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Edward Lear's Nonsense Botany

A selection of Edward Lear’s drawings from the Houghton Library’s collections

Anna Lena Phillips

2013-01SciObsPhillipsFA1.jpgClick to Enlarge ImageIn a January–February Science Observer, we considered the resurgence of interest in Edward Lear’s scientific illustration—and the possibility that his nonsense drawings and verse might have practical use as well. Lear (1812–1888) made his name with a monograph on parrots, published in 1832. As he labored over his exacting illustrations, he also made whimsical poetry and drawings for children. Concerned that the latter would cause people to take his scientific work less seriously, he published them pseudonymously at first. Later he became well known for these limericks, nonsense alphabets and other poems.

In his Nonsense Botany series, Lear played with scientific illustration and nomenclature to create fanciful new species. This slide show features drawings from that series as well as his nonsense alphabets (text by Anna Lena Phillips). Our thanks to the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts at Houghton Library, Harvard University, for providing the images. If you’d like to see more of Lear’s work, you can do so with the library’s new set of data visualizations of the collection. Those who want an even more in-depth view have something to look forward to: Robert Peck of Drexel University, with whom we spoke in January about Lear's life and art, is at work on a book about Lear, scheduled for publication in 2014. In the meantime, the Royal Society's 2012 exhibit, marking the 200th anniversary of Lear's birth, has an online catalog of his scientific illustration. And many of Lear’s drawings and poems are available via Project Gutenberg.

The slide show is best viewed in full-screen mode. To get there, click the full-screen button at the lower right-hand corner of the box below. You may navigate using the arrows at lower left.

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