I was surprised to learn a few days ago that the coming year is the bicentenary of Edward Lear. Like his fellow bicentenarian Dickens he had a father arrested for debt and a mother who neglected him (from an early age he was brought up by a sister over 20 years older than him) and like Dickens became an inveterate traveller - the very good biography of Lear by Vivien Noakes is subtitled The Life of a Wanderer.
Lear was multi-talented, starting off in life as an ornithological draughtsman, specialising in parrots, and after he became famous as a writer of illustrated nonsense books he concentrated on landscape painting mainly in the Mediterranean countries (and India) where he spent much of his later life. It would be good if an exhibition of his ornithological and landscape work could be mounted in his bicentenary year.
I vividly remember as a child reading Lear's nonsense books, especially an old one with coloured illustrations of the Nonsense Alphabet. Some of the nonsense songs were (are?) disturbing, such as the The Dong With a Luminous Nose, which starts: "When awful darkness and silence reign/Over the great Gromboolian plain". I loved the made up names, especially of creatures, such as the Nupiter Piffkin and the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò (I still wonder what 'runcible' means - it seems to be one of those Humpty-Dumpty words that Lear resorted to when he felt like it). Rereading some of the Nonsense work, I get the impression that Lear took an almost physical pleasure in the sounds of the words and that he felt that if he took care of the sounds, the sense would take care of itself.
My favourites from Lear's Nonsense work are:
How pleasant to know Mr Lear
The Owl and the Pussycat
The Nutcracker and the Sugar-tongs
The Dong With a Luminous Nose
The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò (with optional music accompaniment)
Mr and Mrs Discobbolos
The Nonsense Alphabet (the one with the boy falling down at the start)
The Akond of Swat
Incidents in the Life of My Uncle Arly
aeolium - thanks for flagging this up. I have long been an admirer of Lear - for the topographical watercolours as much as the nonsense verse. In my undergraduate days I remember a series of classes on children's literature, where we specifically concentrated on Carroll and Lear: the conclusion being that while Carroll was 'clever' and an endless subject of intellectual debate and discussion, there was something about Lear that transcended that - that he was deeply wonderful and mysterious in his effect - and that knowing about his strange life and probably difficult sexual feelings didn't really help one any further into an understanding of the power of his works. I hadn't noticed it was his anniversary - thank you for that: it will be interesting to see if the BBC is able to come up with anything of value to mark it!
That brings back memories from the "good old days" of Radio 3, when John Holmstrom, faced with a few minutes to kill between programmes, would recite "The Dong with the Luminous Nose" or "The Jumblies" - happy days!
Originally Posted by aeolium
Stanford (sub nom Karel Drofnatski) set some of Lear's (IMO not exactly inspired) limericks in his 14 Nonsense Rhymes some of which are on http://www.amazon.co.uk/This-Island-...5270497&sr=1-1 and Hely-Hutchinson also set some in his songs though I can't trace what.
Edward Lear's old house near Marble Arch is now a hotel
and quite a fun place to stay in
I liked Ian McMillan's call to remember Lear this coming year from the Guardian a couple of days ago.
Here come the next 12 months. A year
Full of downturn and sobbing and fear
and the nation's gloom thickens
like a fog straight from Dickens
but please don't forget Edward Lear
How nice to read a complimentary message re. IM. On the evidence of the lines quoted: while he's no Roger McGough, and clearly nowhere the equal of Pam Ayres, I feel that he could - given more encouragement on this Forum - be helped to become a half-decent poet.
I think that Lear's life is probably more interesting than his nonsense stuff - deeply repressed sexuality, shoddy treatment from the objects of his affection, and abominably frequent grand and petit mal attacks every day of his life, poor man. That he kept going is an astonishing example of indefatigable humanity in the face of almost insuperable odds - I do hope that he found some personal happiness along the wearying way
am51, I don't agree that Lear's life is more interesting than his work, but it certainly is very interesting. I strongly recommend Vivien Noakes' biography "Edward Lear: The Life of a Wanderer", which is well-written and informative and contains a lot of material from Lear's letters. I am rereading this book at present. He did suffer greatly from his poor health (epilepsy, asthma, weak lungs, rheumatism) which led him to spend many winters abroad in warmer climes, and he also suffered from loneliness, neglect of and poor financial reward for his artwork, unrequited love and of course the memory of his virtual abandonment by his mother at an early age. On the other hand the letters make clear that he did experience great happiness and joy from some of his travels and his close friendships (for instance with Emily Tennyson), not least because of his immense curiosity, his sensibility to beauty and his acute sense of the ludicrous - perhaps this last is the cricket which accompanied Uncle Arly "Chirping with a cheerious measure,-/Wholly to my uncle's pleasure".
I wouldn't attempt to compare Lear with that very different writer Lewis Carroll, whose work I also love and admire.