The Brothers Dalziel on Edward Lear

The Brothers Dalziel. A Record of Fifty Years’ Work in Conjunction with Many of the Most Distinguished Artists of the Period – 1840-1890. London: Methuen & Co., 1901, pp. 317-8.

Early in the Sixties we made the acquaintance of Edward Lear, who was a landscape painter of great distinction, a naturalist, a man of high culture, and a most kind and courteous gentleman. He came to us bringing an original chromo-lithographic copy of his “Book of Nonsense” published some years before by McLean of the Haymarket. His desire was to publish a new and cheaper edition. With this view he proposed having the entire set of designs redrawn on wood, and he commissioned us to do this, also to engrave the blocks, print, and produce the book for him. When the work was nearly completed, he said he would sell his rights in the production to us for £100. We did not accept his offer, but proposed to find a publisher who would undertake it. We laid the matter before Messrs. Routledge & Warne. They declined to buy, but were willing to publish it for him on commission, which they did. The first edition sold immediately. Messrs. Routledge then wished to purchase the copyright, but Mr. Lear said, “Now it is a success they must pay me more than I asked at first.” The price was then fixed at £120, a very modest advance considering the mark the book had made. It has since gone through many editions in the hands of F. Warne & Co.

Lear told us how “The Book of Nonsense” originated. When a young man he studied very [318] much at the Zoological Gardens in Regent’s Park. While he was engaged on an elaborate drawing of some “Parrots,” a middle-aged gentleman used to come very frequently and talk to him about his work, and by degrees took more and more interest in him. One day he said, “I wish you to come on a visit to me, for I have much that I think would interest you.” The stranger was the Earl of Derby. Lear accepted the invitation, and it was during his many visits at Knowsley that these “Nonsense” drawings were made, and the inimitable verses written. They were generally done in the evening to please the Earl’s young children, and caused so much delightful amusement that he redrew them on stone, and published them as before stated. That is how this clever, humorous book came into existence; a work that will cause laughter and pleasure to young and old for all time. John Ruskin says of Lear’s “Book of Nonsense”:

“Surely the most beneficent and innocent of all books yet produced is the ‘Book of Nonsense,’ with its corollary carols, inimitable and refreshing, and perfect in rhythm. I really don’t know any author to whom I am half so grateful for my idle self as Edward Lear. I shall put him first of my hundred authors.”

The book is available at

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