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Master of Literary Nonsense: Edward Lear

Edward Lear was a talented yet eccentric artist, illustrator, author, and poet from England. He was largely self-educated and today he is remembered for his limericks and literary nonsense. Lear was one of the first English writers to use Limericks and literary nonsense and helped to make them popular. Lear suffered from a number of medical conditions including frequent seizures, asthma, bronchitis, and eventually some blindness.

Biography

Edward Lear was his parents 21st child, born in Holloway, England in 1812. His oldest sister Ann, who was 21 years older than him, raised him as her own. At the age of four Edward and Ann were forced to move out due to their family's financial hardships. Starting when he was six years old Lear experienced frequent seizures due to epilepsy, as well as a host of other conditions. He felt extreme shame and guilt due to his seizures because they were believed to be tied to being possessed by demons. Fortunately Lear was able to somehow sense when a seizure was imminent and would hide himself from others. Lear traveled a lot and eventually settled in Italy, where he fell in love with a woman 46 years younger than him. He proposed twice to her and she denied him both times. Lear developed heart disease, and eventually died in 1888 at his villa. None of his friends could attend his funeral, it was held by the wife of his doctor.

Edward Lear's Literary Nonsense

Edward Lear became well known for his nonsensical literary works and his limericks. Despite being self taught he was both very intelligent and creative. Lear loved to make up words with various meanings and sounds and rhyme words that may or may not have even been related. The most famous phrase made up by Lear is a 'runcible spoon' which appeared towards the end of 'The Owl and the Pussycat.' 'Runcible spoon' now appears in many different English dictionaries today. Though Lear was famous for the words he made up that were growing in popularity, his main priority seemed to be to surprise readers. For example, he would write a poem in the style of a sonnet except the last line would be shortened dramatically. Lear's limericks typically made no sense at all, however he made sure to have the beginning and ending lines both end with the same word, even if they didn't rhyme.

Edward Lear's Artwork

Edward Lear loved to draw, by the time he was 16 he was earning money for it. He was first published at the age of 19 with his book 'Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots.' The book came out in 1830 to a positive reception, the public liked his paintings. Lear travelled in Italy for three years and had two books of illustrations published during that time. At one point Edward Lear taught Queen Victoria how to draw, however he was unaware of the proper way to behave around her and this led to a few awkward incidents. Lear painted all his life, up until his death.