Edward Lear

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Can you help locate a political limerick by Edward Lear and explain its background?

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Although Edward Lear seems to have written few overtly political limericks, one poem with definite political overtones is the following:

There was an Old Man of Jamaica,
Who suddenly married a Quaker;
But she cried out, 'Alack!
I have married a black!'
Which distressed that Old Man of Jamaica.

This poem has definite political implications for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • It mentions Jamaica, for years a British colony and thus a symbol of British imperialism.
  • It mentions a Quaker – a member of a small but fervent band of dissident Christians. Since religion was so often a political issue in Britain, and since Quakers became prominent during and after the English Civil Wars of the 1640s, the reference to Quakers is somewhat political.
  • It alludes to racial prejudice – obviously a major political issue, especially in the nineteenth century, when slavery was a very recent memory.
  • Because Quakers were (and often still are) thought to be especially gentle and kind Christians, the fact that this particular Christian is racially prejudiced is somewhat surprising.

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