Victorian Nonsense: Edward Lear


In his famous poem, “The Owl and the Pussycat,” Lear made up the nonsense word “runcible” to describe the spoon in the illustration below. He often applied the adjective to objects from cats to walls to hats in his other works, too. Perhaps Lear was fond of “runcible” and would be surprised it’s still in use today.


Lear was also well-known for  A Book of Nonsense, a collection of limericks. Since I spend a lot of time creating my characters’ physical appearances, this verse appealed to me.

“There was a Young Lady whose eyes
Were unique as to color and size;
When she opened them wide,
People all turned aside,
And started away in surprise.”

Maybe I’ll use the limerick as a place-holder in my writing the next time I’m stuck on a character description.

The multi-talented Lear traveled the world and visited Queen Victoria to give her drawing lessons. Overwhelmed by the magnificent collections at Buckingham Palace, Lear purportedly asked the Queen how she got all the splendid items. She responded, “I inherited them, Mr. Lear.”


Personally I wish I had inherited one of Lear’s works of art, which are beautiful and valuable. In 2011 the painting above sold for over $800,000.00 at a Christie’s auction. I wonder if Lear would consider that “runcible” nonsense?


Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense:

Collection of Edward Lear’s Letters:

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