The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women - author unknown - was a chap book published in London in 1820, by Harris and Son.
It contained sixteen five-line verses in limerick form, with illustrations, and is generally considered to be the first published collection of limericks.
The word "limerick," as it relates to the verse form, did not exist in 1820.
If you're familiar with the work of Edward Lear you'll recognise, in these tales from The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women, the inspiration for Lear's original nonsense verses of 1848 and 1863.
In 1863 Lear's expanded Book of Nonsense, drawing directly from The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women, sparked in the English-speaking world a passion for the little poems that would come to be known as limericks.
Lear didn't acknowledge his source. He stated that his model had been The Old Man of Tobago, as quoted to him by a friend; but The Sick Man of Tobago is a very different type of verse, and one which Lear did not favour at all.
It was those who came after Lear who took on the innovation, and the promise, of Tobago, and who gave the modern limerick its form.
But they were inspired by Lear, and Lear was inspired by this little chap book of 1820. Small it may have been, but The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women has left a remarkable legacy.
All sixteen verses are presented below, with the images that accompanied them. To view a facsimile of the originalchap book, follow this link to The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women at the Hockliffe Project.
There was an Old Woman named Towl,
Who went out to Sea with her Owl,
But the Owl was Sea-sick,
And scream'd for Physic;
Which sadly annoy'd Mistress Towl.
There came an Old Woman from France,
Who taught grown up Children to dance,
But they were so stiff,
She sent them home in a miff;
This sprightly Old Woman from France.
There was an Old Woman of Bath,
And She was as thin as a Lath,
She was brown as a berry,
With a Nose like a Cherry;
This skinny Old Woman of Bath.
There was an Old Woman of Croydon,
To look young she affected the Hoyden,
And would jump and would skip,
Till she put out her hip;
Alas poor Old Woman of Croydon.
There was an Old Woman of Harrow,
Who visited in a Wheel barrow,
And her servant before,
Knock'd loud at each door;
To announce the Old Woman of Harrow.
There was an Old Woman at Glos'ter,
Whose Parrot two Guineas it cost her,
But his tongue never ceasing,
Was vastly displeasing;
To the talkative Woman of Glos'ter.
There dwelt an Old Woman at Exeter,
When visitors came it sore vexed her,
So for fear they should eat,
She lock'd up all the meat;
This stingy Old Woman of Exeter.
There was an Old Woman of Gosport,
And she was one of the cross sort,
When she dress'd for the Ball,
Her wig was too small;
Which enrag'd this Old Lady of Gosport.
There liv'd an Old Woman at Lynn,
Whose Nose very near touch'd her chin,
You may easy suppose,
She had plenty of Beaux;
This charming Old Woman of Lynn.
There was an Old Woman of Leith,
Who had a sad pain in her Teeth,
But the Blacksmith uncouth,
Scar'd the pain from her tooth;
Which rejoic'd the Old Woman of Leith.
There was an Old Woman in Surrey,
Who was morn noon and night in a hurry,
Call'd her Husband a Fool,
Drove her Children to School;
The worrying Old Woman of Surrey.
There was an Old Woman of Devon,
Who rose every morning at seven,
For her house to provide,
And to warm her inside;
This provident Woman of Devon.
There was an Old Woman in Spain,
To be civil went much 'gainst her grain,
Yet she danc'd a fandango,
With General Fernando;
This whimsical Woman of Spain.
There was an Old Woman at Norwich,
Who liv'd upon nothing but Porridge,
Parading the Town,
Made a cloak of her Gown;
This thrifty Old Woman of Norwich.
There was an Old Woman of Ealing,
She jump'd till her head touch'd the Ceiling
When 2 1 6 4,
Was announc'd at her Door;
As a prize to th'Old Woman of Ealing.
There was an Old Woman at Leeds,
Who spent all her time in good deeds,
She work'd for the Poor,
Till her fingers were sore;
This pious Old Woman of Leeds.