E.S. Turner

  • Edward Lear: A Biography by Peter Levi
    Macmillan, 362 pp, £20.00, January 1995, ISBN 0 333 58804 5

Which famous Victorian poet-painter was the 20th child of a dodgy stockbroker? Yes, it was the man in the runcible hat, Edward Lear. His latest biographer, Peter Levi, confides to us that, like Lear’s mother, his own grandmother also had 21 children. Easily lured into digression, Levi adds that ‘it is not uncommon in such families that by some mysterious compensation of nature a number of the children or grandchildren should be childless, and that is what happened in Edward’s family.’ Seven of the Lear siblings never had a chance to breed; the gifted 20th turned out to be, as the Victorians used to say, not the marrying kind. By another mysterious compensation of nature he rejoiced greatly in the company of children and is described in this book as ‘one of the world’s natural uncles’.

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