LEAR, Edward

Born: May 12, 1812, in London, England

Died: January 29, 1888, in San Remo, Italy

Edward Lear was an English painter and humorist who is considered a master of the limerick and nonsense poetry.

He was the son of a stockbroker, the youngest child of a poor family with twenty-one children. His older sister Anne tutored him at home. He had to start contributing to the family income at the age of fifteen.

Lear was commissioned to make drawing of parrots at the Zoological Gardens. His early drawings of parrots lead him to a career with the London Zoological Society. The Illustrations of the Family of the Psittacidae was the first large- scale volume of colored drawings of parrots to appear in England. Published in 1832, the illustrations are considered the most precise and vivid of all ornithological drawings of the period.

His work was noticed by the earl of Derby, who hired Lear to illustrate the animals of the earl's menagerie. For the earl's grandchildren, Lear wrote Book of Nonsense, a collection of poetry that was illustrated with humorous sketches. This book was published ten years later in 1846 and Lear is thus recognized as the inventor of the limerick.

Lear found, however, that his eyesight was affected by the detailed work of his illustrations. Therefore, he turned his skill toward becoming a topographical landscape painter, which led to drawing lessons for Queen Victoria. From 1837, he traveled throughout Europe and the Near East recording his travels in Illustrated Journals of a Landscape Painter.

Lear is more noted for his poetry than his illustrations. Some have theorized that his children's books have deeper meanings. Lear, a homosexual, suffered all his life from epilepsy and depression. However, he was popular with his friends and contemporaries such as Tennyson, who wrote the poem To E.L on his travels.