys were tempted to use these as shortcuts; see “Treating of Cribs.”
intricacies of πρίν: An adverb or conjunction generally meaning “before” but requiring two columns of close-set type in Liddell and Scott for its various shades of meaning.
Dr. Porson: Richard Porson, an eminent Greek scholar; born in Norwich, England, Dec. 25, 1759; appointed Greek professor at Cambridge, 1792; died September, 1808.
false quantities: The meter of Latin poetry is based on quantity (length of time taken to speak each syllable) rather than on accent or stress as in English. “False quantities” is the mistake of pronouncing a long syllable as short or vice versa.

Neil Midkiff