Edward Lear abused by brother, says book

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Dalya Al­berge

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.

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