Gobbits: A guide to the allusions made in the film “The History Boys”

I’m working on compiling all of the quotes (“gobbits” :) that are used in the movie “The History Boys.” This is one of my favorite all-time movies, and I highly recommend it to anyone, especially if you’re a girl (um, eye candy) or have a fascination with history, literature, poetry (the good, 19th century kind), music, or other similar academic topics. If you love spending time in libraries, have a fascination with Europe, are trying to get into college, secretly like taking tests and just love the word “exam” for some reason, or speak French, I encourage you to see “The History Boys” ASAP.

That said, If you haven’t seen the movie you might want to stop reading this blog post. It contains no spoilers, but I think you’d do better to experience these quotes in their context of the movie rather than this drier list. I have tried to include quotes, poems, excerpts from any text, and titles of songs. They mostly go chronologically through the movie.

I’ll keep adding to this and if you have suggestions please let me know!


“Wish Me Luck” (song) — Gracie Fields

“The happiest youth, viewing his progress through,
What perils past, what crosses to ensue,
Would shut the book, and sit him down and die.”  — King Henry IV, Shakespeare

“All knowledge is precious whether or not it serves the slightest human use.” — A.E. Housman

“Loveliest of trees, the cherry now…” — A.E. Housman

“Happy is England, sweet her artless daughters;
Enough their simple loveliness for me.”  — Keats

“L’achordioniste” (song) — Orig. Edith Piaf

“Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word—the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.” — Philip Larkin, “MCMXIV”

“Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” (song) — Orig. Ella Fitzgerald

“Now Voyager” (movie, 1942)

“The untold want, by life and land ne’er granted,
Now, Voyager, sail thou forth to seek and find.” — Walt Whitman, “Untold Want,” from “Leaves of Grass”

“The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window.” — W. H. Auden

“Breaking bread with the dead” — W.H. Auden (Full quote: “Art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead.”)

“England, you have been here tooo long,
And the songs you sing are the songs you sung
On a braver day. Now they are wrong.”  — Stevie Smith, “Voices Against England in the Night”

“Brief Encounter” (movie, 1946)

“All literature is consolation.” — This was said by Dakin in the film, but my research has shown that it may have originated or been inspired by Boethius.

“Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.” — Shakespeare, Sonnet 73

“The tree of man was never quiet:
Then ’twas the Roman, now ’tis I.”  — A.E. Housman, “On Wenlock Edge the Wood’s In Trouble”

“They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined — just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around:
And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound.
Young Hodge the drummer never knew —
Fresh from his Wessex home —
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam.
Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge for ever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellations reign
His stars eternally.” — Thomas Hardy, “Drummer Hodge”

“That there’s some corner of a foreign field …
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;” — Rupert Brooke, “The Soldier”

“When I’m Cleaning Windows” (song) — George Formby (1936), also called “The Window Cleaner”

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The world is everything that is the case” — Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The open road, the dusty highway … Travel, change, interest, excitement! Poop poop!” — The Toad, from “The Wind in the Willows,” by Kenneth Grahame

“Bye Bye Blackbird” (song) — Mort Dixon, 1926

“Tu comprendras ce tu pas donné.” — Rudge says this twice, and I still can’t find its original context. I’ll keep looking!

Gobbits: A guide to the allusions made in the film “The History Boys”

22 thoughts on “Gobbits: A guide to the allusions made in the film “The History Boys”

  1. SimonC says:

    “Tout comprendre c’est tout pas pardonner” To understand everything is to forgive everything, except in the final scene Rudge puts in the ‘pas’ which turns it into “To understand everything isn’t to forgive everything”

    It’s a great film!

  2. Adele says:

    I wondered if you know from which poem of A.E.Housman does “All knowledge is precious whether or not it serves the slightest human use.” come from ?

  3. Bernard says:

    I only recently came across this movie “The History Boys” on dvd and was in the process of compiling all the gobbits when I chanced upon your blog. Needless to say, you saved me a lot of time. Many thanks!

  4. I was just rereading the play (which was much better than the film, in my opinion) and was curious about the Wittgenstein quote. I love Hector’s line after that. “Wittgenstein didn’t rip it out of his very gut for you to spit it up like some…” something like that. It’s a great play.

  5. séamus macclelland says:

    oops just in case someone decides to corect me, I should of course have written “thanks fo taking the time/thanks for going to the bother”

  6. :) hi

    I think I might’ve just found an incidental gobbit! Rudge, when having his mock interview said that History was “just one f***ing thing after another.” The American poet Edna St Vincent Millay was a little more polite. She observed that history was “just one damned thing after another”.

  7. Arjen says:

    About the Drummer Hodge poem: Samuel Barnett makes in the movie a mistake in the fourth line. He replaces ‘That’ by ‘Which’. I wonder now what he said in the countless performances of the original play.

  8. Albert Hickson says:

    I hope you are still checking this site! ““When I’m Cleaning Windows” (song) — George Thornby” — that should be George Formby (1904-61). The song was credited as written by Formby, Harry Gifford and Frederick E. Cliffe. Does Hector (Bennett) misquote Housman when he say,”All knowledge is precious …”? The correct quotation is “All human knowledge is precious …”

  9. Albert Hickson says:

    England, you have been here tooo long, — one o too many!
    I wish I could correct the hideous (to me) sound of “And the songs you sing are the songs you sung”, but it appears to be correct. I mean, you have quoted Smith correctly. But the past tense of “sing” is “sang”. It would not rhyme with “long”, but, then, neither does “sung”.

  10. Albert Hickson says:

    “The Old Masters; how well, they understood
    Its human position; how it takes place
    While someone else is eating or opening a window.”
    I don’t want to monopolise your excellent blog (if that’s the correct term), but you have the wrong punctuation in this quotation. It should be:
    The Old Masters: how well they understood
    Its human position; how it takes place
    While someone else is eating or opening a window.”
    Without the first line(About suffering they were never wrong,) the rest does not make much sense.
    Whether Auden’s punctuation is correct or not, I leave to somebody better qualified than I to decide.

  11. Albert Hickson says:

    I wonder who first typed “England, you have been here tooo long”. Google found four other sites with this error, but over 5,000 that got it right.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s