The Day of the Wombat

Peacay of BibliOdyssey posts “some delightful scratchy illustrations from the 1962 book by Ruth Park, ‘The Adventures of the Muddle-headed Wombat'” in honour of Australia Day.

So here is my homage. Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s lament for the death of his wombat, a beast which, according to some, also appears in Carroll’s Alice:

© Trustees of the British Museum

‘I never reared a young wombat
To glad me with his pin-hole eye,
But when he was most sweet and fat
And tail-less he was sure to die’

The inscribed verse is a parody of Thomas Moore’s Lalla Rookh (1817): ‘I never nurs’d a dear gazelle / To glad me with its soft black eye, / But when it came to know me well / And love me, it was sure to die!’ Instead of being layed to rest in the handsome tomb we see here, the unfortunate marsupial was actually stuffed and placed in Rossetti’s entrance hall.

I can’t remember where I got the image above, but it is in the same note as an essay by Harold White Fellow on “Rossetti’s Wombat: A Pre-Raphaelite Obsession in Victorian England,” in the National Library of Australia site. Of particular interest for lovers of Edward Lear:

But the most important development in the establishment of the wombat’s English reputation was the appearance in 1855 of John Gould’s de luxe The Mammals of Australia. Gould was in Australia much earlier, in the 1830s, and it was certainly through Gould that the artist Edward Lear, who illustrated Gould’s Birds but unfortunately not the Mammals, made a wonderful sheet of whimsical drawings of the ‘Inditchenous Beestes of New Olland’, a rarity which is today in the collection of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. These are plausibly accurate caricatures of various species of kangaroo and wallaby, the platypus, the ‘possum up his gum tree’ and the Tasmanian Devil. There are also mad renderings of the bandicoot, echidna and native cat, not to mention representative appearances in the margin of the cow, the dog, the sheep and the horse. Splendidly rotund and occupying the largest amount of space towards the bottom centre of the sheet is the wombat, with his ‘i’.

Below is a small scan of the Lear image, which was published in the Academy of Art exhibition catalogue.

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