Ferreted out

February 24, 1995

A fine example of the dangers attaching to working with both students and animals comes from the past life of Marilyn Butler, rector of Exeter College, Oxford and a fellow in English at the same university before winning her chair at Cambridge.

Famously determined to ensure that, whatever happened, she would only in the most exceptional circumstances miss a tutorial or supervision with students, she nevertheless had to do so when one of the family pets, a ferret, was taken ill and had to be rushed to the vet.

The message on her door Sorry not to be here. Please call me. Ferret in extremis rather nonplussed the unfortunate student concerned who confessed that he spent the next few hours uncertain of his instructions as, having given up Latin some time ago, he was unclear what the irregular verb ferret meant.

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