A true story of two schoolboys from Crawley and how the weight of history fell on one of them – A short story

“I do not like thee, Doctor Fell ,
The reason why – I cannot tell ;
But this I know , and know full well,
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell”.

Sometimes members of a family meet and the talk turns to their memories.
On one such occasion I was told a story by my cousin. The story, though some fifty years old, was scored into his memory, and it included a part for me.
He related that aged about ten he had been set the task of writing a poem for homework and he was not confident about fulfilling his task. Luckily on a visit to me he saw a poem in my handwriting which he thought I was the author of and he memorised it. Later he changed some of the words then handed it in to school as his own work.
The homework received a commendation, even as far as an assembly I thought he said. But then another teacher thought that they recognised the piece and his plagiarism was discovered, he was disgraced.
At another meeting a few months later I asked him to write the verse as he remembered it and he produced the following:
“I do not like thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why – I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell”.

The verse was written by Tom Brown in 1680 when he was a student at Oxford university. The Dean of his college was Doctor Fell. Brown had taken part in some mischief and faced expulsion. To avoid expulsion he was given an exercise in Latin translation. The result of Browns translation was the verse quoted above.
It became cause celebe and then a nursery rhyme. Even though my cousin’s story, with its echo of ‘school trouble ‘ in the origin of the rhyme our attention now turns to my part in it.
My cousin said that the rhyme was in my handwriting and stuck to my door and yet I have no memory of it and this contrasts with a memory I do have from around the same time and it’s the memory of buying a book from a beach-front kiosk while on holiday. The book was “The Strange Tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” by Robert Louis Stephenson which contains a reference to Doctor Fell. It is more alluding to the rhyme than a reference but if the copy I had contained footnotes then it is possible that I copied it from there.
Just one question for my cousin, did he recite the nursery rhyme to his children?,
Excerpt from “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde ” by Robert Louis Stevenson
“Mr Utterson regarded him, ‘There must be something else,’ said the perplexed gentleman. ‘There is something more, if I could find a name for it. God bless me, the man seems hardly human! Something troglodytic, shall we say? Or can it be the old story of Dr Fell?”
No footnotes or annotations in this edition.

By Tim Holt

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