Troublesome beards & delightful limericks: Edward Lear’s A Book of Nonsense (1861)

Illustration of 'There was an Old Man with a Beard ' - a limerick from Edward Lear’s A Book of Nonsense

Apparently Beards Are Back! And you must keep on top of your beard or they become unmanageable; plucking and trimming – shampoo and beard oil required.

The great age of the beard was the Victorian era. And to judge from this illustration the Victorians struggled with beard grooming as we do today. Perhaps seeing so much out of control facial hair is what inspired the above illustration and limerick from Edward Lear’s A Book of Nonsense, 3rd ed (1861).

“There was an Old Man with a beard,

Who said, “It is just as I feared! —

Two Owls and a Hen, four Larks and a Wren,

Have all built their nests in my beard.”


Illustration from Lewis Carroll’s original manuscript of Alice’s Adventures under Ground (1862-1864)

Illustration from Lewis Carroll's original manuscript of Alice's Adventures under Ground (1862-1864)

This image is from Lewis Carroll’s original manuscript of Alice’s Adventures under Ground [later published as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland], 1862-1864.

Alice grows in size after drinking from a mysterious bottle with the instruction ‘drink me’ on it.

John Tenniel produced the most famous illustrations of Alice, but looking at Lewis Carroll’s original manuscript, there’s no doubt that Tenniel drew heavily on the author’s vision.

[Acknowledgement: British Library]

The Monkey and the Dolphin (c.1868) by Gustave Doré

The Monkey and the Dolphin (c.1868) by Gustave Doré

The Monkey and the Dolphin (c.1868) by Gustave Doré (1832-1883), French artist, printmaker, illustrator & sculptor. Wood engraving – via The Met Museum.

A scene from the book: Fontaine’s Fables. The fables of Jean de La Fontaine were issued in several volumes, 1668-1694 and are considered classics of French literature. There are 239 fables in total. When he first wrote his Fables, La Fontaine had an adult audience in mind, but they came to be regarded as providing an excellent education in morals for children. Do we have a modern equivalent? Moral fables?


Illustration from the Rainbow Annual (1948)

Illustration from the Rainbow Annual (1948)

A fun illustration from the Rainbow Annual (1948). Rainbow was a British comic.

There’s nothing so jolly as a roundabout brolly!

A lovely day!” The Squirrels say.

Nice for a spin, you know.”

It will be fun,

Says littlest One,

Just round about we’ll go!

They think a brolly is very jolly!

And all jump gaily in,

Go round about,

And gaily shout:

Lovely day for a spin!









1880s poster for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

1880s poster for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

“Great God! Can it be” !!

Poster for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1880s), a novella by Victorian author, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894).

It says something about this story that the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” is now part of the English language – meaning a person who can be greatly different in character over a short passage of time.

I was interested to read that Robert Louis Stevenson (re)wrote his world famous story whilst suffering from tuberculosis (TB) – and in just three days! (See below)

This from the Guardian:

One of the enduring mysteries of English literature was solved last night when it emerged that the first, impassioned draft of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was destroyed by the author’s wife.

Fanny Stevenson burned it after dismissing it to a friend as “a quire full of utter nonsense”. She said – of what became the world’s most admired and profound horror story – “He said it was his greatest work. I shall burn it after I show it to you”.

Stevenson, an invalid almost deranged by tuberculosis and the effects of medicinal cocaine, had to spend the next three days feverishly rewriting and redrafting the 30,000-word story by hand.

Within weeks, the new version of his pioneering novel about split personality was in print. Despite Fanny’s view, it was an instant bestseller. Sermons were preached on it in thousands of churches, including St Paul’s cathedral, London. It was pirated in the US and in translation.

It rescued the Stevensons from acute debt. For the first time, the couple had enough money to live comfortably.

Some 115 years later, Fanny’s deed has been disclosed in a two-page letter on pages torn from a notebook. It was written by her in 1885 to Stevenson’s close friend and fellow poet WE Henley.

Fascinating fact:  The name “Jekyll” was borrowed from the author’s friend – the Reverend Walter Jekyll, younger brother of famous horticulturalist and landscape designer Gertrude Jekyll.