Edward Lear, Cefalù from Bagheria

Edward Lear, Cefalu from Bagheria, Sicily.
Pencil, open and ink. Annotated by the artist. Lear was in Sicily in May 1847. 12×18 inches. Framed: 25.5×20.5 inches.

Abbott and Holder.

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Edward Lear, Priest Cimara (1848)

Edward Lear, Priest Cimara (from the Village of Dragiates) 1848.
Pencil on paper; titled lower left and dated “Oct 25, 1848” lower right. Sheet 8.25 x 6.5 in — 21 x 16.5 cm; 5.5 x 8.5 in — 14 x 21.6 cm; 6.75 x 3.75 in — 17.1 x 9.5 cm.

Christopher Powney, UK;
Gifted to the Private Collection, Hamilton, Ontario in 1987.

Part of a group at The Saleroom.

Edward Lear, Dragiates (TRAGJAS). 22 October 1848.

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Edward Lear’s Moving Lines

Jasmine Jagger’s “Moving Lines” on Lear’s relationship to the Tennysons is published in this month’s Apollo, you can download a pdf copy from the Knowing Edward Lear website.

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James Williams’s Edward Lear (A Review)

Some things never change, the world is declining, and only a very few things seem to be getting better with the passing of time. This is certainly the case with the “Writers and their Work” series: when James Williams told me his book was to appear in it I was a little disappointed as I thought of Joanna Richardson’s ancient chapbook consisting of just 30 pages, a text I had no longer looked at after using it for a quick overview of Edward Lear when a thesis on him was proposed to me back in 1981. I had occasionally seen pamphlets from this series in English bookshops, then they disappeared, but now I suspect I no longer recognised them.The new bok by James Williams consists of about 120 pages of text with several illustrations and, most of all, it does not only present a few original ideas together with summaries of previous criticism, admittedly rather sparse at the time Richardson published her guide to Lear.

Williams has written an exhaustive introduction to Edward Lear as a nonsense poet, avoiding to waste space on biographical details — amply available in the several biographies in print — and focussing his attention on the “work” rather than the “writer”. Moreover, his discussion — while mentioning all the most important and recent critical contributions — is largely original. I was particularly impressed by his treatment of the limerick, enphasising not only its strict organisation which imposes limits on the development of the “predestined poetic biographies” of their protagonists, but also its liberating potential thanks to the power of linguistic discovery that Wittgentein attributed to linguistic games. I am not sure I fully agree with this notion as it leads to a tendency to interpret the single limericks in a way that is designed to foreground the witty originality of the critic rather than the obvious fun, devoid of secondary purpose, of the author and ordinary reader at the discovery brought about by the rhymes. Typical examples of this are Thomas Dilworth’s essays which, if I am not mistaken, Williams avoids mentioning and does not follow to their extreme consequences.

Lear’s later production of songs and stories — the latter strangely ignored considering Williams has written an essay on “Edward Lear’s Luminous Prose” (Rivista di Studi Vittoriani 34-35, 2012-2013.) — is more amenable to interpretive exercises and Williams’s discussion of “The Dong with a Luminous Nose” is particularly impressive.

The treatment of Lear’s invented words is perhaps a bit unbalanced, insisting on their derivation from the many foreign languages he heard while travelling: the derivation of “scroobious” from Albanian “scroo” (“he writes it down”) is totally convincing but the meanings Williams gives the word in the different contexts in which it appears are mainly positive (“odd, eccentric, peculiar”), at least from Lear’s point of view, while I have always seen it as a negative adjective — but then an Italian speaken finds it hard not to connect it to “scorbutico” (irritable, cantankerous): the Old Person of Philae does actually look rather irritable perched on his palm.

Of course it is not necessary to agree on everything in a book to appreciate it, and Williams has undoubtedly written an enjoyable and original study of Edward Lear’s nonsense writing and presented a portrait of an original and, as he briefly hints in the “Coda” to the book, influential writer.

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Edward Lear Concert at Knowsley

The Edward Lear Society is planning an event at Knowsley Hall on 7th March 2019 with Sara Lodge’s presence who, in addition to an illustrated talk on her latest book, Inventing Edward Lear, will present a performance of songs that Lear wrote, sang or re-worded, with reflections and new discoveries regarding his musical life, art and poetry.

Piano: David Owen Norris
Tenor: Mark Wilde
Words: Sara Lodge

David Owen Norris is a prominent pianist, composer, and broadcaster who will be familiar to many from his lively and entertaining performances at the BBC Proms, presenting ‘Chord of the Week’ and the Radio 4 Playlist series.

Mark Wilde, noted for his ‘clear, unstrained, distinctive tenor’ (Gramaphone), is a Professor of Singing at the Royal Academy of Music. He has performed with Glyndebourne Festival Opera, English Touring Opera, the Academy of Ancient Music, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra among many eminent musical partners. His recordings, for labels including Hyperion, Naxos and EMI, span repertory from Haydn to Elgar and Britten.

Sara Lodge is a writer and academic, based at the University of St Andrews. Her new book, Inventing Edward Lear (Harvard University Press, 2018) is the fruit of seven years of research, during which she transcribed over 10,000 pages of Lear’s letters and diaries. Her research has led to many new discoveries and insights into Lear’s life and work, especially the richness of his sound-world and the range of his musical influences.

There is a limit of 30 people therefore RSVP is essential by mid-December: info@edwardlearsociety.org.

You can dowload the full programme in PDF format here.

The day at Knowsley also includes lunch and a tour of the extraordinary animal and bird watercolours and lithographs by Lear in the Knowsley collection. Knowsley itself is usually closed to the public, so access to this historic home is unique.

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New and Newer to Read on Edward Lear

James Williams, whose recent Edward Lear for the “Writers and Their Work” series is an invaluable guide to all aspects of the king of nonsense’s production, has written a long review of Jenny Uglow’s Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense:  James’s “The Whole Situation” can be read at pp. 387-394 of The Cambridge Quarterly 47.1, December 2018. You will need an Academic account to access it.

Meanwhile, John Wilson writing of the “Coming Attactions” for First Things announces the publication of Sara Lodge’s Inventing Edward Lear for next February (but Amazon.co.uk, and Sara herself, say 30 November 2018). If you followed the link to the Google Books preview I gave in a previous post you probably already discovered Lodge’s website edwardlearsmusic.com posting some of Lear’s own and favourite music.

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No More Ads

I knew WordPress reserved the right to add a few adverts to the pages it hosted for free, but only realised how intrusive they were when I happened to look at the site on my son’s mobile — ads are not shown to owners of the blogs. I have now moved on to an advertising-free plan. Sorry.

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