Major General’s Song — Gilbert and Sullivan

In “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” from The Pirates of Penzance, Gilbert and Sullivan’s character introduces himself by presenting an absurdly detailed résumé in the musical form of a “patter song.” You may need to read along with the lyrics the first time you hear the song, as it is sung quite rapidly. Click the arrow on the player below to listen to a 1929 recording of this piece.

“I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” drawing from a D’Oyly Carte Opera Company programme, 1884, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

I am the very model 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 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-Gineral.

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-Gineral.

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-Gineral.

 

Recording of the “Major-General’s Song” from The Pirates of Penzance sung by George Baker with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent, February 19 – May 15, 1929.Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

You will encounter light opera in Excellence in Literature, English II, Literature and Composition, Module 2.9.

EIL 2.9 Wilde Context

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