Edward Lear's Nonsense Books

Edward Lear's nonsense books complete set - online version

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possible a visit to relations in New Zealand. It may safely, however, be averred that no 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 last thirty or forty years to awaken the merriment of the "rising generation" of the time being, Mr. Edward Lear occupies the first place in seniority, if not in merit. The parent of modern nonsense-writers, he is distinguished from all his followers and imitators by the superior consistency with which he has adhered to his aim,—that of amusing his readers by fantastic absurdities, as void of vulgarity or cynicism as they are incapable of being made to harbor any symbolical meaning. He "never deviates into sense;" 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 they are suggested by the exigencies of his metre, have a ludicrous appropriateness to the matter in hand. His verse is, with the exception of a certain number of cockney rhymes, wonderfully flowing and even melodious—or, as he would say, meloobious— while to all these qualifications for his task must finally be added the happy gift of pictorial expression, enabling him to double, nay, often to quadruple, the laughable effect of his text by an inexhaustible profusion of the quaintest designs. Generally speaking, these designs are, as it were, an idealization of the efforts of a clever child; but now and then—as in the case of the nonsense-botany—Mr. Lear reminds us what a genuine and graceful artist he really is. The advantage to a humorist of being able to illustrate his own text has been shown in the case of Thackeray and Mr. W. S. Gilbert, to mention two familiar examples; but in no other instance of such a combination have we discovered such geniality as is to be found in the nonsense-pictures of Mr. Lear. We have spoken above of the melodiousness of Mr. Lear's verses, a quality which renders them excellently suitable for musical setting, and which has not escaped the notice of the author himself. We have also heard effective arrangements, presumably by other composers, of the adventures of the Table and the Chair, and of the cruise of the Owl and the Pussy-cat,—the latter introduced into the "drawing-room entertainment" of one of the followers of John Parry. Indeed, in these days of adaptations, it is to be wondered at that no enterprising librettist has attempted to build a children's comic opera out of the materials supplied in 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 careful to disclaim the credit of having created this type, for he tells us in the preface to his third book that "the lines beginning, 'There was an old man of Tobago,' were suggested to me by a valued friend, as a form of verse leading itself to limitless variety for Rhymes and Pictures." Dismissing the 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 as exhibited in the variation of this simple type. Here, to begin with, is a favorite verse, which we are very glad to have an opportunity of giving, as it is often incorrectly quoted, "cocks" being substituted for "owls" in the third line:
There was an Old Man with a beard, Who said, 'It is just as I feared!