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«Heyman, Michael Benjamin (1999) Isles of Boshen : Edward Lear's literary nonsense in context. PhD thesis. Copyright and ...»

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the word "promiscuous," "wanton" also had sexual connotations, as well as a more innocent meaning. As Michael Mason comments in a note in the Longman's edition of "Lucy Gray," another poem using ''wanton,'' "there was no sense of the adjective available in Wordsworth's day that was not potentially pejorative, but Wordsworth liked to challenge the moralism of the word in conjunction with children....,,275 Wordsworth and Lear both use such tainted words to prove a point about children and adults: that adults have "fallen" from a state of pure imagination and innocence, a state closer to the divine creativity, from which most adults have severed their ties.

The most common theme both Lear and Wordsworth use to further this point of non-ideal separation is death. In reading Lear's nonsense, adults are often horrified by the prevalence of death, which is treated so lightly. But what Lear and Wordsworth are showing is that their child constructs have a much more enlightened view of what death is-a view which adults, to their disadvantage, no longer hold. Death is obviously one of an adult's main causes of anxiety, but nonsense attempts to "reduce the experiences central to the human condition of the adult world to absurdity.,,276 Both Carroll's and Lear's nonsense is obsessed with death, but almost never does it become threatening. Death is the supposed punishment in the kingdom of Wonderland, but despite her enthusiasm, the Queen of Hearts never sees one head roll. Death threatens in almost every scene of both Alice books, but it is rarely realized. Alice falls down the hole, almost drowns in her own tears, is threatened by a playful but deadly puppy, and has her whole existence challenged by the problem of the White King's dream. Death also threatens many of the characters, from the Queen's subjects, down to the oysters in The Walrus and the Carpenter, the latter being a rare case of actual death. But even when the oysters are eaten, the death scene is dealt with so evasively and gently that we hardly know they are gone. Of course, Humpty Dumpty falls, we assume, but again, it happens off-stage. Being a part of the nursery rhyme, his death is inevitable, and, because it comes from a nursery rhyme, it has a cyclical 275William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, LyricalBallads, 1798-, ed. t-.Iichael \lason (London, New York: Longman, 1992), p.257.

276 Byrom, p. 149. But, this reducti~n highlights Le~'s assumptions about a child's ahility to take death in such a manner as a result of Its enlightened perceptIOn of death.

nature, as if, if Alice returned the next day, Humpty would be back on the wall. When death occurs, it is treated as a joke (played on the oysters) or a matter of indifference (we knew it would happen). Linda Shires notes the pervasiveness of death in both books and claims that Carroll deals with death in Alice "by ignoring it or by taming it with logic and rules. ''277 Indeed, death is always a joke, however serious the undertones.

Lear's poems often show death, but always mitigate the circumstances, either by showing miraculous recoveries, or by not taking the whole topic seriously. More than a quarter of the limericks in the Book of Nonsense (1846) deal with death, suicide, and violence, yet in each case the burden of such a heavy topic is lightened in various ways.

Illustration mitigates circumstances in the Old Person of Tartary :

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The man who commits suicide looks content, and his wife appears quite excited about his death. In almost every limerick dealing with death, the illustration mitigates the impact in a similar manner. 278 Death is miraculously defied by the Young Person of Janina (p. 186), whose decapitation seems to please her. Death can be sanctioned in the hero, as in the Old Person of Stroud (p. 169) who, trapped in a crowd, murders her way out, or it can occur 277Linda M. Shires, 'Fantasy, Nonsense, Parody, and the tatu of the Real : The E ampl of arr ll," Victorian Poetry, 26 (1988), 267-283 (p. 278).

27 ften when Lear finalized his drawing for publication he mitigated the harsh circum tan,en further. f. ''The ld Man of P run (p. 28): Th original illu tration hm a more ini ter.~ pr Ion n th c k, with h r t th bar d. ee Lear ill the Ori inal, p. 109.

without any sensible reason, such as with the Old Man of Madras (p. 11), who dies merely because of his strange fear of the length of the ass's ears on which he rides. In The History o/the Seven Families o/the Lake Pipple-Popple (1871) all the groups of children die horrible deaths. One group, the seven young cats, "all gradually died of fatigue and of exhaustion, and never afterwards recovered" (p. 111). Lear writes of these deaths as if they might not be permanent. In all cases, the deaths are treated in the same way that the "sexual" misappropriated words were, in innocence, joy, and irreverence. It is in this light that death is celebrated, defeated, applauded, and irrationally brought on. While the adult may disapprove of such lightness in dealing with the subject, it is only because he or she has an adult, "incorrect" view of death. The child sees this treatment of death and laughs, because its comprehension of death is much more "advanced" than the adult; it sees the "common sight" of death in nonsense "Apparelled in celestial light...,.;279 of its innocent childhood.

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Lear's portrayal of death differs greatly from its representation in children's literature through the nineteenth century and from the child theorists' views. Death has saturated children's literature from its beginning, though its presentation and the purpose for using it have changed considerably. In Puritanical children's literature, we see the first flowering of death as a subject, stemming from the very real concern that the child could die and go to hell at any moment Such sentiments are not as surprising when we realize that, even through the mid-eighteenth century, seventy-five percent of children born in London were dead before the age of five. 28o The combination of poor conditions for children and zealous Puritanism was conducive to the publication of children's books like

Bunyan's A Book/or Boys and Girls (1686) and James Janeway's A Token/or Children:

Being an exact account o/the conversion, holy and exemplary lives andjoyful deaths of several young children (1672?). The tradition of hellfire and brimstone continued well into the eighteenth century. When Isaac Watts used images of death and hell in his Divine

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Songs (1715), he quenched some of the Puritanical fire by writing more on a child's level.

Nevertheless, the threat of perdition was still quite visible. This tradition continued in a more secular form in the Georgian period, in the hands of writers like the Taylors, in their Original Poems for Infant Minds, By Several Young Persons (1804), and even more shockingly in Mrs. Sherwood's works. Sherwood's The History of the Fairchild Family (1818-47) demonstrates a fascination with the physical aspects of death, but her treatment of death, as with all those before her, was dead serious. Rather than being threatened with damnation, the children in Sherwood's works were taught to shun, for instance, sibling arguments under the possible eventual penalty of death. The children are taken to view corpses and are thereby taught to avoid an untimely demise. Such a secular use of death to shock the child into submission was common in this period, running alongside the more traditional "fire and brimstone"evangelical tracts. 281 The Victorians are well-known for their sentimental child-death scenes, such as in Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop (1841) or Dean Farrar's Eric, or Little By Little (1858) and St Winifred's (1862). Such scenes were used for sentimental value and also for religious reinforcement. The Victorian period saw the re-emergence of religion's paramount role in children's literature, and it was often because of a touching death-bed scene that the survivors would be converted and diverted from their evil ways.282 Of course, the death-bed scene was irresistible, and even secular children's authors such as Mrs. Ewing were using it for effect. However, as the nineteenth century moved past the mid-point, death became less overt, and by the 90s, perhaps because of a surfeit, fewer fictional children were dying.283 Regardless of the purpose behind the use of death, it is always taken seriously and used, so to speak, as the ultimate governess.

Theorists concerned with the child were less enthusiastic about the use of death in education. Utilitarian thought, stemming from Locke's empiricism, promotes raising children with a knowledge but not an understanding of death. These children will have 281,\\,cry, p. 212. See Avery, pp. 212-22-t. for more on the prevalence of death in, childr~n's literature. See Paul Sangster, Pity A{v Simplicity (London: Epworth Press,1%3) for more on Evangelical methods of teaching children.

'"'Iv" ~0_ A very, p. 66.

283 hcry, p. 223.

j been taught an adult's conception of death, having been taught like an adult in most other ways. Locke states ''The sooner you treat him as a Man, the sooner he will begin to be one... " (p. 159). Gcxlwin echoes this sentiment, writing "One of the greatest errors of education, is that children are not treated enough like men... " (p. 127). Edgeworth is more sympathetic to the state of childhood, protecting the child in a more Rousseauistic way, yet in all cases the state of childhood is one below that of the adult. To Locke, the child starts in a sinful state of "the most shameful Nakedness, viz. their natural wrong Inclinations and Ignorance,,,284 in which the mind is "narrow, and weak" (pp. 148,221). The child's intrinsic characteristics are ''faults'' to be reformed, like a criminal's. The utilitarian child's intrinsic qualities are also "defects" which must be mended with reason. He has no taste, cannot appreciate nature, and has no real friendships--his pleasures being superficial and "worthless.,,285 Even the child's thoughts are "idle and of small account.,,286 As Godwin states, "we are lifting them up to our level, not sinking ourselves to theirs" (p. 117).

Although, again, Edgeworth, who was more influenced by Rousseau, argues that "children are not fools, and they are not to be governed like fools,,,287 her writing for children also strives to cure the "defects" of childhood. The utilitarians thus try to raise children up from their fallen state by treating them as far as possible as rational adults.

Rousseau would not treat the child as a man. Emile knows nothing of death and would be puzzled by its insistent presence in Lear's nonsense. Although Rousseau recognizes the separate state of childhocxl as not something inherently sinful, his child is still far below the adult. For Locke, the faults of children are "of their Age, rather than of the Children themselves" (p. 119). But for Rousseau, it is "the children themselves" who are at fault, in that the faults which accompany the newly separated state of childhood are attached personally to the child, not simply accepted as the "mistakes" of his age. Emile knows neither death nor love, being entirely self-absorbed (p. 183). His world is reduced to the size of his small understanding and his two feelings: joy and sorrow (pp. 219, 191).

284 For Locke's ambivalence on nurture and nature, compare Locke, p. 83 and p. 122.

285Godwin, p. 68.

286Godwin, p. 121.

287 Edgeworth. n. -l 1The child has no moral sense, and "His ideas, if indeed he has any ideas at all, have neither order nor connection; there is nothing sure, nothing certain, in his thoughts" (p. 70).

While Rousseau has separated the states of childhood and adulthood, he has done it mainly to the disadvantage of the child.

The image of childhood promoted by the Lambs in Mrs. Leicester's School is a medial state between the older conceptions and the Romantic conception of the child. This child has at one time what Wordsworth would call a more "enlightened" view of death, but those ideas pass with time, and adulthood brings a more realistic (and thus, "better') viewpoint. Elizabeth Villiers, the girl who narrates ''The Sailor Uncle," articulates her childhood conception of death. As a younger child, Elizabeth spent much time at her mother's grave, learning to read from it and playing by it, much like the little girl in Wordsworth's "We are Seven." When her uncle, who does not know of her mother's death, asks her "'Who has taught you to spell so prettily, my little maid?'" she answers, "'Mama,' I replied; for I had an idea that the words on the tombstone were somehow a part of mamma, and that she had taught me.,,288 To Elizabeth, her mother's spirit is still alive, taking an active part in her education. She cannot conceive of death conventionally, wishing "I was sleeping in the grave with my papa and mamma; and in my childish dreams I used to fancy myself there, and it was a place within the ground, all smooth, and soft, and green" (p. 321). This is strikingly like Wordsworth's description of a child's conception of death in his Ode (,'There was a time... ') but in this case, Elizabeth retracts this fancy, admitting to the listeners "My thoughts on these subjects were confused and childish... " (p. 322).289 Elizabeth as a child cannot conceive of death in a conventional way. But then the conventional adult, or the more "unreal" child-, sentiment takes over, and what could have been a supportive recognition of a more Romantic outlook turns into a condemnation of childhood's error. Mary Lamb is sympathetic to the Romantic outlook, recognizing its manifestation in children, but then condemns it, promoting the view of

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childhood found in the earlier concepts of children. The states of childhood and adulthood are separate, but childhood still remains a negative state of error.

The Wordsworthian child has an enlightened view of death, resembling Mary Lamb's portrayal of it, which is separated from and raised above the more conventional adult view of death. Wordsworth demonstrates the separation between childhood and adulthood in the series of poems he grouped together (starting 1815) under the heading "Poems Relating to the Period of Childhood" in the many editions of his collected works.



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