Edward Lear, frontispiece of Hallam's copy of the 'Nonsense Books' (1888)
The Tennyson family in the garden (1862)
The poet and artist Edward Lear (1812-1888) had a close and enduring friendship with both Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), and Emily Sellwood Tennyson (1813-1896).
Developed in collaboration with Lincolnshire County Council, the AHRC, and Oxford University, this online exhibition is the result of an examination of the entire correspondence (around 200 letters) between Lear and the Tennyson family over 37 years.
The exhibition features highlights from the letters between Lear and Emily, as well as letters exchanged between Lear and Hallam (as a boy, and as a young man), and previously unpublished letters from both Lear and Alfred.
The collection, housed at the Tennyson Research Centre in Lincoln, also contains a number of pictures and rare, special-edition volumes that were passed between Lear and the Tennysons over their lifetimes. All images on this site may be enlarged and navigated for closer viewing, and all printed materials have been newly transcribed.
For more information on Tennyson and the Lincolnshire collections, please visit:
For further links, or to contact the researchers working on this project, click on the relevant tabs above.
The exhibition material is divided into four sections, each of which considers diverse yet overlapping aspects of these friendships and artistic relationships (please click on the thumbnails below):
Lear the Painter looks at how the Tennysons met and came to know Lear for his work as a landscape painter. Love of the Laureate considers Lear’s admiration of, and engagement with, Alfred and his poetry. Friends in Need focuses on Lear’s reliance upon the Tennysons emotionally and on the Tennysons' turning to him for support during times of difficulty. Finally, Fooling Around highlights the playful aspect of the relationships -- in poetry, letters, and life.
This exhibition seeks to provide insight into Emily Tennyson, the woman of whom Lear pronounced: ‘I should think, computing moderately, that 15 angels, several hundred of ordinary women, many philosophers, a heap of truly wise and kind mothers, 3 or 4 minor prophets and a lot of doctors and schoolmistresses, might all be boiled down, and yet their combined essence fall short of what Emily Tennyson is’ (letter to Chichester Fortescue, 12 June 1859). Emily’s letters to Lear are the most animated and sportive of all her correspondence, showing ‘a side of her that is disclosed nowhere else’ (James Hoge).
Other aspects of the exhibition focus on Lear's musical settings of Tennyson's poetry, and on his ‘poetical topographical’ project to illustrate Alfred’s most powerful and suggestive ‘landscape lines & feelings’ in sketches, watercolours, and oil paintings inspired by his travels abroad. After Lear died, the family published this in the form of a beautifully-bound and embossed edition signed by the laureate, as their tribute to ‘one of our oldest and most honoured and truest friends’ (Emily Tennyson, 21 Nov 1877, letter 5532).
More generally, the exhibition explores current assumptions about the relationship between Tennyson and Lear, revealing how, despite their clashing temperaments, the laureate and his family loved, supported, and encouraged Lear throughout his life. Learical Tennysons re-focuses attention on these remarkable relationships, and outlines new avenues of enquiry for emerging scholarship.