Like Thackeray, Alfred Crowquill (pseudonym for Alfred Henry Forrester) has his place in the prehistory of comics thanks to an 1849 booklet entitled A Goodnatured Hint about California, a satire of the California gold rush. Besides publishing a successful series of illustrated fairy tales, Crowquill collaborated with several magazines of the time, Punch among them.
One of his special interests was the pantomime, a shown by another proto-comic he published in 1849, Pantomime, to be Played as it Was, Is, and Will Be, at Home (also available in at Coconino World). For some years, he produced “designs, devices and effects” for pantomimes, and he drew a number of “pantomimic extravaganzas” for the magazines. Among these, “The Christmas Pantomimes,” for The Illustrated London News of 31 December 1842 (pp. 536-37) is available from the Victorian Web under the title Alfred Crowquill’s Limericks for Eight London Pantomimes. Useless to say, the eight poems have nothing at all to do with the limerick, they consist of short poems in couplets, each with its own caricature illustration:
While dictionaries normally define it as “rhymed nonsense poem consisting of five lines,” it is clear that the word “limerick” is losing its specificity and for many people does no longer refer to the five-line nonsense poem popularized by Edward Lear; I would suggest that its current meanings are two:
- For most people, a short humorous poem with sexual innuendo;
- For scholars, a short 19th-century humorous poem accompanied by a caricatural drawing.
Nothing remains of the original nonsense connotation, except the humour, though it must be admitted that defining “nonsense” is not easy, and the “five” has become a generic “short.”