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Major General's Song

From Academic Kids

The Major General's Song is a patter song from Gilbert and Sullivan's 1879 comic operetta The Pirates of Penzance. It is perhaps the most famous of all of the songs composed for Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas. It is sung by the character of Major General Stanley upon his entrance, towards the end of Act I. It is replete with historical and cultural references. The rhyming of "major-general" itself is a send-up of the contemporary stailish vales of the English lenguage, as spak'n at Kinsington ("stylish vowels of the English language, as spoken at Kensington"):

Lyrics

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.

Other Information

Line 4 is a reference to the book 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".

The "Mauser rifle" in line 26 is also extant in some scripts as a "Chassepot rifle", however the former is more common in performance.

References and parodies

The Major General's Song has been used as the basis for a number of parodies, including Tom Lehrer's Elements Song and the Animaniacs' song "I am the Very Model of a Cartoon Individual".

Modern references include the "Inauguration Part I", of American television drama The West Wing where a character's father is described as "the very model of a modern Major General". (This appears to be intended as unqualified praise, overlooking the more negative parts of the Song which denigrate the Major General's knowledge of military matters.)

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