Lewis Carroll on Edward Lear

I mentioned in a previous post that Edward Lear’s copy of Alice in Wonderland is now in the USA, that he discussed the book with Fortescue (though we do not know what he thought of it), and that his circle considered Carroll’s tales as belonging to the same genre of literary Nonsense which Lear had created, or recreated, for the Victorian age.

It now seems that evidence that Carroll knew and appreciated Lear’s books has been around for a long time, at least since Florence Becker Lennon’s The Life of Lewis Carroll. New York: Collier Books, 1962, pp. 171-2:

The strangest hiatus between Carroll and his contemporraries reaches to Edward Lear, in whose biography Angus Davidson says: “There occurred during the autumn of that year [1865], in the world which, until now, Lear had been indisputed king — the world of Nonsense — an event of the utmost importance, the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. From Lear’s complete silenceon the matter it might be thought that he never heard either of the book or of … its author; yet this is hardly possible. He was in London when it came out.” Lear and Dodgson both knew most of the pre-Raphaelites and moved in overlapping circles; if they never met, they could hardly have escaped hearing each other’s bon mots. But Carroll never mentions Lear either, and Mr. Madan [in a letter to Lennon] said there seemed to be “no trace” of Lear in his library. Nevertheless it is unthinkable that Carroll had not read the Book of Nonsense, which came out when he was fourteen. Carroll at least eventually appreciated Lear, for Miss [Menella] Dodgson writes in a letter that he gave her and her sisters one of the Lear books. Perhaps the two lions were mutually carnivorous, like Eugene Field’s fierce toy animals, and circled round at a respectful distance to keep from eating each other up.

In this case, too, we do not know what Carroll thought of Lear’s Nonsense, but his opinion must have been positive if he gave a copy of one of his books to his nieces.

More recently, while reviewing Charlie Lovett’s Lewis Carroll Among His Books (Jefferson, NC and London, McFarland & Company, 2005) in the latest Lewis Carroll Review (Issue 35, May 2007, p. 3), August A. Imholtz Jr. writes:

There is [in Lovett’s catalogue, purporting to include books that Carroll read even if there is no trace in the existing lists] … no work by Edward Lear, and yet the late Iona Opie more than twenty years ago told me she had acquired Carroll’s own, unfortunately unannotated, copy of Lear’s Book of Nonsense, which is now in the Opie collection of Children’s Literature at the Bodleian.

Lennon’s idea that Carroll could hardly have ignored Lear’s 1846 Book of Nonsense might be confirmed by the fact that the young Dodgson actually wrote a few limericks, all of them composed in that same year.

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2 Responses to Lewis Carroll on Edward Lear

  1. Pingback: Lewis Carroll, the Limerick, and the Meeting That Failed | A Blog of Bosh

  2. goetzkluge says:

    There was an old man of Port Grigor,
    Whose actions were noted for vigour;
    He stood on his head
    till his waistcoat turned red,
    That eclectic old man of Port Grigor.
    (Edward Lear, 1872)

    He was black in the face,
    and they scarcely could trace
    The least likeness to what he had been:
    While so great was his fright
    that his waistcoat turned white –
    A wonderful thing to be seen!
    (Lewis Carroll, from “The Hunting of the Snark”, 1876)

    Merry Christmas and a happy new year!

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