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Thursday 1 June


Off Patras at 8-9: Stayed there an hour. Drew. Consul and Vice-Consul came on board (both “Wood”: Boscho Veccio et Verde).[11] Beautiful weather. Lunch at 12. At 3 p.m. Vostitza. Went on shore with Sir Stratford C[anning] and Lord A[ugustus] L[oftus].[12]

Wonderful dresses! House, Greek women. I have never seen anything so new and beautiful qua costumes for many years, since I first saw the Rocca San Stefano and Civitella dresses in 1838.[13]

Shall I remember these lovelinesses, these pure grey-blue seas, these clear skies, cut chiselled hills, and bright white sails, and glittering costumes, and deep shadows, when I am far away from them; if indeed I live?

The mountains grew finer as we steamed onward, opposite Parnassus, whose vast and snowy form seemed to me more grand than beautiful, and the gorges and individual characters of each hill were really sublime.

Good dinner at 6, the two Consulars of the party. On deck by sunset — gorgeous! Long talk, Sir Stratford and Lady C. Sir S. quotes Byron’s “Siege of Corinth.” Tea, very pleasant. Then in growing darkness we reached Loutraki, before 10 p.m. Acro-Corinth dimly visible. We are to go there tomorrow — a different sphere to one I should have chosen for a visit to Corinth, yet in its way agreeable. Perhaps indeed today may have been the most completely happy social day I have passed for a long time.

[11] Oldwood and Greenwood. Lear’s party travelled on a naval warship, HMS Antelope.

[12] Loftus, a diplomat and colonial administrator, was acting as Canning’s secretary. His memoirs record the voyage (“At Corfu we picked up the renowned artist, Mr. Lear”) and the subsequent stay in Athens: The Diplomatic Reminiscences of Lord Augustus Loftus 1837-1862 2 vols, 1, 147-51.

[13] Lear made many costume sketches during his Italian travels in 1838-9; here he recalls Rocca San Stephano and Civitella de Subiaco which featured in his Views in Rome (1841) and Illustrated Excursions in Italy(1846).

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Friday 2 June

Edward Lear, Athens, 8 June 1848
B1990.28.5, Yale Center for British Art, Gift of George E. Dix, B.A. 1934, M.A. 1942


Rose with the sun and drew the Acropolis of Corinth from the deck {sketch 1}. Breakfast at 6, or 6.30. Crossing in steamer to Corinth, arrived 8 a.m. Very grand, infinite picturesque people. Sketched slightly {sketch 2}. Walked up to city with Lord A. L., the rest drove. Crowd of wonderful dresses!

Went to see column of old temple, Acropolis magnificent. Time frittered by party in starting. Lord A. and I walked up. Dim, grey, hot day. Long ascent to walls and gate. Vast extent of ruin. By degrees we climbed to summit, but a cloudy mist almost hid the lower world and but little was visible, but the sentiment remained of extreme grandeur. We all walked down to hotel.

Took leave in two coaches.[14] Lord A. and I on rickety boxes, but found it didn’t pay, so we mounted horses. No. 1 with two rope stirrups, No. 2 with two shovel ditto, No. 3 with one only, and this arrangement fell to me. Nevertheless, I stuck on, but Lord A. soon fell off. Seven mile ride — village — and what figures!

Met our steamer at Kalamáki — lunch on board.[15] Coast of Greece less beautiful near Salamis. Sunset! At Piraeus 9 p.m. Long, tedious delay. Salutes and fireworks, setting off of coaches. Sleepy journey to Athens, fine hotel [Hotel D’Orient]. Supper with Lord A.

Edward Lear, Athens: [Hephaisteion], 5-6 June 1848
TypDr805.L513 48f, reproduced by permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard
These first words of his journal bring Lear to Athens, in the suite of the Ambassador, and give a glimpse of his character, his poetic enthusiasm, his love of colour and beauty of scenery, his refinement, yet practical character. He could hold his own and talk on equal terms on artistic and poetic subjects with the most cultured, yet he knew that his “sphere” was that rather of the professional working artist, and that he must break away from the conventional society which had an interest and charm for him, to do his own hard work, in his own way, and make his own life.

Now in Athens his artistic life began. He at once broke away from the high “sphere” in which he had arrived, to do his own professional work. I saw him the day after he had arrived — awed, delighted, bewildered and amazed with all around him. His journal says: “Surely nothing on earth can surpass this mass of grandeur and beauty and interest.”

Edward Lear, Athens, 5,6 & 7 June 1848
Private Collection

For the next ten days his journals describe him as giving himself up to the study of the scenes and art around, rising up before sunrise, day after day, drawing upon the Acropolis, Pnyx {watercolour B i}, Theseum {sketches 4 and 10}, Olympeium {sketch 30} and Athenian landscape {sketch 19}, “working like mad,” through the great heat, “tremendous heat,” “a dry, burning heat”, working till sunset, his journal breaking out: “Who shall describe this place? How wonderfully beautiful!” “Seeing nothing else and no-one”: once at Sir Edmund Lyons’[16] house, “a long and dull dinner”; once at General Church’s where he meets “a motley group, Greeks, politics, pipes,” all are described as potius aper, “rather a bore.” “Doing nothing but draw, draw, draw” and penning out — with occasional lessons in drawing to Miss Canning. He had come with the Cannings on the invitation of Sir Stratford to accompany them to Constantinople.

Edward Lear, Athens, the Acropolis, 5-6 June 1848
Private Collection

Meanwhile I saw him most days on his sketching ground and was with him while he drew, and gradually our plans of travel grew, as his journal testifies.

[14]Before the construction of the Corinth Canal travellers went overland seven miles across the isthmus from the village of Corinth to Kalamáki; another naval vessel met Lear’s party there and took them to the Piraeus.

[15]Lear does not say what they had for lunch. According to Loftus’ own account the ship had run out of provisions and the crew had resorted to eating tortoises, which were plentiful on the isthmus (p.148)

[16]Minister and plenipotentiary at Athens.

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Wednesday 7 June

I wonder if I should repent very much if I decide not to go to Constantinople.

Edward Lear, Athens, 5, 6 & 7 June 1848
Private Collection
Edward Lear, Athens, Temple of Nike Apteros, 5,6 & 12 June 1848
Private Collection
Edward Lear, Athens, 5,6 & 7 June 1848
Private Collection
Edward Lear, Athens, 8 June 1848
Courtesy of Dreweatts Auctioneers
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Friday 9 June

Drew below Areopagus. C.M.C. came. Talk about Grecian tour.

Edward Lear, Athens: [Hephaisteion from the Acropolis], 5, 9 &10 June 1848
TypDr 805.L513.48a, reproduced by permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard
Edward Lear, Athens, 8 & 9 June 1848
Private Collection
Edward Lear, Athens, 5,6 & 9 June 1848
Private Collection
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Tuesday 13 June

Drew by the Olympeium. Arranging for tour with C. Church and Janni.[17]

Edward Lear, Athens, 12 June 1848
Private Collection
Edward Lear, Athens from Mount Lycabettus, 12 June 1848
Private Collection

[17] A Greek dragoman engaged to cater for the trip and to arrange for the hire of the (seven) horses and transport of baggage.

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Wednesday 14 June

Wished the Cannings goodbye. Drew at Colonos, returned early. Further arrangements with C.M.C. and Janni. Wrote Police, calls till 3 p.m. Drew at Jupiter Olympus till sunset. How wonderfully beautiful! Dinner and tea with Lord A.

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Thursday 15 June

Rose before daylight, having packed bag and drawing materials for journey. Paid Janni. Breakfast. Settled all things. It was 6 a.m. before we started.

Edward Lear, Athens Royal Palace, 12 June 1848
VIS4486, reproduced by kind permission of Museums Sheffield

In the course of ten days at Athens, between 3 and 14 June, Lear had collected more than 20 sketches (numbered from 3 to 24)[18] of Athens and its neighbourhood, of striking effect. Many of these contain features which have since disappeared from building and landscape, of picturesque and historic interest: the tall, brown Venetian watch-tower, which then stood in striking contrast with the straight lines of walls and temples, the Turkish bastion and gateway, the battered walls, the threshing floors on the platform of the tall columns of the Olympeium, gaunt and lonely, the olive groves on the plain, in their solemn dignity and rich golden vesture, with much more extended area than in later years, the groups of peasants in their native dresses, under the pergola of straw shelter on the plain, or in picturesque attitudes on the ochre rocks {sketch 27}, the Parthenon standing amid its wilderness of white marble blocks and long grass; all these features belonging to Athens of 60 years ago were represented in the grave and solemn character of Lear’s sketches of 1848 — all have disappeared amidst the growth of modern civilisation.

Edward Lear, Athens, 12 June 1848
VIS4487, reproduced by kind permission of Museums Sheffield

It was 6 a.m. before we got under way, Church and I in saddle, also Janni in flare-up red Turkish dress, Cook and 3 baggage horses followed. Soon after we had left the city, perhaps an hour, we were galloping, when my horse came down like a shot. I fell over his head and was much hurt in the shoulder and side.[19] We pass behind Lycabettus and go straight towards Pentelicus leaving Hymettus right. Vast lines, wide plain; two little villages, Marousi, Kephissia. My arm getting worse, walked. Trees increasing and larger. 10.30 a.m. reached Stamata –very ill and in great pain. Church advised going back, but resolved to go on. Janni gave us an excellent dinner in the tent under almond trees. Went on 2 p.m., always walking. Pine scenery. Came in sight of Bay and Plain of Marathon, descent among fine pines. Drew twice {sketches 32, 33}, though in no condition for drawing. Cut across to Tumulus, desolate flat plain. Church gallopeth. Herds of goats and cattle. Sunset. Came by valley full of myriads of goats to Marathon. Vrana, Demarch’s [Mayor’s] House, good tea. Arm very bad, rubbed by Church. Mosquito.

Edward Lear, Marathon, 15 June 1848
VIS4489, reproduced by kind permission of Museums Sheffield

[18] The Athens sketches are numbered from 3 to 31.

[19] Lear often suffered mishaps with horses: see, for example, his sequence of humorous sketches made in Sicily the previous year (British Museum).

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Friday 16 June

Thank God, I slept a good deal, from having been so tired, but woke in great pain. Difficult task to wash and dress. No perceptible power as yet of moving my arm, though I suffer less pain. Good breakfast. Janni not ready till 5.30, when we left. Walked, for I could not mount my horse on account of my arm. Shady side of hill about Marathon. Edge of marsh where Persians was drownded. Fine black, but savage, dogs. Superb scattered trees. {sketch 36} Struck inland — a monotonous, hilly plain; oaks here and there. Sun hot; arm very bad; tired and ill.

Edward Lear, Marathon, 16 June 1848
VIS4489, reproduced by kind permission of Museums Sheffield

9 a.m. came in sight of Fort of Ramnus. Drew, while C. M. C. bathed. Tremendous heat. Then, at last, with great pain, mounted and rode up to the foundations of Temple. On by ravines, with wood and grey rocks. By 1 p.m. at Varnava, a pretty village, with noble views. Dinner in tent — excellent. Directly afterwards drew — great heat. Arm a thought better. At 3 p.m. start again. Beautiful ravines — climb hills — Oleanders, blooming Acanthus (narrow leaved). Turn towards Euboea — exquisite views!

Down, down, down to Kalamos. After a long, long road, arrived at the Scala di Oripò. Khan. Mice! fleas! Tea — eggs with a fish-like flavour. Much laughter and impromptu verses:

The Hens of Oripò

The aged hens of Oripò
They tempt the stormy sea;
Black, white and brown, they spread their wings,
And o’er the waters flee.
And when a little fish they clutch
Athwart the wave so blue,
They utter forth a joyful note —
“A cock a doodle doo!” (oo).
O! Oo! Oripò-oo!
The hens of Oripò!

The crafty hens of Oripò
They wander on the shore,
Where shrimps and winkles pick they up
And carry home a store.
For barley, oats and golden corn
To eat they never wish;
All vegetable food they scorn,
And only seek for fish.
O! Oo! Oripò-oo!
The hens of Oripò!

The wily hens of Oripò,
Black, white and brown and grey,
They don’t behave like other hens,
In any decent way.
They lay their eggs among the rocks,
Instead of in the straw.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The nasty hens of Oripò,
With ill-conditioned zeal
All fish defunct they gobble up
At morn or evening meal,
Whereby their eggs, as now we find,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A fishlike, ancient smell and taste
Unpleasant doth pervade.
O! Oo! Oripò-oo!
The hens of Oripò!

16 June: Three chief sketches of this day’s work mark our route, and the points which caught his eye and made the chief impression on him.

(a) Rhamnus on the ascent of the ridge above Marathon, at the head of narrow gorge falling down to the seashore, and to ruins of the old fort there. In the foreground are the white blocks of marble of the Temple of Nemesis, among “cushions of green lentisk,” on each side of the gorge. The sea and shore and mountains of Euboea are opposite in the middle and furthest distance.

(b) Next, the view from Varnava, on the crest of the pine-clad ridge, looking over the upland of Attica on one side, where Parnes and Pentelicus join their roots on the site of Deceleia and the present gardens and woods of Tatoi,[20] and on the other hand fall down upon the woodland slope and plains of the Attic shore to the distances of Euboea, on the other side of the Euripus, Mt Dirphe, with its lofty, conical head, tipped with snow, always prominent in the landscapes from this shore.

(c) Thirdly, Kalamos, the third sketch today, lower down on the slope of this mountain ridge where the view towards Euboea is laid out more distinctly and with a wider range. This is one of Lear’s most topographical sketches at this time. It might almost have been drawn in accordance with Leake’s description,[21] commanding a good view of the surrounding parts of Attica and Boeotia and of the opposite coast of Euboea. Taken from the heights above the Channel in face of the deep gulf of Aliveri in Euboea, it ranges up the great middle plain of the island, across to Kumi on the Eastern shore of the island and again upwards on the Western coast as far as Eretria and the heights above Chalcis and beyond, to the cliffs under Kandile. This wonderful panorama comes out in Lear’s picture in the rich purple of a setting sun.

From Kalamos we came down to Oripò and the Scala of Oripò, Lear sketching, through a foreground of pine wood, the channel of Euboea, and Eretria, its hill fort, and the mountains opposite; and we put up for the night at the Khan at the Scala of Oripò. Here men were fishing off the shore.

[20] Ottoman name for ancient (and modern) Deceleia; Church is referring to the “gardens and woods” of the Greek royal family’s summer palace, built in the 1870s.

[21] William Martin Leake, Travels in Northern Greece, 4 vols (1835), 2, 438-9.

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Saturday 17 June

Next day (17 June) we rode along the shore and through the wide harvest fields of Oripò, in great heat, which Lear in his sketch of the day has noted — “Oh, how hot!” — “A landscape of pale ochre.” “Mariana in the South” is another of his side-notes, perhaps suggested by the “brooding heat” — “And flaming downward over all/ From heat to heat the day decreased,”[22] or by some statuesque figures of peasant women at work in the fields, whom he has drawn and described in the sketch of today, in their “long, white, woollen vests, fringed with scarlet worsted embroidery,” “chocolate coloured belts” — “three long ropes of hair, with red silk tassels and ends” in the foreground of the harvest field. On the opposite shore were the long line of the white walls of Chalcis, bordering the strait, under “hills in palest lilac,” and the snow-topped cone of Dirphe over-topping all.

Lear’s sketches of Chalcis, the yellow walls and towers rising up from the water on the opposite shore, the Venetian castle and drawbridge at the crossing of the narrow strait, the entrance into the island fort and town of Chalcis, were taken from the shore of Aulis that evening. Later we had a long ride round the shore of the upper bay, and entered by the stone bridge to the Kastro in mid-stream, and thence across the wooden drawbridge into the Castle, under the carved Lion of St Mark, sprawling on its Tower frontage, and into the town.

Two days were spent in Chalcis, “most picturesque and interesting.” All the records of Venetian history have since been swept away by the modern Greeks since 1848.

If the Castle and battlements no longer stand as they then did, another blot is left upon the character of the modern Greek, by the destruction of historical memorials which once marked Chalcis as the chief seat of the Venetian Republic in Greece. The memory of the great siege in 1466, by which it resisted so long Mahmoud the Conqueror, and the merciless massacre with which the Conqueror wreaked his vengeance on the Christian defenders, might have interested the Greeks in keeping up its walls and battlements, even if they were crumbling away past repair.

Lear’s sketches are here, as at Athens and other places, valuable for their preservation of historic scenes and records of sixty years ago, and of what are now lost to sight and memory on the spot. He was sketching here through morning and evening, the town and neighbourhood still retaining some signs of the Turkish occupation, a mosque or two and minarets in ruins, cypresses and fountains, dilapidated wooden houses with overhanging galleries and latticed windows, among the new Greek houses, lying on the slope of the lower hills and on the lower piazzas, and bounded on the plain by the river-like strait above and “the refluent tides”[23] below, North and South of the narrows and the bridge of the Castle.

So he brought in a harvest of drawings, in the evening of the second day, of scenes most picturesque, but in his notes on one {sketch 48} he describes the squalid foreground in which he was working among narrow streets and waste ground, the native crowd and “thistles, rags, shoes, fleas, tobacco leaves, [wood], puppies, straw,” while tender, soft evening lights were settling down on hills and buildings and water.

Edward Lear, Vathy near Chalkis, 17 June 1848
VIS4483, reproduced by kind permission of Museums Sheffield

Dressed by sunrise. C. bathed, my bad arm prevents me. It is of little more use now than just after the fall, though it gives me less pain, unless moved suddenly. An encampment of Gypsies amused us till starting; turbaned creatures and trowsered women, rolling about with sieves, naked children, pipes and pipkins. Off by 5 a.m. Flat ground, by the seaside. Site of the Battle of Delium. Hope Socrates did not find so many thistles to walk through![24] After this followed undulating hills by the seaside — clear and blue sea. Sometimes we walked our horses in it, sometimes up or down red, sandy roads (like drives in home-parks), between beautiful round, green sofas of Lentisk and tufts of airy, transparent Sea-pine. The opposite coast pure and cloudless — altogether a very lovely tract of scenery, and with the delightfulest of breezes, though the sun was very hot. One should make a landscape of these scenes all pale yellow, pale lilac and pale blue, and then force the near figures in colour ad lib. C. rode on and I sketched {sketch 43}, walking afterwards to Vathi, where I found Janni, who said his men had disobeyed him. Sate under the tent. C. has gone to bathe. The villages hereabout are very low-roofed, low-walled, rattly-tiled, shaky, irregular, plastery, sticky, furzy, scattery places, all ochre and pale brown, tiles pale ochre-red. The ground around the villages is pale gray and ochre.

My arm is perhaps a little stronger, but it had a fresh wrench to-day, which brought on very great pain. Even if no serious damage turns out to have been caused, it is plain I shall be for a long time disabled. When Church came back, we dined; very enjoyable quiet, not to speak of soup, fish, curried fowl, boiled fowl, and a surprising composition of plum pudding and apricots; coffee and a pipe. Exquisite air — but that one is too old, one might suppose Lotos-eating days were returned!

We did not move till past 3 p.m. It was very hot. Then we came to two quiet bays, Euboea always nearer and nearer, we two riding up and down the hills of projecting promontories, to avoid the corners, and at 5 we got opposite Chalcis — mosques and minarets, bridge and fortifications, and the high mountain Dirphe, with snow-head — very fine. Here we stopped to draw,[25] {sketch 44} and then on by continued unexpected bays. At sunset to the Castle Hill, and the celebrated bridge across the narrow stream, into the Town of Many Streets — most picturesque. Found tea set out in not bad little room. Tea and penning out.[26]

[22] Tennyson, “Mariana in the South”, ll. 77-8.

[23] A reference to the phenomenon of the reversal of flow in the Euripus Strait, and also a common collocation in poetry, e.g. in the description of Charybdis in Pope’s Odyssey, Bk 12: When in her gulfs the rushing sea subsides,/ She drains the ocean with the refluent tides”.

[24] Socrates served in the Athenian army which was defeated by the Boeotians at the Battle of Delium in 424 BC.

[25] It is not clear how often Church also sketched during this trip (some drawings survive from other journeys). “We stopped to draw” may just mean that the party halted so Lear could draw.

[26] Lear sketch very quickly en route; later he would “pen out”, inking over his pencil outlines. Colour wash would be applied last.

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Sunday 18 June


Bathed with C. M. C . at 4 a.m., drew bridge on both sides, {sketches 45 and 46} explored town — wonderfully picturesque balconied houses and Turkish queer places, not to speak of mosques cum minarets. {sketch 48} The dresses of these people are wonderful! 8 a.m. breakfast — red mullet, honey, curds (or Yaourt). Resting, penning out, sleeping a lot, till 1 p.m., and dinner 2. At 3.30 – 4 to Quay with Janni, and in a boat cross the bay. {unnumbered sketch ii?} Sketching, Church to Greek friend’s house. Boys jumping off the bridge top into the Euripus water. Sketched and returned. Most beautiful sunset. Walked and sketched by upper part of city with C.M.C.; afterwards to a Café Garden. The walk and mien of these people!!! Tea.

Edward Lear, Chalcis and the Mountains of Euboea from the Sea, [18] June 1848
VIS 4494, reproduced by kind permission of Museums Sheffield
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Monday 19 June


Rose at 3.30 a.m. and bathed with C.M.C. before sunrise, returning to breakfast. Wandered about alone from 6 to 11, drawing figures, etc. A fair, or bazaar, held just outside the walls of the fortified town — wondrous groups of people!! Short tunics, lined with wool, bordered with red or black, worked ditto on the women: families of blacks (or Negroes?);[27] altogether a scene of immense variety. Found a Greek friend of C. M. C. at the Inn, spoke only Greek. Their political bothering is potius aper — they talk of Escort being wanted North of Chalcis!

While Lear was sketching through Chalcis, my business meanwhile was to learn something of the state of the country in which our route was now to lie. Alarming letters had followed us from Athens: “The Government have received information that the insurgents[28] have reappeared in force upon the frontier and in Northern Greece. Take good advice at Chalcis when you are about to leave it for Thebes . . . .” As we had letters to some of the chief men of the place, the families of Boudouris and Ducas,[29] names of medieval history and of modern interest, there was no difficulty in obtaining advice, and the result was that we changed our route and, instead of going to Thebes and through the heart of the country to Delphi, we decided on making a week’s tour in Euboea, which was free from “insurgents,” was untrodden ground to travellers for the most part, and abounding, by all accounts, in beautiful mountain and woodland scenery, and we had letters to two English proprietors who had bought land in the island, since the war.

Lear had a wish to draw the sites of the two classic scenes which we had seen from a distance from the Attic side: Eretria, the old rival of Chalcis, the unhappy town on which the vengeance of the Persians had fallen before Marathon, and Cumi at the back of the island, the reputed founder of colonies bearing the same name on the Campanian shore of Italy and in Asia Minor.[30] From there we projected a week’s tour, crossing the lower slopes of Mount Dirphe to the wooded district of Achmet Aga, in the centre of the island, the Noel property, and to Castaniotissa at the North end, where our letters also lay to Mr Leeves, an English proprietor, and possibly to cross from thence to the parts opposite Lamia and Thermopylae and the frontier on the North.[31]

Our first day’s route from Chalcis was South, by Eretria to Aliveri, along the shore, under the mountain, and looking on the opposite Attic shore which we had left, through olive woods of Vassiliko, to Eretria at sunset — the sun in golden light upon houses, Acropolis, and mountain above, and upon sea and shore, where once was harbour, and the ships, which the Persians carried off. At Aliveri we entered the great plain to Cumi on the Eastern coast, and left the shores of the Euripus, with regret for loss of the daily sea baths we had enjoyed on either shore morning and mid-day. The sketch at Aliveri is marked by a vignette in the corner, which adds a humorous interest – a string of mules, laden with fir poles slung St Andrew’s cross wise, had shied at the white umbrella of the artist and much disturbed him in his sketch {sketch 53}. He has described the scene in which easel, umbrella and artist are toppled over with a legend of exclamation — “Ah! Croce di San Andrea!!

The next series of sketches, not less than twenty-five in number, during the next week, represent a great variety of Euboean scenery, mountain, and wood with distant views, and glen, and plain, comparatively unknown, and beautiful. Lear revelled in the scenes — “far finer than he had ever seen in the way of forest”, “finer than three times multiplied Dovedale and Derbyshire” — forest scenery, unusual in any other part of Greece, for Euboea had escaped the ravages of the Turks and Greeks in the late war, for the most part.

They illustrate the topography of the island, divided nearly in half by the great plain between the Northern and Southern blocks of mountain, Kandili and Dirphe in the North and centre, and the Karysto range on the South. This great plain is the waist of the long body of the island and stretching from Aliveri on the Western channel to Cumi on the Eastern Sea, and was the Lelantean plain, the most fertile granary of the island, which had in Venetian times a special officer to look after its irrigation and regulate the export of its harvests: “whose famous vineyards were in ancient days an object of unceasing strife between the rival cities of Chalcis and Eretria”.

Monday 19 June [continued]

We dined at noon (soup, fish, curry, roast fowl and pudding). After coffee and pipe, slept till 2, when old Janni packed up and packed us off in a hurry. Baggage badly loaded, and fell off close to the town. Thence we went by a beastly paved road, coasting the low shallow straits. Many springs of clear water running from below the harsh, bare, rocky hill on our left. (We passed an Aqueduct half a mile from Chalcis.) A long tract of very pretty ground, full of fine olives, succeeded, with Mt Dirphe always in view. Drew — the ground overspread with Acanthus, Clematis, etc. From 4 to 6 p.m. tiresome undulations of uninteresting low slopes near the sea — now and then a peep of the Oripo shore opposite. 6.30. a world of Lentisk, with garden paths. Just before sunset we got to the plain of Eretria, in time to secure the shadows of the mountain and Acropolis Hill — very fine and wild, and might make a good picture, with its deep-rooted Lentisk foreground, its gray rocky-path sides, its red road winding away, and its intense lilac distant hills. Janni went on before. While C. and I stayed to sketch, mules laden with long cross beams of wood nearly destroyed me, upsetting artist, sketching stool and all. {sketch 53} Little is left of the ancient Eretria, and the modern village is a queer dishevelled place of small square houses — like boxes or dominoes — many roofless and falling. We found things partly ready in one of these empty stalls — a strange land is this Greece! And after half an hour they gave us as good a tea as one could have in Grosvenor or Belgrave Square.

[27] There was a substantial Black population in Greece at this period, brought into the Ottoman Empire as slaves, often originally from the Sudan.

[28] Although the new Greek Constitution of 1844 had established a parliament and limited the powers of the King, sporadic uprisings continued, encouraged by the European revolutions of 1848. The area near Lamia was particularly unsettled.

[29] Vassilios Boudouris was a prominent Greek politician from Euboea, where his family owned magnesite and chromium mines. Descendants of the Doucas family, originally Byzantine nobility, still lived in Euboea.

[30] Ancient Cumi (modern Kymi) founded Cumae in Southern Italy and Cyme in Asia Minor.

[31] Before 1881 the Greek-Turkish border was only a short distance north of Lamia.

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Tuesday 20 June

Onward, with Janni and Co. Janni in a great fuss, asking the way every minute. A pretty plain of cornfields {sketch 54}, and then we cross a low range of hills, and descend to a valley. Thence a wonderful view of a chasm or ravine, which I had fain drawn. We then pass over a higher range of hills, cross a river, and descend to the sea, arriving there at after sunset. The sea was very rough, and a narrow rock-path only led on between immense cliffs and the waves. Bay after bay, headland after headland did we cross, the succession of black cliffs, the roar and foam of the water, seeming endless. By and by we came to a river, and half an hour went in finding a ford.

Edward Lear, Between Avlona and Kymi, 20 June 1848
Private Collection

“Two hours more” to Cumi, said a man in a hut. Up we went in the dark — awful precipices, but my horse never slipped. This lasted an hour, when, as we halted below a vast mass of mountain, Janni confessed to having lost his way. We shouted amain, and at length one of the baggage-men joined us from the other side of a ravine — one of their horses had fallen. After a winding down and up the ravine sides, came a long, long pull to Cumi {sketch 57?}— and here we actually are, in a verminious place, many gazers, and hash-bashy women. We are glad of tea and bed.

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Wednesday 21 June


Pretty cornfields and oak trees, with a stream and high, arched bridge. We soon begin to ascend the shoulder of the Dirphe range, and after an hour or so, it became very fine — a perfect carpet of Arbutus as far as the eye could reach, myrtle and lentisk likewise. {sketches 59, 60, 61, 62, 63}

Edward Lear, Near Kymi, 21 June 1848
Private Collection
Edward Lear, Vrisi on the island of Euboea, 21 June 1848
VIS4491, reproduced by kind permission of Museums Sheffield
Edward Lear, Mount Dirphys, 21 June 1848
Private Collection
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Thursday 22 June

Off by 5 a.m. Oleanders, plane trees, stream, lanes — all very pleasant. Pines every[where?] — very beautiful scenery. Yet that of yesterday afternoon I have hardly ever seen equalled, so clearly and finely drawn were all the lovely sunset distances. Never saw I one more exquisitely beautiful! Its pale, corn-green space dotted innumerably with long lines of dark Lentisk, and bounded by purple wooded hills, lilac Dirphe over all. {sketch 66}

Edward Lear, Between Khalkis and Castella, 22 June 1848
TypDr 805.L513.48g , reproduced by permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard

Janni overtook us an hour from Castella, bringing our washed clothes from Chalcis, with rumours of rows at Zeituni [Lamia] and Thermopylae. C. went to the sea to bathe; I rode on, and had just time to make a sketch before sunset. {sketch 68} The wholly classic tone of all one sees is amazing! Shepherds, labourers, crooks, tunics, etc. {sketches 67, 68}. After a wash, I enjoyed tea. A long day, but interesting. Stork,[32] on top of Cypress.

Edward Lear, Castella, 22 June 1848
Private Collection

[32] This was probably the first time Lear had seen a stork in the wild or (in the entry for 23 June) in flight. He had made many ornithological drawings of storks (from captive or preserved specimens) for John Gould’s Birds of Europe (1837) and storks continued to feature in his Nonsense alphabets and stories.

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Friday 23 June


We did not get away from Castella till 5 a.m., though we were called at 3; Janni is slow. Groups of sleeping children — puppies licking them! “Happy Autumn fields”[33] we pass over — glorious plain of Castella and Psachna. Two storks lumberingly fly by. Begin to ascend hills covered with pine, and for three hours the views and the trees grew more and more delightful and interesting — stupendous groups, feathery, and blue mountains beyond. Drew, baggage sent on. {sketch 70} 9.30, top of hill. Luggage and all spread out under great plane trees, a fountain near. Here we dined and then slept, 11 to 12. Soon I drew again, and we left at 2.30 p.m. Janni sent ahead to Mr Müller’s of Achmèt Agà. Long descent by beautiful Ilex woods, a perfect garden shrubbery. Then deep vales of pine, and fine foreground — pine groups and immense rocky mountain. The pass below is one of the most beautiful I ever saw — so stuffed with vegetation. First, the running river, then Oleander endless; above, huge planes, hung with clematis or creepers, or oaks, or taller abeles. Above all this, infinite tall or branchy pine, some dead and glittering: “but it blooms not again.”[34] On the right of the pass were vast red rocks, here and there crowned with pines of great size, or more generally fringed all over with dwarf or young pine and arbutus. {sketches 71, ?72, 75}

Edward Lear, Near Achmet Aga, 23 June 1848
Private Collection

The greenness — Oh! After four hours or more, we opened out on to brilliant cornfields and a close valley, on each side majestic planes, and on our left hand a line of purple piny hills, overtopped by the loveliest possible lilac mountain. At the end of this valley is the little village of Achmèt Agà, and above it stands Mr Müller’s house.

Edward Lear, In the Pine Forests near Achmèt Agà, 23 June 1848
Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Anonymous gift, 2010.16.4

Going along this valley, the extraordinary beau ideal of “Park scenery” took us a full hour — never did I see anything more beautiful. Herr Müller received us very kindly, and seems a good-natured pleasant man. Mrs M. speaks French, and is agreeable as well as pretty. There were a sister and brother-in-law also. We had a walk with them, but it was now too late to draw, so I washed, and then, after an hour of quiet outside the house, we had tea, and everything was as kindly and agreeable as possible.

[33] Tennyson, “Tears, Idle Tears”.

[34] From Thomas Moore, a favourite poet, Lear recalls that a dead branch may catch the sun “As a beam o’er the face of the waters may glow”: “but it blooms not again” (Irish Melodies, 1808).

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Saturday 24 June


Mr Müller thinks it probable that we may be stopped by fresh rows in N. Greece, yet, not knowing well what to do, we resolve to go on, and make Mandanika [modern Dafni] our noonday, and Kokkinomelia our night, halting places. I rose before 4 a.m., and drew {sketch 76?}; anything more magnificent and park-like than this Achmèt Agà scenery there cannot exist, though sunset is the time when the Amethyst mountain, the dark planes, and the yellow corn, contrast most finely. By 6.30 C. was up, and we breakfasted with the Müllers — very kindly, good people, and Mrs M. exceedingly pretty. Off by 7 a.m. Wonderful pine scenery! {sketch 78} so bright and green, and such purple hills, for the red soil made them look positively plum-colour.

Edward Lear, Near Achmèt Agà, 24 June 1848
The Noel-Baker Family Papers, reproduced by kind permission of the Noel-Baker Family and the British School at Athens

Our ride was through the whole length of it — streams, vales, and some little cultivation. Drew at a little goat-be-covered church — the vale and hill very Swiss-like and grand. Arrived 11.30 a.m. at Mandanika. Settled under a walnut tree by a fountain in a garden, but the midges obliged us to have the tent put up. The heat was horridodious — the flies, ants, etc., worse — so I slept little and woke hot and cross. Janni and I are at odds about carrying my sketch book, so I had to walk all the afternoon, as I cannot hold it on horseback, with my lame left arm. Soon, 2.30 p.m., we begin an ascent of endless pine woods — wonderful pines! — anything so green as the earth, or so lilac as the hills, surely there never was seen before! We came at one time to a steep descent, where some vast pines, with great roots, were magnificent, but there was no time to stop. Spring of water grateful. Immense ascent. Vulture (Ὄρνία) circling about — gay rollers. Great heat. At the top, of course, a little plain, and a great view of the mountainous part of the island — lilac and green, such gold greens! Then we descend, and the scenery changes — gray limestone, with silver-branched old oak and ilex, and dark out-stretching firs. Lower down, 6 p.m., scenery more “rural” — parky, clumps of pines, and greensward. Just at sunset, the most glorious view of all, deep brown black firs, with rosy plain far below, and blue-lilac pinegrown hills between pale sea, purple heights and golden sunset. Having sketched a little {sketch 81}, for the way one can only devote ten minutes to subjects requiring four or five hours’ study is too absurd, we were soon at the village of Kokkinomelia, a little cabin in a nest of rocks and trees, and devouringly ferocious dogs — a cabin prepared for us. Fine peasants, simple Greek tunics, blankety. Dogs!!! Tea — chickens — gazing females.

Edward Lear, Near Kokinamelia, 24 June 1848
VIS4488, reproduced by kind permisssion of Museums Sheffield
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Sunday 25 June

Perfectly picturesque huttiness of Kokkinomelia. 0ff by 5 a.m. from “Cook and Amelia,” having first drawn some peasants. Astonishing Swiss-like pine-woods! Magnificent view of Gulf of Volo, which we stopped to draw. {sketch ?81B/ ?82} Pines! pines! pines! and a few cattle and goats by Oleander-stream. Came nearer plain. One of our men steals little boy’s jug of wine. About 10 a.m., village of Agra — mulberry tree. Women pretty; they wear dark striped chocolate and red aprons.

Edward Lear, Forest, Sea and Mountains, Kokinamelia 25 June 1848 Private Collection

Arm bad all day. Flea bites additional. At 11 a.m., or earlier, arrived at Kastaniótissa, Mr H. Leeves’ house (a son of a former Maltese Chaplain). Beautiful view. Dog. Woodeny house — garden — piano. Mr. H. L. in Greek dress. Wash, dinner — good Euboean wine. Balcony — sleep. At 5 p.m. we send Janni to see about a boat for crossing to the mainland. General Church writes “rebels out at Lidoriki — danger, etc.” Drew near the village church. C.M.C. and H. Leeves went up the mountain. Little children played with me. Return to house. Janni came back — dreadful stories of affairs in general and about Zeituni [Lamia] in particular. We, however, decide on going to Stylídha. Tea — played and sung.

So far our week’s tour in Euboea from Chalcis had been among scenes remarkable for their natural beauty, especially for the richness of woodland, clothing mountain with pine forest, and lowland with planes, arbutus and oak, but for the most part devoid of historic interest, except at Chalcis and Eretria — all was quiet and there were no signs of danger to the traveller or the occupants of the island. It was indeed later a matter of painful interest that each of the houses where we had been visitors, with letters of introduction, during this tour, became the scene of some violent outrages within the next few years. Brigandage had grown up over the land, through misgovernment, and bands of brigands roamed over the mountain district of Boeotia. Descending on Chalcis in 1855, a gang attacked the house of the Boudouris at Chalcis, carrying off the daughter of the house into the mountain and, though treating her otherwise with respect, holding her to ransom for a large sum, for weeks, until a heavy price was paid. About the same time the house of Mr Noel, at Achmèt Agà was pillaged and his property wantonly damaged by the same villains; and our host at Castaniotissa and his wife, Mr and Mrs Leeves, living in trustful security among their own people, were murdered, for the sake of gain, by a servant of the house, who had been treated with especial trust and kindness.[35]

But now we were about to enter upon new scenes, full of deeply interesting history. Happily, I had with me a pocket volume of Herodotus’ Story of the Great Persian War, which I used from time to time to make a handbook for Lear in his sketches. At Castaniotissa our host’s house and village was on the last slope of the mountain at the north end of Euboea, which looked down upon the plains bordering the Straits of Artemisium, the scene of the naval battles in which the Greeks broke the strength of the Persian Armada which was invading Greece, and the Channel which divided Euboea from Thermopylae; and the scene of undying fame, of the Greek defence on land, was before us. While Lear was sketching in the village on the evening of our arrival, I rode higher up the mountain with our host. There below was the great plain of Oreos (the Histiaeotis), before us the Northern channel, bounded by the great island of Skiathos and the land on each side of the great basin of the Gulf of Volo, ending in the promontory of Trikeri; and the indistinct mass of Pelion in the background. We were on one of the highland points of Euboea, from where the watchers looking out took note of the movements of the Persian fleet during the three days’ tempest which shattered the fleet previous to the fight off the point of shore, the extreme headland of the Euboean Coast, where was the Artemisium, the shrine of the protecting goddess.

Having come so far on our tour without any sense of danger, and in sight of these scenes of historic interest, we decided to cross over, notwithstanding that we should be entering on the frontier land, where we had been warned at Chalcis that the insurgents had broken out, and that the country was not safe for travellers.

The next day we rode over the plain to Oreos, and to the shore, and after some delay, caused by our courier Janni fearing and objecting, we took passage in a half-decked boat at the Scala, for Stylidha, the port of Lamia in the Maliac Gulf and on the opposite shore of the gulf to the mountain above Thermopylae. At first all went well with us, and we sailed down the channel until, at the entrance of the Gulf, the wind dropped and the current and tide kept us out, and we lay outside all night, much to our discomfort, amidst the ballast and packages and cargo and fleas of the hold, which prevented Lear taking advantage of the magnificent scene which opened before us at the entrance of the Gulf under the mountain.

Next morning we drifted into the Gulf and landed on a low shore, at the little port of Stylidha, the “scala” of Lamia, amid a scene of noisy confusion, which made us aware that we had got into a land of’ unrest, the land where the insurgents were about. Men and women were going off in boats heaped up with bedding and household goods, and we were told that there had been a fight between the King’s soldiers and the insurgents, near Lamia, of which the issue was uncertain, and preparations for defence, or flight, were being taken. A ditch of six feet and a barricade of three feet cut off the Marina from the town, and the more timid were taking flight. However, Janni got us ashore and some breakfast at a Khan, and Lear was soon at work sketching the scene on the opposite side of the gulf, and the whole chain of Oeta, from Mt Callidromos, above Thermopylae, to the Trachinian Cliffs, and the mountain range bordering the upper valley of the Spercheius, and over all the conical head of Mt Velukhi above Karpensi, rising up in the distance of nearly 30 miles, at the sources of the Spercheius. This was the first of those sketches in this district, which formed the material from which so many of Lear’s most beautiful pictures have been made in after years, and which have been engraved to illustrate the latest book on the “Great Persian War,”[36] containing the most faithful topographical representations of the scenes in the neighbourhood of Thermopylae. He had constantly before his eyes the lines of the mountain range of Oeta, while in the boat during the previous evening and morning, though unable to sketch; but he lost no time in putting the scene before him on paper from Stylidha, as soon as we got on shore, and afterwards as we rode on to Lamia in the afternoon of that day, filling in the notes of colouring and details of atmosphere and scenery, for after remembrance. His group of drawings in this district of Lamia and the Malian plain bounded by the high and precipitous mountains of Oeta, including the “Trachinian rocks,” and the mountains of “Katavothra” (names of local sections of the great chain), give unique and graphic pictures in illustration of the topography, corresponding with the description of the scenes by Herodotus,[37] and by modern travellers, who vouch for Herodotus as an accurate eye witness of the scenery of the events he has recorded in his book. All were done during the next four days, in the town of Lamia, and in the long ride to Hypata, and on the site of Thermopylae, in great heat and with much fatigue — he was at work all the time, from 3 o’clock in the morning, only resting during the midheat — among the crowd in the market-place, among the soldiers, only intent upon his work, with infinite patience and unflagging good humour and coolness.

That evening we went to Lamia, the frontier town of that district. On the way we had evidence of the disturbed state of the country and reason for the excitement of the people of Stylidha — the road in parts was broken up in attempts at barricade, and a detachment of soldiers met us coming out of Lamia, who, we were told, had driven the insurgents under Velenza and Papacosta[38] over the border into Turkish territory, where they were to be interned by the Turkish authorities. Wild irregulars they looked, bearing out the description of one who comforted us as to our safety, that all the brigands were drafted into either the troops, or the insurgents: “Kleptes all.” The town was in a state of excitement, filled with soldiers strutting and swaggering everywhere. There we rested the next day, Lear, as usual, sketching from morn to eve, in the midst of a crowd, of soldiers chiefly, many of whom he drew — to their delight and exceeding vanity. I paid a visit to the Nomarch, the Prefect of the district, a handsome old gentleman, keeping up some of the style and manner of the benignant Turk, but speaking also French. Seated cross-legged on a divan in the corner of the room, he showed no sign of excitement, and gave easy assurances that all was quiet! — the insurgents were over the border in Turkey! — the King’s soldiers were in the mountains, chiefly at Hypata, the headquarters of the General Mamouri, where he was guarding the frontier — and, as far as he was concerned, all was for the best; all the brigands were with the King’s soldiers, or with the insurgents — we might go where we liked in safety.

Lamia, the frontier town at the head of the Maliac Gulf, was a striking and picturesque place, built on the side and at the foot of a ravine, with a medieval castle in ruins on the crest of the hill, Turkish minarets and some Turkish houses, frequented by multitudes of storks, perched upon the roofs in rows all day, either in silent contemplation, or with a chatter like watchmen’s rattles in chorus for [a] long time together. Soldiers in groups swaggered and skipped about the market place, crowds gathered round Lear as he sketched them in the foreground of his sketches of the distant mountains and the plain and gulf, or made individual sketches of one or another, much to their satisfaction and vanity.

We rode next day from Lamia to Patragik or Hypata (Turkish and Greek names), in a gorge under the highest summits of the range of Oeta, the “Katavothra” mountains, as they are here called. One of Lear’s sketches taken about an hour from Lamia, in the early morning light, describes the solemn purple range, broken by a series of precipitous chasms and sharp cut buttresses, falling down on the dark plain of infinite lines. We crossed the Spercheius, running and swirling swiftly, swollen by rain of the day before, between muddy banks and low shrubs, and entered at last the deep gorge under the peak of the Patragik summit — at first amongst blocks of old masonry, or ruined houses of the most modern time, which had suffered under late skirmishes between the fighters, on the plain and at the entrance of the gorge.

For now we were in the very nest of the rocks which had been the haunt of brigands for 20 days, and in which Velanza and Papacosta’s men had held the frontier in alarm and given occasion to so much trouble of mind at Athens, and now Mamouri, the King’s General, was establishing his headquarters here for the guard of the frontier from Lamia to Karpenisi, of which Mt Oeta was the Greek mountain barrier, with the valley of the Spercheius (the Elladha) at its feet, as the fosse, or moat, of the mountain-fortress. A mountain track led up to the upper village of Hypata, on a ledge under the woods, of the higher summits. We called upon the General and reported ourselves, before we pitched our tent for the mid-day halt, and had dinner in a garden of herbs in the neighbourhood of his quarters. He received us very civilly, assured us “the roads were safe, as all was peace — we could go anywhere, or could have guards, if we were nervous.” While we were there and Lear sketching, Mamouri went down the pass to meet his wife coming from Salona, with an escort of some 20 men, six or seven mounted men among them — a very picturesque sight as they went down the pass. Later in the day, as we were leaving the gorge, we met the party returning. Standing under a plane tree by a wayside fountain at the bottom of the pass, the whole procession passed close to us. First came a led horse, gaily decked, said to have been the horse of the rebel leader Papacosta, then the troop and Mamouri, and his lady on horseback, astride, under an umbrella — a stout ox-eyed dame — and a suite of some ten or twelve mounted men, and 100 or more irregular foot soldiers straggling after. As they stopped to drink at the spring, Lear sketched, putting them in his sketchbook as fast as he could draw {unnumbered watercolour A i?} — all of them looking very surprised, some rather fierce and angry, like half-domesticated wild beasts, a most picturesque sight as they wound up the gorge.

On 30 June Lear was up before dawn and made another sketch of the Katavothra mountains; then we started from Lamia and rode about seven miles across the Southern part of the plain, formed, for the most part, of the land where the sea had retired. We crossed the bridge of Alemanni, where once the Spercheius had ended its course in the waters of the gulf, but now continues for miles lower down through the lands which have been formed by the deposits it has brought down. Here some troopers were riding their horses through the stream running swiftly through muddy banks, “Tiber-like,” as Lear describes them. {sketch 100} Herodotus in hand, I read to Lear his description of the pass, and his story of the great King’s amazement at the audacity of the Spartan handful of men awaiting his mighty host, playing at athletics and combing their hair, and then starting from his throne at seeing his men, whom he had sent to drive them away, themselves driven back with slaughter. Meanwhile Lear was sketching the Trachinian Cliffs, the gorge of the Asopus, and the ravine and plain of Anthela, and the mountain outlines above. Then we rode, in great heat, along the base of the mountain, through the “Western Gate” of Thermopylae, and over the white encrusted plain formed by the deposit of the hot sulphur springs, which cover the track in parts, and run down in streams of deep green water into the plain. At last we pitched our tent for the midday halt at the foot of the hillock (Kolonos) where the Spartans made their last stand. There we saw the great change which the pass has undergone from natural causes in the intermediate time: “The strength of Thermopylae as a pass now depends upon the season of the year, for as the sea, instead of bordering the defile, is now at a distance of three or four miles from it, the difficulty of passing Thermopylæ depends on the dry or marshy state of the plain.”[39]

As the result of that day’s ride, Lear has left a series of most descriptive sketches (a) of the Gorge of the Asopus from the bridge of Alaman and the banks of the Spercheius {sketch 101}; (b) of the mountain, with the side of the ravine, and the hot baths at the foot {sketch 103}; and (c) of the whole range of the mountains receding fold by fold into dim distance above the road at their feet, through the Western and Eastern Gates, looking back from the ascent after the pass, on the ride to Bodonitza {sketch 104}; (d) lastly, the last view in the ascent to Bodonitza, looking upon the gulf and with the chain of Othrys mountains above Stylidha on the opposite shore {sketch 105}.

From Thermopylae we ascended up the mountain side, crossing the path where the Persians had come down behind the Spartan post,[40] to Bodonitza. We made a rest of a day at Bodonitza, in fresh air, on the high ground of a ridge connecting Mt Cnemis with Callidromos, in the simple and welcome accommodation of the priest’s house, who apologised for his poor fare and wine, because of the late exactions of the soldiers.

[35] For the Boudouris abduction and the Noel robbery see Nassau W. Senior, A Journal Kept in Greece and Turkey (1859), pp. 259-60 and p. 340-44; for the murder of the Leeves family see Thomas Wyse, Impressions of Greece (1871), pp. 256-62.

[36] G.B Grundy, The Great Persian War and its Preliminaries: A Study of the Evidence, Literary and Topographical (1901) reproduces ten Lear drawings.

[37]Histories, VII, 198-200.

[38] The European revolutions of 1848 re-ignited conflicts in Greece which had not been completely resolved after the coup of 3 September 1843 and the granting of a new constitution. In the Lamia area insurgents led by Tsamalas Papakostas and Yannis Velentsas were fighting government troops led by Major-General Yannis Mamouris.

[39]Leake, Travels in Northern Greece, 2, 40.

[40]A local man, Ephialtes, betrayed the Greeks by telling the Spartans about the path.

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Monday 26 June

We rose about 4 a.m., Mt Olympus, disgusting to say, invisible — considering I had made a huge careful sketch mainly depending on its appearance. A very wretched night we had passed! Gnats, flies, fleas, and other beasts! My arm got a fresh hurt in getting out of bed, and is very odious. Altogether I was thoroughly unwell. We got off by 6 or 6.30 a.m., young Leeves, who goes with us to Thermopylae, joining our party. I could not ride, so walked away down to Oreos, a foolish Port, of 6 or 8 houses. Here they said Lamia (Zeituni) was quiet. Long delay about two boats — 80 drachmas asked, but 60 taken eventually. Longer delay about embarking horses — Janni’s won’t go. At last he says he can get others at Stylidha, so we go without them. Church and I believe this to be a dodge of old Chinaman,[41] to prevent his horses being seized. At last he paid his men, and we got off in one boat, after a long discussion and refusal to pay more than 30 drachmas. If we should get no horses at Stylidha — what a fix!! A captain of a ship of war tells us that Lamia is quiet and that General Gardikiotis is there.[42] The sea is bright, blue and calm, and I, by this time, tolerably placid. Only Janni and the cook, Christodoulos, are with us. Let us hope for a short passage! Boo! Up to 3 p.m. we had a light wind, or none, but in our favour; then it changed, and we tacked and tacked and tacked, I at the bottom of the boat. The view of Parnassus and of the Thermopylae range of hills is really stupendous. {sketches 83, 84?} Arm always very bad. Tacking went on till 8 p.m., when, current being against us as well as wind, we anchored for the night. Tea — and some cold meat is the boat dinner or tea.

Edward Lear, Stylida, 26 June 1848
Copyright © Bonhams 1793 Ltd

[41] Lear often uses “Chinese” as a slur to describe wily characters.

[42] Grivas Gardikiotis, a veteran of the Greek War of Independence and commander of irregulars fighting on the King’s side in 1848.

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Tuesday 27 June

Tacking, and still tacking, we were at length off Stylidha by 9 a.m. Difficulty of landing — caiques full of people and goods — flying — others returning. Some people calling out that all the reports about the rebels were false; others that Vellenzi, the Rebel General, was poisoned and dead, etc., etc. At last we landed, and I instantly went to the shore to sketch the opposite mountains of Thermopylae, which are wondrous fine — all thronged with wood, channelled and furrowed — so purple, blue and green, and with such infinity of cracks and chasms of lilac and white snow on Oeta behind, and with the clearest little line of land along the shore of the Gulf {sketches 85, 86, wrongly dated?}. (“A great he goat” nearly destroyed me as I sat unsuspectingly on the ground.) After trying in vain for a place to bathe in — water looking too shallow — and after making another sketch in the sunshine, someone fetched me to breakfast in a khan full of people. It seems that there has been some skirmishing with the Rebels, and that the Government have the best of it — so, at least, think the people of Stylidha, for the panic is over for the present, and they are returning to their homes as fast as may be. After breakfast we found a private room, washed and rested — though my arm is still very weak and painful, and a thump I got on the head last night has not improved my general condition. Bright white gulls, in great flights, skim over the dark blue and green water. We now think of Lamia, Thermopylae, Talanti and Thebes as our tour ahead. Janni says he has got fresh horses. The mountain view opposite is one of the most solemn and grand I ever saw. At 2 p.m. we got away — I walking, by choice; Janni from having no horse; and Church’s was a slow one. The line of journey kept along the coast, with always the beautiful view of Mt Oeta and the Thermopylae cliffs, so wrinkled in foliaceous gulfs. Half way on I drew. Then we began to meet the baggage of General Mamouri’s army, which was passing from Lamia, and very wonderful picturesquenesses did they abound in — some no-shirted, others with shirts dipped in oil; all with long guns, most with swords; many carrying mandolines, and many very ruffianly to see! All more or less fine fellows and very active. In reply to our asking about Lamia, they said all was quiet there, but otherwise took no notice of us at all. We met in all some 250 or 300. Among the note-worthy objects of the baggage train was one female, one bird in a cage, and one man carrying a parasol. Lamia is very ugly from the side by which we approached it. The khan we went to was nearly full of soldiers, as is all the town. After getting some water, I walked hastily to the other side of the place, whence, seen between minarets and cypresses, the Castle and plain show finely. All the old buildings are frequented by lots of storks — on one alone I counted 18 — which clatter and clutter with their bills incessantly. Many sit quietly on the minarets. A plentiful supply of blackguard boys surrounded Church and me while sketching. {sketch 92} Afterwards we strolled about till dusk. Lamia is assuredly a very picturesque place. Returning, we soon dined, Leeves joining us. Afterwards we went out on to the wooden balcony-gallery, where some 20 soldiers were sleeping. All the air was full of stork-clatter. The bugle of sentinels calling the hour also was very curious and moody dreamy.

Edward Lear, Lamia, 27 June 1848
Private Collection
Posted in Lamia, Stylidha, Thermopylae | Tagged | 3 Comments

Wednesday 28 June

Rose very early and was at work drawing long before sunrise. {86A?} O, the storks and jackdaws! Of one large white crumbling ruin they have wholly taken possession — against the sky, last night, they had a weird effect. Rambled about till 8 a.m., when I had breakfast alone. Church and Leeves came in, and it seems we are to go tomorrow to Patragik (Hypata), with an Officer of Engineers. From 9 to 11 a.m. I went out again and drew figures, and the “Piazza” or Ἀγορά. Returned — washed, dressed and dinner. O! Clatter ye storks! Slept. A stormy sky there was when we woke. I and C. went out to sketch, but it began to rain, so we came in and smoked a pipe, or pipes, till the “Galvanized Housekeeper” came back, with a General, or Captain, or something, who sate some time — an agreeable sort of man. The rain having ceased, I sketched again till dusk, and walked a little way down into the plain, coming back to tea. Would to goodness our tiresome new friend would cut and go! but I fear he goes with us tomorrow to Patragik — a bore! Tea. The German Officer of Engineers came in. We are to start tomorrow at 4 a.m. “Graphic Characters” on bread, at Lamia.[43]

Edward Lear, Lamia, 28 June 1848
Private Collection

[43] Bread was decorated with symbols or lettering for festivals; examples may be seen today in bread museums in Greece, such as those at Varnavas and Amfikleia. The loaves Lear saw may have been commemorating Orthodox Pentecost: 12 June 1848 in the Julian calendar and therefore 24 June in the Gregorian calendar.

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Thursday 29 June

Rose at 2.30 a.m., and C. and I were both ready, as agreed on, by 4, but no “galvanized grandmother” nor German came. We waited just one hour and a quarter, and then lost patience. However, I only set off with Janni and Cook and traps, C.M.C. remained. We went down to the plain, and the views of the Katavrothra range were sublime {sketch 93?}– the contrast of that huge dark purple mass with the plain’s pale ochre and greens!

Edward Lear, Mountains of Katabothra near Lamia, 29 June 1848
Private Collection

Pass a village — [?Frantzis] — chock full of storks, who now only “reside” in Greece close to the border, whence they can instantly escape into Turkey and safety. Fields of pink hollyhocks, yellow and lilac thistles, clover and convolvulus. Drew twice, slightly. The mountain above Karpenitza is fine. I had left at 5, at 7 Church came up. Leeves had not appeared for another hour, and then without horses; “we overslept ourselves” was all he said. He rode on with his German friend, C. and I together. We had to ford the Spercheius, a wide river, wider perhaps from yesterday’s rain. Then followed a long valley of semi-plain, very dull on the right hand or Turkish side; on the left the Katavothra range is always stupendous. A few trees, many fountains, Indian corn and grain — peasants — and no particular signs of “Rebellion.” Ride, on the whole, not picturesque. Patragik [modern Ypati] seen on a height. After a dull ride over a flat and up slow ascents, we got there at 9 a.m. — a wretched dilapidated village in general, with a few good houses. Women wearing good dresses, dark blue or black aprons, with crimson lines and corners. Many “Palikari” about. Sending Janni on before, to some house with a garden attached. We went first to another dwelling where Leeves was, and also the General Mamouri — to call on the latter — but he was asleep. Then to the bit of ancient or Cyclopean wall[44] below the village, where I drew. Very hot.

Edward Lear, Neopatra (Patradgik), 29 June 1848
Private Collection

We returned at 11 a.m., and called again on ὁ στρατηγός [the general], who was now awake. The great man, clothed in a dress of white muslin, sate smoking on a sofa. He only spoke Greek, but told C. C. and Leeves that everything was now quite quiet, and that we might go anywhere. Leaving L. there, C. and I came up and found our dinner under a tent in a garden of herbs. Enjoyed said dinner and slept afterwards. Along of delays, we were not ready to start till nearly 3 p.m. The fat General was just going out, and the picturesqueness of the soldiers grouped round a sort of church was remarkable, so also the escort or train of General Mamouris going down to the plain. We two followed, and Leeves also, to our dismay, for we thought he would stay at Patragik. Towards the first fountain we met the General returning, with Mme Mamouris and about 250 Cavalry and Infantry, all of whom stopped at the fountain to drink — a more wild and extraordinary procession never did anyone see — dress, attitude and their manner of skipping on or skipping, with occasional jumps, over the open plain.

Edward Lear, Patradgik, Mountain Village, 29 June 1848
Private Collection

It was nearly sunset, when we recrossed the Spercheius {sketch 100} — a glorious scene — and dark before we reached Lamia. Shrilly sang the grasshoppers — barked the dogs — clattered the storks. Tea, bed.

Edward Lear, Spercheius, 29 June 1848
Photography by Erik Gould, courtesy of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

[44] Leake (Travels in Northern Greece (2, 18) records “blocks of stone, and foundations of ancient walls”.

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Friday 30 June

Rose about 2 a.m., having resolved to go on my own hook, unimpeded by waiting for others, to draw the Katavothra range before the sun was up. So before 3 a.m. I was a long way down towards the plain, and drew till 4 {sketch 98} — a magnificent bit of scenery, all as yet dark and solemn. These were the sounds accompanying: far barking dogs, clattering storks, tinkle of innumerable goat-bells, blow bugles.

Edward Lear, Zeitum (Lamia), 30 June 1848
Private Collection

Came up and breakfasted. This khan is not at all bad, barring the row the many soldiers make on all sides, particularly when they sing (so to speak). (Khan so called generally, because one tries to live there, but can’t!) We didn’t go off till 5.30 a.m. — and hot it was along the plain — grasshoppers to boot. Hotter and hotter than ever to the Spercheius, about which were pretty bits of scenery, and, looking back, Zeituni showing like a border town, which it is. On the bridge of Alemanni I drew {sketch 101}– it was broiling — horses meanwhile in the river. C. and Janni rode on soon, after the baggage, I drew again. Not long after we entered the marsh, on the paved road running just below the cliffs — stretch of marshy ground towards the gulf or sea.

Walking on, I came to the hot springs covering all the slope from cliffs to sea with white crust. {sketch 103?} Just beyond was Janni, pitching the tent. Drank at a fountain — query that of the Spartans.

Edward Lear, Thermopylae Hot Springs under Mount Kallidromos, undated
Private Collection

Drew the “Straits,” though they are not much of “Straits” now {sketch 104?}, and mooned about with C.M.C. along the side of the blue, hot lake.

Edward Lear, Thermopylae, 30 June 1848
TypDr 805.L513.48e, by permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard

Dinner at 11 a.m., and now I am lying below the tent, the vast foreshortened mountain above, fringed with underwood and pine ad infinitum on a ground of purple rock. Doves coo. Slept, woke at 1.30. Fine and picturesque peasants at fountain. Leeves goeth back to Zeituni, to my great pleasure. Janni and luggage went on ahead. Church, I, two horses and Paniotti, a new man, ascended for a long while by pleasant, shady low-wooded paths, with views all over the Gulf. Once we drew — the (narrow) plain below the Thermopylae hills, which are really exquisite! — the rich unfoldedness of the purple plain, and the immensity of the Katavothra range! — altogether one of the most splendid scenes I ever drew. {sketch 105?} Onward — dells with water, and hills with oak, and lilac hemp, blooming myrtle, lentisk, hollyhock and cistus. An hour before sunset we had climbed up a rocky ravine, above the orange coloured sides of which the Castle of Bodonitza had long been visible. This ravine was surprising as to colour — lit up by the last sunlight, the richest apricot, with tufts of green foliage and overhanging oaks, and bright or dark pines feathering, down, down, down, to an abyss shadowy — dark vegetation and gray rocks, beyond the golden plain, and the lilac sea and hills. Farther on, the sun having set, we descended to a valley with a lovely rushing fountain, near a village where the women were dressed like those of Atina[45] — and dogs, such dogs, came out devouringly.

Edward Lear, Near Vodonitza, 30 June 1848
Private Collection

Here we conferred on our future route. It was necessary to reconsider our original plans, which were to take the mountain road under Parnassus, Delphi and Solona. But Lear’s indefatigable energy, especially during the last few days in the deep sunk valley of the Spercheius, in the brooding heat (thermometer at 90°) at the end of June, had tired him out, suffering as he always was from pain in his shoulder — and we considered that it was more prudent now to make for Thebes by an easier route, so as to be within reach of Athens, in case of need.

Edward Lear, Helicon and Lake Copais from the mountains above Kokhino on the way to Thebes, July 1848
Private Collection
Edward Lear, From the Mountains above Kokhino on the way to Thebes, 3 July 1848
Courtesy of Shepherd Gallery, New York
Edward Lear, Near Vodonitza, 3 July 1848 Private Collection

It was well we did so. Though several drawings in the first days of July were done during the ride to Thebes by Atalanti and Proskynas {sketch 107}, and some of his best sketches were made of the plain and mountains round Thebes {sketches 112, 115}, yet some of his latest drawings numbered 115 and 118 contain the evidence of his own notes that he was getting ill.

Edward Lear, Near Thebes, July 1848
Private Collection
Edward Lear, Thebes, 4 July 1848
Private Collection

One day in July a high cold blast of North wind swept down the plain, and one of his sketches contains the words “high wind — so cold — must go in for coat,” and on another numbered 118, his last, after a ride to Plataea, “Ah mi sento male!”

Edward Lear, Thebes, Thiva, 4 July 1848 Private Collection

This was followed by symptoms of fever which made him helpless and at times delirious and a cause of great anxiety for several days. We were lodged in a Greek house, with quiet hospitality and kindness, and under treatment by the local Greek doctor, before the doctors came out from Athens and he was fit to be removed.

Edward Lear, Thebes, 4 July 1848
Private Collection
Edward Lear, Plataea, 5 July 1848 Private Collection
Edward Lear, Plataea, Shepherds resting on ruins, 5 July 1848
Private Collection

So our tour, which had begun badly, came to an abrupt and unfortunate conclusion. No more need be added to these notes of travel than that it is pleasant after all to recall that the confidences and sympathies which illness called out between us as fellow travellers, under trying circumstances, contributed no less than the brightest remembrance of much enjoyment, to lay the foundation of a friendship which followed and lasted for forty years, until the end of Lear’s life.

Edward Lear, The Temple of Hephaestus, 26 July 1848
Private Collection

Lear recovered sufficiently at Athens to be able to take some more sketches. {sketches 125, 126, 127, 128-131, 143A} At the end of the month of July we left together in the steamer for Constantinople, and he made the last sketch, the columns of the temple of Athena from the deck as we rounded the promontory of Sunium.

Edward Lear, Athens, 23 July 1848
TypDr 805.L513.48z, reproduced by permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard

This short tour, the first episode in his travels, was sufficient to give evidence of his fine artistic taste and poetic imagination, no less than of those qualities as an humorist for which he is better known. It was also shown that the happy outpourings of excellent folly in his “Books of Nonsense” were often produced in resistance to and the reaction from fits of depression and low spirits, the natural outcome in times of ill health and disappointments and failure of attainment to high ideals. My short experience in his companionship gave opportunity to feel the truth and the justice of the memoir which followed his death, by his well-known friend and fellow traveller in Greece next year, of which this is an extract: “From first to last he was, in whatever circumstances of ill-health or difficulty, an indomitable traveller. His sketches were not only the basis of more finished work, but are an extraordinary record in themselves of topographical accuracy, abounding in beauty, delicacy and truth.” [46]

Edward Lear, Kara, July 1848
MS Typ 55.26 (469), Reproduced by permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard

[45] In the Abruzzi, which Lear had visited in 1842.

[46] Lear’s lifelong friend Franklin Lushington, who was to travel with him in the Peloponnese in 1849, is given the last word; Church is quoting from the entry on Lear by “F.L.” in the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britanica (1911).

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Wednesday 19 July

Hotel d’Orient, Athens,

July 19, 1848.

Here I am having made somewhat of a dash into Greece, but most unluckily, obliged to haul up and lay by for the present.  You may perhaps see my handwriting is queerish, the fact is I am recovering rapidly thank God, from a severe touch of fever, caught at Platœa & perfected in ten days at Thebes.  I did not think I should ever have got over it, nor should I, but for the skill of two doctors, & the kindness of my companion Church.  I was brought here by 4 horses on an Indiarubber bed, am wonderfully better, & in that state of hunger which is frightful to bystanders. I could eat an ox.  Many matters contributed to this disaster, first a bad fall from my horse, and a sprained shoulder, which for three weeks irritated one’s blood, besides that I could not ride.  2nd. A bite from a Centipede or some horror, which swelled up all my leg & produced a swelling like Philoctetes’ toe, and lastly, I was such a fool as go to Platœa forgetting my umbrella, where the sun finished me.  However, I don’t mean to give up and am very thankful to be as well as I am.

I came you know here on June 1st with Sir S. Canning, and staid a fortnight working like mad.  On the 13th Church and I set out. Chalcis is most interesting & picturesque, what figures! would, ah! would I could draw the figures!  We then resolved to do Eubœa, so, 19th, Eretria, very fine.  Aliveri, & Kumi.  21st. Pass of mountains, grangrongrously magnificent!  Alas! for the little time to draw!  28th Lamia.  29th a run up to Patragik a queer mountain place.  All these things we were constantly warned off, as full of rebels, brigands &c., but we found all things as quiet as Pimlico.  30th Thermopylæ!  how superb!  & Bodonitza.  July 1st. Costantino & Argizza.  2nd Proschinò & Martini.  3rd, over Kokino & the mountains to Thebes.  Only this last, of the last 3 days was good.  Thebes is sublime, but as I said, the day following it became a grisogorious place to me.

I must stop for I am not much writable yet . . .

Edward Lear to his friend Chichester Fortescue, Letters of Edward Lear, ed. Lady Strachey (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1907), pp. 10-11.

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