The literary lives of twelve famous Victorians, told in the poetic form they knew so well
Nobody knows for sure why limericks are named limericks. They’re obviously named in honour of Limerick, the city in Ireland, but beyond that nothing is known for certain about why a five-line comic poem should be so named. But the limerick is probably the most recognisable poetic form: ask people to name the usual number of lines in a sonnet or villanelle, and you’ll doubtless find some who are in the know, but many will be unable to say for sure. Conversely, it is almost universally known that a limerick is five lines long, with the first, second, and fifth lines usually rhyming (and, to complement this, the third and fourth lines).
As limericks were such a favourite literary pastime of the Victorians – as attested by the popularity of Edward Lear’s limericks in his Book of Nonsense (1846) – we’ve set ourselves the task of writing some limericks about Victorian writers. The results of our efforts are documented below. Where possible, we’ve tried to incorporate biographical facts into the poems, such as Thomas Carlyle’s dyspepsia, but this has not always been easy – so sometimes, I’m afraid, we’ve fallen back on a bit of good old-fashioned absurdist nonsense. In our defence, such a strain of nonsense is a staple of the limerick form as it was practised by the Victorians. Anyway, we hope you enjoy these.