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Letters of Edward Lear


To Lord Tennyson my special thanks are due for his kind Permission in allowing to be included in this book photographs of two of the pictures from "Poems by Alffired Lord Tennyson illustrated by Edward Lear." This work was brought out in 1889, after Lear's death, by Boussod, Valedon &. Co. The edition was limited to a hundred copies, and each copy was signed by the poet. For the sake of his old friend and to partly fufil one of the most cherished objects of Lear's later life, which, alas! he never was able himself to carry out, this book was published, containing Twenty-two out of the many pictures drawn and specially put aside for this purpose by Lear. I am also fortunate in being able to include such a poem as "To E. L., on his Travels in Greece," written by the poet after Lear's earlier visit to that country. Most readers know the poem, but many do not know to whom it was addressed. To these will come the surprise and to all the Pleasure, of finding these verses used as it were in a dedicatory sense, both to the words of the man they praise and to the account he gives of a journey over the same ground they commemorate.

C. S.



"True humour is sensibility in the most catholic and deepest sense; but it is the sport of sensibility; wholesome and perfect therefore; as it were, the playful, teasing fondness of a mother to her child."—CARLYLE.

IT is said that humour is allied to sadness, and that it is this quality which defines it from its kindred talent, wit. The writer of the following letters was a master of the former art, as well as a painter of beautiful and original pictures.

The English and American public of the present day, only know Edward Lear through his "Books of Nonsense." To only a cultivated few and the survivors of a past generation who possess many of his works, are his pictures existent. But practically to none is known the depth of character and personality of the man who wrote these rhymes and painted these pictures. How few have realised the vein of sadness and other {xiii} qualities, which went to make Lear's humour of the highest order and his pictures of special interest. Therefore it has seemed to me that these letters to one of his most intimate and life-long friends, would be acceptable to the many whose childhood was associated and made glad by his inimitable fun and frolic, and that these should be given some idea of his real life-work—his paintings, to which he dedicated every energy of his being. Besides, the total want of knowledge by them of the man himself, has led I believe to a growing and rising interest in his doings and sayings, his aims and ambitions, as distinct from the mere writer of the immortal nonsense verses. Those who in their childhood loved him for the joyousness he gave them, now in their more mature days would be interested to know what kind of man was the writer of "TheYonghy-Bonghy-Bò," "The Owl and the Pussy Cat," and the verses and rhymes he brought to such perfection. These letters to my uncle and aunt, Lord Carlingford and his wife Frances Countess Waldegrave, show the man in every possible vein of humour, both grave and gay, and also show forth a most lovable personality.


I, who knew him from my earliest years, remember how he attracted me at all periods of my life. From the time when he drew for me an alphabet when I scarce can remember his so doing, when he sang with little voice but with intense feeling and individuality, songs by Tennyson his friend, which he had himself put to charming music; to the time when he sent me an exquisite framed water-colour drawing—a delicious harmony in blue of the "Vale of Tempe"—as a wedding gift. And later still when we spent a few weeks near him in his San Remo villa home in 1880, though much aged and broken by worries and health, still the same sad whimsical personality and undefinable charm of the man attracted as ever, and one day to us was literally shown forth, in his singing of an air to which he had set the "Owl and the Pussy Cat." But of this rendering, alas! there is no record, as not knowing music though a musician by ear, he had been unable to transcribe it to paper, and grudged the £5 he said it would cost to employ another to do so. And again the last time I saw him, as we passed the San Remo railway station on our way north from Genoa to England. It was a Sunday, and he {xv} happened to be walking dreamily away from the station as our train slowed into it, bul out of earshot of our calls. The sad, bent, loosely-clad figure with hands clasped behind him, we did not know was walking away from us then and for ever, for we never saw him again.

The following letters date only from 1847, therefore a few pages of what is known of Lear's history and kindred before this period will not come amiss in this introduction There is a singular dearth of information on these points, considering the size of the family to which Lear belonged. Of its representatives now I have only heard of one member in England, and that one was, I believe, a colonial born, and a sister's great-grandson.

Edward Lear, the youngest of twenty-one children, belonged to a Danish family naturalized a generation or so back in England, and was born at Highgate on May 12, 1812.

His family had some connection, I believe, with Liverpool, and this fact seems to be borne out by Mr. Holman Hunt having, in consequence, presented a portrait drawing of Lear by himself to that city some few years ago. Lear's mother must have died very {xvi} early in his life, for he always spoke and in his letters writes, of his eldest sister Ann as having brought him up and of being as a mother to him. She must have been a woman of a good deal of force of character; for when domestic adversity and money difficulties came upon the family, it was through her small income and by her care, that Lear was educated and brought up.

He, at the age of fifteen, began to earn a living by painting. As a dreamy child, as he must have been, he pored over books of natural history and dabbled with paints. Thus he was led to "drawing small coloured pictures of birds, and of colouring prints and screens and fans for general use." As time went on he advanced in his art, and his remuneration and improvement increased in due proportion. This again led to his being employed at nineteen, through the good offices of a Mrs. Wentworth, at the Zoological Gardens as a draughtsman. The following year, 1832, he published his "Family of the Psittacidæ," a most interesting work, "one of the earliest collections of coloured ornithological drawings on a large scale made in England," "as far as I know," as he himself adds, with his usual devotion to accuracy and truth.


These carefully and exquisitely drawn pictures of parrots with their brilliant colourings, naturally arrested the attention of such men as Professors Bell and Swainston, Sir William Jardine, Mr. Gould and Mr. Gray of the British Museum, who recognised the merit of his work and his fidelity to detail. He further illustrated G. A. Gould's book on "Indian Pheasants" about this time, and did other work for the same author and others of those just mentioned. At this period came the great opportunity of his life, and to a small circumstance was he indebted for the lifelong friendship and help, of the first and greatest of the many important patrons for whom he worked during his life. At this time Lord Derby, who had brought together an interesting collection of rare animals and birds at Knowsley, was contemplating the illustrating and printing of a magnificent work, which he eventually privately printed in 1856, and which has now become the rare and valuable volume known as the "Knowsley Menagerie." He, one day, I believe, went to the Zoological Gardens, where he was so much struck by the work of a young man whom he observed drawing there, that he immediately made inquiries {xviii} about him, and engaged him on the spot to execute the bird portion of the illustrations for his book. This was Lear. From this happy moment, for four years Lear continued not only to do work for his patron, but, as he observes in a small memorandum to Fortescue, in a letter many years later than those published in the present volume, during those years and many after, he met and mixed with half the fine people of the day.

Here I transcribe the fragment intact:—

C.s. writing of Lord Carlisle's journal reminds me of a curious discovery I have made lately in looking over old things of my dear sister Ann's. I remember telling C. F. that for 12 or 13 years when at Knowsley, I kept a journal about everything and everybody, but one day in 1840, I burnt the whole. It has all turned up again, for I copied out all, or nearly all, in letters to my sister, and she preserved all those, and here they are!

During those years I saw half the fine people of the day, and my notes about some are queer enough. One for instance about Lord W. "The Earl of W.[1] has been here for some days: he is Lord W.'s 2d son, and married Lady Mary S. He is extremely {xix} picturesque if not handsome, and dresses in crimson and a black velvet waistcoat when he looks like a portrait of Vandyke. Miss— says and so does Mrs.— that he is a very bad man, tho he looks so nicely. But what I like about him, is that he always asks me to drink a glass of champagne with him at dinner. I wonder why he does. But I don't much care as I like the champagne." And some days later I wrote, "I have asked why on Earth she thinks the Earl of W. always asks me to drink champagne, and she began to laugh, and said, because he knows you are a clever artist and he sees you always look at him and admire him: and he is a very vain man and this pleases him, and so he asks you to take wine as a reward." Ha! Ha! Ha!

Note in 1871.
Still in our ashes
etc. etc.



In 1846 Lear gave drawing lessons to the late Queen Victoria. Two stories he himself told of that time will be of interest. Lear had a habit of standing on the hearthrug. When at Windsor he was in the room with the Queen, and as was his wont, he had somehow managed to migrate to his favourite place. He observed that whenever he took up this position, the Lord-in-Waiting or Private Secretary who was in attendance kept luring him away either under pretext of looking at a {xx} picture or some object of interest. After each interlude he made again for the hearthrug, and the same thing was repeated. It was only afterwards that he discovered that to stand where he had done was not etiquette.

On another occasion the Queen, with great kindness, was showing him some of the priceless treasures in cabinets either at Windsor Castle or Buckingham Palace I do not know which, and explaining their history to him. Mr. Lear, entirely carried away by the wonderful beauty and interest of what he saw, became totally oblivious of all other facts, and in the excitement and forgetfulness of the moment exclaimed, "Oh! how did you get all these beautiful things?" Her Majesty's answer, as Mr. Lear said, was an excellent one, so kind, yet so terse and full of the dignity of a Queen: "I inherited them, Mr. Lear."

In a delightful article by Mr. Wilfrid Ward several years ago in the New Review called "Talks with Tennyson," I have ventured to recall a story given apropos of Edward Lear:—

"On one occasion Tennyson's friend, Edward Lear, was staying in a Sicillian town, painting. He left the town for some weeks and locked up his {xxi} pictures and other things in a room, leaving the key with the hotel keeper. A revolution had just broken out when he returned, and he found the waiters full of Chianti and of patriotic fervour. He ventured to ask one of them for the chiave of his camera that he might find his roba. The waiter refused entirely to be led down from his dreams of a golden age and of the reign of freedom to such details of daily life. "O che chiave!" he exclaimed. "O che roba! O che camera! Non c'e più chiave! Non c'e più roba! Non c'e più camera! Non c'e più niente. Tutto è amore e libertà. O che bella rivoluzione!"[2] Constant little local revolutions took place at this time in Italy, and the inhabitants drank an extremely large quantity of Chianti and talked enthusiastically of libertà and la patria for a couple of days; and then things settled down into their former groove."

The acquaintanceship of Lear and Fortescue began in 1845, when Lear was thirty-three and Fortescue twenty-two. After leaving Oxford, the latter took an extended tour in Europe and Greece, before starting on a parliamentary career. Fortescue, with his friend Simeon, left England on February 1, 1845, for Italy, where they remained over six months. In the middle {xxii} of March they reached Rome, where they stayed for over eleven weeks. In Fortescue's diary, very fully kept during this journey, we find the entries of his first meeting Lear, and of how rapidly the friendship which lasted till Lear's death, ripened between the two. A few extracts from my uncle's diary may be interesting to those reading the following letters:

Thurs., April 15, 1845.—Went with Conybeare to Lear's, where we stayed some time looking over drawings. I like what I have seen of him very much.

Sat. 26th.—Saw Lear.

Sun. 27th.—After church took a walk with Lear until nearly dinner-time.

Thurs., May 1st.—Simeon went with Scotts and General Ramsay to Tivoli. . . . I declined. Walked with Lear to the Ponte Salaro sketching. . . . I like very much what I have seen of Lear; he is a good, clever, agreeable man—very friendly and getonable with. . . . Spent the evening in Lear's rooms looking over drawings, &c.

Friday, May 2nd.—Simeon and I started for Veii in a fiacre and overtook Lear. We drove on to near Isola Farnese, and then got out and sketched. . . . Then walked down the valley to the S. of Isola to the
Arco di Pino. . . . The day which had been lovely had gradually clouded over, and we had not left the {xxiii}Arco, di Pino many minutes, before we were caught in a thunderstorm which lasted an hour or more. Lear and I ran to the Osteria at Isola. Simeon stayed behind under a rock. After eating our dinner and waiting some time we grew uneasy about Simeon, and set out in the rain to look for him. We found the little "Fosso" which we had stepped across an hour before so swollen, that we did not like to cross it, and Simeon, who had been delayed by the same cause, had to wade. . . .

Sun.—Went to Lear's in the evening. . . .

Thursday.—Started at 5 o'clock with Lear, Simeon, and a Mr. Chester to Tivoli per carriage. After breakfast started thence for Palestrina on foot, Simeon riding.

Explaining the places and views they passed, including "a villa built by some 'lotus eating' Cardinal who loved retirement, and dying under a hill on whose top stood a temple of the Bona Dea," they halted for Lear to see some fine aqueducts, which he admired.

Lear wanted to sketch them, and very grand they are—most striking in themselves and in the solitude
of the glens which they cross. . . .

Still drawing and walking, they came to and were "entertained at his house, by a {xxiv} friend of Lear's at Gallicano," and returned to Rome after a two days' expedition, too late to see the "Vatican by torchlight with 'Twopenny's' party."

Fortescue adds:

These were two very enjoyable days. Lear a delightful companion, full of nonsense, puns, riddles, everything in the shape of fun, and brimming, with intense appreciation of nature as well as history. I don't know when I have met any one to whom I took so great a liking.

Sat.—Lear, Simeon, and myself drove to Veii. Sketched—walked . . . then Lear and I walked home some twelve miles. This was a delightful day.

Sunday.—Called with Lear to ask Bentinck to join our party to Soracte to-morrow. Lear found he could not go to-morrow, so that project was knocked on the head. I was disappointed and strolled alone . . . in rather a disgusted and gloomy state of mind . . . . Went to Lear's in the evening.

Tkurs.—Lear dined with us and gave us a drawing lesson.

Friday.—Felt done, relaxed—in abeyance, as Lear says. . . . Dined with Lear. . . . I shall be very sorry to part with Lear.

Sunday.—Lear breakfasted with us. . . . Lear came to say goodbye just before our dinner—he has gone by diligence to Civita Vecchia. I have {xxv} enjoyed his society immensely, and am very sorry he is gone. We seemed to suit each other capitally, and became friends in no time. Among other qualifications, he is one of those men of real feeling it is so delightful to meet in this cold-hearted world. Simeon and myself both miss him much."

In 1844-45 he seems to have been much in England, and that probably is the reason why, no letters appear to exist during those years from him to Fortescue. With a friendship such as theirs had become they probably saw one another often, but still if Fortescue went to Greece in 1846-47, there must have been some communication between them, which has, unfortunately, doubtless been lost.

By the courtesy of Messrs. Warne & Co. permission has been given, for the inclusion in this introduction of a most interesting and condensed letter by Lear, of facts of his own life up to 1862, printed "by way of preface" to one of their admirable series of his "Nonsense Books." Through the numerous editions which have been published by them, many of the present generation have had the felicity of enjoying as their parents did before them these books, by the man of whom Ruskin said in his list of the best hundred authors, "I {xxvi} really don't know of 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."

To all those who are not acquainted with this series, and to the mothers of the young children of to-day, I recommend these books for the cultivation in their children of blameless humour. Thus ever, a larger number of people may come to know the lovable man and fine artist, whose character is revealed in these letters.

MY DEAR F.— I want to send you, before leaving England, a note or two as to the various publications I have uttered,—bad and good, and of all sorts,—also their dates, that so you might be able to screw them into a beautiful memoir of me in case I leave my bones at Palmyra or elsewhere. Leastwise, if a man does anything all through life with a deal of bother, and likewise of some benefit to others, the details of such bother and benefit may as well be known accurately as the contrary.

Born in 1812 (12th May), I began to draw, for bread and cheese, about 1827, but only did uncommon queer shop-sketches—selling them for prices varying from ninepence to four shillings: colouring prints, screens, fans; awhile making morbid disease drawings, for hospitals and certain doctors of physic. In {xxvii} 1831, through Mrs. Wentworth, I became employed at the Zoological Society, and, in 1832, published "The Family of the Psittacidæ," the first complete volume of coloured drawings of birds on so large a scale published in England, as far as I know—unless Audubon's were previously engraved. J. Gould's "Indian Pheasants" were commenced at the same time, and after a little while he employed me to draw many of his birds of Europe, while I assisted Mrs. Gould in all her drawings of foregrounds, as may be seen in a moment by any one who will glance at my drawings in G.'s European birds and the Toucans. From 1832 to 1836, when my health failed a good deal, I drew much at the Earl of Derby's; and a series of my drawings was published by Dr. Gray of the British Museum—a book now rare. I also lithographed many various detached subjects, and a large series of Testudinata for Mr. (now Professor) Bell; and I made drawings for Bell's "British Mammalia," and for two or more volumes of the "Naturalist's Library" for the editor, Sir W. Jardine, those volumes being the Parrots, and, I think, the Monkeys, and some Cats. In 1835 or '36, being in Ireland and the Lakes, I leaned more and more to landscape, and when in 1837 it was found that my health was more affected by the climate month by month, I went abroad, wintering in Rome till 1841, when I came to England and published a volume of lithographs called "Rome and its Environs." Returning to Rome, I visited Sicily and much of the {xxviii} South of Italy, and continued to make chalk drawings, though in 1840 I had painted my two first oil-paintings. I also gave lessons in drawing at Rome and was able to make a very comfortable living. In 1845 I came again to England, and in 1846 gave Queen Victoria some lessons, through Her Majesty's having seen a work I published in that year on the Abruzzi, and another on the Roman States. In 1847 I went through all Southern Calabria, and again went round Sicily, and in 1848 left Rome entirely. I travelled then to Malta, Greece, Constantinople, and the Ionian Islands; and to Mount Sinai and Greece a second time in 1849, returning to England in that year. All 1850 I gave up to improving myself in figure drawing, and I continued to paint oil-paintings till 1853, having published in the meantime, in 1849 and 1852, two volumes entitled "Journals of a Landscape Painter," in Albania and Calabria. The first edition of the "Book of Nonsense" was published in 1846, lithographed by tracing-paper. In 1854 I went to Egypt and Switzerland, and in 1855 to Corfu, where I remained the winters of 1856-57-58, visiting Athos, and, later, Jerusalem and Syria. In the autumn of 1858 I returned to England, and '59 and '60 winters were passed in Rome. 1861, I remained all the winter in England, and painted the Cedars of Lebanon and Masada, going, after my sister's death in March, 1861, to Italy. The two following winters—'62 and '63—were passed at Corfu, and in the end of the latter year I published "Views in {xxix} the Ionian Islands." In 1862 a second edition of the "Book of Nonsense," much enlarged, was published, and is now in its sixteenth thousand.

O bother!
Yours affectionately,

The following letters from 1847 to 1864 tell their own story during those years, and therefore nothing further with regard to them is required in this introduction. But Lear's life continued and his letters to my uncle also, till his death at San Remo in 1888, at the age of seventy-six. Consequently a slight sketch is required here to make his life intelligible from the time the letters in 1864 cease, though it is hoped that at some future date should this series be found of interest to the public, a further instalment up to his death of equal value may be forthcoming.

From 1864 to 1870 Lear spent his winters in Nice, Malta, Egypt, and latterly at Cannes. His summers were busy in having exhibitions at 15, Stratford Place, and from thence visiting old friends in different parts of England. His output of a year's work ending April, 1865, was enormous, and is a sample of his stupendous industry and his marvellous capabilities of work in the face of bad health and difficulties. {xxx} During the time mentioned he visited Crete, the Corniche and the Riviera Coast. To quote from a letter of his to Fortescue of the 18th of the above month, he writes: "You ought some day to see the whole of my outdoor work of twelve months—200 sketches in Crete, 145 in the Corniche, and 125 at Nice, Antibes, and Cannes." But at last in April, 1870, finding the lease of his Cannes rooms expiring and unable to be renewed and many things unsatisfactory and uncertain, he evolved the idea of buying a piece of land and building for himself a villa and studio. Land being very expensive at Cannes and a suitable plot besides not being available, he decided on settling down and establishing himself at San Remo instead.

He therefore finally removed from Cannes in the following June, and July finds him in lodgings at San Remo for a few months, till his new villa which he was building "shall be ready for my occupation." The studio was in such an advanced state if not quite finished, that he was able to use it and paint in it.

At this time, too, he had been unfortunate in selling his pictures, and he complains that he "only got £30 from the rich Cannes public this last winter." His pessimism, which grew {xxxi} upon him more and more as time passed on, is more noticeable at this period when he writes, "that after he settles down in San Remo, his visits to England and his friends will be less and less," and wonders if he "will get any sales for his pictures."

Besides, another very serious cause, which the following extract from a letter of July 31, 1870, will explain, suddenly came upon him at, this time as a shock and added to this state of mind:

I must tell you that I have been, at one time, extremely ill this summer. It is as well that you should know that I am told I have the same complaint of the heart as my father died of quite suddenly. I have had advice about it, and they say I may live any time if I don't run suddenly or go quickly upstairs; but that if I do I am pretty sure to drop morto. I ran up a little rocky bit near the Tenda, and thought I shouldn't run any more, and the palpitations were so bad that I had to tell Georgio all about it, as I did not think I should have lived that day through.

But when he gets into the "Villa Emily (so named, as he says in a letter, after his New Zealand sister's granddaughter), his spirits seem to rise again. But through all, his letters retain their humour—sometimes gay, sometimes sad—and their whimsicality and {xxxii} attractiveness never fail. Besides, there is added, a certain charm of the older experienced man with a riper knowledge of persons and things.

At his new house he remained more or less permanently, till he went to India in 1874, by invitation of Lord Northbrook then Governor-General, there making many sketches for future use; and from his return early in 1875 to 1881 with occasional holidays, the Villa Emily was his home. For some years it had been a very happy home, where he painted his beautiful pictures and entertained passing friends.

Although most anxious to sell his pictures, he may sometimes, by his strange ways, have turned from his door intending purchasers. He was by way of showing his studio on one afternoon in the week. On this day he sometimes sent his servant out and opened the door himself. This procedure was resorted to in order that he might keep out Germans, whose presence, for some unknown reason filled him with dread. If he did not like the appearance of a visitor, with a long face and woe in his voice he would explain that he never showed his pictures now, being much too ill. He would then shut the door, and his cheerfulness would return.

But gradually a grievance grew up, which {xxxiii} by degrees assumed proportions which so preyed upon his mind that he decided to abandon his beloved Villa Emily, and build another perfectly similar house on a site, where, he sadly and fancifully observed to his friends, he was safe, " unless the fishes build." This "nightmare " was the building of a huge hotel close to his villa, the reflection from the roof of which he declared, ruined the light of his studio, maddening him and rendering his life hideous.

It was a great trial to him this abandoning of his cherished home, the garden of which time had made a paradise. His new abode—the Villa Tennyson as he called it, after one of his best friends—though similar in every respect, had none of the mellowed charm, which age had given the older house; and the garden, though he transplanted many shrubs and moved various arbours and pergolas from the Villa Emily, was balder and newer and had not the papabilities of the older one.

His faithful Suliot servant Georgio who had remained with him ever since his Corfu days, now having a young son to help him and train in his duties, was the mainstay, of Lear's life. The artist took a short holiday to Bologna and the North of Italy {xxxiv} while the change of houses was being accomplished, the faithful servant cheerfully coped with all the difficulties of the more practical side which moving to a new house entailed. And from this time till Lear's death on Jan. 29, 1888, his home was the Villa Tennyson, with occasional holidays during the early summer months to the North of Italy and later yearly to Monte Generoso, but after the year 1880 he never again came to England.

He lies buried at San Remo, beside the eldest son of his faithful Suliot servant Georgio Kokali, and the stone raised above his grave records the following touching memorial :—

In memory of
in many lands

Born at Highgate May 12. 1812
Died at San Remo Jan 29. 1888
Dear for his many gifts to many souls.

—"all things fair"
" With such a pencil such a pen"
"You shadow'd forth to distant men"
"I read & felt that I was there."


Oct. 4, 1907.