“By Boots I Am M.A”

In the 1920’s D. H. Lawrence wrote the following clever poem. It may not be one of his best but it is witty and challenging, probably more to us now than when it was written. There used to be a conception of something called “liberal education” which was very different from education as vocational training or as developing skills or preparing us for the “real world”- which is separate from the world discerned from what is often mockingly dismissed as the “Ivory Tower”.

Liberal education was to do with the “enlargement” ( Newman’s word) of the mind and its cultivation because that cultivation, in itself, is a good both for the individual but also for Society which, for its good, needs not only people who are well trained but people who are deeply conscious and widely read.

What does our society really think university education is for.? The orthodox view of government these days appears to that universities are tied to the economy, a good investment designed to make us all better off. That is conception that Robinson and Maskell discern and expose in their New Idea of the University (Haven Books 2001) contrasting it with Newman’s idea of the university providing a liberal education.

You will see then, when you read it, why the poem is prescient.


In Nottingham that dismal town
where I went to school and college,
they've built a new university
for a new dispensation of knowledge.

Built it most grandly and cakeily
out of the noble loot
derived from the shrewd cash-chemistry
by good Sir Jesse Boot.

Little I thought, when I was a lad
and turned my modest penny,
over on Boot's Cash Chemist's counter,
that Jesse by turning many

millions of similar of honest pence
over, would make a pile 
that would rise at last and blossom out
in grand and cakey style

into a university
where smart men would dispense 
doses of smart cash-chemistry
in language of common-sense!

That future Nottingham lads would be
cash-chemically B.Sc.
that Nottingham lights would rise and say
-By Boots I am M.A.

From this I learn, though I knew it before
that culture has her roots
in the deep dung of cash, and lore
is a last offshoot of Boots.

D. H. Lawrence Pansies



D.H. Lawrence Pansies 1929

Sir Jesse Boot was born in Nottingham in 1850. After his father’s death he helped his mother run the family shop selling herbal remedies. The shop did well, business multiplied and Boots shops appeared all over the country from 1900 with the branding “Chemists to the Nation”.

Cardinal Newman “The Idea of the University” 1852


What do you understand by the phrase “Liberal education”?

University education can teach us in the “language of common sense”, develop our use of a specialised language or seek to provide “enlargement of the mind”? Discuss the aim of our education.

Should there be a distinction between vocational training and education?

What do you make of the meaning of the final stanza?

Is the poem snobbish? Is it fair to Sir Jesse Boot or is Lawrence’s target still relevant?

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