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WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR (1775-1864)

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Originally appearing in Volume V16, Page 162 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR (1775-1864), English writer, In 1835 he had an unfortunate difference with his wife which eldest son of Walter Landor and his wife Elizabeth Savage, was ended in a complete separation. In 1824 appeared the first born at Warwick on the 3oth of January 1775. [He was sent to series of his Imaginary Conversations, in 1826 " the second Rugby school, but was removed at the headmaster's request edition, corrected and enlarged "; a supplementary third volume and studied privately with Mr Langley, vicar of Ashbourne. was added in 1828; and in 1829 the second series was given to In 1793 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge. He adopted the world. Not until 1846 was a fresh instalment added, in the republican principles and in 1794 fired a gun at the windows of second volume of his collected and selected works. During the a Tory for whom he had an aversion. He was rusticated for a interval he had published his three other most famous and greatest year, and, although the authorities were willing to condone the books in prose: The Citation and Examination of William offence, he refused to return. The affair led to a quarrel with Shakespeare (1834), Pericles and Aspasia (1836), The Pentameron his father in which Landor expressed his intention of leaving (1837). To the last of these was originally appended The home for ever. He was, however, reconciled with his family Pentalogia, containing five of the very finest among his shorter through the efforts of his friend Dorothea Lyttelton. He entered studies in dramatic poetry. In 1847 he published his most no profession, but his father allowed him £15o a year, and he important Latin work, Poemata et inscriptions, comprising, was free to live at home or not as he pleased.] with large additions, the main contents of two former volumes In 1795 appeared in a small volume, divided into three books, of idyllic, satiric, elegiac and lyric verse; and in the same golden The Poems of Walter Savage Landor, and, in pamphlet form of year of his poetic life appeared the very crown and flower of nineteen pages, an anonymous Moral Epistle, respectfully its manifold labours, the Hellenics of Walter Savage Landor, dedicated to Earl Stanhope. No poet at the age of twenty ever enlarged and completed. Twelve years later this book was had more vigour of style and fluency of verse; nor perhaps has re-issued, with additions of more or less value, with alterations any ever shown such masterly command of epigram and satire, generally to be regretted, and with omissions invariably to be made vivid and vital by the purest enthusiasm and most generous deplored. In 1853 he put forth The Last Fruit off an Old Tree, indignation. Three years later appeared the first edition of the containing fresh conversations, critical and controversial essays, first great work which was to inscribe his name for ever among miscellaneous epigrams, lyrics and occasional poems of various the great names in English poetry. The second edition of Gebir kind and merit, closing with Five Scenes on the martyrdom appeared in 1803, with a text corrected of grave errors and of Beatrice Cenci, unsurpassed even by their author himself improved by magnificent additions. About the same time the for noble and heroic pathos, for subtle and genial, tragic and whole poem was also published in a Latin form, which for profound, ardent and compassionate insight into character, might and melody of line, for power and perfection of language, with consummate mastery of dramatic and spiritual truth. must always dispute the palm of precedence with the English In 1856 he published Antony and Octavius—Scenes for the version. [His father's death in 1805 put him in possession of an Study, twelve consecutive poems in dialogue which alone would independent fortune. Landor settled in Bath. Here in 18o8 suffice to place him high among the few great masters of historic he met Southey, and the mutual appreciation of the two poets drama. led to a warm friendship.] In 1808, under an impulse not less In 1858 appeared a metrical miscellany bearing the title of heroic than that which was afterwards to lead Byron to a Dry Sticks Fagoted by W. S. Landor, and containing among glorious death in redemption of Greece and his own good fame, other things graver and lighter certain epigrammatic and satirical Landor, then aged thirty-three, left England for Spain as a attacks which reinvolved him in the troubles of an action for volunteer to serve in the national army against Napoleon at the libel; and in July of the same year he returned for the last head of a regiment raised and supported at his sole expense. six years of his life to Italy, which he had left for England in After some three months' campaigning came the affair of Cintra 1835. [He was advised to make over his property to his family, and its disasters; " his troop," in the words of his biographer, on whom he was now dependent. They appear to have refused " dispersed or melted away, and he came back to England in as to make him an allowance unless he returned to England. By great a hurry as he had left it," but bringing with him the the exertions of Robert Browning an allowance was secured. honourable recollection of a brave design unselfishly attempted, Browning settled him first at Siena and then at Florence.] and the material in his memory for the sublimest poem published Embittered and distracted by domestic dissensions, if brightened in our language, between the last masterpiece of Milton and the and relieved by the affection and veneration of friends and first masterpiece of Shelley—one equally worthy to stand strangers, this final period of his troubled and splendid career unchallenged beside either for poetic perfection as well as moral came at last to a quiet end on the 17th of September 1864. In majesty—the lofty tragedy of Count Julian, which appeared in the preceding year he had published a last volume of Heroic 1812, without the name of its author. No comparable work is Idyls, with Additional Poems, English and Latin,—the better to be found in English poetry between the date of Samson part of them well worthy to be indeed the " last fruit " of a Agonaivtes and the date of Prometheus Unbound; and with both genius which after a life of eighty-eight years had lost nothing xv1. 6 rr of its majestic and pathetic power, its exquisite and exalted loveliness. A complete list of Landor's writings, published or privately printed, in English, Latin and Italian, including pamphlets, fly-sheets and occasional newspaper correspondence on political or literary questions, it would be difficult to give anywhere and impossible to give here. From nineteen almost to ninety his intellectual and literary activity was indefatigably incessant; but, herein at least like Charles Lamb, whose cordial admiration he so cordially returned, he could not write a note of three lines which did not bear the mark of his " Roman hand " in its matchless and inimitable command of a style at once the most powerful and the purest of his age. The one charge which can ever seriously be brought and maintained against it is that of such occasional obscurity or difficulty as may arise from excessive strictness in condensation of phrase and expurgation of matter not always superfluous, and sometimes almost indispensable. His English prose and his Latin verse are perhaps more frequently and more gravely liable to this charge than either his English verse or his Latin prose. At times it is well-nigh impossible for an eye less keen and swift, a scholarship less exquisite and ready than his own, to catch the precise direction and follow the perfect course of his rapid thought and radiant utterance. This apparently studious pursuit and preference of the most terse and elliptic expression which could be found for anything he might have to say could not but occasionally make even so sovereign a master of two great languages appear " dark with excess of light "; but from no former master of either tongue in prose or verse was ever the quality of real obscurity, of loose and nebulous incertitude, more utterly alien or more naturally remote. There is nothing of cloud or fog about the path on which he leads us; but we feel now and then the want of a bridge or a handrail; we have to leap from point to point of narrative or argument without the usual help of a connecting plank. Even in his dramatic works, where least of all it should have been found, this lack of visible connexion or sequence in details of thought or action is too often a source of sensible perplexity. In his noble trilogy on the history of Giovanna queen of Naples it is sometimes actually difficult to realize on a first reading what has happened or is happening, or how, or why, or by what agency—a defect alone sufficient, but unhappily sufficient in itself, to explain the too general ignorance of a work so rich in subtle and noble treatment of character, so sure and strong in its grasp and rendering of " high actions and high passions," so rich in humour and in pathos, so royally serene in its commanding power upon the tragic mainsprings of terror and of pity. As a poet, he may be said on the whole to stand midway between Byron and Shelley--about as far above the former as below the latter. If we except Catullus and Simonides, it might be hard to match and it would be impossible to overmatch the flawless and blameless yet living and breathing beauty of his most perfect elegies, epigrams or epitaphs. As truly as prettily was he likened by Leigh Hunt " to a stormy mountain pine which should produce lilies." His passionate compassion, his bitter and burning pity for all wrongs endured in all the world, found only their natural and inevitable outlet in his lifelong defence or advocacy of tyrannicide as the last resource of baffled justice, the last discharge of heroic duty. His tender and ardent love of children, of animals and of flowers makes fragrant alike the pages of his writing and the records of his life. He was as surely the most gentle and generous as the most headstrong and hot-headed of heroes or of men. Nor ever was any man's best work more thoroughly imbued and informed with evidence of his noblest qualities. His loyalty and liberality of heart were as inexhaustible as his bounty and beneficence of hand. Praise and encouragement, deserved or undeserved, came yet more readily to his lips than challenge or defiance. Reviled and ridiculed by Lord Byron, he retorted on the offender living less readily and less warmly than he lamented and extolled him dead. On the noble dramatic works of his brother Robert he lavished a magnificence of sympathetic praise which his utmost self-estimate would never have exacted for his own. Age and thelapse of time could neither heighten nor lessen the fulness of this rich and ready generosity. To the poets of his own and of the next generation he was not readier to do honour than to those of a later growth, and not seldom of deserts far lower and far lesser claims than theirs. That he was not unconscious of his own, and avowed it with the frank simplicity of nobler times, is not more evident or more certain than that in comparison with his friends and fellows he was liable rather to undervalue than to overrate himself. He was a classic, and no formalist; the wide range of his just and loyal admiration had room for a genius so far from classical as Blake's. Nor in his own highest mood or method of creative as of critical work was he a classic only, in any narrow or exclusive sense of the term. On either side, immediately or hardly below his mighty master-piece of Pericles and Aspasia, stand the two scarcely less beautiful and vivid studies of medieval Italy and Shakespearean England. The very finest flower of his immortal dialogues is probably to be found in the single volume comprising only " Imaginary Conversations of Greeks and Romans "; his utmost command of passion and pathos may be tested by its transcendent success in the distilled and concentrated tragedy of Tiberius and Vipsania, where for once he shows a quality more proper to romantic than classical imagination—the subtle and sublime and terrible power to enter the dark vestibule of distraction, to throw the whole force of his fancy, the whole fire of his spirit, into the " shadowing passion " (as Shakespeare calls it) of gradually imminent insanity. Yet, if this and all other studies from ancient history or legend could be subtracted from the volume of his work, enough would be left whereon to rest the foundation of a fame which time could not sensibly impair. (A. C. S.)
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