On 16 December 1874, Judy ran a review of nursery rhyme books, which includes a reference to Edward Lear. He is mentioned as the author of… Alice in Wonderland. While I have often received e-mails asking about the famous poems by Lewis Carroll, “The Owl and the Pussy-cat” this is the first time I have seen the Alice books attributed to Lear. It shows, if it were still necessary, that “nonsense” as a genre quickly became part of the literary landscape, notwithstanding the differences between Lear and Carroll that are so obvious today. Here is the article:
NONSENSE FOR BIG AND LITTLE BABIES
I hate and despise the good and clever hard-headed matter-of-fact idiot who sees nothing to admire and laugh over in nursery books. There are some solemn noodles, too (I’d stuff them with straw had I my way), who cannot discriminate between delicious nonsense and unmeaning tomfoolery, as there are great literary creatures who sneer at low comedy and fancy the while they can write tragedy, as though a sense of humour were not absolutely necessary in such a case to keep the Great Creatures’ feet upon the right side of the narrow boundary line separating the sublime from the ridiculous.
Thank Heaven, I am not as one of these. My head is bald, my beard is white, my waistcoat protuberates at the lower buttons, and my gay old joints are somewhat creakily inclined, yet I can roar at nursery nonsense as though I were a big baby, which, to tell the truth, I dare say I am. In fact I know I am, and some of these fine days I will take you ― if you are very good and pretty ― into a little back room of mine, where there is a little shelf full of choice volumes, which are very dear to me. CHRISTINA ROSSETTI’s charming “Sing-Song,” gracefully illustrated by ARTHUR HUGHES; half a dozen delightful books full of CHARLES BENNETT’s grotesque and fanciful pictures; TOM HOOD’s “Loves of Tom Tucker;” EDWARD LEAR’s “Alice in Wonder Land;” RICHARD DOYLE’s “Fairies;” and a score of other old friends of mine. Every season my good bookseller, knowing my little weaknesses, sends me a huge parcel of baby literature to select from, and every now and then I add something to that sacred shelf. Let us see; what have we here this merry Christmas time in the year eighteen hundred and seventy-four? Firstly, “The Marquis of Carabas, his Picture Book” (ROUTLEDGE), with thirty-two pages of illustrations by WALTER CRANE, relating to “Puss in Boots,” “Old Mother Hubbard,” “Valentine and Orson,” and an absurd “A B C.” Mr. Crane’s fun is not of a very boisterous nature, but there is some quaint quiet humour about him, and his drawing and colouring are, as a general rule, admirable, and the details delightful. Both this and the “Goody-Two Shoes” volume (ROUTLEDGE) will be vastly admired, both by the young folks and their papas and mammas.
“Gingerbread” (ROUTLEDGE), a shilling book full of coloured pictures by BUSCH, is of course, being BUSCH’S, awfully droll; and I do not see how you could well help laughing at the great cat-and-mouse tale, even if you are not a baby.
“Old Nursery Rhymes, with the Old Tunes,” set to music (ROUTLEDGE), is a capital idea worked out by E.G.D., and will, no doubt, be as great a hit as the “Little Niggers” and other books on somewhat the same principle.
The “Comptown Races” and the “Funny Little Darkies” (NIMMO) are bright and gorgeous, but hardly seem suited for children. ERNEST GRISET’s “Funny Picture Book,” however, is wonderfully comic and grotesque. It might perhaps, in some cases, have been better without the words; but it is, unfortunately, observable in nearly every nursery book. ERNEST GRISET was never seen to greater advantage than in this droll volume.
“A Choice Collection of Queens and Kings, and other Things” (CHATTO & WINDUS), is a book I find it rather difficult to describe, for I believe it is intended for the special edification of big babies only. It is written, the title-page says, by S.A. the Princess HESSE SCHWARTZBOURG, but I can find no such personage in the “Almanac de Gotha,” and do not believe there ever has been such a princess. Yet she is undoubtedly a foreign lady, with a language peculiar to herself, and a solemnity in talking downright nonsense truly royal. The three sapient gentlemen who made a sea voyage in a washing-tub would surely have stayed at home had they lived in the same period as Her Royal Highness, and helped her through some of the social problems she propounds. Those who would study the cruel perplexities of the Queen of Quildiqued, who could not sneeze without here head, and so, whene’er she caught a cold, she gave it (whether the head or the cold is not distinctly stated) to a friend to hold; or of the King of Hoddidoddi, who wore his head upon his body, though people said, when he was dead, he wore his body on his head; or of the Queen of Kalliboo, who dreamt she was a Wankipoo, yet, strange to say, when she awoke, she thought she was a Queekiquoke; yet, stranger still, her aged mother vowed she was neither one nor t’other. Those who would go deeper into these matters, and learn what Wankipoos, and Queekiquokes really are, and where and how you catch them, had better seek information in the proper quarter.
It is true that there are not wanting solemnly heavy respectable persons who may say that life is too short, and there are too many other serious things to think about; but I am not quite so sure this is the case, and I am inclined to agree with the Lord High Chamberlain, Fo Fel, who had secret he would tell, ―
He said, Kochiki hiki Pum,
But other people said Ko Fum;
Myself (SAYS THE PRINCESS), I rather think Ko Foo,
But that, my dears, ’twixt me and you.
I don’t at all see, for my part, why, this Christmas time, we should not put aside all unpleasant and difficult subjects, and try to settle this momentous question.Ought it to have been Ko Fum of Ko Foo, or was the Lord Chamberlain really right for once in his life?
Judy, or the London Serio-Comic Journal, Wednesday, 16 December 1874, p. 90.