Edward Lear

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Edward Lear was born in Holloway, near London, on 12 May 1812. During his lifetime, Lear was primarily known as a traveller & illustrator, even though today his literary celebrity rests on his invention of nonsense verse & well-known poems such as ‘The Owl & Pussycat’ (1867).

Owl and the Pussy Cat

Lear first met the Tennysons in 1851 through their mutual friend Franklin Lushington & gave them a copy of his Journal of a Landscape Painter in Greece & Albania (1851) as a belated wedding present. Tennyson so admired the work that he wrote a poem entitled ‘To E.L. on his Travels in Greece’.

The Dead Sea by Edward Lear

Masada on the Dead Sea by Edward Lear (1858).

This small photograph of Edward Lear is an example of a carte-de-visite, used in the Victorian period as a means of making a formal introduction. Lear often embellished his correspondence with doodles & sketches. In this letter to Tennyson, he asks the Laureate for his autograph; the two self-portraits depict him responding joyfully to a positive response & despairingly to a negative one.

Edward Lear

Lear became a friend of the couple & a frequent guest at Farringford, growing particularly close to Emily & becoming one of her lifelong correspondents. In 1855, during one of his visits to Farringford, Lear composed & sang musical settings to Tennyson’s poems, including ‘Mariana’ & ‘The Lotus-Eaters’.


Artist John Millais was also inspired by Tennyson poems & painted Mariana.

By the 1870s, Lear decided to live abroad & settled in San Remo, Italy, in a house he called Villa Tennyson where he lived with his cat, Foss.

Edward and Foss

While in San Remo, Lear created illustrations for Tennyson’s poems, & thirty-six of these illustrations were published in special edition of Tennyson’s poems in 1889, the year after Lear’s death.

A remote island by Lear.

Lear produced this watercolour study to accompany Tennyson’s poem, Enoch Arden.