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The Oxbridge Limerick Book
DEPARTMENT OF CLASSICS
EXCERPTS FROM THE BOOK PART 1 - a small selection of the traditional/anonymous limericks included in The Oxbridge Limerick Book
Magdelen College, Oxford
A complacent old Dean of Divinity
Made a boast of his daughter’s virginity
They must have been dawdlin’
Down at old Magdalen
It couldn’t have happened at Trinity
A traditional/anonymous limerick dating back at least as far as the 1930s - and as the title ‘Dean of Divinity’ is very much still in use at Magdalen College for its chaplain, it might be worth pointing out that the inclusion of this traditional limerick in this book is, in accordance with the disclaimer given in the book’s introduction, in no way intended to reflect on the current Dean of Divinity at Magdalen, his daughter if he has one, or the current students of Magdalen or Trinity, their personal histories or habits.
Also as noted earlier, ‘Magdalen’ when referring to the college in Oxford (like the similarly-named Magdalene College in Cambridge) is pronounced very differently to its spelling as ‘Mawd-lin’ (thus rhyming perfectly with ‘dawdlin’’).
St. John's College, Cambridge
There was a young man of St. John’s
Who wanted to bugger the swans
But the loyal hall-porter
Said, ‘Pray take my daughter!
Them swans are reserved for the dons’
A traditional/anonymous classic dating from at least as far back as 1928, a version very close to the above was published in Norman Douglas’s Some Limericks privately printed in that year. Apparently, though, the limerick is a corruption of a much earlier clean limerick that originated in Cambridge in 1872 and, referencing the tradition of eating swan in St. John’s College, went as follows:
There was a young gourmand of St. John’s
Who’d a notion of dining on swans
To the Backs he took big nets
To capture the cygnets
But was told they were kept for the dons
Lots of limericks have clean and dirty versions and it is not always easy to know which came first, whether, as above, a clean limerick was corrupted (and possibly improved) or whether an originally dirty limerick was cleaned up for publication (and possibly diminished) as used to happen back in the 1950s and 1960s, before changing times brought a greater permissiveness to the printed word.
Wadham College, Oxford
There was an old Warden of Wadham, he
Was very much given to sodomy
But he shyly confessed
‘I like tongue-fucking best
God bless my soul, isn’t it odd of me?’
A traditional/anonymous verse in its entirety - I haven’t knowingly changed a word of this limerick from its original publication, apparently in 1870 in the less-than-charmingly titled Cythera’s Hymnal, or Flakes from the Foreskin. (I promise I’m not making this up - Google it if you don’t believe me.) This 85-page volume, which contained 51 filthy limericks among its other similar contents, even aimed to pass itself off as a product of Oxford University with its spurious publisher credit of ‘Oxford: Printed at the University Press, for the Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge’.
Thus the above genuinely antique limerick is proof that at least some Victorian gentlemen, contra their public image, were well aware of sexual practices that weren’t directly related to procreation, and happy to write and share verse about them that is still by today’s standards vulgar, to say the least.
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