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Edward Lear
Edward Lear

1812 - 1888

Edward Lear was born in London, the twentieth child of a stockbroker. Although the family was initially wealthy, his father went bankrupt when he was three, and the family  never regained its former wealth.  When his father retired, Edward was cared for by his sister Anne. From the age of fourteen they shared rented rooms and she encouraged his natural talent for drawing and painting, and  despite the fact that he had never received any formal artistic training,  his work became well known.From the age of sixteen he was commissioned to produce illustrations of various kinds.  Lears subjects included birds and landscapes. His chief work was small water-colours, thousands of which survive  today.

Edward Lear is mostly remembered not for his considerable talent as an artist but for his Nonsense Rhymes.  He is credited with inventing the Limerick, which he wrote to amuse the children of his wealthy clients. As well as the Limericks he wrote other nonsense rhymes such as " The Owl and The Pussycat" and " The Jumblies" . 

The man with the very long nose

Edward Lear kept his epilepsy, so secret that hardly anyone knew about it until after his death. He once said " It is wonderful that these fits have never been discovered".

Lears epilepsy began when he was about seven. His seizures were 'petit-mal' and resulted in short black-outs, or absences, His sister Harriet had taught him to control his seizures with a combination of relaxation and will-power.  When he felt the aura which preceeded an attack, Lear would retire, usually to another room, where he would lie down and try to stay calm. 

Lear recollects his first seizure, when his father took him to a fair near Highgate,

"there was a performance of gymnastic clowns...and a band.  The music was good- at least it attracted me:- and the sunset and twilight I remember as if yesterday.  And I can recollect crying half the night after all the gaiety had broke up-and also suffering for days at the memory of the past scene"

A the years went by his seizures became more severe, but less frequent.  He kept diaries in which he placed an 'X' next to the dates he had seizures, and a score of between 1 to 10 to mark its severity.   He described himself as 'coming to awful grief" at these times, but generally  Lear wrote little on the subject of his fears surrounding living with epilepsy.Parrot drawing

Edward, like many of his contemporaries who had epilepsy,  was deeply ashamed of his condition.  His sister Ann was partly responsible for this.   "The Demon" as he always called his attacks was replaced later on by the description "The Morbids", Lear's word for a state of nostalgic despair.  Lear was also convinced, like many of his contemporaries that epilepsy would lead to a deterioration of the brain and early death.  He had watched his elder sister Jane have numerous seizures when he was a child, and she had died before reaching adulthood, posibly falling victim to SUDEP(Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy).

For much of his life, Lear travelled extensively in France, Italy, Albania and Greece, recording the landscapes. He managed to make a living off his paintings and drawings. He published four books of Nonsense, two illustrated books of Natural History, and six travel books.

What are Absence seizures??