Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM
Fri Nov 13 02:28:13 UTC 2009

The following information may be relevant.

"             The original limerick fad was accidentally created by the
reprinting in London, in 1863, of Edward Lear's Book of Nonsense, a volume
of very tepidly humorous limericks, illustrated by the author, that had
first appeared nearly twenty years before, in 1846, without any
extraordinary success.  Inspired by the reprint however, Punch, the humorous
English magazine, seized upon the form. The same was done in America by a
minor writer and sedulous-ape, Charles Godfrey Leland, who later also
embarrassingly imitated Carroll's Alice in Wonderland --  illustrations,
typography and all --  in Johnnykin and the Goblins (1877).  Leland's
anonymous imitation of Lear was called Ye Book of Copperheads, and was
published by Leypoldt in Philadelphia in 1863. It is entirely satirical, all
its limericks being directed against the Northern 'copperhead' defeatists,
and the anti-Lincoln agitations during the Civil War.  In the same year
there had also appeared a set of  "Nursery Rhymes for the Army," in Wilkes'
Spirit of the Times, in New York; twenty-three limericks signed L.L.D.,
initials that may possibly represent Leland's name with the vowels omitted.

             Almost immediately after, a much more widely circulated
imitation appeared, this time acknowledging Lear's inspiration in the title,
The New Book of Nonsense, and issued in Philadelphia in 1864 to be sold for
the profit of the Sanitary Commission, the Red Cross of the Civil War.  With
that, the limerick fad was launched in America, though always under the name
of 'nonsense rhymes' or 'nursery rhymes' until the 1890's, when, for the
first time, the name limerick seems to have been applied to the form. The
name is of unknown origin, having been appropriated from that of the town in
Ireland for reasons never really explained, possibly from a now-forgotten
chorus, 'Won't you come up to Limerick?'                         "

Legman, G. The Horn Book: Studies in Erotic Folklore and Bibliography. New
Hyde Park, N. Y.: University Books, 1964, p. 428

A full(er) version of Legman's "now-forgotten chorus" runs:

        Oh, won't you come up, come up, come up,
           Oh, won't you come up to Limerick?
        Oh, won't you come up, come all the way up,
           Come all the way up to Limerick?

--Stevenson, Burton Egbert. The Charm of Ireland. New York: Dodd, Mead and
Co, 1914, p. 240

Robin Hamilton

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list