A Review in the May 88 Pentatette
A recent addition to my collection was a book of limericks that was previously unknown to me: Ye Book of Sense: A Companion to the Book of Nonsense. Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, n.d. Title and thirty-one hand colored plates. Oblong 8vo. c1870.
Its oblong shape [the first books of nonsense / limerick verse were all oblong to accommodate their three or four line format; they remained oblong for a time even after format stabilized at five lines] and the reference in the title to Lear’s Book of Nonsense clearly mark it as one of the earliest American books of limericks.
A reasonably accurate estimate of the publication date of the book requires more than a little conjecture built on observation:
Although the limericks are obviously Lear inspired there are marked changes from the Lear style.
Only seventeen of the thirty-two limericks in the book use the standard Lear first line rhyme word as the fifth line rhyme word.
Ten of the limericks are not geographically oriented.
The clothing styles in the illustrations are not unlike Civil War fashions. There are no uniformed men, however, — in fact most of the men wear full length robes or skirts.
Not as rough in metre and rhyme as the Sanitary Fair limericks, they are completely free of references to soldiers or the Civil War.
To me all this this suggests that they pre- or post- date the war by several years. Because of the maturity of the verses, and by this I mean dissimilarity with A Book of Nonsense, I place it about 1870. The verse on the back cover suggests the same kind of fund raiser as the Sanitary Fair limerick books.
It could, on the other hand, be immediately prior to the Civil War; A Book of Nonsense was, after all, published in 1846 – leaving plenty of time for the notion of the nonsense verse to cross the Atlantic.
And adds in the e-mail:
An interesting side point is that the single vertical picture (p 30) is bound with feet left (toward the spine) and head right (away from the spine). That makes the picture upside down when you read the book. I don’t know if that was intentional or just a mishap down at the binding shop.
There are two known copies of this book in addition to mine: University of Florida and The Newberry Library, Chicago. My estimate of the date of publication is 1870 — U Florida puts it at 1878 and The Newberry, 1860s –so the consensus is 1870 +/- a decade.