Edward Lear to the Rev. Ellis Ashton

Here is a previously unpublished letter by Edward Lear which was offered some time ago on eBay. It includes one of his delightful self-caricatures representing the painter watching the swallows.

15 Stratford Place,
Oxford Street, W
4 Sept. 1865.

My dear Mr. Ashton,

You are right about me & the swallows – for I AM here still. You see the said swallows are better off than Landscape painters in this — that they can fly OVER Quarantines, & are not obliged to live IN them. I was going off to Dalmatia, when the Cholera put a seal on all the Shore Ports & landings — & then I fixed on Spain, where, as precisely the same thing has occurred. — I am obliged to remain here — I am in consequence dreadfully cross & disagreeable.

It is very kind of you to remember the Photograph — which is very nice, & extremely interesting. I agree with Sir Thomas that he did NOT improve much at all after he had painted that portrait.

There were 507 people at my Studio this season, (including yourself,) so you can suppose that the Contrast of London daily life is sufficiently great. Except Digby Wyatt — Admr. Robinsons, & the Edgar Drummonds I know no one here — but that is enough: — & so I go into the near Country now & then — but generally am at work on a largish picture of Jerusalem for Mr. Edwards of Mosedale House Aigburth — which I wish you & Lucy may see whenever it is done. My kindest regards to her, & believe me,

Dear Mr. Ashton,
Your’s affectionately,
Edward Lear

Lear watching the swallows

Lear wrote this letter — addressed to the Rev. Ellis Ashton, Vicarage, Huyton, Prescot, Lancashire — while in England and unsure on where to go next. He would finally set off for Venice after receiving a commission from Lady Waldegrave for a painting of the lagoon city.

Among the people he mentions are Sir Digby Wyatt — whom he had met in Rome in the 1840s — Admiral Sir Robert Spencer Robinson and Edgar Drummond — a member of the banking family that managed Lear’s money.

The painting of Jerusalem Lear was working on at the time would give him some problems, as in a letter to Lady Waldegrave of 23 January 1866 he was complaining that “these things and Mr. Edwards not paying me, with flies and a pain in my toe all affect me at once.” And again on 13 February: “And Mr. Edwards, for whom I painted the Jerusalem, from July to November, and for whom I made it so large a picture on account of auld lang-syne, has never paid for it.” This should be Samuel Price Edwards, collector of tariffs and duties at Liverpool Port.

[This letter was sold for £4,000 at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions on 24 October 2007.]

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