Talk:Edward Lear

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The phrase...[edit]

"Ere the days of his pilgrimage vanish" must surely be one of the most pleasant references to mortality ever coined.

...was apparently removed because it did not adhere to the editor's idea of the Neutral Point Of View. I suppose that the editor must know of an even more pleasant reference to mortality or know people who believe that there are more pleasant references to mortality. It would certainly have been helpful if the editor had used this discussion page to explain why it was necessary to remove the sentence. Without that explanation we can only guess at the reason with the hint, "NPOV", to go on.

In any case please note that rephrasing a sentence like this is usually preferable to deleting it. If a phrase seems arguable to you, you should rephrase it in such a way that people cannot argue with it, or should that prove impossible, you should attribute it to the people who think such a thing. In this case, it should be sufficient to rephrase the sentence as follows:

"Ere the days of his pilgrimage vanish" may be one of the most pleasant references to mortality ever coined.

since this leaves open the possibility that it is not. This is the form of sentence which I have replaced within the article. -- Derek Ross 04:10, 8 Apr 2004 (UTC)

The previous editor (actually, several edits ago) who entirely removed the 'pleasant reference' claim may have gone too far. But what we're left with now is a unsupported opinion. I take exception to seeing unsupported claims without popular citations in entries. The burden of research is on the claimant. Here are some Wikipedia guidelines on the subject: NPOV#Characterizing_opinions_of_people's_work. As the guideline suggests, I think we're definitely dealing with "the idiosyncratic opinion of the Wikipedia article writer" as opposed to a well-researched or at least referenced popular opinion. The claim in question here appears to be one editor's enthusiastic opinion. Unless this is a common belief (which should then be claimed and/or cited), it doesn't belong in a Wikipedia entry. This is a Wikipedia, not an art review site; as contributors, we must do research!
As for the claim's possibility of being true or its inarguability... While Derek Ross has technically sanitized it to the point of being inarguable, accepting this approach in Wikipedia opens a can of worms since every article could then be allowed to fill up with fans and detractors claiming (inarguably!) that all artists may be the best at something and may be the worst at something else. As the Wikipedia guideline points out, these possibilities are a contribution only when they are popularly supported and/or researched (and, ideally, backed up.)
In an attempt to preserve NPOV while retaining the 'pleasant' claim of Derek Ross, I have edited the page. -- 01:39, 9 Apr 2004 (UTC)
As the original writer of the phrase, my ego was mildly bruised by its excision, but I thought it unwise to reinsert it myself. (I mean, if I didn't want my writing to be edited mercilessly, I wouldn't have submitted it, right?) I think Derek Ross's version is better, and's version is better yet. The purpose of the "reference to mortality" remark was to explain the meaning of the phrase, because I didn't think it would be instantly obvious to all readers. Dpbsmith 13:11, 9 Apr 2004 (UTC)
I am happy with's edit. It provides a much better solution than a plain delete and it was accompanied by an excellent explanation of the reasons for it. -- Derek Ross

Capitalization of "Cow"[edit]

I restored the capitalization of the word "Cow" in the limerick about the Old Man of Aôsta, because that's the way it was in the original.

I see only two ways to go with this. Either quote his poetry as it was published—my strong preference—or bring it fully into conformity with modern usage, which would mean removing the capitalization in the phrase "Old Man" and elsewhere.

As I say, my own preference is to quote things as originally published. Lewis Carroll spelled "can't" as "ca'n't", with two apostrophes; George Bernard Shaw spelled it as "cant", without apostrophes; Edward FitzGerald spelled his name with an internal capital "G"; the first line of John Masefield's "Sea-Fever" is "I must down to the seas again" (not "I must go down to the seas again); Melville's most famous book is entitled, "Moby-Dick, or the Whale," not "Moby Dick"; and citing them as published retains period flavor and personality. I am waiting for the day when some officious copy-editor "corrects" the capitalization in the works of e. e. cummings. Dpbsmith 20:26, 8 Apr 2004 (UTC)

Drifting off the topic, but I feel I should point out that, whatever he might have done to the capitalization of words elsewhere, E. E. Cummings always spelled his own name with normal capitalization. --Paul A 04:33, 29 Apr 2004 (UTC)
Having stumbled here on a whim, it's worth noting that, although the first publication of "Sea Fever" does have as its first line "I must down to the seas again", the version published in the 1923 "Collected Poems of John Masefield" and the later "Selected Poems" have it as "I must go down...{etc)". We might conclude that it was a printing or other mistake; however, Masefield had some control over the content of "Selected Poems" (at least), and subsequently published versions have it as "I must go down...". Furthermore, a recording of Masefield reading the poem exists; as he reads the first line, you will hear "I must go down to ..."2602:30A:2C4A:1CB0:9444:D50A:1A73:9758 (talk) 22:05, 29 May 2017 (UTC)


Does anyone know what species "Bong-tree" refers to in poems The Owl and the Pussycat and The Dong with a Luminous Nose? Or is it purely an imaginary poetic device? --Eoghanacht 21:38, 2005 May 23 (UTC)

It was originally one of Lear's poetic inventions and appears in several of his poems. In the introduction to Lady Strachey's book, Queery Leary Nonsense, The Earl of Cromer said,
Nothing, I should add, amused Lear more than the failure of some people to appreciate the utter absence of sense in his nonsense. He used to relate that someone once wrote to him to say that he had marched various botanical and other works without finding any allusion to a "Bong-tree". Where, his correspondent, asked, did the "Bong-tree" grow?.
Where indeed. -- Derek Ross | Talk 03:24, May 24, 2005 (UTC)

Seems a bit odd that in the 130-odd years since the publication of the poem, no botanist has employed it as the name of a newly discovered tree. Perhaps: Bong tree (Learia bonga)? Thanks. --Eoghanacht 12:25, 2005 May 24 (UTC)

I live in Little Bongs, Knotty Ash, Liverpool, made famous by comedian Ken Dodd. On the site of the Knotty Ash Inn local eatery and public house once stood an ancient knarled & knotty Ash Tree a landmark known as the Bong Tree. Ken Dodd recently planted a young Ash tree on the original spot. Presumably while in employment at Lord Derby's Estate only 5 miles up the road Edward Lear visited this place and wrote it into his poem "The Owl and the Pussycat"

Another mystery cleared up, <grin>. Hooray for Lord Derby, Ken Dodd and Knotty Ash! Thank you, Anonymous Contributor! -- Derek Ross | Talk 22:50, 11 November 2005 (UTC)

Umm...this is odd. I typed "bong tree" into Wikipedia and got this guy. The answer to "Where does the bong tree grow?" is Jamaica. The reason I typed "bong tree" into Wikipedia is its the colloquial name for a tree whose real name I don't know that grows all over Jamaica (I was there last week, and they're in bloom). They have bright red blossoms and produce these...things that, I guess, look a bit like bongs (i.e., marijuana joints). My tour guide there said that they start out small and green, and they used to feed them to cows. As these fruits (they look more like pods) ripen, they get much longer, so that they're as long as bananas, and they harden and turn dark brown/black. I went to Wikipedia because I wanted to know the real name of this tree. Instead, I'm here.  : \ Any advice? (talk) 10:12, 10 July 2008 (UTC)

Old Men[edit]

Does anyone know why Lear's poems in the book of nonsense are mostly about old men?

- Sheer laziness, I suspect. Or perhaps at the time it was the standard opening line for a limerick. It is interesting that in Lear's limericks the last line closely echoes the first, whereas most more recent ones tend to end with an unexpected punch-line.

"There was an Old man with a beard, Who said, "It is just as I feared: Two owls and a hen, Three larks, and a wren Have all built their nests in my beard." — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:45, 12 May 2012 (UTC)


I removed this section. I'm not sure it if has been tampered with, but it seems a bit far fetched. Anyone who wants to re-introduce it is welcome. - FrancisTyers · 18:57, 26 September 2006 (UTC)

Personal life[edit]

The love of Lear's life was Sir Franklin Lushington, Chief Magistrate of London. Together they traveled the world over, while Lear indulged his passion for painting.[1]

I reinserted the text, as some cursory Googling (lushington lear) appears to indicate it's true. - EurekaLott 02:31, 27 September 2006 (UTC)

Personal Life section removed[edit]

The Personal life section was nothing but POV, theories and conjectures, attached to weasel words. Wikipedia is for articles, not opinion or gossip. If you want to include something on his personal life, leave out the speculation and opinion and back up assertions with citations. — J M Rice 21:00, 20 January 2007 (UTC)


Did Lear have a literary agent? Who were his publishers? Why did he and Ann have to leave the family home? What sort of background did he have? Did he make a living from his painting/writing?

Any further details would be great!

According to, the American Academy of Poets website (, accessed 7/15/11), Lear's father was sent to debtors' prison when Lear was 13 so Lear had to go to work. Lear "began his career as an artist at age 15." He "quickly gained recognition for his work." He was hired by the London Zoological society in 1832 to draw birds. Also in 1832, the Earl of Denby, Lear's patron, invited Lear to live at his estate. Lear lived on the Earl's estate until 1836. Lear spent ten years traveling Europe and Asia (1837-1847) and when he returned to England published his travel journals as The Illustrated Travels of a Landscape Painter. The journals were "popular and respected in his day."

It sounds as though Lear left home because of family finances and that he was successful (i.e. able to make a living) as an artist and writer. Drlex1995 (talk) 20:27, 15 July 2011 (UTC)

Painting of Masada[edit]

Masada (or Sebbeh) on the Dead Sea, Edward Lear, 1858.jpg

There is a beautiful painting of Masada by Lear in the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. I have uploaded a photograph, and I think it would add something to this page if there is more coverage of Lear's landscape paintings. Certainly I was astounded to discover them, as they are more generally eclipsed by his (fantastic) nonsense. Karora 12:21, 25 September 2007 (UTC)


Should mention be made of Lear's depression? It's mentioned in many books on Lear and sources can probably be found on the internet (I'm not doing it myself because I'm very new to editing Wikipedia and would hate to do something wrong). He referred to his bouts of depression as "The Morbids." He also had epilepsy in a time when it was still thought to be caused by demonic possession, which contributed to his depression, or so I've heard. Mightn't that also be noteworthy? If it shouldn't be included, why not (for the sake of my own education on Wikipedia functioning)? (talk) 00:31, 20 March 2008 (UTC)

That sounds interesting (and noteworthy) to me! Have you got a reference for it? If so, I'd recommend adding it to the article, with a citation so people can tell where it came from Bencoland (talk) 11:33, 20 March 2008 (UTC)

Added the information. Hope it's up to par =D (talk) 17:41, 20 March 2008 (UTC)

Looks great! Bencoland (talk) 19:45, 20 March 2008 (UTC)

I'm not sure that it's accurate to say that, in the 19th century, epilepsy was "still thought to be due to demonic possession." According to the website of The German Epilepsy Museum Kork (, accessed 7/15/11), by the time of the Renaissance, physicians knew that epilepsy was an organic (i.e. not caused by supernatural means) disease. Paracelcus (1493-1541) wrote, in 1525, "On Ailments which rob us of our reason," "And such falling sicknesses have five seats: One is in the brain, the second in the liver, the third in the heart, the fourth in the intestines, the fifth in the limbs." In the 18th century, Samuel Tissot wrote a "Treatise on Epilepsy or the Falling Sickness" (1771). Epilepsy was known to be an organic neurological disorder, although it was not known whether epilepsy was a symptom of some other underlying disease ("any sympathetic cause which supports it, and what this could be") or a primary disease ("it simply stems from an over-sensitivity of the brain."). Drlex1995 (talk) 20:58, 15 July 2011 (UTC)

A reference for Lear's suffering from depression (and his calling it "the Morbids") and epilepsy (which he did refer to as "the demon," although that's not to say that in the 1800s epilepsy was still widely thought to be due to demon possession) can be found at (accessed 7/15/11). This is a publisher's website and includes a biographical sketch of Lear that was taken from the introduction to the book, Edward Lear: The Corfu Years. A Chronicle presented through his Letters and Journals, Edited by Philip Sherrard, 1988, ISBN 0-907978-25-8. Drlex1995 (talk) 21:23, 15 July 2011 (UTC)

Epileptic Fits[edit]

The location of Lear's first epileptic fit was changed from "in a tree" to "at a fair." Is there any reference for this? I'm pretty sure I've read elsewhere that it was in a tree. Either way, this detail should be referenced, no? TreyJHarris (talk) 17:54, 30 March 2008 (UTC)

I'm not the one who made the change, but I noticed it too. According to, the attack was at a fair, and it's even got a quote from Lear. I've emailed the site asking what the source of the quote was, in order to add a citation, and to see if it's from one of Lear's writings where he talks more about his epilepsy. Bencoland (talk) 20:32, 30 March 2008 (UTC)

Hmm. The quote that site uses to refer to epilepsy is the quote that the book I referenced for the depression bit says describes his first onset of depression. TreyJHarris (talk) 02:10, 31 March 2008 (UTC)

I haven't heard anything back from them yet, but I may soon get proactive and try finding the original source myself. I suspect the extract may be from his diaries[1], which don't seem to be on gutenberg or elsewhere on the web that I can easily find. I'll also put making a public domain ebook version of them onto my 100000 item to-do list and hope that somebody else beats me to it. Bencoland (talk) 10:00, 31 March 2008 (UTC)

Born in Highgate?[edit]

According to the Oxford DNB Lear was born at Bowman's Lodge, now occupied by Bowman's Mews, N7. This is in an area of London called Nag's Head, or more generally Upper Holloway. I was brought up in Highgate (post code N6) and we learnt all about local celebrities. Lear was never mentioned in this context - if we could have claimed him I'm sure we would have. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 07:43, 6 July 2009 (UTC)

Hmmm, Fair enough. Bowman's Lodge was actually on the edge of Highgate Hill but not in the village of Highgate itself. So I can see where the confusion arose. As you say he was born in the village of Holloway before that village, like Highgate, was engulfed by Greater London. I'll fix things up. -- Derek Ross | Talk 17:37, 6 July 2009 (UTC)

Edward Lear's Cat I think a mention should be made of Old Foss whose image Mr. Lear happily recorded in many drawings. My understanding was that he loved this cat a lot and was very upset when it died. Al Stewart (of Year of the Cat fame) wrote a great little song based on the poem 'How Pleasnat to Know Mr. Lear'. As Al sang, 'When I was an old man I had a cat named Foss / Now he's gone I wander on with this unbearable sense of loss.' Just a thought. (talk) 13:26, 9 October 2009 (UTC)Phil

Tales of Curiosity, (accessed 7/15/11), talks about Lear's cat, Foss, who had half a tail and tiger-stripes. Although Foss "apparently was not the most attractive of animals" Lear "doted on" him, even building his new house as a duplicate of his old one "so that Foss would settle in easily."

Drlex1995 (talk) 21:30, 15 July 2011 (UTC)

  1. ^ Susan Chitty, That Singular Person Called Lear, Atheneum, 1989