Renowned as the author who wrote “A Book of the Nonsense” and who popularized limericks as a form of poetry, Edward Lear’s final resting place is fittingly unusual. Hidden away in the relatively nondescript Foce Cemetery near the Italian Rivera city of Sanremo, the English artist’s overgrown grave and its neighbor ensure his appealing oddness transcends even death.
Though noted for his whimsical poems (the most famous of which is probably “The Owl and the Pussycat”), illustrations, and paintings, Lear was also an extensive traveler. Having developed a fondness for Italy, he settled in Sanremo in the 1870s and saw out his final years there in a house he named “Villa Tennyson” (after his friend Emily Tennyson, the wife of the poet Alfred Tennyson).
Afflicted by life-long health problems and unmarried (he proposed twice to a woman 46 years younger than him and was rejected both times), Lear’s dotage is colored with a certain melancholy. To combat the loneliness and depression (which he called “the Morbids”) that dogged him, the Englishman relied on the companionship of his cat, Foss, and his Albanian Suliot chef, Giorgio Cocali, who he described as a faithful friend but “a thoroughly unsatisfactory chef.”
The bodies of Giorgio and his eldest son, Nicola, are buried in the grave that stands next to Lear’s. Lear died in 1888, and his funeral is said to have been a sad and lonely affair, with none of his long-distance old friends able to attend. Foss’ funeral two years earlier in the garden of Villa Tennyson, in contrast, was allegedly one of greater ceremony.
Untended and unkempt, the graves themselves are appropriately wild. Lear’s headstone proclaims the artist to be “a landscape painter in many lands” and “dear for his many gifts to many souls”. Lines about the Albanian Mount Tomohrit from the Alfred Tennyson poem ‘To E.L. (Edward Lear), on His Travels in Greece” are also inscribed as a further tribute.
Thankfully, perhaps, the headstone doesn’t bear either of the long names that the idiosyncratic author would use to introduce himself—like “Mr. Abebika Kratoponoko Prizzikalo Kattefello Ablegorabalus Ableborinto Phashyph” or “Chakonoton the Cozovex Dossi Fossi Sini Tomentilla Coronilla Polentilla Battledore & Shuttlecock Derry down Derry Dumps.”