1828 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Walter Savage Landor

Leigh Hunt, in Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries (1828) 496-98.



Mr. Landor, who has long been known to scholars as a Latin poet beyond the elegance of centos, and has lately shown himself one of our most powerful writers of prose, is a man of a vehement nature, with great delicacy of imagination. He is like a stormy mountain pine, that should produce lilies. After indulging the partialities of his friendships and enmities, and trampling on kings and ministers, he shall cool himself, like a Spartan worshipping a moon-beam, in the patient meekness of Lady Jane Grey. I used to think he did wrong in choosing to write Latin verse instead of English. The opinions he has expressed on that subject, in the eloquent treatise appended to his Latin poems, will, I am sure, hardly find a single person to agree with them. But as an individual, working out his own case, I think he was right in giving way to the inspiration of his scholarship. Independent, learned, and leisurely, with a temperament, perhaps, rather than a mind, poetical, he walked among the fields of antiquity, till he beheld the forms of poetry with the eyes of their inhabitants; and it is agreeable, as a variety, among the crowds of ordinary scholars, especially such as affect to think the great modern poets little ones because they are not ancient, to have one who can really fancy and feel with Ovid and Catullus, as well as read them. Mr. Landor has the veneration for all poetry, ancient or modern, that belongs to a scholar who is himself a poet. He loves Chaucer and Spenser, as well as Homer. That he deserves the title, the reader will be convinced on opening his book of "Idyls," where the first thing he encounters will be the charming duel between Cupid and Pan, full of fancy and archness, with a deeper emotion at the end. His "Lyrics," with the exception of a pretty vision about Ceres and her poppies, (which is in the spirit of an Idyl,) do not appear to me so good: but upon the whole though it is a point on which I am bound to speak with diffidence, he seems to me by far the best Latin poet we possess, after Milton; more in good taste than the incorrectness and diffuseness of Cowley; and not to be lowered by a comparison with the mimic elegancies of Addison. Vincent Bourne, I conceive to be a genuine hand; but I know him only in a piece or two

Mr. Landor was educated at Rugby, and became afterwards the friend and favourite pupil of Dr. Parr. With a library, the smallness of which surprised me, and which he must furnish out, when he writes on English subjects, by the help of a rich memory,—he lives, among his paintings and hospitalities, in a style of unostentatious elegance, very becoming a scholar that can afford it. The exile, in which he chooses to continue at present, is as different from that of his friend Ovid, as his Tristia would have been, had he thought proper to write any. Augustus would certainly have found no whining in him, much less any worship. He has some fine children, with whom he plays like a real schoolboy, being, in truth, as ready to complain of an undue knock, as he is to laugh, shout, and scramble; and his wife (I really do not know whether I ought to take these liberties, but the nature of the book into which I have been beguiled must excuse me, and ladies must take the consequence of being agreeable), — his wife would have made Ovid's loneliness quite another thing, with her face radiant with good-humour. Mr. Landor's conversation is lively and unaffected, as full of scholarship or otherwise as you may desire, and dashed now and then with a little superfluous will and vehemence, when he speaks of his likings and dislikes. His laugh is in peals, and climbing: he seems to fetch every fresh one from a higher story. Speaking of the Latin poets of antiquity, I was struck with an observation of his; that Ovid was the best-natured of them all. Horace's perfection that way he doubted. He said, that Ovid had a greater range of pleasurable ideas, and was prepared to do justice to every thing that came in his way. Ovid was fond of noticing his rivals in wit and genius, and has recorded the names of a great number of his friends; whereas Horace seems to confine his eulogies to such as were rich or in fashion, and well received at court.