Edward lear

The naming of cats

All sorts of animals have been kept as pets over the centuries. We know of sparrows in Catullus and John Skelton. There is a badger with a collar in a fresco by Signorelli – probably not much more biddable than the lobster Gerard de Nerval supposedly took for walks in Paris. The word ‘puss’ seems not to have referred to cats before the late 19th century but to hares, either a pet one (William Cowper had three, of whom Puss was sweet-natured and Tiney ‘the surliest of his kind’), or one being hunted in Surtees. Dogs always occupied a special place, with names and a position in the household. Cats

Fresh and dreamy: Edward Lear, at Ikon Gallery, reviewed

‘It seems to me that I have to choose between 2 extremes of affection for nature… English, or Southern… The latter – olive – vine – flowers… warmth & light, better health – greater novelty – & less expense in life. On the other side are, in England, cold, damp & dullness, – constant hurry & hustle – cessation from all varied topographical interest, extreme expenses…’ That choice was effectively made for Edward Lear in 1837 when he gave up the natural history studies by which he had made his name in his teens and headed south to Rome on doctors’ advice, aged 24. Prone to asthma and epileptic seizures,

Tortured youths: how childhood misery often makes for genius

Greatness. Genius. Can you bottle it? Is there a formula? Inspired by his Radio 4 series Great Lives, Matthew Parris delves into the childhood background of some big names to see whether there are common denominators, and rather gives the game away in the title, Fracture: Stories of How Great Lives Take Root in Trauma. He zig-zags between the territories of greatness and genius in his choice of mini-biographies, and slightly blurs the two concepts. Of course there’s a bit of difference between greatness and genius. I wouldn’t dispute that Edith Piaf was a great performer or that Coco Chanel was a great designer — but genius? That can only