The Book of Nonsense/By Way of Preface


IT is believed that all save the youngest readers of these Nonsense Books will be interested in the two following autobiographical letters by the author, which have never till now been published. The first, written nearly a quarter of a century back, just before one of his journeys in search of the picturesque, is a strict recital of date and fact; the second, composed some years later, and after he had set up his residence at San Remo, was written for a young lady of his acquaintance, who had quoted to him the words of a young lady not of his acquaintance, which form the refrain of the verses—"How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!"

My Dear F.,

I want to send you, before leaving England, a note or two as to the various publications I have uttered,—bad and good, and of all sorts,—also their dates, that so you might be able to screw them into a beautiful memoir of me in case I leave my bones at Palmyra or elsewhere. Leastwise, if a man does anything all through life with a deal of bother, and likewise of some benefit to others, the details of such bother and benefit may as well be known accurately as the contrary.

Born in 1812 (12th May), I began to draw, for bread and cheese, about 1827, but only did uncommon queer shop-sketches—selling them for prices varying from ninepence to four shillings: colouring prints, screens, fans; awhile making morbid disease drawings for hospitals and certain doctors of physic. In 1831, through Mrs. Wentworth, I became employed at the Zoological Society, and, in 1832, published "The Family of the Psittacidæ," the first complete volume of coloured drawings of birds on so large a scale published in England, as far as I know—unless Audubon's were previously engraved. J. Gould's "Indian Pheasants" were commenced at the same time, and after a little while he employed me to draw many of his birds of Europe, while I assisted Mrs. Gould in all her drawings of foregrounds, as may be seen in a moment by any one who will glance at my drawings in G.'s European birds and the Toucans. From 1832 to 1836, when my health failed a good deal, I drew much at the Earl of Derby's; and a series of my drawings was published by Dr. Gray of the British Museum—a book now rare. I also lithographed many various detached subjects, and a large series of Testudinata for Mr. (now Professor) Bell; and I made drawings for Bell's "British Mammalia," and for two or more volumes of the "Naturalist's Library" for the editor. Sir W. Jardine, those volumes being the Parrots, and, I think, the Monkeys, and some Cats. In 1835 or '36, being in Ireland and the Lakes, I leaned more and more to landscape, and when in 1837 it was found that my health was more affected by the climate month by month, I went abroad, wintering in Rome till 1841, when I came to England and published a volume of lithographs called "Rome and its Environs." Returning to Rome, I visited Sicily and much of the South of Italy, and continued to make chalk drawings, though in 1840 I had painted my two first oil-paintings. I also gave lessons in drawing at Rome, and was able to make a very comfortable living. In 1845 I came again to England, and in 1846 gave Queen Victoria some lessons, through Her Majesty's having seen a work I published in that year on the Abruzzi, and another on the Roman States. In 1847 I went through all Southern Calabria, and again went round Sicily, and in 1848 left Rome entirely. I travelled then to Malta, Greece, Constantinople, and the Ionian Islands; and to Mount Sinai and Greece a second time in 1849, returning to England in that year. All 1850 I gave up to improving myself in figure-drawing, and I continued to paint oil-paintings till 1853, having published in the meantime, in 1849 and 1852, two volumes entitled "Journals of a Landscape Painter," in Albania and Calabria. The first edition of the "Book of Nonsense" was published in 1846, lithographed by tracing-paper. In 1854 I went to Egypt and Switzerland, and in 1855 to Corfu, where I remained the winters of 1856-57-58, visiting Athos, and, later, Jerusalem and Syria. In the autumn of 1858 I returned to England, and '59 and '60 winters' were passed in Rome. 1861, I remained all the winter in England, and painted the Cedars of Lebanon and Masada, going, after my sister's death in March 1861, to Italy. The two following winters—'62 and '63—were passed at Corfu, and in the end of the latter year I published "Views in the Ionian Islands." In 1862 a second edition of the "Book of Nonsense," much enlarged, was published, and is now in its sixteenth thousand.

O bother!

Yours affectionately,


"How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!"
Who has written such volumes of stuff!
Some think him ill-tempered and queer,
But a few think him pleasant enough.

His mind is concrete and fastidious,
His nose is remarkably big;
His visage is more or less hideous,
His beard it resembles a wig.

He has ears, and two eyes, and ten fingers,
Leastways if you reckon two thumbs;
Long ago he was one of the singers,
But now he is one of the dumbs.

He sits in a beautiful parlour.
With hundreds of books on the wall;
He drinks a great deal of Marsala,
But never gets tipsy at all.

He has many friends, laymen and clerical,
Old Foss is the name of his cat:
His body is perfectly spherical,
He weareth a runcible hat.

When he walks in a waterproof white,
The children run after him so!
Calling out, "He's come out in his night-
gown, that crazy old Englishman, oh!"

He weeps by the side of the ocean,
He weeps on the top of the hill;
He purchases pancakes and lotion,
And chocolate shrimps from the mill.

He reads but he cannot speak Spanish,
He cannot abide ginger-beer:
Ere the days of his pilgrimage vanish,
How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!

A reading of "The Self-Portrait of the Laureate of Nonsense"