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Susan Hyman, editor

EDWARD LEAR IN THE LEVANT

Travels in Albania, Greece and Turkey in Europe, 1848-1849


Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Edward Lear is most familiar today for his Nonsense Rhymes and it is probably less widely known that he was also one of the great Victorian travellers. It is rather surprising that he made the journeys he did, for his health was poor (and so was he); moreover, he was terrified of dogs, horses, and firearms and could not bear noise and disorder. He suffered frequent accidents, falling off his horse and down stairs, and was frequently persecuted by small boys throwing stones when he stopped to draw. None of these things, however, was enough to make him give up.

In spite of the difficulties and perils he encountered he travelled extensively through countries that were still dangerous and largely unknown to Western tourists. He was usually on his own or with one servant and he preferred to avoid whatever comfort and protection could be offered by British officials or local grandees. His accounts of his journeys therefore constitute the original Rough Guide to the lands he explored.

This beautifully illustrated book includes extracts from Lear's letters and journals; most of the material has not been previously published. Susan Hyman has done a fine job in compiling and annotating it to give a vivid and fascinating picture (both verbal and visual) of the "Levant" (an imprecise term) in Lear's day. She provides an extensive Introduction which sets the scene and explains in some detail where and how Lear travelled in these regions.

The rest of the book has four main sections. The first covers Lear's leaving Naples owing to civil unrest and moving to Corfu and beginning his Greek journeys. Part 2 starts in Athens, still at that time a very new city, and describes Lear's travels northwards as far as Salonica. In 1848 Greece had only recently won its independence from Turkish rule and the area it covered was much smaller than that occupied by modern Greece. The northern border ran a little north of Lamia, and Thessaly and Macedonia were still under the control of Turkey. Part 3 is set in Albania, then as now particularly remote and unknown. Although we do not now think of Albania as Greece, Lear would have done so; "Greece" was not precisly defined at this time but would have included Albania in the view of Europeans.

Part 4 looks at Arkady (Arcadia) in the central Peloponnese; I found this specially interesting because it is an area I know well. There is also an Epilogue, containing miscellaneous letters about later travels in 1856-57.

The illustrations, many of them in colour, range from formal oil paintings to humorous cartoons and complement the text perfectly.


%T Edward Lear in the Levant
%S Travels in Albania, Greece and Turkey in Europe, 1848-1849
%A Susan Hyman, editor
%I John Murray
%C London
%D 1988
%G ISBN 0-7195-4614-1
%P 168 pp
%K travel
%O illustrated


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