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Posted June 12th, 2007 by webmaster











Edward Lear (1812-88) was born in London, the twentieth of twenty-one
children. His passion for painting led to a commission from the Earl of Derby
to paint landscapes in Italy and Greece. At one time he was even art-master of
Queen Victoria. Although he exhibited 
in the Royal Academy from 1859 to 1873, he had to rely on the
benevolence of friends for his work, and worries over money continued up to his
last year. His paintings are now much sought after, even if he is best
remembered for The Book of Nonsense, written for the grandchildren of
the Earl of Derby.


 Lear’s journey to Albania in 1848 had not been arranged; the idea
of it took place through a accidental encounter with Sir Stratford Canning, the
British Ambassador at Constantinople who acquired the indispensable documents
to travel across the Ottoman Empire. Setting off from Salonica, Lear headed
north to Shkoder, then south to Corfu, Parga and Arta before going west again
to finish his journey at Mount Olympus and the Vale of Tempe. As he travelled
along he was able to see wonderful scenery and an enticing and assorted number
of characters – Greek dragomen, Turkish pashas, untaught frontier guards and
awkward innkeepers. He spent his nights in khans struggling for room with
animals, and his days running around with his sketchbook, trying to get rid of
aggressive dogs and often also the local population in his desire to record the
magnificence of the countryside.












9 September to 12 November


September 9, 1848


    After severe illness in
Greece and repeated subsequent  attacks
of that persevering enemy, fever, six weeks of repose in the house of the British
Embassy, on the banks of the Bosporus, under the care of the kindest of
families, have at length restored energy, if not perfect health; and as the
summer flies and the time for travelling is shortened, a long-anticipated plan
of visiting parts of ancient Greece, Albania, etc., must be put into effect
now, or not at all. To see the classic vale of Tempe, the sacred mountain of
Athos ad the romantic Yannina have always been among my wishes; and I had long
ago determined on making, previously to returning to England , a large
collection of sketches illustrative of the landscape of Greece. So, now that
change of air and place is desirable as a matter of health, my motives for
making this journey are now more powerful than ever and overcome even the fear
of renewed illness on the way. C. M. C. [Charles Church, Greek scholar and
linguist] is already gone before me to the Troad, and from thence will meet me
in the peninsula of Athos, whence we shall pursue our travels together as

    3 p. m. – Came on board the Ferdinando,
an Austrian steamer running between Constantinople and Salonica; and a pretty
place does it seem to pass  two or three
days in! Every point of the lower deck – all of it – is crammed with Turks,
Jews, Greeks, Bulgarians, wedged together with a density compared to which a
crowded Gravesend steamer is emptiness: a section of a fig-drum, or of a
herring-barrel is the only apt simile for this extraordinary crowd of recumbent
human beings, who are all going to Salonica, as a starting-point for Thessaly,
Bosnia, Wallachia, or any part of Northern Turkey. This motley cargo is not of
ordinary occurrence; but the second Salonica steamer, which should have started
today, has fallen indisposed in its wheels or boiler; so we have a double load for
our share.

    Walking carefully over my
fellow passengers, I reached the first-class part of the deck – a small, raised
triangle, railed off from the throng below, half of which is allotted to
Christians (the Austrian Consul at Salonica and his family being the only
Christians besides myself), and the other half tabooed for the use of a harem
of Turkish females, who entirely cover the floor with a diversity of robes,
pink, blue, chocolate, and amber; pea, sea, olive, bottle, pale, and dark
green; above which parterre of colours are numerous heads, all wrapped in white
muslin, excepting as many pairs of eyes undistinguishably similar. There is a
good cabin below; but owing to a row of obstructive Mussulmen who choose to
cover up the grated opening with shutters, that they may sit quietly upon them
to smoke, it is quite dark, so I remain on deck. We are a silent community: the
smoking Turks are silent, and so is the strange harem. The Consul and his wife,
and their two pretty daughters, are silent, because they fear cholera at
Salonica – which the young ladies declare is ‘un pessimo esilio  [an odious banishment] – and because they
are regretting northern friends. I am silent, from much thought and some
weakness consequent on long illness: and the extra cargo in the lower deck are
silent also – perhaps because they have not room to talk. At four, the anchor
is weighed and we begin to paddle away from the many domed mosques and bright
minarets of  Constantinople and the gay
sides of the Golden Horn, with its caïques and its cypresses towering against
the deepening blue sky, when lo! we do not turn towards the sea, but proceed
ignominiously to tow a great coal-ship all the way to Buyukdere, so there is a
moving panorama of all the Bosporus bestowed on us gratis – Kandili,
Baltaliman, Bebek, Yenikoi, Therapia, with its well-known walks and pines and
planes, and lastly Buyukdere, where we leave our dingy charge and return,
evening darkening over the Giant’s Hill, Unkiar Skelessi, and Anatoli Hissar,
till we sail forth into the broad Sea of Marmora, leaving Scutari and the
towers of wonderful Stamboul first pale and distinct in the light of the rising
moon, and then glittering and lessening on the calm horizon, till they, and the
memory that I have been among them for seven weeks, seem alike part of the
world of dreams.


September 10


    Half the morning we lie off
Gallipoli, taking in merchandise and indulging in eccentric casualties –
demolishing the bowsprit of one vessel and injuring divers others, for which we
are condemned to the three hours of clamour and arrangement of compensation. In
the afternoon we wait off the Dardanelles, not an inviting town as beheld from
the sea; C. M. C. (says the Consul’s son) sets off for Athos in two days to
meet me. Again we move, and day wears away amid perplexing twinges
foreshadowing fever (for your Greek fever when once he has fairly secured you
is your Old Man of the Sea for a weary while; you tremble – and fly to quinine
as your only chance of escape). Towards four or five the mountains of the Troad
fade away in the distance; later we pass near the isles of Imbros and
Samothrace; and later yet, when the unclouded sun has sunk down, a mountain
pile of awful form looms sublimely in the west – rising from the glassy calm
waters against the clear amber western sky: it is Mount Athos.