Edward Lear, Book of Nonsense


Lear's Book of Nonsense


  • Intro

    Edward Lear began writing nonsense songs for the grandchildren of the Earl of Derby, whose aviary he was illustrating. An accomplished bird and landscape painter who suffered from epilepsy and depression, Lear wrote several books of poems for the young; though his work continues to delight children some of the longer poems indicate an autobiographical melancholy.


    Though he is celebrated as bringing the form of the limerick to the forefront of children’s literature, it is his longer songs and nonsense alphabets which show his linguistic inventiveness and observations of Victorian middle-class attitudes and lifestyles. The poems are illustrated in Lear’s remarkably naive and disingenuous style, all the more clever given his real skill as an artist.


    Though Lear is acknowledged as a writer for children his works contain frequent references to violence, destitution and solitude, reflecting the realities of 19th-century life: people are regularly killed, smashed, drowned or choked. Notably, the German children’s book Struwwelpeter, in which children are burned, have their thumbs cut off, or are blown away by the wind, was published around the same time as the first Book of Nonsense. It is perhaps the starkness of Lear’s observations of the casual violence of life that heighten the delightfulness of his absurd word-usage and mixing of the animal, human and inanimate worlds.

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