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Friday, March 04, 2016

There Was A Sweet Girl of Kingsessing...

In 1846 Edward Lear published an illustrated collection of 72 limericks entitled A Book of Nonsense. The volume, which is referenced in our exhibit Wonderland Rules: Alice at 150 , helped popularize the limerick form and inspired a number of similar books by other people and organizations.

One of these, The New Book of Nonsense, was published and sold in Philadelphia in 1864 to benefit the Great Central Fair. The fair was a fundraiser for the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a relief organization that brought supplies and medical help to Union soldiers fighting in the Civil War. The Great Central Fair was held in Logan Square and you can see some great images of it at the Library Company's website.

The new book of nonsense. A contribution to the Great Central Fair in aid of the Sanitary Commission. Philadelphia: Ashmead & Evans, 1864. A 864n. Collection of the Rosenbach.
The New Book of Nonsense includes 53 limericks and illustrations; in one of them it promises itself to be "the funniest place at the fair."

The new book of nonsense. A contribution to the Great Central Fair in aid of the Sanitary Commission. Philadelphia: Ashmead & Evans, 1864. A 864n. Collection of the Rosenbach.
 An innocent stranger asked, "where"
Is the funniest place in the fair?
"Where the Nonsense book lies" the committee replies,
Is the funniest place at the fair.

As with many limericks, those in the New Book of Nonsense frequently poked fun, sometimes crudely, at people from particular places  (The once was a man from...). Targets included Yankees, southerners, and foreigners, but also Philadelphians.  Here's one about an overly delicate lady from Rittenhouse Square.

The new book of nonsense. A contribution to the Great Central Fair in aid of the Sanitary Commission. Philadelphia: Ashmead & Evans, 1864. A 864n. Collection of the Rosenbach.

There was a young lady of Rittenhouse Square,
Attacked by a worm as she went to the Fair,
But a champion brave was determined to save
This frightened young lady of Rittenhouse Square

The girl from Kingsessing was much more formidable:
The new book of nonsense. A contribution to the Great Central Fair in aid of the Sanitary Commission. Philadelphia: Ashmead & Evans, 1864. A 864n. Collection of the Rosenbach.

There was a sweet girl of Kingsessing
whose actions were truly distressing
For she sat on the pump, and threw knives at a stump
An appearance not quite prepossessing

 I feel like I should try to come up with a good limerick for the Rosenbach, but I am finding myself stymied for the rhymes. If you have any ideas, feel free to post them!




Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach and the primary poster at the Rosen-Blog.

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