George Orwell, "Nonsense Poetry," The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters
, IV: In Front of Your Nose, 1945-1950
(London: Secker & Warburg, 1968), pp. 44-48 (at 46):
Aldous Huxley, in praising Lear's fantasies as a sort of assertion
of freedom, has pointed out that the "They" of the limericks represent common sense, legality and the duller virtues generally. "They"
are the realists, the practical men, the sober citizens in bowler hats
who are always anxious to stop you doing anything worth doing. For
There was an Old Man of Whitehaven,
To smash somebody just for dancing a quadrille with a raven is
exactly the kind of thing that "They" would do.
Who danced a quadrille with a raven;
But they said, "It's absurd
To encourage this bird!"
So they smashed that Old Man of Whitehaven.
Aldous Huxley, "Edward Lear," On the Margins
(1923; rpt. London: Chatto and Windus, 1928), pp. 167-172 (at 169-170):
No study of Lear would be
complete without at least a few remarks
on "They" of the Nonsense Rhymes.
"They" are the world, the man in the
street; "They" are what the leader-writers in the twopenny press would
call all Right-Thinking Men and Women;
"They" are Public Opinion. The Nonsense Rhymes are, for the most part,
nothing more nor less than episodes
selected from the history of that eternal
struggle between the genius or the
eccentric and his fellow-beings. Public
Opinion universally abhors eccentricity.
There was, for example, that charming
Old Man of Melrose who walked on the
tips of his toes. But "They" said (with
their usual inability to appreciate the
artist), "It ain't pleasant to see you at
present, you stupid old man of Melrose."
Occasionally, when the eccentric happens
to be a criminal genius, "They" are
doubtless right. The Old Man with a
Gong who bumped on it all the day long
deserved to be smashed. (But "They"
also smashed a quite innocuous Old Man
of Whitehaven merely for dancing a
quadrille with a raven.) And there was
that Old Person of Buda, whose conduct
grew ruder and ruder; "They" were
justified, I dare say, in using a hammer
to silence his clamour. But it raises
the whole question of punishment and
of the relation between society and the