1838 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Walter Savage Landor

S. C. Hall, in The Book of Gems. The Modern Poets and Artists of Great Britain (1838) 198.



WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR was born at Ipsley Court, Warwickshire — the seat of his family, an ancient and honourable one — on the 30th of January, 1775. He was educated at Rugby. When he had reached nearly the head of the school, he was too young for the University, and was placed under the tuition of Mr. Langley, at Ashbourne, in Derbyshire; but a year afterwards, was entered of Trinity College, Oxford, where the learned Benwell was his private tutor. During his residence there, he is said to have manifested that independence of spirit, and restlessness of control for which he has been since remarkable; and was rusticated for shooting across the quadrangle at prayer-time. In 1808, on the first insurrection of Spain, he joined the Viceroy of Gallicia, Blake. The Madrid Gazette of that year mentions a gift from him of 20,000 reals. On the extinction of the Constitution, he returned to Don P. Cevallos the tokens of royal approbation he had received from the government, and expressed his sentiments on the subject in no very measured terms. In 1811, Mr. Landor married Julia, the daughter of J. Thuillier de Malaperte, descendant and representative of the Baron de Neuve-ville, first gentleman of the bedchamber to Charles the Eighth. In the autumn of 1815, he retired to Italy: for some years he occupied the Palazzo Medici, in Florence, and then purchased the beautiful villa of Count Gherardesca, at Fiesole, with its gardens and farms, half a mile from the ancient villa of Lorenzo de' Medici. His visits to England for the last twenty years have been few and brief; but it is stated, we trust upon good Authority, that "with all her faults," he loves his country too well to contemplate a final separation; and that it is probable the residue of his days will be spent among us.

Mr. Landor has afforded ample proof of a disposition exceedingly restless and excitable. He has more of the "fierte" of genius — less often witnessed than read of — than any living writer we could name. His countenance does not, at first, convey this impression; but it is impossible not to perceive that his passions are strong, his sensibilities keen and active, and his pride indomitable. His face is remarkably fine and intellectual; and, as with many who profess extreme liberal opinions, his look and bearing are those of a man who can have no sympathies in common with the mean and vulgar.

His works have not been popular; yet we might select at random, from any one of them, a dozen pages, out of which a more skilful, a more cunning, or a more humble man might have made a reputation. They are full to overflowing; one cannot but wonder at the vast mine of thought, reason, and reflection, of which they exhibit proofs; — at the same time, it will be lamented that some peculiar notions have led him to neglect the means by which his strong natural powers might have been made universally beneficial. It is obvious that he labours to attain a dislike of, and a contempt for, human kind; and that his kindly and benevolent nature will not permit him so to do: in all his writings there is a singular and striking mixture of the generous with the disdainful — tenderness with wrath, strong affections, with antipathies quite as strong. His Imaginary Conversations will endure with the language in which they are written; and if they do not find readers in the multitude, they will be always appreciated by those whose judgment is valuable, and whose praise is reward. His latest work in prose, Pericles and Aspasia, might justify even a warmer eulogy.

Mr. Landor has published but one volume of Poetry, — Geber, Count Julian, and other Poems; but several of his most powerful and beautiful compositions will be found scattered through his prose works. Our readers will find in our selections ample to sustain a high reputation. They are polished to a degree; yet full of fine thoughts and rich fancies. The evidences of his genius for dramatic poetry are abundant, and received full justice, a year ago, in the New Monthly Magazine. To a glowing imagination and a mind remarkably vigorous, he adds the advantages of extensive learning, and a matured knowledge of human kind. His indifference to public opinion — arising, no doubt, from a taste highly cultivated, and a refined appreciation of excellence — has, unhappily, induced him to withhold too much of the intellectual wealth he possesses, and even to mix with "baser matter" that which he has given us. If he had been born a poor man, he would have been, at least in the estimation of the world, a much greater man than he is. If, however, the fame of Walter Savage Landor be not widely spread, it cannot fail to be enduring. Among the rarest and most excellent of British Poets he will always be classed.