Two More Worth Reading on Edward Lear

A few weeks ago, Cabinet: A Quarterly of Art and Culture published a long article by D. Graham Burnett on Edward Lear’s “The Dong with a Luminous Nose” in its “The Nose” Issue 64, pp. 84-91: “The Luminosity of the Nose” is now available for download from Burnett’s own website.

The New Yorker, in its April 23 issue, behind a David Hockney cover has a long review of Jenny Uglow’s Mr Lear by Adam Gopnik, “The Sense beneath Edward Lear’s Nonsense,” among whose many original observations I’ll quote this comparison between Lear and Audubon:

Lear’s parrots, for all their exoticism, strike a distinctly English note, and are almost like Regency political cartoons in their airy, bright-colored clarity. In fact, the differences in style between Audubon’s and Lear’s birds suggest almost perfectly realized national types. Audubon was drawn to the democratic and the encyclopedic—birds of all kinds occupying a common space. Lear’s subject was the eccentric individual, poised on its perch. His parrots display plumage, fashion, and intelligence, mixed with aristocratic unself-consciousness. Where Audubon’s parrots gyrate and foreshorten themselves—one can almost hear them chattering as they press their beaks toward the picture plane—Lear’s are sphinxlike in their mysterious stillness. Audubon fixed a whole nation of birds in action in the wild, even when he had had their corpses wired and posed beforehand. Lear’s parrots, drawn from living captives in the newly opened London Zoo, are rich and self-sufficient on their perches. Their minimal movement—a feather astray here, a wing akimbo there—makes them look uncannily like Gainsborough’s feathery society beauties, who are equally silent, equally sure.

Another original touch is the fact that in the magazine the piece is entitled “Knowing Mr. Lear” while in the contents for the issue the title is given as “Edward Lear’s Bifurcated Life:” a trifurcated display of Lear appreciation. This article also has something to say on the “Dong ode,” noting that “the luminous nose of the Dong is not biological, like Rudolph’s. It is hand-tooled, like a steampunk machine… an up-to-date device, like an iPhone flashlight, for finding Jumbly Girls in the dark.”

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No Rest for the Lear-Lover: More to Read

Matthew Bevis’s fourth post on “Aspects of Edward Lear” is now available at the Houghton Library blog: it is concerned with nonsense incursions into Lear’s serious drawings. Here is a full list of Matthrew’s articles: I, II, III, IV.

Michael Heyman has published a very interesting article on music in children’s poetry:

“‘That Terrible Bugaboo’: The Role of Music in Poetry for Children,” in The Aesthetics of Children’s Poetry. Eds. Katherine Wakely-Mulroney and Louise Joy. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2018. 162-181.

Even though Lear does not appear in the title, he is the protagonist of several pages, with an interesting interpretation of “The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò,” poem, pictures and music.

Michael also had an article in the special issue on “Humour in Nonsense Literature” of the European Journal of Humour Research, “Pigs, pastures, pepper pickers, pitchforks: Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories and the tall tale,” pp. 56-67: you can read it here.

Michael Dirda reviews Jenny Uglow’s Edward Lear biography for the Washington Post: “A plump, Victorian gentleman who was so very pleasant to know.” Evidently the American edition has now been published.

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Edward Lear’s Feelings

Oxford University has published a series of five short videos on Edward Lear creted by Matthew Bevis and Jasmine Jagger, the general title is Edward Lear’s Feelings, and after an Introduction, the four remeining chapters are devoted to Wonder, Disgust, Laughter and Weeping. You can also subscribe to the series on iTunes.

The Podcasts are now also part of Matt and Jasmine’s project, Knowing Edward Lear, which now has a wonderful website presenting previous initiatives, like the Learical Tennyson site and Matthew’s posts for the Houghton blog (a new, final one should be out in a short time). There is also a “Live” section, which present previous lectures, in video or audio, on Lear. More is to follow!

Matthew Bevis will also be giving a lecture on “Edward Lear: Visual and Verbal Conversations” at the Ashmolean Museum on 27 April next.

Meanwhile, last week’s The Economist has a review of Jenny Uglow’s Mr Ler, “Remembering Edward Lear, Painter and Poet,” which is freely available.

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Three Houses in Philates and a Letter to Gastaldi

The letter  was sent to Mr. Gastaldi, the architect who designed Edwar Lear’s two houses in Sanremo some time after 1880, when the building of the second one, Villa Emily had already been concluded. Lear and Gastaldi had evidently discussed the architecture of Albania and Lear sends the three drawings below, one of which has clearly been damaged by humidity.

Villa Emily.

5 Feby.

Stimatissimo Cavre. Gastaldi,

Subito dopo la sua partenza stamattina, ho trovato quei disegni che cercava. E no ho tracciato [legeramente] tre, — gli quali lascio con queste parole.

Sono tutti di case in Albania, dal Paese Philates, — luogo vicino al paese natale di Suli — quello del mio vecchio domestico Giorgio Suliote. Vedrà subito che hanno qualche cosa del pittoresco che nella Grecia non aoccorre mai, sull’architettura de’ Greci Moderni, — di quale l’architettura degli Albanesi è tanto dissimile quanto lo è il Carattere de’ due populi.


Edward Lear.

From Edward Lear: Holloway 1812 – Sanremo 1888. Edited by Rodolfo Falchi and Valerie Wadsworth. Catalogue of the Sanremo exhibition, 7 December 1997 – 11 January 1998, pp. 102-103.

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Edward Lear Visits Captain Hornby

The following is one of Lear’s earliest autobiographical picture stories, from the mid 1830s according to Liebert (from whose book, Lear in the Original, the story is taken), but it was more probably drawn in 1841, when Lear was in England after four years in Italy.

To the same period also belongs a longer series of pictures illustrating the adventures with Phipps Hornby in Scotland, now in a private collection.

  1. L. sets out from the Home of Captn. Hornby, R.N.

2. L. rushes inconspicuously into a sentinel’s box, to the extreme surprise of a sentinel.

3. L. is ignominously dragged out of the sentry box by the exasèerated sentinel.

4. L. enquires of an intelligent policeman as to the office of Captn. Hornby, R.N.

5. L. is instructed by the intelligent policeman that it is necessary to sign his name.

6. L. pursues his investigations in an earnes & judicious manner.

7. L. discovers Captn. Hornby’s office — butlearns from several official persons tht Captn. H. is gone to a basin.

8. L. searches a basin for Captn. Hornby, R.N., but wtithout success.

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Edward Lear, Massa Looking towards Vesuvius (1839)

Edward Lear, Massa Looking towards Vesuvius.
Signed and dated l.r.: Edward Lear del. / 1839.; inscribed with the title l.l.: Massa. looking towards/ Vesuvius.;signed and inscribed on an old label attached to the reverse: Vesuvius from Massa Chalk Drawing / made for R. A. Hornby Esq / Edward Lear. Pencil heightened with white. 27 by 43 cm., 10 1/2 by 17 in.

The catalogue note reads:

The city of Massa is located twenty miles south-east of Spezia, on the Italian mainland looking over the Bay of Naples towards Vesuvius. The buildings at the foot of the hill in the present drawing may include the Ducal Palace and the Cathedral of Massa.
The present work was drawn for Lear’s close friend Robert A. Hornby (1805-57) of Winwick Hall, Warrington.  He was the son of the Reverend J. J. Hornby, vicar of Winwick, and great-nephew of the 12th Earl of Derby.  A man of independent means, he helped support Lear in his first visit to Italy in 1837.
A watercolour by Lear of The Ducal Palace Massa, Northern Italy, was sold in these Rooms on 26th March 2004, lot 132 for £8,500.

This is certainly not the Massa [Carrara] in Northern Italy as there is no way you can see Vesuvius from there: the Massa mentioned in the picture must be Massa Lubrense, near Sorrento, in the province of Naples, south of Vesuvius.


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New to Read on Edward Lear

Pereira, Conceição. “Edward Lear ao voo do pássaro.” Forma de vida 12 (2018).

Makins, Marian W. “Latin, Greek, and Other Classical ‘Nonsense’ in the Work of Edward Lear.” Classical Reception and Children’s Literature: Greece, Rome and Childhood Transformation. Eds. Hodkinson, Owen and Helen Lovatt. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2018. 203-25. [Only a few pages online.]

Tigges, Wim. “Prosody as Field of Play: A Neglected Issue in the Translation of Nonsense Verse.” Jeux de mots – enjeux littéraires, de François Rabelais à Richard Millet: Essais en hommage à Sjef Houppermans. Eds. Nordholt, Annelies Schulte and Paul J. Smith. Leiden: Brill, 2018. 220-.

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