Irish Sources of Edward Lear's Early Picture Stories

In a previous post I quoted a passage from Prothero’s biography of Arthur Penrhyn Stanley reporting the event that might have originated Edward Lear’s picture story “St. Kiven and the Gentle Kathleen,” an illustrated version of Tom Moore’s “By that lake, whose gloomy shore” (Irish Melodies, vol. 4, 1811). No certain date can be given for this set of illustrations, 1835-36 is a possibility if the events at Glendalough were the source, though Lear also produced illustrations for other poems from the Irish Melodies: “Go where glory waits thee” and “Rich and  rare were the gems she wore,” both from volume 1 (1807), as well as “Eveleen’s Bower” from volume 2 (also 1807).

Lear’s interest in Ireland and its traditions was certainly stimulated by his strict connection with the Stanley family, who had large possessions in the island; it was probably during one of his frequent stays at Knowsley between 1832 and 1837 that he produced sets of illustrations, first published in Lear in the Original, for two traditional Irish stories, “The Adventures of Daniel O’Rourke” and “The Adventures of Mick,” from “Daniel O’Rourke” and “Legend of Bottle Hill,” two short stories published in Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (London: John Murray, 1834 — but there are editions as early as 1825 — pp. 134ff. and 33ff. respectively).

These pictures, together with the Moore adaptations (excluding St. Kiven) were part of an album Lear probably produced for some member of the Hornby family, whom Lear met at Knowsley.

I have recently identified the source for another set of Lear illustrations, first published by Vivien Noakes in The Complete Nonsense and Other Verse (London: Penguin, 2001,  pp. 40-2): “I slept, and back to my early days.” The original appeared, under the title “A Dream,” in The Dublin University Magazine: A Literary and Political Journal. (Volume I, Issue 2. February 1833, p. 145):

I slept — and back to my early days
Did wandering fancy roam,
When my hopes were bright, and my heart was light,
And my own a happy home.

And I dream’d I was young and innocent,
And my brow untrac’d by care,
While my parents smil’d on their darling child,
And breath’d for his weal a prayer.

Once again I was rising before the sun,
For in childhood I was told,
If its earliest ray on my head should play,
It would turn each tress to gold.

I was kneeling again on the grassy knoll,
Where I never may kneel more,
And I pray’d and was blest with that holier rest,
Whose halcyon reign is o’er.

I was sporting again through the fields and flowers,
And felt at each step new joys; —
But I woke with a sigh that e’er memory
Should revive what time destroys.

Lear provided five illustrations and copied four of the five stanzas (leaving out the last but one) and seems to have written down the text from memory as there are several, though small, variants. Unlike Lewis Carroll, Lear very seldom, if ever, parodied poems, and in this case too he provides a simple paraphrase for passages he probably could not remember; the comic effect is obtained in part by introducing a conventionally low speech register (“vos” for “was” and so on), but mostly through the pictures which, as often happens in nonsense, are literal representations of worn metaphors:

I slept, and back to my early days
Did wandering fancy roam —
When my heart vos light and my opes vos bright
And my own a appy ome.

When I dreamed I was young and hinnocent —
And my art vos free from care,
And my Parents smiled on their darling child,
And breathed for his [ ] a prayer.

Once again I was rising before the sun,
For in childhood I was told —
If its earliest ray on my head should play —
It would turn each tress to gold.

Once again I vos roaming through fileds and flowers,
And I felt at each step new joys —
But I woke with a sigh that memory
Should revive what time destroys.

When I first found the anonymously-published poem I felt sure it was by James Clarence Mangan, but it does not appear in the 4-volume collected works recently published, and David James O’Donoghue (The Life and Writings of James Clarence Mangan. Edinburgh: Patrick Geddes & Colleagues, 1897: 77) states that Mangan started contributing to the magazine early in 1834, i.e. a full year after this poem appeared. This date is confirmed by Wayne E. Hall: “In January 1834, James Clarence Mangan published translations from the German verse of Schiller, beginning a relationship with the DUM that would see far more of Mangan’s translating” (Dialogues in the Margin. A Study of the Dublin University Magazine. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1999, p. 42).

The fact in any case confirms that Lear, at least in the periods when he was staying at Knowsley, had access to Irish magazines and might have got to know some of Mangan’s poems, a fact which would throw a new light on his later Nonsense songs, whose similarities with the Irish poet’s more absurd compositions have been first noted by O’Donoghue himself:

He [Mangan] could write admirable nonsense when he liked, and the late Edward Lear might have got a hint or two from him for those “Nonsense” books which are held not undeservedly in such high estimation by present-day critics (p. 32).

It is perhaps worth noting that Mangan did write, or translate from the German of Justinus Kerner’s “Täuschung,” a poem which is remarkably similar to the one illustrated by Lear. It was entitled “Dreams” and was published in The Dublin University Magazine (Volume VIII, Issue 44, August 1836, pp. 153-4; also in The Collected Works of James Clarence Mangan. Poems: 1818-1837. Edited by Jacques Chuto et al. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1996, pp. 243-4):

I slumbered in the moonless midnight hour;
And in my dream I lay,
Methought, reclining in a sunlit bower,
Circled with flowrets gay.

Awaking, I looked forth. I saw the trees
Reft of their leafy worth;
I heard the hissing of the rains, as these
Pelted the naked earth.

Again I slumbered. In a lovely land,
Breathing soft Summer airs,
I stood. Warm friends about me pressed my hand,
And I pressed theirs.

Awaking, I beheld the assassin near,
Armed with the deadly knife.
Was it the phantom of a sudden fear
No! ’twas a shape of Life.

Oh! might I bid thee now farewell for aye,
Illusive scene of pain!
My world is all within — without alway
I seek for it in vain!


Such was, crewhile, the dreary song I sang,
When but betrayed by one;
Soon two proved false, and with a double pang
I dragged Existence on.

But ah! the broken vows I since bewail
No lay, though long, could sing;
The wearied fingers in their task would fail
Upon the mournful string.

More here.

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8 Responses to Irish Sources of Edward Lear's Early Picture Stories

  1. Pingback: A Blog of Bosh - » Edward Lear’s Nervous Family

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  3. Q says:

    Hey, what an interesting post !- and there might be a solution to your puzzle over authorship. It is true that Clarence Mangan made great numbers of oversettings from the German (some of genuine Teutonic provenance, others the result of his hood-winking his readers through “reverse plagiarism”) ; quite true as well that he translated Kerner, Schiller, Freiligrath and so on, and that many of these works comprising his well-regarded Anthologia Germanica were published serially in The Dublin University Magazine, a publication then associated with Trinity College Dublin — which is also called Dublin University. However, the poem from 1833 shown above doesn’t feel like Mangan. It lacks the “intensity” which Yeats so prized in his compatriot’s verses. Some time spent looking into the mystery just now has revealed a considerably altered version of “A Dream” published in London in 1876 under the title “Retrospection” in a volume modestly called, “The Mahabuleshwar Hills, and Other Poems. By an Indian Chaplain.” (See page 34 of the corresponding Google Books image, or I’ll link it for you if you write me.) Therefore I believe the mawkish poem that Edward Lear was mocking was penned by George Livingstone Fenton, an English versifier and kinsman to the family of Staffordshire poets named Fenton (or sometimes, ffenton). G. L. Fenton had attended Trinity College Dublin (where Mangan worked in the library). He later served as Anglican chaplain on the Bombay Ecclesiastical Establishment in India. What is presented in the Dub. U. Mag. Feb. 1833 as “A Dream” seems to contain much of the second half of “Retrospection” ; but the line in the latter that reads “Methought I knelt on the grassy knoll”, for example, had done worse time as “I was kneeling again on the grassy knoll” in the poem “A Dream” ; additionally, several distinguishing details are absent from “A Dream” — such phrases as “India’s bowers”, “the bulbul” and “the Word of God”. If disinclined to conspiracies about “grassy knolls”, the pondering modern might assume that the good Reverend simply revised and Orientalised his own immature verse for inclusion —nostalgically dressed as “Retrospection”— in the later publication (“An obstacle that came between Him, and ourselves, and it”). Cheers, ~Q~

  4. Pingback: Retrospection: On Lear’s Irish Sources Again | A Blog of Bosh

  5. Pingback: Edward Lear’s “Rich and rare were the gems she wore” | A Blog of Bosh

  6. Pingback: Edward Lear and Thomas Rowlandson | A Blog of Bosh

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