Edward Lear, born 1812 was a famous English humorist and artist, although he began his career at age 19 as a draftsman for the London Zoological Society. The paintings of birds he produced in 1832 were among the first colour plates of animals ever published in Great Britain.

While working as draftsman, Lear was noticed by Lord Stanley. Impressed by his talent, Stanley commissioned him to draw the animals in his private menagerie. Lear spent five years as part of the household, the head of which was Stanley's father, the 13th Earl of Derby; it was here that Lear began writing and illustrating nonsense rhymes and limericks for the Earl's grandchildren.

In 1846 Lear published "A Book of Nonsense" under a pseudonym: his own name appeared only on the third edition in 1861.

Lear travelled widely, and spent time in Sicily, the Sinai Desert, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Malta, Corsica and Corfu. He eventually settled at San Remo, Italy, where he lived until his death in 1888.

Edward Lear was born in Holloway, North London, on the 12th of May 1812. He was the twentieth of twenty-one children, in a family that had hit hard times, and was raised and educated by his eldest sister.

Lear suffered from asthma, bronchitis, epilepsy (which he called his "Terrible Demons") and frequent bouts of depression (which he refered to as "knownothingatallaboutwhatoneisgoingtodo-ness").

Lear worked as a natural history artist in his youth, skillfully drawing detailed pictures of animals for scientific texts. As iain states above, during this period he developed his earliest nonesense rhymes. However, his eyesight began to fail in his mid-twenties, making such detailed work impossible. Adapting his focus to landscape art, Lear began to travel Europe, painting landscapes and documenting his travels, as well as writing nonesense verse. Returning to Britain, he released illustrated travel journals and a book of nonsense verse, both of which were successful. His landscape art was regarded to the extent of Queen Victoria requesting that he teach her to paint, which he did (he described her as a "dear and absolute duck").

Lear's private life was troubled, and he never married, both for emotional, financial and health reasons. In his early fourties, he left Britain and lived abroad the rest of his life, travelling and painting, creating more illustrated journals and books of nonsense. Both his personal letters and his writings (especially the nonsense verse) suggest he was running away from something. He died in 1888 in San Remo, shortly after his companion of seventeen years, Old Foss the cat, passed away.

Lear did not invent the classic limerick structure, although he did develop and popularize the form. Most of his nonsense verse comprised of limericks, although he also wrote longer poetic stories, most famously The Owl And The Pussycat, The Quangle Wangle's Hat, The Jumblies and The Dong With a Luminous Nose. While his work was intended for children, it appeals to anyone with a decent sense of the ludicrious.

No-one describes Lear better than himself, in The Self-Portrait of the Laureate of Nonsense.

My personal favourite of Lear's nonsense limericks is an uncharacteristically cynical work, The Old Man Of Hong Kong.

There was an Old Man of Hong Kong,
Who never did anything wrong;
He lay on his back, with his head in a sack,
That innocuous Old Man of Hong Kong.

Social commentary through nonesense, a favourite field of mine.

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