Alone and without Nonsense

On January 29, 1888, Edward Lear quietly passed away with only a servant by his side. A lifelong nomad, Lear was often alone as he hunted for new painting grounds. He was first and foremost a landscape artist and spend a good deal of his life wandering the Italian countryside in search of a new view to paint.

Detail from a letter from Edward Lear to Henry Bruce, 1884
Detail from a letter from Edward Lear to Henry Bruce, 1884

His Book of Nonsense, a result of trying to entertain the children of one of his patrons, would be his greatest achievement however. First published in 1846, it led to dozens of editions and re-imagings by other authors and artists over the years as well as Lear himself who revisited the “nonsenses” as he called them in the 1860s and 1870s. It also was one of the first publication instances of the limerick. The Learian Limerick was named in Lear’s honor to specify the style Lear used in composing the short poems to accompany his character sketches.

In 1884, Lear contracted bronchitis and never fully recovered from it for the rest of his life. His health continued to deteriorate until his death in 1888 in San Remo, Italy, the closest place to a home the wandering poet and painter ever knew.

We have many of Lear’s Nonsense books in our digital library as well as a set of letters from Lear to one of his many patrons, all part of our John MacKay Shaw Childhood in Poetry collection.

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