Blessed Be Nonsense!


Blessed be nonsense! And blessed be he who invented it! But who was he? Was he pliocene or miocene? Were little Tubal Cain and his sister Naamah sung to sleep by anything deliciously silly? Did anybody draw funny caricatures of the Dinotherium and the Iguanodon in those days? And would sixty-five Pterodactyls sitting in a row, on a rail, fast asleep, make as effective a picture as Edward Lear’s picture of the sixty-five parrots whose two hundred and sixty tail-feathers were “inserted” in the bonnet of Violet, in that most exquisitely nonsensical story “The Four Little Children,” in that most exquisitely nonsensical book, Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets, by Edward Lear; J. R. Osgood & Co., Boston? The world, especially this American world, owes more than it knows to the man who makes it laugh. This summer has owed largely to Edward Lear. Anything so funny has not been seen for many a day, as are some of these nonsense songs and stories, with their attendant pictures. The voyage of the Jumblies is perhaps the best of the songs; the Jumblies who went to sea in a sieve with

“Forty bottles of ring-bo-ree.
And no end of Stilton cheese :”

they were gone twenty years or more, and when they came back,

“Every one said, ‘How tall they’ve grown:
For they’ve been to the Lakes and the Torribfe Zone
And the hills of the Chankly Bore.'”

Perhaps there is an under-thought of moral in the story of the Jumblies. Perhaps when we welcome back Jumblies who have been to the hills of Chankly Bore we give them

“A feast
Of dumplings made of beautiful yeast.”

But far the best thing in the book is the story of the four little children who went round the world. Their names were Violet, Slingsby, Guy, and Lionel; but this is of no consequence, neither that they took a small cat to steer their boat The gist of the narrative is that they took “an elderly Quangle Wangle” as cook. What is a ” Quangle Wangle?” That is precisely the joke. It isn’t anything. It is a mysterious, formless, bodiless, comic demon! But in every picture, from behind the convenient shelter of sail or tea-kettle appear the fearful, inexplicable, useful, culinary hands of the Quangle Wangle! There is positive genius in this conception all through; and when at last the discomfited party, having lost their boat by a bite from a Seeze Pyder, return home on the back of an elderly rhinoceros who happened to be passing, and we see the Quangle Wangle riding placidly and shapelessly astride the rhinoceros’s big horn, the triumph is complete!
We should distrust the past and despair of the future of any man who could not laugh at the Quangle Wangle! and we wish every melancholy man had its portrait in his hands this minute.

Scribner’s Monthly, vol. II, no. 6, October 1871, p. 668-669.

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