New about Edward Lear

Daniel Karlin reviews Jenny Uglow’s Mr. Lear in this week’s TLS; while his final opinion is largely positive,

Uglow has something interesting to say on almost every facet of Lear’s life and work, taken individually. When she gets off the chronological treadmill her gift as a storyteller is evident, and her assessments of character and motive are almost always sensible and convincing. As a critic she is lucid, clever, conversable; she doesn’t talk down, and her readings are excellent, the heart of the book.

he seems to consider Uglow’s chronological approach “wearisome,” in large part because of a redundant focus on Lear’s travels, an impression I did not have while reading the book, which on the contrary I think managed to avoid this pitfall of many other biographical sketches. On the other hand, a little contradictorily, he complains that the book “would need to be three, four, ten times as long to do this [i.e. provide an ‘immersive experience of such a life’] propertly.”

In the same issue Thomas Dilworth launches in one of his readings of an Edward Lear limerick, “There was an Old Man of the Hague,” which is fun to read but does not really say much about Lear himself.

Peter Parker reviews Mr. Lear for The Spectator.

I have added to the critical bibliography the following items:

Uglow, Jenny. Mr. Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense. London: Faber and Faber, 2017.

Westwood, Benjamin. “Edward Lear’s Dancing Lines.” Essays in Criticism 67.4 (2017): 367-91.

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Three Limerick Drawings by Edward Lear

Three original pen & ink drawings by Edward Lear, taken from ‘A Book of Nonsense,’ first published in 1846. The drawings have been examined and fully authenticated as Lear’s work by the late Vivien Noakes, the world expert on Edward Lear. They are drawn on silk, or possibly fine rag paper, and then laid on paper for support. They were drawn, almost certainly for presentation to friends, and would originally have been part of a group of drawings bound in book form, probably at the time of its making in the early 1860’s. There is some staining and browning, but otherwise the drawings are in excellent condition. The drawings are mounted on acid free card and are supplied with a copy of the letter of authentication from Vivien Noakes. Mount sixe: 24.7 x 30.5 cm. Original ‘Nonsense’ drawings by Lear are exceedingly rare.

David Miles Books: 1, 2, 3.

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The Animal World of Edward Lear

In her new biography of Edward Lear Jenny Uglow observes that “when he was low Lear always felt closer to the animals than to the smart people around him” (p. 229) and she has now expanded on the idea in an article in The Guardian, “From ging-e-jonga to the Quangle Wangle Quee.”

Speaking of Lear and animals, Christine Jackson has reviewed Robert Peck’s The Natural History of Edward Lear in the Archives of Natural History, 44.2, October 2017. 385-386.

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Edward Lear and Food

You would think that writing over 500 essential pages on Edward Lear should have been enough for Jenny Uglow who, not thinking so, has a long article on food in Lear on the Times Literary Supplement website entitled “Full of Veal-Cutlets and Chocolate-Drops.” I sincerely hope this is an outline for her lecture at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on 13 October; or, considering she also has a long review of a book on Hans Sloane in the current New York Review of Books, she could tell the rest of us how she manages to get 8-day weeks.

More reviews of Edward Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense:

Christopher Hart in The Australian.

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Jenny Uglow’s Edward Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense

Another biography of Edward Lear!

One could be excused for reacting like this at the news of Jenny Uglow’s new book, after all there are at least five other easily available. Even though I had enjoyed all the books by Uglow that I had read, I was also a bit sceptical about the possibility of improving on the late Vivien Noakes’s Edward Lear: The Life of a Wanderer, first published in 1968 and last updated in 2004.

Let me state straight away that there was no reason for concern; this is a wonderful book providing what will presumably be the definitive story of Lear’s life and one of the best interpretations of his works for many years to come. All my worries were dissipated from the very beginning, Lear’s infancy and youth are explored in great depth, adding details not in the previous biographies or presenting them in a clearer way, while at the same time dispelling a number of recurrent myths, often propagated by Edward himself, about the Lear household, such as the number of children and the nature and consequences of Jeremiah Lear’s bankruptcy.

Uglow’s Edward Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense, a very traditional biography starting with Lear’s birth and proceeding chronologically to his last years and death, does not try to impress the reader with picturesque descriptions or entertaining episodes, though there are lots of course. The historical, political and social context is less in evidence than in her previous books, probably a consequence of Lear’s limited interest and non-existent participation in the great events of the age, unless they concerned his acquaintances or family. Also, as his friend Evelyn Baring wrote, Lear was “too warm-hearted to be satirical” and his nonsense, especially the later, longer poems, were concerned with his feelings rather than with the external world. The existence of a daily diary, starting in 1858, also leaves very little to be inferred about his opinions, though Uglow perceptively observes that it is not necessarily always a reliable guide:

He recorded moods, health, toothache, itchy skin, constipation; work and travel; people met, letters received, gossip heard; walks taken, books read, meals eaten.
What did he not record? Dreams, lusts, his feeling about words, his creative process – all these lie deep beneath the diary-words (p. 415).

These latter are the things we really want to know and that Uglow tries, convincingly I think, to extract from Lear’s limericks, poems and stories, as well as paintings and travel journals. What mostly distinguishes the volume from the other biographies is the attention devoted to the nonsense works, with chapters discussing each of the four canonical volumes and others on specific genres; I was particularly fascinated by the one about Lear’s early poem caricatures and picture stories (“Make ’em laugh”) and the one on the alphabets (“A was an Ass”), a kind of composition I have never fully appreciated: after reading Uglow’s observation that they “let us hear how Lear spoke” (p. 265) I will have to go back and reconsider them. Uglow’s readings are always convincing and often original and enlightening.

The book is also strong on the connections of Lear’s work with the ideas of other great Victorians, such as Alfred Tennyson, Charles Darwin and John Stuart Mill, as well as on his position on the theological debates of the age, in particular those following the publication of Essays and Reviews in 1860. Lear’s debt to other painters is also discussed and the book contains the best analysis I have read of his brief affair with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and his life-long friendship and admiration for William Holman Hunt.

Praise is also due to Faber & Faber, as the volume itself is wonderfully produced and for once the large number of well-chosen colour and black and white illustrations, often pictures only rarely seen, instead of being grouped in one or two blocks are evenly interspersed in the text and placed in relevant positions; I suppose this is no easy feat for a publisher.

Reviews so far:

Ysenda Maxtone Graham in The Sunday Times.

Robert McCrum in The Guardian.

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst also in The Guardian.

Lybdall Gordon in the New Statesman.

Eileen Batterby in The Irish Times.

Craig Bown Event in the MailOnline.

Jenny Uglow will talk about Edward Lear at The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival on Friday, October 13,

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Mary Crawford Fraser on Edward Lear

For some reason we were drawn to choose quite a new spot for our villegglatura in the summer of 1870, a retreat in the Maritime Alps, of which till then I had seen very little. I think the train took us as far as Cour Mayeur, and from there we journeyed by carriage to the Certosa di Pesio, a huge monastery in the most lonely part of the hills, which had been converted into a summer hotel. The road ascended all the way through an almost unbroken forest of chestnut trees, their cool, deep verdure striking very pleasantly on the senses after the two days of hot, dusty railway travelling. Towards evening we skirted a torrent, rushing far below us, and finally crossed it by an ancient stone bridge to drive under the archway of the Certosa itself, a huge gray building with vast cloisters surrounding flowery courtyards. The bedrooms, wonderfully large and airy, all opened out of these cloisters, and of course the general dining-room was the former refectory. It was a particularly cheerful apartment, and when I came in to the midday breakfast on the day after our arrival, I was dazzled by the floods of light and rather confused by the noise of sixty or seventy persons talking the ear splitting Lombard dialect in the shrill Lombard voice. The language had no relation to any Italian I had ever heard, and carried as many “ngs” and “oüs” as Portuguese, together with sibilant “c’s” and “s’s” that emulated what foreigners call the hiss of English. Nothing gives me the blues like finding myself among people who speak a tongue I do not understand, and I slipped into my place beside my mother in deep dejection, which must have shown itself in my face, for when I looked up to take stock of our neighbours I became aware that a dear old gentleman on the opposite side of the long narrow table was regarding me with benevolent if amused pity. He had a long white beard and very bright eyes that seemed to be watching a pleasant comedy all the time. After a few minutes he found occasion to offer me some small table d’hôte civility, remarking at the same time, “It is rather confusing at first, but you will soon get accustomed to it!”
I never knew how musical an English voice could sound, till that moment. Before the meal was over we were the best of friends, and my new acquaintance, remarking that my small sister Daisy, who sat beside me, was in trouble with her big knife and fork, produced a bit of paper and a pencil, and a few seconds later pushed across to her a delightfully funny drawing with one of Edward Lear’s immortal nonsense rhymes written below! That moment betrayed him to us. We knew all the “First Nonsense Book” by heart already, and that summer saw almost all that went to make the “Second Nonsense Book” written and illustrated for my fortunate little sister. Never was there a man who could so live into the feelings of a child. Daisy was a turbulent little creature, always getting into trouble of some kind, and from that first day she learnt to take her disasters to “Uncle Lear,” as he taught her to call him, to have them turned into joys by his rhymes and pictures. A frightful bump on her forehead was the origin of the “Uncareful Cow” who got a similar one and was horrified to find It growing into a third horn which had to be rubbed away with camphor. The strange meats and unmanageable cutlery of the table d’hôte inspired the marvellous botanical specimen, “Manyforkia Spoonfolla” as well as most of the recipes for “Nonsense Cookery.” But Uncle Lear did not always wait to be asked for his rhymes. Day after day Daisy would find on her plate some enchanting, highly coloured sketch with an appropriate poem. We all felt enriched when “The owl and the pussy cat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat,” and the mystery of the disappearance of “The Jumblles,” who “Never came back to me!” had an alluring gloom even for us grown ups.
All through that summer, which grew sadder and sadder as the storm of war broke over France and crept down across the Alps to prepare the Roman tragedy, dear Mr. Lear was an unfailing source of comfort and cheer to us all. He was one of the few Englishmen not spoilt by almost life-long residence in Italy, one who gave the lie to the Italian proverb, “un Inglese italianato è il Diavolo incarnato.” And he knew his part of the world well, having travelled far enough from his home in San Remo to paint many delightful pictures of other places with pen and pencil. His big book on Corsica which he sent me later, was one of my most treasured possessions. For all his bubbling love of fun he had a fine sense of the stern and dramatic, and I have seldom seen anything grimmer than his picture of a Corsican funeral — the stark corpse in everyday clothes tied in an upright sitting posture to a kind of gibbet strapped to the saddle of a mountain pony, the animal shivering with fright as it was led by two men over the tumbled rocks and boulders of a pass so steep that they could hardly keep their footing, down to where it was possible to dig a grave and bring a priest to bless it.
But it was not for his serious work that we and the world loved Mr. Lear, not by that will he be remembered, but by the inexhaustible sweetness and spontaneousness of his fun, the blessed innocent delight which he brought into thousands of lives. One day he said to me confidentially, “My dear child, I’m sure we shall be allowed to laugh in Heaven!” He came to see us in Rome in succeeding years and grew to be so much our own that after his death I sometimes fancied his spirit crept in among us and added a note of gentle, ghostly mirth to our little gatherings. He had had heavy private sorrows, but they were never allowed to cloud the sunshine he so generously shed upon all who came near him.

Mrs. Hugh Fraser [Mary Crawford Fraser]. A Diplomatist’s Wife in Many Lands. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1913. Volume II. 24-27

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More Wheelbarrows!

There was a young woman of Harrow
Who always rode in a wheelbarrow
Her weight was so great
She came out of it straight
That jolly young woman of Harrow.

See here, here, and here.

This one is from:

The Book of Folly: A Volume of Original Caricatures in Pen-and-Ink from the Library of Viscount Long
Oblong, 15 by 23 cm. Unpaginated, with 42 pages containing ink illustrations and/or verse, most of which are outlandish and nonsense often in the spirit of Edward Lear.
The album had a few contributors, each of whom initialed his contribution. One poem is signed William Colquhoun. Otherwise, the contributions are initialed and their precise identities are unknown. It is probable that a number of the limericks and/or ink illustrations were done by children of the Walter Long, created the First Viscount Long, and their friends. The book carries the bookplate of Long on its FEP, and many of the items are initialed with an L. Long, known as a Irish Unionist, was a leading politician during World War One and the period directly prior and after, serving as First Lord of the Admiralty from 1919 to 1921. The level of artistic proficiency is various, the very best of the artwork has the unforced fluency of a cartoon by a Rococo master, when it is elaborate, or sure-handed and crisp, when a more minimalist sketchy line drawing. And at the lower end, even the most unskilled illustrations do not fail to amuse. (Nowadays, when no longer is artistic self-expression widely cultivated, it is inconceivable that such an album could be created.) The verse has a similar range but also should never fail to bring at least a smile of appreciation. Subject-wise, there is a generous dose of mayhem, cruelty, slapstick, and freakish traits and perverse tics — after all, limericks predominate! There is one narrative set of five limericks about a dog who drank tea; otherwise, the works are all free-standing. There are burlesques of cats, horses, bald ladies, the fat, the skinny — but telling you that this poem is about the “Soldier from Naples” or that one, “the old man on the moon”, really doesn’t relate much about their humor and warpness. Most of the entries are directly into the album, with a handful of illustrations pasted instead.

White Fox Rare Books and Antiques.

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