Variant Versions of Edward Lear’s Limericks

‘There was an old person of Skye,/ Who was nearly a hundred feet high;/ He seemed to the people/ As tall as a steeple,/ And served as a lighthouse on Skye.’ (upper left)
pen and brown ink, partial watermark ’18…’
4 7/8 x 7 7/8 in. (12.5 x 20 cm.)

NONSENSE DRAWINGS BY EDWARD LEAR, FROM THE COLLECTION OF NINA R. AND ARTHUR A. HOUGHTON, JR. (LOTS 121-129)Although rarely seen on the market, Lear’s Nonsense poems and limericks, with their accompanying drawings, are perhaps his best known works, familiar across the world. They come from the time Lear spent at Knowsley between 1831 and 1837, when he was commissioned to produce drawings of the menagerie of Lord Stanley, later the 13th Earl of Derby. Lear entertained the many children who visited Knowsley with poem and songs, and with a series of illustrated limericks. These were not gathered together and published until 1846, when they were published anonymously by Thomas McLean as Book of Nonsense. Several drawings exist for each published limerick, as he often gave them as gifts to children, and 48 Nonsense drawings remain in an album at Knowsley. He continued to produce Nonsense drawings and limericks throughout his life, and A Book of Nonsense was republished several times, alongside 3 further books of Nonsense drawings and limericks. Lear wrote to Norah Bruce in 1870, ‘Nonsense is the breath of my nostrils’, and his joy in the absurd and ridiculous is immediately obvious in these drawings. The present group of drawings relate to a variety of his Nonsense books, and indeed some were never published in Lear’s lifetime and are fairly recent discoveries.

Christie’s.

‘There was an old person of Calais/ Who lived in a blue marble palace./ But in coming downstairs,/ He encountered some bears/ Who devoured that old person of Calais.’ (upper left)
pen and brown ink
4 7/8 x 7 7/8 in. (12.5 x 20 cm.)

Christie’s.

‘There was an old man of the Rhine, who thought it was going to be fine,/ So he walked for six hours through wind and through showers/ that resolute man of the Rhine.’ (upper centre)
pen and brown ink, partial watermark ‘…37’
4 7/8 x 7 7/8 in. (12.5 x 20 cm.)

Christie’s.

‘There was an old person whose wish/ Was to swallow a very large fish -/ So he asked his 7 daughters/ To cut it in quarters,/ And boil it for tea in a dish.’ (lower left)
pen and brown ink, partial watermark ‘…37’
4 7/8 x 7 7/8 in. (12.5 x 20 cm.)

Christie’s.

‘There was an old man of Algiers,/ Who was given to shedding of tears./ He sat on a Rug,/ And cried into a jug,/ That deplorable man/ of Algiers’ (centre left)
pen and brown ink
4 7/8 x 7 7/8 in. (12.4 x 20 cm.)

Christie’s.

‘There was an old man of Toulouse/ who purchased a new pair of shoes;/ When they asked, “Are they pleasant?” He said, “Not at present.”/ That turbid old man of Toulouse.’ (lower centre)
pen and brown ink
5 ½ x 6 1/8 in. (14 x 15.6 cm.)

Christie’s.

‘There was a young person whose chin,/ Resembled the point of a pin: so she had it made sharp/ & purchased a harp – & played several tunes on her chin’ (lower centre)
pen and brown ink on paper blindstamped ‘SUPER LONDON’
4 3/8 x 7 1/8 in. (11.1 x 18.1 cm.)

Christie’s.

‘There was an old person of Oude/ Who fled when was he was not pursued,/ When called back by his mother/ He answered “Oh! bother!”/ That naughty old person of Oude.’ (lower centre)
pen and brown ink, blindstamped ‘… LONDON’ (lower left)
4 7/8 x 7 7/8 in. (12.5 x 20 cm.)

Christie’s.

‘There was an old man with an Owl/ Who continued to bother & howl:/ He sat on a rail & imbibed bitter ale/ Which appeased that old man and his owl.’ (lower left)
pen and brown ink
4 3/8 x 7 in. (11.1 x 17.8 cm.)

Christie’s.

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