WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR is one of the class of fortunate authors. He was born with the silver spoon in his mouth; and he was far more fortunate than the host of those who are born thus; he cared little for the silver spoon of indulgence, and has always been ready to help himself to his share of the enjoyment of life with the wooden ladle of exertion. His fortune has given him all those substantial advantages which fortune can give, and he has despised its corrupting and effeminating influence. It gave him a first-rate education; a power of going over the surface of the earth at his pleasure, of seeing all that is worth seeing at home and abroad, of indulging the real and true pleasure of surveying the varieties and the sublimities of scenery, and studying the varieties and genuine condition of man. Hence his original talents, which were strong, have been strengthened; his mind, which was naturally broad, has been expanded; his classical tastes have been perfected by the scenery of classic countries, while he read the ancient works of those countries, not twisted into pedantic one-sidedness in monkish institutions of barren learning. To him classical literature was but the literature of one, though of a fine portion of the human race. He imbibed it with a feeling of freshness where it grew, but at the same time he did not avert his eyes from the world of to-day. It was humanity in its totality which interested him. Hence the universality of his genius the healthiness of his tastes; the soundness of his opinions. In stretching his inquiries into all corners of the world he loosened himself from the restrictions of sects, parties, and coteries. Born an aristocrat, he has nevertheless remained fully conscious of the evils of aristocracy; educated at the schools and in the bosom of the Established Church, he is as vividly sensible of the pride and worldliness of the hierarchy as any dissenter, without the peculiar bigotry and narrowness of dissent. Born a gentleman, he has felt with and for the poor; being interested, if men of landed estate are interested, in things remaining as they are, he has announced himself, in no timid terms, for advance, liberty, and law for the many.
These are the characteristics of the man and of his works. His prose and his poetry, his life and his conversation, alike display them. The man is a man of large and powerful physical frame, of a passionate, impulsive, yet reflective mind. There is no disguise about him. He lives, he writes, he talks, from the vigorous strength of this great and equally developed nature, and you cannot be a day in his society without hearing him enunciate every principle of his action, and much of its history. His sentiments and doctrines seem continually to radiate on all around him, from the living central re of a heart which feels, as a sacred duty, every great truth, which the mind has received into its settled conviction. It is therefore astonishing, after a few hours' conversation with him, to find on opening his works how much of his philosophy you are acquainted with. But though you soon learn, through the noble transparency of Landor's nature, what are his principles of action, you do not soon reach the extent of his thoughts. Those which play about his great principles, which illustrate and demonstrate them, are endless in their variety, and astonish you not the less by their originality than by their correctness. His extensive range of observation through nature, through men and things, has stored his mind with an inexhaustible accumulation of imagery, equally beautiful and effective. Whenever you meet with similes drawn from life or from nature in Landor's writings, you may rely upon their accuracy.
The same accuracy marks his conclusions regarding man and society. He is one of the few who, with the inherited means to distinguish himself in politics, to ascend in the scale of artificial life, to acquire fame and wealth by the ordinary means of promotion, has reserved himself for a higher ambition, that of directing the future rather than the present, and of living as a philosophical reformer when the bulk of his cotemporaries are dead for ever to this world. For this purpose he has stood aloof from the movements of the hour; he has refused to sit in parliament; he has gone and spent years abroad, when shallower thinkers would presume the only patriotic position was at home; and by these means he has qualified himself, in various countries and various society, but chiefly through the steady use of his faculties in poring through men and books, and viewing them on all sides, unfettered by interest and uninfluenced by hope, except that of arriving at a true knowledge of things, to speak with authority. From these causes it is, that there have been and there are few men who will so permanently and so beneficially act on the progress of society as Walter Savage Landor. The independence of his position and of his nature, his thoroughly high and honourable disposition, seeking truth and hating meanness, thus aided by the wide sphere of his observation, stamp upon his experience the characters of indisputable truth and genuine wisdom. He has no petty bias to any party, any school, any religious sect — all his aspirations are for the benefit of man as man, and whatever comes in the way of the growth of what is intrinsically true, beautiful, and beneficent, he attacks with the most caustic sarcasm; strikes at it with the most ponderous or trenchant weapons that he can lay hands upon, and, careless of persons or consequences, calls on all within hearing to help him to annihilate it. In this respect his fortune has enabled him to do much with impunity.
He promulgates doctrines, and attacks selfish interests, in a manner which would, on the other hand, bring down destruction on an author who had to live by his labours. There are critics, and those calling themselves liberal too, who have crushed others for the very deeds for which they have applauded and still continue to applaud Savage Landor. Why? Because they know that Landor is invulnerable through his property. If they raised the hue and cry against him of democrat, republican, of violent, or revolutionary, he would still eat and drink independent of them; his book would remain, and his position and influence would enable it at length to testify against them. There is, moreover, a large class of critics who see principles, when they see them at all, through the medium of a man's condition in the world, and that which is audacious in a poor man, becomes only a generous boldness in a rich. If I were to select the opinions of Savage Landor on half a dozen great questions from his works, and quote him in all his undisguised strength upon them, I could show half a score men of less fortune who have been immolated by Landor's own admirers for the proclamation of these identical opinions, or whose works have been left unnoticed because they could not very consistently condemn in them what they had eulogized in him! How few men in this country can afford to be honest!
But not the less do I recognise, nor the less estimate, the sacrifices of Landor to immortal truth. Though he could not be deprived of his daily bread for his sins of plain speaking, yet he has had his share of the malevolence of the low and selfish. The reptiles have bitten, and no doubt have stung, at times, deeply, when he has trodden them beneath his feet, or flung amongst them his clinging and scalding Greek fire. But he knows that the fruit of his life will not be lost. Already he has lived long enough to see that the tide of opinion and reform is setting in strongly in the direction which he has indicated. It is amazing what progress the truth has made within the last twenty years; and a man like Landor knows that at every future step it must derive fresh strength from his writings. He has pandered to no corruption, he has flattered no fashion; his efforts are all directed to the uprooting of error and the spread of sound reason; and therefore, the more the latter prevails the more his writings will grow into the spirit of the age. There are those who say that Landor's writings never can be popular. They are greatly mistaken. There is a large reading class, every day becoming larger, in which, were they made cheap enough, they would find the most lively acceptation. It is the class of the uncorrupted people itself. His opinions, and his manly, uncompromising spirit, are just what fall on the popular spirit like showers in summer. They are drunk in with a thirsty avidity, and give at once life and solace. In this respect I do not hesitate to place them amongst the very first of the age.
The poetry of Savage Landor has not been so much read as his prose. His Imaginary Conversations have eclipsed his verse. Yet there is great vigour, much satire, and much tender feeling in his poems, which should render them acceptable to all lovers of manly writing. His Gebir was written early. The scene lies chiefly in Egypt, and introduces sorcerers, water nymphs, and the like characters, which might charm a youthful imagination, but are too far removed from reality to make them general favourites. Yet there is much fine, imaginative, and passionate poetry in this composition. His Hellenics transport you at once to the ordinary life of ancient Greece, and are written with great force, clearness, and succinct effect. His dramas of Count Julian, Andrea of Hungary, Giovanna of Naples, Fra Rupert, The Siege of Ancona, etc. are reading dramas, very fine of their kind. They abound with splendid writing and the noblest sentiments. Giovanna of Naples is one of the finest and most beautiful characters conceivable; and Fra Rupert has furnished Landor with a vehicle for expressing his indignant contempt of a proud, arbitrary, and hypocritical priest. There are many occasional verses, in which the poet has expressed the feelings of the moment, arising out of the connexions and incidents of his life; and these are equally remarkable for their tenderness and their very opposite quality of caustic satire. I must not allow myself to do more than quote a few passages from his poetical writings, which are characteristic of the man. This fine one occurs in the last of his Hellenics, p. 486, Vol. II. of his uniform edition.
We are what suns, and winds, and waters make us;
The mountains are our sponsors, and the rills
Fashion and win their nurslings with their smiles.
But where the land is dim from tyranny,
There tiny pleasures occupy the place
Of glories and of duties; as the feet
Of fabled fairies, when the sun goes down,
Trip o'er the grass where wrestlers strove by day.
Then justice, called the Eternal One above,
Is more inconstant than the buoyant form
That burst into existence from the froth
Of ever-varying ocean; what is best
Then becomes worst; what loveliest, most deformed.
The heart is hardest in the softest climes,
The passions flourish, the affections die.
This true sentiment is put into the mouth of Count Julian, — page 506, Vol. II.
All men with human feelings love their country.
Not the high-born or wealthy man alone,
Who looks upon his children, each one led
By its gay handmaid from the high alcove,
And hears them once a day; not only he
Who hath forgotten, when his guest inquires
The name of some far village all his own;
Whose rivers bound the province, and whose hills
Touch the lost clouds upon the level sky:
No better men still better love their country.
'Tis the old mansion of their earliest friends,
The chapel of their first and best devotions.
When violence or perfidy invades,
Or when unworthy lords hold wassail there,
And wiser heads are drooping round its moats,
At last they fix their steady and stiff eye,
There, there alone, stand while the trumpet blows,
And view the hostile flames above its towers
Spire, with a bitter and severe delight.
There is not less truth than satire in this:—
In all law-courts that I have ever entered
The least effrontery, the least dishonesty
Has lain among the prosecuted thieves. — P. 557.
I shall have occasion to quote a few more verses when speaking of Mr. Landor's life. His Imaginary Conversations is the work on which his fame, a worthy and well-earned fame, will rest. From his great experience of men of various nations, and his familiar acquaintance with both ancient and modern literature, he has been enabled to introduce the greatest variety of characters and topics, and to make the dialogues a perfect treasury of the broadest and most elevated axioms of practical wisdom. As I have observed, his station and personal interests have not been able to blind him to the claims of universal justice. He attacks all follies and all selfish conventionalisms with an unsparing scorn, which, in a poor man, would have been attributed to envy; but in his case, cannot be otherwise regarded than as the honest convictions of a clear-seeing and just mind. In all his writings he insensibly slides into the dramatic form; even in his Pentameron, not less than in his Citation and Examination of William Shakspeare. His Pericles and Aspasia is in the form of letters, a form but one remove from conversation; in fact, conversation on paper. He must raise up the prominent characters of all ages, and, bringing the most antagonistic together, set them to argue some great or curious topic suited to their minds and pursuits. Through all these the author's own sentiments diffuse themselves, and become the soul of the book. Whoever converse, we are made to feel that virtue, generosity, self-sacrifice, and a warm sense of the wants and the true claims of the multitude, animate the soul of the author, and maintain a perpetual warfare against their opposite qualities, and the world's acquiescence in them. Mr. Landor, no doubt, like his fellows, does not despise the advantages which fortune has conferred on him; but he prides himself far more obviously on the power which resides in his pen. In his conversation with the Marchese Pallavicini, that nobleman relates the atrocious conduct of an English general at Albaro, and says, "Your houses of parliament, Mr. Landor, for their own honour, for the honour of the service, and the nation, should have animadverted on such an outrage; he should answer for it." To which Landor replies: — "These two fingers have more power, Marchese, than those two houses. A pen! he shall live for it. What, with their animadversions, can they do like this?"
In his conversation between Southey and Porson, he puts into the mouth of Southey a sentence which all people would do well to ground firmly into their minds, and remember when they are reading reviews: — "We have about a million of critics in Great Britain; not a soul of which critics entertains the least doubt of his own infallibility. You, with all your learning, and all your canons of criticism, will never make them waver." Into Porson's mouth he puts also a great fact, which, had he been a poor man, would have been hurled back on his head, and have crushed him to death. "Racy wine comes from the high vineyard. There is a spice of the scoundrel in most of our literary men; an itch to filch and detract in the midst of fair-speaking and festivity. This is the reason why I have never much associated with them. There is also another. We have nothing in common but the alphabet. The most popular of our critics have no heart for poetry: it is morbidly sensitive on one side, and utterly callous on the other. They dandle some little poet, and never will let you take him off their knees; him they feed to bursting, with their curds and whey. Another they warn off the premises, and will give him neither a crust nor a crumb, until they hear that he has succeeded to a large estate in popularity, with plenty of dependents; then they sue and supplicate to be admitted among the number; and, lastly, when they hear of his death, they put on mourning, and advertise to raise a monument or a club-room to his memory."
In the same conversation he has a striking illustration of the nature of metaphysics. "What a blessing are metaphysics to our generation! A poet or any other who can make nothing clear, can stir up enough sediment to render the bottom of a basin as invisible as the deepest gulf of the Atlantic. The shallowest pond, if turbid, has depth enough for a goose to hide its head in." He has a remark, not the less happy, on the folly of our reading ill-natured critiques on ourselves, and on the light in which those who inform you of them ought to be regarded. "The whole world might write against me and leave me ignorant of it to the day of my death. A friend who announces to me such things, has performed the last act of his friendship. It is no more pardonable than to lift up the gnat net over my bed, on pretext of showing me there are gnats in the room. If I owed a man a grudge, I would get him to write against me; but if any one owed me one, he would come and tell me of it."
Here are two opinions worthy of the deepest reflection. "In our days, only men who have some unsoundness of conscience and some latent fear, reason against religion; and those only scoff at it, who are pushed back and hurt by it." — Vol. I. p. 372. "More are made insurgents by firing on them than by feeding them; and men are more dangerous in the field than in the kitchen." — P. 379. Mr. Landor's opinion of gambling, even ordinary, every-day play in private houses for money stakes, is expressed with a virtuous force which proves the depth of the feeling against it. "You played! Do you call it playing, to plunder your guests and overreach your friends? Do you call it playing, to be unhappy if you cannot be a robber, happy if you can be one? The fingers of a gamester reach further than a robber's, or a murderer's, and do more mischief. Against the robber or murderer, the country's up in arms at once; to the gamester every bosom is open, that he may contaminate or stab it." — Vol. II. p. 76. Stern to faults which are tolerated, nay, are cherished by society, Savage Landor would be lenient where the wide spreading misery and degradation of women in the present day calls loudly for a change in our social philosophy.
"Marvel. — Men who have been unsparing of their wisdom, like ladies who have been unfrugal of their favours, are abandoned by those who owe most to them, and hated or slighted by the rest. I wish beauty in her lost estate had consolations like genius.
"Parker. — Fie, fie! Mr. Marvel! consolations for frailty!
"Marvel. — What wants them more? The reed is cut down, and seldom does the sickle wound the hand that cuts it. There it lies; trampled on, withered, and soon to be blown away."
Perhaps there is no one conversation in which so many popular fallacies and customs are so ruthlessly dealt with, as in that between the Emperor of China and his servant Tsing-Zi, who has been in England. His description of the Quakers is most characteristic. Tsing-Zi is astonished at the anti-christian pugnacity of those calling themselves Christians. They make wars to make their children's fortune, and the preachers of the peaceful gospel are ready, if they disagree in a doctrine, to fight like a pair of cockerels across a staff on a market-man's shoulder. One scanty sect is different. "These never work in the fields or manufactories; but buy up corn when it is cheap, sell it again when it is dear, and are more thankful to God for a famine than others are for plenteousness. Painting and sculpture they condemn; they never dance, they never sing; music is as hateful to them as discord. They always look cool in hot weather, and warm in cold. Few of them are ugly, fewer handsome, none graceful. I do not remember to have seen a person of dark complexion, or hair quite black, or very curly, in their confraternity. None of them are singularly pale, none red, none of diminutive stature, none remarkably tall. They have no priests amongst them, and constantly refuse to make oblations to the priests royal." — Vol. II. p. 119.
But there is, in fact, scarcely any great question of religion, morals, government, or the social condition, on which in these conversations the boldest opinions are not expressed in the most unshrinking style. Landor strips away all the finery in which follies, vices, and imposture are disguised for selfish ends, with a strong and unceremonious hand. He lifts up the veil of worldly policy, and showing us the hideous objects behind, says, "Behold your gods, O Israel!" His doctrines are such as would, less than ages ago, have consigned him to a pitiless persecution; they are such as, perhaps, in less than half another century, through the means of popular education, will be the common property of the common mind. The works of Savage Landor, both prose and poetry, place him amongst the very first men of his age. They are masterly, discriminating, and full of a genuine English robustness. "They are energy and imagination that make the great poet," he has said in conversation. If he does not equal some of our poets in intensity of imagination, there are few of them who can compete with him in energy; and what is peculiarly fortunate, the instinct by which he cleaves to the real, and spurns the meretricious with contempt, makes him eminently safe for a teacher. You can find no glittering, plausible, destructive monstrosity, whether in the shape of man or notion, which Landor, like too many of our writers, has taken the perverse fancy to deify. His opinion of Buonaparte is a striking example of this. Hazlitt, acute and discriminating as he often was, placed this selfish and brutal butcher on a pedestal for adoration. Landor, in his conversation between "Landor, English visitor, and Florentine visitor," has given us an analysis of his character. He commences this with this remark. "Buonaparte seems to me the most extraordinary of mortals, because I am persuaded that so much power never was acquired by another, with so small an exertion of genius, and so little of anything that captivates the affections; or maintained so long unbroken in a succession of enormous faults, such scandalous disgraces, such disastrous failures and defeats." He shows that he lost seven great armies in succession, which in every case of defeat he abandoned to destruction. If he has not said it in his works he has in conversation, that the true mark of a great man is, that he has accomplished great achievements with small means. Buonaparte never did this. He overwhelmed all obstacles by enormous masses of soldiery. He was as notorious for his recklessness of human life, for no possible end but his own notoriety, for his private cruelties and murders, as for his insolence and undignified anger; scolding those who offended him like a fishwoman, boxing their ears, kicking them, etc. Landor's words have always been my own — "It has always been wonderful to me, what sympathy any well-educated Englishman can have with an ungenerous, ungentlemanly, unmanly Corsican."
Such is Walter Savage Landor as a writer, let us now look at him as a man. Landor's physical development is correspondent to that of his mind. He is a tall, large man; broadly and muscularly built, yet with an air of great activity about him. His ample chest, the erect bearing of his head, the fire and quick motion of his eye, all impress you with the feeling of a powerful, ardent, and decided man. The general character of his head is fine massy, phrenologically amply developed, and set upon the bust with a bearing full of strength and character.
His features are well-formed and full of the same character. In his youth, Landor must have been pronounced handsome; in his present age, with grey hair and considerable baldness, he presents a fine, manly, and impressive presence. There is instantaneous evidence of the utter absence of disguise about him. You have no occasion to look deep, and ponder cautiously to discover his character. It is there written broadly on his front. All is open, frank, and self-determined. The lower part of his face displays much thought and firmness; there is a quick and hawk-like expression about the upper, which the somewhat retreating yet broad forehead increases. His eyebrows, arched singularly high on his forehead, diminish the apparent height of the head; but on looking at his profile, you soon perceive the great elevation of the skull above the line running from the ear to the eye. The structure, the air of the whole man, his action, voice, and mode of talking, all denote an extraordinary personage. His character is most unequivocally passionate, impulsive, yet intellectual and reflective; capable of excitement and of becoming impetuous, and perhaps headlong, for the fire and strength in him are of no common intensity. One can see that the quick instincts of his nature, that electric principle by which such natures leap to their conclusions, would render him excessively impatient of the slower processes or more sordid biases of more common minds. That he must be liable to great outbursts of indignation, and capable of becoming arbitrary and overbearing; yet you soon find, on conversing with him, that no man is so ready to be convinced of the right, or so free to rectify the errors of a hasty judgment. He has, in short, an essentially fine, high, vigorous nature; one which speaks forth in every page of his writings, and yet is so different to the stereotype of the world as to incur its dictum of eccentric.
Walter Savage Landor was born at Warwick, on the 30th of January, 1775, consequently he is in his seventy-first year. The house in which he was born is near the chapel, and has a fine old spacious garden, well kept up by its present inhabitant, his only surviving sister. It is the best house in the town, and had a beautiful front before the improvement of the street required that four or five feet of the basement should be erased. Savage Landor's mother used to spend nearly half the year there, as his sister does now; for the garden has great charms, swarming with blackbirds, thrushes, and even wood-pigeons, which haunt several lofty elms and horse-chestnuts. His family had considerable estates both in Staffordshire and Warwickshire many centuries ago. His mother was eldest daughter and co-heiress of Charles Savage, Esq., of Tachbrook, whose family were lords of that manor and of the neighbouring manor of Whitmarsh, in the reign of Henry II. and much earlier. One of this family, according to Rapin, played a conspicuous part in demanding a charter from the weak king, Edward II, and in bringing his minion, Piers Gaveston, to his end. This was Sir Arnold Savage, whom Landor has commemorated by a conversation between him and Henry IV, and by a note at the end of it, viz. — "Sir Arnold Savage, according to Elsyne, was the first Speaker of the House of Commons who appeared upon any record, to have been appointed to the dignity as now constituted. He was elected a second time, four years afterwards, a rare honour in earlier days; and during this presidency he headed the Commons, and delivered their resolutions in the plain words recorded by Hakewell." One of these was that the king should receive no subsidy till he had removed every cause of public grievance. Landor has come of good patriot blood. The Savages have also figured in Ireland; and Landor has introduced one of them, Philip Savage, Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer in Swift's time, in his Conversation with Archbishop Boulter, also connected by marriage with the Savage family. "Boulter," says Landor, "Primate of Ireland, and president of the council, saved that kingdom from pestilence and famine in the year 1279, by supplying the poor with bread, medicines, attendance, and every possible comfort and accommodation. Again, in 1740 and 1741, two hundred and fifty thousand were fed twice a day, principally at his expense, as we find in La Bioqraphie Universelle; an authority the least liable to suspicion. He built hospitals at Drogheda and Armagh, and endowed them richly. No private man, in any age or country; has contributed so largely to relieve the sufferings of his fellow-creatures; to which object he and his wife devoted their ample fortunes, both during their lives and after their decease. Boulter was certainly the most disinterested, the most humane, the most beneficent man that ever guided the councils of Ireland." Philip Savage, the chancellor, was so irreproachable, that even Swift, the reviler of Somers, could find in him no motive for satire and no room for discontent. Such was the ancestry of Walter Savage Landor.
Mr. Landor spent the first days of his youth at Ipsley court, near Redditch, in Warwickshire, which manor belongs to him. You may trace his life and his residences by glimpses in his works; and of his old family mansion he speaks in his Conversation with the Marchese Pallavicini.
"Pallavinici. — We Genoese are proud of our door-ways.
"Landor. — They arc magnificent; so are many in Rome, and some in Milan. We have none in London, and few in the country; where, however, the staircases are better. They are usually oak. I inherit an old, ruinous house, containing one, up which the tenant rode his horse to stable him."
In his poems, too, occurs this:—
WRITTEN IN WALES.
Ipsley when hurried by malignant fate
I passed thy court, and heard thy closing gate,
I sighed, but sighing to myself I said,
Now for the quiet cot and mountain shade.
Oh! what resistless madness made me roam
From cheerful friends and hospitable home!
Whether in Arrow's vale, or Tachbrook grove
My lyre resounded liberty and love.
Here never love hath fanned his purple flame,
And fear and anger start at Freedom's name.
Yet high exploits the churlish nation boasts
Against the Norman and the Roman hosts.
'Tis false; where conquests had but reaped disgrace
Contemptuous valour spurned the reptile race.
Let me once more my native land regain,
Bounding with steady pride and high disdain;
Then will I pardon all the faults of fate,
And hang fresh garlands, Ipsley, on thy gate.
Landor laughingly calls this old house a barracks. It is nearly a hundred feet in front, if not quite, but this portion formed only the offices of the old March house, which the steward of the Savages, the clergyman, pulled down, and built his own with!
He received his education at Rugby, and at Trinity college, Oxford. At Rugby, as we are told by Mr. Horne in his New Spirit of the Age, he was famous for riding out of bounds, boxing, leaping, net-casting, stone-throwing, and making Greek and Latin verses. A droll anecdote is related of his throwing his casting-net suddenly over the head of a farmer who found him fishing in his ponds, and keeping him there till the fellow was tame enough to beg to be allowed to go away, instead of seizing Landor's net, as he had threatened. He was conspicuous there for his resistance to every species of tyranny, either of the masters and their rules, or the boys and their system of making fags, which he violently opposed against all odds; and he was considered arrogant and overbearing in his own conduct. All this, I have no doubt, is quite correct — it is most characteristic of the man and his writings; as well as that he was a leader of the boys in all things, and yet did not associate with them. This trait sticks by him to the present hour. He declares that he never can bear to walk with men; with ladies he can, but not with men, and that to walk in the streets of London drives him mad. To this peculiarity he alludes in the opening of the conversation between Southey and Landor; where also Southey mentions another, which no one can he long in Landor's society without noticing — his hearty peals of laughter at some merry story or other, often of his own.
"Landor. — The last time I ever walked hither in company (which, unless with ladies, I rarely have done anywhere), was with a just, a valiant, and a memorable man, Admiral Nichols.
"Southey. — I never had the same dislike to company in my walks and rambles as you profess to have, but of which I perceived no sign whatever when I visited you, first at Lattony abbey, and afterwards on the Lake Como. Well do I remember four long conversations in the silent and solitary church of Sant' Abondio (surely the coolest spot in Italy), and how often I turned back my head towards the open door, fearing lest some pious passer-by, or some more distant one in the wood above, pursuing the pathway which leads towards the tower of Luitprand, should hear the roof echo with your laughter, at the stories you had collected about the brotherhood and sisterhood of the place."
At Oxford, Mr. Horne informs us, Landor was rusticated for firing off a gun in the quadrangle, and as he never intended to take a degree, he never returned. On quitting the university, he published, in 1793, a small volume of poems. After spending some time in London studying Italian, he went to reside at Swansea, where he wrote Gebir.
Having been pressed in vain by his friends to enter the army or to study the law, he was moved by his old spirit of resistance to oppression, by the French invasion of Spain. He embarked for that country, raised a number of troops at his own expense, and — being the first Englishman who landed in Spain for the purpose of aiding it — marched with his men from Corunna to Aguila, the head-quarters of General Blake. For this, he received the thanks of the supreme junta in the Madrid Gazette, together with an acknowledgment of the donation of 20,000 reals from Mr. Landor. On the subversion of the constitution by Ferdinand, he returned the letters and documents, with his commission, to Don Pedro Cevallos, telling Don Pedro that he was willing to aid a people in the assertion of its liberties against the antagonist of Europe, but he could have nothing to do with a perjurer and traitor.
I suppose it was before he left Spain that a circumstance occurred which led to his being robbed by George III, of which he often talks. Expressing to a Spanish nobleman a desire to have a ram and a couple of ewes of his celebrated Merino breed, the nobleman replied, "Oh, I will give you a score." Mr. Landor thanked him, but replied, that he did not wish to tax his generosity to that extent. "Oh," said he, "I kill them for mutton, you shall have a score. The king of England is to have a cargo of them, and I will send yours in the same ship." The ship arrived; a letter from the Spanish nobleman also arrived to say that, according to promise, there they were, and that on applying to the king's steward, he would have them." Away went Landor to the steward, showed his letter, and demanded his sheep. The steward said he had no commands on the subject. "But his majesty," suggested Landor, "has undoubtedly information of the fact." "That," replied the steward, "is in his own breast." "But on seeing this letter," continued Landor, "his majesty will certainly give commands for the sheep to be delivered to me. Be so good as to see that it is laid before his majesty." The steward declined, declaring that it would be at the risk of his place.
On this Landor applied to a nobleman in high favour with the king, and who was well known to himself. On announcing that he wanted him to do him a service, the nobleman replied "With all the pleasure in the world: anything that is in my power." Landor then explained the case, showed his letter from the Spanish nobleman, and begged that his noble friend would lay the matter before the king. The nobleman seemed struck dumb. After a while, recovering his speech, he exclaimed — "Lay the case before his majesty? Advise his majesty to have a score of Merinos of this quality delivered up to you! Why, Landor, you must be mad. There is not a man in the kingdom who dare do any such thing. It would be his ruin." All similar efforts were in vain, and so the royal farmer kept Landor's sheep. They were at that time worth £1000. He has the subject in his mind when he makes Sheridan say to Wyndham, "I do believe in my conscience he would rather lose the affection of half his subjects than the carcase of one fat sheep. I am informed that all his possessions in Ireland never yielded him five thousand a-year. Give him ten, and he will chuckle at overreaching you; and not you only, but his own heirs for ever, as he chuckled when he cheated his eldest son of what he pocketed in twenty years from Cornwall, Lancashire, and Wales." — Vol. II. p. 179. Landor never relates one of these facts without the other, adding, "When George was asked to account for the revenues of the duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster, and the Principality, during the prince's minority, he said he had spent the money in the prince's education! What an education George IV, the prince, must have had!"
If the life of Savage Landor was written, it would be one of the most remarkable on record. He has lived much abroad in the most eventful times in the history of the world. He witnessed the progress of the French Revolution; saw Buonaparte made First Consul; saw him and his armies go out to victory; saw and conversed with the greatest of his generals, and the most remarkable men of those times and scenes. His conversation, therefore, abounds with facts and personages from his own actual knowledge, of which most other men have only read, and many of which no one has read. On the fall of Napoleon he saw him ride, followed by one servant, into Tours, whose inhabitants hated him, and would have rejoiced to give him up to his enemies. He was disguised, but Landor recognised him in a moment. Hating and despising the man as he did, yet he never for a moment dreamed of betraying him. He, however, went close to the fallen emperor, and touching his arm, said, "You are not safe here. I have penetrated your disguise, and others may." "Sir," replied Buonaparte, "you are, I perceive, an Englishman. My secret is in good keeping." He mounted and rode away, wholly undiscovered by the townsmen.
Before this time, however, he had done what gave him infinite annoyance. I quote the account from Mr. Horne:—
"In 1806, Mr. Landor sold several estates in Warwickshire, which had been in his family nearly seven hundred years, and purchased Lantony and Comjoy in Monmouthshire, where he laid out nearly £70,000. Here he made extensive improvements, giving employment daily, for many years, to between twenty and thirty labourers in building and planting. He made a road at his own expense, of eight miles long, and planted and fenced half a million of trees. The infamous behaviour of some tenants caused him to leave the country. At this time he had a million more trees ready to plant, which, as he observed, "were lost to the country, by driving me from it. I may speak of their utility if I must not of my own." The two chief offenders were brothers, who rented farms of Mr. Landor to the amount of £1500 per annum, and were to introduce an improved system of Suffolk husbandry. Mr. Landor got no rent from them, but all manner of atrocious annoyances. They even rooted up his trees, and destroyed whole plantations. They paid nobody. When neighbours and work-people applied fix money, Mr. Landor says, "they were referred to the devil, with their wives and families, while these brothers had their two bottles of wine upon the table. As for the Suffolk system of agriculture, wheat was sown upon the last of May, and cabbage, for winter food, were planted in August or September." Mr. Landor eventually remained master of the field, and drove his tormentors across the seas; but so great was his disgust at these circumstances that he resolved to leave England. Before his departure he caused his house, which had cost him some £8000, to be taken down, that his son might never have the chance of similar vexatious in that place."
To this there wants a few additional facts. It was not only the Suffolk farmers, but the general spirit and brutality of the people of the country which wearied and disgusted him beyond endurance. In the verses we have recently quoted he vents unmitigated hatred of the Welsh, as a "churlish nation," and a "reptile race." He seems to have been subjected to a system of universal plunder and imposition. None but they who have lived amongst such a rude, thievish, and unattractive crew can conceive the astonishment and exasperation of it to an intelligent and generous mind. He used to have twenty watchers on his moorland hills night and day to protect his grouse. He had 12,000 acres of land, and never used to see a grouse upon his table. He says the protection of game that he never eat or benefited by, cost him more than he now lives at. Disgusted by all these circumstances, he left the place and resolved never to return to it. But it was not yet that he ordered the destruction of his new and splendid house, in which he only resided six months. He ordered his steward to let it. Five years went on, and it still remained unlet. He then chanced to meet with a nobleman in Italy who had once applied to him for its occupation. "How was it," he asked, "that you did not take my house at Lantony?" "How? why it was not to he let." "It has been to let these five years." "You amaze me. I was most anxious to take it, but your steward assured me it was not to he let on any account."
Landor immediately, wrote to England to make particular inquiries, and found that the steward was keeping the house to accommodate his own friends, who came down there in parties to shoot his master's grouse. With characteristic indignation, Mr. Landor at once ordered the steward to quit his service and estate, and that the house should be levelled to the ground.
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 bed-chamber to Charles the Eighth. He went to reside in Italy, and, during several years, occupied the Palazzo Medici, in Florence. The proprietor dying, and the palace being to be sold, he looked out for a fresh residence, and found that the villa Gherardesca, at Fiesole, with its gardens and farms, about 3,000 acres, was to be sold; and he purchased it. The villa Gherardesca lies only two miles from Florence, on the banks of the Affrico. It was built by Michael Angelo, and is one of the most delightful residences in the world. Here Landor resided many years, and here his family still resides. In both poetry and prose, he frequently refers to this beloved spot with deep feeling and regret, as in the verses commencing—
Let me sit here and muse by thee
Awhile, aerial Fiesole!
Thy sheltered walks and cooler grots,
Villas, and vines, and olive plots,
Catch me, entangle me, detain me,
And laugh to hear that aught can pain me. — Vol. II. p. 625.
FAREWELL TO ITALY.
I leave thee, beauteous Italy; no more
From thy high terraces at even-tide
To look supine into thy depths of sky,
Thy golden moon between the cliff and me,
On thy dark spires of fretted cypresses,
Bordering the channel of the milky way.
Fiesole and Valdarno must be dreams
Hereafter, and my own lost Affrico
Murmur tome but in the poet's song.
I did believe, — what have I not beheved?—
Weary with age, but unoppressed by pain,
To close in thy soft clime my quiet day,
And rest my bones in the Mimosa shade.
Hope! hope! few ever cherished thee so little;
Few are the heads thou least so rarely raised;
But thou didst premise this, and all was well.
For we are feud of thinking where to lie
When every pulse hath ceased, when the lone heart
Can lift no aspiration ... reasoning
As if the sight were unimpaired by death,
Were unobstructed by the coffin lid,
And the sun cheered corruption. Over all
The smiles of nature shed a potent charm,
And light us to our chamber at the grave. — Vol. II. p. 647.
Let us conclude our quotations with one from his Conversations, equally redolent of Italy. It is in his conversation between himself and the Marchese Pallavicini. The scene is on the lake of Como, and a more beautiful tribute was never paid to trees, especially to that soft, graceful, and fragrant tree, the linden.
"Grumello! Let me enjoy the sight while I can. He appears instinct with life, nodding the network of vines upon his head, and beckoning, and inviting us, while the fig-trees, and mulberries, and chestnuts, and walnuts, and these lofty and eternal cypresses, stand motionless around. His joyous mates, all different in form and features, push forward; and, if there is not something in the air, or something in my eyesight, illusory, they are running a race along the borders. Stop a moment; how shall we climb over these two enormous pines? All, Don Pepino! old trees in their living state are the only things that money cannot command. Rivers leave their beds, run into cities, and traverse mountains for it; obelisks and arches, palaces and temples, ampitheatres and pyramids, rise up like exhalations at its bidding; even the free spirit of man, the only great thing on earth, crouches and cowers in its presence. It passes away and vanishes before venerable trees. What a sweet odour is here! Whence comes it? Sweeter it appears to me, and stronger than the pine itself."
"I imagine," said he, "from the linden; yes, certainly."
"Is that a linden? It is the largest, and I should imagine, the oldest upon earth, if I could perceive that it had lost any of its branches."
"Pity that it hides half the row of yon houses from the palace! It will be carried off with the too pines in the autumn."
"O Don Pepino!" cried I, "the French, who abhor whatever is old, and whatever is great, have spared it; the Austrians, who sell their fortresses and their armies, nay, sometimes their daughters, have not sold it; must it fall? Shall the cypress of Soma, be without a rival? I hope to have left Lombardy before it happens; for events, which you will tell me ought never to interest me at all, not only do interest me, but make me — I confess it — sorrowful."
"Who in the world could ever cut down a linden, or dare, in his senses, to break a twig off one? To a linden was fastened the son of William Tell, when the apple was cloven on his head. Years afterwards, often did the father look higher and lower, and search laboriously, to descry if any mark were remaining of the cord upon its bark! Often must he have inhaled this very odour! What a refreshment was it to a father's heart! The flowers of the linden should be the only incense offered up in the churches of God. Happy the man whose aspirations are pure enough to mingle with it!
"How many fond, and how many lively thoughts have been nurtured under this very tree! How many kind hearts have beaten here! Its branches are not so numerous as the couples they have invited to sit beside it, nor its blossoms and leaves as the expressions of tenderness it has witnessed! What appeals to the pure all-seeing heavens! What similitudes to the everlasting mountains! What protestations of eternal truth and constancy! from those who are now earth, they, and their shrouds, and their coffins! The caper and fig-tree have split the monument. Emblems of past loves and future hopes, severed names which the holiest rites united, broken letters of brief happiness, bestrew the road, and speak to the passers by in vain. To see this linden was worth a journey of five hundred miles!"
Walter Savage Landor now resides at Bath. In his modest house in St. James's-square, he has surrounded himself with one of the most exquisite miniature collection of paintings in the world. Everything is select, from the highest masters, Raphael, Titian, Corregio, and older and more quaint hands, and everything perfect of its kind. These, including some by our own Wilson, he collected in Italy. His larger collection of larger pictures he gave to his son, on leaving Italy, and brought these only as more adapted to the house he proposed to inhabit. Peace, meditation, and the gradual resumption of simple tasks and habits, seem the leading objects of his present hale old age. "I have a pleasure," said he, "in renouncing one indulgence after another; in learning to live without so many wants. Why should I require so many more comforts than the bulk of my fellow-creatures can get? We should set an example against the selfish self-indulgence of the age. We should discountenance its extravagant follies. The pride and pomp of funerals is monstrous. When I die, I will spend but six pounds on mine. I have left orders for the very commonest coffin that is made for the commonest man; and six of the stoutest and very poorest men to carry me to the grave, for which each shall receive one sovereign."
"But don't you pine for your beautiful Fiesole and its beautiful climate; don't you want your children; especially that daughter whose bust there opposite reminds one so of Queen Victoria?"
"I could wish it, but it is better as it is. I cannot live there. They can, and are happy. I have their society in their letters; they are well off and therefore — I am contented."
With this he diverted the conversation to the decease of a mutual friend. "Ah! what a good, warm-hearted creature that was! There never was a woman so self-forgetting and full of affection. She lies in the churchyard just by here. We used to joke merrily on what is now half fulfilled. 'I shall be buried in — churchyard,' she once said. 'Why I mean to be buried there myself. My dear Mrs. Price well visit! Being such near neighbours, we'll have a chair, and make calls on one another!'" And at this idea he burst forth into one of those hearty resounding laughs, that show in Landor how strangely fun and feeling can live side by side in the human mind.
Walter Savage Landor is one of those men who are sent into the world strong to teach. Strong in mind and body; strong in the clear sense of the right and the true, they walk unencumbered by prejudices, unshackled by fears. They tread over the trim borders of artificial life, often oversetting its training glasses, and kicking over its tenderest nurslings. They break down the hedge of selfish monopoly, and carry along with them a stake from the gap, to have a blow at the first bull or bully they meet in the field. They stop to gaze at the idol of the day when they reach the city, and pronounce it but the scarecrow of last summer new dressed. They enter churches, and are oftener disgusted with the dreadful religion made for God, than delighted with the preaching of that divine benevolence sent down by God for man. They weep at some recollected sorrow, but remembering that this is but a contagious weakness, they laugh, to make their neighbours awake from sad thoughts, and are pronounced unfeeling. They attack old and bloody prejudices, and are asked if they are wiser than any one else? They know it: the divine instinct, the teaching faculty within them replies — "Yes." They go on strong and unmoved, though fewer perceive their great mission than feel them poking them in the delicate sides of their interests; fewer sympathize with their tenderest and purest feelings than are shocked by their ridicule of old and profitable humbugs. Misunderstood, misrepresented, and calumniated, they go on — nothing can alter them — for their burden and command are from above; yet every day the world is selecting some truth from the truths they have collected, admiring some flower in the bouquet of beauties they have gathered as they have gone through the wilderness, picking up some gem that they have let fall for the first comer after them, till eventually comparing, and placing all side by side, the world with a sudden flash of recognition perceives that all these truths, beauties, and precious things, belonged to the strange, rude man, who was actually wiser than anybody else. Long may Savage Landor live to see the fruit of his undaunted mind gradually absorbed into the substance of society!