Edward Lear (1812 - 1888)


Lear preferred the term NONSENSE - the term limerick is listed by the Oxford English Dictionary as having first appeared in 1898 but is of much greater antiquity as a literary form.
LIMERICK - a verse form in five lines ( aabba ) and the usual vehicle for bawdy ("There was a young man from Brent...etc etc."). The verse form is exclusively comic and can be found at the beginning of the eighteenth century ( Mother Goose Melodies for Children 1719) and later ( The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women , 1821).


One of Lear's own nom-de-plume was Derry-down-Derry, the name of a Fool in a Mummer play.


His first Book of Nonsense was published in 1846 but was an ephemeral affair and no copy is thought to have survived. The second edition was published by Thomas McLean in 1855 and a third came out in 1860 - on economic grounds using using woodcuts instead of lithography.
 
These examples of his work are reproduced from The Book of Nonsense and More Nonsense published by Warne London c1885. Each measures 20 x25cms.


Lear was a prodigiously prolific landscape painter in watercolour and oils, having learnt much about the latter from William Holman Hunt. He was equally active as an illustrator of birds and plants. His most enduring work is his corpus of Nonsense illustration, drawn quickly, with great spirit and intense feelings of melancholy, anxiety, and dwelling on the grave results of disorder.
 
Looking at many scrap albums of the period, and the more spontaneous works of Cruikshank and Leech, it is perfectly possible to see where Lear is coming from. The difference is in the poetic insight he brings to human feelings expressed through the medium of supposed nonsense.
 
 
 
Many of Lear's Nonsense images are poignant and tense affairs. I conclude this selection with a drawing of almost insupportable sadness and anxiety - combining a melancholy of departure that would not look out of place in a painting by de Chirico - with anxieties and stasis in equal measure.
 
 After Lear's example, the limerick became a more familiar form of verse - eg. Tennyson, Kipling and W.S.Gilbert.
Lear's Nonsense Verse is inseparable from his own drawings. All the more achievement then when The Nonsense Verse of Edward Lear was published by Jonathan Cape in 1988 with illustrations by John Verrnon Lord, Professor of Illustration at the University of Brighton. His own account of the book was given in his Professorial lecture and published by the University in 1993.
 
See also Hugh Haughton (ed.) The Chatto Book of Nonsense Poetry , Chatto & Windus London 1988.

 


 

 

QUEERY LEARY NONSENSE

 

TEAPOTS AND QUAILS

 

 

 

 

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