The Book of Nonsense (To Which is Added More Nonsense, Illustrated Edition)by Edward Lear
In 1846 Lear published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of limericks that went through three editions and helped popularise the form. Lear's nonsense books were quite popular during his lifetime, but a rumour circulated that "Edward Lear" was merely a pseudonym, and the books' true author was the man to whom Lear had dedicated the works, his patron the Earl of Derby.… See more details below
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In 1846 Lear published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of limericks that went through three editions and helped popularise the form. Lear's nonsense books were quite popular during his lifetime, but a rumour circulated that "Edward Lear" was merely a pseudonym, and the books' true author was the man to whom Lear had dedicated the works, his patron the Earl of Derby. Supporters of this rumour offered as evidence the facts that both men were named Edward, and that "Lear" is an anagram of "Earl".
Lear's nonsense works are distinguished by a facility of verbal invention and a poet's delight in the sounds of words, both real and imaginary. A stuffed rhinoceros becomes a "diaphanous doorscraper". A "blue Boss-Woss" plunges into "a perpendicular, spicular, orbicular, quadrangular, circular depth of soft mud". His heroes are Quangle-Wangles, Pobbles, and Jumblies. His most famous piece of verbal invention, a "runcible spoon" occurs in the closing lines of The Owl and the Pussycat, and is now found in many English dictionaries: They dined on mince, and slices of quince, Which they ate with a runcible spoon; And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, They danced by the light of the moon, The moon, The moon, They danced by the light of the moon.
Though famous for his neologisms, Lear employed a number of other devices in his works in order to defy reader expectations. For example, "Cold Are The Crabs", adheres to the sonnet tradition until the dramatically foreshortened last line.
Limericks are invariably typeset as four plus one lines today, but Lear's limericks were published in a variety of formats. It appears that Lear wrote them in manuscript in as many lines as there was room for beneath the picture. In the first three editions most are typeset as, respectively, two, five, and three lines. The cover of one edition bears an entire limerick typeset in two lines: 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.
In Lear's limericks the first and last lines usually end with the same word rather than rhyming. For the most part they are truly nonsensical and devoid of any punch line or point. They are completely free of the off-color humour with which the verse form is now associated. A typical thematic element is the presence of a callous and critical "they". An example of a typical Lear limerick: There was an Old Man of Aôsta, Who possessed a large Cow, but he lost her; But they said, 'Don't you see, she has rushed up a tree? You invidious Old Man of Aôsta!'
Lear's self-portrait in verse, How Pleasant to know Mr. Lear, closes with this stanza, a reference to his own mortality: 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!
Five of Lear's limericks from the Book of Nonsense, in the 1946 Italian translation by Carlo Izzo, were set to music for choir a cappella by Goffredo Petrassi, in 1952.
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