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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 Lamb," for instance, appears to be a simple poem in catechistic form, yet it also seems to be a parody of Charles Wesley's "Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild" (1742) and the 38 The Letters a/Charles and Mary Lamb, ed. Edwin W. Marrs, Jr., 3 volumes (Ithaca, London: Cornell UP, 1976), II, 82.

39Heather Glen, Vision and Disenchantment: Blake's Songs and Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads (Cambridge:

CUP, 1983), p. 9. Also see Alan Richardson, Literature, Education, and Romanticism: Readi.ng as Social Practice, 1780-1832 (Cambridge: CUP, 1994), p. 154, for a description of Blake's close acquamtance WIth children's writers.

--l0See also Blake's An Island in the Moon (in Erdman's Complete edition) for satire of rationalist education schemes.

catechistic method in general. Wesley's poem describes a child's prayer to the lamb of God,

Jesus, in a plea for humility and likeness to Jesus:

–  –  –

Blake's version alters the entire situation and undermines the orthodox message of Wesley's poem: Most importantly, Blake creates "God the Child rather than God the Father"42 and identifies the three figures of child, lamb, and God with little distinction, tearing down the traditional cosmic order. As Heather Glen states, all the conventional "hierarchies are subtly but surely dissolved" (p. 25).

But the use of the catechistic form, which Blake superimposes on Wesley's text, also has political implications. The catechistic form had been revived in the 1780s by educationalists such as Trimmer as a means to contain what was seen as the dangerous new literacy and "pretension" of the lower classes. 43 Catechistic method was used as an attempt to replace the traditional methods of learning with "a monologic, hegemonizing master discourse as the price of literacy. "44 The poor were meant to be content behind the plow regardless of rapidly increasing literacy rates. Typical of the Romantics, Blake probably saw the catechistic method as the mockery of a dialogic education and an intellectually barren imposition on the 4 1First published in Hymns and Sacred Poems (1742)by John and Charles Wesley. Quoted in Glen, p. 23.

These are middle stanzas.

-l2Richardson, p. 74.

43S ee Trimmer's Sunday-Sclwol Catechist (1788) or The Teacher's Assistant: Consisting of Lectures in the Catechetical Form (4th edition, 1806).

44Richardson, p. 67. See Richardson, pp. 64-77, for a detailed account of the new application of catechistic method,md Blake's and \Vordsworth' s reaction to it.

imagination. ''The Lamb," like many of the other verses, is written with the child as narrator, which is one of the reasons why the subversiveness is so hard to detect. In the child's voice, sweet and innocent, the system of catechism is displaced and, Sarah Trimmer would have argued, perverted: here, the child, usually the passive recipient of catechism, is placed in the position of authority over a helpless, mute lamb, which itself, most tellingly, takes the child's normal position. And the religious message, if it had been fully understood (or even read at the time) would have been considered offensive by many.

Wordsworth also uses the catechism in order to undermine it. In such poems as "We Are Seven" and "Anecdote for Fathers," which are described in Chapters 3 and 7, the children prove the meddlesome adults wrong. Catechistic method, which enforces blind indoctrination, fails miserably in the face of the child's inscrutable superiority.

Wordsworth himself was more outspoken than Blake when it came to education, the child, and children's literature. Wordsworth expresses similar sentiments to Lamb's letter, in a letter to an unknown correspondent (unknown date) recommending that the way to educate a child is "Assuredly not by mortifying her, which is the course commonly pursued with such tempers, nor by preaching to her about her own defects; nor by overrunning her infancy with books about Good Boys and Girls, and bad Boys and Girls, and all that trumpery...,,45 Wordsworth here refers to current theory about children and books for children, both of which he saw as disastrous to a child. He devotes large sections of The Prelude to venting his disapproval of such utilitarian education theorists as Edgeworth, describing the resulting child as

–  –  –

45 The Letters o/William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Middle Years, Part 1,1806-1811, 2nd edition, ed.

Mary Moorman (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), pp. 286-7.

46William Wordsworth, The Prelude, 1799, 1805, 1850, eds. Jonathan Wordsworth, M.H. Abrams, and Stephen Gill (London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1979), V, 11.294-98. All refere~ces to ThePrelud~, unless otherwise noted, are from the 1805 version in this edition. Wordsworth's dishke for such educatIOn theories is prevalent through much of his work, and is expressed explicitly throughout Book V of The Prelude. See also Coleridge's Biographialiteraria, or Biographical Sketches ofA~v Literary Life and

Opinions, 1817, eds. James Engell ~~ W.. Jacks?n Bat~, 2 vol~e~ CI:inceton:.Princeton UP; London:

Routledge, 1983), pp. 12- U, for a snndar mvectIve agamst the utIhtanan educatIon systems.

This child's soul is "vanity" and selfishness, the opposite of the free, unencumbered child Wordsworth envisions.

Wordsworth's strong sentiments surface in ''The Waterfall and the Eglantine," a parodic fable in the style of iEsop, but which Wordsworth twists at the end to foil the reader's expectations for a standard, didactic moral. In the poem, the boastful waterfall orders the eglantine away from its stream, but the meek plant, our protagonist, tries to compromise. It proposes that the two live in harmony, generously offering to "deck" the river with its last possessions, its "scarlet hips." The narrator relates that at this point the river rose, the briar "quaked," and "much I fear, / Those accents were his last. "47 The pride of the river is rewarded~ the meekness, sensitivity, and generosity of the eglantine are punished with death.48 In this poem, Wordsworth expresses an irreverence for the fonn and content of iEsop's fables in parody, reflecting his more general feelings about the contemporary education theories and children's literature. The motivation which led Wordsworth to parodic criticism of contemporary education led Edward Lear down a similar path.





Lear's reading included children's books, which he sometimes illustrated for various children of his friends and patrons. 49 Though he rarely comments on any of his reading, he must have found the contemporary children's literature quite depressing. His rare, but enthusiastic reaction to what we would now call more progressive children's literature (i.e., that which was written to amuse and with a somewhat lighter didactic touch) perhaps indicates his tastes. He read Kingsley's Water Babies soon after it was published in 1863 and was so enthusiastic about it that he later wrote to Kingsley, himself a fan of

–  –  –

47The Oxford Authors William Wordsworth, ed. Stephen Gill (Oxford: OUP, with corrections 1986), ll.

55-56. Unless otherwise noted, this edition will be used for all citations of Wordsworth's poems except for The Prelude.

48The companion poem to 'The Waterfall and the Eglantine" is 'The Oak and the Broom," which does reach its expected end.

-l9S ee Edward Lear, Lear in the Original: Drawings and Limericks by Edward Lear for his Book of Nonsense, ed. Herman W. Liebert (New York: H.P. Krauss; London: OUP, 1975), pp. 142-205, for Lear's illustrations of various children's (and adult) stories and poems, including the somewhat nonsensical Daniel 0 'Rourke.

50Noakcs, p. 257. See p. 10 for a quote from this letter.

"Goodbye, Daddy; perhaps Daddy I shall be a Water Baby. "51 Kingsley's stance on the utilitarian literature still popular in much of the nineteenth century is obvious throughout his work, for example, in the caricature, of "Cousin Cramchild," an embodiment of the "dwarf man" Wordsworth decried in The Prelude (V, 1. 295). Of course, Kingsley did not hesitate to include his own eccentric brand of didacticism, however anti-establishment, in Water Babies. Nevertheless, Kingsley's book owes a considerable debt to Lear's nonsense.

Before the appearance of A Book of Nonsense, English children had to content themselves with a bland repast of the increasing piles of literature written for them.

Reprints of eighteenth-century children's literature spread unabated, including primarily what was considered at the time "progressive" children's literature, often inspired by Locke and Rousseau, which exchanged fairy tales for more ''useful'' and practical information.

The unlucky recipients dined on verse and prose, perhaps written by Sarah Trimmer or Hannah More, alternatively viciously or blandly didactic, representing unrealistic children, in a world reduced to the size of what was perceived as the child's mind. 52 This mind, a simple and predictable organ, could be filled in a rational, effective method with the information it needed to raise itself to the level of the adult world. Also on their plate could be found works from the Evangelical writers, such as James Janeway, and later, Watts and Sherwood, to save these little sinful creatures from damnation. 53 The high moral tone of such works has been felt long after their initial insurgence in the late-seventeenth century, even up to the present day. By 1800, moralistic children's literature wholly dominated the market which had all but forgotten imaginative, less didactic work. Nearly the only outlet for more frivolous works was the huge chapbook market, which was directed at the poor, 51ELSL, p. 190.

52S ee, for instance Trimmer's Fabulous Histories: Designedfor the instruction of children, respecting their

treatment of animals (1786, title later changed to The History of the Robins) and More's Sacred Drama.::

Chiefly intended for young persons: The subjects taken from the bible (1782), in which she "rather asplred after moral instruction, than the purity of Dramatic Composition" (p. vi).

53S ee James Janeway's A Tokenfor Children, being an exact account of the conversion. Holy and Exemplary Lives and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children (1671-1672), Issac Watts' s Divinealld Moral Songsfor Children (1715). and Sherwood's The History of the Fairchild Family; or. The Chlld's Manual: Being a collection of stories calculated to shew the importance and effects of a religiOUS eductIOn (1818).

and often did not distinguish between the adult and child in its readership.54 After 1800, a few exceptions in the book market began to appear, notably a series of works beginning with William Roscoe's The Butterfly's Ball and the Grasslwpper's Feast (1807), which, though escaping didacticism, did little to exercise the imagination. Even writers such as Charles and Mary Lamb and Thomas Love Peacock,55 though declaiming against writers such as Trimmer and Barbauld, did not entirely move beyond such a condescending and programmatic treatment of children. The minimal story in Peacock's Sir Hornbook, for instance, is almost entirely engulfed by footnotes which give grammatical rules and explain the "allegorical" format. 56 And from 1830 to 1840 very little original or humorous material emerged. 57 The world of children's literature would change, though, with Lear's A Book oj Nonsense in 1846. Referring to his latest nonsense book, Lear wrote to his friends Chichester Fortescue and Lady Waldegrave on Christmas Day, 1871, "I wonder if you have been edified by my More Nonsense...,"58 implying that he knew very well his nonsense defied all standards of children's writing, and that it was refreshingly free from any type of edification. Lear diverged from all types of "edification," indulging in a constant upsetting of adult reasoning and outrageously transgressing all conventional moral and pedagogic mooe1s. Lear appropriated many of the varying forms of children's literature available at the time, including the ABC verse, the cautionary tale, and the limerick, and parodied them,59 but in so doing frequently moved beyond parody to the creation of a new children's genre: literary nonsense.

It should be noted, first of all, that a small amount of Lear's work for children is neither nonsensical nor parodic. Though Lear is generally not known for his alphabets, he 54S ee, for instance, the popular and continually reprinted late-eighteenth century "Cock Robin" chapbooks with various titles like The Death and Burial of Cock Robin; as Takenfrom the original Manuscript, in the Possession of Master Meanwell (lichfield: M. Morgan and A. Morgan, [1793-1802]).

55 See the Lambs's Mrs. Leicester's School (1809) or Poetry for Infant Minds (1808-1809) and Peacock's Sir Hornbook; or, Childe Launcelot's Expedition: A Grammatico-Allegorical Ballad (1814).

56rhomas Love Peacock, Sir Hornbook; or, Childe Launcelot's Expedition. A Grammatico-Allegorical BaOad (London: Sharpe and Hailes, 1814), pasSim.

57 Darton, p. 217.

58 ELSL, p. 235.

59See Sewell, pp. 172-173; Cammaerts, pp. 11-12; Lecerc1e, p. 2, for more on the relationship between nonsense and parody.

completed many throughout his life, some more nonsensical than others. While it has been the habit to label all of his alphabets "nonsense alphabets," most are nothing like his true nonsense and contain very fe~, if any, nonsense devices. As a child, Lear probably grew up with some of the same alphabets which taught his parents and grandparents. The first books of printed alphabets go back as far as 1538, though these were in forms only vaguely recognizable as children's. However, from the sixteenth century onward, many standard alphabets demonstrated a surprising resilience. In 1671 the famous "A was an Apple Pie" is referred to as if it were well-established. Between 1702 and 1712, the famous "A was an Archer and shot a frog" alphabet was first published. 60

–  –  –

These alphabets, printed in cheap forms for a wide market, are notable because they were still being used, with some variations, throughout the nineteenth century. 61 From about 1800, however, with the rapidly growing market for children's literature, the verse ABC flourished, with many new versions amidst the old, such as The Invited Alphabet (1808) and The Assembled Alphabet (1813).62 Lear, who kept abreast of the children's literature market, contributed to this growing body, often seriously.



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