Sunday, 19 July 2009
Off the shelf: Lear 3
Here’s one of the first visual puns I remember seeing as a child, and it’s probably the most familiar of his drawings. I once had it pinned up on my wall, but I used it as a bookmark one day and forgot which book it was in. Now I’ve found it in The Children’s Wonder Book, where it's insinuated itself back into the body of the text.
Lear had a fairly rotten life. Born in Holloway, London, his father was a stockbroker and, because of the family finances, he was brought up in a separate house by his older sister. He began in his teens as a draughtsman for the Zoological Society and became an artist for the British Museum. In 1832 the Earl of Derby employed him to do some coloured drawings of the rare birds and animals in his menagerie at Knowsley Hall. There he started to write nonsense poetry for his patron’s grandchildren, which was eventually published in 1846 as ‘A book of Nonsense.’ He gave a few drawing lessons to Queen Victoria, though that didn’t last long as he was incapable of following protocol. He also travelled widely and produced hundreds of watercolours of the places he visited.
He achieved all this despite being afflicted with epilepsy (which started when he was six), bronchitis, asthma and, in later life, partial blindness. He also suffered from chronic depression and loneliness. Can't you tell from this drawing?
There was an Old Man who said, “Hush!
I perceive a young bird in this bush!”
When they said, “Is it small?”
He replied, “Not at all!
It is four times as big as the bush!”