collections

Edward Lear’s Nonsense Botany (1871–77)

With his Nonsense Botany series the Victorian artist and writer Edward Lear turned his peculiar brand of verbal and visual invention to the world of plant taxonomy. A little over a century earlier the Swedish natural scientist Carl Linnaeus had laid the foundations for the binomial nomenclature system, in which a species is given a two-part name: the first part identifying the species’ genus, the second part identifying the species within the genus. The system, with its usage of Latin grammatical forms, proves fertile ground for Lear’s imagination. Originally the series was put out in three instalments — in Lear’s nonsense collections of 1871, 1872, and 1877 — and all three featured in a posthumous collection published in 1888 from whose pages we have taken the following highlights.

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