Edward Lear’s Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets brought together a variety of nonsense writing, from alphabets and recipes, to botany, verses and stories. Lear was already well known for writing nonsense: his collection of illustrated limericks, A Book of Nonsense (1846), had been immediately popular, and Lear added further limericks to it over the years. ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’, shown here, is one of the best-loved of Lear’s verses and was written for three-year-old Janet Symonds, whose parents were friends of Lear.  

A feature of nonsense writing is the use of invented words and one of Lear’s most famous examples is the ‘runcible spoon’ used by the owl and the pussycat at their wedding feast. The word ‘runcible’ proved to be so popular that it has now moved from being a nonsense word to having a dictionary definition: a pickle fork with three prongs, one of which is sharp and curved for cutting.