1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Walter Savage Landor

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 328-29.



Landor (1775-1864), the son of a Warwickshire man, was born to wealth, and educated at Rugby and Oxford. He published his poem of Gebir in 1797. It was praised by Southey, but never hit the popular taste. There is one fine passage in it, descriptive of the sound which sea-shells seem to make when placed close to the ear:

But I have sinuous shells of pearly hue
Within; and they that lustre have imbibed
In the sun's palace-porch, where, when unyoked,
His chariot-wheels stand midway in the wave:
Shake one, and it awakens; then apply
Its polished lips to your attentive ear,
And it remembers its august abodes,
And murmurs as the ocean murmurs there.

Between 1820 and 1830 Landor was engaged upon his most successful work, Imaginary Conversations of Literary Men and Statesmen. A man of uncontrollable passions, a rampant republican, reckless and unscrupulous in his anger, fierce and overbearing in his prejudices, Landor acted at times like one almost irresponsible. As a poet, he often shows genuine power and high literary culture; but there is not much in his verse that promises to be of permanent value. His bitter resentments plunged him into disgraceful difficulties. He was dependent on the bounty of others for a support in his latter years, and reached the age of ninety. To the last he continued to find solace in his pen.