«Heyman, Michael Benjamin (1999) Isles of Boshen : Edward Lear's literary nonsense in context. PhD thesis. Copyright and ...»
Wants! the precious pipkin! I know what it wants! It's salmon!"422 An argument
ensues, until the boy's father, Mr. Bib, interrupts:
"If there's anything in these whimsies at all," said t~e ignorant,. " unphilosophic father-- "if a child really wants what Its mother WIshed for-Charles Darwin, "A Biographical Sketch of an Infant," A1ind, 2.7 (~uly, ~87~, ~85-94 (pp. 289-:0).
...J.21 From the 1840s onwards Punch included various children's genres III therr satIres, mcludiog ourst:f) rhyme, didactic tales, primers, and fairy tales.
...J.22"Mrs. Bib's Bahy,"Punch, 10 (1846), 53, 6-1- (p. 64).
"If'. " excI' ed th e two grandmothers--for once in concert aIm "I should say that the thing at this moment nearest Baby's h'~ was a real Cashmere shawl, and a box at the opera" "How can you Edward?" said young Mrs. Bib. (p. 64) Though this is in jest, it illustrates how adults appropriate the child and the child's supposed nature for their own purposes.
One of the most popular children's periodicals around mid-century was Aunt Judy's Magazine (1866-73), edited by Mrs. Gatty (mother of Juliana Horatia Ewing), which, though on the side of fairy tales, reflected the craze for explaining all things childish. In Aunt Judy's Christmas Volume of 1869, we find a popular twist to nursery rhyme. A series of pieces entitled 'The Lost Legends of the Nursery Songs" chose to take more or less nonsensical nursery rhymes and, in effect, give them sense by placing them in a suitable context. In strained narratives which have little cohesiveness, aside from an explanation of the rhyme, such rhymes as "Bye, Baby Bunting" are "explained." This talc begins: "Baby Bunting was the youngest child of Captain Bunting, a brave old sailor, who was the owner of a ship in which he went fighting or trading according as he was wanted. "423 From such a solid, practical beginning, the tales limp forward, extracting every bit of nonsense from the original rhyme. The tale for "Hickory, Dickory, Dock" begins, ""Once upon a time there were three brother-mice named Hickory, Dickory, and Dock, who lived together behind a carved oak cabinet in the hall of a large, rambling house. Not far from them stood an old-fashioned cuckoo clock, and under it there lived a beautiful lady-mouse named Glossyfur" (p.218). We learn that the brothers run up and down the cuckoo clock in order to win the beautiful Glossyfur. They all fail in their mission to free the cuckoo, but in the end Hickory succeeds, and "Hickory and Glossyfur made themselves a comfortable nest in the old clock-case, and there they lived in peace and happiness, and brought up a large family of little mice... " (p. 225). What was once nursery nonsense has turned into the opposite of Lear's verse narratives: a triumph in domesticity and solid Victorian values. We can begin to understand the significance of Lear's tale of Mr. and Mrs. Discobbolos when compared to such conventional.
its rearguard defence of the Wordsworthian child. Writers like Kingsley and MacDonald believed strongly in Wordsworth's vision of childhood, and though their works were far in the minority of children's literature, they are perhaps those which still hold some populari ty.
Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Lamb, though usually not writing for children (with some notable exceptions, especially with the Lambs), were involved in refonning the image of the child--"reforming" not only in the sense of shaping anew or re-fonning, but also in the sense of removing the faults and errors of previous child-related writing. Peter Coveney suggests that the "Romantic reaction against moralizing, utilitarian literature for children was part of its whole reaction against the child of the associationist eighteenth century; which in turn was part of its whole reaction against the central intellectual traditions of the Enlightenment" (p. 50). One of the ways in which some Romantic writers defied Enlightenment thinking was to incorporate some of Rousseau's concepts of the nature of the child. Aside from the child's natural "sensical" inclinations, Rousseau's concept of the irrational child is what, in many ways, informs the Romantic view on the child. The children in the Lambs' Mrs. Leicester's School are all irrational as younger children, but their deviance from rationality is explained by their over-active imagination.
Elinor Forester, the teller of "The Father's Wedding Day," has her seemingly irrational action of spying into the bedroom of her dead mother explained by her account of her past habits and state of imagination. While the actions are not rational, they are explainable and thus, excusable. She still inhabits that smaller world of the child which can make sense to the adult, yet Emile's irrationality has been allowed a place in the nature of the child. While the Lambs did not commit completely to the more traditional "Romantic" child, Blake and the Wordsworths (both William and Dorothy) did.
Another way in which the Romantic writers countered the utilitarian child was to illustrate utilitarian educational concepts as failures in practical situations. The child imagined by Wollstonecraft, Edgeworth, and Godwin, one for whom reason is the guidIng
absence, their mother is returning home the next day. Upon hearing the news, the oldest child, a boy, is silent for a moment in thought, but then laughs and, speaking to his mother, demands her presence that instant, shouting "'Mother, come to me!'" (De Selincourt, 1. 8). Of course, she is still far away, and the patient adult explains, just as in a typical utilitarian story, the logical reasons why the mother not only cannot hear her son, but also why she cannot be there immediately. If Mary Wollstonecraft had wri tten this poem, the boy, being presented with such faultless reasoning, would almost certainly understand and admit his error. Dorothy Wordsworth's poem, however, illustrates quite a
different kind of child. The adult narrator describes the argument:
The boy listens to the careful explanation of his mother's delay and failure to materialize at his command, and though he thinks carefully about it, he remains "puzzled" and "sore perplexed." The logical arguments do not make sense to him~ his child-logic tells him they are false, but because his mother does not appear, and also possibly because the argument is gi ven by the authori tati ve adult figure, the boy must "submit, " for indeed, there is nothing he can do. He neither can make his mother appear nor explain his objections to the reasoning he has just heard. He is in a similar dilemma to the "little cottage girl" in William Wordsworth's "We Are Seven," who also persists in her illogic, though in this case her child-like reasoning is made clearer and described as having an altogether different standard
Heather Glen writes, "Blake is using the form of the late eighteenth-century child's song not as a vehicle for 'ideas' counter to those which it usually expressed, but in order to expose and subvert that whole mode of making sense of the world which it characteristically embodied" (p. 18). As we have seen in Chapter 1, Blake used fonns like catechism, one of the most popular for children's literature, not to counter any specific ideas communicated by that methcx:l but the religious and philosophical basis of it. Unlike in Lear's writing, Blake's manipulation of narrative voice and the image of the child was more directed towards ideological, anti-enlightenment goals, but the resulting child construct has many similarities: both are built around structural and thematic ambiguities.
One of Blake's innovations, and his most insidious device, is to write in the voice of the child, using the child's own language to highlight the unique, intrinsic qualities of a child and to frustrate conventional, rational ways of making sense. 425 This occurs in poems like 'The Little Black Boy," 'The Lamb," and 'The Blossom" from Songs of Innocence. In these poems there is a sense of ambiguity promoted by the open structure, play with syntax, and the inconclusiveness of the verses, so different from conventional children's verse. Glen observes that 'These poems demand a new kind of activity of their readers: not the passive acceptance of a finished literary product, but a creative engagement with that which is suggestively unresolved" (p. 54). "Spring," from Songs of Innocence, is a typical example of the child's poetic voice. The short, two- or three-word lines tumble
down the page with little regard for syntax or meaning:
The child's language is used here to evoke the feeling of spring, but it is difficult to piece together any coherent "meaning" from the syntactic and morphological (related to punctuation) irregularities. Also, the causal relations and general narrative unity are questionable: Is this an order to play the flute? Why does it become mute? The \'erb "delight" is used incorrectly here, as an intransitive verb, almost implying a possessive form of "birds" before it, though this also leads only to ambiguity. Verbs are missing, as with the nightingale, and adverbs have unclear modifieds. Furthermore, the rich illustration surrounding the verses only serves to complicated matters. In the following stanza, next to the mention of the "Little Boy" is what appears to be a full-grown, male angel, and next to "Little Girl" appears a mature, female angel (wearing a long dress).
Similarly problematic images can be found in the several versions of ''The Tyger," which display a tiger whose appearance varies from ferocious to tame, depending on the copy.
Blake's illustrations, like Lear's, often reinforce the mystery rather than dispel it. I will not attempt to analyze such figures, but the implications and resonances are plenteous, while any kind of clarification is conspicuously lacking. Nor does this kind of ambiguity seem accidental: in some of the revisions of Songs of Experience Blake went to some trouble to take out the more demonstrative, telling elements of his verses. In ''The Lilly," for instance, Blake changed the "envious" or "lustful" Rose to "modest," and the "cO\\ard" sheep to "humble," thus replacing the stronger, more judgmental language with less judgmental words. 426 In Songs of Innocence, through the voice of a child, Blake plays with language "in a way which displaces it from its familiar referential meanings.... so that new formal patterns different from those of discursive reasoning are created, imaging a
rules of grammar and logic. Somehow Blake manages to communicate the general meanings behind these verses while at the same time making many of them opaque \\'ith a child-like, rule-breaking voice.
Wordsworth exhibits a nonsense child construct by extending the child's curious actions and thoughts beyond the realm of reason or explanation. Unlike Rousseau's conception of a child's vacuous irrationality, Wordsworth sees this irrationality as a favourable characteristic, approaching the inscrutability of nature or God. Repeatedly. the child is compared to the incomprehensibility of nature. 428 In "Characteristics of a Child three Years Old" the child, filled 'with "gladness and involuntary songs" (I. 14) is compared to a fawn "Forth-startled from the fern where she lay couched; / Unthought-of, unexpected as the stir of the soft breeze ruffling the meadow flowers" (11. 16-18). The child's songs are "involuntary," her actions "unthought-of" and most importantly, "unexpected." Her motivations are as well known to an adult as the fawn's or even the wind's arc. But there is no attempt to discover the source of the child's actions, Just as Wordsworth docs not question the mystery of the wind, so he accepts the child's actions unreservedly.-.+29 Coleridge and Wordsworth, at least when they were not promoting Andre\\' Bell's Madras system of education (see below), believed in nature's instruction for the young child. Far from the ostensibly "natural" system of Rousseau and Bell's monitorial system, Coleridge advocated what he saw as a "true" natural education which was based in the
incomprehensible constitution of nature itself:
There is indeed "method in't", but it is the method of Nature, which thus stores the mind with all the materials for after use, promiscuously mdeed, and as it might seem without purpose, while she supplies a gay and motley
nature Coleridge describes as: "the happy delirium, the healthful fever, of the physical, moral, and intellectual being, Nature's kind and providential gift to childhood" (p.8), These observations on nature and the child's receptiveness to it show the extent to which Coleridge saw the first stages of a proper education as a time of seeming nonsense (to the adult), a time which we can no longer remember accurately, This is a crucial point: the Romantic child is not, in the absolute sense, non-sensical--it only appears so to the adult's tainted and limited perspective. While the child would not see itself as a "nonsense" bcIn~, this is the only wayan adult can see it, as both teacher (nature), and student (the child), arc beyond adult knowledge. Coleridge, and Wordsworth, especially in The Prelude, rather than limiting our view of childhood by defining and dissecting it, instead e:\pose the dim recollections and loaded ambiguities which connect the glorious, yet mysterious state of childhood to the adult. Their "investigation" into the nature of childhood is negative, that is, it exposes the problems of investigation in the face of an inscrutable being, The young Wordsworth in The Prelude, Book Y, is also mysterious, even to himself. 431 Before Wordsworth viewed the body dragged out of "Esthwaite's Lake," hE' "was roving up and down alone / Seeking I knew not what... " (11. 455-6). Here is a realistic picture of a child, acting with unknown motives. Not only are the actions of the child mysterious, but also his thoughts are beyond comprehension. In Book I,
Wordsworth attempts to describe his thoughts as a child after the boat-stealing episcxie:
The young Wordsworth creates a paradoxical, imaginative image, but Wordsworth's attempt to describe the process leading to it also shows us the mystery of the child's mind.
As Jonathan Wordsworth suggests, the passage "is so vague, so heavy with border