Poetry News

The Anthony Madrid Version of Edward Lear's 'The Scroobious Pip'

By Harriet Staff


A fine refinishing from Anthony Madrid on the beneficial wanderer Edward Lear is up at The Economy Weekly. Madrid's plan here is to introduce readers to the relatively little-known poem “The Scroobious Pip," left unfinished by Lear in 1872. “The Scroobious Pip,” fittingly, is repeated enough throughout this introduction that we shift to leitmotif. Repeat:

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 But, because he never finished it, it remained unpublished during his lifetime.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 (64 pages) 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 60–62. The lacunæ in the manuscript are rendered either as blanks or as strings of dots.

In 1968, the American poet Ogden Nash was asked to complete “The Scroobious Pip,” so that it could be published, with elaborate illustrations, as a children’s book. He agreed. September 1968, the book came out as an “elephant” folio, the poem spread out over eighteen pages, roughly half of which contain text (in a very large font). Nash’s insertions are enclosed in square brackets.

I, too, came out in September 1968 (eight pounds, six ounces), so I felt an instantaneous affinity with this book—which I had never heard of until I ran across an entry for it in Ogden Nash: A Descriptive Bibliography (1990). I’m a big fan of both Nash and Lear. I was excited to see what a “collaboration” between the two of them might look like.

Long story short, I didn’t care for the Nash insertions. In my judgment, they were insufficiently Lear-like. Granted, Nash had neatly solved at least one key problem . . . but I don’t want to get into that, just now.

I set out to finish “The Scroobious Pip” in a manner more to my liking. I felt qualified to make the attempt, because I had spent all of 2013 obsessing over Lear, memorizing most of his limericks, and so on. So I gave it my best shot. I reworked my material many times; I consulted with Lear’s ghost. When I was satisfied I had done the best I could, I started to play a little game. I would show friends the “Madrid version,” stripping away any square-bracket apparatus, and asking them to try to sniff out my two lines and two words.

I am sorry to report my friends were very often able to spot the Madrid bits without much trouble. My friends were encouraging, they all said they liked my lines, but I was forced to admit I had lost any right to call what I had produced a “seamless” performance.

Herewith, I shall allow the reader to have a look for herself.

Tis true, the "Madrid version" of the poem follows! Read it yourself, herself, here.

Originally Published: February 11th, 2014