Edward Lear's ‘nonsense’ manuscript


This manuscript is bursting with original drawings, nonsense verses and a story by Edward Lear. It contains all manner of curious animals from talking guinea pigs to a cow jumping over the moon. There is a nonsense alphabet, an illustrated nursery rhyme and the funny ‘History of the Seven Families of Lake Pipple-popple’. These were all created especially for the children of Lear’s friends and acquaintances.

What can you see here?

A nonsense alphabet

Lear’s A-Z takes us from little Ants to Zinc, via a crafty old Cat, a Gooseberry, a Lady and a Slipper. He brings each letter to life with a drawing and rhyming poem: ‘H was a Hat, Which was rather too flat’, ‘P was a Puppy, Whose tail it was curly’. Lear wrote alphabets for many different children, changing the contents each time. But the tricky letter X was always Xerxes, an ancient Persian king.

‘High diddle diddle’

Lear used quick line-drawings to illustrate the well-known nursery rhyme, often known as ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’: ‘High diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon. The little dog laughed to hear such sport, and the dish ran away with spoon’.

A nonsense story: ‘The History of the Seven Families of Lake Pipple-popple’

This delightfully dark, comic tale is about seven families of animals. There are storks, guinea pigs, owls, parrots, cats, fish and ‘gooses’, each with seven children. Their parents send them out to see the world, armed with chocolate drops and ‘good advice’. But of course the children ignore it. Each group comes to a terrible end, trying to find their favourite food. The guinea pigs get concussion running headlong at a lettuce plant. The ‘gooses’ tumble down dead in fright at the bark of the ‘plum-pudding flea’. When their parents hear of their surprising deaths, they pickle themselves in glass bottles, to be displayed in the Museum of the city of Bosh.

The story was written for the children of Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam, after Lear visited the family in Nice, France, in February 1865. It was first published in 1871 in Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets.

Who was Edward Lear?

The families of Lake Pipple-popple are small compared with Edward Lear’s. He was born in 1812, the twentieth of 21 children. Lear was educated mainly at home, partly because of his epilepsy and asthma. As a teenager, he earned money by drawing parrots and other birds. Lear was soon asked to paint Lord Stanley’s private zoo at Knowsley Hall near Liverpool. There, he wrote nonsense verses to amuse the children. He later travelled widely, and became famous for his rude, witty limericks – rhyming five-line poems about quirky characters.


History of the Seven Families
of the
Lake Pipple=popple
Written & illustrated for Lady Charlotte
& the Hon[oura]bles Hugh & Reginald Wentworth-Fitzwilliam
Derry Down Derry Edward Lear.
Feb[ruar]y 1865.

History of the Seven Families
of the
Lake Pipple=popple
Written & illustrated for Lady Charlotte
& the Hon[oura]bles Hugh & Reginald Wentworth-Fitzwilliam
Derry Down Derry Edward Lear.
Feb[ruar]y 1865.

Chapter 2

The 7 families

There was a family of two old Parrots, and 7 young Parrots. 

There was a family of two old Storks, and 7 young storks. 

There was a family of two old geese, and 7 young gooses. 

There was a family of two old owls, & 7 young owls. 

There was a family of two old Guineapigs, & 7 young Guineapigs. 

There was a family of two old Cats, and 7 young Cats,        

And lastly,

There was a family of 2 old fishes, and 7 young fishes.


Chapter 3.   The habits of the 7 families.

The Parrots lived upon the Soffsypoffsy trees, which were

quite beautiful to behold, and covered with blue leaves;

and they fed upon fruit, artichokes, and striped beetles.

The Storks walked in and out of the Lake Pipplepopple,

& ate frogs for breakfast, and buttered toast for tea;

but on account of the extreme length of their legs, they

could not sit down, so they walked about continually.

The Geese, having webs to their feet, caught quantities

of flies, which they ate for dinner.  The Owls

anxiously looked after mice, which they

caught & made into sago puddings.  The Guineapigs

toddled about the gardens, eating Lettuces and

Cheshire cheese.  The Cats sate still in the sunshine,

and fed upon biscuits.  The fishes lived in the

Lake, & chiefly fed on boiled periwinkles.  And all these

7 Families lived together in the utmost felicity & confusion.

Chapter 1


In former days, that is to say, once upon a time,

there lived in the land of Gramblamble,

Seven Families.  They lived by the side of

the great Lake Pipplepopple, - (and indeed

one of the seven Families lived in the Lake,)

and on the outskirts of the City of Bosh,

which they could plainly see when it was

not quite dark.  All these places you have

of course heard of, & you have only not to

look in your Geography books to find out

all about them.

          Now the Seven Families who lived on

the borders of the great lake Pipplepopple,

were as follows in the next chapter.


Chapter 4.                                 The 7 families send their children away.

One day, all the 7 fathers and 7 mothers of the 7

Families agreed that they would send their children

out to see the world.  So they called them altogether,

and gave them ^ each some good advice, some chocolate

drops, and a small pocket book to set down their

expenses in.  They then told them particularly not to

quarrel, and the Old parrots said,

“If you find a Cherry, do not fight about it.”

And the old Storks said,

“If you find a frog, divide it into 7 bits, but

do not quarrel about it.

And the old geese said to the 7 young geese,

“Whatever you do, be sure you do not touch a

Plumpudding flea.”

And the old Owls said,

“If you find a mouse, tear him up into 7 slices, but

do not fight about it.

And the old Guineapigs said,

“If you find a large lettuce, eat it up genteely, but

do not squabble for the leaves.”

And the old cats said,

“Be particularly careful not to meddle with a

Clanglewangle, if you should see one.”

And the old Fishes said,

Above all things avoid eating a blue Bosswoss,

for they do not agree with Fishes, & give them a headache.”

            So all the 7 children of each family, thanked their

parents, & made them 49 polite bows, and

went out into the wide world!


          Chapter 5                         The history of the 7 young parrots

The 7 Parrots had not gone far, before they saw

a tree with one cherry on it, which the largest

parrot picked instantly.  But the other 6, being

extremely hungry tried to get it also: on which

all the 7 began to fight, and they

          scuffled and

          huffled and

          ruffled and

          puffled and

          muffled and

          duffled and

          fluffled and

screamed, and shrieked and squealed and squeaked

and clawed and bit and bumped and thumped

each other till they tore each other into bits,

and at last there was nothing left to record

this terrible Circumstance but the Cherry &

7 little green feathers.  And that was the

voluble and dreadful end of the 7 young




          Chapter 6.                        The history of the 7 young storks.

When the 7 young Storks set out, they walked or

flew for 3 weeks in a straight line, and for three

weeks more in a crooked one; & after that they

ran 106 miles: and after that they opened their bills

and made a chatter-clatter-blatter sort of noise

which was remarkable and agreable to listen to.

And after that they saw a large frog spotted

with green & with a blue stripe under each ear.

So being hungry, they immediately flew at him

& were going to divide him, when they began to

quarrel as to which of his legs should be taken

off first.  One said this, and another said that,

& while they were quarrelling the Frog hopped away.

And when they saw that he was gone they began to


worse than ever, & to fight frightfully: and after

they had fought for a fortnight they pecked each

other all to little pieces, so that at last nothing

was left of any of them but their bills.  So that

was the end of the 7 young storks.



          Chapter. 7 The history of the 7 young Gooses

When the 7 young Gooses began to travel, they

went over a large plain, on which there was only one

tree, & that was a very bad one.  So 4 of them went

up it & looked about them, & the other three

waddled up and down and repeated poetry and

their last lesson in Arithmetic. And presently they

perceived a long way off an object of the most

curious and interesting appearance; having a

perfectly round body quite exactly resembling a boiled

plumpudding, with 2 little wings; and a beak, and

3 feathers growing out of his head, and only one leg.

So after a time the 7 gooses said to each other, - “Beyo[nd]

all doubt this beast must be a plumpudding flea!”

So they all began to sing out loud,

          “Plumpudding flea!

          “Plumpudding flea!

          “Come to our tree!

          “Wherever you be!

“And listen o! listen - o listen to me!”

And no sooner had they sung this verse

than the Plumpudding flea began to skip & hop

with the most amazing velocity on his one leg,

& came straight to the tree, where he stood still

and looked about him in a vacant and

voluminous manner.  On which the 7 Gooses were

alarmed & all of a tremble-bemble.  So one of

them put out his long neck and just touched him with

the tip of his bill, and no sooner had he done so

than the Plumpudding flea skipped & hopped & jumped about

like a maniac, & opened his mouth, and to the great

surprise of the 7 gooses began to bark so loudly

and frightfully that they were quite unable to

bear the noise, and every one of them tumbled down

dead.  So that was the end of the 7 Gooses.


          Chapter 8                         The history of the 7 young owls.

When the 7 young owls set out, they sate every now

& then on branches of old trees and never went far

at one time.  And one night when it was quite dark

they thought they heard a mouse, but as the gaslamps

were not lighted they could not see him.  So they called out,

“Is that a mouse?”  On which a mouse answered

“Squeaky-weeky yes it is.” – And immediately all

the 7 owls threw themselves off the tree, not perceiving

that there was a deep well just underneath, into

which they all fell & were drowned in a minute.

So that was the End of t[h]e 7 young owls.


          Chapter 9.

          The history of the 7 young Guineapigs.

The 7 young Guinea Pigs went into a large garden

full of gooseberry bushes and Tiggory trees, under

one of which they all fell asleep.  When they awoke

the[y] saw a large lettuce which had grown out

of the ground while they had been sleeping, &

which had an immense number of green leaves.

On seeing this they all called out.  Lettuce!  o!

Lettuce!  Lettuce leaves !  O let us leave this and

eat lettuce leaves!  Let us, o! let us”  And

instantly all 7 ran with such force against the

Lettuce plant, and bumped their noses so

dreadfully hard against it, that the concussion

brought on inflammation of their noses which grew

worse & worse, & killed them all 7 in five minutes

time.  And this was the end of the 7 young guineapigs


          Chapter 10.

          The History of the 7 young cats.

The 7 Young Cats set off on their travels with

great delight & rapacity.  But, on coming to

the top of a high hill they perceived at a long

distance off, a Clanglewangle – (or as it is more

properly spelt, a Clangel Wangel,) and, in spite

of what they had been told, they ran straight up

to it.  (Now the Clangel Wangel is a most danger[ous]

& delusive beast; and they are by no means common.

The live in the water as well as on land, using their

long tail as a sail when in the former element.  Their

speed is extreme but their habits are domestic and

superfluous, and their general demeanour pensive

and pellucid.  On summer evenings they may be someti[mes]

seen near the Lake Pipplepopple, standing on their heads

& humming their natural melodies: - they subsist on

vegetables entirely, excepting beef, veal, mutton, pork, fowls and

fish.)  The moment the Clangel Wangel saw the 7 cats

approach, he ran away, and as he ran straight on

[fo]r 4 months, and the Cats could never overtake him,

they gradually died by fatigue & exhaustion, & never

recovered.  This was the end of the 7 young cats


          Chapter 11.

          The history of the 7 young fishes

The 7 young fishes swam across the lake and into

[the] river, & into the ocean, where, ^ most unhappily for them,

they saw a bright blue Bosswoss on the 12th day of

their travels, and instantly pursued him.  But the

Bosswoss plunged into a perpendicular quadrangular

circular depth of soft mud, where in fact his house

[was].  And the 7 young fishes, swimming with very

great velocity, plunged ^ also into the mud quite

against their will, & not being used to it, were all en=

=tirely stuffocated in a short period.  And this

was the end of the 7 young fishes.


          Chapter 12.

          What occurred after these things.

After the 7 young Parrots, & the 7 young storks, & the

7 young Geese, & the 7 young owls & the 7

young Guineapigs, and the 7 young cats, and

the 7 young fishes were all dead, - the

the Frog, and the Plumpudding flea, and

the Mouse, and the Clangel Wangel, and

the Blue Bosswoss all met together to

rejoice at their good fortune.  And they

collected the 7 feathers of the Parrots,

& the 7 bills of the storks, and the Lettuce,

and the Cherry, and having placed the latter

on the lettuce, & the other objects all round ^ in a circle,

they danced a hornpipe all round them

till they were tired: after which they gave a

teaparty and a concert and returned to their

respective homes with great ^ the utmost respect, and pleasure,

and satisfaction and sympathy.

          Chapter 13

          What occurred to the heads of the 7 families.

But when the 2 old parrots, & the 2 old storks

& the 2 old geese, & the 2 old owls, and the

2 old guineapigs, & the 2 old cats, & the 2

old fishes became aware of the calamitous

and surprising extinction of the whole of their 7

families, they refused all further sustenance,

and sending out to various shops, they

purchased great quantities of cayenne pepper and

brandy and vinegar and sealing wax,

besides 7 immense glass bottles.  And

having done this, they ate a light supper

of brown bread & Jerusalem Artichokes, and

took leave of the whole of their acquaintance,

which was very select and numerous

and responsible.


          Chapter 14.


And after this they filled the bottles with

the ingredients for pickling, and all of them got into

the bottles, by which event of course they all

died and were pickled immediately:- having

previously made their wills, by which they left

Strict orders that the stoppers of the bottles shou[ld]

be carefully sealed up with the sealing wax they

had purchased, and that they themselves in the

bottles should be presented to the Museum of

the City of Bosh, to be labelled with parchment or

any other Congenial substitute, and to be placed on

a table for the perpetual benefit of the Public.

          And if ever you go to Gramblamble & visit the

Museum of the city of Bosh, look for them on the 98th

Table in the 400th room of the right hand Corridor

of the left wing of the central quadrangle of that

beautiful building, for if you do not you will certainly

not see them.


A was some Ants,

Who seldom stood still;

But they made a nice house,

In the side of a hill.


Nice little ants!


B, was a Butterfly

Born in a bower,

And living on Roses

And every fine flower.


Butterfly b!


C, was a Cat,

Who ran after a Rat,

Whose courage did fail

When she seized on his tail.


Crafty old cat!


D, was a Duck,

With spots on his back.

He lived in the water

And always said, “Quack!”


dear little duck!


E, was an Eel,

Who lived in the river,

And his skin was so cold

That it caused you to shiver


Cold little eel!


F, was a Fan,

All crimson and green,

The loveliest Fan,

That had ever been seen.


Fine little fan!


G, was a Gooseberry,

Green and delightful:

The fruit was quite sweet,

But the thorns were quite frightful.


Gooseberry g!


H, was a Hat,

Which was rather too flat,

And the brim was too wide,

And all on one side.


Ugly old hat!


I, was some Ink

Which was not good to drink,

But was quite fit to write

On paper so white.


Useful black ink!


J, was a Jackdaw

Who hopped up and down,

First into the street

And then all through the town;


Jump little jackdaw!


K, was a Kite,

Which flew upon high,

All over the houses,

And into the sky,


Fly away kite!


L, was a Lady,

Dress’d nicely in blue;

She walked up and down,

And said, “How do you do?”


Sweet little lady!


M, was a Mouse

Whose whiskers were long:

But he stole some new cheese,

Which was certainly wrong


Naughty old Mouse!


N, was a Nut

Which was perfectly brown,

And when the wind blew

It soon tumbled down.


nice little nut!


O, was an Oyster

Who lived in the sea

In a hole of a rock

Near the great river Dee.


quiet old oyster!


P, was a Puppy

Whose tail it was curly,

He was spotted with black

And his temper was surly.


cross little puppy!


Q, was a Quail,

With a very short tail,

For he fed upon corn

Ever since he was born.


Queer little quail!


R, was a Ring,

Of Emeralds so green,

And rubies and pearls,

And diamonds between;


What a fine ring!


S, was a Slipper,

So pretty and new

Of rose-coloured leather

All spotted with blue.


Elegant slipper!


T, was a Trumpet

Which sounded aloud

Rowdy dow, dowdy dow,

Dowdy dowdy dow-dowd!


Noisy old trumpet!


U, was an Urn,

Which was full of hot water,

To make some nice Tea

For my son and my Daughter.


useful old urn!


V, was a Veil,

With little spots on it,

To keep off the dust

From a Lady’s pink bonnet.


Beautiful veil!


W, was a Watch,

Which went Tick a tick tick,

Sometimes it went slow,

And sometimes it went quick.


Pretty new watch!


X, was king Xerxes,

Who more than all Turks is

Renowned for his fashion

Of fury and passion


Angry old Xerxes!


Y, was a Yew,

Which flourish’d and grew

Near a person’s abode,

By the side of a road.


Very old yew!


Z, was some Zinc,

So shiny and bright

Which caused you to wink

In the Sun’s merry light.


Pretty bright zinc!

High diddle diddle

The Cat & the fiddle


The Cow jump’d over

the moon.


The little Dogge laughed

to see such sport.


And the Dish ran away

with the Spoone.

Full title:
'History of the Seven Families of the Lake Pipplepopple', a nonsense story ... followed by a Nonsense alphabet, in verse, and an illustrated version of the nursery rhyme, 'Highdiddle-diddle'
February 1865, France
Manuscript / Original artwork / Illustration / Image
Edward Lear
Usage terms

© Estate of Edward Lear. Public domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Add MS 47462

Full catalogue details

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