1864 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Walter Savage Landor

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 217 (December 1864) 791-92.



Sept. 37. At Florence, aged 89, Walter Savage Landor, Esq.

The deceased, who was the son of Walter Landor, Esq., of Ipsley Court, Warwickshire, by his second marriage with the daughter and coheiress of Clarke Savage, Esq., of Tachbrook, was born Jan. 30, 1775, was sent first to Rugby and afterwards to Trinity-College, Oxford, but his conduct at both places was insubordinate, and he never took a degree. From his earliest years he exhibited a strange intractableness of temper, and he now declined to enter the army, or to study the law, or, indeed, to take any step that his friends urged upon him. But he early shewed that he possessed great abilities, and in his twentieth year he published "A Collection of Poems," which was followed by "Gebir" (1798), and "Poems from the Arabic and Persian" (1800). His principles, both in religion and politics, being founded on an almost exclusive study of classic models, had scant regard for creeds or kings; they were, of course, widely different from those of most men of his day, and his relations with his family became thereby so unpleasant that he left England and travelled on the continent for some years amid all the difficulties and dangers that a very outspoken hater of Frenchmen in general and of the rule of Bonaparte in particular could be exposed to. When the Spaniards rose in arms in 1808, Mr. Landor, who had now become the owner of the family estate by the death of his father, and was a man of large property, embraced their cause with ardour, made a handsome contribution to the funds of the Junta, and received in return a colonel's commission, though we are not aware that he ever distinguished himself in the field. In 1814, on the restoration of Ferdinand VII., he quitted Spain, and the remainder of his long life was passed in literary occupation, though his works are by no means numerous.

In 1811 Mr. Landor married a lady of German parentage, by whom he had a family, but the union was not a happy one. His ideas of domestic life appeared to be formed rather on the classic than the Christian model, and at length a separation ensued, when he returned to England, after an absence of several years. He was, strange to say, an intimate friend of Southey, though he retained and even exaggerated all the wild notions that the latter had abandoned, a point that was not overlooked by Lord Byron, who reproached the Laureate for his intimacy with an avowed Republican, and but half-concealed Pagan. Thenceforth Landor was at daggers drawn with Byron, as indeed he was with most people, his temper being intolerably fierce and irritable, and, as it would appear, never kept under the slightest control. In 1824 the first series of his "Imaginary Conversations of Literary Men and Statesmen" was published, which was followed by a second series in 1829. This is the great work on which his fame as a writer must rest; it shows the profound classic erudition of its author, and even the Quarterly Reviewer (not Southey) confesses that "there is in it a good deal to be admired, and some little to be approved." The same criticism may justly be extended to his other works; their style, at least, is almost faultless, and some of their sentiments are to be commended. Among other works Mr. Landor published a couple of plays, "Hellenics" (1847), Poemata et Inscriptiones (1851), "Popery, British and Foreign" (1851), and "The last Fruit off an old Tree" (1853); beside a stinging "Satire on Satirists, and Admonition to Detractors" (1836). He resided at Bath for several years, where in 1856 an action was brought against him by a lady for defamation, and heavy damages were awarded against him. Rather than pay them, he again retired to Florence, where the remainder of his life was passed.

Though, as before stated, Mr. Landor's conduct at Rugby was a source of trouble to his tutors, some anecdotes of him at the latter seminary, with which we have been favoured by an old Rugbeian, will be read with interest.

"Walter Savage Landor was sent to Rugby at the age of eight years, in 1783. His first battle in his first half year was with Arthur Clifton, now Gen. Sir Arthur Clifton, K.C.H. and K.C.B., an old Peninsular and Waterloo officer, and at this time the oldest Rugbeian. He had another battle with Walter Birch, afterwards Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and got well thrashed, and according to his own account deservedly so. Walter Birch was afterwards one of his greatest friends. Another great friend was Cary, formerly sub-Librarian to the British Museum, and translator of Dante, whom he spoke of as an excellent man, an excellent scholar, and the best of translators. At one period he and Butler were the only two prepostors that did Greek verses. Butler was the first scholar of his day at Cambridge, and was afterwards Head Master of Shrewsbury School, which office he resigned when appointed Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry in 1836. For the last eighty years, there have always been one or two of the younger sons of the nobility at Rugby, and in those days Dr. James, an Etonian, introduced the Eton custom of having the title of 'Mister' prefixed to the names of these boys in the school list, a the late Governor-General of Canada, the Hon. Sir Charles Bagot, was called over 'Mr. Bagot;' his brother, the late Bishop of Oxford, afterwards Bishop of Bath and Wells, was entered in the list as Mr. Richard Bagot. Prepostors then called over the names, but Landor on these occasions would always omit the title of 'Mister,' to the great annoyance of the Head Master; and his worthy tutor John Sleath, afterwards High Master of St. Paul's School, told him his conduct was 'very wrong.' It was not on this account, however, as the boys believed, that Dr. James desired his father to remove him; the real reason was, some of his squibs at Dr. James and some of his alcaics. In one copy he introduced allusions to the altar of the Roman Goddess who presided over the sewers of Rome, built by Tarquinius Priscus. Some years afterwards he met Dr. James purposely at a friend's in Worcestershire, and both were equally cordial. The 'square pool' in the school close, so called because it was oblong, was at the north-east angle of the bath, and its site may still be traced. This was filled up about thirty-six years ago, to Landor's great regret, as he wrote many of his verses there. The Island then was an island with a deep moat round it, which he stocked with fish. In his Latin Poems — a duodecimo book published at Pisa — there is an allusion in one to the barbarian Head Master Inglis for lopping or cutting down some of the noble trees in the close."