Nonsense Books

       Edward Lear / Humor

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Nonsense Books



With all the Original Illustrations


PUBLISHERS' NOTICE.The first _Book of Nonsense_ was published in 1846. Three other volumes,--_Nonsense Songs, Stories, etc._, published in 1871; _More NonsensePictures, etc._, in 1872; and _Laughable Lyrics: A Fresh Book of Nonsense,etc._, in 1877,--comprise all the ”Nonsense Books” written by Mr. Lear.

”Surely the most beneficent and innocent of all books yet produced is the _Book of Nonsense_, with its corollary carols, inimitable and refreshing, and perfect in rhythm. I really don't know any author to whom I am half so grateful for my idle self as Edward Lear. I shall put him first of my hundred authors.”


In the _List of the Best Hundred Authors_.





The following lines by Mr. Lear were written for a young lady of hisacquaintance, who had quoted to him the words of a young lady not of hisacquaintance,

”How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!”

”How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!” Who has written such volumes of stuff! Some think him ill-tempered and queer, But a few think him pleasant enough.

His mind is concrete and fastidious, His nose is remarkably big; His visage is more or less hideous, His beard it resembles a wig.

He has ears, and two eyes, and ten fingers, Leastways if you reckon two thumbs; Long ago he was one of the singers, But now he is one of the dumbs.

He sits in a beautiful parlor, With hundreds of books on the wall; He drinks a great deal of Marsala, But never gets tipsy at all.

He has many friends, lay men and clerical, Old Foss is the name of his cat; His body is perfectly spherical, He weareth a runcible hat.

When he walks in waterproof white, The children run after him so! Calling out, ”He's come out in his night- Gown, that crazy old Englishman, oh!”

He weeps by the side of the ocean, He weeps on the top of the hill; He purchases pancakes and lotion, And chocolate shrimps from the mill.

He reads, but he cannot speak, Spanish, He cannot abide ginger beer: Ere the days of his pilgrimage vanish, How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!

* * * * *


Edward Lear, the artist, Author of ”Journals of a Landscape Painter” invarious out-of-the-way countries, and of the delightful ”Books ofNonsense,” which have amused successive generations of children, died onSunday, January 29, 1888, at San Remo, Italy, where he had lived for twentyyears. Few names could evoke a wider expression of passing regret at theirappearance in the obituary column; for until his health began to fail hewas known to an immense and almost a cosmopolitan circle of acquaintance,and popular wherever he was known. Fewer still could call up in the mindsof intimate friends a deeper and more enduring feeling of sorrow forpersonal loss, mingled with the pleasantest of memories; for it wasimpossible to know him thoroughly and not to love him. London, Rome, theMediterranean countries generally, Ceylon and India, are still all dottedwith survivors among his generation who will mourn for him affectionately,although his latter years were spent in comparatively close retirement. Hewas a man of striking nobility of nature, fearless, independent, energetic,given to forming for himself strong opinions, often hastily, sometimesbitterly; not always strong or sound in judgment, but always seeking aftertruth in every matter, and following it as he understood it in scorn ofconsequence; utterly unselfish, devoted to his friends, generous even toextravagance towards any one who had ever been connected with his fortunesor his travels; playful, light-hearted, witty, and humorous, but notwithout those occasional fits of black depression and nervous irritabilityto which such temperaments are liable.

Great and varied as the merits of his pictures are, Lear hardly succeededin achieving any great popularity as a landscape-painter. His work wasfrequently done on private commission, and he rarely sent in pictures forthe Academy or other exhibitions. His larger and more highly finishedlandscapes were unequal in technical perfection,--sometimes harsh or coldin color, or stiff in composition; sometimes full of imagination, at othersliteral and prosaic,--but always impressive reproductions of interesting orpeculiar scenery. In later years he used in conversation to qualify himselfas a ”topographical artist;” and the definition was true, though notexhaustive. He had an intuitive and a perfectly trained eye for thecharacter and beauty of distant mountain lines, the solemnity of rockygorges, the majesty of a single mountain rising from a base of plain orsea; and he was equally exact in rendering the true forms of the middledistances and the specialties of foreground detail belonging to the variouslands through which he had wandered as a sketcher. Some of his picturesshow a mastery which has rarely been equalled over the difficulties ofpainting an immense plain as seen from a height, reaching straight awayfrom the eye of the spectator until it is lost in a dim horizon. SirRoderick Murchison used to say that he always understood the geologicalpeculiarities of a country he had only studied in Lear's sketches. Thecompliment was thoroughly justified; and it is not every landscape-painterto whom it could honestly be paid.

The history of Lear's choice of a career was a curious one. He was theyoungest of twenty-one children, and, through a family mischance, wasthrown entirely on the limited resources of an elderly sister at a veryearly age. As a boy he had always dabbled in colors for his own amusement,and had been given to poring over the ordinary boys' books upon naturalhistory. It occurred to him to try to turn his infant talents to account;and he painted upon cardboard a couple of birds in the style which theolder among us remember as having been called Oriental tinting, took themto a small shop, and sold them for fourpence. The kindness of friends, towhom he was ever grateful, gave him the opportunity of more serious andmore remunerative study, and he became a patient and accurate zooelogicaldraughtsman. Many of the birds in the earlier volumes of Gould'smagnificent folios were drawn for him by Lear. A few years back there wereeagles alive in the Zooelogical Gardens in Regent's Park to which Lear couldpoint as old familiar friends that he had drawn laboriously from claw tobeak fifty years before. He united with this kind of work the moreunpleasant occupation of drawing the curiosities of disease or deformity inhospitals. One day, as he was busily intent on the portrait of a bird inthe Zooelogical Gardens, an old gentleman came and looked over his shoulder,entered into conversation, and finally said to him, ”You must come and drawmy birds at Knowsley.” Lear did not know where Knowsley was, or what itmeant; but the old gentleman was the thirteenth Earl of Derby. Thesuccessive Earls of Derby have been among Lear's kindest and most generouspatrons. He went to Knowsley, and the drawings in the ”Knowsley Menagerie”(now a rare and highly-prized work among book collectors) are by Lear'shand. At Knowsley he became a permanent favorite; and it was there that hecomposed in prolific succession his charming and wonderful series ofutterly nonsensical rhymes and drawings. Lear had already begun seriouslyto study landscape. When English winters began to threaten his health, LordDerby started a subscription which enabled him to go to Rome as a studentand artist, and no doubt gave him recommendations among Anglo-Romansociety which laid the foundations of a numerous _clientele_. It was in theRoman summers that Lear first began to exercise the taste for pictorialwandering which grew into a habit and a passion, to fill vivid and copiousnote-books as he went, and to illustrate them by spirited and accuratedrawings; and his first volume of ”Illustrated Excursions in Italy,”published in 1846, is gratefully dedicated to his Knowsley patron.

Only those who have travelled with him could know what a delightful comradehe was to men whose tastes ran more or less parallel to his own. It was noteverybody who could travel with him; for he was so irrepressibly anxiousnot to lose a moment of the time at his disposal for gathering into hisgarners the beauty and interest of the lands over which he journeyed, thathe was careless of comfort and health. Calabria, Sicily, the Desert ofSinai, Egypt and Nubia, Greece and Albania, Palestine, Syria, Athos,Candia, Montenegro, Zagori (who knows now where Zagori is, or was?), wereas thoroughly explored and sketched by him as the more civilized localitiesof Malta, Corsica, and Corfu. He read insatiably before starting all therecognized guide-books and histories of the country he intended to draw;and his published itineraries are marked by great strength and literaryinterest quite irrespectively of the illustrations. And he had his reward.It is not any ordinary journalist and sketcher who could have compelledfrom Tennyson such a tribute as lines ”To E.L. on his Travels in Greece”:--

”Illyrian woodlands, echoing falls Of water, sheets of summer glass, The long divine Peneian pass, The vast Akrokeraunian walls,

”Tomohrit, Athos, all things fair, With such a pencil, such a pen, You shadow forth to distant men, I read and felt that I was there.”

Lear was a man to whom, as to Tennyson's Ulysses,

”All experience is an arch wherethrough Gleams that untravelled world.”

After settling at San Remo, and when he was nearly sixty years old, hedetermined to visit India and Ceylon. He started once and failed, beingtaken so ill at Suez that he was obliged to return. The next year hesucceeded, and brought away some thousands of drawings of the most strikingviews from all three Presidencies and from the tropical island. Hisappetite for travel continued to grow with what it fed upon; and althoughhe hated a long sea-voyage, he used seriously to contemplate as possible avisit to relations in New Zealand. It may safely, however, be averred thatno considerations would have tempted him to visit the Arctic regions.

A hard-working life, checkered by the odd adventures which happen to the odd and the adventurous and pass over the commonplace; a career brightened by the high appreciation of unimpeachable critics; lightened, till of late, by the pleasant society and good wishes of innumerable friends; saddened by the growing pressure of ill health and solitude; cheered by his constant trust in the love and sympathy of those who knew him best, however far away,--such was the life of Edward Lear.

--_The London Saturday Review,_ Feb. 4, 1888.

Among the writers who have striven with varying success during the lastthirty or forty years to awaken the merriment of the ”rising generation” ofthe time being, Mr. Edward Lear occupies the first place in seniority, ifnot in merit. The parent of modern nonsense-writers, he is distinguishedfrom all his followers and imitators by the superior consistency with whichhe has adhered to his aim,--that of amusing his readers by fantasticabsurdities, as void of vulgarity or cynicism as they are incapable ofbeing made to harbor any symbolical meaning. He ”never deviates intosense;” but those who appreciate him never feel the need of such deviation.He has a genius for coining absurd names and words, which, even when theyare suggested by the exigencies of his metre, have a ludicrousappropriateness to the matter in hand. His verse is, with the exception ofa certain number of cockney rhymes, wonderfully flowing and evenmelodious--or, as he would say, _meloobious_--while to all thesequalifications for his task must finally be added the happy gift ofpictorial expression, enabling him to double, nay, often to quadruple, thelaughable effect of his text by an inexhaustible profusion of the quaintestdesigns. Generally speaking, these designs are, as it were, an idealizationof the efforts of a clever child; but now and then--as in the case of thenonsense-botany--Mr. Lear reminds us what a genuine and graceful artist hereally is. The advantage to a humorist of being able to illustrate his owntext has been shown in the case of Thackeray and Mr. W.S. Gilbert, tomention two familiar examples; but in no other instance of such acombination have we discovered such geniality as is to be found in thenonsense-pictures of Mr. Lear. We have spoken above of the melodiousness ofMr. Lear's verses, a quality which renders them excellently suitable formusical setting, and which has not escaped the notice of the authorhimself. We have also heard effective arrangements, presumably by othercomposers, of the adventures of the Table and the Chair, and of the cruiseof the Owl and the Pussy-cat,--the latter introduced into the ”drawing-roomentertainment” of one of the followers of John Parry. Indeed, in these daysof adaptations, it is to be wondered at that no enterprising librettist hasattempted to build a children's comic opera out of the materials suppliedin the four books with which we are now concerned. The first of these,originally published in 1846, and brought out in an enlarged form in 1863,is exclusively devoted to nonsense-verses of one type. Mr. Lear is carefulto disclaim the credit of having created this type, for he tells us in thepreface to his third book that ”the lines beginning, 'There was an old manof Tobago,' were suggested to me by a valued friend, as a form of verseleading itself to limitless variety for Rhymes and Pictures.” Dismissingthe further question of the authorship of ”There was an old man of Tobago,”we propose to give a few specimens of Mr. Lear's Protean powers asexhibited in the variation of this simple type. Here, to begin with, is afavorite verse, which we are very glad to have an opportunity of giving, asit is often incorrectly quoted, ”cocks” being substituted for ”owls” in thethird line:

”There was an Old Man with a beard, Who said, 'It is just as I feared! Two Owls and a Hen, four Larks and a Wren, Have all built their nests in my beard!'”

With the kindly fatalism which is the distinctive note of the foregoingstanza, the sentiment of our next extract is in vivid contrast:--

”There was an Old Man in a tree, Who was terribly bored by a bee; When they said, 'Does it buzz?' he replied, 'Yes, it does! It's a regular brute of a Bee.'”

To the foregoing verse an historic interest attaches, if, that is, we areright in supposing it to have inspired Mr. Gilbert with his famous”Nonsense-Rhyme in Blank Verse.” We quote from memory:--

”There was an Old Man of St. Bees, Who was stung in the arm by a wasp. When they asked, 'Does it hurt?' he replied, 'No, it doesn't, But I thought all the while 'twas a Hornet!'”

Passing over the lines referring to the ”Young Person” of Crete to whom theepithet ”ombliferous” is applied, we may be pardoned--on the ground of thegeographical proximity of the two countries named--for quoting together twostanzas which in reality are separated by a good many pages:--

”There was a Young Lady of Norway, Who casually sat in a doorway; When the doors queezed her flat, she exclaimed, 'What of that?' This courageous young person of Norway.”

”There was a Young Lady of Sweden, Who went by the slow train to Weedon; When they cried, 'Weedon Station!' she made no observation, But thought she should go back to Sweden.”

A noticeable feature about this first book, and one which we think ispeculiar to it, is the harsh treatment which the eccentricities of theinhabitants of certain towns appear to have met with at the hands of theirfellow-residents. No less than three people are ”smashed,”--the Old Man ofWhitehaven ”who danced a quadrille with a Raven;” the Old Person of Buda;and the Old Man with a gong ”who bumped at it all the day long,” though inthe last-named case we admit that there was considerable provocation.Before quitting the first ”Nonsense-Book,” we would point out that itcontains one or two forms that are interesting; for instance, ”scroobious,”which we take to be a Portmanteau word, and ”spickle-speckled,” a favoriteform of reduplication with Mr. Lear, and of which the best specimen occursin his last book, ”He tinkledy-binkledy-winkled the bell.” The second book,published in 1871, shows Mr. Lear in the maturity of sweet desipience, andwill perhaps remain the favorite volume of the four to grown-up readers.The nonsense-songs are all good, and ”The Story of the Four little Childrenwho went Round the World” is the most exquisite piece of imaginativeabsurdity that the present writer is acquainted with. But before coming tothat, let us quote a few lines from ”The Jumblies,” who, as all the worldknows, went to sea in a sieve:--

”They sailed to the Western Sea, they did, To a land all covered with trees. And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart, And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart, And a hive of silvery Bees. And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-Daws, And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws, And forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree, And no end of Stilton Cheese. _Far and few, far and few, Are the lands where the Jumblies live. Their heads are green, and their hands are blue, And they went to sea in a sieve._ And in twenty years they all came back, In twenty years or more, And every one said, 'How tall they've grown! For they've been to the Lakes, and the Torrible Zone, And the hills of the Chankly Bore.'”

From the pedestrian excursion of the Table and the Chair, we cannot resistmaking a brief quotation, though in this, as in every case, the inabilityto quote the drawings also is a sad drawback:--

”So they both went slowly down, And walked about the town, With a cheerful bumpy sound, As they toddled round and round. And everybody cried, As they hastened to their side, 'See, the Table and the Chair Have come out to take the air!'

”But in going down an alley To a castle in a valley, They completely lost their way, And wandered all the day, Till, to see them safely back, They paid a Ducky-Quack, And a Beetle and a Mouse, Who took them to their house.

”Then they whispered to each other, 'O delightful little brother, What a lovely walk we've taken! Let us dine on Beans and Bacon!' So the Ducky and the leetle Browny-Mousy, and the Beetle Dined, and danced upon their heads, Till they toddled to their beds.”

”The Story of the Four little Children who went Round the World” followsnext, and the account of the manner in which they occupied themselves whileon shipboard may be transcribed for the benefit of those unfortunatepersons who have not perused the original: ”During the day-time Violetchiefly occupied herself in putting salt-water into a churn, while herthree brothers churned it violently in the hope it would turn into butter,which it seldom if ever did.” After journeying for a time, they saw someland at a distance, ”and when they came to it they found it was an islandmade of water quite surrounded by earth. Besides that it was bordered byevanescent isthmuses with a great Gulf-Stream running about all over it, sothat it was perfectly beautiful, and contained only a single tree, fivehundred and three feet high.” In a later passage, we read how ”by-and-bythe children came to a country where there were no houses, but only anincredibly innumerable number of large bottles without corks, and of adazzling and sweetly susceptible blue color. Each of these blue bottlescontained a bluebottlefly, and all these interesting animals livecontinually together in the most copious and rural harmony, nor perhaps inmany parts of the world is such perfect and abject happiness to be found.”Our last quotation from this inimitable recital shall be from thedescription of their adventure on a great plain where they espied an objectwhich ”on a nearer approach and on an accurately cutaneous inspection,seemed to be somebody in a large white wig sitting on an arm-chair made ofsponge-cake and oyster-shells.” This turned out to be the ”Co-operativeCauliflower,” who, ”while the whole party from the boat was gazing at himwith mingled affection and disgust ... suddenly arose, and in a somewhatplumdomphious manner hurried off towards the setting sun, his stepssupported by two superincumbent confidential cucumbers ... till he finallydisappeared on the brink of the western sky in a crystal cloud of sudorificsand. So remarkable a sight of course impressed the four children verydeeply; and they returned immediately to their boat with a strong sense ofundeveloped asthma and a great appetite.”

In his third book, Mr. Lear takes occasion in an entertaining preface torepudiate the charge of harboring any ulterior motive beyond that of”Nonsense pure and absolute” in any of his verses or pictures, and tells adelightful anecdote illustrative of the ”persistently absurd report” thatthe Earl of Derby was the author of the first book of ”Nonsense.” In thisvolume he reverts once more to the familiar form adopted in his originalefforts, and with little falling off. It is to be remarked that the thirddivision is styled ”Twenty-Six Nonsense Rhymes and Pictures,” althoughthere is no more rhyme than reason in any of the set. Our favoriteillustrations are those of the ”Scroobious Snake who always wore a Hat onhis Head, for fear he should bite anybody,” and the ”Visibly ViciousVulture who wrote some Verses to a Veal-cutlet in a Volume bound inVellum.” In the fourth and last of Mr. Lear's books, we meet not only withfamiliar words, but personages and places,--old friends like the Jumblies,the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo, the Quangle Wangle, the hills of the Chankly Bore,and the great Gromboolian plain, as well as new creations, such as the Dongwith a luminous Nose, whose story is a sort of nonsense version of the loveof Nausicaa for Ulysses, only that the sexes are inverted. In these verses,graceful fancy is so subtly interwoven with nonsense as almost to beguileus into feeling a real interest in Mr. Lear's absurd creations. So again inthe Pelican chorus there are some charming lines:--

”By day we fish, and at eve we stand On long bare islands of yellow sand. And when the sun sinks slowly down, And the great rock-walls grow dark and brown, When the purple river rolls fast and dim, And the ivory Ibis starlike skim, Wing to wing we dance around,” etc.

The other nonsense-poems are all good, but we have no space for furtherquotation, and will take leave of our subject by propounding the followingset of examination questions which a friend who is deeply versed in Mr.Lear's books has drawn up for us:--

1. What do you gather from a study of Mr. Lear's works to have been the prevalent characteristics of the inhabitants of Gretna, Prague, Thermopylae, Wick, and Hong Kong?

2. State briefly what historical events are connected with Ischia, Chertsey, Whitehaven, Boulak, and Jellibolee.

3. Comment, with illustrations, upon Mr. Lear's use of the following words: Runcible, propitious, dolomphious, borascible, fizzgiggious, himmeltanious, tumble-dum-down, spongetaneous.

4. Enumerate accurately all the animals who lived on the Quangle Wangle's Hat, and explain how the Quangle Wangle was enabled at once to enlighten his five travelling companions as to the true nature of the Co-operative Cauliflower.

5. What were the names of the five daughters of the Old Person of China, and what was the purpose for which the Old Man of the Dargle purchased six barrels of Gargle?

6. Collect notices of King Xerxes in Mr. Lear's works, and state your theory, if you have any, as to the character and appearance of Nupiter Piffkin.

7. Draw pictures of the Plum-pudding flea, and the Moppsikon Floppsikon Bear, and state by whom waterproof tubs were first used.

8. ”There was an old man at a station Who made a promiscuous oration.”

What bearing may we assume the foregoing couplet to have upon Mr. Lear's political views? --_The London Spectator_.

* * * * *




With All the Original Pictures and Verses

There was an Old Derry down Derry, who loved to see little folks merry; So he made them a Book, and with laughter they shook At the fun of that Derry down Derry.

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