Not strange so blithesome I appear! I was brought up on Edward Lear

The following poem has been published on in William B. Osgood Field’s Edward Lear on My Shelves (p. 158). Osgood Field found it in a copy of Edward Lear’s 1871 Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets:

A fly-leaf obviously from another copy, with yellow recto and white verso of the same quality as the end papers, but of a darker shade, has been inerted before the half-title, and upon the verso, is written, in Lear’s hand, the following original verses [sic].

Not strange so blithesome I appear!
I was brought up on Edward Lear,
In the nursery up so high
At Upper Norwood, near the sky,
And also (why I have no notice)
Within a walk of the Crystal Palace
Where on a Saterday Mr. Manns
Got concerts up on Wagnerian plans
And his audience sat in decorous rows, [thus ?]
And felt they were German virtuosos:
All except a small fidgety boy
To whom Saterday concerts were not a joy
And who only went there by his Mother’s compulsion,
For he felt for all Germans a natural repulsion.

Vivien Noakes does not publish this poem in her edition.

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Edward Lear and Edward Gibbon

On 2 January 1882 Edward Lear wrote in his diary that he “took a Gibbon’s Rise & Fall up to Mrs. Welfords” and then at the bottom of the page added a limerick obviously inspired by this event: the poem was pyblished by Osgood Field in his Edward Lear on My Shelves (p. 90) and by V. Noakes in The Complete Verse and Other Nonsense (p.  434), but the drawing, which Noakes rightly defines “slight,” has not previously been published.


There was an old man with a ribbon,
Who found a large volume of Gibbon,
Wh. he tied to his nose —
And said — I suppose,
This is quite the best use for my ribbon.

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Peter Newell, The Johnson Family at the Columbian Exposition (1893)

One of the most annoying aspects of Peter Newell’s production was his frequent reliance on racial stereotypes, which often becomes racism tout court; here is what Bridget R. Cooks writes in “Fixing Race: Visual Representations of African-Americans att the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893” (Meet Me at the Fair: A World’s Fair Reader. Ed. Laura Hollengreen, Celia Pearce, Rebecca Rouse and Bobby Schweizer. ETC Press, 2014. 97-111. Online.):

At the turn of the twentieth century, racist cartoons and ethnic caricatures were expected and enjoyed by the readership of some of America’s most popular magazines. Although Harper’s Weekly, with its lofty subtitle “A Journal of Civilization,” positioned itself as a more serious magazine than journals such as Harper’s Bazaar and Puck that routinely printed degrading caricatures, it too occasionally published racist material. During the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Harper’s Weekly published a fifteen-part Saturday cartoon series about the fictional Johnson family by illustrator Peter Newell. Newell’s series is in keeping with the popular nineteenth-century caricature tradition regarded as acceptable among his peers in the mainstream American press. However, the Johnson Family cartoons are remarkable because they are the only racist images in the issues of Harper’s Weekly in which they appear, highlighting the importance of their message that African-Americans were an unwanted presence at an event that served to solidify America’s national identity. To date, there has not been an analysis of the anomalous Johnson family series and its unique function in the context of Harper’s Weekly.

The series actualy consisted of 18 half-page panels, one of which was not used (“The Johnson Family Visits an Ostrich Farm”) and the last two appeared in Harper’s Bazaar on 4 and 11 November 1893 (see Newell Papers at Beinecke). Below is the full sequence: I have taken the pictures from scans at Hathi Trust for the first 15 episodes and from the Home Economics Archive at Cornell for the last two. The quality is not good, horrible for the last two images. I’d appreciate better scans if anyone can get them.

















The missing episode, in addition to the unpublished one, is no. 8 from the 16 September 1893 issue (no. 1917) of Harper’s Weekly: “The Johnson Family visit Lady Aberdeen’s Irish Village and Blarney Castle.” The online facsimile at Hathi Trust does not have pp. 887-892, where it probably appeared.

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Edward Lear and his Garden


The last page of a letter from San Remo, by Edward Lear; from the George Gery Milner-Gibson-Cullum autograph collection at Trinity College Library, Cambridge.

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Carolyn Wells’s Lovely Lilly

Carolyn Wells often contributed to the children’s sections of newspapers in the first decade of the XX century. One of the weirdest of these contributions was no doubt Adventures of Lovely Lilly, which ran in the Sunday New York Herald from December 1906 to 27 January 1907 and from 19 May to 9 June 1907.

“Lovely” Lilly is not the little girl you would imagine: each episode consists of her encouter with a wild animal; Lilly  simply scolds the beast, boxes its ears or otherwise submits it while smiling graciously and without crumpling her doll clothes.

The two colour examples below are from Allan Holtz’s Stripper Guide, where you can also find information on the strip’s artist, G.F. Kaber. The black-and-white episodes are from Nemo: The Classic Comics Library, 27, November 1987.



More on Carolyn Wells’s nonsense contributions to 1900s newpaper supplements: Gustave Verbeek’s Cruel Tales and the Nonsense Tradition, Carolyn Wells.







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More Summer Reading


It seems I missed several more articles on Edward Lear:

Marroni, Francesco. “Byron, Edward Lear and the Riddle of Albania.” Skills and Tools to the Cultural Heritage and Cultural Tourism Management. Eds. Santoro, Sara, Eva Subias and Gloria Bolzoni. Teramo: Edizioni D’Errico, 2013. 85-106.

Russell, Quentin. “In the Footsteps of Edward Lear (1812-1888): Assessing the Legacy of his 1848 Balkan Journey.” British Art Journal 15.2 (2014): 59-67.

Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature, Volume 53, Number 3, July 2015, edited by Michael Heyman, is a special issue devoted to Nonsense literature and includes an essay on Lear:

Minslow, Sarah. “Challenging the Impossibility of Children’s Literature: The Emancipatory Qualities of Edward Lear’s Nonsense.” Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature 53.3 (2015): 46-55.

This paper offers a Bakhtinian analysis of Edward Lear’s limericks to reveal how from a dialogic perspective, the polyphony within the limericks draws readers’ attention to the ways language is used to construct, convey, and deconstruct social hierarchies and power relationships that traditionally depended on the unquestioning obedience and ignorance of children. In doing so, the paper also argues that Lear’s works exemplify anti-colonizing children’s literature that gives the child a voice and positions him or her as an active, decision-making participant in the process of interpretation. Dialogic engagement with the limericks allows the child to challenge strictures imposed by adult concepts of the child and children’s literature, without trying to indoctrinate the child reader into one way of conceptualizing self, otherness, and the social world. It is from the basis of Lear’s nonsense as innovative and radical that I extend a study of Lear’s limericks and their contribution to contemporary discussions of children’s literature. A dialogic analysis of Lear’s limericks reveals that they allow a space where anyone can laugh at and question dominant society because the critical gaze is deflected from the other to the self and dominant social attitudes and conventions.

There will also be a number of books on Edward Lear in the next months; Robert Peck e-mailed me some weeks ago to let me know that his “book on the natural history paintings of Edward Lear is completed and is now in its design phase.  We are looking toward a publication date of early 2016.”

Also ready, or almost, is the collection of essays from the Edward Lear conference of 2012: Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry, edited by James Williams and Matthew Bevis, will be published later this year by Oxford University Press.

Finally, a few months ago John Varriano let me know that he was working on a new monograph on Lear’s early days in Rome and the Campagna.

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Summer Reading, Watching and Listening

Here is a list of Edward Lear resources I found in the past months but never posted; please note I have also added several items to the bibliographies:

Hugh Haughton, “Edward Lear and ‘The Fiddlediddlety of Representation.'” The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Poetry. Edited by Matthew Bevis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 351-369. Available from Google Books.

Children’s Literature Review, vol 169, Edward Lear
To coincide with this year’s Limerick day, the Gale Group have posted online a collection of previously-published essays on Lear (you can choose to print the whole collection if you want).

Seline Bullocke’s “Edward Lear and Ideals of Art Theory in the Development of English Landscape Painting” at The British Art Journal website.

I have created a small SoundCloud playlist with four short talks on Edward Lear from the Poet in the City Edward Lear event of 2012. SoundCloud, by the way, is full of sound bit about Lear.

Dr. Clemency Fisher on “The Zoological World of Edward Lear.” A History of science lecture filmed at The Royal Society, London on Fri 19 Oct 2012. On this page you can get the audio only version.

Louise Lee on “Re-reading the Scientist as Specimen: Edward Lear, the Fugitive Poets and the Politics of Whimsy” as part of the workshop Reading and Replicating Bodies: Mimicry in Medicine and Culture, 1790-1914 at the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, funded by the Wellcome Trust, 26th March 2015 (only part of her lecture is online).


Five songs based on poems by Edward Lear by Papa Crow.

The scores (in pdf format) of Albert Coates’s Three Songs from Edward Lear’s Nonsense Rhymes at the Stellenbosch University Library:

The presentation of a new book on Lear, in Italian, Edward Lear e la Bovesia, by Franco Tuscano:

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