I do not like thee, Doctor Fell
|"I do not like thee, Doctor Fell"|
Origin and basis
The anecdote associated with the origin of the rhyme is that when Brown was a student at the Christ Church, Oxford, he was caught doing mischief. The dean of Christ Church, John Fell (1625–1686), who later went on to become the Bishop of Oxford, expelled Brown; but offered to take him back if he passed a test. If Brown could extemporaneously translate the thirty-second epigram of Martial (a well known Roman epigramist), his expulsion would be cancelled. The epigram in Latin is as follows:
- Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere quare;
- Hoc tantum possum dicere, non amo te.
Brown made the impromptu English translation which became the verse:
- 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 nursery rhyme "I do not like thee, Doctor Fell" was not included in Mother Goose collections until 1926, following the rhyme's inclusion in "Less-Familiar Nursery Rhymes" by Robert Graves of I, Claudius fame.
In popular culture
Doctor Fell has since been used in other literature, such as by the author Thomas Harris, who used the name as a pseudonym for his most famous antagonist, the cannibalistic psychiatrist, socialite and serial killer Hannibal Lecter in his novel Hannibal. The 1979 Bernard Farrell play I Do Not Like Thee, Doctor Fell, used the rhyme as its title. Dr. John Fell is a fictional killer's pseudonym in John Sandford's novel Buried Prey. In Linda Medley's graphic novel, Castle Waiting, Doctor Fell is an addled but well-meaning physician who is haunted by memories of treating plague victims.
Similarly, Robert Louis Stevenson alludes to the rhyme in his novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He and other characters have an immediate "disgust" and "loathing" of the titular Mr Hyde, and yet this automatic reaction perplexes him. He muses on the possible reasons for it, including in them, "or can it be the old story of Dr. Fell?"
David Collins repeats the nursery rhyme while he is under the spell of the ghost Quinten Collins in episodes 680 and 681 of the daytime television show Dark Shadows. The nursery rhyme is also repeated in episode 335 when Dr. Woodard begins to suspect that Barnabas Collins may be a vampire.
- Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham (2001). The Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Wordsworth Reference Series. Wordsworth Editions. p. 346. ISBN 978-1-84022-310-1.
- Jacox, Francis (1866), "On not liking Dr Fell; and the reason why", The New Monthly Magazine 137
- Opie, I. & Opie, P. (1997) . The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 169. ISBN 0-19-860088-7.
- Transcript of Oral Argument, Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) (No. 02-102), 2003 WL 1702534 at *37, or Oyez.org Reading of opinion (Transcript).