Edward Lear’s The Little Mouse: An Unpublished Poem

This poem does not appear in The Complete Verse and Other Nonsense; Vivien Noakes mentioned it in a note to “The Uncareful Cow, who walked about” on p. 515, but obviously considered this sketch too rough to be published, and she was probably right, as the story is not brought to a satisfactory conclusion. “The Little Mouse” was probably to have a sad sentimental ending similar to that of other songs:


The Little Mouse

The little mouse lived quite close to the oven,
His nose was pink & his coat was gray
He said, “I’ll be neat ― I won’t be a sloven ―
I’ll comb my whiskers day by day.
I will brush my fur & I will never will fail
To … & smooth every hair
―――― take ^[most] particular care
Of the elegant tip of my beautiful tail[.]
& when I can find any crumbs to eat,
I’ll sit upright on my hinder feet
And nibble it slowly [illegible] genteel
Like high ^[well] bred people a eating a meal.


The large ^[soft] white ^[Pussey] cat lived close by the fire
And she said one day to the mouse ― O Sir!
It’s quite impossible not to admire
Your charming nose & your smoothy fur!
I shall have such pleasure, Sir she said
If you’ll make what use you please of my head
If gentle For my head is as soft as a velvet chair
And you’d find it pleasant a sitting there!


The little mouse said ― In all my life
I never had offer so kind as this is{1}
My darling ^[O] pussey I’ll come ―――
& I’ll give you 50 ^[20] thousand kisses!
Long long ago in happier times
―――――――――― chimes
My grandmother taught me to play on a straw
Some lovely melodies{2} ―10 or more ―
I will sit on your head & play it slowly ―
―――――――――― wholly ―

{1} Or “I never had offer / In all my life so kind as this is.”

{2} Corrects “A lovely melody.”

The Houghton Library “finding aid” entry for MS Typ 55.14, item 154 reads:

Lear, Edward, 1812-1888. The little mouse lived quite close to the oven: autograph manuscript (unsigned); [Italy, undated]. 1s. (1p.)
A nonsense poem.

The sheet is part of a series of manuscript versions of famous nonsense poems; specifically it is between “The Duck and the Kangaroo” (no. 153) and “The Owl and the Pussy-cat” (no. 155) and so was perhaps written in the same period (1867). With the former “The Little Mouse” shares the invitation to take advantage of a part of one of the protagonists’ body, with the latter the Pussy-cat as well as the singing of “lovely melodies.”

The poem should presumably have been part of the series devoted to more-or-less incongruous couples, like the duck and the kangaroo or the daddy-long-legs and the fly: as in some other poems of the group the protagonists are animals traditionally considered totally-incompatible enemies who find a way to be of use to each other and end up living together in harmony (but on the final happiness of these couples, see Daniel Karlin’s essay on Lear’s “Poems of Love and Marriage” in Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry). While the second stanza might be read as containing an equivocal invitation on the part of the cat, the picture clearly indicates that there should have been a relatively happy ending, remarkably similar to the one in the “Duck and the Kangaroo.”

Lear evidently did not find the poem interesting enough to complete it, or perhaps he realized it was little more than a repetition of themes already developed in the other Nonsense songs. However, it is useful as it allows us to see Lear’s modus operandi in writing a poem: he clearly starts from the end of the lines defining the rhyme, but also pays attention to the rhythmical cadence of the verse.

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