Friday, March 16, 2012


Ronald Knox delighted in limericks, as in all forms of wit. Here's a sampling of his most famous:


The following limericks were written as a spoof of the bizarre theological notions of the Irish philosopher, Bishop Berkeley. Berkeley's teaching on the relationship between existence and perception is often, if inadequately, summed up in the formula esse est percipi, "to be is to be perceived."
There once was a man who said, 'God
Must think it exceedingly odd
   If he finds that this tree
   Continues to be
When there's no one about in the Quad.'
Dear Sir: Your astonishment's odd;
I am always about in the Quad.
   And that's why the tree
   Will continue to be
Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God.
O God, forasmuch as without Thee
We are not enabled to doubt thee,
   Help us all by Thy grace
   To convince the whole race
It knows nothing whatever about Thee.
Cf. the Collect for the 19th Sunday after Trinity


The authenticity of this limerick is vouched for by Sir William Hamilton Fyfe, who was present when it was composed. He reports: 'Scene: R.A.K.'s rooms in Trinity, c. 1911. Several other young dons in armchairs. R.A.K. on a window-seat with his legs up. Someone, looking at a magazine, calls out: "Here's a good title - the Bishop-Elect of Vermont." In the time that it took him to turn round and put his feet on the floor, R.A.K. produced this:
An Anglican curate in want
Of a second-hand portable font
   Will exchange for the same
   A photo (with frame)
Of the Bishop-Elect of Vermont.
There was a young man of Devizes,
Whose ears were of different sizes;
   The one that was small
   Was no use at all,
But the other won several prizes.
Visas erat: huic geminarum
Dispar modus auricularum;
   Minor haec nihili;
   Palma triplici
Iam fecerat altera clarum.
The above are reprinted in In Three Tongues.


Ronald Knox called attention to this limerick in his review of Langford Reed's The Complete Limerick Book; he found it in his Breviary:
Sit vitiorum meorum evacuatio
Concupiscentae et libidinis exterminatio,
   Caritatis et patientiae,
    Humilitatis et obedientiae,
Omniumque virtutum augmentatio.
If you'd like to find out more about this interesting piece of minutiae concerning Knox and St.Thomas read this article by A.N.Wilkins.

"Father Knox, are not limericks unfit
For a priest to compose?" "Not a bit!"
   He'd reply to his foes,
   "What makes you suppose
That the Lord is deficient in wit?"

Reprinted by permission of The Pentatette: the newsletter of the Limerick Special Interest Group.