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There once was an old man called Lear...

Dear Planksters,

How the twiddle dee dee are you? It’s been a while, but I had to break my non-existent and unspoken vow of silence to bring you this most outstanding joy of a book! The subject was delivered into our world two hundred and twelve years ago today, and what better way to mark the birth of so celebrated a writer and artist as a book blog? Planksters, I give you; ‘Mr Lear (A Life of Art and Nonsense)’ written by the unbelievably talented Jenny Uglow.

‘Mr Lear’ (Faber and Faber, 2017) is one of those books that is simply beautiful to behold and would be a welcome addition to any bookshelf even if it were never opened. However, not to peer under the cover would be sheer folly, for these pages are packed with biographical detail about Edward Lear, written with a dedication to research and obvious skill that sweeps you along with Mr Lear on his travels and adventures around the globe.  It is peppered with his art; incredible paintings, illustrations, and doodles – all of which are just brilliant!

Like many, my main knowledge of Edward Lear was limited to his playful limericks and nonsense songs such as ‘There was an Old Man with a Beard’ and ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ but I was blown away by his incredible artistic abilities – studies of birds, scenes from the countries he visited and sketches with written reminders of colours. His notes on the sketch of San Vittorino, 2nd May 1845 (Page 145) read; ‘very bright’, ‘bright far’, ‘blue!!!!!’… ‘field’, ‘olive wood deep shadow’, red rox’, ‘olives’, ‘light trees’, ‘roofs yellow red – houses gray and ochre’, ‘O! path!’…’ – Wonderful!

Jenny Uglow, herself a word artist, paints a picture of a highly gifted, restless man, always on the move. He suffers from his health, both physically and emotionally, and yearns for deep friendships; is often lonely but has many acquaintances.

Edward Lear seems quick to mock himself, especially in his doodles, where representations of his size and shape invite ridicule.

A gentle man with a love of words, places, people, cats, music, and good food, and always with a keen eye on the lookout for the absurd.

An opportunity to pay my own small tribute to Edward Lear floated along in the guise of ‘The Dirigible Balloon’ where alongside a couple of other wonderful poems, I will be illustrating Michael Rosen’s ‘A Limerick in Yiddish’ ( for an upcoming poetry collection, edited by Jonathan Humble, for which all proceeds will be donated to the Juvenile Arthritis Research charity – watch this space!

Mr Rosen, a vocal appreciator of Mr Lear, and a poetry hero in his own right, also receives due homage in my illustration. (For anyone now in need of an immediate Rosen/Lear fix, check out this link Also, from Mr Rosen’s blog

Planksters, if you love words, limericks, poetry, art, letters, travel, and an all-around top human-interest story; this is your book! I can’t recommend it highly enough and would love to hear your thoughts should you give it a read!

Sincerely, with a pointed toe, a leap, and a bound, hampered only by a small, sharp irregularly shaped stone skulking in my shoe,

Thalamus Plank.


For anyone interested in more Lear, a few YouTube links to help fill the gap!

‘The Remarkable Nature of Edward Lear’ a lecture by the Harvard Museum of Natural History

‘An Exile in Paradis: The Adventures of Edward Lear (Parts 1, 2, and 3)

‘The Secret Life of Books; Edward Lear’s Nonsense Songs’




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