Friday, December 12, 2014
Beautiful Book #44
A Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear. Originally published 1846. I am working with the facsimile edition of the 1875 Frederick Warne reprint that was put out by The Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books, Holp Shuppan Publishers, 1981.
The Dong with a Luminous Nose by Edward Lear. Drawings by Edward Gorey. Adama Books, 1968.
I am getting close to the finish line at book #50 which means I am trying to squeeze as many books onto the list as I can. Edward Lear's A Book of Nonsense is a must, especially the Osborne facsimile edition with its 130 beautifully reproduced colour illustrations. Alas, most of you won't be able to get your hands on this particular edition (and cheap paperback editions just won't do), unless you pop up to my office or find yourself in proximity to a good research collection of children's literature. And so, today, I give you a bonus title that might be a bit easier to get your hands on.
But first, the original.Where to start with Edward Lear? His love of language and his willingness to play with sounds to the point were sense snaps meaningfully into nonsense is his greatest legacy to children's literature--and to poetry in general. But that just scratches at the surface of his genius. He popularized the limerick form long before it became a bawdy rhyme. A gifted artist with a background illustrating birds for the Zoological Society and the orthinologist Earl of Derby, he brought a self-deprecating playful whimsy to his children's book art. At a time when children's books were intended to teach, with some attempting to delight along the way, Lear pushed straight on through delight to a hedonism of sound and image that is tethered only gently to meaning. If I'm not mistaken, A Book of Nonsense, Lear's collection of limericks, is the earliest title on my list, thus making it the cornerstone for all that comes after it both in terms of art and language. It's hard to imagine there being a Sheree Fitch, a MaryAnn Hoberman, a Jack Prelutsky or a Dr. Seuss without there first being an Edward Lear. And among all the illustrators who owe a debt of gratitude to him, foremost among these is Edward Gorey.
And thus, today's bonus book. Edward Gorey is Edward Lear for the 20th Century. More macabre in his outlook, he remains tethered firmly to the glorious nonsense world first envisioned by Lear. As such, it is no surprise that Gorey illustrated two of Lear's poems: The Jumblies and The Dong with a Luminous Nose. Each is presented in a slim, hard-covered volume that rotates in and out of print. If you can find copies, do so, because each is a little sliver of enjoyment.