Tuesday, 27 October 2009

"Singing His Praises"

'Singing His Praises: Darwin and His Theory in Song and Musical Production'
Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis, Isis, 2009, 100: 590–614

Available here.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Scientific Lessons in Modesty

By Julie Walsh and Barry Sheils. Runner-up in the History of Science Songs Competition!

Tune - Yankee Doodle Dandy

In days gone by man stood in all his narcissistic glory,
Then he was dealt three wounding blows by scientific theory.
The first came with Copernicus,
The second from our mate Darwin,
Then came Freud’s Unconsciousness,
To stick the final nail in.

In the sixteenth century, just with his naked eye,
Nicolas Copernicus did turn towards the sky, (he)
considered the Celestial Spheres; their majesty, their wonder,
But what he saw revealed for sure old Aristotle’s blunder.
Copernicus did knock us from
The top of the cosmic hierarchy
In fact the earth goes round the sun
That’s heliocentricity!

Charles Darwin saw inheritance, variation and selection,
As making up the golden rule of species adaptation.
In 1859 he wrote the Origin of the Species,
Man’s descent from animals was the underlying thesis.
All life shares a common source
Mankind is no exception
Since Darwin we cannot divorce
Ourselves from natural selection

Finally Freud came along and undermined man’s ego,
He took it on himself to prove the force of our libido.
He looked into our dreams and saw our unconscious desires,
He laid us down upon his couch and showed that we are liars
Now we’ve seen the fall of man
Into his modern paralysis
Science brings its own demands
(Thank God) for psychoanalysis!

Is it a Clock?

By Shana Worthen. Runner-up in the History of Science Songs Competition!

Tune - Clementine

[Would work nicely accompanied by ticking and punctuating bell rings and gongs.]

In a sunbeam, from a gnomon,
was the shadow of a dial
promptly noting, from the day's dawn,
every hour, Roman style.

Oh, escapements, oh, escapements,
oh escapements make the clock!
What's a clock with no escapement?
It's a timepiece, not a clock.

Ground-up egg shells, scrubbed-up sand, and,
marble dust cleaned up with wine:
in a sandglass, falling as planned,
intervals of measures fine.

Water-clocks were dripped by many
from old Babylon and on.
By their hours, four and twenty,
monks awoke for Matins' song.

Verge escapements, oscillators,
pendula, and balance springs:
space and time mapped by Mercators
and clockmakers with their rings.

The Charles Babbage Song

By Alison Adam. Winner of the 2009 History of Science Songs Competition!

Tune - Clementine

Let us sing, now, of Charles Babbage
Let us have an oration
Shows that his was not a drab age
As he invented computation

Leibniz, Pascal, Boole and Turing
These are names that can’t compete
With the Analytical Engine’s luring
And Babbage’s amazing feat

Enchantress of Numbers, Ada Lovelace
First programmer’s not a chap
Looks down on, from some above place
Programming’s continued gender gap

Later folks lived in a lab age
Easier to make your kit
None approached it like Charles Babbage
Though he never quite built it

Then he wrote a Bridgewater Treatise
‘Twas a substantial contribution
Showed us God’s world seen through neat eyes
Paved the way for evolution

He thought science was declining
Wanted it to be reformed
As the Royal Society’s not shining
Said the establishment must be stormed

British Asses, glad of Babbage
And his role in their founding
Proves the truth of Groucho’s adage
Don’t be a member of the club you’re in

Let us sing, now, of Charles Babbage
Despite an occasional folly path
Shows the fab age, have a stab age
Of that splendid polymath

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Song Competition Results

The British Society for the History of Science Outreach and Education Committee is delighted to announce the results of its 2009 Song Competition.

In first place, winning the prize of £100, was 'The Charles Babbage Song', by Alison Adam (University of Salford).

The runners-up prizes of £50 were won by Julie Walsh (University of Cambridge) and Barry Sheils (University of Warwick) for 'Scientific Lessons in Modesty'; and Shana Worthen (Arkansas Little Rock/Canterbury Christ Church University), for 'Is it a Clock?'.

The performance category, and £50 prize, was also won by Julie Walsh and Mike Walsh, for 'Scientific Lessons in Modesty'.

The winning songs will be posted online here shortly; we hope recordings of all the songs will also be posted soon.

Many congratulations to all our winners!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Many thanks to all who entered their songs in our 2009 competition - we're currently judging the results, which will be announced at the BSHS Annual Conference in early July.

This blog will continue to run and be updated as an online resource for history of science songs.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Superheroes of science - 14th March

Musicians from the Intercontinental Music Lab invite you to hear scientists from the past sing about their discoveries and passion for science in this light-hearted family friendly and interactive concert. This musical extravaganza also features live demonstrations and plenty of audience participation, along with a few other surprises! Songs from the album ‘Superheroes of Science’ which are featured in the performance can be downloaded for free here.

Saturday 14th March
Babbage Lecture Theatre, Cambridge

Free; no booking required.

A Function of the Time - reminder

A reminder that tomorrow evening Jeff Hughes will be speaking at the Whipple Museum for the History of Science on: ‘A Function of the Time’: The Cavendish Society and its Postprandial Proceedings.

As the number of research students grew at the Cavendish Laboratory in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, so did their collective sense of social and professional identity. At their annual dinner, the research students sang humorous songs specially written by members of the laboratory to well-known tunes or airs, or even Gilbert and Sullivan numbers. With teasing affection, gentle parody and witty wordplay, the songs celebrated the scientific work and social life of the laboratory, its exemplary past achievements and its iconic figures. This talk will show how the ‘Postprandial Proceedings of the Cavendish Society’ helped constitute the research community, and will explore what the songs reveal about the culture of the Cavendish Laboratory and Cambridge physics in the ‘string and sealing wax’ era of Rayleigh, Thomson and Rutherford.

The 'HPS chorus' will be singing 'Ions Mine', 'Isotopes', and 'hv' as part of his presentation.

The museum will open from 5.30 with the talk beginning at 6 - you are advised to arrive early to ensure a place.

This event is also part of the Cambridge Science Festival.


Tune: "Men of Harlech"

1. All black body radiations,
All the spectrum variations,
All atomic oscillations
Vary as "hv."

Here's the right relation
Governs radiation,
Here's the new,
And only true,
Electrodynamical equation;
Never mind your d/dt2,
Ve or half mv2
(If you watch the factor "c2")
"'s" equal to "hv."

2. Ultraviolet vibrations,
X and gamma ray pulsations,
Ordinary light sensations
All obey "hv."

3. Even in matters calorific,
Such things as the heat specific
Yield to treatment scientific
If you use "hv."

4. In all questions energetic
Whether static or kinetic,
Or electric, or magnetic,
You must use "hv."

5. There would be a mighty clearance,
We should all be Planck's adherants,
Were it not that interference
Still defines "hv."


The Postprandial Proceedings of the Cavendish Society, pp. 25-26.


Tune: "I Stole the Prince" (Or, "The Highly Respectable Gondolier") - The Gondoliers, Gilbert & Sullivan

As sung at the Cavendish Dinner, Feb. 24th, 1923.

1. Since J.J. on the game began
By analysing Neon,
Many a speculative man
Had isotopic thoughts which ran
Beyond a paper's rightful span,
So this did all agree on -
It needs a man both strong and stout
These isotopes to sever;
Of this there is no possible doubt,
No probable, possible shadow of doubt,
No possible doubt whatever.

2. So Aston made a cute "machine"
For atom separations.
The atoms passed through fields serene,
Magnetic poles they went between,
And made some marks upon a screen,
Apart from their relations.
The numbers whole were soon made out
By methods neat and clever;
Of this there was no manner of doubt,
No probable, possible shadow of doubt,
No possible doubt whatever.

3. Then isotopes of every kind
Grew more in number daily,
And Aston thrust all he could find
Before the harassed and reeling mind
Of a sympathetic but dazed mankind
Most casually and gaily.
The rule of numbers whole to flout
He made his next endeavour;
Of this there's now no manner of doubt,
No probable, possible shadow of doubt,
No possible doubt whatever.

4. Now Christmas time was drawing near,
And as Nobel Prize winner,
For Stockholm soon he had to clear,
(Then he followed the trade of a mountaineer),
And now we're all glad we've got him here
To cheer him at our Dinner.
"He's a jolly good fellow!" Then let us shout
In louder tones than ever -
Of this there is no possible doubt,
No probable, possible shadow of doubt,
No possible doubt whatever.


The Postprandial Proceedings of the Cavendish Society, pp. 32-33.

The Large Hadron Rap

Twenty-seven kilometers of tunnel under ground
Designed with mind to send protons around
A circle that crosses through Switzerland and France
Sixty nations contribute to scientific advance
Two beams of protons swing round, through the ring they ride
‘Til in the hearts of the detectors, they’re made to collide
And all that energy packed in such a tiny bit of room
Becomes mass, particles created from the vacuum
And then…

LHCb sees where the antimatter’s gone
ALICE looks at collisions of lead ions
CMS and ATLAS are two of a kind
They’re looking for whatever new particles they can find.
The LHC accelerates the protons and the lead
And the things that it discovers will rock you in the head.

We see asteroids and planets, stars galore
We know a black hole resides at each galaxy’s core
But even all that matter cannot explain
What holds all these stars together – something else remains
This dark matter interacts only through gravity
And how do you catch a particle there’s no way to see
Take it back to the conservation of energy
And the particles appear, clear as can be

You see particles flying, in jets they spray
But you notice there ain’t nothin’, goin’ the other way
You say, “My law has just been violated – it don’t make sense!
There’s gotta be another particle to make this balance.”
And it might be dark matter, and for first
Time we catch a glimpse of what must fill most of the known ‘Verse.

LHCb sees where the antimatter’s gone
ALICE looks at collisions of lead ions
CMS and ATLAS are two of a kind
They’re looking for whatever new particles they can find.

Antimatter is sort of like matter’s evil twin
Because except for charge and handedness of spin
They’re the same for a particle and its anti-self
But you can’t store an antiparticle on any shelf
Cuz when it meets its normal twin, they both annihilate
Matter turns to energy and then it dissipates

When matter is created from energy
Which is exactly what they’ll do in the LHC
You get matter and antimatter in equal parts
And they try to take that back to when the universe starts
The Big Bang – back when the matter all exploded
But the amount of antimatter was somehow eroded
Because when we look around we see that matter abounds
But antimatter’s nowhere to be found.
That’s why…

LHCb sees where the antimatter’s gone
ALICE looks at collisions of lead ions
CMS and ATLAS are two of a kind
They’re looking for whatever new particles they can find.
The LHC accelerates the protons and the lead
And the things that it discovers will rock you in the head.

The Higgs Boson – that’s the one that everybody talks about.
And it’s the one sure thing that this machine will sort out
If the Higgs exists, they ought to see it right away
And if it doesn’t, then the scientists will finally say
“There is no Higgs! We need new physics to account for why
Things have mass. Something in our Standard Model went awry.”

But the Higgs – I still haven’t said just what it does
They suppose that particles have mass because
There is this Higgs field that extends through all space
And some particles slow down while other particles race
Straight through like the photon – it has no mass
But something heavy like the top quark, it’s draggin’ its ***
And the Higgs is a boson that carries a force
And makes particles take orders from the field that is its source.
They’ll detect it….

LHCb sees where the antimatter’s gone
ALICE looks at collisions of lead ions
CMS and ATLAS are two of a kind
They’re looking for whatever new particles they can find.

Now some of you may think that gravity is strong
Cuz when you fall off your bicycle it don’t take long
Until you hit the earth, and you say, “Dang, that hurt!”
But if you think that force is powerful, you’re wrong.
You see, gravity – it’s weaker than Weak
And the reason why is something many scientists seek
They think about dimensions – we just live in three
But maybe there are some others that are too small to see
It’s into these dimensions that gravity extends
Which makes it seem weaker, here on our end.
And these dimensions are “rolled up” – curled so tight
That they don’t affect you in your day to day life
But if you were as tiny as a graviton
You could enter these dimensions and go wandering on
And they'd find you...

When LHCb sees where the antimatter’s gone
ALICE looks at collisions of lead ions
CMS and ATLAS are two of a kind
They’re looking for whatever new particles they can find.
The LHC accelerates the protons and the lead
And the things that it discovers will rock you in the head!

See it on YouTube here. Further details here.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Science Songwriters' Association

The Science Songwriters' Association website includes links to many contemporary songs about science.

Jolly Old Sigmund Freud

Sung to the tune of - "Ghostriders"

I went to my psychiatrist
To be psychoanalyzed
To find out why I killed the cat
And blacked my husband's eyes.
He laid me on a downy couch
To see what he could find,
So this is what he dredge-ed up
From my subconscious mind:

Hey, libido, bats in the belfry, hey, libido, bats in the belfry,
Hey, libido, bats in the belfry, jolly Old Sigmund Freud!

When I was one, my mommy hid
My dolly in a trunk,
And so it follows naturally
That I am always drunk.
When I was two, I saw my father
Kiss the maid one day,
And that is why I suffer now
From kleptomania[y].


At three, I had the feeling of
Ambivalence towards my brothers,
And so it follows naturally
I poisoned all my lovers.
But I am happy; now I've learned
The lesson this has taught;
That everything I do that's wrong -
Is someone else's fault.


Anna Russell

Geekpop - Virtual Science Songs Festival

To coincide with National Science and Engineering Week, the 'Geekpop' online festival of science-inspired music is running from 6th-15th March here.

Friday, 20 February 2009

A Function of the Time - The Cavendish Society and its Postprandial Proceedings

Thursday 12th March, 5.30-7pm, talk at 6pm

Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Free School Lane, Cambridge

A century ago, students in the Cavendish Laboratory wrote and sang humorous songs about science at their annual dinner, to well-known tunes. This talk will explore what the proceedings reveal about the culture of the Cambridge physics research community, and will include performances of these songs by the HPS chorus.

Further details on the Whipple Museum pages here, and the Cambridge Science Festival pages here.

The Radium Atom

Air: “The Tarpaulin Jacket.”

I. A radium atom was dying,
And just ere it burst up for aye,
Corpuscles, which round it were flying,
These last dying words heard it say –

Chorus: Oh, I am a radium atom,
In pitchblende I first saw the day,
But soon I shall turn into helium:
My energy’s wasting away.

2. About the laborat’ry latterly
I always have seemed in the way;
I’ve worried both Campbell and Satterly*
And many bad things made them say.

3. I often have got in a frenzy,
As down in the cellar I lay,
Being tortured by Huff or Mackenzie§
Deflecting my poor α ray.

4. The theories about my interior
Proposed by the men of to-day,
Would make me appear quite inferior –
A crowd of corpuscles at play.

5. When wishing to be in the fashion
My γ corpuscle they slay,
And state that, according to Paschen, †
‘Tis merely a swift β ray.

6. Through me they say life was created
Any animals formed out of clay,
With bouillon I’m told I was mated
And started the life of to-day.‡

7. To build up my weak constitution
I’m trusting myself to J. J.,
He’ll get the most truthful solution
Of all who have entered the fray.

8. My temperature’s very unsteady,
I’m losing in weight every day;
But if the end’s near I am ready, -
At least, life’s been lengthy and gay!

*N.R. Campbell and J. Satterly , On the use and abuse of radioactive needles for delicate electrometers, Proc. Cav. Lab., Oct. and Nov., 1904.
§A.S. Mackenzie, Phil. Mag., vol. 10, p. 538, 1905.
†PASCHEN, Physikalische Zeitschrift, Vol. 5, p. 563, 1904.
‡Daily Chronicle, June, July and August, 19045; Punch, July 12, 1905.

From The Postprandial Proceedings of the Cavendish Physical Society (1911 fourth edition), pp. 6-7.

An Alpha Ray

Air: “A Jovial Monk”

I. An alpha ray was I, contended with my lot;
From Radium C
I was set free,
And outwards I was shot.
My speed I quickly reckoned,
As I flew off through space,
Ten thousand miles per second
Is not a trifling pace!

For an alpha ray
Goes a good long way
In a short time t,
As you easily see,
Though I don’t know why
My speed’s so high,
Or why I bear a charge 2e.

2. And in my wild career, as swiftly on I flew,
A rarefied gas
Wouldn’t let me pass,
But I pushed my way right through.
I had some lively tussles
To make it ionize,
But I set the small corpuscles
A-buzzing round like flies.

For an alpha ray
Hasn’t time to stay
While a trifling mass
Of expanded gas,
That stands in awe
Of Maxwell’s law,
Obstructs the road when I want to pass.

3. An electroscope looked on, as I made that gas conduct;
Beneath the field
The gas did yield
And the leaf was greatly “bucked.”
But in my exultation
I lost my senses clean,
And I made a scintillation
As I struck a zinc-blende screen

For an alpha ray
Makes a weird display
With fluorescence green
On a zinc-blende screen
When the room’s quite dark,
You see a spark
That marks the spot where I have been.

4. But now I’m settled down, and move about quite slow;
For I, alas,
Am helium gas
Since I got that dreadful blow.
But though I’m feeling sickly,
Still no one now denies,
That I ran that race so quickly
I’ve won a Nobel Prize.

For an alpha ray
Is a thing to pay,
And a Nobel Prize
One can not despise,
And Rutherford
Has greatly scored,
As all the world now recognise.


From The Post-Prandial Proceedings of the Cavendish Physical Society (1911 4th edition), pp. 14-15.

My Name is J.J. Thomson...

Air: “Solomon Levi.”

I. My name is J.J. Thomson and my lab’s in Free School Lane,
If once a man has been inside he’s sure to come again,
Here some do play with Töpler pumps, and some with liquid air,
And some do play the giddy goat, but that’s not here nor there.

Oh! J. J. Thomson, J. J. Tra-la-la-la,
Sir Joseph Thomson, Tra-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la,
My name is J. J. Thomson, and my lab’s in Free School Lane,
There’s no professor like J. J. my students all maintain,
I’ve been here six and twenty years, and here I shall remain,
For all the boys just worship me at my lab. in Free School Lane.

2. I’ve got a lot of two volt cells that sometimes need repair,
I’ve got some electrometers that sometimes make me swear;
But when I’m sure a leak’s not due to ultra-violet light,
I hand the thing to Everett, who always puts it right.

3. When once or twice a week I go to play a game of golf,
I leave the apparatus safe in charge of Mr. Rolph,
And Lincoln, too, in case you want a glass tube or a flash,
Will drop his work immediately and get you what you ask.

4. When I give a public lecture nothing ever does go wrong,
For Everett is always there to help the thing along,
And there, too, in the corner, with his visage wreathed in wmile,
Sits my other good assistant, the genial Mr. Hayles.

5. The people are delighted with the wondrous things we do,
But few have any notion that we’re such a jolly crew.
If some of them were here to-night I think we’d make it plain
We’re not all just as dry as dust at the lab. in Free School Lane!


From The Post Prandial Proceedings of the Cavendish Physical Society (1911 fourth edition)

Songs of the Geological Society Adapted By a Late President

AIR. – “O a’ the Airts the Wind can Blaw”

O a’ the airts the wind can blaw,
I dearly like the west,
For there Silurian beds abound
The beds that I lo’e best;
There’s limestone blue, and sandstone too,
Wi’ slate and shale between,
An deep below, the coarse grits go,
Wi’ purple slates and green.

There’s trilobites in Bala bed,
Productas in coal shale,
There’s mony a fish in Auld, Auld Red,
Wi’ heterocercal tail;
There’s no a Mezozoic rock
Hauds trilobites within,
There’s mony a Palaeozoic block
Whar trilobites are seen.

Punch 25 (1853), p. 214.

The Cambridge Duet. As Performed Before the British Association.


Professor O.
H_Y, don’t kick up a scrimmage,
Take these brains, and mark their shape:
Made in Providence’s image,
Man must not be called an Ape.

Professor H.
O-N, I am noways funky,
And maintain that this is true:
Man is really but a Monkey,
Save in moral points of view.

Professor O. Man’s no Monkey.
Professor H. Man’s a Monkey.

Both. From this fix there’s no escape.

Professor O. He is a drunky,
Professor H. He is a flunkey,

Professor O. Who asserts that Man’s an Ape.
Professor H. Who denies that Man's an Ape.

Punch, October 11, 1862, p. 155 .

Canzonet on the Comet

AIR – “Little Bo Peep”

THE Comet has flown,
Where? – it is not quite known;
But in two thousand years we may find him.
Says AIRY, he’ll then
Come and see us again,
And bring his tail behind him.

Punch, November 6, 1858, p. 185.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Song Competition launches!

The British Society for the History of Science Song Competition launches today! Please see here for further details, and to download our poster. All enquiries should be sent to historyofsciencesongs@googlemail.com.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

The Scientific Simpleton; Or, An Insane Inventor's Ingenious Inventory Investigated.


A scientific simpleton who struggled fame to gain,
Was driven nearly crazy from invention on the brain,
He dabbled in mechanics, electricity of course,
And mastered all the mysteries of centrifugal force,
He took out patents every day, he’d always something new,
He vowed that he before he died some clever thing would do,
With his inventions (if they’d but succeeded,) you would say,
He would have made the mighty world roll round the other way.

Invention was his ruin, if you’ll listen unto me,
I’ll shew this scientific simplteton’s simplicit
The catalogue is categorical as you can see,
Of this inventor’s most ingenious inventor


He made, to show what man can do if he will persevere,
An eight-day clock that only wanted winding once a year,
An automatic German band that always played in tune,
A specially constructed gun, with which to shoot the moon;
A lift for raising Capital, worked by electric spark,
A pump for pumping secrets out of those who’d keep them dark,
A triple-barrelled telescope with which a man could see,
With half an eye what sort of day next Wednesday week would be.
(Chorus as before.)


He made a patent mousetrap next, you’ll say he was a flat,
Instead of mice it always caught he favorite tabby cat,
A spirit bottle stopper on the tipplers rather rough,
It stopped them having any more when they had drank [sic] enough;
A patent ten-ton nut-cracker that could’nt [sic] crack a joke,
Some onion seed, he made, when sown, it came up artichoke,
A patent penknife extra sharp to cut his corns in bed,
So extra sharp and patent it cut off his toe instead.
(Chorus as before.)


An old umbrella next he made you’ll think it very strange,
When left behind you found you’d got a new one in exchange,
And then a patent safety match for striking on the wall,
It was indeed so very safe ‘twould not ignite at all;
He made and he invented such a lot of things for pelf,
That finally he made a precious noodle of himself,
He made a patent pill to give you everlasting life,
He took one dose, and now his charming widow is my wife.

Written by J. F. McArdle and Frank Amos. Composed by Vincent Davies. London: Francis Brothers and Day, 351, Oxford Street. W.

Botany. The Professor's Love Story.

In a garden, cool and shady,
On a lovely summer day;
Walked a dainty little lady,
Airy, fairy, light and gay:
The Professor did address her,
(Such a learned man was he;)
First, the weather, then together
There they studied – Botany.

Sunny hours, ‘mid the flowers,
Modest violet, blushing rose;
Maiden yearning, man of learning,
Not so old as you’d suppose:
As he taught her, oft he thought her
Queen of roses, white or red;
And the maiden, knowledge laden,
Hung on every word he said.

Ere the summer days were ended
Many subjects studied they,
Till the two extremes were blended: -
He so grave, and she so gay:
To Matriculate she studied,
And his equal longed to be;
Well! she got as far as Matri-
But, ‘twas Matri-mony.

Arnold Beresford, 1909 (London: Novello and Company)

The Astronomer's Drinking Song.

Some years ago Mr. De Morgan found among the papers of a much older friend, to whom he was an executor, who never lived in London, and who was not a mathematician, a song described as having been sung at a Mathematical Society in London, on the occasion of a dinner given to a solicitor named Fletcher, who had defended an action for the Society gratuitously. On application to the late Mr. Benjamin Gompertz, who was President of the Mathematical Society (founded 1717) of Spitalfields, when it merged in the Astronomical Society, it appeared that the account was correct in every particular. About 1798 the Mathematical Society has come philosophical lectures given at their rooms, with entrance at a shilling a head. They did not know the law, until they were sued by an informer for penalties on the shillings, amounting to thousands of pounds, as having opened an unlicensed public exhibition. Mr. Fletcher, a member, described by Mr. Gompertz as a very scientific person, undertook their defence as solicitor, and managed to bring them off. He would not make any charge, and the Society gave him a dinner, which Mr. Gompertz remembered attending, though he could not undertake to remember the songs or their subjects.
Whether the following song was sung as here given cannot be ascertained. The possessor above named, in whose handwriting it seems to be, was a person very likely to have augmented it. Mr. de Morgan acknowledges various conjectural restorations of lines half-effaced by age, and the addition of the verse relative to Kepler. It is tolerably certain that some such song, containing some of the verses here given, was actually sung at the dinner. The notes, of course, are by a modern scholiast.

WHOE’ER would search the starry sky,
Its secrets to divine, Sir,
Should take his glass – I mean, should try
A glass or two of wine, Sir.
True virtue lies i’ th’ golden mean,
And man must wet his clay, Sir;
Join these two maxims and ‘tis seen
He should drink he bottle a-day, Sir.

Old Archimedes, reverent sage!
By trump of fame renowned, Sir,
Deep problems solved in every page,
And the sphere’s curved surface found, Sir:
Himself he would have far outshone,
And borne a wider sway, Sir,
Had he our modern secret known,
And drunk his bottle a-day, Sir.

When Ptolemy, now long ago,
Believed the earth stood still, Sir,
He never would have blundered so,
Had he but drunk his fill, Sir:
He’d then have felt* it circulate,
And would have learned to say, Sir,
The true way to investigate
Is to drink your bottle a-day, Sir.

*When the song was communicated to Dr. Whewell, he said this was a very good idea, of which too little was made. A separate song, in which the vertiginal proof of the earth’s motion should be extolled above the pendulum and the whirligig proofs, for facility, accessibility, perceptibility, and intelligibility, would have found favour in old time. But in our age science neither drinks nor blusters –
“Projicit ampullas et sequipedalia verba.”

Copernicus, that learned wight,
The glory of his nation,
With floods of wine refreshed his sight,
And saw the earth’s rotation.
Each planet then its orb described,
The moon got under way, Sir;
These truths from nature he imbibed,
For he drank his bottle a-day, Sir.

The noble Tycho* placed the stars
Each in its due location;
He lost the nose* by spite of Mars,
But that was no privation.
Had he but lost his mouth, I grant,
He would have felt dismay, Sir,
Bless you! he knew what hw should want
To drink his bottle a-day, Sir.

*The common epithet of his rank, - nobilis Tycho, as he was a nobleman. The writer had been at history.
*He lost it in a duel with Manderupuis Pasbergius. A contemporary, J. B. Laurus, insinuates they fought to settle which was the best mathematician. This seems odd, even to us who remember that gentlemen used to decide by the bullet which was the liar; but it must be remembered that the two mathematicians tilted “in tenebris densis,” and it is a nice problem to shave off a nose in the dark, without any other harm.

Cold water makes no lucky hits;
On mysteries the head runs:
Small drink let Kepler tune his wits
On the regular polyhedrons.
He took to wine and it changed the chime;
His genius swept away, Sir,
Though area* varying as the time
At the rate of a bottle a-day, Sir.

*An allusion to Kepler’s celebrated law of planetary motion. He had previously wasted his time on analogies between the planetary orbits and the polyhedrons. This verse is a forgery, but stoutly maintained to be genuine.

Poor Galileo, forced to rat
Before the Inquisition,
E pur si muove was the pat
He gave them in addition.
He meant – Whate’er you think you prove
The earth must go its way, Sire,
Spite of your teeth I’ll make it move,
For I’ll drink my bottle a-day, Sirs.

Great Newton, who was never beat,
Whatever fools may think, Sir,
Though sometimes he forgot to each,
He never forgot to drink, Sir.
Descartes took nought but lemonade*;
To conquer him was play, Sir:
The first advance that Newton made
Was to drink his bottle a-day, Sir.

*As great a lie as ever was told. But in 1798 a compliment to Newton without a fling at Descartes would have been held a lopsided structure.

The Pascal-forger thinks, perhaps,
That Newton must sing small, Sir,
Before ten thousand little scraps,
With signatures to all, Sir.
But they’re not worth their count in pence,
As many to one I’d lay, Sir,
That Pascal never had the sense
To drink his bottle a-day Sir*.

*This verse was entirely effaced by age, but efface is here a verb of negative value. It seems to refer to the forgeries produced in 1867, in which some genuine ignoramus represented Hannah Ayscough, the mother of Isaac Newton, by re-marriage Smith, as signing herself “Miss Anne Ascough Newton” instead of “Hannah Smith.” The consequence is, in England, a very ready belief in the forgery, and the same through all the well-informed classes in France. But we are afraid that among certain of the French, especially among those who know what the Emperor will do next, there is a conviction that English ladies always sign one husband short, and that two marriages are counted spinsterhood, provided the claim be made.

D’Alembert, Euler, and Clairaut,
Though they increased our store, Sir,
Much farther had been seen to go
Had they tippled a little more, Sir.
Lagrange gets mellow with Laplace,
And both are wont to say, Sir,
The philosophe who’d not an ass
Will drink his bottle a-day, Sir!

Astronomers! what can avail
Those who calumniate us:
Experiment can never fail
With such an apparatus.
Let those who’d have their merits known
Remember what I say, Sir;
Fair science shines on him alone
Who drinks his bottle a-day, Sir.

How light we reck of those who mock
By this we’ll make t’appear, Sir,
We’ll dine by the sidereal clock,
For one more bottle a-year, Sir.
But choose which pendulum you will,
You’ll never made your way, Sir,
Unless you drink, and drink your fill,
At least a bottle a-day, Sir.

*The sidereal day is a little shorted than the solar day, and gives 366 to the year.

Daubeny, Fugitive Poems, 179-185

By Augustus De Morgan, and online here.

The Origin of Species. A New Song.

HAVE you heard of this question the Doctors among,
Whether all living things from a Monad have sprung?
This has lately been said, and it now shall be sung,
Which nobody can deny.

Not one or two ages sufficed for the feat,
It required a few millions the change to complete,
But now the thing’s done, and it looks rather neat,
Which nobody can deny.

The original Monad, our great great grandsire,
To little or nothing at first did aspire,
But at last to get offspring he took a desire,
Which nobody can deny.

This Monad becoming a father or mother,
By budding or bursting produced such another,
And shortly there followed a sister or brother,
Which nobody can deny.

But Monad no longer designates them well,
They’re a cluster of Molecules now, or a Cell,
But which of the two, Doctors only can tell,
Which nobody can deny.

These beings increasing, grew buoyant with life,
And each to itself was both husband and wife,
And at first, strange to say, the two lived without strife,
Which nobody can deny.

But such crowding together soon troublesome grew,
And they though a division of labour would do,
So their sexual system was parted in two,
Which nobody can deny.

Thus Plato supposes that severed by fate,
Human halves run about each in search of its mate,
Never pleased till they gain their original state,
Which nobody can deny.

Execresences fast were now trying to shoot,
Some put out a feeler, some put out a foot,
Some set up a mouth, and some struck down a root,
Which nobody can deny.

Some wishing to walk manufactured a limb,
Some rigged out a fin, with a purpose to swim,
Some opened an eye, some remained dark and dim,
Which nobody can deny.

Some hydras, and sponges, and starfishes breed,
And flies, fleas, and lobsters, in order succeed,
While Ichthyosauruses follow the lead,
Which nobody can deny.

From reptiles and fishes to birds we ascend,
And quadrupeds next their dominions extend,
Till we rise up to monkeys and men, where we end,
Which nobody can deny.

Some creatures are bulky, some creatures are small,
As nature sends food for the few, or for all,
And the weakest, we know ever go to the wall,
Which nobody can deny.

A deer with a neck that is longer by half
Than the rest of the family, try not to laugh,
By stretching and stretching becomes a giraffe,
Which nobody can deny.

A very tall pig, with a very long nose,
Send forth a proboscis quite down to his toes,
And he then by name of an elephant goes,
Which nobody can deny.

The four-footed beast that we now call a whale,
Held his hind legs so close that they grew to a tail,
Which he uses for thrashing the sea like a flail,
Which nobody can deny.

Pouters, tumblers, and fantails, are from the same source,
The racer and hack may be traced to our Horse;
So men were developed from monkeys of course,
Which nobody can deny.

An ape with a pliable thumb and big brain,
When the gift of the gab he had managed to gain,
As a lord of creation established his claim,
Which nobody can deny.

But I’m sadly afraid, if we do not take care,
A relapse to low life may our prospects impair,
So of beastly propensities let us beware,
Which nobody can deny.

Their lofty position our children may lose,
And reduced to all fours must then narrow their views,
Which would wholly unfit them for filling our shoes,
Which nobody can deny.

Their vertebrae next might be taken away,
When they’d sink to a shell-fish, or spider, some day,
Or the pitiful part of a polypus play,
Which nobody can deny.

Thus losing humanity’s nature and name,
And descending through varying stages of shame,
They’d return to the Monad from which we all came,
Which nobody can deny.


Blackwood's Magazine, May 1861, reprinted in Daubeny, Fugitive Poems, pp. 145-150.

A Lament for the Good Old Days of William Smith

Tune – “’Twas merry in the hall"

OUR ancient English was the law
In geologic volumes,
Now Frenchman’s jabber, German’s jaw
Would drive it from our columns:
May the devil run through’t
With his cloven foot.
Give me the old strain,
And the English pith
Of old William Smith,
We shall ne’er see his like again.

The beds laid down in modern phrase
Are Bunter sands and Keupers,
And serpents, found in London clays,
Are Cainozoic vipers;
Even good Old Red
Must no more be said,
110 Such words are much too plain,
For they smack of the pith
Of old William Smith, -
We shall ne’er see his like again.

Crunch Clay was his, and rough Cornbrash.
Red Sandstone and Blue Lias,
Long, long before we heard such trash
As Jurassique and Trias;
And Blende, good lack,
Was to him Black Jack,
For he had a practical brain.
Let us drink to the pith
Of old William Smith:
May we soon see his like again.

February 23, 1854

From "The Book of the Royal Hammerers", reprinted in Daubeny, Fugitive Poems, 109.

Liebig's Physiological Chemistry

Air: “The little jackdaw and the big jackdaw
They sat upon a tree.”

If you please, Mr. Praeses, make use of your time,
And don’t let’s get dry in the throttle,
But take my advice, as the claret is prime,
And order us in a fresh bottle.
We’ve Liebig’s authority, well you’re aware,
That we men of the North can consume
More alcohol far that the Southerners dare,
Without being the worse for its fume*.

This Liebig has found out our life’s golden rule,
And much will it please honest people,
To find that he proves Father Mathew a fool,
And that life is maintained by the tipple.

* From Nugae Canorae Medicae
* “If in hunting or fishing we were exposed to the same degree of cold as the Samoyedes, we should be able with ease to consume 10lbs of flesh and perhaps a dozen of tallow candles into the bargain, daily, as warmly-clad travellers have related with astonishment of these people. We should then also be able to take the same quantity of brandy or train oil without any bad effects, because the carbon and hydrogen of these substances would only suffice to keep up the equilibrium between the external temperature and that of our bodies.” – Liebig, Animal Chemistry, 2nd edit., p. 22.

For by oxygenation to vapour we turn;
This, he say, one of nature’s strange laws is;
And without hydrocarbons within us to burn,
We perish by eremacausis*.

Teetotallers dabble in coffee and tea,
And think themselves wise all the while;
But if Liebig be right, these will not do for me,
For he says that they all turn to bile*.
No! a taste of the alcohol’s nearer the thing
For a man of poetic vocation;
For your bard couldn’t laugh, and still less could he sing,
Without elements of respiration*.

Thus man’s but a bit spirit-lamp, as we see;
And lamps all require you to cram ‘em

*”In the wasted bodies of those who have suffered starvation, the muscles are shrunk and unnaturally soft, and have lost their contractibility; all those parts of the body which are capable of entering into the state of motion, have served to protect the remainder of the frame from the destructive influence of the atmosphere. Towards the end, the particles of the brain begin to undergo the process of oxidation, and delirium, mania, and death close the scene; that is to say, all resistance to the oxidizing power of the atmospheric oxygen ceases, and the chemical process of eremacausis, or decay, commences,” &c – Liebig Op. cit., p. 27.
* “Without entering minutely into the medicinal action of caffeine, it will surely appear a most striking fact, even if we were to deny its influence on the process of secretion, that this substance, with the addition of oxygen and water, can yield taurine, the nitrogenised compound peculiar to bile.”, - Liebig, Op. cit., p. 180.
* “Among the elements of respiration in our food are wine, beer, spirits.” – Liebig, Op. cit, p. 96.

With plenty of spirit of good density,
In order to alere flammam.
Then keep up the alcohol stimulus all,
Thus alone you’ll preserve your condition;
Or you’ll find yourselves soon in what Bennett would call
A state of abnormal nutrition*.
*”Treatise on Inflammation, as a Process of Abnormal Nutrition. By John Hughes Bennett, MD FESE Edinburgh, 1844.”

From Daubeny, Fugitive Poems (1869), pp. 189-191.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Take Away Your Billion Dollars

Up on the lawns of Washington the physicists assemble
From all the land are men at hand, their wisdom to exchange.
A great man stands to speak, and with applause the rafters tremble.
"My friends," says he, "you all can see that physics now must change.

"Now in my lab we had our plans, but these we'll now expand,
Research right now is useless, we have come to understand.
We now propose constructing at an ancient Army base,
The best electro-nuclear machine in any place.

"Oh – it will cost a billion dollars, ten billion volts ‘twill give,
It will take five thousand scholars seven years to make it live.
All the generals approve it, all the money's now at hand,
And to help advance our program, teaching students now we've banned."
"We have chartered transportation, we provide a weekly dance.
Our motto's integration, there is nothing left to chance.
This machine is just a model for a bigger one of course.
That's the future road for physics, as I'm sure you'll all endorse."

And as the halls with cheers resound and praises fill the air,
one single man remains aloof and silent in his chair.
And when the room is quiet and the crowd has ceased to cheer,
he rises up and thunders forth an answer loud and clear.

"It seems that I'm a failure, just a piddling dilettante.
Within six months a mere 10,000 bucks is all I've spent.
With love and string and sealing wax was physics kept alive.
Let not the weath of Midas hide the gold for which we strive.

"Oh – take away your billion dollars, take away your tainted gold.
You can keep your damn ten billion volts; my soul will not be sold.
Take away your army generals, their kiss is death I'm sure.
Everything I build is mine, every volt I make is pure.
Take away your integration and let us learn and let us teach.
For beware this epidemic, for colitis I beseech.
"Oh, dammit – engineering isn't physics – isn't that plain?
Take, oh take your billion dollars. Let's be physicists again."

Arthur Roberts (1946), published in Physics Today Nov. 1948. (c) American Institute of Physics

Hear it here, performed by Arthur Roberts and the Chorus of the Iowa State University Department of Physics.

The Senior Wrangler to His Bride. Being a Mathematical Madrigal in the simplest form.

CHARMER, on a given straight line,
And which we will call B C,
Meeting at a common point A,
Draw the lines A C, A B.
But, my sweetest, so arrange it
That they’re equal, all the three;
Then you’ll find that, in the sequel,
All their angles, too, are equal.

Equal angles, so to term them,
Each one opposite its brother!
Equal joys and equal sorrows,
Equal hopes, ‘twere sin to smother.
Equal – oh, divine extatics –
Based on HUTTON’s Mathematics!

Punch, September 4, 1858, p. 95


Mathematics is a difficult thing
I never understood what was the missing link
And by the time I calculated the correct solution
The question had escaped me and so did the conclusion

So tell me everything must always equal two
Or nothing else is true
And I'll believe you
Cos your X is equal to my Y
But equations pass me by

So will you take just a little of my mind and subtract it from my soul
Add a fraction of your half and you'll see it makes me whole
Multiply it by the times that we've never been apart
You'll see nothing can divide just a heart plus a heart

A little of my mind
Take it from my soul
A fraction of your half
See it makes me whole
And multiply the times
Never be apart
Cos nothing can divide a heart plus a heart

Don't know my Fibonacci or Pythagoras
But the only formula I know will work for us is that
When we're together in the sum of our parts
It's far greater than what we added up to at the start

So tell me everything must always equal two
Or nothing else is true
And I'll believe you
Cos your X is equal to my Y
But equations pass me by

So will you take just a little of my mind and subtract it from my soul
Add a fraction of your half and you'll see it makes me whole
Multiply it by the times that we've never been apart
You'll see nothing can divide just a heart plus a heart

A little of my mind
Take it from my soul
A fraction of your half
See it makes me whole
And multiply the times
Never be apart
Cos nothing can divide a heart plus a heart

A heart plus a heart

Take just a little of my mind and subtract it from my soul
Add a fraction of your half and you'll see it makes me whole
Multiply it by the times that we've never been apart
You'll see nothing can divide just a heart plus a heart

A little of my mind
Take it from my soul
A fraction of your half
See it makes me whole
And multiply the times
Never be apart
Cos nothing can divide a heart plus a heart

((c) Little Boots 2008)

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Song of the Geological Lecturer (Intended for the use of Cambridge Professors)

Geology’s a noble thing
To teach in Alma Mater,
So straight I will proceed to sing
The earth and all its strata.
Of peat and chalk I’ve much to say,
Of limestone, sand, and gypsum;
‘Twill teach the student made of clay,
Cognoscere se ipsum.

Granite and rock are hard, I own,
To youths at school or college;
Bit then there’s nought so good as stone
To form the road to knowledge.
My pupils now I’ll bid adieu,
I’m not disposed to weary ‘em,
And in my next I’ll take a view
Of Buckland’s Megatherium.

Punch 10 (1846), p. 240.

Monday, 26 January 2009

The Elements

(© 1959, Lehrer Records.)

Tune: "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General"

There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium,
And hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium,
And nickel, neodymium, neptunium, germanium,
And iron, americium, ruthenium, uranium,
Europium, zirconium, lutetium, vanadium,
And lanthanum and osmium and astatine and radium,
And gold, protactinium and indium and gallium,
And iodine and thorium and thulium and thallium.

There's yttrium, ytterbium, actinium, rubidium,
And boron, gadolinium, niobium, iridium,
And strontium and silicon and silver and samarium,
And bismuth, bromine, lithium, beryllium, and barium.

There's holmium and helium and hafnium and erbium,
And phosphorus and francium and fluorine and terbium,
And manganese and mercury, molybdenum, magnesium,
Dysprosium and scandium and cerium and cesium.
And lead, praseodymium, and platinum, plutonium,
Palladium, promethium, potassium, polonium,
And tantalum, technetium, titanium, tellurium,
And cadmium and calcium and chromium and curium.

There's sulfur, californium, and fermium, berkelium,
And also mendelevium, einsteinium, nobelium,
And argon, krypton, neon, radon, xenon, zinc, and rhodium,
And chlorine, carbon, cobalt, copper, tungsten, tin, and sodium.

These are the only ones of which the news has come to Ha'vard,
And there may be many others, but they haven't been discavard.

Hear it here.

Updated: Another YouTube video, using Google Instant Search, is available here.