Lear in his youth

Edward Lear (May 12 1812 – January 29 1888) was the 21st child born to Ann and Jeremiah Lear who went on to become an artist, author and poet - though the man is perhaps best remembered today for his nonsense verse and limericks.

Lear was not a healthy child, suffering from epilepsy, bronchitis and asthma - the former condition not really being fully understood at the time and causing him lifelong embarrassment and shame. There were regular periods of depression which he referred to as ‘The Morbids’.

Lear's Hyacinth Macaw

Despite such physical handicaps Lear grew up to support himself successfully - working as an artist to provide his daily 'bread and cheese'. Form the age of 16 his skills in the art of draftmanship were recognised and well-employed by the Zoological Society. The artist was still in his teens when his Illustrations of the Family Psittacidae, or Parrots were published in a book - many fine examples of which are still sold as popular prints today.

Masada on the Dead Sea 1858

From 1837, he travelled widely with his work, producing illustrations which so impressed the young Queen Victoria that she requested him to tutor her. 

 The Grand Canal, Venice 1865

However, Lear was restless and soon returned to his roaming ways, exploring many parts of the world and producing yet more of his dramatic watercolours and oils paintings – at the same time harbouring a life-long ambition to illustrate Tennyson’s poems, though that wish was never realised. 

Even so, Lear was so in awe of his fellow poet that when he eventually settled down in Sanrema in the Mediterranean, he named his home Villa Tennyson. And when Lear died of heart disease his headstone in Sanremo’s Foce cemetery was inscribed with the following lines taken from Tennyson’s poem, To E.L. (Edward Lear), On His Travels in Greece -

Tomohrit, Athos, all things fair.
With such a pencil, such a pen.
You shadow forth to distant men,
I read and felt that I was there.

Lear never married, his proposals to a much younger woman only ever being rejected.  However, he had many friends – not forgetting his beloved cat, Foss – and no doubt the children of his friends, inspired a great deal of his nonsense verse, such as The Dong with the Luminous Nose and The Jumblies.

A Book of Nonsense 1862

The Owl and the Pussycat which was written in 1867 remains a great favourite with the VV. And now, on this May 12 2012, the bicentenary of the birth of Edward Lear, here is the poem in its entirety, with illustrations by the author himself. Enjoy!


The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
    In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
    Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
    And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
      What a beautiful Pussy you are,
          You are,
          You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'

Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl!
    How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
    But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
    To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
    With a ring at the end of his nose,
          His nose,
          His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

'Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
    Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
    By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
    Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
    They danced by the light of the moon,
          The moon,
          The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Finally, if you are also inspired by Lear's verse, there is an exhibition currently on show at the Poetry Society in London's Covent Garden where many contemporary illustrators have provided their own interpretations of the inimitable work of Edward Lear. 

For more information, see this post: EDWARD LEAR AT THE POETRY CAFE


  1. What a warming post on an Autumn morning - didn't know all those things about the wonderful Mr Lear though I know all the words to the Owl and the Pussycat, also because of the Simon sisters version. Lovely images too. Wish I could see the exhibition...can you go and report back?

  2. A lovely bio of what sounds like a lovely man. I remember The Pwl and the Pussycat and The Jumbles from school. It's great to know a bit about the author, between this and your earlier post. You must be very fond of his work. That's how it comes across. Lovely Essie!

  3. Thank you, Gondal-Girl and thewhitespike. I think Lear must have been quite an amazing man...and really so very talented.

    I'm hoping to get to the exhibition soon and will certainly report back.

  4. Rachel -@ladytubedriver27 July 2012 at 07:10

    We had this beautiful poem as a reading at our wedding!