A Hidden Drawing and a Self-Caricature by Edward Lear

At the end of the month Bonhams will be auctioning three interesting items of leariana. The most surprising is perhaps a letter to Mrs. Digby Wyatt, wife of Matthew Digby Wyatt, “a British architect  and art historian who became Secretary of the Great Exhibition, Surveyor of the East India Company and the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University of Cambridge.” The conclusion of this Finnegans Wake-like letter is “My love to Digby, & respects to” followed by what may at first appear as a blot, but is actually a small picture of the Digby Wyatts’ dog:

Here is the description from Bonhams’s site, which also includes transcripts of parts of the letter:

LEAR, EDWARD (1812-1888, self-styled ‘Dirty Landskip painter’, nonsense poet and travel writer) DELIGHTFUL PHONETIC AUTOGRAPH LETTER SIGNED (‘Edward Lear’), WITH A SECRET DRAWING OF THE WYATTS’ DOG, to ‘Mrs [later Lady] Digby’ [Mrs Digby Wyatt], written partly in his phonetic spelling, informing her of his intention the day before ‘to try if Yewanddigby were aTome’, but he was waylaid by an old ‘Corfiot=Maltese’ friend, so he is now writing to see if they will be ‘shayvoo’ next Sunday (‘…andifso I will charter the Hanson of rapidity, and be driven to the haunts of hospitality in the verdant recesses of the deer frequented groves of Tavistock Park on that day…’), expressing himself pleased with a letter from Constance about some old designs he had sent her, regretting that she did not see his picture ‘Venice Canal’ which has left Austria and is now in 7 Carlton Gardens, and telling her about his low mood (‘…I have been having no end of despair at the darkness of late – & thort I shudavadda Phittavasmer again today as I have frequently had of late. But I can’t get away yet for 3 or 4 weeks…’); he ends with giving his love to Digby and respects to [small ink mark which when enlarged is a charming secret drawing of their dog], and in a postscript (‘P.Eth’) reports that he has had a ‘thaddakthident, & have broken off my front teeth, so that I thall never thpeak plain again’ (‘Thith Cometh of biting crutht’), 3 pages, octavo, largely blank area down right-hand side of the third page professionally cleaned to remove tape successfully, 15 Stratford Place, Oxford Street, ’22toothoktobr.’ 1866

On sale is also a letter to Mrs. Bright written shortly after his sister Ann’s death, see the moving diary entry recently published in my Edward Lear’s Diaries blog. Only short extracts are transcribed and no image is provided in this case: “…I am a total recluse here, a purpus to work hard: keeping a frightful bulldog on the stairs & filling the town with tobacco smoke to prevent intruders…”

Finally another surprising item, which might have been part of a letter or perhaps of a picture story, in which Edward Lear implores his Italian banker, Sig. Bartolomeo Asquasciati, about his bank account. Top left are Sig. Asquasciati’s feet (“Piedi di Sigr. Asquasciati Bartolomeo”). The item description trancribes the surname as “Asquaciuli,” but I am quite sure the name is “Asquasciati,” a family of that name living in Sanremo at the end of the 19th century: the only Bartolomeo Asquasciati I found, however, a solicitor and banker in Sanremo, lived between 1877 and 1933 and so must be the son of Lear’s banker.

Below the self-portrait: “Il Sigr Orduardo Lear pregando il Sgr Bartolomeo Asquasciati per il suo Conto del Banco” (Mr. EL imploring Sig. BA about his bank account).

The picture is undated but must be from Lear’s later years, when he had been living in Sanremo for years, though his Italian was still far from perfect.

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