To the Editor:
Among the late John Swales’s last publications was the first essay by a medical authority on the form of epilepsy suffered by the 19th century nonsense poet and landscape painter, Edward Lear. Professor Swales wrote it as his contribution to the Souvenir Program for a performance of “How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear” given last July in aid of the Friends of the Bristol Oncology Center, a charity that provides a range of support for cancer patients in Bristol and the South West of England.
I had approached Professor Swales, having seen his review of a biography of Edward Lear in the British Medical Journal of the April 22, 1989. He responded with an essay that conveyed deep understanding of a complex figure and did so with exemplary clarity to the lay reader (I am not a physician). He also declared himself so excited by his researches that he had decided to work on a full-length study of 19th century attitudes toward epilepsy, focusing on Edward Lear.
We met only on the phone and in letters, but his death left me with the feeling that I had lost a friend. We have also been cheated of a book that would have been a valuable contribution to medical literature and to our understanding of a society in whose culture John Swales was so deeply and zestfully immersed.
In addition to his groundbreaking essay, the program includes contributions by distinguished authorities on Lear as a traveler and landscape painter, his place in the tradition of children’s literature, and his project for an illustrated edition of the poems of his friend Tennyson, plus a fresh overview by his biographer, Vivien Noakes. And alongside the poems that Lear inspired from Tennyson and W.H. Auden, are pieces written for the occasion by 9 leading British poets of the present day.
If any of your readers care to see this generously illustrated publication, copies are available for donations of £15 sterling (more if they feel able to help further) from the Friends of the Bristol Oncology Center, Horfield Road, Bristol BS2 8ED, England. If they prefer to pay via Mastercard or Visa rather than check or money order, they can fax their orders with credit card number, name and address of cardholder, and date of card expiration, to the Friends’ fax number: (011) 44 117 928 3432.