Edward Lear's Book for R.C.Blencowe

Ruth Jenkins (Nov, 2010) discovered that Rhymes of Nonsense by Edward Lear was originally written for R.C. Blencowe when a small boy in about 1861. Lear is well known for his Nonsense poems and illustrations. The most famous possibly being, "The Owl & The Pussy Cat who went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat......"

Owl and the Pussy cat

A search of the Diaries of Edward Lear: The Private Journals of a Landscape Painter, revealed 20 entries clearly showing the identity of R.C. Blencowe although only referring to him as "little Blencowe."

In 1858, Robert Campion Blencowe was born at Hurstpierpoint, Sussex: the eldest son of John George Blencowe and Frances Campion Blencowe. John George Blencowe was the only son of Robert Willis Blencowe and inherited a considerable sum of money plus the combined estates of The Hooke and Bineham. In 1886 he married Frances Campion, an heiress in her own right, and soon became a significant landowner and employer. John George Blencowe was also a Member of Parliament (1859-1865) and, like his father before him, a magistrate at Lewes, serving there from 1842 until 1897.

Robert's parents were clearly good friends of Edward Lear regularly meeting socially. For a time Lear and Frances exchanged letters on an almost daily basis. Frances' parents, Mr & Mrs Campion were in the same social set.

Some of Lear's diary snippets make interesting reading:

23 Nov.1858: "John and Mrs Blencowe are kind, good people indeed."

27 May 1859: "Rose at 5. At 9.20 very painful prayers, but in no case could the most cantankerous... deny that the whole Blencowe family are truly good & pious people. Breakfast with Mrs. B. & Miss H. Worked at writing, & making an Alphabet for little Blencowe."

28 May: "Finished little Blencowe's Library of letters. At 11 went out (the day was dull & rainy) to Haywards Heath, & saw a Lunatic Asylum. Drove back by 4 -Mrs Blencowe returned....At dinner were a Mr Beck & a Philpot, brother of the Rome pupillious Philpot ? the other Blencowes afterwards. ? No people can be more hospitable or kinder than these."

30 May: "J. Blencowe & Mrs J. & the little boy ? a very nice baby, really."

31 May: "Breakfast & afterwards talk & singing. Mrs Campion is like Mrs Hornby in old days. At 9½ J.G.B. went: a good man, but I would rather see him in better health. The little boy is a dear little chap. At 11 Mr Campion drove me to Hassocks Gate, & so Rail to Brighton."

It appears the alphabet book that Lear wrote for Robert was followed by Rhymes of Nonsense as Robert got older. Neither book was published during Lear's lifetime but in 1968, almost 100 years later, Rhymes of Nonsense: An Alphabet by Lear was published with a limited 500 copies.

In the 1891 Census John George and Frances Blencowe were still at Bineham. Robert Campion Blencowe, who had married Augusta Dickenson in 1886, was living at The Grove, Basingstoke, Hampshire with three servants. Robert was "living on own means."

In 1924 Robert married Jesse Wright. He died at Chailey in 1936 leaving no children. The Blencowe family was one of the most influential families in Chailey and Robert appears to have been the most influential member of the Bineham family. The term, "pillar of the community" appears apt in his case and as well as involving himself in local affairs he also supported a number of worthy causes.