Having bid a fond farewell to Rabelais, I’ve just started on the Third Partition of Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. I read the first two partitions years ago but never did get round to what is by all accounts the crown of the whole work, the partition on Love Melancholy - a pleasure denied for far too long.
Coming across this phrase early on I immediately thought of Macaulay:
Tully himself confesseth he could not understand Plato’s Timaeus, and therefore cared less for it; but every schoolboy hath that famous testament of Grunnius Corocotta Porcellus at his fingers’ ends .............
Id sibi negotii credidit solum dari,
Populo ut placerent quas fecisset fabulas,
(Burton loosely translates as “his only care and sole study, to please the people, tickle the ear, and to delight”. Tully, BTW, is Cicero, who is usually referred to by his nomen rather than cognomen in earlier times.)
Schoolboys have clearly changed since Burton’s time!
OED (which doesn’t have the Burton cite) gives us glimpses of the phrase over the years.
1654 JER. TAYLOR Real Pres. 80 Every Schole-boy knows it. 1721 SWIFT Poems (1958) I. 281 How haughtily he lifts his Nose, To tell what ev’ry School Boy knows. 1840 MACAULAY in Edin. Rev. Jan. 295 Every schoolboy knows who imprisoned Montezuma, and who strangled Atahualpa. 1966 Listener 8 Sept. 365/3 Tallis’s motet Spem in alium nunquam habui was for years more often written about than heard. A tour-de-force in forty voice-parts: so much every schoolboy knew. 1977 Times 15 Oct. 2/8 Every schoolboy knows that the No. 3 bus from Piccadilly Circus comes to Valley Fields, Wodehouse’s familiar pseudonym for Dulwich.
Clearly The Listener is using the phrase archly (at least I hope so!)
Ah, I note that, as often, I tread in the footprints of language hat!