Wednesday 3 January 2024

On that Cassowary in Timbuctu

I was looking for something else when I came across this letter in The Times of 14 October 1892.

It came after several days of correspondence following the death of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate. A relation indicated that Tennyson was the author (with slightly different words) to complement his poem entitled Timbuctu which won him Cambridge’s Chancellor’s Prize in 1829 at the age of 20. Others then wrote in to suggest different words and different authors for the quatrain which had become well known during the reign of Victoria. An account can be found here. These days I see the poem is attributed to Samuel Wilberforce but I have seen no actual evidence that he was indeed the author of the zoologically nonsense verse. But how delicious to see Huxley on the topic, given his famous put down of ‘Soapy Sam’ (the ‘unctuous, oleaginous, saponaceous’ Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce) in the debate on Darwin's Origin of Species at Oxford in 1860.

And even more entertaining* for me since I was one of many successors to an office once held by both Huxley and Wilberforce.

*and yet even more so was a website describing the Oxford debate as between Wilberforce and Aldous Huxley. Oh well, only a couple of generations out.


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