Edward Lear, 1812-1888

Victorian author Edward Lear also had a 200th birthday this month, on May 12 (possibly May 13).  Lear is best remembered today for his nonsense verse, including many limericks and “The Owl and the Pussycat.” Lear was an illustrator who published several books of zoological and landscape paintings before self-publishing his two-volume Book of Nonsense in 1846. During the 1840’s and 1850’s, Lear focused on his painting, exhibiting a number of landscapes, but he failed to win lasting success. Then the third edition of A Book of Nonsense (1861) became wildly popular, and Lear began to write more nonsense verse.  Lear suffered from many health problems, including epilepsy, which he kept hidden from his friends and acquaintances. His physical ailments contributed to feelings of depression and loneliness, which color poems like “The Dong with the Luminous Nose.”

Special Collections is fortunate to own several original letters and drawings by Edward Lear, one of which is shown here.  The letter was written during an extended tour of India in 1873-75. It contains a self-portrait drawn in the style of many of his nonsense illustrations and a limerick.

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