Edward Lear, Ravenna


Edward Lear, Ravenna.
Inscribed ‘Ravenna.’ (lower left). Wwatercolour and gum arabic. 16.5 x 26.3cm (6 1/2 x 10 3/8in).


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Edward Lear, View of Abu Simbel (1867)


Edward Lear, View of Abu Simbel.
Signed with monogram and dated 1884 (lower right), inscribed ‘The Temples of Ipsambl. Feby 8. 1867′ (lower left), further inscribed ’14. Temples of Ipsambl.’ on the reverse. Watercolour. 9 x 17.5cm (3 9/16 x 6 7/8in).

Provenance: Private collection, UK.

Edward Lear visited southern Egypt in early 1867, executing the present lot on 8 February. In a letter to Lady Waldegrave, dated 9 March of the same year, he describes ‘Aboo Simbel which took my breath away'[1]. Painted from the opposite bank of the Nile, the present watercolour depicts both temples at Abu Simbel, built over 3,200 years ago by Ramesses II as monuments to himself and his queen, Nefertari. For centuries the temples were seemingly forgotten and covered with sand until their rediscovery by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt (1784-1817) in 1813. It is said that ‘Abu Simbel’ was the name of the local boy who guided the first re-discoverers to the site, and later this was the name given to the complex.

When the construction of the Aswan Dam began in 1960, it became apparent that the ancient temples would soon be submerged and destroyed by the rising waters of the newly created Lake Nasser. An international fund-raising campaign by UNESCO led to their relocation to higher ground – a highly complex and costly process that was finally completed in 1968. Thus, the present lot shows the original location of the Abu Simbel temples.

[1] Vivien Noakes, Edward Lear: Selected Letters, London, 1988, pp. 208-209.


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Edward Lear, Malacca Parakeet


Edward Lear, A Malacca Parakeet, Palaeornis Malaccensis, an illustration for Prideaux J. Selby’s Natural History of Parrots, Edinburgh,W. H. Lizars; 1836.

Signed and inscribed ‘E. Lear fct.’ (vertically from branch), inscribed ‘Plate 3d’ (upper left), and ‘Palaeornis Malaccensis/Plate’ (lower centre), indistinctly inscribed along lower framing edge. Watercolour and pencil. 18.5 x 11cm (7 5/16 x 4 5/16in).

Provenance: with Thos. Agnew & Sons Ltd., London. Private collection, UK.

The modern term for the Malacca Parakeet is the Long-tailed Parakeet (Psittacula longicauda). The breed was discovered by the Dutch physician and naturalist Pieter Boddaert (1730-1795).


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Edward Lear, Ravenna (1867)


Edward Lear, ‘Ravenna.’
Inscribed and dated ‘Ravenna.May 5.1867.8AM.’ (lower left), numbered ‘(13)’ (lower right) and inscribed with various colour notes. Pen and watercolour. 15.4 x 25cm (6 1/16 x 9 13/16in).


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Lewis Carroll, the Limerick, and the Meeting That Failed

Douglas-Fairhurst, Robert. The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland. Cambridge (Mass): Harvard University Press, 2015.


pp. 39-40:

What makes Useful and Instructive Poetry espefcially useful and instructive in terms of Carroll’s later literary career is that it contains his only experiments in what would become one of the most popular forms of nonsense writing: limericks. Take the final two examples:

There was once a young man of Oporta,
Who daily got shorter and shorter,
The reason he said
Was the hod on his head,
Which was filled with the _heaviest_ mortar.

His sister named Lucy O’Finner,
Grew constantly thinner and thinner;
The reason was plain,
She slept in the rain,
And was never allowed any dinner.

Edward Lear’s earliest limericks were published in 1846, a year after Carroll’s experiments, so they cannot have been an influence unless Carroll saw them in manuscript, although similar poems had been published before (as lear acknowledged) in collections such as The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women (1820) and Anecdotes and Adventures of Fifteen Gentlemen (1821). A More significant question is why Carroll was drawn to the form at all. The likeliest answer is that it was another example of what could happen when imaginative freedom encountered formal restraint. Limericks seem to work through irresistible logic, because each one is a small but perfectly shaped world in which everything happens for a reason. Such forms are inevitabgly appealing to writers, who spend most of their lives trying to make artificial constractions look as natural as the air they breath, but on closer inspection both stories reveal themselves to be mere parodies of cause and effect. The ‘reason’ Carroll’s young man frows ‘shorter’ is because he is from a place called ‘Oporta': the ‘reason’ Lucy grows ‘thinner and thinner’ is because her surname is ‘O’Finner’. What at first sight looks like logic turns out to be nothing more than an accident of language. If the man had been from Walway, he might have got stuck in the hallway; i fLucy had been the Hatter, she would probably {41} have grown fatter. Put another way, Carroll’s limericks show that if poems are a kind of game that depends upon sticking to the rules, a writer’s words are not simply counter he can shuffle around on the page like draughts. They are playthings with a life of their own.

pp. 167-169:

In Carroll’s case, the literary meeting that failed to happen were sometimes even more disappointing. It appears that he never met Edward Lear, for example, although they had friends such as Tennyson in common. However, one place they did keep bumping into each other was on the page, and critics of both writers have spent many fruitless hours trying to establish whether the number of common features in their work is the result of influence or accident: a ‘treacle-well’ (Carroll) and ‘deep pits of Mulberry Jam’ (Lear); ‘cats in the coffee and mice in the read’ (Carroll) and the Old Person of Ewell who made his gruel nice by ‘insert[ing] some mice’ (Lear); ‘the Owl and the Panther’ (CArroll) and ‘the Owl and the Pussy-cat’ (Lear); creatures that re ‘something like corkscrews’ (Carroll) and ‘the Fimble Fowl, with a corkscrew leg’ (Lear). Their uses of literary form were also intriguingly aligned. Many of Lear’s limericks, in particular, repeatedly open up little windows of escape before slamming them shut again:

There was an old man who screamed out
Whenever they knocked hi about:
So they took off his boots, and fed him with fruits,
And continued to knock him about.

This is funny, in the same way that a clown being repeatedly smacked on the head by a ladder is funny, but the impression that it is unavoidable is largely generated by lear’s chosen form. The Italian word stanza literally means a stopping place or a room, but here Lear has transformed it into something more like a prison cell, in which the alarmingly faceless ‘they’ have confined their victim. The rhymes hint at an alternative outcome, but this is denied by Lear’s self-imposed requirement that a limerick should always return to its starting point. So ‘screamed out’ leads to ‘knocked him about’, and ‘knocked him about’ produces ‘knock him about’, like a miniature version of the idea that violence breed more violence. But there is no way out.

If Lear’s limericks allowed him to channel his fears of stagnation, his longer nonsense poems opened up more liberating alternatives. From the Jumblies to a Daddy Long-Legs, many of the creatures in his poems travel impossible distances and end up in destinations that exist only in the world of books. They go to sea in a sieve, or search for somewhere to play for evermore at battlecock and shuttledore — any place that will give odd couples and eccentric groups the opportunity to live happily ever after. To some extent they are all discuised versions of Lear himself, who spent his adult life wandering across Europe and the Middle East, pen and sketchbook in hand, and when he pictured himself as an animal usually chose a bird — a creature evolved for flight. Rearranged in alphabetical order, the full list of his destinations read more like the index to an atlas: Albania, Belgium, Corfu, Dardanelles, Egypt, France, Greece, Holland, Italy, Jerusalem…

By contrast, until the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Carroll had never ventured further than the Isle of Wight. In 1856 he had composed a fifteen-page speech about th elife of Richard Hakluyt, the great Elizabethan travel writer and former Student of Christ Church, to be delivered at a college dinner. That set the tone for the next decade of his life, during which he was usually happier mapping out long hourneys in writing than taking them on in person. And then, in the summer of 1867, he agreed to undertake a two-month trip overland to Russia. It would only have been slightly more surprising if he had announced that he was to lead an expedition in search of the source of the Nile.

[Google Books]

On the Edward Lear – Lewis Carroll connection, see these previous posts:

Edward Lear and Alice
Lewis Carroll on Edward Lear

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Northrop Frye on Edward Lear and the Limerick

From Northrop Frye’s 1932 Notebook:

July 23

I read a book on the limerick the other day by some supercilious ass who talked about Edward Lear as a pioneer but a childish and inane primitive because his first and last lines ended with the same word, venturing to “improve” some by rewriting their final lines. This latter method is all right for silly-cleverness or obscenity, — or anything which makes the limerick do slave-labor for some non-literary purpose, — but the gentle echolalic of Lear, the last line as a reflective comment, establishes the limerick as art, modern smartness ruining its delicacy by rushing the meter and clinching and compressing the theme. Lear is the unchallenged and supreme master of the limerick, and almost the only one who brought it definitely within the pale of literature. This person is an ass, as I said before.

Northrop Frye’s Uncollected Prose. Ed. Robert D. Denham. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015. 39. [Google Books]

Robert D. Denham is the John P. Fishwick Professor of English Emeritus at Roanoke College and the editor of eleven volumes of the Collected Works of Northrop Frye.

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Edward Lear, L’Aquila (1845)


Edward Lear, L’Aquila, 1845.
Black chalk, touches of pencil, wash, heightened with white, on light grey paper. Signed and dated 1845 lower left, inscribed Aquila lower left. 14 x 28 cm. (5 1/2 x 11 in), corners trimmed.

John Scandrett Harford (1787-1866); thence by descent to the present owner.

Edward Lear, Illustrated Excursions in Italy, 1846, plate 13.



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