An illustrated limerick from 'The Book of Nonsense' by Edward Lear, first published 1846
Do you remember when I was telling you about the suspects in the 'Mystery of the Missing Pages'?
Number two on my list after Julia Margaret Cameron was a Parlour-singing painter and poetry dude called Edward Lear. He was born in 1812. The limerick and cartoon above are part of a collection of nonsense rhymes that he made up for the children of the 13th Earl of Derby.
Mr Lear was well-liked in society, and became a sort of 'family pet' at Knowsley, his patron Lord Derby's grand home. Lear was not fond of stuffy gatherings, and often de-camped to the Nursery, delighting the grandchildren, nephews and nieces with this rhymes, jokes and funny drawings.
'The Complete Book of Nonsense' was the result of four years kindergarten play, where Lear felt totally at ease ( and could hop about on one leg as much as he pleased ! ) The book was very well received and subsequent editions followed up to this day, immortalising the affable Mr Lear. At the time, it was generally rumoured that there was no such person as Edward Lear, and that Lord Derby wrote the poems himself; and on one occasion Mr Lear over-hearing the fact that he did not exist in a railway carriage , felt obliged to introduce himself to the Gentleman talking about him and take off his hat to prove it, by showing him his name inside!
Disposed to fits of depression and epilepsy ( the morbids' as he coined them ), Lear was forever journeying to pastures new, travelling with companions. Friendship was taken very seriously by him, and he communicated regularly with his lifelong friends adopting the Victorian fervour for endless letter writing.
One of his dearest friends was Emily Tennyson, and he was a regular visitor at Farringford. Once he had settled in San Remo in Italy, he named his first home there 'Villa Emily'.
Lear was also an accomplished landscape and bird portraitist and he adopted himself as a son, into the Pre-Raphelite Brotherhood. He called Millais 'Auntie', and frequently attended lessons with them all. He seems to have endeared himself to people wherever he went.
His manner was charming and humorous, he often introduced himself by his 'long name "Chakonoton the Cozovex Dossi Fossi Sini Tomentilla Coronilla Polentilla Battledore & Shuttlecock Derry down Derry Dumps".
Lear's foray into nonsense was underpinned by popular Victorian themes of Parody, limerick and burlesque, but Lear was unique in his 'kindly nonsense', in that he never lowered himself to the satire, or lampooned anyone in his work.
However- what GiGi finds a little strange, Emily is this...
Edward Lear was well-known following the publication of his book. Lewis Carroll too became well-known, a decade later. Both shared the style of 'nonsense', both works appealed to children, and both moved in the same circles.
Yet Emily Tennyson never mentions Carroll in her frequent letters to Mr Lear. Lear never mentions him flatteringly, or disparagingly ( though never unkind in print, Lear gave his opinions on whom he liked or didn't- for example Aubrey De Vere and Irish poet 'moodeth about moodily'. ) It has often appeared in my research as though Lewis Carroll or his real-life 'Dodgson' just did not count.
I wonder why.
Both characters were well-known. It seems one was popular and the other not.
Yet both Authors are still in print to this day, and some of the words used in both of their poems have made their way into the oxford Dictionary.
The character of Caroll's 'Alice', did not like 'lessons', yet she has become the subject of them for successive generations.
There is another difference too Emily as Mr Lear was consistently kindly in his work. I rather feel Lewis Carroll was not; and that his children's novels contain a whole body of sphinx-like satire and lampoon on those who did not embrace him into their hearts.
Carroll's legacy in my way of thinking, was to have the last laugh.
To be continued...
Much love from your Grand-mother GiGi xxx