by ISABEL QUIGLY
By modern standards of verbal dexterity, Edward Lear's limericks are simple and almost flat, For one thing, they have no punch-line, no thumping end to the joke, since the last line reads almost exactly like the first.
But they have the charm of familiarity and of' the peculiar odd genius of Lear, who, far from dating and diminishing, seems to grow in stature. I always thought him the inventor of the limerick, but find on inquiry that he wasn't; the first appeared in 1820, he merely popularised the form.
The text of Whizz! (Hamish Hamilton, £1,25) is made up of some of Lear's best-known limericks. The pictures, by Janina Domanska, illustrate these one after another yet at the same time, by using a neat device.
A bridge, with houses beyond it, a river flowing under it, and a life-belt hanging on its rail, stands empty. On the left of a double page, propelled on to the bridge by a sort of engine on wheels. Is the Old Man in a Tree Who was Horribly Bored by a Bee.
In the next lot of pictures he, the tree, the bee and the engine have moved a short way across the bridge and are followed into their earlier position by the Old Man who said "How Shall I Flee from this Horrible Cow?", closely pursued by the cow in question.
In turn these two move across the bridge and are followed by the Old Man who said "Hush! I Perceive a Young Bird in This Bush!"
And so it goes on until all the limerick characters have got themselves on to the bridge, upon which the Young Lady in Blue says what is evidently the magic word "Whizz!" and the bridge blows up, flinging everyone off it and into the river.
All ends well, with the characters lined up in a smiling row on the bank.
This is a charmingly Lear-like oddity of a book, small enough to fit a fairly stretchy stocking. It seems to ask to be put in a drawer until Christmas.