May 12, 1812– Edward Lear:
The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are
What a beautiful Pussy you are!
Pussy said to the Owl, You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose
With a ring at the end of his nose.
‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
So, they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
It is as simple as ABC to take joy in a gay 19th century writer who was the notable innovator of nonsense.
Edward Lear was an important English illustrator and landscape painter, who is even more widely known as the writer of an original kind of nonsense verse and for his perfect limericks. His genius is clear in his nonsense poems, with a world of peculiar, phantasmagorical, preposterous creatures in nonsense word, plus a dash of deep underlying melancholy in odes, limericks and his charming pen and ink drawings.
Lear was a gay man who suffered all his life from ill health and depression that he named: ”The Morbids”.
He was the first major avian artist to draw birds from real live birds, instead of skins. Lear’s first book, published when he was 19 years old, was Illustrations Of The Family Of Psittacidae, Or Parrots (1830). One of the greatest ornithological artists ever, his eyesight deteriorated too much to work with such precision on the fine drawings and etchings of plates used in lithography, and so he turned to landscape painting and travel.
He mostly lived abroad. Even though he was naturally timid, he was a constant and courageous traveler who explored Italy, Greece, Albania, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, India and what was once called Ceylon. An indefatigable artist, he produced many pen and watercolor sketches of great topographical accuracy. He made his living from these pieces and also from large oil paintings.
Lear’s most fervent and painful relationship was with Franklin Lushington, a young lawyer. They met in Malta in 1849 and then toured Greece together. Lear’s feelings for Lushington were not wholly reciprocated. Although they remained friends for the next 40 years, until Lear’s death, his feelings constantly tormented Lear. Indeed, Lear’s relationships with men were not always successful; the very intensity of Lear’s affections may have doomed the romances.
After his nomadic life, he lived with his celebrated cat, Foss, in San Remo, on the Mediterranean coast at a house he named “Villa Tennyson”. For companions, he counted on a circle of friends, correspondents, and his personal chef, Giorgis. Foss died in 1886 and was buried with some ceremony in a garden at Villa Tennyson. After a long decline in his health, Lear also died at the villa in 1888. Lear’s funeral was a sad, solitary affair; not one of Lear’s many lifelong friends attended.
In his lifetime, Lear published three volumes of bird and animal drawings, seven illustrated travel books, four books of nonsense: The Book Of Nonsense (1869), Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany And Alphabets (1871), More Nonsense, Pictures, Rhymes, And Botany (1872), and Laughable Lyrics (1877), plus a posthumous release, Queery Leary Nonsense (1911).
Here is my own feeble stab at being Leary-ish
The Post-Apocalyptic Bohemian: Stephen
He liked men for no tangible reason
A frontal lobotomy
Cured him of sodomy
But ruined his plans for the season