Edward Lear wrote nonsense poetry before Lewis Carrol (internal link) was born.
Carrol, and perhaps the entirety of the literate English people, tremendously enjoyed Lear’s writing and drawings in newspapers and otherwise.
By otherwise I mean he was a professional artist from age 15. He drew birds and produced artwork for the British Museum. He gave art lessons to Queen Victoria.
Lear excelled at the limerick.
It might seem odd that the same readers invested in Keats (internal link) and Shelley (internal link) would deign to read the comic book prose of Lear but that’s not the case. Above all, the British admire wit. Wit and quick thinking, even if a person insults them.
I was very fortunate long ago to take a three week garden tour of England, Scotland, and Wales. Customer service at all restaurants, when they were open, was appalling. No diner in America would succeed with the contempt for the customer I found at every table.
On the last day of my trip I ordered a simple lunch and once again the waiter vanished. After nearly half an hour the waiter reappeared and I greeted him heartily.
“Oh, thank God you are here. I was about to call the police.”
The waiter, very concerned, “Why is that, Sir?”
“To report you missing!”
“Oh, very good sir!”
“How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear!”
Edward Lear 1812-1881
“How pleasant to know Mr.Lear!”
Who has written such volumes of stuff!
Some think him ill-tempered and queer,
But a few think him pleasant enough.
His mind is concrete and fastidious,
His nose is remarkably big;
His visage is more or less hideous,
His beard it resembles a wig.
He has ears, and two eyes, and ten fingers,
Leastways if you reckon two thumbs;
Long ago he was one of the singers,
But now he is one of the dumbs.
He sits in a beautiful parlour,
With hundreds of books on the wall;
He drinks a great deal of Marsala,
But never gets tipsy at all.
He has many friends, lay men and clerical,
Old Foss is the name of his cat;
His body is perfectly spherical,
He weareth a runcible hat.
When he walks in a waterproof white,
The children run after him so!
Calling out, “He’s gone out in his night-
Gown, that crazy old Englishman, oh!”
He weeps by the side of the ocean,
He weeps on the top of the hill;
He purchases pancakes and lotion,
And chocolate shrimps from the mill.
He reads, but he cannot speak, Spanish,
He cannot abide ginger beer:
Ere the days of his pilgrimage vanish,
How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!
Above, Lear illustrating himself and his cat. Below, a fine parrot drawing by Lear.
“Study of a Red and Yellow Macaw (Macrocercus aracanga)”; from The Natural History of Edward Lear |© President and Fellows of Harvard College, Harvard University