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Edward Lear's Biography

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Edward Lear was born in Holloway, London on 12 May 1812. His birth certificate states that it was actually the 13th and Lear used the 13th May as his birthday in his diaries, however later in life he switched to the 12th. One possible explanation is that because he was born at 11.30pm, it was decided to make the birth date the next day.

Edward Lear was the twentieth child of Jeremiah and Ann. Jeremiah Lear was a stockbroker.

In 1832 Edward Lear was engaged by Lord Stanley, heir to the Earl of Derby to draw birds and animals in the menagerie at Knowsley Hall just outside Liverpool. Many of Edward Lear's drawings are still kept in the library there.

In 1837 Lear's health was deteriorating. The northern climate was exacerbating his tendency towards to bronchitis and asthma. Lord Stanley, now the 13th Earl of Derby suggested he go to Rome. A plan that Lear took up.

Lear travelled extensively in Italy and Greece and made sketches and oil paintings of landscapes, he also published various travel books.

But it was for his nonsense verse that Edward Lear was to become most famous. He stumbled on this vocation almost by accident. He had recited nonsense verse to the children at Knowsley but it was not until 1845 that he decided to publish A Book of Nonsense. Many believe that Lear's success derived from his sense of fun and that unlike traditional nursery rhymes there was no feeling of reproach or fear-inducement, or even righteous preaching.

One of his fans was Queen Victoria whom Edward Lear gave drawing lessons to (also in 1845). Her diaries show that he was a very encouraging teacher.

The next year he left for Italy again, where he was to spend much of the rest of his life.

Later in life other limericks and children's rhymes followed: Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets (1870), More Nonsense Rhymes (1871) and Laughable Lyrics (1876).

Edward Lear wrote his own obituary. He called it Incidents in the Life of my Uncle Arly. This was the last piece that he wrote and it drew high praise from Ruskin, who said in Pall Mall Magazine: "I really don't know any author to whom I am half so grateful, for my idle self, as Edward Lear. I shall put him first of my hundred authors."

Edward Lear died in 1888.

Vivien Noakes's biography of Edward Lear is recommended for an informative account of Lear's life.

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