Edward Lear was born on May 12, 1812. He was a gifted artist, author and poet specializing in nonsense verse and limericks. May 12 is also Limerick Day, celebrating the short, humorous poetic form Lear popularized. While Lear’s limericks are all clean, the form usually leans toward bawdier humor and some critics contend that a poem is not truly a limerick without a bit of raunchiness. Here are five books to celebrate Limerick Day and Edward Lear.
“The Owl and the Pussy-cat” is Edward Lear’s best known work. Written for the three year old daughter of Lear’s friend, poet John Addington Symonds, the nonsense poem about the unlikely relationship of the title couple is delightfully whimsical and features the famous “runcible spoon.” “Runcible” is, of course, Lear’s invented nonsense word that just works perfectly in the poem. Lear’s illustrations are also a treat.
“Book of Nonsense” published in 1846 is a great collection of Edward Lear’s amusing limericks and illustrations. “There was an Old Man with a beard” is particularly famous as well as “There was an Old Person of Ewell who chiefly subsisted on gruel; But to make it more nice, he inserted some mice, Which refreshed that Old Person of Ewell.” “Nonsense Books” by Edward Lear is available online for everyone’s amusement.
“The Jumblies” by Edward Lear and Edward Gorey is a fantastic book. Gorey, a fan of Lear’s work since childhood was introduced by his grandfather to the nonsense poem that featured only one illustration by Lear. Gorey illustrated the entire poem in this book originally published in 1968. It begins with the perfectly nonsensical “They went to sea in a sieve, they did.”
“Edward Lear in the Levant: Travels in Albania, Greece and Turkey in Europe, 1848-49” compiled and edited by Susan Hyman was published in 1988 for the centennial of Lear’s death. The book features paintings, sketches, letters, journal entries and previously unpublished material by Lear during his travels. A remarkable book for fans of Lear’s landscape painting and those with an interest in travel in the Victorian era.
“The Painter Edward Lear” by Vivien Noakes highlights the extraordinary talent of Lear as an artist and features a foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales. Though known primarily today for his nonsense poems and limericks, Lear was a skilled draughtsman and made a living early on with his incredible illustrations of birds. His first book “Illustrations of the Family Psittacidae, or Parrots” was published in 1832 and features his brilliant paintings of parrots as vibrant as can be.