1835 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Maginn

Letitia Elizabeth Landon to Anna Maria Hall, 1835 ca.; in S. C. Hall, A Book of Memories: Great Men and Women of the Age, from personal Acquaintance (1871) 276-77.



MY DEAR MRS. HALL,

You are quite right in saying you owe me no apology for your letter, though I own I am surprised at its contents; for, from all that has been said to me, I had no idea that the least importance was attached to the slanders of a violent and malevolent woman. Mrs. Maginn is too well known in her own circle; she speaks but of me as she speaks of everyone else. She has for some time past taken a great dislike to me, and first one spiteful invention and then another was its consequence-always, however, fawning and flattering to my face. She seems to have quite a mania about my letter-writing; for the first shape in which it reached me was, that I had written four-and-twenty love-letters to Mr. Maclise, and that he had offered her one of them. As to the new fancy about her husband, I cannot even call it jealousy — for jealousy implies some degree of feeling; it is sheer envy, operating upon a weak, vulgar, but cunning nature. As to the idea of an attachment between me and Dr. Maginn, it seems to me too absurd even for denial. The letters, however, I utterly deny. I have often written notes, as pretty and as flattering as I could make them, to Dr. Maginn, upon different literary matters, and one or two on business. But how any construction but their own could he put upon them I do not understand. A note of mine that would pass for a love-letter must either have been strangely misrepresented, or most strangely altered. Dr. Maginn and his wife have my full permission to publish every note I ever wrote — in The Age if they like. I regret I ever allowed an acquaintance to be forced upon me of which I was always ashamed. The fact was I was far too much afraid of Dr. Maginn not to conciliate him if possible; and if civility or flattery would have done it, I should have been glad so to do. As it has turned out, I have, I fear, only made myself a powerful enemy; for of course, on the first rumour that reached me, I felt it incumbent on me to forbid his visits, few and infrequent as they were. I have met both since, and the only notice I took was to cut Mrs. Maginn decidedly.

I have long since discovered that I must be prepared for enmity I have never provoked, and unkindness I have little deserved. God knows that if when I do go into society I meet with more of homage and attention than most, it is dearly bought. What is my life? One day of drudgery after another; difficulties incurred for others, which have ever pressed upon me beyond health, which every year, by one severe illness after another, shows is tasked beyond its strength; envy, malice, and all uncharitableness — these are the fruits of a successful literary career for a woman.

I can do nothing. It is impossible to lead a more quiet life, or less to provoke personal animadversion, than I do, and yet is there anything too malicious to be invented, or too absurd to be repeated about me?

I leave it to all you have known and seen of me to judge if belief be possible.

I have nothing more to say. I thank you for your kindness. I have always experienced it, but do not make the slightest claim upon it.

Your obliged,

L. E. LAND0N.

[To which S. C. Hall adds: To those who knew, or, indeed, had ever seen Dr. Maginn, incredulity as to that slander would not have been difficult. A man less likely to have gained the affections of any woman could not easily have been found. To say nothing of his being a married man — dirty in his dress and habits, revolting in manners, and rarely sober, he might have been pointed out as one from whom a woman of refinement would have turned with loathing, rather than have approached with love. I should, perhaps, have passed over this incident as unworthy of thought, but that, in a recently-published volume of "Recollections," the Honourable Grantley Berkeley has made it the peg on which to hang "a story." He can hardly expect those who were either the friends or acquaintances of Miss Landon to credit it, yet he is circumstantial in his statement that she was eager to place her honour in his keeping on the very first occasion of their meeting (so he says), or that she really looked to him to avenge a wrong done to her by Dr. Maginn, who, he more than insinuates, sought to corrupt L. E. L. as the price of "making or marring" her literary prospects, and that at a time, be it remembered, when her fame had been long established, and when no writer could have either increased or impaired it. Moreover, Mr. Berkeley requires us to accept the picture he draws of the poetess — saying to him (the first time she had ever spoken with him), her voice interrupted by "sobs," "I resolved to trust you with more than my life; to tell you all, and to ask your counsel;" and that, as a consequence, he "rescued from the machinations of a scoundrel one of the most amiable and gifted of her sex." Of all visionary fancies arising out of the creative faculty, this is one of the most "thorough."]