Saturday, January 11, 2003
The height of nonsense
In 1886, the redoubtable Victorian critic John Ruskin was invited by the Pall Mall Gazette of London to draw up a "List of the Best Hundred Authors." His top choice wasn't quite what the Gazette's high-minded editors had in mind: "I really don't know any author to whom I am half so grateful for my idle self," Ruskin wrote, "as Edward Lear. I shall put him first of my hundred authors." With a hint of impishness, Ruskin declared Lear's 1846 "Book of Nonsense" -- a children's book published under a pseudonym that eventually reached a whopping 19 printings during the author's lifetime -- to be "surely the most beneficent ... of all books yet produced." He went on to proclaim its unusual contents -- a curious verse form we now call the limerick, accompanied by Lear's equally curious pen-and-ink drawings -- as "inimitable and refreshing."
Lear's vast outpouring of nonsense -- from those early limericks, which established tomfoolery as a bona fide literary genre, to his beloved masterpiece, "The Owl and the Pussycat" (about the duo that famously went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat) -- remains as Ruskin described it: instantly appealing, stunningly original, fiercely opposed to pretense and brimming with humor, melancholy and mystery.
Los Angeles Times | 5 January 2003
posted by Marco Graziosi 8:09 PM