Edmund Clerihew Bentley / mused when he should have studied intently.


by Marnanel Thurman

The ambition of Edmund Clerihew Bentley was to get a first at Oxford. When he didn't manage to do so, he devoted his energies instead to an attempt to get his middle name into the dictionary. He invented a verse form named the "clerihew", and published a collection of them, Biography for Beginners, which was enough of a success that he achieved his lexicographical aim. That book helpfully begins:

The art of Biography
Is different from Geography.
Geography is about maps,
But Biography is about chaps.

The clerihew has four lines, rhymed aabb; it generally begins with the name of its subject, and it is in roughly conversational metre. Another of Bentley's examples which shows their usual surreality:

I do not extenuate Bunyan's
Intemperate use of onions,
But if I knew a wicked ogress
I would lend her "The Pilgrim's Progress."

Since then, many others have been written: here are some to be going on with. Feel free to send in your own compositions. And let me know: if you decided to get your name into the dictionary, what would you invent?