Edward Lear  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"Edward Lear was always conscious of some masculine inadequacy." --The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear (1947), Holbrook Jackson

Related e

Google
Wikipedia
Wiktionary
Wiki Commons
Wikiquote
Wikisource
YouTube
Shop


Featured:
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Enlarge
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Edward Lear (12 May 1812, Holloway – 29 January 1888, Sanremo) was an English artist, illustrator, musician, author and poet, now known mostly for his literary nonsense in poetry and prose and especially his limericks, a form he popularised. His principal areas of work as an artist were threefold: as a draughtsman employed to illustrate birds and animals; making coloured drawings during his journeys, which he reworked later, sometimes as plates for his travel books; as a (minor) illustrator of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poems. As an author, he is known principally for his popular nonsense collections of poems, songs, short stories, botanical drawings, recipes, and alphabets. He also composed and published twelve musical settings of Tennyson's poetry.

Contents

Biography

Lear was born into a middle-class family in Highgate, the 20th child of Ann and Jeremiah Lear. He was raised by his eldest sister, also named Ann, 21 years his senior. Due to the family's failing financial fortune, at age four he and his sister had to leave the family home and set up house together. He started work as a serious illustrator and his first publication, published when he was 19, was Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots in 1830. His paintings were well received and he was favourably compared with Audubon. Throughout his life he continued to paint seriously. He had a lifelong ambition to illustrate Tennyson's poems; near the end of his life a volume with a small number of illustrations was published, but his vision for the work was never realized. Lear briefly gave drawing lessons to Queen Victoria, leading to some awkward incidents when he failed to observe proper court protocol

Largely self-educated, idiosyncratically if brilliantly talented, Lear was not a healthy man. From the age of six he suffered frequent grand mal epileptic seizures, and bronchitis, asthma, and in later life, partial blindness. Lear experienced his first seizure at a fair near Highgate with his father. The event scared and embarrassed him. Lear felt lifelong guilt and shame for his epileptic condition. His adult diaries indicate that he always sensed the onset of a seizure in time to remove himself from public view. How Lear was able to anticipate them is not known, but many people with epilepsy report a ringing in their ears or an "aura" before the onset of a seizure. In Lear's time epilepsy was believed to be associated with demonic possession, which contributed to his feelings of guilt and loneliness. When Lear was about seven he began to show signs of depression, possibly due to the constant instability of his childhood. He suffered from periods of severe depression which he referred to as "the Morbids."

In 1846 Lear published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of limericks that went through three editions and helped popularize the form. In 1865 The History of the Seven Families of the Lake Pipple-Popple was published, and in 1867 his most famous piece of nonsense, The Owl and the Pussycat, which he wrote for the children of his patron Edward Stanley, 13th Earl of Derby. Many other works followed.

Lear's nonsense books were quite popular during his lifetime, but a rumour circulated that "Edward Lear" was merely a pseudonym, and the books' true author was the man to whom Lear had dedicated the works, his patron the Earl of Derby. Supporters of this rumour offered as evidence the facts that both men were named Edward, and that "Lear" is an anagram of "Earl".

Lear's limericks

Lear's nonsense works are distinguished by a facility of verbal invention and a poet's delight in the sounds of words, both real and imaginary. A stuffed rhinoceros becomes a "diaphanous doorscraper". A "blue Boss-Woss" plunges into "a perpendicular, spicular, orbicular, quadrangular, circular depth of soft mud" ("The History of the Seven Young Fishes"). His heroes are Quangle-Wangles, Pobbles, and Jumblies. His most famous piece of verbal invention, a "runcible spoon" occurs in the closing lines of The Owl and the Pussycat, and is now found in many English dictionaries:

  They dined on mince, and slices of quince
    Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
  And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
    They danced by the light of the moon,
      The moon,
      The moon,
  They danced by the light of the moon.

Though famous for his neologisms, Lear employed a number of other devices in his works in order to defy reader expectations. For example, "Cold Are The Crabs", adhers to the sonnet tradition until the dramatically foreshortened last line.

Limericks are invariably typeset as five lines today, but Lear's limericks were published in a variety of formats. It appears that Lear wrote them in manuscript in as many lines as there was room for beneath the picture. In the first three editions most are typeset as, respectively, three, five, and three lines. The cover of one edition bears an entire limerick typeset in two lines:

  There was an Old Derry down Derry, who loved to see little folks merry;
  So he made them a book, and with laughter they shook at the fun of that Derry down Derry.

In Lear's limericks the first and last lines usually end with the same word rather than rhyming. For the most part they are truly nonsensical and devoid of any punch line or point. They are completely free of the off-colour humour with which the verse form is now associated. A typical thematic element is the presence of a callous and critical "they". An example of a typical Lear limerick:

  There was an Old Man of Aôsta,
  Who possessed a large Cow, but he lost her;
  But they said, 'Don't you see,
  she has rushed up a tree?
  You invidious Old Man of Aôsta!'

Lear's self-portrait in verse, How Pleasant to know Mr. Lear, closes with this stanza, a reference to his own mortality:

  He reads but he cannot speak Spanish,
    He cannot abide ginger-beer;
  Ere the days of his pilgrimage vanish,
    How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!

Five of Lear's limericks from the Book of Nonsense, in the 1946 Italian translation by Carlo Izzo, were set to music for choir a cappella by Goffredo Petrassi, in 1952.

Works

Others

  • Edward Lear's Parrots by Brian Reade, Duckworth (1949), including 12 coloured plates from Lear's Psittacidae
  • The 1970 Saturday morning cartoon Tomfoolery, based on the works of Lear and Lewis Carroll

See also





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Edward Lear" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools