Edward Lear abused by brother, says book
EDWARD LEAR has entertained generations of readers with his limericks, his nonsense verse and his invented words, like“splendid o-ph or op hero s tip hongious”, to convey a brilliantly happy occasion.
But real life was not always so much fun for him. As a 10-year-old boy, he was abused by both his cousin and his brother, according to new research.
The horror of the 1822 incident never left him. Decades later, he referred to the anniversary of “the greatest Evil done to me in life” in a diary entry.
Biographers had known that the cousin was involved, but now an academic at the University of St Andrews has uncovered new evidence that Lear’s older brother was also an active participant.
Dr Sara Lodge, senior lecturer in English, told The Sunday Telegraph that the evidence has led her to conclude that both of them hurt young Lear “in a way he never forgot”: “It may have been a kind of physical torture, but one’s suspicion that it involved a sexual assault is very strong.”
Lodge was struck by how the diary entry dates from towards the end of Lear’s life, yet he was still dwelling on the painful memory.
He was epileptic and asthmatic, and suffered from depression, brought up by his eldest sister, Ann, after their mother rejected him. Lodge believes that such struggles make his artistic achievements all the more extraordinary. He wrote some of the best-loved poems in English literature. In a recent survey, The Owl and the Pussycat of 1871 was voted Britain’s favourite childhood poem. Also one of the greatest ornithological artists of the age and a brilliant landscape painter, Lear gave Queen Victoria painting lessons in 1846.
Lodge will include her discoveries in her forthcoming book, Inventing Edward Lear, to be published by Harvard University Press.