1839 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Letitia Elizabeth Landon

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine NS 11 (February 1839) 212-13.



Oct. 15. At Cape-coast Castle, South Africa, Letitia-Elizabeth, wife of George Maclean, esq. Governor of that settlement; better known as "L. E. L."

Miss Landon was the daughter of an army-agent, and the niece of Dr. Landon, Dean of Exeter, whose death is also announced in this month's obituary. It is supposed that she has depicted the real history of her own childhood, in her volume called Traits and Trials, 1837. She was educated at the school of Miss Lance, in Hans Place, Chelsea. We shall describe her literary career in the words of the Atheneum: "The early loss of her father, and the early manifestation of a talent facile as it was fanciful, brought her before the world while yet a girl, as an enthusiastic and constant literary labourer. To her honour, it must be added, that the fruits of her incessant exertion were neither selfishly hoarded nor foolishly trifled away — but applied to the maintenance and advancement of her family. It might be partly the early consciousness of this power to befriend others, and partly the indiscriminate flatteries of those by whom she was surrounded and pushed forward at her first entrance into authorship, which encouraged her to such ceaseless composition as necessarily precluded the thought and cultivation essential to the production of poetry of the highest order. Hence, with all their fancy and feeling, her principal works — the Improvisatrice, the Troubadour, the Golden Violet, the Golden Bracelet, and the Vow of the Peacock, — bear a strong family likeness to each other in their recurrence to the same sources of allusion, and the same veins of imagery, — in the conventional rather than natural colouring of their descriptions, and in the excessive though not unmusical carelessness of their versification. It should be remarked, however, that in spite of the ceaseless strain upon her powers, and the ceaseless distractions of a London life, Miss Landon accomplished much for her own mind in the progress of its career; that she had reached a deeper earnestness of thought — had added largely to the stores of her knowledge, and done much towards the polishing and perfecting of her verse. Her latest published lyric, 'The Polar Star,' written on shipboard, and which appears in the last number of the New Monthly Magazine, is an earnest that the scenes upon which she was entering would have opened a new life for the authoress as well as the woman.

"Besides her poetry, Miss Landon's three novels — Romance and Reality, Francesca Carrara, and Ethel Churchill, remain to attest her powers as a prose writer. They are all of them stories of sentiment: the two latter relieved by glimpses of such gay and courtly life, as Watteau loved to paint, and Walpole and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu to embalm in their correspondence. In right of this spirit, they in some degree reflect the conversation of their authoress, which sparkled always brightly with quick fancy, and a badinage astonishing to those matter-of-fact persons who expected to find, in the manners and discourse of the poetess, traces of the weary heart, the broken lute, and the disconsolate willow tree, which were so frequently her themes of song. Another novel was in progress at the time she was snatched away with such awful suddenness, it having been her purpose to maintain her literary relations with England, and her hope to produce yet better and fresher works. Had her life been spared, this hope would, we think, have been fulfilled. As it is, the public will recollect pleasantly what she has achieved, and feel the void caused by the withdrawal of her graceful and versatile fancy. Her private friends and her literary contemporaries, too, will remember her long, its one alike kind, affectionate, and liberal."

To this very fair, and at the same time kind, estimate of Miss Landon's talents and performances, we may add, that her first productions were brought forward about the year 1822, in the pages of the Literary Gazette, to which she was mainly indebted for her reputation, and to which she continued for many years a frequent contributor. It is well known how largely she has contributed to many other periodicals, and to nearly all the Annuals, of some of which she wrote all the poetry, as Fisher's Drawing-room Scrap-book (eight quarto volumes), the Flowers of Loveliness, and the Bijou Almanac.

She was married on the 7th of June last, and was only just settled at her new residence, and describing her situation to her correspondents at home. (See the letters in p. 150.)

On the day of her death an inquest was held on her body, at which Emily Bailey, her servant, deposed, that between the hours of eight and nine in the morning, having received a note addressed to Mrs. Maclean, from Mr. Swanzey, she went to her room for the purpose of delivering the same to her, and found some difficulty in opening the door, in consequence of Mrs. Maclean having fallen against it; that deponent, on entering the room, discovered Mrs. Maclean lying on the floor with an empty bottle in her hand, (which bottle being produced was labelled "Acid. Hydrocianicum Dilutum, Pharm. Lond. 1836,") and quite senseless. Mr. Maclean stated, she was very subject to spasms and hysterical affections, and had been in the custom of using the medicine contained in the small bottle produced, as it remedy or prevention, which she told him had been prescribed for her by her medical attendant in London. Mr. Cobbold, the surgeon in attendance, gave his opinion that death was caused by the improper use of the medicine. The body after death was perfectly natural; he imagined that Mrs. Maclean, not having received the usual benefit from the prescribed quantity, was induced to exceed it, or that the spasms may have come on when she was in the act of taking the medicine, and thus involuntarily a greater quantity may have been swallowed. He had no hesitation in ascribing her death to this cause; ten drops would be sufficient to cause death in ten or fifteen minutes, to a person not in the habit of using it; was so fully convinced that the medicine was the cause of her death, that he did not think it necessary to open the body." The jury returned a verdict that death was caused "by her having incautiously taken an over-dose of prussic acid, which, from evidence, it appeared she had been in the habit of using as a remedy for spasmodic affections, to which she was subject."

A large Portrait of Miss Landon is engraved by Mr. Edw. Finden from a painting by Mr. D. Maclise; and another by Wright in the New Monthly Magazine for May 1837.