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From 700 Limerick Lyrics, A Collection of Choice Humorous Versifications, Selected and Arranged by Stanton Vaughan, New York: Frank Vernon & Co., 1906; pp. iii-iv.




“It would seem as though the memory of man runneth not to the contrary of the ‘limerick.’ That is to say, this particular form of versification is not to be traced to its beginnings. Just why it is called a ‘limerick,’ none can assuredly say. But, whatever its origin, it is an institution provocative of wit of many and the amusement of all. The English-speaking world knows of thousands, some composed for special occasions and speedily perishing; others with the vitality of real genius in them.” — Evening Star, Washington.

There was once a poet named Immerick,
Who worked forty days on a “limerick,”
       At the end of which time,
       He remarked of his rhyme,
“There’s a limp in the limb of my limerick.”

I never could quite see the trick,
I never wrote a limerick,
       I’ve often tried
And gone to bed a-feelin’ sick.

A writer in a western paper notes that “this is the day of the limerick,” and says of this popular form of nonsense verse that “it possesses a jingling rhythm which haunts the memory long after the measured sonorousness of an epic or the lilting melody of a lyric have departed.”

The writer is evidently under the delusion that all nonsense verses are limericks. Now, we can’t give a dictionary definition of a limerick, for the reason that the word, for some unaccountable reason, isn’t given; but at least we know one when we see one.

Edward Lear has generally been charged with the invention of the five-line stanza well known as the “limerick,” but he always pleads “not guilty,” saying the form was suggested to him by a friend as a particularly appropriate model for nonsense rhymes, and this model, if we are not mistaken, was taken from the popular song, “All the Way Up to Limerick.” However iv it was, Lear’s first nonsense verses, published in 1846, were written in the form of the familiar stanza, beginning:

There was an old man of Tobago.

and he wrote no less than two hundred and fourteen others. Carolyn Wells is authority that there is an authority to the effect that the “limerick” flourished in the reign of William IV., and that the following was current in 1834:

There was a young man of St. Kitts,
Who was very much troubled with fits,
       The eclipse of the moon
       Threw him into a swoon,
When he tumbled and broke into bits.

“Limerick” is not in the Century or Standard dictionary, but a correspondent writes that Murray gives the following:

Limerick. — (Said to be from a custom at convivial parties, according to which each member sang an extemporized “nonsense verse,” which was followed by a chorus containing the words: “Will you come up to Limerick?”) A form of nonsense verse.

By way of illustration, the following is quoted from Kipling’s “Stalky”: “Make up a good catchy limerick and let the fags sing it.”

— S. V.

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