"Children swarmed to him like settlers. He became a land." W.H. Auden
Edward Lear – beloved nonsense poet, author of such adored poems as The Owl and the Pussycat, inventor of otherworldly characters like Quangle Wangles and of the modern limerick; lauded artist and illustrator – was a genius who defies classification. Gregarious and popular, Lear had a wide circle of friends, but was often lonely and subject to frequent bouts of depression and debilitating epilepsy, the shame of which he struggled with all his life. In this captivating biography, fellow poet Peter Levi renders descriptions of Lear's sketches and watercolours (of which he painted some 10,000 in the course of his career) and provides incisive portraits of his classic poems, such as The Jumblies, The Owl and the Pussycat and The Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo, setting them in the wider context of traditional nursery rhymes.
Lear belonged to the great tradition of adventurous British travellers, undertaking extensive journeys in Italy and Greece, in Albania, Turkey, Egypt, Palestine and India and these always-eventful journeys are related here, alongside extracts and quotations from his letters and diaries – an essential biography for all lovers of this remarkable British literary figure and now recognised as one of the greatest nineteenth-century landscape painters.
List of Illustrations
'How Pleasant to Know Mr Lear' Foreword by Robin Hanbury-Tenison
Two THE PAINTER OF BIRDS
Three THE LITHOGRAPHER
Four INTIMATE INTERLUDES
Six SOUTHERN ITALY
Seven A TASTE OF GREEK LANDS
Eight LEAR AT FORTY
Ten THE DEATH OF ANN
Fourteen THE HOUSE AT SAN REMO
FIfteen TO SEA IN A SIEVE
Seventeen THE FALL OF A HOUSE OF CARDS
Eighteen THE VILLA TENNYSON
Nineteen THE DEATH OF EDWARD
Appendix A: The plants in Lear's garden
Appendix B: Children of Jeremiah Lear and Ann Skerritt
Notes and References
Peter Levi, FSA, FRSL, (1931-2000) was a poet, archaeologist, Jesuit priest, travel writer, scholar, biographer and critic. Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1984-89, Levi also worked for the Times, travelled with Bruce Chatwin in Afghanistan, with Leigh Fermor in Greece and wrote over 60 highly acclaimed biographies and works of travel, including The Light Garden of the Angel King.