[Home] [Table of Contents] [Lear's Nonsense Books] [Posthumous Works]
[Lear in Sicily] [Introduction—I] [Introduction—II] [Notes] [part 1] [part 2] [part 3] [part 4]

Edward Lear Home Page

Lear in Sicily
Introduction — I

THE TWENTY PEN AND INK DRAWINGS, which are reproduced here for the first time, were made by Edward Lear, when touring in Sicily with my great-uncle, John Joshua Proby, afterwards Lord Proby, in
1847. I came upon them, when going through the portfolios, sketch-books, etc., in the Elton Library about five years ago, in the pocket of an old sketch-book, one of many formerly belonging to Lord Proby, which passed on his death in 1858 to his father, the 3rd Earl of Carysfort, and were added by him to the Elton Library. The existence of the drawings was unknown to my father's predecessor, the late Lord (5th Earl of) Carysfort, who was remarkable for his care and meticulous knowledge of all his possessions, and had himself rearranged and recatalogued the Library, to which he made important additions, and to me, though I had, since my father became owner of Elton in 1909 been entrusted with the charge of the Library, and had handled the sketch-books several times, and sorted and arranged for binding the drawings by Lord Proby contained in them.

The pocket in which the drawings here reproduced were found was a paper pocket attached to a thick piece of cardboard, which formed the cover of one of the sketch-books. It lay flat and looked at from outside appeared to be empty—this is doubtless the reason why the existence of the drawings remained unsuspected for so long; but on putting my hand into it I became aware of the presence of several loose sheets of paper, which I found, on further examination, to have been used by Lear for drawings of humorous incidents, real and imaginary, in his Sicilian tour with Lord Proby in May-July, 1847, less than a year after the publication of the first Book of Nonsense.(a) Though few in number—the number of unpublished {7} drawings by Lear still in existence is, I suspect, very large—and of no outstanding merit or interest, they are eminently characteristic of Lear's humorous style of draughtsmanship, and ever since I found them I have intended to publish them. The present seems a suitable time for doing so, as the year 1938 has been remarkable for a revival of interest in Lear, largely attributable to Mr. Angus Davidson's admirable biography, to R. L. Megroz's article in the Cornhill Magazine for February and to the exhibition of water-colour drawings by Lear organized by the Fine Art Society. The frontispiece is a coloured reproduction of a drawing by Lear and Proby in collaboration, dated May 22, 1847 and signed by them both.

Lear and Proby made three tours together in 1847: the first, the lighter side of which is reflected in these drawings, in Sicily, from May 3 to July 15; the second in Calabria from July 25 to September 4; the third in the Kingdom of Naples from September 11 to October 4. The second and third tours are described at length by Lear in the Journal of a Landscape Painter in Calabria, in which Proby, who is constantly referred to, appears as P—, and which is illustrated with lithographs from Lear's own drawings. The first—the Sicilian tour—is not the subject of any book by Lear, nor, so far as I am aware, have any of his Sicilian drawings been reproduced.(b) The only description of the tour (for the Proby correspondence contains no reference to it) is to be found in a letter written by Lear to Lord Carlingford on October 16, 1847,(c) (a short time after the completion of the third and last tour) which may be quoted:

I will begin from the beginning. First, then, I went (May 3rd) to Palermo, and on the 11th set out with Proby for Segestae. Excepting a run round by Trapani and Marsala and a diversion to Modica, Noto and Spaccaformo, one [?our] Sicilian giro was like that of all the multitude. The Marsala trip does not pay—and the only break to the utter monotony of the life and scenery {8} occurred by a little dog biting the calf of my leg very unpleasantly as I walked unsuspectingly to a vineyard. At the caves of Ipieca (sic) we became acquaint with a family of original Froglodytes; they are very good creatures, mostly sitting on their hams and feeding on lettuces and honey. I proposed bringing away an infant Frog, but Proby objected. Siracuse only wanted your presence to make our stay more pleasant: I waited for and expected you every day. We abode in a quarry per lo più and left the place sorryly. From Catania we saw Etna and went up it; a task, but now it is done I am glad I did it: such extremes of heat and cold at once I never thought it possible to feel. Taormina the Magnificent we staid at 4 or 5 days, and then from Messina returned by that abominable north coast to Palermo, just in time for the fête of Sta Rosalia, a noisy scene which made me crosser than ever, and drove away the small remains of peaceful good temper the ugliness of the north coast had left me.

The reference to Froglodytes [sic] calls for comment, as they are represented in two of the drawings reproduced here. The creatures shown in the drawings have no resemblance to frogs-they are more like cats and from an examination of Lear's writing I am convinced that the words in the letter quoted should read 'Troglodytes' (not 'Froglodytes') and 'Trog' (not 'Frog').

Proby made several drawings of this tour which have been preserved, including some of Ipsica [sic] and the cave of the Troglodytes. The Cava d'Ispica is described in Murray's guide as 'a narrow secluded glen 6 miles in length, shut in by steep cliffs of yellow sandstone hung with foliage, while through the rockstrewn hollow flows the Busardone rivulet, shaded by noble trees. The cliffs on either side are honeycombed with caves and niches, said to have been the primitive dwellings of the earliest Sicilian colonists. These grottoes have received various names, descriptive of their fancied resemblance to different buildings. It is {9} probable that they once served as a necropolis, and it is certain that they were used as a burial place by the Christians of the 4th Century.'

Probably 'the cave of the Troglodytes' was one of the names given to the Cava d'Ispica; and this gave rise to Lear's joke and to the humorous drawings in which the Troglodytes appear.

Proby's letters of this date contain no reference to Lear; but my grandmother, Lady Claud Hamilton, Proby's sister, in a family record compiled for the benefit of her children, is inclined to attribute the final collapse of his health to the hardships and fatigues of the Calabrian tour.

'He joined company with Mr. Lear the artist and they took a walking and sketching tour in Calabria together. [She does not mention the earlier tour in Sicily.] This was too great a fatigue for Johnny and to this journey I attribute the mischief which fixed the illness which consumed his life.'

Proby had only just recovered from a severe attack of Roman fever when he joined Lear in Sicily. and it may be that the tours which he undertook with Lear overtaxed his strength; but it seems more probable that the real cause of his subsequent illhealth and early death was the Roman fever contracted during the previous winter, from the effects of which he never recovered.

It appears, at any rate, from a letter quoted below(d) that Proby's health showed signs of improvement during the tour in Calabria.

Such knowledge as we possess of Proby's association with Lear—apart from the drawings and the Journal of a Landscape Painter in Calabria—is derived from Lear's own letters. I do not know how Proby and Lear first became acquainted, but I have always supposed that Proby, who went to Rome largely for the purpose of studying art, became a pupil of Lear;(e) of this, however, there is no direct evidence, apart {10} from Lear's obvious influence on Proby's drawings. Mr. Angus Davidson(f) states that their acquaintance originated in a chance meeting:

His [Lear's] companion on this tour was a certain John Proby, whom he had met by chance in Rome. Liking each other, and both being anxious to go to Sicily, they had joined forces for convenience' sake, knowing very little of each other. 'My companion is a very good young man,' Lear assured Ann,(f) 'and I am wonderfully fortunate in having such a one, as he draws constantly, and is of a perfectly good temper.' In the summer they went on to Southern Calabria and here relations between them were for a time less happy. Proby was no longer the perfect combination of piety and artistic enthusiasm. 'I am sorry my companion, as his health improves, does not in temper; he is sadly imperious and contradictory at times, which is rather trying, as his visit to Calabria is entirely dependent on my letters of introduction. However, there is some allowance to be made, as I find he is heir to a rank which I had no knowledge of as being about to be his, or I should not have travelled with him.

Mr. Davidson goes on to point out that Mr. John Proby was, as Lear now discovered, in reality John Proby, eldest son and heir of the Earl of Carysfort. This statement of Lear's is not strictly accurate as Proby's father did not succeed to the Earldom till the death of his brother in 1855, though his eventual succession was not in doubt. The quarrel or disagreement referred to soon came to an end and in a later letter Lear writes: 'Proby makes a perfectly excellent companion—and we now go on with perfect comfort and smoothness; indeed I now like him so much that I do not at all like to think of his leaving me. . . . I am sorry I said anything so hasty about my companion, whom I find one of the best creatures possible, and I daresay it was my own ill-temper that made him seem hasty.' In a later letter, written on October 16 {11} 1847, after the completion of the third tour Lear refers to Proby as 'my constant companion (and few there be better).' Writing to Lord Carlingford from Messina on November 25, 1858, shortly after Proby's death, he says, 'Arrived here, I find a most good and kind letter from Lady Isabella Proby(g)—on poor dear John Proby's death. She says, "I send you these details of my brother John's death, because I know you loved him." And this was true: I did love him very much. . . . But I myself was never kind to John Proby as I should have been, for which I suffer now, and some day shall perhaps suffer more.' And in a letter written from Messina some years later he refers to the time spent there with Proby: 'Looking at Reggio and the Calabrian Hills, I cannot realize that it is just 19 years since I was there with poor John Proby.'(h) {12}

[Home] [Table of Contents] [Lear's Nonsense Books] [Posthumous Works]
[Lear in Sicily] [Introduction—I] [Introduction—II] [Notes] [part 1] [part 2] [part 3] [part 4]

There was an Old Derry down Derry...
Edward Lear's Nonsense Poetry and Art

Page layout © Marco Graziosi