Edward Lear was born the youngest but one of the 21 children of Jeremiah Lear, a London stockbroker who was bankrupted around 1815 (3).
He was educated at home, mainly by his sister Ann, who was twenty one years his senior.
He suffered from an early age from asthma and bronchitis, and also both depression (the ‘Morbids’) and epilepsy (the ‘Demon’).
Early career : lithographs of parrots
In 1827 (15) the family split up, and he set up house in Grays Inn Road, London, with his sister Ann. He began to draw to earn a living around 1827 (15), colouring screens, fans and prints, and for some time making disease drawings for doctors and hospitals. In 1830 he made application to the
Zoological Society to make drawings of the parrots in their collection. From his drawings from life he produced fine hand coloured lithographs, which he sold by subscription. Though the series was never finished, his work was highly acclaimed, and he was elected an associate member of the
Birds of Europe
In 1831 (19) he began collaborating with
John Gould on the Birds of
Europe, and accompanied him to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Berlin and Berne.
Stanley, Earl of Derby, had seen him at work at the zoological gardens, and invited him to his 100 acre Knowsley Park, near Liverpool, to make drawings of the birds in his menagerie. Lear worked at Knowsley off and on for the next six years.
He studies art and begins travelling
He also developed ambitions to become a landscape painter, and enrolled in
Sass’s School of Art, which prepared students for the Royal Academy Schools, then visited Ireland and toured the Lake District, making sketches. Returning to Knowsley in 1836 (24), his health deteriorated, and Lord Stanley and his nephew Robert Hornby together offered to send him to Rome. He stayed in Italy for most of the next 10 years, supporting himself by teaching and selling drawings.
Lithographs of the Abruzzi
Returning to England in 1845 (33), he brought out his
Illustrated Excursions in Italy in two volumes, containing full page lithographs of his travels in the Abruzzi, which he again sold by subscription. One of his subscribers was Queen Victoria, who greatly admired his work and invited him to give her a series of 12 lessons.
First published verse
He published his first volume of verse,
A Book of Nonsense, in 1846 (34) under the nom de plume Derry Down Derry.
Oil painting in Italy
Returning to Italy, he began painting more in oils, and made a tour of Calabria and Sicily, keeping a daily journal as he travelled. Back in Rome he found himself in a state of indecision about what to do next.
In the event he kept on travelling and sketching, visiting Corfu, Constantinople, Albania, Egypt and Greece.
He returns to England and he is accepted as a student at the
Royal Academy of Painters
Returning to England in 1849 (37), he enrolled again in Sass’s School, and was accepted as a student at the Royal Academy in April 1850 (38). He did not complete his studies, however, but spent some time with
Holman Hunt, learning his oil painting technique.
His further travels
In 1855 (43) his friend
Franklin Lushington was appointed a judge in the British Protectorate of Corfu, and he invited Lear to accompany him. He toured the Mediterranean and the Near East during the next 5 years, returning to England in 1860 (48), when he made his last attempt to establish himself as a serious painter in oils. Back in Corfu he wrote that he had finished with oil painting, and was now trying to attract the attention of small capitalists with his drawings, and using methods of mass production to increase his output. He continued to travel. In Cannes he met
John Addington Symonds, composing the
Owl and the Pussycat for his daughter Janet in 1867 (55).
The Casa Emily
He moved to San Remo in Italy at the end of 1871 (59), where he built the Casa Emily, named after Emily Tennyson, wife of the poet.
In 1873/4 (61/2) he made a year long trip to India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) at the invitation of Lord
He died in 1888 (76).
Other published works
His other published works include : Nonsense Botany (1871, 59),
Nonsense Songs and Stories (1871, 59), More Nonsense Songs, Pictures (1872, 60) and
Laughable Lyrics (1877, 65).
Surely the most beneficent and innocent of all books yet produced is the Book of
Nonsense, with its corollary carols, inimitable and
refreshing, and perfect in rhythm. I really don't know any author to whom I am
half so grateful for my idle self as Edward Lear. I shall put him first of my
John Ruskin, List of the Best Hundred
Edward Lear Biography : Links
very much in the spirit of Edward Lear
Elizabethan poets :
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Percy Bysshe Shelley
George Gordon, Lord Byron
Alfred Lord Tennyson