East Carolina University
Department of Psychology

Limerick on Predestination

    I have seen several versions of the first limerick here, attributed to Maurice E. Hare, 1905. The reply was authored by Nicholas Humphrey, and first appeared in Nicholas Humphrey, “Predispositions to learn,” in Constraints on Learning, ed. R. A. Hinde and J. Stevenson-Hinde, pp. 301- 304, Academic Press, London, 1973. To me, these limericks address the topics of free will, determinism, and biological constraints on development.

There was a young man who said "Damn!
I perceive with regret that I am
But a creature that moves
In predestinate grooves
I'm not even a bus, I'm a tram."

"Young man you should stay your complaint,
For the grooves that you call a constraint
Are there to contrive
That you learn to survive;
Trams arrive, buses may or they mayn't."

The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations renders the limerick this way:

There once was an old man who said, ‘Damn!
It is borne in upon me I am
An engine that moves In determinate grooves,
I’m not even a bus, I’m a tram.

    David Gordon Andrewes advised me that Hare, his uncle, told him that Hare wrote this when he was an undergraduate at St. Johns college Oxford. It was prompted by his reflection that like his father and grandfather he had gone to Merchant Taylors school and then St. Johns college Oxford to later join the family firm of solicitors.  He went on to become solicitor to the treasury and worked under Winston Churchill for a period.

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This page most recently revised on 27-October-2018.