Thursday 4 December 2008

Whos fleas are these?

In the flea circus culture section of the flea circus research library the following poem was attributed to Anon.

Big fleas have little fleas,
Apon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas,
and so, ad infinitum.

However various sources claim that it is Dutch, from the 1872 A. De morgan Budget of Paradoxes 377 or Dean Swift. Following up on the Budget of Paradoxes, that also points to Jonathan Swift with some slightly different wording.

Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so _ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on

It's also mentioned in the Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources By James Wood 1893 and The Museum of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art by Robert Walsh, Eliakim Littell, John Jay Smith - 1835.

William Henry Hudson in 1894 credits the poem to De Morgan in An Introduction to the Philosophy of Herbert Spencer, with a Biographical.

Yet another variation accredited to Swift as

“So, naturalists observe, a flea - Hath smaller fleas that on him prey; And these have smaller still to bite 'em; And so proceed ad infinitum”

I'll update the culture page with these interesting findings.

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