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This report is taken from PN Review 117, Volume 24 Number 1, September - October 1997.

'Ode to an Expiring Frog' Michael Alexander

In the autumn of 1951 I was entrusted by unbookish parents to a boys' boarding school in Sussex, a prep school. The English master turned my ten-year-old taste from Biggles and Billy Bunter towards more humane letters by reading Pickwick Papers aloud in class. We enjoyed this. Mr Whigham read well; he had been an actor, and was tall and temperamental. He could recite the second chapter of Pickwick Papers by heart, a feat repeated so often that we were soon able to accompany him in chorus through the opening paragraphs. Mr Whigham did not neglect clause-analysis and other such staples of English teaching of that day, but he also introduced us to samples of modern poetry - reading Eliot's 'Preludes' and poems from Pound's Cathay, as well as old standards like Hood's 'I remember, I remember', Belloc's 'Miranda' and Tennyson's 'Lady of Shallott', together with much verse for recitation. With his butter-coloured hair, he somewhat resembled both Mr Augustus Snodgrass, Mr Pickwick's young poet friend, and the loquacious Mr Jingle.

It must have been under Whigham's influence that I read a great deal of Rider Haggard, and also War and Peace. In Whigham's classes we had to keep a Commonplace Book. The first entries in my Commonplace Book were Shakespeare's 'Fear no more the heat o' the sun' and Thomas Hardy's pleasantly gloomy poem 'Afterwards'. I also find in my Commonplace Book a poem by Charles Dickens, 'Ode to an Expiring Frog':

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