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The Great Panjandrum -- Samuel Foote

... completely unintentionally, I seem to have stumbled across a theme of
(Poem #208) The Great Panjandrum
So she went into the garden
to cut a cabbage-leaf
to make an apple-pie;
and at the same time
a great she-bear, coming down the street,
pops its head into the shop.
What! no soap?
    So he died,
and she very imprudently married the Barber:
and there were present
the Picninnies,
    and the Joblillies,
        and the Garyulies,
and the great Panjandrum himself,
with the little round button at top;
and they all fell to playing the game of catch-as-catch-can,
till the gunpowder ran out at the heels of their boots
-- Samuel Foote
(Composed by Foote in 1755 to test the memory of the actor Charles Macklin, who
had claimed  he could read any paragraph once through and then recite it
verbatim. It is not recorded whether or not Macklin was, in fact, able to
memorise the passage at first reading, but he apparently took great pleasure in
reciting both the anecdote and the passage in later life).

Yes,  the theme for this week is (as you may have guessed) poems which have
given words to the English language. This one's one of my favourites: like an
Escher etching or a Lear limerick [1], each little part _seems_ to make perfect
sense, while the whole is nonsensical, even surreal.


[1] alliteration always amuses...

[while on the theme]
Main Entry: panjandrum
Pronunciation: pan-'jan-dr&m
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -drums also panjandra /-dr&/
Etymology: Great Panjandrum, burlesque title of an imaginary personage in some
nonsense lines by Samuel Foote
Date: 1755
: a powerful personage or pretentious official
    -- from MWCD10, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition,
online at

I've heard the phrase 'Grand Panjandrum' as well (especially in the dictionary
sense of the word); perhaps the resonance of the vowel sounds has something to
do with the popularity of this variant.

... this particular poem is the sample text used in a standard Java tutorial on
using file streams... as a result, a web search on 'Great Panjandrum' returned
several zillion sites... :-)

76 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Bromleian said...

Dear whoever

Maybe you know, or may be you don't, that Randalph Caldecott produced some
glorious illustrations to this nonsense.

Incidentally, another of Foote's claims to fame was to have invented the
matinee (not actually the word but the phenomenon). The Lord Chamberlain
closed down his production of offensive burlesques and imitations of his
contemporaries, The Diversions of the Morning, because the theate, in the
Haywarket had no patent for plays. Foote fought back by inviting his audience
to take "Tea" with him at 3.00 pm, at which he promised that his burleques
would fortuitously happen to appear. It was the first occasion of afternoon
performances and the device became popular.

Regards ----------- Nick Bromley

Philip Boyden said...

I first heard this quotation in about 1956, when I was 10, when my
headmaster recited it to me to see how quickly I could learn it. I
don't think he had to say it more than than twice and I have retained
a good 90% of it ever since.

The version I remember, though, is the one you quote and definitely
not the version attributed to Quin by Nick Bounds.

Philip Boyden

Anna Matsen said...

Thank you so much for the information concerning this poem. I had no idea why it was written. After I told a friend of mine the first half of this poem he asked me who Samuel Foote was, and what the poem meant. This has been very enlightening.

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Madir Diane T said...

I just read the last comment by Bromleian@aol and wanted to thank him
for clarifying the role of Randolph Caldecott with this poem. The Great
Panjandrum was featured in a much loved childrens set of short stories
from my youth, however it left me with the impression Caldecott wrote
the piece. The illustrations are fabulous and add so much to the story
that I'm glad to be set straight at last on Foote as the author, and
Caldecott as the illustrator. Thanks!

harlene said...

Subj: Help me on some words

What do these mean ???

Bill Evarts said...

My grandmother recited this to my brother and I during world war 2 as a
memory excerciser.

Bill Evarts

Tristram Lett said...

My father quoted this ditty to us when we were kids and made it a piece of
memory work when we were on car trips. Because of its illogical nature and
silliness, it wasn't always easy for a five year old to get it right. Now I
see the correct version 52 years later, my father had a few minor errors
with his version. This has become part of the family heritage as now my
kids have learned it and I know they will pass it on to theirs. Thanks for

Tristram S. Lett


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Alan Knight said...

My Sister and I came upon this fine piece of work when we were kids and recited it incessantly.
It was included in one of the volumes of 'Verse & Worse' published by Faber back in the 60's.

I still use it to astonish children with whenever I am unable to avoid their company.

Alan Knight.

Anonymous said...

I think with enough research, you will find "The Great Pandandrum" was a nonsense sentence,written specifically to be the world's longest sentence. It contains about 1050 words, if my very old memory serves me properly, in a single sentence, and the passage quoted here is simply the most familiar. I remember the verse, particularly the line, "What, no soap, and the ..." from the late 1950's.

Anonymous said...

I have the entire text, but it is buried somewhere in a stack of Playboy magazines that goes back to January, 1954. Lost issue #1, dammit. No, the set is NOT for sale.

Valri Ary said...

I have this poem in caligraphy. I did it in high school as an art project. To this day I have it framed and it hangs in my living room. The paper I wrote it on is now yellowed as I graduated in 1981 but the piece itself is a great source of conversation by all who read it. Strangely this is the first time I've ever googled it to find out more about it. I found it in a book in our school library and it was marked as author unknown. Evidently that was incorrect. I had someone years ago tell me it was a story about war. Now I know for sure what it's all about and who wrote it.

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