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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 volume entitled Poetry by the Author of Gebir
appeared in 1802, and contains two of the fragments
above mentioned, namely, From the Phocceans and Protis's
Narrative (^). The most recent edition of Landor's
works, edited by Charles G. Crump, gives the first piece
but not the second. The choice is curious, seeing that the
poet himself in his preface remarks : ' It even is possible
that the greater part of the first extract may be rejected,'
while of the part which Mr. Crump has ignored he writes :
' For the second I make no apology. Unless as an
extract, it requires from me less solicitude than anything
else that I have ever written.' Most readers would
confirm the view thus expressed. Protis's Narrative is
clearer, more vigorous and more complete in itself, than

(') Copy at the British Museum.


the first piece called From the Phoccsans. Moreover, the
two parts explain one another. It is probable that the
mistaken summary of the contents given in the index to
Crump's edition might have been set right by a compari-
son of the two fragments. However, no editor has
published Protis's Narrative, and it is therefore given as
an appendix to this study. It may be added that two
shorter pieces found in Landor's manuscripts have been
published by S. Wheeler, one (^) being the connecting
link between the two parts above named, and the
other (-) giving the conclusion of the whole work.
Apparently these four fragments represent all that has
survived of the epic which Landor had designed, and are
probably all that he actually wrote.

As to the date of composition opinions differ. The
author himself, in a letter to Browning, writes as follows :
' At college I and Stackhouse were examined by the
college tutor in Justin, who mentions the expulsion of
the Phocaeans from their country. In my childish
ambition, I fancied I could write an epic on it. Before
the year's end I did what you see and corrected it in the
year following ' (^). A note found among Landor's
manuscripts, and published by Wheeler (*), states, ' Gebir
and From the Phocceans were written in the last century,
when our young English heads were turned towards the
French Revolution, and were deluded by a phantom of
liberty, as if the French could ever be free or let others
be.' According to the former of these extracts, the
poem must have been in great part written about 1795,
while the latter, by associating it with Gebir, would imply
a rather later date.

It is not safe, however, to accept the author's own
opinion without the support of other evidence. Forster,

(') Wheeler, Letters, etc. 1897, p. 136.

(2) Ibid. p. 236.

(3) Forster, I. p. 178.

(") Wheeler, Letters, etc., p. 135.


in his account, assumes that Gebir was the eariier com-
position (^). Colvin {") imphes the same; as also does
E. VV. Evans in Walter Savage Landor, A Critical Study,
p. 76. Schlaak, in his Entstehungs- u. Textgeschichte von
Landor' s Gebir, p. 49, considers that the evidence of the
letter to Browning is sufficient to prove the Phocceans a
production of the poet's Oxford period. It may be
remarked in passing that, in a note on p. 49 of the
Dissertation, Dr. Schlaak refers to certain unpubhshed
poems of the date 1800, under the title Poetry by the
Author of Gebir. This is a mistake, the volume sent to
Browning being that published in 1802 by Sharpe, of
Warwick, as stated by Forster (^). It may also be added
here that the composition of a poem in blank verse,
extending to more than a thousand lines, at the time of
Landor's residence in Oxford University mihtates against
the conclusion given by the same critic on p. 55 of his
Dissertation. He there ignores the Phocceans and the
translation from Virgil, and argues that two sharply-
divided periods are to be recognised, the first charac-
terised by the influence of /)s^Wo-classicism, the second
by that of Milton. In this he agrees with Evans (^), who,
however, is better justified in this view, since he regards
the Phocceans as of later date than Gebir. It is therefore
of some importance to inquire what other evidence there
may be, upon which the true place of this poem can be
ascertained. Considering first the style, it can be said
without hesitation that it is not modelled upon that of
Milton. Although it is in blank verse the reader is never
reminded, as so many have stated about Gebir, of the
harmonious and impressive character of Paradise Lost.
There is less variety, and the accentuation is more
monotonous. Passages are not infrequent which, if pro-
vided with rhymes, would differ little from regular heroic

(^) Forster, I. p. 177.

(■^) Colvin, Landor, p. 37.

(•') A Critical Study, p. 65.


couplets. Again, the language is entirely free from traces
of Milton. A few epithets, descriptive adjectives and
phrases occur in Gebir and Chrysaor, indicating the
influence of that poet, but there are none in the Phocceans.
A further, though perhaps less certain, indication consists
in the excessive alliteration. It is even more abundant
than in Gehir, while Chrysaor, though far from being free
of this trait, is clearly less affected by the tendency.
The following passages will serve to illustrate the above
points : —

Long has Tartessus left her fertile fields,

And but by forest beast or mountain bird,

Seen from afar her flocks lie unconsumed ;

The maids of Sidon, and the maids of Tyre

To whom proud streams thro' marble arches bend.

Still bid the spindle urge its whirring flight

And waft to wealth the luxury of our woes.

From the PhoccBans (verses 161-167).

Yonder where sailing slow the clouds retire
How proud a prospect opens ! Alps o'er Alps
Tower, to survey the triumphs that proceed
There, while the Garonne dances in the gloom
Of larches, 'mid her Naiads, or reclined
Leans on the broom-clad bank to watch the sport
Of some far distant chamois, silken-haired.

Gebir. VI. (Crump, Vol. VIII., p. 58).

These, and the many sister Nereids,
Forgetful of their lays and of their loves.
All unsuspicious of the dread intent.
Stop suddenly their gambols, and with shrieks
Of terror plunge amid the closing wave ;
Yet, just above, one moment more appear
Their darken'd tresses floating in the foam.

Chrysaor (143-149).

The first extract shows less skill in the versification
and a nearer approach to Landor's earlier style than the
other two, and this is generally true of the whole poems
from which they are taken.

Occasional hnes show that the influence of Pope in


choice of words, and partiality for antithesis, still affected
the writer : —

76. That burn in battle, or that shine in peace —

126. Whose gently agitating liquid airs

15a. Enthusiastic rage subUme the soul

157. Or whisper comfort or inspire revenge

214. The tender maple in the twilight dell

289. And shake their branches and suspend their bowers

358. . . . Oceans rose

To waft her, suns to strow the yielding way.


67. Some Sparta lures — perfection fancy-form'd !
So pure her virtue and her power so poised,

238. But heavenly powers ! whose silent orbs control
The balanced billow of the boundless sea

253. And every tufted lair and tippling stream
Comes from afar before the fondling eye.

One of the above examples has a special interest, and
seems to me to date from Landor's earliest period. In
the Birth of Poesy, written before 1795, occur the following
hnes (I. 463) :

God rules the tide and winds that beat the skies.

So pure with Him no purest ether vies,

O'er all Creation He commands alone.

The world His footstool and the sky His throne.

In the Phocceans, verse 358 :

. Oceans rose
To waft her, suns to strow the yielding way.

The original of these is e\'idently the couplet of Pope's
Essay on Man :

Seas roll to waft me, suns to light me rise :

My footstool earth, my canopy the skies. (I. 140. )


The resemblance is almost sufficient to be called
plagiarism. However that may be, it is certain that
Landor would not either consciously or unconsciously
have imitated that particular passage later than 1800.
Moreover, had he done so within a year or two of that
date, he would hardly have quoted it as an example of
plagiarism by Pope. Yet in the Postscript to Gebir, which
was written in 1800, he gives this very couplet of Pope as
an instance of theft by the latter. The original is, it
appears, in Montaigne, chap. 12 of the Second Book of the
Essays (see Cotton, II. 348) (^). Since Landor had
himself used Pope's lines, he either showed remarkable
courage, or some years had elapsed and he had entirely
forgotten the fact. The latter is the obvious conclusion.

There are some other less striking resemblances which
serve to confirm the argument. In the short piece
called Epithalamium of Manlius and Julia, one of those
in the 1795 collection, are the lines :

Stretch to thee the arm that prest,
Close, before, its mother's breast :

which are not unlike verses 97-9S of the Phocceans :

Putting one arm against its mother's breast
Stretch out the other to a stranger's hand.

Again, from the Birth of Poesy :

Or weave on hostile loom with pensive joy
The streams, the vallies and the woods of Troy !

Cf. Phocceans, 166 :

Still bid the spindle urge its whirring flight
And waft to wealth the luxury of our woes.

None of the above can be regarded as conclusive
evidence. But in Gebir there is one passage which was
most likely inspired by what Landor had previously

(') Forater, I. p. 136.


In Book VII. 44 we read,

Here the Tartessian there the Gadite tents
Rang with impatient pleasure : here engaged
Woody Nebrissa's quiver-bearing crew.

The piece called From the Phocceans is almost entirely
taken up with the affairs of the men of Tartessiis and
Nebrissa. Unless that poem were already actually
written it is difficult to see why their names, and especially
Nebrissa, should occur in Gebir (^).

WTiile thus considering dates it may be as well to add
that on similar grounds Chrysaor must be regarded as a
later composition. It contains, for example, the following
lines :

Spio with sparkling eyes, and Beroe
Demure, and sweet lone, youngest born,
Of mortal race, but grown divine by song —

These are to be found in Gehir :

Spio with sparkling eyes, and Beroe
Demure and young lone, less renown'd.
Not less divine :

In the former lone is described as ' youngest bom ' and
' grown divine by song,' which can be best explained by
supposing that lone had in the meantime joined the
immortals. It is a veiled reference to her death, else-
where mentioned ; she was the latest to have joined the
immortal nymphs, and her name had already been sung
in Gehir. But no one will doubt, apart from other
evidence, that the style of Chrysaor proves it to be the
last of the three works.

Finally there is the evidence of the preface to the
PhoccBans and Chrysaor, from which it is clear that the
former was written at some earlier period, and that the
first part, From the Phocceans, preceded Protis's Narrative.
There Landor writes : ' I had begun to write a poem
(the Phocceans) connected in some degree with the early

{•) Cf. post, p. 74.


history of Spain ; but doubtful whether I would ever
continue it, and grown every hour more indifferent, I
often sat down and diverted my attention with the
remotest views I could find. The present is a sketch.'
This is from the Advertisement to the Story of Chrysaor,
and proves that the Phoccsans had been already at some
previous time abandoned. It seems likely that the work
was commenced immediately after the author left Oxford.
It was continued in Wales during 1795, the second part
showing clearly the influence of the Greek studies to
which Landor then devoted his attention. On taking up
the subject of Gebir he lost interest in the work, but
decided in 1802 to publish it with Chrysaor ; ' to ascer-
tain not merely whether the poetry be good, but whether
it be wanted — whether so much of the Iberian affairs be
proper in this place, on any condition ? ' as he wrote in
the preface. Taking, then, his own statements with such
evidence as the works themselves afford, we may conclude,
not with certainty but with a high degree of probability,
that they were produced in the following order : about
1795 From the Phocccans, a little later Protis's Narrative,
in 1797 Gebir, and at some later date, before 1802, the
Story of Chrysaor.

We may now consider the sources to which the poet
was indebted for the first of these Essays in the epic
style. He always referred to Justin as the author whose
record provided him with the historical material, and his
reviewers seem to accept that view. But his real
authority was the much fuller account to be found in
Herodotus. The whole of Protis's Narrative is taken
from the latter ; not only the chief incidents, but even the
details and spirit of the narrative, being derived from
him. Justin's account may be given in a few lines.
After a reference to the Phoccans as the founders of
Massilia (XXXVII. i, i) he adds a little later some
incidents in the following words :

' Temporibus Tarquinii .regis, ex Asia Phoca^ensium

P.L. D


juventus ostiis Tiberis invecta, amicitiam cum Romanis
junxit : inde in ultimos Galliae sinus navibus profecta,
Massiliam condidit : magnasque res, sive dum armis se
adversus Gallicam feritatem tuentur, sive dum ultro
lacessunt, a quibus fuerant ante lacessiti, gesserunt.
Namque Phocaeenses exiguitate ac made terrse, coacti,
studiosius mare, quam terras, exercuere : piscando,
mercando, plerumque etiam latrocinio maris, quod illis
temporibus gloriae habebatur, vitam tolerabant. Itaque
in ultimam Oceani oram procedere ausi, in sinum Gallicum
ostiis Rhodani amnis devenere. Cujus loci amoenitate
capti, reversi domum, referentes quae viderant, plures
solicitavere. Duces classis Simos et Protis fuere.'

He then relates the story of the marriage of Protis to
the daughter of- the King of the Segobrigii, the founding
of Massiha in his territory, and the subsequent wars with
the natives (XLIII. 3, 4). The Greek colonists also
carried on a naval warfare against Carthage, and enjoyed
the alliance of Rome and the friendship of Spain. Justin
ends with the statement that the Phocaeans sent gold and
silver to the Romans to help them to buy ofi the Gauls,
who had captured and burnt Rome (XLIII. 5). It is
clear that Landor owed nothing but the names Protis
and Cimos to this scanty and rather misleading summary
of the history of the Phocaeans. All that attracted him
to the subject and roused his enthusiasm for the Phocaeans,
who preferred exile to subjection b}^ Persia, is omitted by
Justin. On the contrary they are described as ' exigui-
tate ac macie terrae coacti,' which is probably an error
arising from the confusion of Phocaeans with Phocences,
' quorum regio arida erat ac sterihs' (^). Landor had
perhaps received the first impulse in the lecture room,
and had then collected all the information he could from
various sources. Undoubtedly the chief of these was
Herodotus. There we read that the Phocccans were the

(') Justin, Leinaire, XLIII. 3, note.


first among the Greeks to make long voyages to the ends
of the Mediterranean. They made Iberia known to their
countrymen, having been received in Tartessus with great
kindness by Arganthonius, King of the Tartessians. The
latter, hearing of the growing power of the Medes, gave
money to the Phocaeans to enable them to build a wall
round their city (Herod., I. 168).

Apparently, soon after their return to Phocaea the
threatened Persian invasion begins. The Prienenses are
conquered and sold into slavery. Harpagus then attacks
Phocaea, and the people, hard pressed, contrive to escape
with their families and wealth, leaving their deserted city
to the Persians (Herod., I. 164).

The Chians refuse to allow their former aUies to settle
on one of their islands ((Enyssae), and the Phocaeans are
compelled to seek a more distant refuge. Arganthonius
had in the meantime died. They choose to go to Corsica,
but before setting sail, apparently from (Enyssae, they make
an onslaught on their native town and put the Persian
guard to the sword. Then, casting a great mass of iron
into the sea, they swear never to return to their own
country until that iron should rise again out of the waves.
More than half soon break the solemn oath and return ;
the remainder set out in sixty ships for Corsica (I. 165).

Landor has followed the story as told by Herodotus
very closely in the second part of his poem, that called
Protis's Narrative. He has somewhat changed the
order of events, but the facts are the same. On the
other hand, in the first fragment. From the Phocceans,
there is very little about the heroes themselves. They arc
represented as fugitives seeking the help of Arganthonius
in Tartessus. They arc received with kindness, and
Hymneus relates for their encouragement some of
the experiences of the Tartessians in their struggle
against oppression. He describes a sudden attack by the
Carthaginians upon the city, the flight of the people and
their subsequent return and victory. This, with the

D 2


connected incidents, comprises the narrative of Hymneus.
What is described in the preface as the first important
movement in the poem, namely the sea fight with the
Carthaginians, is never mentioned. It is in Herodotus
(I. i66, 167). The founding of Massilia was to be the
conclusion of the whole, as may be inferred from the
fragment published by Wheeler (^).

Before examining Landor's poem in detail, it is of
interest to observe how the various commentators have
regarded it. Forster quotes some striking passages, but
considers it on the whole difficult and obscure. He
records that Southey, who had previously so greatly
admired Gebir, found few passages of the Phocceans
intelligible. The former was involved ; but it was lucid
compared with the latter (").

Colvin says : ' The Phocceans, on the other hand,
which tells of the foundation of the colony of Massilia
by emigrants of that race, a subject which had been in
Landor's mind since Oxford days, is so fragmentary and
so obscure as to baffle the most tenacious student. It
contains, like aU Landor's early poetry, images both
condensed and vivid, as well as weighty reflections
weightily expressed ; but in its sequence and incidents
the poem is, to me at least, unintelligible ' (^).

It may be remarked in passing that the poem does not
tell of the foundation of Massilia at all. That was to be
the end of the story ; but the existing fragments describe
only the departure from Phocaea and the arrival in Iberia.
Dr. Schlaak describes the work as ' im hochsten Masse
dunkel, liickenhaft und verworren '!(*). Landor's latest
editor, Mr. Crump, seems to agree with the rest, since in
the index to the Works of Landor, edited by him, events
described by Hymneus as happening to the Tartessians
are transferred to the Phocaeans.

(') Wheeler, Letters, etc., p. 23G.

(■'') Forster, pp. 179, 182.

(■'') Colvin, Landor, p. 37.

(*) Schlaak, Dissertation, p. 58.


It is first stated that the latter leave and then recapture
Tartessus, and then that the Phoenicians do these things
(see index under ' Phocaeans ' and ' Tartessus ') (^). E. W.
Evans says, ' The Phocceans is painfully obscure, an
unintelligible fragment ' (^).

Where such remarkable unanimity among critics is
found, it might be imagined that there was nothing more
to be said. A first reading of the poem certainly produces
a sense of confusion in the mind. But that may be said
of most poems which attempt something new ; and this
was the beginning of an epic, a sufficiently new departure
in English literature of that date. The problem which
arises in all such cases is that of deciding how much
knowledge on the part of his readers a poet has the right
to assume. Browning credited his audience with a depth
and range of learning equal to his own, and his audience
was therefore small ; for years most people knew nothing
more of him than his so-called obscurity. Had Landor
continued to write poetry of the same kind as the Phocceans
and Gehir, he would have suffered the fate of Browning,
until, like him, by conceding a little to his critics,
he had induced them to give him fair attention and

A consideration of Landor's poems soon proves that
the charge of obscurity is based at least as much upon the
readers' deficiencies as upon the author's faults. With
a view to finding what the real difficulties are, a detailed
examination of the Phocceans must now be undertaken.
The chief object of this will be to explain the course of
the narrative ; further, to point out, wherever possible,
the source to which the poet was indebted, and to give
illustrations of his use of mythology, his choice of language
and metrical style.

(') Crump's Edition of Landor, X. pp. 337, 351.
('4 Evans, Landor : A Critical Study, p. 76.


Analysis of the Phoc^ans.

The poem consists, as already explained, of four
fragments. The first and longest part, 659 lines, may be
found in Crump's edition of Landor's Works, pubhshed
1909 (see Vol. II. of the Poems and Dialogues in Verse,
pp. 59-76). It is reprinted from Poetry by the Author of
Gebir, 1802 (^).

Verses 1-12. — Beginning in the usual style of epic
poetry Landor dedicates the fruits of his labour to
Liberty :

Heroes of old would I commemorate ;
Those heroes, who obeyed the high decree
To leave Phocaea, and erect in Gaul
Empire, the fairest heaven had e'er design'd ;
And borne amongst them, I would dedicate
To thee, O Liberty, the golden spoils.

There is here, and in the lines immediately following,
the same thought as in Gebir, Book VI., referring to the
French Republic :

They shall o'er Europe, shall o'er Earth extend
Empire, that seas alone and skies confine.
And glory that shall strike the crj'stal stars.

Both passages were certainly wTitten before the rise of
Napoleon to power, and probably before his invasion of
Egypt. They tend to confirm the conclusion that the
PhoccEans was written before Gebir (see post, pp. 61, 62, 89).
Verses 13-21. — The muses are invoked and called upon,
as in Homer's Iliad or Virgil's .-Eneid, to explain how the
events to be described were directed by the gods. The
sacred cause which united Pallas and Neptune, so long
severed in debate, was that of Greek freedom, now
threatened by Persia. Both the strife and the recon-
ciliation of the two gods are mentioned by Herodotus

(') Copy at the British Museum.


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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 3 of 9)