Georgiana Peel’s Recollections of Edward Lear

Lady Georgiana Peel, née Lady Georgiana Adelaide Russell, (1836-1922) was Archibald Peel’s second wife; he was a friend Edward Lear frequently mentioned in the diaries. A book of her memoirs was published in 1920 by her daughter; unfortunately, the editing is far from perfect, and the “recollections” do not always correspond to what we would expect of Lear, e.g. the “story” she reports does not sound like him at all. Also, when Lear had his adventure in revolutionary Reggio Calabria he ws travelling with John Proby, not Peel.


Recollections of Lady Georgiana Peel. Compiled by Her Daughter Ethel Peel. London: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1920, pp. 251-253:

Two very interesting men with whom he [Georgiana’s husband Archibal Peel] travelled, in Italy and Corsica, were Mr. Chichester Fortescue, Chief Secretary for Ireland in my father’s administration, and Mr. Edward Lear, the landscape painter, and writer of nonsense stories and verses, also books of travel, which have a charm about them, given by the writer’s very original ideas, coupled with sketches which render to the reader exactly what he wished to describe.
While in company with Edward Lear, they stayed at a small inn, in a town in Italy, which was much agitated by a local revolution, a frequent occurrence in that country. The two visitors, wishing to go out at once to inspect the beauties of the town, gave the keys of their boxes to the waiter, and asked him to unpack, and put out their clothes, as they wished to change at once on coming in. They were somewhat taken aback, when the excited little Italian threw the keys in the air, shouting, “Non c’è roba! Non c’è chiave! Tutto è amora e libertà!” — “There are no clothes, there are no keys, all is love and liberty!” They were quite relieved when the luggage and keys remained in sight, and did not disappear!
A story told A. by Edward Lear always struck him as a lesson in worldly wisdom. Though published afterwards by the well-known landscape painter in one of his books, it may perhaps be repeated. The fable, which though not Aesop’s is worthy of that ancient sage, run [sic] as follows:
“Once upon a time, three poor students, all very near-sighted, and each possessing a single pair of horn-rimmed spectacles, set out to walk to a remote university for the purpose of competing for a professorship. On the way, while sleeping by the wayside, a thief stole their three pairs of spectacles. Waking, their distress was great: they stumbled, they fell, they lost their way, and night was at hand when they met a pedlar.
“‘Have you any spectacles?’ said the three miserable students,
“‘Yes,* said the pedlar,’ exactly three pairs, but they are set in gold, and are of magnificent workmanship; in fact, they were made for the King, and the cost is £15 each pair.’
“‘Such a sum,’ said one student, ‘is absurd; it is surely as much as we possess.’
“‘I cannot,’ the pedlar replied, ‘take less, but here is an ivory-handled frying-pan which I can let you have for a trifling sum, an astonishing bargain; you may never again chance to meet with such a singularly joyful opportunity.’
“Said the eldest of the three students, ‘I will grope my way on as I can. It is ridiculous to buy a pair of this man’s spectacles at such a price.’
“‘And I,’ said the second student, ‘am determined to purchase the ivory-handled frying-pan; it costs little, and may be useful, and I may never again meet with such an extraordinary bargain.’
“But the youngest of the three, in spite of the laughter of his two companions, bought the sumptuous spectacles, and walking quickly on, no longer hindered by his bad sight, soon disappeared in the distance.
“Thereon, No. 1 set off slowly, but falling into a ditch by reason of his blindness, broke his leg, and was carried back by a passing cart to his native town.
“No. 2 wandered on, but lost his way, and after much anxiety and loss of time, was forced to sell his valuable frying-pan at a great loss, to enable him to return home.
“No. 3 reached the university, gained the prize, was made a professor, with a fixed home and a fixed salary, and lived happily ever after.
“Moral. To pay much for what is most useful is wiser than to pay little for what is not!”
Edward Lear, as can be guessed from his books, was the most inspiring of companions, nothing could be uninteresting when viewing it in his company.


Of greater interest are two letters she publishes from John Peel, Archibald’s elder brother, mentioning Lear and his stays in Malta:

Edward Lear has been often here, he has a house the other side of the harbour; I generally dine him and put him up about once a week. Though excellent friends, when talking to him I feel like a bad skater; any minute may bring me to grief. Artists and naval men are so cursedly vain, they are always thinking of their own dignity, and that is why one is perpetually treading on their toes.
(From Malta, February 1865, but must be 1866. Recollections p. 236.)

The other one is of 23 February 1867, ibid. p. 239, and provides a Dickensian portrait of Lear:

Edwin [sic] Lear, when he passed through, dined with me; he was as usual somewhat melancholy, and foretold the death of his remaining relatives, several in number and his own total blindness and impecuniosity like Micawber; however he brightened up, and concealed a good deal of liquor about his person, he is now up the Nile, and I owe him a letter.

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1 Response to Georgiana Peel’s Recollections of Edward Lear

  1. Tim Hardcastle says:

    But the story does after all appear, as she says, in one of Lear’s books, specifically his “Journal of a Landscape Painter in Corsica”. There he states that it is “a fable taught me long years ago by one dead”. If this is true, it would explain why you don’t think it sounds like Lear. (IMHO, it isn’t true and it does sound like Lear.)

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