The piece below was originally published on February 8, 2014, on Anthony Opal’s old website, the Weekly (since kaput). In reprinting it, we have only changed the very end of the “Afterword,” so that now you can simply click on a hyperlink to access additional (and extremely precious) information.
A detail of Nancy Ekholm Burkert’s illustration for Edward Lear’s “The Scroobious Pip.”
In early 1872, Edward Lear left a poem unfinished. It was very nearly complete: all it lacked of its intended five rhyming subsections were two lines and two words (not at the end). Lear left blanks in the manuscript, and it’s clear he intended to supply the missing bits at some later time. No one knows why he never did so.
The piece is called “The Scroobious Pip,” and it is good. It’s right up there with the best material Lear included in Laughable Lyrics, which came out roughly five years later (December 1876). But, because he never finished it, it remained unpublished during his lifetime. Indeed, the piece first saw the light of day in 1935, in the back of what was essentially a small collectors’ edition—950 copies, each one numbered. (My copy is #237.)
In 1954, Harvard University Press published a thin (sixty-four-page) book called Teapots and Quails, a very valuable document for Lear enthusiasts insofar as it made many previously uncollected or very hard-to-get pieces available—including ten limericks with accompanying illustrations. “The Scroobious Pip” appears on pages 60 through 62. The lacunæ in the manuscript are rendered either as blanks or as strings of dots. Read More