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Fooling Around

Lear and the Tennysons also bonded over their mutual love of play - a family trait more strongly manifested in the Lear correspondence than anywhere else.

Edward Lear, ink sketch of ‘The cat, the clouds, with Rainbow: - as seen from Manducilio. December 19th, 1855’, sent to the Tennysons in a letter from Lushington (5439A).

Edward Lear, ink sketch of ‘The cat, the clouds, with Rainbow: - as seen from Manducilio. December 19th, 1855’, sent to the Tennysons in a letter from Lushington (5439A).

Lear and Lushington spent a lot of time together while living in Corfu, where Lushington was a judge and Lear painted. ‘Having no time to write,’ Lushington scrawls in his letter, ‘I take the occasion of writing at any rate on an absurd sketch of Lear’s which may amuse the children with a knowledge of what Corfu landscape consists in’.

Emily Tennyson, letter to Edward Lear, 11 Jan 1856 (5437), describing ‘the remarkable fact of the Poet Laureate being seen ironing by nearly the whole household’ while pasting and ironing Lear’s nonsense alphabet letters.

Emily Tennyson, letter to Edward Lear, 11 Jan 1856 (5437), describing ‘the remarkable fact of the Poet Laureate being seen ironing by nearly the whole household’ while pasting and ironing Lear’s nonsense alphabet letters.

Transcript:

Dear Mr. Lear,
You know I have generally a hundred letters to write in ten minutes and a foreign sheet presenting itself seems to say here are a thousand this ten minutes. You know you have promised to write to me and you know you have not fulfilled your promise. Naughty Mr. Lear - and you know I promised to write to you and you know I have not fulfilled my promise. Naughty Mrs. A.T. Well I will forgive if you will forgive me and if you will not forgive me too.
I am afraid you are not well and this is why you have not written, and I am afraid Frank having no house of his own you see him but seldom & this is why you have not written, and altogether I am afraid this new year has not dawned upon you as happily as one could wish, & this is why you have not written and I can do nothing but wish I could make it otherwise and help you to keep as cheerful a heart as you can and look to the good that is to come of all that seems so evil.
But I must not stay chattering what you know because you want to hear a little you don’t know still first I must tell you how grateful we are for those beautiful letters though you do, I hope know this. The pasting & ironing have been by no means so successful as they ought to have been but then I hope you will consider the remarkable fact of the Poet Laureate being seen ironing by nearly the whole household as something of a compensation. For what weighty lessons ought not housemaids & cooks to learn therefrom so that if the irons proved too cold & the paste somewhat unmanageable I hope as a well-wisher to all housemaids & cooks a man of universal humanity as I take you to be you will not be too critical when you see the results. Hallam made no invidious remarks, such as “Gandy or Eliza would have done this better” but with rapturous delight pronounced all “bootful” and particularly insisted that it was “Mr. Lear’s hat”. He is beginning to give us original ideas on most subjects now. The other day when Uncle Weld had made him his first kite and was flying it for him he wanted to know “whether Hallam would go to the sky with a string”. If you tell him a thing is not there he always insists upon seeing “the not” - but this is too mama-ish - Lionel imitates him in everything as you may suppose.
[…]

Edward Lear, letter to Emily Tennyson, 5 Jan 1876 (5530), congratulating the family on Lionel’s engagement and including an illustration of himself with cat Foss, captioned ‘View in Villa Emily, Sanremo’

Edward Lear, letter to Emily Tennyson, 5 Jan 1876 (5530), congratulating the family on Lionel’s engagement and including an illustration of himself with cat Foss, captioned ‘View in Villa Emily, Sanremo’

Edward Lear, letter to Alfred Tennyson, 28 Nov 1880 (5542), providing feedback on the new edition of Alfred’s poems, and delivering a joke using the mechanics of the letter paper.

Edward Lear, letter to Alfred Tennyson, 28 Nov 1880 (5542), providing feedback on the new edition of Alfred’s poems, and delivering a joke using the mechanics of the letter paper.

Edward Lear, letter to Alfred Tennyson, 28 Nov 1880 (5542), providing feedback on the new edition of Alfred’s poems, and delivering a joke using the mechanics of the letter paper.

At the bottom of page 3 of this letter, Lear asks: ‘Ask anybody - in what country are the Ears of Donkeys most brittle? ——— give it up? — ‘; over the page, he delivers: ‘In Switzerland, for there they have Glaciers - (Glass-ears.)’

Transcript:

My dear Alfred,
Just as I had written the envellope of this, to thank you for the Volume of Poems, (which came
yesterday,) there arrived a delightful letter from Hallam, who is a very tiptoppious cove.
Many of the poems in the New Volume I had already known - especially the “Revenge”, which you read to me 2 years ago. The new ones I have not yet had time to read, except the Dedication to little Ally - which is perfectly lovely; and the Voyage of Maeldune, as pleaseth me hugely. I shouldn’t mind living on the “Silent Isle” - or on the “Isle of Flowers” - ; but the noisy birds are abominable, & I hope I may never go to that Island.
Many thanks for sending me the poems: - two of them, “Lucknow” & “Montenegro” are places I have made views of, & will go to swell the A.T. list of illustrations, — a pleasant dream of 300 memories tied to 300 poetries, - & one I see no harm in trying to carry out, albeit I may never live to do so. Nevertheless, to anyone who knows how forward — during some 30 years of more or less study on the subjects, - a great number of these drawings have come to be - (-through their egg, caterpillar, & Chrysalis state, -) the possibility of my achieving such a gallery is not so inconceivable as it must needs be to those who know little of the matter.
At present “the Cataract”
A pillar of white light upon the wall
of Purple Cliffs,”
is what takes most of my attention, & the one that seems to me the most difficult to conclude. If a man has but one eye, & that one weak: - & no proper thumbs to hold pencils, & if all his working light is spoiled by a diametrical damnable blazing 5 Story Hotel, verily his work - or his attempts to work, - is or are not easy.
Thank Hallam with my love for his letter. I am so glad the Lugano Mountain is liked. I take it it is Mte. San Salvadore. You may see it from close by the Hotel of Mte. Generoso, which I wish you could one day come to, - stopping here on the way.
Anyhow - in the new Villa Tennyson, there will be no fleas; nor indeed are there any in this.
Ask anybody - in what country are the Ears of Donkeys most brittle? ——— give it up? —

In Switzerland, for there they have Glaciers - (Glass ears.)
Give my love to Mrs. Tennyson, and to Lionel and Co. - You seem all badly off for weather: - we have perfect summer here as yet - tho’ of course some winter will come later.
Your’s affectionately
Edward Lear

Please give the enclosed illustration to Hallam. No - I tried and failed: I couldn’t draw the 5 tutors or the 5 sons so as to distinguish them from the 5 Donkeys.

 

 

 

 

 

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