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I Do Not Love Thee, Dr Fell -- Tom Brown

Following up yesterday's "hate rhyme" with a rhyme of, well, mild dislike, I
(Poem #877) I Do Not Love Thee, Dr Fell
 I do not love thee, Dr Fell,
 The reason why I cannot tell;
 But this I know, and know full well,
 I do not love thee, Dr Fell.
-- Tom Brown
Written circa 1680.

Tradition has it that Brown, while a student at Christ Church, got into some
sort of trouble and was taken to the dean, Dr John Fell.  Brown was set to
be sent down from Oxford, but Dr. Fell decided to waive the expulsion if
Brown could translate, extempore, a Martial epigram. The above poem is the
result; unfortunately, history does not record whether or not Brown's
creativity was sufficient to stay the dean's wrath.

The original Martial epigram follows:

 Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere quare;
 Hoc tantum posso dicere, non amo te.
        -- Martial

Brown's translation is an excellent one, succinct and faithful to the
original (which reads something like this in English: "I don't like you,
Sabidius, and I can't say why; all I can say is I don't like you"). More to
the point, it's uncannily catchy; what ought by rights to be a snatch of
doggerel has achieved immortality in a thousand and one compilations of
quotable quotes. I wish I knew how he did it...


[Minstrels Links]

Poem #876, I Wish My Tongue were a Quiver -- Louis McKay
Poem #856, Epigram -- Martial


John Fell: 1625-86, English clergyman. He was dean of Christ Church, Oxford,
and bishop of Oxford. While at Oxford, he initiated an extensive building
program and promoted the development of the Oxford Univ. Press. His chief
literary work was his critical edition (1682) of St. Cyprian. He is probably
best remembered today as the subject of Tom Brown's jingle "I do not love
thee, Dr. Fell, The reason why I cannot tell; But this alone I know full
well, I do not love thee, Dr. Fell."
        -- The Columbia Encyclopaedia, at

Martial: See the epigram above.

Tom Brown: Couldn't find anything, sorry.

68 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

+++ Abraham Thomas [30/08/01 03:37 +0900]:
> -- Tom Brown
> Tom Brown: Couldn't find anything, sorry.

The only Tom Brown I can think of is the hero of Thomas Hughes' "Tom Brown's
School Days" (the one set at Rugby, with Dr.Thomas Arnold <- Matthew
Arnold's dad - as headmaster, the bully Flashman etc). Hughes wrote two or
three flop sequels chronicling Tom's further life, including "Tom Brown at


Jose said...

> "I Do Not Love Thee, Dr Fell"

I dunno if you'd call this a coincidence or what....just yesterday I read
a (rather decent) sci-fi short story with this very same title (by Robert
Bloch iirc) and was wondering where I'd heard the title before....:o) And
presto, the answer cometh!!


Brevity is the soul of lingerie.
- Dorothy Parker

Andy Harris said...

I think you may be interested to footnote that a song by Juliet Turner is the same title and based on this poem .. I Do not love thee Dr Fell

Appel Elizabeth said...

I thought this was by Ogden Nash. He must have something similar.

Avmgeorge said...

I first heard Brown's "I do not like thee, Dr. Fell..." quoted by comparative
mythologist, Joseph Campbell in one of his lectures on Carl Jung's
interpretation of the unconscious. I think he was referring to that part of the
unconscious shadow/anima/animus interplay that recognizes someone/something on that
level and reacts to it viscerally before one really even thinks. It's not
quite an instinctual reaction because it has its basis in one's experience,
however not quite a conscious experience. It's more like what one has been
imprinted with at a very young age. Campbell, who was well versed in many languages
including Latin and held a Master's degree in English Literature, nevertheless
didn't attribute the poem to either Brown or Martial as he made his point.

Mike said...

There is an allusion to this poem in the second chapter of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Mr. Utterson is explaining how he strongly dislikes Mr. Hyde, but the only reason he has to back up his hatred is simply that he hates him.

Steve.Fell said...

I've always liked this poem since my father related it to me. My name is
Steve Fell and I have a PhD!!

Steve Fell
Medicinal Chemistry II
Neurology & GI CEDD
GSK Pharmaceuticals

Robert Dalby said...

Don't worry: we like YOU, Dr. Fell!!!

Anne Rogers said...

I came upon these notes when I could not think of where I had heard of
Dr. Fell. All I could remember was the first line.
I was looking because Dr. Fell is the name that Hannibal Lector uses
when he is working as an art librarian in Italy in Riddly Scott's film.
A chilling choice of names.

Jay Knight said...

This hardly ranks as a literary milestone, and I honestly can't remember the first time that I heard this poem, I am sure it was when I was in junior high school or before.
It has always stuck with me. That aside, it was the very first thing that popped into my mind while watching the movie 'Hannibal' as "Dr.Fell" is the alias used by Hannibal Lechter while in Florence. At the first mention of 'Dr.Fell' in the film, I immediately began reciting the rhyme, which certainly drew some strange looks from other patrons around me, including my wife. When she asked me what the verse was, I couldn't remember, it had been so far into my past that I first heard it.
Ever since, I have been trying to discern what the significance is of that choice of name.

gordon fell said...

you cannot be the author of this poem. this poem was writtewn before you were born unless you are older than 75. i understand thatit was written about either my grandfather or a relative of his. his name was dr Thomas fell, an educator from england who ultimately took a position as president of st. johns college in annapolis md. his tenure as president lasted 32 yrs. i was told that the poem was carved in a desk in oxford college england. in any event you are obvisouly not the author.

greenpagan said...

Not quite doggerel. More like Limey haiku...?

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