Edward Lear at 200

Yesterday was Edward Lear’s 200th birthday, certainly a day to celebrate. The barest facts, from Wikipedia:

Edward Lear (12 May 1812 – 29 January 1888) was a British artist, illustrator, author, and poet, renowned today primarily for his literary nonsense, in poetry and prose, and especially his limericks, a form that he popularised.

On limericks, see here.

And then, yesterday in the NYT, an appreciation by Verlyn Klinkenborg:

There are two Lears in English Literature: King and Edward. One veered off into madness.

The other — Edward, born 200 years ago Saturday — veered off into “nonsense, pure and absolute,” as he put it. Good nonsense is vastly harder than good tragedy, and Lear’s is as good as it gets. He was a round-faced man who seemed to be wearing his hair upside down, thickly bearded below, nearly bald on top. Looking at him, you can imagine the traveler and artist he became, the friend of Tennyson, the painting instructor of Queen Victoria.

… The charm of Lear comes as much from his drawings as it does from his verse. They look dashed-off yet somehow precise, like his botanical sketch of the Knutmigrata Simplice, whose fruit is a nutmeg grater. Read a lot of Lear, and you soon come to feel that he was a fiction. Luckily, he was wonderfully, absurdly real.

Knutmigrata simplice:

Travel and his art and nonsense buoyed him through an uneasy life. From Wikipedia:

From childhood he suffered ill health, including epilepsy, of which he was ashamed, and depression. He travelled widely over much of his life before settling in Sanremo. He never managed to marry, though he did propose it, but he had good friends and doted on his cat. When, after a long decline in health, he died of heart disease, sadly, none of his friends was able to attend his funeral.

One Response to “Edward Lear at 200”

  1. Ben Zimmer Says:

    In honor of Lear’s bicentennial and Sendak’s passing, I wrote a Word Routes column on the tradition of wordplay in English-language children’s lit: Wild Words of Children’s Literature, from ‘Runcible’ to “Rumpus’.”

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