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The early poems of Walter Savage Landor: a study of his development and debt to Milton online

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The Early Poems


Walter Savage Landor.


WILLIAM BRADLEY, B.Sc. (Lond.), Ph.D..




Price 2/6 Net.



I. Introduction ...... i — ii

Lander's place as Prosewriter and Poet — Political
Opinions — First Book — The Phoctsans — Milton —
Life in Wales — lone — Her death recorded — In-
fluence on his Poetry — Gehir — Other Friendships —
Origin of name lanthe — End of First Period.

II. First Published Poems .... i2 — 25
Fashionable Taste — Birth of Poesy — Pope and
Classics — Apology for Satire — Pyramus and Thisbe
— Ahelard to Eloise — Landor's Taste.

III. The Phoc^ans ...... 26 — 58

Four Fragments — When Written — Sources — Justin
and Herodotus — Criticisms of The Phocceans —
Analysis of From the Phocceans — Analysis of
Pr Otis' s Narrative — Landor and Keats — Conclu-

IV. Gebir 59 — 94

Relation of the Phoceeans to Gehir — Influence
of Milton — Landor's Praise of Milton — Postscript to
Gehir examined — Views on Plagiarism — Study of
Gehir — Subj ect — Mythological Allusions — Scriptural
Allusions — Style compared with that of Milton —
Language and Traces of Milton.

V. Chrysaor 95 — 1°3

Origin of Name — Geryon Fable in Hesiod, Diodorus,
etc. — Meaning of the Poem — Theme — Parallel to
Milton — Comparison of Style and Language with
Paradise Lost,


CHAl-. HAGt;

VI. Poems from the Arabic and Persian . 104 — 112

Landor's Preface — His Statement about their
Origin — Probable Source — Internal Evidence —
Their Significance in his Development.

Appendix: Protis's Narrative. . . . . • H3


1. Works of Walter Savage Landor, edited by Charles G. Crump,

and published by Dent & Co., London. These comprise
Imaginary Conversations in six vols., 1909 ; Poems and
Dialogues in Verse, in two vols., 1909 ; and The Longer Prose
Works in two vols., 1909. Vol. II. of the last contains
the general index used in this study for purposes of reference.

2. The Poems of Walter Savage Landor, printed for T, Cadell,

Jun., 1795. (British Museum.)

3. Poetry by the Author of Gebir, and a Postscript to that Poem.

(Copy in Forster Collection, South Kensington Museum.)

4. Poetry by the Author of Gebir, 1802. (British Museum.)

5. Poems from the Arabic and Persian, by the Author of Gebir,

1800. (British Museum.)

6. Walter Savage Landor. A Biography by John Forster.

Two vols., London, 1869.

7. Landor, by Sidney Colvin, 1902. (English Men of Letters.)

8. Letters and other unpublished Writings of Walter Savage

Landor, edited by Stephen Wheeler. London, 1897.

9. Milton's Poetical Works, edited by Rev. H. C. Beeching, M.A.

Oxford University Press, 191 1.

10. Lexicon to the English Poetical Works of Milton. Laura E.

Lockwood, Ph.D. New York, 1907.

11. Classical Mythology of Milton's English Poems, by Charles

Grosvenor Osgood, Ph.D. (Yale Studies in English, VIII.),
New York, 1900.

12. Works of Alexander Pope, in nine vols. Joseph Warton,

D.D., Basil, 1803.

13. A Concordance to the Works of Alexander Pope, by Edwin

Abbott. London, 1875.

14. Entstehungs- u. Textgeschichte von Landor's ' Gebir.'

Dissertation von Robert Schlaak. Halle, 1909.


15. Griechische Mythologie von L. Preller. 3. Aufl. Berlin, 1872.

16. Justini Historiarum Philippicarum ex Trogo Pompeio. N. E.

Lemaire. Parisiis, 1823.

17. Herodoti Historiarum Libri IX., J. Schweighauser. Paris,


18. Walter Savage Landor. A critical study, by Edward Water-

man Evans. New York, 1892.

19. Select Odes from the Persian Poet Hafez, translated into

English Verse, with Notes, by John Nott. London, 1787.

20. Simonidea. Bath. Printed by W. Meyler in The Grove,

and sold by G. Robinson, 25, Paternoster Row, London.
Not dated, but the Preface was written in 1806. Cf. Colvin,
p. 45. (British Museum.)




The fame of Walter Savage Landor as a writer rests
chiefly on his Imaginarv Conversations. These were the
work of his later years, while the longer and more impor-
tant of his poems were written in youth. It may still be
said that he is not well known as a poet even to students
of English literature. Neither his place among poets nor
the influence of his work on other writers seems to have
been clearly estimated. This neglect is the more sur-
prising when contrasted with the admiration of such men
as Southey, Shelley, and Browning, to mention no others
of the poets who came under his influence.

It is true that Landor himself contributed to the result,
since he chose finally the medium of prose for the expres-
sion of his genius. He left some of his poems in their
first unfinished state, destroyed others, and made no
attempt to republish considerable fragments, which
remain, even to-day, available only in a few rare copies.
He came to regard the making of poetry rather as a pastime
than as a vocation in life. The absence of popular
applause or encouragement, however he may have
seemed indifferent to anything of the kind, was the real
obstacle to greater achievement. He confessed as much

P.L. B


when he \\Tote to Southey, " The popularis aura, though
we are ashamed or unable to analyse it, is requisite for
the health and growth of genius. Had Gehir been a
worse poem, but with more admirers, and I had once
filled my sails, I should have made many, and perhaps
some prosperous voyages. There is almost as much
vanity in disdaining the opinion of the world as in pursuing

it " C).

These words explain clearly enough why the promise
of Gehir was never fulfilled. If Landor was indeed what
Southey saw in him, a great poet in the making, no other
example is needed of the blighting influence which popular
neglect may have upon genius.

Enough, however, remains of his early work to form the
basis of a study of his poetic aims and inspiration. The
poems to be considered were written during the last
decade of the eighteenth and the first of the nineteenth
century. They thus belong to a period of peculiar
importance both in literary and in political history.
During those years English poetry was set free from the
shackles pat upon it by Pope and his imitators, and drew
fresh life from the ideas which inspired the American and
French Revolutions.

Walter Savage Landor played no inconsiderable part
in bringing about this literary change. Bom in 1775, the
year of the outbreak of the American War of Indepen-
dence, on the anniversary of the execution of Charles I.,
he seems to have imbibed republican principles even in
childhood. His first hero was Washington, who inspired
one of the earliest of his poems, while George III. was
the object from first to last of his hatred and contempt.
In those years he was intelligent enough to follow with
interest the bitter naval struggle during which England
lost and regained the supremacy at sea. The war in
India leading to the appointment of Warren Hastings as

(') Forster, Life of Landor, Vol. I. p. 178, note.


first Vicero\^ the troubles in Ireland, and the war against
France provided food for his early political ideas. He
conceived an intense aversion for kings and wars of
aggression. It is difficult now to account for such deep-
seated convictions in the mind of a child. Landor's
father was at that time an ardent Whig, but Walter
himself seems to have gone far beyond him, and, when all
others changed, he remained steadfast in the political
faith of his childhood. He was fourteen years of age and
already a good Latin scholar at Rugby when the French
Revolution began. Like many others, he hailed it with
fervour, and no failure of its first promises, no excesses
of its supporters could convert him from its principles.
At Oxford he distinguished himself in his studies as a
classical scholar, and in his political opinions as the ' mad
Jacobin.' Immediately after his rustication in the
autumn of 1794 he began to prepare his first book of
poems for the press. It appeared early in 1795 as
The Poems of Walter Savage Landor (^). These wiU
be considered more fully later, the object of this intro-
duction being to give a general account of Landor's
growth as a poet. Nothing in his career previous to the
publication of the book just mentioned would lead one
to expect in him ' the feverish thirst of song.' His youth
had known neither care nor sorrow. His education and
home influences had been those common to English boys
in well-to-do families. Though passionate, he was not
unusually sensitive, and there was no peculiarity of mind
or body to set him apart from others of his age and class.
He was distinguished only by a certain violence of temper,
by his devotion to classical studies, and by his republican
views. In his religious belief he seems to have been
heterodox by nature rather than by deliberate choice or
as the result of thought and study. Throughout life he
remained indifferent to the spiritual problems which

(') Printed for T. Cadell, jun., and W. Davies (successors to Mr.
Cadell) in the Strand.

B 2


exercised the minds and inspired the writings of many of
his contemporaries. There were then, in the case of
Landor, few of those conditions which so often attend and
foster the growth of a poet. His first book was just
what might be expected from such a preparation. It was
not the work of one who had felt the overpowering need
of self-expression or the desire to give new thoughts to
the world. He called poetry in one of the notes in this
volume an ' elegant accomplishment.' That gives the
measure of his first work, which was less the product of
his own powers than a concession to the fashionable
taste of the houi .

He could write, and had in fact already written, poetry
of a far higher order than that he gave to the public.
The Latin poems published with a Latine scrihendi De/ensio
in the same volume show greater originality than the
English verses. But while still at Oxford he had begun
to master the difficulties of blank verse. The translation
of a passage from Virgil given by Foistei proves him to
have already attained considerable facility (^). This was
probably written in I794> if we may trust Landor's
assertion and the evidence afforded by his handwriting.
About the same time he had begun to compose either in
Latin or English a long narrative poem on the history of
the Phocaeans. More than a thousand lines of this
remain, and the weight of evidence is in favour of the
view that a considerable part was written in English
long before Gebir claimed Landor's attention. If this be
the truth, it casts doubt on the theory put forward by
previous commentators that Landor was at the time now
being considered a mere slavish imitator of Pope, and
that he afterwards came under the influence of Milton
and began to write blank verse in Gebir.

English literature was certainly a neglected study at
Rugby and even at Oxford during the closing years of the
eighteenth century. But that Landor had read Milton is

(1) Forster, Vol. I. pp. 38, 40.


clear from the reference to the latter in the Latine scrihcndi
Defensio (p. 208), which may be here given :

" In adolescentia Miltonus ipse : nee tantum virum
puduit, in aetate provectiore, cum Musis eisdera ludere,
quandocunque laboribus patriae tam utilibus incumbere,
paulisper, desierat.

" O diem ! jucundum et illustrem ! quae Tyrannidis
nubila, diu coUecta semperque hominibus gravia, luce
pura laeta salubrique dissipavit ! Quae vidit identidem
vigentes Justitiam ac Poesin : quae vidit, ut uno verbo
complecter omnia, Miltonum."

It will hardly be maintained that Landor had thus
early conceived an admiration for Milton as a patriot and
poet without having gained some acquaintance with his
English works. His devotion to the polished style of
Pope does not exclude the possibility of some appreciation
of Milton and Shakespeare ; just as the later study of
these did not destroy all his admiration of Pope, for this
was still lively when he wrote in 1800 the Postscript to
Gehir (^). Far more probable than any theory of sudden
conversion in literary taste is the view that the young
author had already some knowledge of the Enghsh
classics and a sounder judgment than he showed in the
published poems and the notes upon them. He chose to
give the public what he knew the public- would read and
praise. The result of the success which the book gained
was to make him ashamed of his work, and his own
account written a few years later bears out the explana-
tion here given :

" Before I was twenty years of age I had imprudently
sent into the world a volume of which I was soon ashamed.
It everywhere met with as much commendation as was
proper, and generally more. For though the structure
was feeble, the lines were fluent ; the rhymes showed
habitual ease, and the personifications fashionable taste
... So early in hfe I had not discovered the error into

(') Cf. post. p. 66.


which we were drawn by the Wartons, I was then in
raptures with what I now despise."

Very few months had passed before Landor attempted
to withdraw the volume from circulation (^). Its very
success was a stimulus to aim higher, to write more
in accordance with his deeper convictions. Three years
intervened before his next important work appeared.
During the interval he had probably completed all that
exists of the narrative about the Phocaeans. But the
influences which prepared his mind for the work of Gebir
put an end to these activities. The deeper springs of
emotion were set free during his solitary life in Wales by
events of which the record is unfortunately very incom-
plete. There is sufficient to show that his love for lone
and her early death stirred for the first time his heart.
Added to this was the effect of the mountain solitudes and
wild sea coast in fostering his love of Nature. His prefer-
ence for the ancient classics gave way, and a thorough
study of English poetry brought him finally under the
supreme influence of Milton.

In 1798, some months after its completion, he published
Gebir, the most characteristic of his early poems. The
remarkable superiority of this work over the preceding
has been generally attributed to Landor's study of Milton,
though the evidence hitherto brought forward is hardly
sufficient to support the assertion. Such evidence as can
be drawn from the poem itself will be given later. It
may, however, be stated at once that too much has been
ascribed to this factor. Among other influences the chief
was the attempt to write an epic in blank verse based on
events narrated by Herodotus and inspired by the ancient
classics. This brought Landor's style nearly to the
perfection displayed in Gebir. There were also, as just
stated, certain experiences of his stay in Wales which must
have given him a deeper knowledge of character and
awakened the desire to write other than didactic and

(') Forster, I. p. 59.


political poetry. The most important of these was his
love of Nancy Jones, which began before he went to Wales
and ended before Gebir was completed.

The biographers have recorded it incompletely and
incorrectly. Its bearing on Landor's work is such that
it must now be briefly considered.

The young poet met Miss Nancy Jones in 1793 or
thereabouts. This is proved by a scrap of paper found
in the cedar box whose contents were made public by
W. S. Wheeler a few years ago. The verse thereon
written has no other interest than its reference to lone. It
is headed ' Written in 1793.' I have examined this relic (^),
as the writer evidently regarded it, and conclude that it is
a copy made later than the date named. The heading, in
the same handwriting as the verse itself, clearly proves
that it cannot be the original. There is, however, no reason
for doubting that the latter was actually written, as
stated, in 1793 or about that time. The relationship
between the two continued in Wales, as several poems
testify, and appears to have been that of mutual love.
This may indeed explain why he chose this out-of-
the-way place of retirement — to be near the object of
his affections. Landor was still in Wales when lone died.
The following verses may be quoted in proof of the fact
and of the deep feelings aroused in the heart of the young
poet :

And thou, too, Nancy ! why should Heaven remove

Each tender object of mine early love ?

Why was I happy ? O ye conscious rocks !

Was I not happy ? when lone's locks

Claspt round her neck and mine their golden chain.

Ambition, fame, and fortune smiled in vain.

While warring winds with deafening fury blew.

Near and more near, our cheeks, our bosoms, grew.

Wave after wave the lashing ocean chased.

She smiled, and prest me closer to her waist.

(') British Museum MSS., 35140, i. 78.


Ah raemor}'. memory ! thou alone canst save

Angehc beauty from the grasping grave.

And shall she perish ? by yon stars I swear,

Here she shall live, though fate hath placed her there.

The sigh of soft surrender, and the kiss

For absence, doubt, obedience merit this.

Let fears, let fame the cancel'd vow suggest,

Love, to whose voice she listen'd, veils the rest.

Though Nancy's name for ever dwell unknown

Beyond her briar-bound sod and upright stone ;

Yet, in the lover's, in the poet's eye.

The gentle, young lone ne'er shall die.

The volume in which this poem was included appeared
in 1806 with the title Simonidea {^). It was probably
written before Gehir was published. In that work lone
is already a memory of the past, and there is the same
note of sadness as in the verses above quoted.

' Lo ! mirror of delight in cloudless days.' Thus he
addresses her, and then speaks of ' our broken bonds '
and ' led back by Memory ' retraces again her charms
{Gehir, IV. 36-51). There is no doubt the passage refers
to lone, who is also again celebrated as one of the nymphs
in the same poem. There she is thus described :

. . . young lone, less renown'd.
Not less divine ; mild natured. Beauty form'd
Her face, her heart Fidelity ; for Gods
Design'd, a mortal too lone lov'd.

{Gebir, VI. 37-4°-)

Again in Chrysaor (138-141) :

. . . and sweet lone, youngest born.
Of mortal race, but grown divine by song.
Had ye seen playing round her placid neck
The sunny circles, . . .

There is clearly the inspiration of deep feehng in all these
references to Nancy Jones. There is even the evidence
of tragic sorrow in the thought of her fidehty and of
their broken bonds. These considerations would be out

(') Simonidea : published at Bath, 1806 (copy at the British Museum)
The verses have not been reprinted elsewhere. Cf. Colvin, p. 45.


of place were it not that the significance of the passages
quoted and of others on the same subject has been hitherto
overlooked. Moreover, the facts have been incorrectly
stated, and the truth has this importance in the study
of Landor's development — through lone he became
acquainted with love and sorrow, and to the influence of
these feelings he owed some of the quaUties of Gebir,
which raise it so high above his previous poetry.

Two other friendships, of which the effect on Landor's
mind and character was strongly marked, must also be
briefly recorded. The first was his devotion to Rose
Aylmer, whom he met in the autumn of 1796 at
Swansea (^). To her he was soon afterwards indebted for
the loan of the book which gave him the outlines of the
story related in Gebir. She was not in any s{;nse the
successor of lone, though it must have been about this
time that the bonds of his first affection were broken.
There is no reference to Miss Aylmer in Gebir, and Landor's
poetry as well as his own statements prove, as W. Wheeler
says, that there was more sentiment than passion in his
devotion. She was born in October, 1779, went to India
in 1798, and died there two years later (-). Landor has
made her name immortal in the beautiful elegy which
almost alone among his poems has become well known.

A somewhat similar place in his affections was next
taken by Sophia Jane Swift, whose family could boast of
having had among its members a century earlier the
famous Dean. Her name, in the form lanthe, occurs in
many of Landor's verses. At one time he claims to have
invented it, or at least converted the more familiar Jane
by the magic of a Greek letter (0) into the pleasing
trisyllable which was later seized upon by Byron and
Shelley (^). The claim is certainly false and the charge
against Byron unjust, for the name is to be found in

(') Wheeler, p. 66.

(2) Ibid. p. 70.

n Ibid., pp. 188, 189, note.


Ovid's Metamorphoses. Both poets had apparently for-
gotten the story of Iphis and lanthe. It is an instance
of the curious tricks Landor's memory served him from
time to time, the more interesting as I find he had himself
used the name lanthe before he met Sophia Jane Swift.
It occurs in the Birth of Poesy, written before 1794 and
included in his first book. The line deserves to be
quoted, because it indicates the true source of several
Greek names used by Landor.

Thoe, and Clymene, and lanthe, twin'd

What florets little feared th' autumnal wind (').

In the Theogony of Hesiod (^ these three nymphs are
mentioned among the numerous daughters of Tethys and
Ocean. Possibly this had returned to Landor's memory
when he wrote, " Some one has fancied that lanthe
(stolen by Byron) is only Jane with the Greek 6. What
noodles are commentators ! " (^) But he had himself been
one of the noodles ! Though the matter is of httle import-
ance, it seems worth while to clear up the confusion
caused by the poet's forgetfulness, if only to save the
memory of Byron from one more crime.

The friendship with Miss Swift soon came to an abrupt
conclusion, for in 1803 she was married in Ireland (^).
In later years as the Countess de Molande she became
again one of the most valued among the poet's friends.
Landor's next publication consisted of a small volume
entitled Poems from the Arabic and Persian. They were
certainly not translations, as he then claimed, and have
therefore some importance for the student of his develop-
ment. They appeared in 1800 and have received but
scant attention, though they possess intrinsic interest.
Two years later he gave out the Poetry by the Author of

(') Birth 0/ Poesy, II. 109.

(2) Hesiod, JAeog^., 349, 351 and 354. The assumption is strengthened
by the mention of Hesiod in the Birth of Poesy, II. 191.

(3) Wheeler, p. 83.
(*) Ibid. p. 80.


Gebir, containing From the PhoccBans, The Narrative of
Protis, which has never since been reprinted, Chrysaor,
and other smaller poems. This was an attempt to do
what Gebir had failed to do, namely, to find an audience.
He knew that Gebir was good ; he was doubtful whether
the PhoccBuns had merit, but he desired to know whether
such poetry was wanted at all. He found it was not,
and unfortunately accepted the verdict.

The Simonidea, published in 1806 (^), is a collection of
shorter poems with one of some length entitled Gunlaug
and Hdga. There is nothing in the style of the Phocceans,
Gebir, and Chrysaor, and the book seems to show that,
with those works, Landor's earlier career as a poet ended
abruptly almost where it began.

It is true that he wrote verses of a high order, sometimes
of surpassing beauty, which are to be found scattered
through the Imaginary Conversations, but the promise of
heroic song worthy to rank with the greatest Enghsh
poetry was never fulfilled.

(1) The preface is dated February 14th, 1806.


landor's first published poems.

The book which appeared in 1795 with the title The
Poems of Walter Savage Landor is a selection from the
author's various attempts at verse writing made during
the preceding four years. It has been already suggested
that the selection was made rather under the influence of
fashionable taste than of the young poet's better judgment.
Further confirmation of this view may be found in the
fact that he had already composed in blank verse part of
the Phocceans, and that he published this work years
after he had become ashamed of, and suppressed, the

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Online LibraryWilliam BradleyThe early poems of Walter Savage Landor: a study of his development and debt to Milton → online text (page 1 of 9)