What is Disability Arts?
Edward Lear
Goodwill Messages

Edward Lear

This organisation has been named in celebration of the nineteenth century poet and painter Edward Lear, one of many great artists who are not generally realised to have been disabled people.

We would argue that Lear's nonsense poetry can be read as reflecting a lived experience of disability, making him a predecessor of Disabilty Arts.

From early childhood Lear experienced frequent epileptic fits, sometimes several times a day.  He also suffered bouts of black depression, which he dubbed 'the Morbids'.

Lear's poems are peopled by eccentrics and outsiders, who disregard the strictures of a straitlaced conventional society, characterised as 'They', and often incur disapproval or worse:

    There was an old Man of Whitehaven,
    Who danced a quadrille with a raven;
    But they said - 'It's absurd, to encourage this bird'
    So they smashed that old man of Whitehaven.

The poem of Lear's that most rewards disability analysis is 'The Pobble who has no toes'.   The Pobble is given awful warnings about how someone like him should behave, but, backed by his supportive Aunt Jobiska, refuses to be downhearted.

    When they said, 'Someday you may lose them all;'
        He replied, - 'Fish fiddle de-dee!'

The Pobble sets out to swim across the Bristol Channel, protecting his toes by wrapping his nose in scarlet flannel.     A porpoise steals the flannel, and the toes are lost.

The fascinating feature of the poem is that this is presented as being a positive outcome, with the final words being given to Aunt Jobiska:

    'It's a fact the whole world knows,
    That Pobbles are happier without their toes.'

This is in many ways a very modern message: Be who you are, don't be afraid to have a Disabled identity.

Edward Lear was a remarkable artist.  We are proud to acknowledge him and his work.

Noakes, Vivien (Ed) 'Edward Lear: The Complete Verse and Other Nonsense' (Penguin, 2001)

Levi, Peter, 'Edward Lear: A biography' (McMillan 1995)