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Mr Lear!

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Edward Lear was born on 12 May 1812, the twentieth of twenty-one children. He suffered badly from epilepsy, an illness much misunderstood, and he did not mention it to his very many friends As an adult he travelled extensively and sketched fiendishly, in spite of, or perhaps because of his illness. The sale of his landscapes funded his travel. He published illustrated accounts of his travels - most of which can be seen in the Tennyson Research Centre.

He is now known for his nonsense poems such as The Owl and the Pussycat, The Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo, The Pobble who has no Toes and the Dong with the Luminous Nose. These entertained the children of his friends of whom there were many. His Nonsense Book and books of limericks can be found in the libraries of both Alfred Tennyson and his son, Hallam.

His successive homes in San Remo were Villa Emily and Villa Tennyson. He admired Tennyson’s poetry enough to plan an enormous, but doomed project to publish 200 illustrations to accompany his poetry. He set three of Tennyson’s poems to music.

The images here relate to his longstanding friendship with the Tennyson family, particularly Tennyson’s wife, Emily. Lear was to say of her, ‘I should think, computing moderately, that 15 angels, several hundred of ordinary women, many philosophers, a heap of truly wise and kind mothers, 3 or 4 minor prophets and a lot of doctors and schoolmistresses, might all be boiled down, and yet their combined essence fall short of what Emily Tennyson is.’ (Letter 5398)

His friendship with the Tennysons began through Franklin Lushington, whose brother was married to Emily’s sister. There are 57 letters from Lear to members of the Tennyson family in the Tennyson Research Centre - about 45 to Emily, Tennyson’s wife, one of the few significant correspondences of his to survive. Lear died 29 January 1888.

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Last updated: 24 April 2012

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