The Father of Nonsense

Here is an interesting letter that was offered for sale at Bonhams in 2008; as far as I can see it is still available through AbeBooks sellers, which is where I got the small images:

Father of Nonsense r

Father of Nonsense v

The letter reads:

8. Duchess St. Portland Place
25th. June. 1877

Dear Sir,

On returning from Surrey just now, I find your Book of Bosh, & hasten to thank you for it , & for your Dedication of it to me the Father of Nonsense.

I have not time to look at it much just now, but I thought at a glance, the two Ladies going down into the Cellar very funny.

Believe me,
Dear Sir,
Your’s very truly,
Edward Lear.

The sellers’ listings unfailingly mention an anonymous The Book of Bosh. With which are incorporated some amusing and instructive nursery stories in rhyme. [With illustrations.] ff. 26. Griffith, Farran & Co.: London, [1889.] 4º (according to the British Library catalogue entry) which was republished in 1890. No earlier editions of the book are mentioned in any catalogue I know of, and the story of “the two Ladies going down into the Cellar” is nowhere to be found in the book, which is available in full online in the Cambridge Digital Library. It is clearly an imitation of “Struwelpeter,” as the description implies:

This brightly illustrated book offers a selection of cautionary tales designed to show children the dangers of bad behaviour. In fact the ‘wrongdoing’ in these stories is very minor: nail-biting, not wiping muddy boots, tearing the pages of books. It is the very ordinary nature of the bad behaviour compared with the outrageous consequences that makes the stories so appealing. Some stories are mere nonsense, others seem too gruesome for children. In particular the case of the girl who bit her nails then proceeded to eat her fingers, which is graphically illustrated!


One of the limericks, there are quite a few, actually mentions “Two Young Ladies from Oldham,” but I can’t see any reference to a cellar, though I’ll admit I’m not so sure about the meaning of the text:


This “book of bosh” is quite amusing and deserves to be seen, but the person Lear is writing to is no doubt one W.S., author of another book of “Bosh,” printed the year before he wrote his thank-you letter, here is the British Library entry: Bosh. (Rhymes.) [With illustrations.] By W. S. London, 1876. As for who this “W.S.” might be I have no idea, but will try to have a look at the book when I next travel to London.

According to The Literary World for 30 June 1876, p. 411, the book had been published that week. Some additional information can be gleaned from a July 1880 advertisement published by Bickers & Son, which states: “BOSH. By W.S. With 21 Illustrations in the manner of Lear’s Nonsense. 4to, boards, 7s. 6d; reduced to 3s. 6d. net.” (Google Books) The price reduction must have been the consequence of slow sales, which also explains the scarcity of the book.

The St. James’s Magazine and United Empire Review mentions it rather favourably in a “Christmas Books” section of its “Christmas Annual” for 1876, p. 117, and gives a few more details, including the dedication to Edward Lear:

“Bosh,” by W. S. (London: Bickers and Son, 1, Leicester Square), is a most amusing imitation of Mr. Edward Lear’s “Book of Nonsense.” The author openly confesses his plagiarism, and apologises for it by a graceful dedication. The rhymes are, however, only the accessories to the drawings, in which the grotesque element prevails. The draughtsman possesses more than ordinary ability for this class of work, while his labour has been produced in the volume before us with every regard to the obtaining of the full effect of his comical genius. Particularly comic is the portrait of the gentleman who is thus described:—

“There is a young Man at Devizes,
Whose feet seem of different sizes :
The fault he imputes
To the make of his boots-
And, perhaps, from that cause it arises.”

And one may fairly notice

“ —— an old Person of Staines,
Who’s accustomed, whenever it rains,
In haste to run out
And stand under a spout,
And there for some time he remains.”

The illustrations to these verses and others are highly amusing. (Google Books)

The Athenaeum, no. 2540, 1 July 1876, p. 25, instead, does not seem to have appreciated it:

Our experience in reviewing rubbish is considerable, but we never encountered more stupid or vulgar rubbish than in ‘Bosh,’ by “W.S.” or “S.W.,” according as we read the cipher on the title-page of a volume sent to us by Messrs. Bickers & Son, an imitation of Mr. Lear’s “Nonsense rhymes.” (Google Books)

See W.S.’s Bosh for more.

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2 Responses to The Father of Nonsense

  1. Dr Bob Turvey says:

    A very interesting find, Marco. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. ‘Bosh’, by WS, was published by Bickers & Son, Leicester Square, London, 1876. It does contain a fulsome dedication to Edward Lear. The limerick Lear liked is probably:-

    There were two old Ladies at Wrexham,
    Who, when anything happen’d to vex ‘em,
    Went down to the cellar,
    Each with an umbrella –
    Those testy old Ladies at Wrexham.

    The illustration shows that the cellar contains three barrels, on a very modern looking pallet. One barrel has a spigot. So perhaps the old Ladies went down there and had a few bevvies to cheer themselves up.

    Bob Turvey, Bristol.

  2. Pingback: W.S.’s Bosh | A Blog of Bosh

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