Edward Lear.

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*re ",)erry down Oerry,

. fe 3e lifhe folks merry:
S -de I'hem a Book,

-, wi^h lauqhr? / "-ley Shook
ffed ;: . : rh^fDerry clown Oerry.


v . .:. .-.- '.' . >r


f I fine rick

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There was an Old Derry down Derry,
Who loved to see little folks merry ;
So he made them a Book, and with laughter they shook
At the fun of that Derry down Derry


Copyright, 1888,




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 hundred authors.


In the " List of the Best Hundred Authors."


T^DWARD LEAR, the artist, Author of "Journals
* ' of a Landscape Painter " in various out-of-the-way
countries, and of the delightful " Books of Nonsense,"
which have amused successive generations of children,
died on Sunday, January 29, 1888, at San Remo, Italy,
where he had lived for twenty years. Few names
could evoke a wider expression of passing regret at
their appearance in the obituary column ; for until his
health began to fail he was known to an immense and
almost a cosmopolitan circle of acquaintance, and pop-
ular wherever he was known. Fewer still could call
up in the minds of intimate friends a deeper and more
enduring feeling of sorrow for personal loss, mingled
with the pleasantest of memories ; for it was impossible
to know him thoroughly and not to love him. London,
Rome, the Mediterranean countries generally, Ceylon
and India, are still all dotted with survivors among
his generation who will mourn for him affectionately,
although his latter years were spent in compara-
tively close retirement. He was a man of striking


nobility of nature, fearless, independent, energetic,
given to forming for himself strong opinions, often has-
tily, sometimes bitterly; not always strong or sound in
judgment, but always seeking after truth in every mat-
ter, and following it as he understood it in scorn of
consequence; utterly unselfish, devoted to his friends,
generous even to extravagance towards any one who
had ever been connected with his fortunes or his
travels ; playful, light-hearted, witty, and humorous,
but not without those occasional fits of black depres-
sion and nervous irritability to which such . tempera-
ments are liable.

Great and varied as the merits of his pictures are,
Lear hardly succeeded in achieving any great popu-
larity as a landscape-painter. His work was frequently
done on private commission, and he rarely sent in pic-
tures for the Academy or other exhibitions. His larger
and more highly finished landscapes were unequal in
technical perfection, sometimes harsh or cold in
color, or stiff in composition; sometimes full of im-
agination, at others literal and prosaic, but always
impressive reproductions of interesting or peculiar scen-
ery. In later years he used in conversation to qualify
himself as a "topographical artist; ' and the defini-
tion was true, though not exhaustive. He had an in-
tuitive and a perfectly trained eye for the character and
beauty of distant mountain lines, the solemnity of rocky
gorges, the majesty of a single mountain rising from
a base of plain or sea; and he was equally exact in


rendering the true forms of the middle distances and
the specialties of foreground detail belonging to the
various lands through which he had wandered as a
sketcher. Some of his pictures show a mastery which
has rarely been equalled over the difficulties of paint-
ing an immense plain as seen from a height, reaching
straight away from the eye of the spectator until it is
lost in a dim horizon. Sir Roderick Murchison used
to say that he always understood the geological pecu-
liarities of a country he had only studied in Lear's
sketches. The compliment was thoroughly justified ;
and it is not every landscape-painter to whom it could
honestly be paid.

The history of Lear's choice of a career was a curious
one. He was the youngest of twenty-one children,
and, through a family mischance, was thrown entirely
on the limited resources of an elderly sister at a very
early age. As a boy he had always dabbled in colors
for his own amusement, and had been given to poring
over the ordinary boys' books upon natural history.
It occurred to him to try to turn his infant talents to
account; and he painted upon cardboard a couple of
birds in the style which the older among us remember
as having been called Oriental tinting, took them to a
small shop, and sold them for fourpence. The kind-
ness of friends, to whom he was ever grateful, gave
him the opportunity of more serious and more remu-
nerative study, and he became a patient and accurate
zoological draughtsman. Many of the birds in the


earlier volumes of Gould's magnificent folios were
drawn for him by Lear. A few years back there were
eagles alive in the Zoological Gardens in Regent's
Park to which Lear could point as old familiar friends
that he had drawn laboriously from claw to beak fifty
years before. He united with this kind of work the
more unpleasant occupation of drawing the curiosities
of disease or deformity in hospitals. One day, as he
was busily intent on the portrait of a bird in the Zoo-
logical Gardens, an old gentleman came and looked
over his shoulder, entered into conversation, and finally
said to him, " You must come and draw my birds at
Knowsley." Lear did not know where Knowsley was,
or what it meant; but the old gentleman was the
thirteenth Earl of Derby. The successive Earls of
Derby have been among Lear's kindest and most gen-
erous patrons. He went to Knowsley, and the drawings
in the " Knowsley Menagerie" (now a rare and highly-
prized work among book collectors) are by Lear'*
hand. At Knowsley he became a permanent favor
and it was there that he composed in prolific succession
his charming and wonderful series of utterly nonsensical
rhymes and drawings. Lear had already begun seri-
ously to study landscape. When English winters be-
gan to threaten his health, Lord Derby started a
subscription which enabled him to go to Rome as a
student and artist, and no doubt gave him recommen-
dations among Anglo-Roman society which laid the
foundations o.f a numerous clientele. It was in the


Roman summers that Lear first began to exercise
the taste for pictorial wandering which grew into a
habit and a passion, to fill vivid and copious note-books
as he went, and to illustrate them by spirited and ac-
curate drawings ; and his first volume of " Illustrated
Excursions in Italy," published in 1846, is gratefully
dedicated to his Knowsley patron.

Only those who have travelled with him could know
what a delightful comrade he was to men whose tastes
ran more or less parallel to his own. It was not every-
body who could travel with him ; for he was so irre-
pressibly anxious not to lose a moment of the time at
his disposal for gathering into his garners the beauty
and interest of the lands over which he journeyed, that
he was careless of comfort and health. Calabria, Sicily,
the Desert of Sinai, Egypt and Nubia, Greece and
Albania, Palestine, Syria, Athos, Candia, Montenegro,
Zag6ri (who knows now where Zag6ri is, or was?),
were as thoroughly explored and sketched by him as
the more civilized localities of Malta, Corsica, and
Corfu. He read insatiably before starting all the rec-
ognized guide-books and histories of the country he
intended to draw; and his published itineraries are
marked by great strength and literary interest quite
irrespectively of the illustrations. And he had
his reward. It is not any ordinary journalist and
sketcher who could have compelled from Tennyson
such a tribute as lines " To E. L. on his Travels in
Greece "; -


" Illyrian woodlands, echoing falls
Of water, sheets of summer glass,
The long divine Peneian pass,
The vast Akrokeraunian walls,

" Tomohrit, Athos, all things fair,
With such a pencil, such a pen,
You shadow forth to distant men,
I read and felt that I was there."

Lear was a man to whom, as to Tennyson's Ulysses,

"All experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world."

After settling at San Remo, and when he was nearly
sixty years old, he determined to visit India and Ceylon.
He started once and failed, being taken so ill at Suez
that he was obliged to return. The next year he suc-
ceeded, and brought away some thousands of drawings
of the most striking views from all three Presidencies
and from the tropical island. His appetite for travel
continued to grow with what it fed upon ; and al-
though he hated a long sea-voyage, he used seriously
to contemplate as possible a visit to relations in New
Zealand. It may safely, however, be averred that no
considerations would have tempted him to visit the
Arctic regions.

A hard-working life, checkered by the odd adven-
tures which happen to the odd and the adventurous
and pass over the commonplace; a career brightened
by the high appreciation of unimpeachable critics;
lightened, till of late, by the pleasant society and good


wishes of innumerable friends ; saddened by the grow-
ing pressure of ill health and solitude; cheered by his
constant trust in the love and sympathy of those who
knew him best, however far away, - - such was the life
of Edward Lear. The London Saturday Review,
Feb. 4, 1888.

AMONG the writers who have striven with varying
success during the last thirty or forty years to awaken
the merriment .of the " rising generation " of the time
being, Mr. Edward Lear occupies the first place in
seniority, if not in merit. The parent of modern non-
sense-writers, he is distinguished from all his followers
and imitators by the superior consistency with which
he has adhered to his aim, that of amusing his read-
ers by fantastic absurdities, as void of vulgarity or
cynicism as they are incapable of being made to har-
bor any symbolical meaning. He " never deviates into
sense ; ' but those who appreciate him never feel the
need of such deviation. He has a genius for coining
absurd names and words, which, even when they are
suggested by the exigencies of his metre, have a ludi-
crous appropriateness to the matter in hand. His
verse is, with the exception of a certain number
of cockney rhymes, wonderfully flowing and even
melodious or, as he would say, meloobious while
to all these qualifications for his task must finally
be added the happy gift of pictorial expression, en-
abling him to double, nay, often to quadruple, the


laughable effect of his text by an inexhaustible pro-
fusion of the quaintest designs. Generally speaking,
these designs are, as it were, an idealization of the
efforts of a clever child ; but now and then as in the
case of the nonsense-botany- -Mr. Lear reminds us
what a genuine and graceful artist he really is. The
advantage to a humorist of being able to illustrate his
own text has been shown in the case of Thackeray and
Mr. W. S. Gilbert, to mention two familiar examples;
but in no other instance of such a combination have we
discovered such geniality as is to be found in the non-
sense-pictures of Mr. Lear. We have spoken above of
the melodiousness of Mr. Lear's verses, a quality which
renders them excellently suitable for musical setting,
and which has not escaped the notice of the author
himself. We have also heard effective arrangements,
presumably by other composers, of the adventures of
the Table and the Chair, and of the cruise of the Owl
and the Pussy-cat, the latter introduced into the
" drawing-room entertainment " of one of the followers
of John Parry. Indeed, in these days of adaptations,
it is to be wondered at that no enterprising librettist
has attempted to build a children's comic opera out of
the materials supplied in the four books with which
we are now concerned. The first of these, originally
published in 1846, and brought out in an enlarged form
in 1863, is exclusively devoted to nonsense-verses of one
type. Mr. Lear is careful to disclaim the credit of
.having created this type, for he tells us in the preface


to his third book that " the lines beginning, ' There was
an old man of Tobago,' were suggested to me by a
valued friend, as a form of verse leading itself to limit-
less variety for Rhymes and Pictures." Dismissing the
further question of the authorship of " There was an
old man of Tobago," we propose to give a few speci-
mens of Mr. Lear's Protean powers as exhibited m the
variation of this simple type. Here, to begin with, is
a favorite verse, which we are very glad to have an
opportunity of giving, as it is often incorrectly quoted,
" cocks " being substituted for " owls " in the third line :

" There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, ' It is just as I feared !
Two Owls and a Hen, four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard ! '

With the kindly fatalism which is the distinctive note
of the foregoing stanza, the sentiment of our next ex-
tract is in vivid contrast :

" There was an Old Man in a tree,
Who was terribly bored by a bee ;

When they said, ' Does it buzz?' he replied, * Yes, it does!
It 's a regular brute of a Bee.' '

To the foregoing verse an historic interest attaches,
if, that is, we are right in supposing it to have inspired
Mr. Gilbert with his famous "Nonsense-Rhyme in
Blank Verse." We quote from memory:

" There was an Old Man of St. Bees,
Who was stung in the arm by a wasp.

When they asked, ' Does it hurt?' he replied, ' No, it does n't,
But I thought all the while 'twas a Hornet.! ' "


Passing over the lines referring to the " Young Person'*
of Crete to whom the epithet " ombliferous " is applied,
we may be pardoned on the ground of the geograph-
ical proximity of the two countries named - - for quot-
ing together two stanzas which in reality are separated
by a good many pages :

" There was a Young Lady of Norway,
Who casually sat in a doorway;

When the doors queezed her flat, she exclaimed, ' What of that ? '
This courageous young person of Norway."

" There was a Young Lady of Sweden,
Who went by the slow train to Weedon;

When they cried, ' Weedon Station ! ' she made no observation,
But thought she should go back to Sweden."

A noticeable feature about this first book, and one
which we think is peculiar to it, is the harsh treat-
ment which the eccentricities of the inhabitants of cer-
tain towns appear to have met with at the hands of
their fellow-residents. No less than three people are
" smashed," the Old Man of Whitehaven " who
danced a quadrille with a Raven ; ' the Old Person of
Buda ; and the Old Man with a gong " who bumped at
it, all. the day long," though in the last-named case we
admit that there was considerable provocation. Before
quitting the first " Nonsense-Book," we would point
out that it contains one or two forms that are inter-
esting; for instance, " scroobious," which we take
to be a Portmanteau word, and " spickle-speckled,"
a: favorite form of reduplication with Mr. Lear, and
of which the best specimen occurs in his last book,


" He tinkledy-binkledy-winkled the belL" The sec-
ond book, published in 1871, shows Mr. Lear in the
maturity of sweet desipience, and will perhaps remain
the favorite volume of the four to grown-up readers.
The nonsense-songs are all good, and u The Story of
the Four little Children who went Round the World '
is the most exquisite piece of imaginative absurdity
that the present writer is acquainted with. But before
coming to that, let us quote a few lines from " The
Jumblies," who, as all the world knows, vvent to sea in
a sieve :

'* They sailed to the Western Sea, they did,

To a land all covered with trees.
And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,
And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart,

And a hive of silvery Bees.

And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-Daws,
And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws,
And forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree,
And no end of Stilton Cheese.
Far and few, far and few,

Are the lands where the Jumblies live.
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,

And they went to sea in a sieve.
And in twenty years they all came back,

In twenty years or more,

And every one said, ' How tall they Ve grown !
For they Ve been to the Lakes, and the Torrible Zone,
And the hills of the Chankly Bore/

From the pedestrian excursion of the Table and the
Chair, we cannot resist making a brief quotation,
though in this, as in every case, the inability to quote
the drawings also is a sad drawback : -


** So they both went slowly down,
And walked about the town,
With a cheerful bumpy sound,
As they toddled round and round.
And everybody cried,
As they hastened to their side,
1 See, the Table and the Chair
Have come out to take the air ! '

" But in going down an alley
To a castle in a valley,
They completely lost their way,
And wandered all the day,
Till, to see them safely back,
They paid a Ducky-Quack,
And a Beetle and a Mouse,
Who took them to their house.

"Then they whispered to each other,
4 O delightful little brother,
What a lovely walk we Ve taken !
Let us dine on Beans and Bacon ! '
So the Ducky and the leetle
Browny-Mousy, and the Beetle
Dined, and danced upon their heads,
Till they toddled to their beds."

" The Story of the Four little Children who went
Round the World ' follows next, and the account of
the manner in which they occupied themselves while
on shipboard may be transcribed for the benefit of
those unfortunate persons who have not perused the
original : " During the day-time Violet chiefly occu-
pied herself in putting salt-water into a churn, while
her three brothers churned it violently in the hope
it would turn into butter, which it seldom if ever


did." After journeying for a time, they saw some
land at a distance, " and when they came to it they
found it was an island made of water quite sur-
rounded by earth. Besides that it was bordered by
evanescent isthmuses with a great Gulf-Stream run-
ning about all over it, so that it was perfectly beau-
tiful, and contained only a single tree, five hundred
and three feet high." In a later passage, we read
how " by-and-by the children came to a country
where there were no houses, but only an incredibly
innumerable number of large bottles without corks,
and of a dazzling and sweetly susceptible blue color.
Each of these blue bottles contained a bluebottle-
fly, and all these interesting animals live continually
together in the most copious and rural harmony,
nor perhaps in many parts of the world is such
perfect and abject happiness to be found." Our last
quotation from this inimitable recital shall be from
the description of their adventure on a great plain
where they espied an object which " on a nearer
approach and on an accurately cutaneous inspection,
seemed to be somebody in a large white wig sitting on
an arm-chair made of sponge-cake and oyster-shells.
This turned out to be the " Co-operative Cauliflower,
who, " while the whole party from the boat was gazing
at him with mingled affection and disgust . . . sud-
denly arose, and in a somewhat plumdomphious man-
ner hurried off towards the setting sun, his steps sup-
ported by two superincumbent confidential cucumbers


.-/.till he finally disappeared on the brink of the west-
ern sky in a crystal cloud of sudorific sand. So remark-
able a sight of course impressed the four children very
deeply; and they returned immediately to their boat
with a strong sense of undeveloped asthma and a great

In his third book, Mr. Lear takes occasion in an
entertaining preface to repudiate the charge of har^
boring any ulterior motive beyond that of " Nonsense
pure and absolute'' in any of his verses or pictures,
and tells a delightful anecdote illustrative of the " per-
sistently absurd report " that the Earl of Derby was the
author of the first book of " Nonsense." In this volume
he reverts once more to the familiar form adopted in
his original efforts, and with little falling off. It is to
be remarked that the third division is styled " Twenty-
Six Nonsense Rhymes and Pictures," although there is
no more rhyme than reason in any of the set. Our
favorite illustrations are those of the " Scroobious
Snake who always wore a Hat on his Head, for fear he
should bite anybody," and the " Visibly Vicious Vul-
ture who wrote some Verses to a Veal-cutlet in a
Volume bound in Vellum." In the fourth and last of
Mr. Lear's books, we meet not only with familiar words,
but personages and places,- -old friends like the Jum-
blics, the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo, the Quangle Wangle,
the hills of the Chankly Bore, and the great Gromboo-
lian plain, as well as new creations, such as the Dong
with a luminous Nose, whose story is a sort of non-


sense version of the love of Nausicaa for Ulysses, only
that the sexes are inverted. In these verses, graceful
fancy is so subtly interwoven with nonsense as almost
to beguile us into feeling a real interest in Mr. Lear's
absurd creations. So again in the Pelican chorus there
are some charming lines :

" By day we fish, and at eve we stand
On long bare islands of yellow sand.
And when the sun sinks slowly down,
And the great rock-walls grow dark and brown.
When the purple river rolls fast and dim,
And the ivory Ibis starlike skim,
Wing to wing we dance around," etc.

The other nonsense-poems are all good, but we have
no space for further quotation, and will take leave of
our subject by propounding the following set of exam-
ination questions which a friend who is deeply versed
in Mr. Lear's books has drawn up for us : -

1 . What do you gather from a study of Mr. Lear's works to
have been the prevale'nt characteristics of the inhabitants of
Gretna, Prague, Thermopylae, Wick, and Hong Kong?

2. State briefly what historical events are connected with
Ischia, Chertsey, Whitehaven, Boulak, and Jellibolee.

3. Comment, with illustrations, upon Mr. Lear's use of the
following words : Runcible, propitious, dolomphious, boras-
cible, fizzgiggious, himmeltanious, tumble-dum-down, sponge-

4. Enumerate accurately all the animals who lived on the
Quangle Wangle's Hat, and explain how the Quangle Wangle
was enabled at once to enlighten his five travelling compan-
ions as to the true nature of the Co-operative Cauliflower.

5. What were the names of the five daughters of the Ol<]


Person of China, and what was the purpose for which the
Old Man of the Dargle purchased six barrels of Gargle ?

6. Collect notices of King Xerxes in Mr. Lear's works, and
state your theory, if you have any, as to the character and
appearance of Nupiter Piffkin.

7. Draw pictures of the Plum-pudding flea, and the Mopp-
sikon Floppsikon Bear, and state by whom waterproof tubs
were first used.

8. " There was an old man at a station
Who made a promiscuous oration."

What bearing may we assume the foregoing couplet to have
upon Mr. Lear's political views? The London Spectator.

HTHE following lines by Mr. Lear were written for a
young lady of his acquaintance, who had quoted to
him the words of a young lady not of his acquaintance.
" How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!"

" How pleasant to know Mr. Lear ! "

Who has written such volumes of stuff !
Some think him ill-tempered and queer,
But a few think him pleasant enough.

His mind is concrete and fastidious,

His nose is remarkably big;
His visage is more or less hideous,

His beard it resembles a wig.

He has ears, and two eyes, and ten fingers,
Leastways if you reckon two thumbs ;

Long ago he was one of the singers,
But now he is one of the dumbs.

He sits in a beautiful parlor,

With hundreds of books on the wall ;

He drinks a great deal of Marsala,
But never gets tipsy at all.

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Online LibraryEdward LearA book of limericks → online text (page 1 of 5)