made and printed in Great Britain by Percy Lund, Humphries and Co Ltd. The Country Press, Bradford. First Published November 1925.
This charming and helpful book looks at Nonsense verse and helps to explain its origins, its audience, its form, its art and its unique place and relevance in Great Britain. It is important to remember that this book is over 85 years old and that Nonsense has come a long way since its publication.
THE MEANING OF NONSENSE
In the first chapter it is explained how Nonsense has roots in the oldest ballads and popular stories. It is abundantly found in Nursery Rhymes and Fairy Tales . Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll raised the standards of Nonsense in Victorian Britain and its influence continues to spread. It is suggested that Lear himself was inspired to write his geographical limericks by the nursey rhyme ‘There was an old man of Tobago’.
It is then argued that true Nonsense must be separated from epigram,satire,witticism,parody and any events of the day. Nonsense itself is shown to be impervious to parody or ridicule because their meaning being meaningless is uncorruptable.
NONSENSE AND THE CHILD
The root of Nonsense is found in the imagination and exuberance of children. The spontaneity of naivety. The author shows how many Nonsense writers include characters from nursery rhymes or fairytales to ‘recognise their debt to the rhymesters and storytellers of the past’ (pg20) . The examples being when Alice meets Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Humpty Dumpty and the Lion and the Unicorn, reference to Cock Robin in Mr. de la Mares ‘ Peacock Pie’ and Little Bo Peep in A.A.Milne’s When we were very young. Fairyland and Nonsense (dreamland) are rarely combined. magic does not occur in Nonsense and Nonsense has no place in Fairyland even if Fairytale characters are used in both.
The role of children as the inspiration of the nonsense poets is highlighted in this chapter. Edward Lear wrote his limericks for the amusement of the Earl of Derby’s grandchildren, ‘Alice’ was inspired by Dr.Liddell’s daughter Ms.Hargreave. Rudyard Kipling (just so stories) and A.A.Milne (when we were very young) are also used as examples.
‘The child has preserved intact all the imaginative power which life has somewhat weakened in the poet, but he lacks the latter’s power of self-expression.’ pg 35
‘It is not the child, it is the sensible man, who urgently requires the comforts and blessings of Nonsense, and it is generally he who enjoys them most’ pg 35
‘To indulge in nonsense verse may be a natural and necessary reaction after a period of serious concentration, but it is first of ll the best way, almost the only way, by which those unfortunate beings who have fallen down from the blessed state of childhood are able to evoke the spirit of the nursey, and to enjoy once more, for a short time, its careless irresposibilty’ pg 37
NONSENSE AND POETRY
Nonsense has natural leanings towards rhyme and songs maybe due to its roots in Nursery rhyme. Nonsense is made not by ignoring the rules of poetry but by turning them on their heads.
‘The rhyme not the thought, becomes the source of inspiration’ pg 41
And Quoodle here discloses
All things that Quoodle can,
They haven’t got no noses, They haven’t got no noses,
And goodness only Knoses
The noselessness of Man
( from the last verse of G.K.Chesterton’s ‘The Song of Quoodle’ in The Flying Inn)
A good example of distorting words to make them fit.
Lear and Carroll may have inspired each other to greater heights of nonsense and ‘poetic phantasmagoria’. Certainly Lears work after the publication of Alice seems bolder and entirely free from satire and parody. This escalates until it is possible to compare ‘the great Gromboolian plane’ against the ‘mimsy borogroves’. ( mimsy is a ‘portmanteau – word combining flimsy and miserable).
If Nonsense rhyme is maleable then Nonsense rhythm is unbendable.. nonsense verse follows the rule of rhythm impeccably.
NONSENSE AND ART.
Most nonsense writers seem inspired to illustrate their own work and nonsense is very popular as a theme for illustrators generally.nonsense appeals to the imagination and the rules are bendable or non existant. Some artists miss the nonsensical qualities of the work and try to impose their own personality.
‘Their illustrations may be delightful in themselves, but they are seldom adequate forthe text, for they lack its primitive and almost aggressive simplicity’ pg 65
‘Many artists confuse the spirit of Nonsense with the spirit of Fairyland’ pg 66
Although Lear was an excellent draughtsman and accomplished artist his drawings for nonsense have childlike qualities and can be quite crude.
‘It may well be asked why crude and sometimes clumsy drawings should be considered as more adequate than the more finished productions of the professional artist; but it must never be forgotten that, although there is a great deal of sense in certain nonsense, just as there is a great deal of method in certain madness, nonsense would cease to be nonsense if it took itself seriously.’ pg 70
Personally I think my favourite illustrators of nonsense all have this sense of childishness, from Spike Milligan to Terry Gilliam’s animations the ones that really grasp the spirit of nonsense are the most satisfying. Although there is something so formal in Lears drawings that I find slightly uneasy but it does fit with the formality of his limericks.
The last paragraph of this chapter finishes with this wonderful quote
‘People talk of sparkling wit: the impulse of nonsense is stronger still. It is apt to be lost in froth, but the few drops which remain in the glass ought to be drunk with due respect, for they are drops of the most undiluted joy which it has been given to manking to taste.’ pg71.
NONSENSE AND ENGLAND.
The English sense of humour is examined and we look at how nonsense is particularly used and enjoyed in England. Shakespeare is suggested to have used Nonsense and been roundly criticized for it in certain quarters as dumming down or ‘appealing to the pit’.
“When That I Was And a Little Tiny Boy”
(From “Twelfth Night”)
When that I was and a little tiny boy, With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, A foolish thing was but a toy, For the rain it raineth every day. But when I came to man’s estate, With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, ‘Gainst knaves and thieves men shut the gate, For the rain it raineth every day. But when I came, alas! to wive, With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, By swaggering could I never thrive, For the rain it raineth every day. But when I came unto my beds, With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, With toss-pots still had drunken heads, For the rain it raineth every day. A great while ago the world begun, With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, But that’s all one, our play is done, And we’ll strive to please you every day.
It was a Lover and his Lass
IT was a lover and his lass, With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino, That o'er the green corn-field did pass, In the spring time, the only pretty ring time, When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding; Sweet lovers love the spring. Between the acres of the rye, With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino, These pretty country folks would lie, In the spring time, the only pretty ring time, When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding; Sweet lovers love the spring. This carol they began that hour, With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino, How that life was but a flower In the spring time, the only pretty ring time, When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding; Sweet lovers love the spring. And, therefore, take the present time With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino, For love is crown`d with the prime In the spring time, the only pretty ring time, When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding; Sweet lovers love the spring.
I certainly see that Spike Milligans Ning Nang Nong may have some roots in this poem!