Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
W. S. Gilbert

General John

The bravest names for fire and flames,

And all that mortal durst,

Were General John and Private James,

Of the Sixty-seventy-first.

General John was a soldier tried,

A chief of warlike dons;

A haughty stride and a withering pride

Were Major-General John's.

A sneer would play on his martial phiz,

Superior birth to show;

"Pish!" was a favorite word of his,

And he often said "Ho! ho!"

Full-Private James described might be,

As a man of mournful mind;

No characteristic trait had he

Of any distinctive kind.

From the ranks, one day, cried Private James,

"Oh! Major-General John,

I've doubts of our respective names,

My mournful mind upon.

"A glimmering thought occurs to me,

(Its source I can't unearth),

But I've a kind of notion we

Were cruelly changed at birth.

"I've a strange idea, each other's names

That we have each got on.

Such things have been," said Private James.

"They have!" sneered General John.

"My General John, I swear upon

My oath I think it is so—"

"Pish!" proudly sneered his General John,

And he also said "Ho! ho!"

"My General John! My General John!

My General John!" quoth he,

"This aristocratical sneer upon

Your face I blush to see.

"No truly great or generous cove

Deserving of them names

Would sneer at a fixed idea that's drove

In the mind of a Private James!"

Said General John, "Upon your claims

No need your breath to waste;

If this is a joke, Full-Private James,

It's a joke of doubtful taste.

"But being a man of doubtless worth,

If you feel certain quite

That we were probably changed at birth,

I'll venture to say you're right."

So General John as Private James

Fell in, parade upon;

And Private James, by change of names,

Was Major-General John.