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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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His life was spent in travelling and painting landscapes, writing and illustrating many travel journals, learning Italian, Greek (ancient and modem), and Spanish, reading constantly, writing amusing letters to his continually growing group of friends, and of course creating nonsense. His wandering life was lonely, and he treasured the many friends whom he never saw enough. He was never, in his lifetime, considered an important artist, nor did he earn the respect in artistic circles he so desired. As he neared the end of his life, he grew even more distant from his friends, many of whom held high positions in the British government. This lonely, isolated life contributed greatly to his nonsense writings, and there have been many biographical studies of his nonsense which treat the matter exhaustively. 20 While biographical approaches do indeed help to explain the origin of Lear's nonsense, they have often overshadowed cultural, historical, or theoretical readings. Occasionally studies of Lear are based solely on biographical criteria, including the great myth of Lear's life: a repressed, unrealised, latent, or otherwise hidden homosexuality, still yet to be proven conclusively.21 In this thesis, however, I would like to depart from biographical readings and look at the contexts of the genre which have been all but ignored.

Lear read widely, and though he rarely wrote about his reading to his friends, we have a fairly good idea as to his literary tastes. He enjoyed the classics, particularly 20S ee S.A. Nock, "Lacrimae Nugarum: Edward Lear of the Nonsense Verses," Sewanee Review, 49 (1941),68-81; Jorgen Andersen, "Edward Lear and the Origin of Nonsense," English Studies, 31 (1950), 161-166; Noakes, pp. 226-34; and Jackie WullschUiger, Inventing Wonderland, The Lives and Fantasies oJ Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, 1.M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame, and AA. Milne (London: Methuen, 1995), passim.

21See WullscWager, pp. 6,63-71, and Susan Chitty, That Singular Person Called Leur (London:

Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1988), passim.

Sophocles, Plato, and Lucian, some of which he translated. In addition to the standards of Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Pope, and Walpole, he read most of the major romantic figures, even composing music to some of Shelley's verse. 22 Tennyson was a great favourite, and his main ambition in his later years was to complete a set of illustrations of Tennyson's work. He also kept up with children's books throughout his life, such as Anecdotes and Adventures of Fifteen Gentlemen (1822), the volume which inspired his limerick-writing career, and Charles Kingsley's Water Babies (1863), a book which had a profound effect on Lear. It is telling that Lear and Kingsley had a relationship of mutual respect and admiration, as Kingsley was a devoted and overt follower of the Wordsworthian image of the child. 23 In 1871, after having read Lear's new volume Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets (1870) Kingsley wrote to Tom Taylor that it had "more wisdom & genius in it than all that Bain & Herbert Spencer ever wrote. ''24 Later that year, Lear wrote to Kingsley, "I have often thought I should like to thank you for so much gratification given me by your many works--(perhaps above all-- 'Water Babies', which I firmly believe to be all true.)''25 Lear also showed some interest in Maria Edgeworth, as he read her letters and memoirs in 1872. 26 In addition, it is a nearcertainty that Lear read Carroll, though never once, as far as we know, did he mention Carroll's name. 27 22Lear was friends with Shelley's son, Sir Percy Shelley (1819-89), who, to Lear's delight, wrote down Lear's musical version of "0 world, 0 life, 0 time!" See Lear's letter to Lady Waldegrave, 15 March, 1863 in Letters of Edward Lear Author of "The Book of Nonsense" To Chichester Fortescue Lord Carlingford and Frances Countess Waldegrave, ed. Lady Strachey (London: T.Fisher Unwin, 1907), p. 278, hereafter referred to as LEL. Soon after its publication, Lear read The Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language, ed. Francis Turner Palgrave (London: Macmillan, 1861), which included many verses from Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Southey, Lamb, and Hood. His childhood poem "Bury Hill" leans towards the Wordsworthian, though slightly more melancholy.

23Kingsley's work is saturated with his version of the Wordsworthian child. He makes this affinity apparent throughout, even quoting the Ode (''There was a time... "). See Kingsley's The Water Babies (New York: Dilithium Press, 1986), p. 60.

24Letter dates 16 March, 1871. Quoted in Noakes, p. 257.

258 November, 1871. Edward Lear, Selected Letters, ed. Vivien Noakes (Oxford: OUP, 1988), p. 190 (note 190, p. 305). Hereafter referred to as ELSL. Lear also writes to Holman Hunt, 31 December, 1863, "perhaps Daddy I shall be a Water Baby" (ELSL, p. 190).

260n 8 January, 1872, Lear wrote in his diary "Finished the first vol. of !v1iss Edgeworths (unpublished) letters:

--curiously interesting--in many ways--but too breathless & fussy." Lear had access to Edgeworth's PracticalEducation, as well as Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education, at Knowsley, though we do not know whether he read them (Catalogue o/the Library of the Right Honourable The Earl of Derby a1 Knowsley, MS, 1830).

27The Alice books were also recommended to Lear in a letter from his close friend Fortescue (25 August, 1869). Lear's edition of Alice is now in America (Noakes, note 27, p. 2.+2).





Lear's first nonsense book, A Book of Nonsense, anonymously published in 1846, was a moderate success, and new, revised and expanded editions came out in 1856 and

1861. Lear took great pride in his achievements as a children's writer-- "that all the \\'orId is thereby delighted. ''28 He published three other volumes of nonsense: Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets (1871), More Nonsense, Pictures, Rhymes, Botany, Etc.

(1872), and Laughable Lyrics, A Fourth Book of Nonsense Poems, Songs, Botany, Music, Etc. (1877). All of these books met with general praise and populari ty, and, taken with Carroll's nonsense works, made up the greater part of Victorian nonsense. There is much of Lear's nonsense and parody, however, which was not published in his lifetime and has slowly become available since his death. His nonsense corpus is extensive, embracing many genres, and his influence on later writers, poets, and illustrators has been substantial. Some of the greatest literary figures have written on Lear, including Tennyson, Ruskin, G.K. Chesterton, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and T.S. Eliot.

Finally, a word must be said about the scope of this thesis and my choice of topic.

As a background to writing which began around 1832, this thesis deals most thoroughly with the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century, the period which, necessarily, had the most influence on Lear's early writing. During this period occurred the most radical shifts in the conception of the child, the writing of children's literature, and educational theory.

Much of the popular children's literature of the nineteenth century had been written in this earlier period and enjoyed a long life of Victorian reprintings. This includes works like Sarah Trimmer' s Fabulous Histories (1778-89), Thomas Day's Sandford and Merton (1787-89), and John Aikin and his sister Anna Letitia Barbauld's Evenings at Home (1792all of which remained popular throughout much of the Victorian period. We need only look at Carroll's "parodies" in the Alice books to see the survival through the century of the verse of Isaac Watts (Divine and Moral Songs for Children, 1715) and the Taylor sisters (Original Poems for Infant Minds, 1804). Of course, Lear and Carroll were also influenced by contemporary writers (including Lear's already-published nonsense), and I have also tried to take this into account.

–  –  –

I have chosen to focus on Edward Lear, rather than Lewis Carroll, for several reasons. As this is a study of the context of the genre, it is important to begin, as the King of Hearts recommends, at the beginning: Edward Lear published literary nonsense verse nineteen years before Carroll, verse which Lear began writing around 1832, the year Carroll was born. Secondly, Carroll's work, which is much better known today, has received by far the greater amount of attention and criticism, and while Carroll's nonsense is more than deserving of this attention, a study of the origins of this genre must begin with Lear rather than Carroll. Because, in most studies of nonsense, Lear is cursorily passed over, the analyses and theories that have emerged have been centred on Carroll's nonsense, which, though being, in the grand scale of things, quite similar to Lear's, is nevertheless distinct in many ways. Consequently, much theory of the genre is based almost entirely (if not completely) on Carroll's nonsense, even in works which claim to examine both. Also, the background to the genre has been limited to Carroll's more specified range of reference, i.e. a few specific children's and adult verses, as opposed to the more intertextually broadreaching nonsense of Lear. This bias towards Carroll has led to what I consider a grave omission in the "liberation" of the image of the child and children's literature in general.

For instance, Harvey Darton, whose Children's Books in England has been the basis of most work on children's literature, dismisses Lear as merely "kicking his heels in an ecstasy" while claiming that Carroll's Alice books were, "the first unapologetic, undocumented appearance in print, for readers who sorely needed it, of liberty of thought in children's books. Henceforth fear had gone, and with it shy disquiet. There was to be in hours of pleasure no more dread about the moral value, the ponderable, measured quality and extent, of the pleasure itself. ''29 Unfortunately, Darton's legacy has been for most critics to downplay the innovation of children's literary nonsense published nineteen years before Carroll's Alice, which came primarily from Lear.

29FJ. Harvey Darton, Children's Books in England: Five Centuries of Social Life, 2nd Edition, 1958 (Cambridge: CUP, 1970), p. 268.

–  –  –

In his history of English children's literature, Harvey Darton claims that Edward Lear's A Book of Nonsense is "a thing unrelated to its surroundings: as, perhaps, nonsense usually is" (p. 249). Like Darton, most literary critics and historians have largely ignored Lear's indebtedness to outside forms, cursorily observing his use of nursery rhyme, limerick, and Romantic verse, but his originality, and the originality of the genre, owes a great deal to what often approaches, and usually surpasses, a parodic relationship.31 While most studies of literary nonsense focus on its creation of "nonsense" out of general linguistic and logical modes of sense, this chapter will show how literary nonsense is derived from literary sense, which is half, if not more, of the genre, and that which distinguishes it from nursery rhyme, fairy tale, light verse, and other possible nonsense-related genres. Many critics of literary nonsense have recognized the parodic tendency therein, yet some assert that nonsense, by its very nature cannot be parody--it must exist beyond any such direct purpose. The debate over whether nonsense can or cannot include parody continues today.

30Charles Dickens, Hard Times, 1854 (London: Educational Book Company, 1910), p. 6.

31 For brief summaries of the background for Lear's nonsense, including nursery rhyme, limerick, and Romantic verse, see Cammaerts pp. 1-4; Angus Davidson, EdwardLear:LandscapePainterandNonsense Poet (London: John Murray, 1938), p. 200; Thomas Byrom, Nonsense and Wonder: The Poems and Cartoons ofEdward Lear (New York: EP. Dutton, 1977) pp. 50,155-57; A.1.M. Smith, "Nonsense

Poetry and Romanticism," in Essays in Honor of Russell B. Nye, ed. Joseph Waldmeir (East Lansing:

The Michigan State UP, 1978), pp. 180-194 (pp. 188-90); and Tigges pp. 85-95,149. A detailed study of I ~car' s indebtedness to past forms has yet to be done. The attention that Carroll has received, while considerably greater, has seldom approached the issue of the inherent conflicts between nonsense and parody.

In Noel Malcolm's study of seventeenth-century nonsense, he argues for this previously underrecognized aspect of it. He claims that literary nonsense is "something which existed only in a literary culture; and indeed something which, because of its essentially parodic nature, had a peculiarly intimate connection with the literary world....,,32 Rather than the early seventeenth-century background of Marlowe and Marston, Lear's "literary culture" is that of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century children's (and sometimes adult) texts.

However, Malcolm sees the parody of Lear and Carroll in a very limited sense, "taking an approved and improving rhyme (which itself makes perfect sense), such as 'Star of the evening' or 'How doth the little busy bee', and rendering it absurd" (p. 115). If this were indeed the extent of Lear's and Carroll's work, then it would not be fair to call it nonsense, as, I would argue, parody alone cannot be nonsense. This description is more appropriate for Carroll's work, but in Carroll, and especially Lear, parody engages its literary source in a more vigorous and complex manner.

By looking at literary nonsense's referential texts, I will show how Lear's, and some of Carroll's, nonsense, both as device and genre, is saturated with parody, while at the same time standing aloof from it. When nonsense is used only as a device, the work usually becomes parody or satire. As a separate genre, it frequently, though not necessarily, depends on other genres for its forms and material, yet in such cases goes beyond parody, beyond criticism of specific author or genre. Indeed, the genre of literary nonsense cannot have this kind of direct purpose or target, as such. Though it may appear to do so, intertextual nonsense does not engage in any significant and meaningful critical

dialogue with its parent text(s). The repercussions of the use of the parodic are two-fold:



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