The uncertainty began with his birth. Born 12 May 1812, Lear was the 20th of 21 children. Many of the Lear offspring did not live beyond infancy. Though he lived to be 75, his health was always delicate. At age five, he experienced his first epileptic seizure. For Lear this “Demon,” as he dubbed his affliction, was a mark of shame. Much of his self-imposed isolation from those he loved derived from his need to hide his condition from them. -poetryfoundation.org

I propose we toast beer to queer Mr. Lear and his health —
A man they say was born this day (in 1812 on May 12th).
Who was Lear, you may ask?
I will save me the task
By letting him tell you himself:


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!

If ever there was a man after my own heart (or I a man after his heart), it is the great Laureate of Nonsense, Edward Lear. To quote the late British author, editor and bibliophile Holbrook Jackson:

There was something preposterous about Edward Lear, amiably preposterous. He might have stepped out of one of his own nonsense books, and he seemed to know it and to make the most of it. He pokes fun at himself even when he is serious, and his letters dance with caricatures of his own plump figure, high-domed brow, and bushy whiskers. By profession he was a painter of birds and landscapes, by habit a wanderer, a humorist and a grumbler. Even his puns have a style of their own which often trips over the boundaries of humor into his own rightful realm of nonsense.

How pleasant indeed to know Mr. Lear, a man of manifold talents without peer! And how fitting that, whether by coincidence or what, May 12 is Limerick Day (as well as Mr. Lear’s birthday), for he was the first to popularize the limerick. Here is one of his many:

There was an Old Man, on whose nose,
Most birds of the air could repose;
But they all flew away,
At the closing of day,
Which relieved that Old Man and his nose.

And how better to close, than with two videos: