A Chronology of Lear’s Life

Edward Lear was born in Highgate, 12 May. He was the twentieth child of Jeremiah Lear, a London stockbroker, and his wife Ann.
Four years after his birth, Jeremiah fell a defaulter in the Stock Exchange and the family had to abandon the fashionable life to which they were accustomed. Edward’s upbringing was entrusted to his sister Ann, twenty-one years his senior, and Mrs Lear had nothing more to do with it. Young Edward certainly resented his mother’s rejection, but found all the love he needed in Ann.
He was first attacked by what he called ‘the Demon’, epilepsy, when he was five or six, and a few years later ‘the Morbids’, sudden changes of mood with bouts of acute depression, began.
His early education was completely left to Ann and Sarah, another sister: beside the typical tuition books of the age they read to him classical tales and modern poetry (the Romantic poets), and taught him to draw, especially natural subjects.

Lear’s father retires and as he cannot provide for his children, Edward, who still lives with Ann, begins to earn his living as an artist.

Starts work on Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots in June. The first two folios are published in November and immediately give him a reputation as an ornithological draughtsman; he is nominated as an Associate of the Linnean Society.

Lear interrupts the series about the Psittacidae and begins a collaboration with John Gould (The Birds of Europe).
In October he wrote in a letter to Charles Empson also containing a sketch of himself:
This is amazingly like; add only – that both my knees are fractured from being run over which has made them very peculiarly crooked – that my neck is singularly long, a most elephantine nose – & a disposition to tumble here & there – owing to being half blind, & you may very well imagine my tout ensemble. (Selected Letters, p. 16)

1831 or 1832
Visits Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Berne, and Berlin with Gould.

Lear starts drawing the animals in the menagerie of Knowsley Hall for Lord Stanley.

Travels to Ireland with Edward Stanley, Bishop of Norwich, and his son Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, July-August. His interst turns to landscape painting.

Walking tour in the Lake District, August-October. His eyesight and general health deteriorate.

Sets out for Rome travelling via Belgium, Luxenburg, Germany, and Switzerland, July. Reaches Rome, December.

Travels to southern Italy, May-August. Earliest oil painting, June.

Walking tour towards Florence, May-October.

Returns to England, spring. Publication of Views in Rome and its environs. Visits Scotland, September. Returns to Rome, December.

Visits Sicily, April-May, and the Abruzzi, July-October.

Returns to the Abruzzi, September-October.

Meets Chichester Fortescue, April. Returns to England, May.

Publication of Illustrated Excursions in Italy (2 vols.). Publication of first edition of A Book of Nonsense, using the pseudonym Derry Down Derry. Publication of Gleanings from the Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall. Gives a series of twelve drawing lessons to Queen Victoria. Returns to Rome, December.

Visits Sicily and southern Calabria and witnesses outbursts of revolution, May-October.

Meets Thomas Baring, later Lord Northbrook, February. The state of Italy becomes more unsettled, and Lear leaves Rome, April. Travels via Malta to Corfu and the Ionian Islands, April-May. Visits Athens, Marathon, Thermophylae, and Thebes, where he is taken ill, June-July. Arrives in Costantinople, August. Travels across Greece and into Albania, September-December. Returns to Malta, and meets Franklin Lushington, December.

Travels to Cairo, Suez, and Sinai, January-February. Returns to Malta, then sets out for southern Greece with F. Lushington, March. Travels in the Morea and visits Janina, Vale of Tempe, and Mount Olympus, March-July. Returns to England, July. Attends Sass’s School of Art to prepare drawings for entrance to the Royal Academy Schools, November-December.

Accepted as a probationer, January, and as a full student, April. First picture accepted by the Royal Academy. By November he is working on his own again.

Publication of Journals of a Landscape Painter in Albania, & c. Meets Alfred and Emely Tennyson.

Introduced to Holman Hunt, who offers to teach him his own methods of painting, early summer. Lives with Hunt at Clive Vale, Hastings, and meets other members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, July-December. He begins to gain confidence in oil painting, and conceives the plan of illustrating Tennyson’s poems. Publication of Journals of a Landscape Painter in Southern Calabria.

Publication of the first of his musical settings of Tennyson’s poems. Unable to cope any longer with the damp Englsh weather, he leaves to spend the winter in Egypt, December.

Travels up the Nile as far as the first cataract, January-March. Returns to England, then visits Switzerland, August-October.

Publication of the second edition of A Book of Nonsense. Accompanies Lushington to Corfu for the winter. Spending most of his time alone, he becomes lonely and depressed.

Employs Giorgio Cocali, April. Travels via Albania and Greece to Mount Athos and Troy, August-October.

Visits Albania, April. Returns to London for the summer, May, and to Corfu for the winter, November.

Travels to Bethlehem, hebron, Petra, the Dead SEa, Jerusalem and Lebanon, March-June. Returns to England, August. Decides to winter in Rome.

Returns to England in May, and spends most of the summer at St Leonards. Returns to Rome, December.

To England, May. Begins work on large oil paintings of the Cedars of Lebanon and Masada at Oatlands Park Hotel, October.

His sister Ann becomes ill, and dies 11 March. Visits Florence, May-August. Cedars of Lebanon exhibited in Liverpool and receives favourable reviews, September. Returns to winter again in Corfu, November. Publication of third edition of A Book of Nonsense under his own name, December.

Cedars of Lebanon exhibited in the Great International Exhibition, March, but hung very high and not well received. Returns to England, May. leaves England for Corfu, November. Despite the increasing sales of the last ten years, he now realizes that his chances of becoming established are diminishing, and he works on his first group of Tyrants.

Visits the other Ionian Islands, April-May. Returns to England, June. Publication of Views in the Seven Ionian Islands, December.

Returns to Corfu, January. The island is ceded to the Greeks and he leaves for Athens and Crete, April. In London, June-November. Decides to winter in southern France and leaves England. Finds rooms in Nice, November.

Writes the first of his Nonsense stories, The History of the Seven Families of the Lake Pipple-Popple, February.. Returns to England, April. Lady Waldergrave commissions a painting of Venice, and he travels there, November. Decides to winter in Malta, December.

Returns to England, April. contemplates proposing marriage to Gussie Bethell, November. To Egypt, and travels down the Nile as far as Wadi Halfa, December-March.

Visits Gaza and Jerusalem, then returns to England via Ravenna, June. Leaves to winter in Cannes, November. Writes the first of his Nonsense songs, The Owl and the Pussycat, December. The Cedars of Lebanon sold to Louisa, Lady Ashburton for £200, less than a third of its original price.

Travels in Corsica, May-June, then returns to England until December. Leaves for Cannes, December.

In Paris, working on plates for his book on Corsica, June-July. In London until December, when he returns to Cannes. Journal of a Landscape Painter in Corsica, the last of his travel books, published December.

Decides to settle, and buys land in San Remo, March. Summer in Certosa del Pesio. Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets published, December.

Moves into Villa Emily, March. More Nonsense published, December.

Spends the summer in England, June-October. Sets out for India, but turns back at Suez, October. Foss the cat arrives, November.

Leaves for India, October. Arrives Bombay, November.

Travels in India and Ceylon.

Leaves India, January. Summer in England, June-September.

His last Nonsense book, Laughable Lyrics, published December.

England, May-September. Brief visit to Corfu to see Giorgio who is ill, September.

Summer, Monte Generoso, Switzerland. The land below his house is cleared for building, October.

Lady Waldergrave dies, July. Summer, Monte Generoso.

Buy new land for building, February. Last visit to England, April-August; Varese, Monte Generoso, September-October.

Summer on Monte Generoso. Moves into Villa Tennyson, October.

Summer in Monte Generoso.

Summer in Monte Generoso. Giorgio Cocali dies, August.

Villa Emily sold, February. Summer in Recoaro.

Summer in Brianza.

Spends some weeks in bed with bronchitis, January-April. John Ruskin places him at the head of his list of favourite authors in the Pall Mall Gazette, February. Makes his final repayment of debt for building Villa Tennyson, March.

Abandons Tennyson-illustrations project as a failure. Foss dies, November.

Dies in San Remo, 29 January.

3 Responses to A Chronology of Lear’s Life

  1. Steele Curry says:

    Hi Marco:
    Could you please tell me the title and year published of the first book by Edward Lear that contained the poem The Owl and the Pussycat?

    My wife collects The Owl and the Pussycat books by various illustrators. Do you have a favorite illustrated Owl and the Pussycat book?

    Thanks for your assistance.

    Happy Learing,

  2. Berry van Hagen says:

    On the 14th of february my wife, Valerie Ann Power, and I will be married. At the dinner-party that will be held I will read The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear as it is perfect for the occasion and charmingly sweet and romantic. Right from the first day we met she has drawn my attention to several poets and Edward Lear was one of them. He is a poet that I truly admire and in my heart he will always have a special place. Every poem he has ever written is refreshing and entertaining.

  3. My father, Charles G. Vardell, Jr,. a well known mid 20th century composer, composed a delightful setting of “The Owl and the Pussycat” which he sang to me and I sang to my children and grand children. It has an accompaniment with sly references to the traditional “Wedding March” from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Felix Mendelssohn.

    I am also a devotee of Lear’s work!

    Margaret Vardell Sandresky

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