A Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear


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!”

This is one of over a hundred lively limericks in Edward Lear’s A Book of Nonsense.

This third edition of the book, published in time for Christmas in 1861, is the first to be published with Lear’s name on the cover. In earlier editions he had used the pseudonym ‘Derry Down Derry’.

What led Edward Lear to write A Book of Nonsense?

Today we remember Lear for his nonsense poems. In his earlier career he was best known as a professional artist whose specialism was bird and animal portraits. While working as an artist, Lear began writing these limericks to amuse the children of a family he was staying with.

The limericks reflect Lear’s fondness for nonsense. Although the poems have no clear meaning, they are quirky and fun. His sketches for each limerick feel spontaneous, but they are also rich in character.

Who invented the limerick?

Lear is so strongly associated with the limerick that it is surprising that he did not invent the form himself. The first known book of limericks was The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women which was published 26 years before the first edition of Lear’s nonsense verses. It was Lear, however, who popularised the form and his work is considered very important.

Full title:
A Book of Nonsense ... Third edition, with many new pictures and verses
estimated 1861, London
Book / Children's book / Illustration / Image
Edward Lear
Usage terms

Public Domain


Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

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