Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Edward Lear’s verse collections include three prose stories and three prose recipes called “Nonsense Cookery.” A few of his fanciful botanical drawings are accompanied by whimsical texts. Like his poems, these pieces show Lear at play with language, blithely disregarding common sense.

Two volumes of letters, most of them to Chichester Fortescue, were published in 1907 and 1911. Enlivened by riddles, cartoons, and bits of verse, they demonstrate Lear’s fascination with the sound and meaning of words. He uses puns and creative phonetic spellings; he coins words and humorously distorts existing ones. A cold January day in Corfu is so “icicular” that it “elicits the ordibble murmurs of the cantankerous Corcyreans.” He complains of the proliferation of tourists, especially “Germen, Gerwomen, and Gerchildren,” around his property in San Remo. Although he often revealed his loneliness and depression, Lear characteristically found something to laugh about—if not in his situation, then in his response to it: He called himself “savage and black as 90,000 bears,” and wished he were “an egg and was going to be hatched.” In 1883, he wrote, “I sometimes wish that I myself were a bit of gleaming granite or pomegranite or a poodle or a pumkin”; at seventy-one and in ill health, Lear’s imperishable delight in wordplay pulled him out of self-pity.

He kept journals of his painting excursions; these were later published with his own illustrations. Lacking the warmth and spontaneity of the letters, these topographical and travel books are valuable to readers who relish pictorial description and wish to know the conditions of travel in the nineteenth century.