Biography of Edward Lear

Photo of Edward Lear

Edward Lear was a nineteenth century writer known as the “Father of English Nonsense”. Ironically he wished to be known for his landscape painting instead.

When and Where was he Born?

12th May 1812, Highgate, London, England.

Family Background:

Edward Lear was the youngest of twenty-one children of Jeremiah Lear a Stockbroker and his wife Ann. Brought up by his eldest sister Ann.


From his sisters Ann and Sarah who taught him to draw.

Timeline of Edward Lear:

1816: Lear’s father becomes a defaulter with the Stock Exchange and the impecunious family have to abandon their fashionable way of life. Lear is brought up by his sister Ann, then 21 years old and his mother has nothing more to do with him.

1826: He begins to earn his living as an artist whilst still living with his sister.

1830: In June he starts work on “Illustrations of the Family Psittacidae or Parrots”. In November he quickly gains a reputation as an ornithological artist when the first two volumes of the “Parrots” are published. He becomes an Associate of the Linnean Society.

1831: Edward Lear begins a collaboration with John Gould on the “Birds of Europe”. He visits Amsterdam, Berne and Berlin with Gould.

1832: He starts drawing the animals at Knowsley Hall for Lord Stanley during July.

1835: He visits Ireland with the Bishop of Norwich and his son Arthur Penryn Stanley and becomes interested in landscape painting.

1836: He embarks on a walking tour of the Lake District. His eyesight begins to get worse.

1837: Lear visits Belgium, Germany and Switzerland on his way to Rome.

1838: He travels to Southern Italy and begins painting in oils.

1839: He embarks on a walking tour in Central Italy.

The Colosseum in Rome (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1841: He returns to England. In September he publishes “Views in Rome and Its Environs.” He returns to Rome in December.

1842: He visits Sicily.

1845: He returns to England in May.

1846: Lear publishes “Illustrated Excursions in Italy.” He publishes the first edition of “A Book of Nonsense” under the pseudonym Derry Down Derry. He publishes “Gleanings from the Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall”. He gives drawing lessons to Queen Victoria and then returns to Rome.

1847: He visits Sicily and Calabria and witnesses the revolution.

1848: In April because of the political state in Italy he leaves Rome and moves on to Corfu, Athens, Marathon and Thebes where he becomes ill. He journeys on to Malta during December.

1849: He travels to Cairo and Sinai then returns to Malta. He returns to England in July and prepares for the entrance examination to The Royal Academy Schools.

1850: He is taken on as a student at the Royal Academy at the late age of 38.

1851: He publishes “Journals of a Landscape Painter in Albania”. He meets Alfred and Emily Tennyson.

1852: Lear is introduced to William Holman Hunt who teaches him painting. He goes to live with Hunt at Hastings and meets other members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He publishes “Journals of a Landscape Painter in Southern Calabria”.

1853: The damp English weather is bad for his health and he leaves for Egypt during December.

1854: Lear travels up the Nile and then returns to England.

1855: He publishes the second edition of “A Book of Nonsense”. He travels to Corfu but becomes lonely and depressed, a condition, which he suffered from throughout his life.

1856: Lear travels to Albania and Greece.

1857: He returns to England for the summer and Corfu for the winter.

1858: He travels to Bethlehem, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea and winters in Rome.

1859: Lear returns to England in May but returns to Rome in December.

1860: He returns to England and works on his major oil painting “The Cedars of Lebanon”.

1861: Death of his sister Ann on 11th March. He visits Florence and then winters in Corfu. The third edition of “A Book of Nonsense” is published.

1862: “The Cedars of Lebanon is exhibited at the Great Exhibition in March but is not well received. He returns to Corfu.

1863: He publishes “Seven Ionian Islands”.

1864: Lear leaves Corfu for Athens when the island is ceded to the Greeks. He spends the summer in London and winter in southern France.

1865: He writes his first full length nonsense story “The History of the Seven Families of the Lake Pipple Popple”. He returns to England but then moves on to Venice as he is commissioned to do a painting by Lady Waldegrave. He winters in Malta.

1866: He returns to England and thinks about proposing marriage to Gussie Bethell. He travels to Egypt and Jerusalem and then returns to England. He spends the winter in Cannes. He writes the “Owl and the Pussycat” song.

1868: He travels to Corsica then returns to England. He winters in Cannes.

1869: Lear publishes the “Journal of a Landscape Painter in Corsica”.

1870: He buys land in San Remo in Italy and decides to settle down. In December he finishes “Nonsense Songs and Stories” and “Botany and Alphabets”.

1871: He moves into Villa Emily in San Remo. In December he finishes “More Nonsense”.

1872: He spends the summer in England then travels towards India but turns back at Suez.

1873: He travels to India again and visits Bombay.

1875: He leaves India and Ceylon and spends the summer in England.

1876: He publishes the final nonsense book “Laughable Lyrics”.

1877: He makes a brief visit to Corfu to see his friend who is ill.

1878: He spends the summer in Switzerland.

1880: Lear buys new land for building then makes his last visit to England during February. In September he returns to Monte Generoso, Italy.

1881: He spends the summer in Monte Generoso at the Villa Tennyson.

1884: Lear sells the Villa Emily.

1885: He spends the summer in Brianza.

1886: He completes payment for the Villa Tennyson building work.

1887: Lear abandons his long held plan to illustrate Tennyson’s work.

When and Where did he Die?

29th January 1888, San Remo, Italy from heart disease which he had suffered since 1870.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1841: “Views in Rome and Its Environs”
1846: “Illustrated Excursions in Italy”. “A Book of Nonsense” (under the pseudonym Derry Down Derry). “Gleanings from the Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall.
1851: “Journals of a Landscape Painter in Albania”.
1863: “Seven Ionian Islands”.
1865: “The History of the Seven Families of the Lake Pipple Popple”.
1866: “Owl and the Pussycat”
1869: “Journal of a Landscape Painter in Corsica”.
1871: “Nonsense Songs and Stories”.
1872: “More Nonsense Songs”.
1876: “Laughable Lyrics”
(1889): “Nonsense Drolleries”.
(1900): “The Jumblies”.


Never Married though contemplated proposal to Gussie Bethell.

Site of Grave:

San Remo, Liguria, Italy.

Places of Interest:


British Library.