There once was an old man called Lear
Who wrote lots of nonsense, I hear.
With a queer angle too
I post this to you
In this his bicentenary year.
Born on the 12th day of May,
Edward Lear could well have been gay.
Firm proof, though, is lacking,
Yet still there is backing
To make this quite bold claim today.
Biographers tell of his hankering
For a colonial official called
Lear’s love for this man,
Forty years it all ran.
Love returned, though, there is not an inkling.
….. That’s about as far as my skills with limericks can stretch. But I think you’ve got the general idea that Edward Lear was born 200 years ago this month. Although he didn’t invent the limerick Lear will always be associated with it. He also wrote other nonsense poems, including the famous “Owl and the Pussy-cat”.
Biographies and literary commentaries have been saying for decades that Lear was probably a closeted homosexual. Various Freudian and other psycho-analysis of his work have been put forward to support the claim and, like Hans Christian Andersen, the evidence is compelling even if not actual proof exists.
I mentioned in my little limerick was Franklin Lushington, a colonial barrister. Lear met him in Franklin in 1849 on one of his many travels and toured Malta with him. Apparently Lear fell head over heels in love with him quite soon, but Greece never returned that love and was most likely straight. They did, however, remain friends for the rest of Lear’s life. After Lear’s death Franklin destroyed most of Lear’s papers (looks like he was trying to keep something a secret!). Franklin
I’ll end my little bicentenary celebration of Edward Lear with one of my favourite modern limericks. I first heard this on the radio a few years a go recited by the inimitable Kenneth Williams:
There was an old lady of Ryde
Who ate a bad apple and died.
The fruit, it fermented
Inside the lamented
And made cider inside her inside.