Dinner with Edward Lear

Today’s Google Doodle alerted me to the fact that the 12th May 2012 is Edward Lear’s 200th birthday. Here are some interesting facts about the British writer and illustrator

  • He was the second youngest of 21 children
  • Suffered from epilepsy of which he was ashamed and kept secret
  • proposed to the same woman twice but was rejected
  • suffered bouts of depression which he referred to as “the Morbids”
  • his closest companions were his Albanian chef Giorgis and his cat Foss
  • he had a lifelong ambition to illustrate Tennyson’s poems, but his vision was never fully realised
  • he was asked to give drawing lessons to Queen Victoria
  • in 1988 the centenary of his death was marked in Britain by a set of Royal Mail stamps

Actually, laid out like that it’s no wonder the poor man was prone to depression.

As a young man Edward Lear earned his living as a zoological artist and worked for the Zoological Society and the Earl of Derby who owned a private menagerie.

He spent much of his adult life travelling and illustrated his journeys. Lear was an accomplished landscape artist but gave it up because he didn’t think anyone was interested. He finally settled in Sanremo, north-west Italy, in a house he named Villa Tennyson.

But of course it is for his nonsense songs and rhymes that he is best known. And although he is not the inventor of limericks, he certainly popularised them with the publication in 1846 of A Book of Nonsense. (He wouldn’t have used the term “limerick” himself as it didn’t come into use until after his death).

Edward Lear’s most famous nonsense rhyme is the Owl and the Pussycat. But it is The Jumblies for whom I have a soft spot. This is because I have the dubious honour of actually having been one in my Primary School production. I remember being very hot in my green balaclava and blue gloves, scrambling in and out of a cardboard box that served as a sieve.

Do you ever play that game where you make a  list of people you would invite to a fantasy dinner party? Lear is on my guest list, although I feel sure he would decline. He had an abject fear of dogs you see so wouldn’t have tolerated my two. Ah well. So I will leave you with my personal tribute to Edward Lear; my own nonsense poem and illustration.

There was a young elf from The North                                       

Who decided to venture forth

To lands further afield

But he stopped in South Shields

That intrepidsom elf from The North

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