IT is too general an opinion, confirmed by tradition, (and quite as untrue as many traditions.) that Landor, seated securely upon his high literary pedestal, never condescended to say a good word of writers of less degree, and that the praise of greater lights was rarely on his lips. They who persist in such assertions can have read but few of his works, for none of his profession has given so much public approbation to literary men. The form of his writings enabled him to show himself more fully than is possible to most authors, and in all his many literary discussions he gave expression to honest criticism, awarding full praise in the numerous cases where it was due. Even at an age when prejudice and petulancy arc apt to get the better of a man’s judgment, Landor was most generous in his estimate of many young writers. I remember to have once remarked, that on one page he had praised (and not passingly) Cowper, Byron, Southey, Wordsworth, Burns, Campbell, Piemans, and Scott. In the conversation between Archdeacon Hare and Landor, the latter says : “ I believe there are few, if any, who enjoy more heartily than I do the best poetry of my contemporaries, or who have commended them both in private and in public with less parsimony and reserve.”
Hare. “ Are you quite satisfied that you never have sought a pleasure in detecting and exposing the faults of authors, even good ones ? ”
Landor. “ I have here and there sought that pleasure, and found it. To discover a truth and separate it from a falsehood is surely an occupation of the best intellect, and not at all unworthy of the best heart. Consider how few of our countrymen have done it, or attempted it, on works of criticism ; how few of them have analyzed and compared. Without these two processes there can be no sound judgment on any production of genius.”
Hare. “ How much better would it be if our reviewers and magazine men would analyze, in this manner, to the extent of their abilities, and would weigh evidence before they pass sentence ! ”
And if this analyzing is needed in England, the land of reviews and reviewing, how much more necessary is it in America, where veritable criticism is not even old enough to be young; its germ, however grovelling it may be, not yet having taken the primary form of the caterpillar.
Great as was Landor’s personal animosity towards Byron, he considered him a “great poet,” — “the keenest and most imaginative of poets ” ; nor should we attribute this dislike to the bitter attacks made by Byron upon the “ deepmouthed Bœotian,” though surely such would be sufficient to excite indignation in more amiable breasts. It was Byron’s furious assaults upon Landor’s beloved friend, Southey, that roused the ire of the lion poet; later knowledge of the man, derived from private sources, helped to keep alive the fire of indignation. “ While he wrote or spoke against me alone, I said nothing of him in print or conversation ; but the taciturnity of pride gave way immediately to my zeal in defence of my friend. What I write is not written on slate ; and no finger, not of Time himself, who dips it in the clouds of years, can efface it. To condemn what is evil and to commend what is good is consistent. To soften an asperity, to speak all the good we can after worse than we wish, is that, and more. If I must understand the meaning of consistency as many do, I wish I may be inconsistent with all my enemies. There are many hearts which have risen higher and sunk lower at his tales, and yet have been shocked and sorrowed at his untimely death a great deal less than mine has been. Honor and glory to him for the extensive good he did ! peace and forgiveness for the partial evil ! ”
Shall Landor be branded with intense egotism for claiming immortality ? Can it be denied that he will be read with admiration as long as printing and the English language endure ? Can there be greatness without conscious power ? Do those of us who believe in Christ as the grandest of men degrade his manly and inspired self-confidence to the level of egotism ? Far be it from me, however, to insinuate a comparison where none can exist, save as one ray of light may relate to the sun. Egotism is the belief of narrow minds in the supreme significance of a mortal self: conscious power is the belief in certain immortal attributes, emanating from, and productive of, Truth and Beauty. I should not call Landor an egotist.
The friendship existing between Southey and Landor must have had much of the heroic element in it, for instances are rare where two writers have so thoroughly esteemed one another. Those who have witnessed the enthusiasm with which Landor spoke of Southey can readily imagine how unpardonable a sin he considered it in Byron to make his friend an object of satire. Landor’s strong feelings necessarily caused him to be classed in the on tout on rien school. Seeing those whom he liked through the magnifying-glass of perfection, he painted others in less brilliant colors than perhaps they merited. Southey to Landor was the essence of all good things, and there was no subject upon which he dwelt with more unaffected pleasure. “Ah, Southey was the best man that ever lived. There never was a better, my dear, good friends, Francis and Julius Hare, excepted. They were true Christians ; and it is an honor to me that two such pure men should have been my friends for so many years, up to the hour of death.” It was to Julius Hare that Landor dedicated his great work of “Pericles and Aspasia,” and, while in England, it was his habit to submit to this friend (and to his brother also, I think) his manuscript. The complete edition of his works published in 1846 was inscribed to Julius Hare and to John Forster, an equally devoted friend. Both of the Hares have been embalmed in his verse.
Esteemed so highly in Landor’s heart, Southey occupies the place of honor in the “ Imaginary Conversations,” taking part in four dialogues, two with Person and two with Landor, on subjects of universal literary interest, Milton and Wordsworth. These Conversations are among the most valuable of the series, being models of criticism. Landor delighted to record every meeting with Southey, where it was compatible with the subject-matter. Thus in writing of Como he says : “It was in Como I received and visited the brave descendants of the Jovii ; it was in Como I daily conversed with the calm, philosophical Sironi ; and I must love the little turreted city for other less intrinsic recollections. Thither came to see me the learned and modest Bekker ; and it was there, after several delightful rambles, I said farewell to Southey.” Often have I heard Landor express his great liking for “The Curse of Kehama.” One may obtain an idea of how this admiration was reciprocated, from Southey’s criticism on “ Gebir,” in the Critical Review for September, 1799Of Gebir’s speech to the Gadites, he says: “A passage more truly Homeric than the close of this extract we do not remember in the volumes of modern poetry.” He took the entire poem as a model in blank verse. After Southey’s death, Landor used his influence with Lord Brougham to obtain a pension for the family, In justice to the memory of one who had added to the fame of England’s literature. Again, in a letter to Southey’s son, the Rev. Charles Cuthbert Southey, he pronounced a eulogy upon his friend’s character and public services.
Directing Landor’s attention to the assertion in Pycroft’s “ Course of English Reading,” that he, Landor, failed to appreciate Chaucer, the old man, much vexed, refuted such a falsehood, saying: “On the contrary, I am a great admirer of his. I am extremely fond of the ‘Canterbury Tales.’ I much prefer Chaucer to Spenser ; for allegory, when spun out, is unendurable.” It is strange that a man apparently so well read as Mr. Pycroft should have so unjustly interpreted Landor, when it needed but a passing reference to the Conversations to disprove his statement. By turning to the second dialogue between Southey and Landor, he might have culled the following tribute to Chaucer : “ I do not think Spenser equal to Chaucer even in imagination, and he appears to me very inferior to him in all other points, excepting harmony. Here the miscarriage is in Chaucer’s age, not in Chaucer, many of whose verses are highly beautiful, but never (as in Spenser) one whole period. I love the geniality of his temperature : no straining, no effort, no storm, no fury. His vivid thoughts burst their way to us through the coarsest integuments of language.” In another book Landor says: “Since the time of Chaucer there have been only two poets who at all resemble him ; and these two are widely dissimilar one from the other, — Burns and Keats. The accuracy and truth with which Chaucer has described the manners of common life, with the foreground and background, are also to be found in Burns, who delights in broader strokes of external nature, but equally appropriate. He has parts of genius which Chaucer has not in the same degree, — the animated and pathetic. Keats, in his ‘ Endymion,’ is richer in imagery than either; and there are passages in which no poet has arrived at the same excellence on the same ground. Time alone was wanting to complete a poet, who already far surpassed all his contemporaries in this country in the poet’s most noble attributes.” Once more, in some beautiful lines to the fair and free soul of poesy, — Keats, — Landor concludes with a verse that surely shows an appreciation of Chaucer: —
Yet would I dream to meet thee at our home
With Spenser’s quiet, Chaucer’s livelier ghost,
Cognate to thine, — not higher and less fair, —
And Madalene and Isabella there
Shall say, Without thee half our loves were lost.”
When a man chooses an author as a companion, not for time but for eternity, he gives the best possible proof of an esteem that no rash assertion of critics can qualify.
“ I have always deeply regretted that I never met Shelley,” said Landor to me. “It was my own fault, for I was in Pisa the winter he resided there, and was told that Shelley desired to make my acquaintance. But I refused to make his, as, at that time, I believed the disgraceful story related of him in connection with his first wife. Years after, when I called upon the second Mrs. Shelley, who, then a widow, was living out of London, I related to her what I had heard. She assured me that it was a most infamous falsehood, one of the many that had been maliciously circulated about her husband. I expressed my sorrow at not having been undeceived earlier, and assured her I never could forgive myself for crediting a slander that had prevented me from knowing Shelley. I was much pleased with Mrs. Shelley.” Landor’s enthusiasm was most aroused at generous deeds ; for these he honored Shelley. Meanness he scorned, and believed it to be an attribute of Byron. As a proof of contrast in the natures of these two poets, he related an interesting anecdote, which has appeared in one of his Conversations. “ Byron could comprehend nothing heroic, nothing disinterested. Shelley, at the gates of Pisa, threw himself between him and the dragoon, whose sword in his indignation was lifted and about to strike. Byron told a common friend, some time afterward, that he could not conceive how any man living should act so.
‘Do you know he might have been killed ! and there was every appearance that he would be ! The answer was, ‘ Between you and Shelley there is but little similarity, and perhaps but little sympathy ; yet what Shelley did then, he would do again, and always. There is not a human creature, not even the most hostile, that he would hesitate to protect from injury at the imminent hazard of life.’ .... ‘ By God ! I cannot understand it! ’ cried Byron. ‘ A man to run upon a naked sword for another ! ’ ”
And this Shelley, who, through a noble impulse, would have sacrificed himself, is the man whom Moore seriously advised Byron to avoid, lest his religious theories should undermine the immaculate morality of the author of Don Juan ! It is to be supposed that Moore wrote in earnestness of spirit, yet it is impossible not to smile in wonderment at this letter. Moore doubtless had greater belief in salvation by faith than by works. “ Ah, Moore was a superstitious dog ! ” exclaimed Landor one day. “ I was once walking with him in a garden,” (I forget in what part of England,) “ laughing and joking, when Moore remarked the approach of some dignitary of the Catholic Church. He immediately began to mumble something, ran forward, and on his knees implored a blessing from the priest, crossing himself with reverential air. Ah, what it is to have faith ! Landor, Landor, you are incorrigible ! Don’t you think so, Giallo ?” asked the master of his dog. “ I never heard Moore sing, much to my regret. I once asked him, but he excused himself with a sigh, saying that he had lost his voice.”
One of Landor’s prominent characteristics was generosity, carried to the verge of rashness. Even in his last years, when living on a very limited income, he was only too ready to empty his pockets at the call of any charity, whether public or private. Impulse, however, prompted him to give most heartily when he thought to further the cause of liberty. At the time a subscription was opened in Florence to aid Garibaldi’s Sicilian expedition, Landor, anxious to lay an offering at the feet of his heart's hero, pulled out his watch, the only article of value about him, and begged Mr. Browning to present it to the fund. Mr. Browning took it, but knowing how lost the old man would be without his timepiece, kept it for a few days ; and then, seizing a favorable moment when Landor was missing his watch greatly, though without murmuring, Mr. Browning persuaded him to retain it. This he did, with reluctance, after being assured of the fund’s prosperous condition. It was about the same time, I think, that Landor wrote an Italian Conversation between Savonarola and the Prior of San Marco, which he published in pamphlet form for the benefit of this or a similar cause. Most admirably did Landor write Italian, his wonderful knowledge of Latin undoubtedly giving him the key to the soft, wooing tongue. He, of course, spoke the language with equal correctness ; but, as with most Englishmen who go to Italy after having arrived at mature years, his pronunciation was proprio Inglese.
Landor would never accept payment for his books, presenting the amount due him either to the publisher, or, more generally, to some friend who had been most active in aiding their publication. Few will applaud this idiosyncrasy, the general and sensible opinion being that the laborer is worthy of his hire : but Landor took peculiar pride in writing for fame alone, without thought of the more tangible product of genius ; and, unlike most authors, he could well afford to indulge in this heroic taste. Three years ago — and for the first time in his life, he said — Landor accepted payment for a Conversation contributed to the London Athenaeum. The money had no sooner been received, than he urged, though unsuccessfully, its acceptance upon a young American in whom he was interested, declaring that he had no possible use for it. On another occasion he proposed to give everything he might write to this same American, to dispose of for the latter's benefit, and appeared grieved when the offer was gratefully declined. One day I was surprised by the appearance of Landor’s little waiting-maid bearing an old Florentine box of carved wood, almost as large as herself, which she deposited on the table in obedience to her master’s wishes. She departed without vouchsafing any explanation. Curiosity however was not long unsatisfied, for soon Giallo’s white nose peered through the door and heralded the coming of the old lion, who had no sooner entered the room than he put into my hands a quaint old key, saying : “ I have brought you something that one of these days, when these old bones of mine are packed away in the long box, may be of considerable value, I have brought you what we may call, in anticipation of a long-deferred but inevitable event, my literary remains. In that box you will find all my notes and memoranda, together with many unpublished verses. You can do what you like with them.” Startled at this unexpected endowment, I looked very great hesitancy, whereupon Landor smiled, and begged me to unlock the box, as its opening would not be fraught with evil consequences. “It is not Pandora’s casket, I assure you,” he added. Turning the key and raising the lid, I discovered quite a large collection of manuscripts, of very great interest to me of course, but to which I had no right, nor was I the proper person with whom to leave them. To have argued would have been useless. Expostulation with Landor when in the white heat of a new idea was Quixotic, so I expressed my very grateful thanks, and determined to watch for a favorable opportunity to return the gift. I had not long to wait, as it was not more than a month after that Landor bore them off, with the intention of making certain selections for immediate publication in England and returning the remainder. Time had not dealt gently with Landor’s memory of things nearest, therefore I knew that the old Florentine box would wait in vain for its jewels. I was right: they never came. The box since then has braved shipwreck, and now stands beneath a modern writing-table, dark and proud of its antiquity, telling perpetually of former noble associations. I felt relieved that it so happened the manuscripts were not again left with me, yet I should have been a saint had I not occasionally experienced a secret regret at not having been forced to retain them in spite of entreaty and propriety.
The greater part of these manuscripts have since appeared, under the title of “ Heroic Idyls, with Additional Poems,” published late in 1863 by T. Cantley Newby, London.1 This very last fruit off an old tree can in no way add to Landor’s reputation ; it is interesting, however, for having been written “within two paces of his ninetieth year,” and as showing the course of the mind’s empire. Landor would have been more heroic than these Idyls had he withheld them from publication, for it is not cheering to see Thor cracking nuts with his most ponderous hammer. And Landor realized as much when he wrote the following apology: —
With Pericles, can stoop to worse :
How I, who once had higher aims,
Can trifle so with epigrams.
I would not lose the wise from view,
But would amuse the children too :
Besides, my breath is short and weak,
And few must be the words I speak.”
Ah ! but it is a question whether the children are amused. Occasionally there is a line with the old ring to it, a couplet seasoned with Attic salt, but for the rest there is the body without the spirit, — there is the well of English undefiled, but it is pumped dry ! Probably the desire to publish was never so great as during Landor's last years, when the interests of his life had n-arrowed down to reading and writing, and he had become a purely introverted man. It was then he wrote : —
Is, ‘ Who has friends may he outlive them all ! ’
This malediction has awaited me,
Who had so many , . . . I could once Count three.”
Cursed thus, he turned to the public for the only consolation left him on this side of the grave. It was not sufficient to write, for it is he as the Homer of his Idyls that confesses
Whether we speak or sing : the young and old
Alike are weak in this, unwise and wise,
Cheerful and sorrowful.”
Twenty years before, Landor wrote to Lady Blesslngton : “Once beyond seventy, I will never write a line in verse or prose for publication. I will be my own Gil Blas. The wisest of us are unconscious when our faculties begin to decay.” He, wisest of all, forgot his own good resolutions ; but the listeners to these latter-day Idyls were few, and Landor had scarce collected his small audience before the lights were blown out and the curtain fell upon the deathbed of the singer.
To express a liking for any of Landor’s pictures—provided you were a friend — was almost sufficient to cause them to be taken down and presented to you ; hence to praise anything in his presence was exceedingly unsafe. I remember looking over a large album once belonging to Barker, the English artist, which Landor had purchased to relieve him of certain debts, and particularly admiring four original sketches by Turner— two in oil and two in india-ink — that had been given by this artist to his brother-painter. No sooner had I spoken than Landor went in search of the scissors, and, had I not earnestly protested, would have cut out the Turners and given them to me. Such being Landor’s disposition, one can well imagine how easily he could be imposed upon by designing people. There is an instance of his kindly feeling so prominent and so honorable both to himself and the object of it, that it is but right the public should read the contents of two letters belonging to and greatly treasured by me. They were put into my hands nearly four years ago by Landor to do with as I pleased after his death. The letters explain themselves.
“8 SOUTH BANK, REGENT’S PARK,
LONDON, March 24, 1856.
“ MY VENERABLE FRIEND,-
“ Though I very gratefully appreciate the generosity of your intentions, still I must confess that few things have ever affected me more painfully than to see from the ‘Times ’ of to-day my private circumstances — the sacred domain of life — thrust as an object of commiseration upon public discussion, —a miserable subject of public sneers.
“ My head turns giddy at the very thought, and my resignation is scarcely able to overcome the shame. I don’t know how I shall muster sufficient resolution to appear in public ever hereafter ; and I fear, with all your good intentions, you shall have become the involuntary instrument for driving me out of England before my time. I really scarcely can imagine what else I have to do, unless you devise some means for healing the wound.
“ I am poor, very poor ; but there was, I dare say, something honorable in that poverty, something sacred I would say. But seeing it made the object of a public appeal for commiseration, I feel as if everything that was sacred in my position had undergone a profanation.
“ I repeat that I respect and appreciate the nobility of your impulses, but I regret that such a step should have been taken without my having an idea of its possibility.
“ I will say no more, but leave it with your prudence and discretion to mitigate the blow your kindness has inflicted on me. And remain with wonted esteem, only mingled with grief,
“ Yours very truly,
“ To WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR."
Opposite the nervous yet legible scrawl of the noble and maligned Magyar, Landor traced the following answer.
“ It is impossible for me to rest until I have attempted to remove the vexation I have caused to the man I most venerate of any upon earth.
“ My noble Kossuth ! ‘the sacred domain of your life ’ is far more extensive than your measurement. Neither your house nor your banker’s are its confines. Do not imagine that the world is ignorant of your circumstances ; it would be a crime to be indifferent to them.
“ The editor of the Atlas, in announcing that he had secured your cooperation, published a manifesto. I know nothing of this editor; but so long as you contributed to the paper, I was your humble subsidiary.
“ Consider how many men, wealthier than you and me, have accepted the offers of those who came forward to indemnify the persecuted for the demolition of their property. Ask yourself if Demosthenes or Milton, the two most illustrious defenders of liberty, by speech and pen, would have thrust aside the tribute which is due to such men alone. Would you dash out the signature of one who declares you his trustee for a legacy to your children ? No, you would not. Neither will you reject the proofs of high esteem, however manifested, which England, however debased, is anxious to give.
“ Believe me ever sincerely and affectionately yours,
“ W. S. LANDOR.
“ March 27.”
Landor was essentially a hero-worshipper. His admiration for Washington exceeded that entertained by him for any man of any time. Franklin, too, he greatly esteemed. “ Ah, if you had but another Washington and Franklin ! ” he exclaimed one day. To have suffered for freedom was the opensesame to Landor’s heart; nor did age in any way chill this noble enthusiasm, as the letter here inserted amply proves. It was sufficient to name Kossuth to bring fire to the old man’s eye and eulogistic volubility to his tongue.
Orsini, too, was a great favorite with him. Coming in one morning as usual, and sitting down in the arm-chair by the lire, he took from under his arm a small paper-covered book, saying : “ I have brought you something that I know you will like to read. Giallo and I have enjoyed it immensely ; and a better critic than Giallo is not to be found in all Italy, though I say it who should n't. An approving wag of his tail is worth all the praise of all the Quarterlies published in the United Kingdom.” Hereupon Giallo, apparently delighted at this compliment, barked and frisked about like a creature bewitched, jumped into his master's lap, and did not return to a quiescent state until he had kissed his master’s face. “ Down, Giallo, down ! ” finally cried Landor. “ Where are your manners, sir ? Don’t you know it is very uncivil to interrupt a conversation ? And, moreover, remember never to spoil a tête-à-tête.” Then turning to me, Landor continued, presenting the book, “ Here it is ; the Memorie Politiche di Felice Orsini, which you will find vastly entertaining and far more romantic than any novel. A very noble, brave fellow was that Orsini, and handsome too ! It is a great pity he did not succeed in his plot against that scoundrel Napoleon, although it was not well planned, and failure was written on the face of it.” Right gladly did I read memoirs which were all that Landor (and Giallo) claimed. It is Strange that this book should be so little known. Were students of Italian to transfer their affections from Le mie Prigioni to these Memorie Politiche, they would be the gainers ; for the patriotism of Silvio Pellico is but a sick and weakly sentiment compared with the dauntless energy and unflinching determination of Orsini. His escape from Mantua, aided by no other friends than four sheets and four towels, and described most admirably and in detail by him, is one of the most brilliant and perilous exploits in the annals of prison history. Those who knew Orsini have since told me that he was one of the most lovable of men, as he was one of the most handsome, — full of the fire of intense and stalwart manhood, yet as gentle as a young girl. Disappointed and wronged in his domestic relations, a loving but wretched father, and stung to madness by his country’s servitude, whose cause he early made his own, Orsini’s life was from the beginning a tragedy. Fate seemed to have wrested from him every form of happiness in order to make him a more desperate conspirator. He conspired from pure love of liberty, for which at any moment he was ready to die. Those who merely know Orsini by the last act of his life can have no proper appreciation of the wonderful purity and nobility of his character. In his attempt to assassinate Louis Napoleon, he was actuated by as exalted motives as led Charlotte Corday to do a bloody deed. Exiled, a price upon his head, deceived by those in whom he had put faith, in despair at the state of Italian affairs, Orsini committed what he himself, in a letter to his intended victim, Napoleon, confessed to be tin fatale errore mentale, — assassination being in direct opposition to the faith and facts of his life up to the conspiracy of the 14th of January. For this fatal error he offered his own blood as an expiatory sacrifice. Few nobler heads than Orsini’s have bowed before the guillotine.
In “Pericles and Aspasia,” Cleone has written with Landor’s pen, that “study is the bane of boyhood, the aliment of youth, the indulgence of manhood, and the restorative of old age.” Of this theory there could be no better example than Landor's self. That life which outlasted all the friends of its zenith was made endurable by a constant devotion to the greatest works of the greatest men. Milton and Shakespeare were his constant companions, by night as well as by day. “ I never tire of them,” he would say ; “ they are always a revelation. And how grand is Milton’s prose ! quite as fine as his poetry ! ” He was very fond of repeating the following celebrated lines that have the true ring to a tuneful ear as well as to an appreciative intellect: —
And blow a dolorous or thrilling blast,
It rests not with man’s will what he shall say
Or what he shall conceal.”
“Was anything more harmonious ever written?” Landor would ask. “But Milton, you know, is old-fasliioned. I believe I am old-fashioned. However, it is rather an honor to be classed tints, if one may keep such distinguished company.” How devoted a student of Milton Landor was is evidenced in his delightful critical conversation between Southey and himself, wherein he declared, “ Such stupendous genius, so much fancy, so much eloquence, so much vigor of intellect never were united as in Paradise Lost.” Yet the lover is still an impartial critic, and does not indorse all things. Quoting the charming couplet,
And sweet, reluctant, amorous delay,’’
he says : “ I would rather have written these two lines than all the poetry that has been written since Milton’s time in all the regions of the earth.” In 1861 Landor sent me the last lines he ever wrote, addressed to the English Homer, entitled
“MILTON IN ITALY.
The land thou lovedst in an earlier day !
See, springing from her tomb, fair Italy
(Fairer than ever) cast her shroud away, —
That tightly-fastened, triply-folded shroud !
Around her, shameful sight ! crowd upon crowd.
Nations in agony lie speechless down,
And Europe trembles at a despot’s frown.”
The despot is, of course, Louis Napoleon, for Landor would never allow that the French Emperor comprehended his epoch, and that Italian regeneration was in any way due to the co-operation of France. In his allegorical poem of “The Gardener and the Mole,” the gardener at the conclusion of the argument chops off the mole’s head, such being the fate to which the poet destined Napoleon. No reference, however, is made to “that rascal” in the lines to Milton inserted in the “ Heroic Idyls,” and as the printed version was, doubtless, Landor’s own preference, it is but just to insert it here : —
The land thou love 1st in thy earlier day,
See springing from her tomb fair Italy
(Fairer than ever cast her shroud away,
That tightly-fastened, triply-folded shroud,
Torn by her children off their mother's face !
O couldst thou see her now, more justly proud
Than of an earlier and a stronger race! ”
There certainly is more unity of idea in the printed copy, but so faulty is it in punctuation — or at least tor the want of it — that one is warranted in believing the substitution of thy for an, in the second line, to be an erratum. Though Milton visited Italy in his youth, there is no evidence to prove that he did not love it in old age. In its present form the line loses in sense. Nothing annoyed Landor more than to have his manuscript “corrected,” and no one’s temper was ever more tried than his in this respect ; for, having an orthography peculiar to himself, which he maintained was according to the genius of the language, and which printers would persist in translating into the vulgate, Landor grew to be morbidly sensitive concerning revision. It was the more intolerable to him, because of his extreme care in the preparation of his manuscript. Few celebrated authors have written so clear and clean a hand ; none ever sent his work to the press in a more highly finished state. Fastidious beyond expression, the labor of correction was unending. Even “ Gebir” was subjected to revision, and at one time I was intrusted with quite a long introduction, which, the day after, Landor altered and sent to me with the following note.
“ Again the old creature comes to bother you. The enclosed is to take the place of what I wrote yesterday, and to cancel, as you will see, what a tolerably good critic” (Southey) “thought too good to be thrown away, &c., Sic. I do not think so, but certainly the beginning of ‘Gebir’ is better with
1 Kings ! ye athirst for conquest,’ etc.
You are not athirst for it, but take it coolly.”
Later, this introduction passed out of my hands. Previously Landor had written on a slip of paper now before me : —
“ ‘ Gebir ’ should begin thus : —
Hear ye the fate of Gebir ! ’
‘ I sing the fates of Gebir,’ ” —
which is a correction suggested to future publishers of this poem.
It would be a hopeful sign were our young American writers inoculated with somewhat of Landor’s reverence for literature, as it was no less than reverence that made him treat ideas with respect, and array them in the most dignified language, thus making of every sentence a study. And it is well that these writers should know what intense labor is required to produce anything great or lasting. “ Execution is the chariot of genius,” William Blake, the great poet-artist, has said ; and it is just this execution which is unattainable without immense application and fastidiousness. If patience be genius, — “ La patience cherche et le genie trouve,” —and if execution be its chariot, what possible fame can there be for the slipshod writers of to-day, who spawn columns and volumes at so much a minute, regardless of the good name of their mother tongue, devoid of ideas, which are the product only of brains that have been ploughed up and sown with fruitful seed ? An author's severest critic should be himself. To be carried away by the popular current is easy and pleasant, but some fine morning the popular man wakes up to find himself stranded and deserted, — Nature playing queer pranks with currents, changing their beds as best suits her fancy ; — for even popular taste follows laws of progression, and grows out of one error into a less. Pope wisely maintains that “no man ever rose to any degree of perfection in writing but through obstinacy and an inveterate resolution against the stream of mankind.” Unless he mount the chariot of execution, his ideas, however good, will never put a girdle round the earth. They will halt and limp as do his own weary feet.
Landor’s enthusiasm for Shakespeare grew young as he grew old, and it was his desire to bid farewell to earth with his eyes resting upon the Shakespeare that so constantly lay open before him. Nothing excited his indignation more than to hear little people of great pretension carpingly criticise the man of whom he makes Southey, in a discussion with Person, declare, that “all the faults that ever were committed in poetry would be but as air to earth, if we could weigh them against one single thought or image such as almost every scene exhibits in every drama of this unrivalled genius.” In three fine lines Landor has said even more : —
Though there are many angels round his throne,
Mighty, and beauteous, while his face is hid.”
To Landor’s superior acumen, also, we owe two readings of Shakespeare that have made intelligible what was previously “ a contradictory inconceivable.” Did it ever occur to dealers in familiar quotations that there was a deal of nonsense in the following lines as they are printed ?
And falls on the other side?'
“Other side of what?” exclaims Landor. “It should be its sell. Sell is saddle in Spenser and elsewhere, irom the Latin and Italian.” Yet, in spite of correction, every Macbeth on the stage still maintains in stentorian tones that ambition o'erleaps itself thereby demonstrating how useless it is to look for Shakespearian scholarship in so-called Shakespearian actors, who blindly and indolently accept theatrical tradition.
Equally important is Landor’s correction of the lines
To bathe hi fiery floods.”
“Truly this would be a very odd species of delight. But Shakespeare never wrote such nonsense ; he wrote delighted (whence our blighted), struck by lightning; a fit preparation for such bathing.”
The last stanza ever inscribed to Shakespeare by Landor was sent to me with the following preface: “An old man sends the last verses he has written, or probably he may ever write to---
“SHAKESPEARE IN ITALY.
Shakespeare, from heaven came thy creative breath !
’Mid citron grove and overarching vines
Thy genius wept at Desdemona’s death :
In the proud sire thou badest anger cease,
And Juliet by her Romeo sleep in peace.
Then rose thy voice above the stormy sea,
And Ariel flew from Prospero to thee.
“ July 1, 1860.”
Dante was not one of Landor’s favorites, although he was quite ready to allow the greatness of it gran poeta. He had no sympathy with what he said was very properly called a comedy, He would declare that about one sixth only of Dante was intelligible or pleasurable. Turning to Landor’s writings, I find that in his younger days he was even less favorable to Dante. In the " Pentemeron ” (the author spelling it so) he, in the garb of Petrarch, asserts that “at least sixteen parts in twenty of the Inferno and Purgatorio arc detestable both in poetry and principle ; the higher parts are excellent, indeed.” Dante’s powers of language, he allows, “ are prodigious ; and, in the solitary places where he exerts his force rightly, the stroke is irresistible. But how greatly to be pitied must he be who can find nothing in Paradise better than sterile theology ! and what an object of sadness and consternation he who rises up from hell like a giant refreshed ! ” While allowing his wonderful originality, Landor goes so far as to call him " the great master of the disgusting” ! Dante is not sympathetic.
Yet he wrote the glorious episode of Francesca da Rimini, of which Landor’s Boccaccio says : “ Such a depth of intuitive judgment, such a delicacy of perception, exists not in any other work of human genius ; and from an author who, on almost all occasions, in this part of the work, betrays a deplorable want of it.”
Landor used often to say what Cleone has written to Aspasia, — “I do not believe the best writers of love-poetry ever loved. How could they write if they did ? where could they collect the thoughts, the words, the courage?” This very discouraging belief admits of argument, for there is much proof to the contrary. Shelley and Keats could not write what they had not felt; and Mrs. Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese, the most exquisite love-poems in the English language, came direct from the heart. It were hardly possible to make poetry while living it ; but when the white heat of passion has passed, and hangs as a beautiful picture on memory’s walls, the artist may write his poem. If the best writers of lovepoetry have never loved, at least they have been capable of loving, or they could not make the reader feel. Appreciation is necessary to production. But Petrarca was such a poet as Cleone refers to. He was happy to be theoretically miserable, that he might indite sonnets to an unrequited passion : and who is not sensible of their insincerity ? One is inclined to include Dante in the same category, though far higher in degree. Landor, however, has conceived the existence of a truly ardent affection between Dante and Beatrice, and it was my good fortune to hear him read this beautiful imaginary conversation. To witness the aged poet throwing the pathos of his voice into the pathos of his intellect, his eyes flooded with tears, was a scene of uncommon interest. “ Ah ! ” said he, while closing the book, “ I never wrote anything half as good as that, and I never can read it that the tears do not come.” Landor’s voice must have been exceedingly rich and harmonious, as it then (1861) possessed much fulness. This was the first and only time I ever heard him read aloud one of his own Conversations.
Petrarch and Boccaccio were highly esteemed by Landor, who did not sympathize with Lord Chesterfield in his opinion that the former deserved his Laura better than his tauto. The best evidence of this predilection is Landor's great work, “ The Pentemeron,” second only to his greatest, “ Pericles and Aspasia.” Its couleur locale is marvellous. On every page there is a glimpse of cloudless blue sky, a breath of warm sunny air, a sketch of Italian manner. The masterly gusto with which the author enters into the spirit of Italy would make us believe him to be “ the noblest Roman of them all,” had he not proved himself a better Grecian. Margaret Fuller realized this when, after comparing the Pentemeron and Petrarca together, she wrote : “ I find the prose of the Englishman worthy of the verse of the Italian. It is a happiness to see such marble beauty in the halls of a contemporary.”
I gave evidence of great surprise one day upon hearing Landor express himself warmly in favor of Alfieri, as I had naturally concluded, from a note appended to the Conversation between “ Galileo, Milton, and a Dominican,” that he entertained a sorry opinion of this poet. Reading the note referred to, Landor seemed to be greatly annoyed, and replied: “This is a mistake. It was never my intention to condemn Alfieri so sweepingly.” A few days later I received the following correction. “Keats in whom the spirit of poetry was stronger than in any contemporary, at home or abroad, delighted in Hellenic imagery and mythology, displaying them admirably; but no poet came nearer than Alfieri to the heroic, since Virgil. Disliking, as I do, prefaces and annotations, excrescences which hang loose like the deciduous bark on a plane-tree, I will here notice an omission of mine on Alfieri, in the ‘Imaginary Conversations.’ The words, ‘ There is not a glimpse of poetry in his Tragedies,’ should be, as written, ‘ There is not an extraneous glimpse,’ &c.”
Since then Landor has addressed these lines to Alfieri : —
Though far removed from us, for thou alone
Hast touched the inmost fibres of the breast,
Since Tasso’s tears made damper the damp floor
Whereon one only light came through the bars,” &c.;
thus redeeming the unintentioned slur of many years’ publicity.
Landor pronounced (as must every one else) Niccolini to be the best of the recent Italian poets. Of Redi, whose verses taste of the rich juice of the grape in those good old days when Tuscan vines had not become demoralized, and wine was cheaper than water, Landor spoke fondly. Leigh Hunt has given English readers a quaff of Redi in his rollicking translation of “ Bacchus in Tuscany,” which is steeped in “ Montepulciano,” “ the king of all wine.”
But Redi is not always bacchanalian. He has a loving, human heart as well, which Landor has shown in a charming translation given to me shortly after our conversation concerning this poet, “ I never publish translations,” he remarked at the time ; but though translations may not be fit company for the “Imaginary Conversations,” the verses from Redi are more than worthy of an abiding place here.
Who, passing by, to Pity's voice incline,
O stay awhile and hear me ; then declare
If there was ever grief that equals mine.
Faith had retired, where Honor fixt his throne,
Pride, though upheld by Virtue, she represt. . . .
Ye gentle souls ! that woman was my own.
Grace was in all she did, in all she said.
In sorrow as in pleasure there was grace. . . .
Ye gentle souls ! that gentle soul is fled.”
- Out of three hundred and forty-eight pages, sixty-eight are devoted to Latin verses.↩