Edward Lear’s Mucous Membrane (Another Unpublished Poem and a ‘Drama’)

Harvard University, Houghton Library MS Typ 55.14, item 93:

Once I had a Mucous Membrane
And I kept him in a box ―
Which the lid I fastened down with
3 of Brahmah’s patent locks.
So ― said I ― my little darling ―
From [this time] there is no doubt
From this box so well securely
You will never more get out!
But my mucous membrane’s mind
Was of a lively wary kind ―
And in spite of Brahmah’s locks
He did evade that safety box.

What was my intense surprise ―
I could scarce believe my eyes ―

Walking like a placid Demon
Arm in arm with Mrs. Freeman
Up & down the Passeggiata
[Eating] bread & buttered Tomata?

Nothing could be more suprising.

But the voice of angry demon
Dr. F. & Mrs. Freeman ―
In a quarrel soon were heard

Why we’ve had no lunch at all!
luncheon yet!
Its too late for luncheon now ―
But we must have food anyhow (though its too late
All the restaurants are closed
Ha the Doctor interposed ―

Let us, rather than be starved
Cook & eat the Mucous Membrane ―
Which accordingly they did ―
Out from Castellani’s Inn,
Saucepans & all         of tin
Salt & pepper [too] of course
And a lot of Worcester sauce.
Then they dined & both declared
Better they had never fared.

& eaten hot from a little
silver pot. What was
left was wrapped in silk ―
& sent to Mrs. Crawford Dilke.
Half the mucous membrane
roast [as] & Sandwich [or] a
toast. Half was fried &

Half I painted
Of a bright celestial blue,
Half I painted emerald green
So that such a mucous membrane
half so lovely neer was seen.

“Once I had a Mucous Membrane” was probably inspired by something that happened to Lear and some acquaintances (Dr. and Mrs. Freeman) and written for this particular audience that knew what the “mucous membrane” was, much like in the “Scene from the New Drama of the ‘Middle Ravine’” at the Morgan Library (Dept. of Drawings and Prints):

In this case we have Lear’s own explanation, which while it does not clear everything at least gives an idea of what happened:

“Scene from the New Drama of the “Middle Ravine”
Place, Corfu. Time.5. P.M.March 13th 1864
Scene, a Nollive Wood: – 4 hands discovered from
behind a Nollive tree – persons belonging to the hands
unseen. An aged and obese Landscape painter observing
the 4 hands. A vast Multitewd looking on. A Julus on the ground.
A. The 4 hands.
B the aged & obese Landscape painter.
C. The domestic and tranquil Julus D The Multitewd.
Curtain rises to Sloe and Blackthorn melody: voices
heard singing, Flee-flee to the mountains – flee!
Chorus. FLEE!!!”

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