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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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Et lave dans le sang le fer ensanglante

is said to be an imitation of the line in ^schylus, ChocB-
phorcB, ep. 2, which he gives in English thus :

(•) Forster, I. p. 130.
(^) Cf. ante, p. 5.


Wide thro' the house a tide of blood
Flows where a former tide had flowed.

Again, in the conversation with Southey he quotes the
following :

Shone with a glossy scurf, undoubted sign
That in his womb was hid metallic ore-

{Paradise Lost, VIII. 672.)

Milton is said to be displaying his recollection of the Une
in Virgil :

Uterumque armato militi complent (^).

This case at least is rather far-fetched, and must appear
more so when it is known that the word ' womb ' occurs
in this or a similar figurative sense ten times in the same
poet's works (^).

Having now seen what Landor himsell had to say on
the question of his relationship to Milton, so far as that
may have affected Gebir, we may proceed to a closer
examination of the problem.

There seems to be no doubt that the period when he
first became familiar with Paradise Lost was that during
which he wrote his own chief poem. We have the fact
in his own words : ' My prejudices in favour of ancient
literature began to wear away on Paradise Lost ; and
even the great hexameter sounded to me tinkhng, when
I had recited in my solitary walks on the sea-shore the
haughty appeal of Satan and the deep penitence of
Eve ' (^). It is remarkable that the discovery then made
should have been so long postponed. The explanation
may, perhaps, be found in his attitude towards the
theological elements in Milton's epic.

On this point he has made the following statement :
' My predilection in youth was on the side of Homer ;
for I read the Iliad twice, and the Odyssea once, before the

(•) Crump, IV. p. 205.

(") Lexicon to Milton's Poetical Works, Lcckwood.

n Crump, III. p. 280.

f 2


Paradise Lost. Averse as I am to everything relating
to theology, and especially to the view of it thrown
open by the poem, I recur to it incessantly as the
noblest specimen in the world of eloquence, harmony,
and genius ' (^).

Some slight knowledge of Milton he had certainly gained
at a much earlier period, as may be inferred from the
lines :

. . . the force
Of Milton was for boyhood too austere
Yet often did I steal a glance at Eve (').

There is also the evidence of his Latin poems contained in
the 1795 collection (cf. ante, p. 5). However much that
may indicate, the influence on his poetry previous to Gebir
was extremely slight. There is, then, a strong presumption
in favour of regarding the difference between the Phoccsans
and Gebir as due to the study of Milton. It will be
convenient to consider the question in three divisions,
under the headings Subject, Style and Language.

Subject. — The marked contrast between the theme of
Gebir and that of the PhoccBans corresponds in all proba-
bility with personal experiences in the author's life. The
earlier work is devoid of romantic elements. It has no
hero, and deals neither with love nor death, nor any other
of the greater reahties of individual hfe. It relates, in
close accord with its historical source, the trials of a people
in their struggle for freedom.

In Gebir, on the other hand,.Landor has taken as his
basis an Arabian romance and handled it freely to suit
his purpose. That the mere choice of the subject was in
any way influenced by the study of Milton is out of the
question. It seems more likely that he had already
begun to take some slight inteiest in Oriental literature,
and may thus have been first attracted to the story (^).

(') Crump, IV. p. 245.
(2) Cf. ante, p. i6.
(») Cf. post. p. 107.


But this is a mere suggestion, and, being without further
evidence, we must be content with his own explanation,
that he found in the material before him ' magnificum
nescio quid sub crepusculo vetustatis' (^). More remark-
able than the choice of subject is the use that he made of
it. He has converted a fable without much meaning
and devoid of serious human interest into a poem full of
restrained passion with a central idea of universal
application to mankind.

The hero, Gebir, to fulfil a vow, undertakes a war of
aggression. To ambition is added the motive of love of
Charoba, queen of the invaded land. He disregards
divine warnings, and in the end perishes with the flower
of his people. Contrasted with the fate of Gebir is that
of Tamar, his brother, whose life is devoted to peaceful
aims. His love for the nymph and their happy union
represent the claims of Nature upon Man and her call
to a pastoral innocent existence, free from tyranny and
strife. To those who, like Tamar, leaving ambition
behind, make the right choice, the nymph promises the
empire of the earth. Landor is clearly enough inspired
in all this by the theories of Rousseau and the fore-
runners of the French Revolution. He does not teach
or moralise — the poem is as free from any such tendency
as the Iliad or Odyssey — but the underlying principles
are none the less clearly to be seen. So far then as the
general plan is concerned, Gehir contains the elements of
heroic song, and the poet's study of Milton may have
inspired him to treat his subject in this exalted style.
It is, however, only in certain incidents that the sup-
position becomes at all probable. The third book
narrates the descent into hell of the hero, and as this does
not find place in the romance of Clara Reeve, which was
his source, we may take it as peculiarly characteristic of
the influence under which he wrote. He could hardly
have introduced this incident without having in mind

(') Gebirus, Poetna, 1^03 : Preface.


Virgil and Milton, and, when the language is studied, it
becomes clear that he owed much of his inspiration to
the latter (^). The sixth book also contains a curious
and striking departure from the original story, which
may safely be attributed to Milton's influence. The
nymph takes Tamar and shows him, in a supernatural
way, all the lands around the Mediterranean. We are at
once reminded how Satan showed to Christ the kingdoms
of Earth, and how the angel displayed the world and its
history to Adam. The passage referring to this in
Landor's preface to the sixth book [Gebirus, Poema,
1803) says : ' Cumque jam in medio mari essent palpebras
ei labris delibat, quo insulas undequaque ac terras omnes
perspiciat ' (cf. Paradise Lost, XI. 411). Such com
parisons are perhaps too general, but the instances given
indicate the frame of mind in which he wrote ; they show
that his imagination was coloured by Miltonic visions.
The third book contains also a digression which can be
described as an apotheosis of the universal element Fire
(Crump, VIII., p. 53). There is some resemblance to
Milton's verses on Light in Paradise Lost (III. 1-12) both in
the thought and in the language (see post, p. 85). In the
same place (Crump, VIII., p. 53) the passage on second
marriage is strongly reminiscent of the speech of Hamlet's
father returned from the grave {Hamlet, Act I., Sc. 5). It
is significant that the opening lines of this third book are
an invocation of Shakespeare and Milton (cf. post, p. 82),
and it is also worthy of remark that the two passages
last mentioned were omitted from the poem in its final
form. Allusions to classical mythology are less frequent
in Gehir than in its predecessor the Phocceans, and they
are brought generally into closer relation to the text.
They are certainly not borrowed from Milton, though in
some cases they are similarly used. The comparison
belongs rather to the section deahng with the language

(') Cf. Schlaak. p. 38.


of the poem, but one or two examples may be quoted

Go, but go early, ere the gladsome Hours

Strew saffron in the path of rising Morn.

(II. 211.)

With this may be compared,

. . . while on the summits Morn
Her saffron robe and golden sceptre lays.

(JPhoccsans, 498.)

Both passages are in the manner of Milton, but may
with greater probability be attributed to classical models.
In the Iliad (8, i) Aurora is ' saffron robed,' while the
epithet only occurs in Milton applied to Hymen
[U Allegro, 126),

The following example is certainly an imitation of
Milton :

Now to Aurora borne by dappled steeds
The sacred gate of orient pearl and gold.
Smitten with Lucifer's light silver wand.
Expounded slow to strains of harmony.

(Gehir, VI. 1-4.)

(Cf. U Allegro, 44, and P. L., IV. 238, V. i, and VII. 205 ;

and see post, p. 88).

The war of Nature against the monster Void was
probably suggested by the description 0/ Chaos in Paradise
Lost (cf. Gebir, VII. 22-28, with P. L.. II. 890-916).

The mythological colouring in the next extract will be
seen to resemble strongly the shorter poems of Milton :

Thus we may sport at leisure when we go
Where, lov'd by Neptune and the Naiad, lov'd
By pensive Dryad pale, and Oread,
Ttie sprightly Nymph whom constant Zephyr woos,
Rhine rolls his beryl-colour 'd wave ; . . .

(Gebir, VI. 1 18-122.)

(Cf., e.g., L' Allegro, 19-36, and Lycidas, 68.)

When such passages are compared with those in the
PhoccBans {e.g., 13-21 and 335-355^ a marked advance in


the skill with which they are fitted to the theme becomes
evident, and the source to which Landor was indebted
for this increased facility can hardly be doubted. A
further example is offered by the mode in which Gebir
meets his death. He is killed by the poisoned robe cast
round his shoulders by Dalica. This recalls the similar
incident related of Hercules (cf. Ovid, Met., 9), which is
mentioned in Paradise Lost (H. 543). Less important
evidence tending in the same direction is given by a few
scriptural allusions in Gebir. There are none in the
Phoccsa7is, where they would be quite out of place. They
are equally out of place in Gebir. There are the following :

Six days they labour'd : on the seventh day
Returning, all their labours were destroyed.

(H- 35-36.)
How against Egypt thou would 'st raise that hand
And bruise the seed first risen from our line.

(III. 192.)

(Cf. ' His seed shall bruise my head ' (P. L., X. 499, and

xn. 148).) -

. . . , that wondrous wave,
Which hearing rescued Israel, stood erect.
And led her armies thro' his crystal gates.

(V. 20-22.)

(Cf. P. L., XIL 195-200.)

. . . the Sea

Swallows him with his host, but lets them pass
As on dry land between two christal walls.
Aw'd by the rod of Moses so to stand
Divided, till his rescu'd gain thir shoar :
Such wondrous power God to his saint will lend.

The following seems to recall the death of Samson :

Blind wretches they with desperate embrace
Hang on the pillar till the temple fall.

(IV. 84.)

The allusion to the deluge in VH. 248-251 may also
be noted. Landor showed generally less partiality for


biblical illustrations than most English authors. Such
as there are in Gebir seem to be reflections of Milton's
light, rather than taken directly from the Bible. It is
not unconnected with the discussion, though perhaps
somewhat fanciful, to observe that the animals mentioned
in the poem with a certain symbolic significance of evil
are also to be found in Paradise Lost similarly used.
They are the serpent, cormorant, and cerastes. In
Gebir, I. 28-32 :

. . . and see a serpent pant,

. while upon the middle fold
He keeps his wary head and blinking eye
Curling more close and crouching ere he strike.

Cf. P. L., IX. 182.

The serpent : him fast sleeping soon he found

In labyrinth of many a round self rowld.

His head the midst, well stor'd with subtle wiles :

The Cormorant in his solitary haunt

. . . screams for prey.

Again Landor has in V. 35-37,

The Cormorant in his solita
. . . screai

and in Milton (IV. 194-196), Satan

on the
Tree of life sat like a cormorant, devising death to them
who liv'd.

In preparing the poison for the fatal robe, Dalica

twisted off the horn of the grey cerastes {Gebir, V. 227),

which is also mentioned, as the ' cerastes horn'd ' in

' Paradise Lost, X. 525, among the serpents in hell (cf.

Schlaak, pp. 43, 44).

The descriptions of Nature and of the various scenes
of action form a large element of the poem. They are
given always with admirable skill, and betray keen powers
of observation and a vivid imagination. The same may
be said of the PhoccBans, where this element, however, is
less frequently found.


In the language used there are certainly traces of
Milton's influence, as will be shown later, but the love of
Nature and the eye to see its beauties were natural gifts
fostered by the poet's secluded life on the sea-shore and
hills of Wales.

Before leaving the question of the source to which
Landor may have owed the substance of his poem, there
is a minor point on which a suggestion may be made.
Landor associated the name Gebir with Gibraltar without
any historical grounds for doing so. The hero is changed
from a Metaphequian or Chaldean to an Iberian, and his
army is made up of Gadites, Tartessians and Nebrissans
from Baetic Spain. The change seems to have more
reason when we remember that this country and its
historic past had interested him since his student days at
Oxford. It is also one of the reasons for thinking that
the Phocceans was \vritten before Gebir. The scene of
the former is laid in Baei or Tartessus, not far from
Gibraltar and Gades, and the people whose actions are
narrated were Phoenicians (perhaps Gadites), Tartessians
and Nebrissans.

It will be seen later that Chrysaor has the same scene
of action (^),

Style. — Attention has been called by various critics to
a resemblance between the styles of Milton and Landor.

Forster in his Biography of the latter (I. p. 95) says,
' and certainly in the modulation of the verse, the beauty
of the flow and pause in the rhythm, there is what might
have satisfied the ear of Milton himself:' These words,
however, refer only to a single passage which he then
quotes, namely Gebir, V. 1-13. The same lines are chosen
both by Evans (p. 73) and Schlaak (p. 61), who agree in
comparing them with Paradise Lost, 11. i-io. Without
giving further examples, they maintain that Landor's
model was undoubtedly Milton. While the former con-
fines himself to general observations, describing the verse

(•) See post, p. 96.


of Gebir as massive, full-toned and harmonious, the latter
qualifies his view in the following words : ' Wir erkennen
also mehr eine gleiche pathetische Hohenlage in beiden
Dichtungen als Uebereinstimmung in Satzbau, Wortwahl
usw. Gewiss kann nicht geleugnet werden, dass Landor
seinem verehrten Meister auch in rhythmischer Hinsicht
gleichzukommen strebte.'

Colvin, as quoted above, p. 59, judges similarly, but
holds that the resemblance to Milton is confined to certain
lines and passages. It consists in a similar ' loftiness of
thought and language together,' and in ' majesty of
rhythm ' — a view adopted by Schlaak and repeated by
him in the passage just given.

There is, then, a general agreement on the subject,
though it is not clear how far the opinions quoted refer to
the thought, imagination, and choice of words displayed
in Gebir and how far to the style of composition and
versification. Moreover, they are opinions and assertions
whose value depends on the authority of those who make
them. It should be possible to give at least something
more of the facts whereon a judgment can be based, and
that will now be attempted.

Some few elements of style can be numerically ex-
pressed. Among these may be first mentioned the
average length of the sentences or periods in a poem.
The impressive character of Paradise Lost is in part
due to the many long-sustained passages, each unfold-
ing without a pause one group of connected ideas. In
Book I. there are, on the average, eight lines between
successive full stops ; in Book II. nine lines ; while periods
of twenty, thirty, and more lines are easily found. We
need no figures to prove that Landor does not attempt
such lengthy flights. They may, however, be given for
the sake of comparison among his own poems. The
average length of a period in the Phocceans is five lines ;
in Protis's Narrative, four ; in the various books of Gebir,
as follows : I. 3.7 ; II. 4.6 ; III. 5.2 ; IV. 5 ; V. 4.2 ;


VI. 4.7 ; VII. 4.7 ; and in Chrysaor, five. It is evident
that in this particular there is nothing to suggest an
approach to the manner of Milton. Somewhat connected
with it, and not without effect upon the smoothness of
the verse, is the proportion of run-on Hues. The per-
centage of verses in Paradise Lost which have a pause at
the end is, in Book I. 32, and in Book 11. 33 ; in Landor
we find, on the other hand, in the Phocceans 53, in Protis
69, in Gebir 63, and in Chrysaor 61. These poems, there-
fore, resemble one another and differ considerably from
the poetry of Milton.

Considering next the respective regularity of accentua-
tion in the two poets, we may select one type of verse
which seems to recur with frequency in Landor's early
poems. Examples of this class are the following :

And crost Ambition lose her lofty aim (I. 69)
When heavy dews are laden with disease (I. 74)
But we, by Neptune ! for no pipe contend (I. 169)
This pays a shepherd to a conquering maid (I. 202)
Contempt of earth and aspect up to heaven (I. 227)
The house of bondage or the house of birth (VII. 36)

The strongest accent falls on the fourth syllable and on
the last, the effect being heightened not infrequently by
alliteration, as in three of the examples quoted. The
fifth syllable is usually weak, ai}d the pause falls between
the fifth and sixth in a considerable proportion of such
verses. Now no numerical test is needed to demonstrate
that this characteristic is foreign to the style of Milton.
It belongs rather to the heroic verse of the eighteenth
century. Pope (^) selects the line having the pause after
the fifth syllable as that least likely to weary the ear, and
its presence in Landor's poems must be attributed to his

(') Abbott, Concordance, p. xi.

GEBIR 'j'j

earlier devotion to that poet. Its frequency in Gehir may
be inferred from the fact that in the first hundred Hnes of
Book VII. there are nearly fifty which approximate more
or less closely to the type described. Other quahties,
which tend also in the direction of regularity, are the
absence of hendecasyllabics, and the infrequency of
metrical inversion and of sudden pauses and breaks in
the rhythm.

In all these respects, Gehir resembles its forerunner the
PhouBans, and differs from Paradise Lost. Nevertheless,
though Landor's style, in the main characteristics,
remained the same, there is clear evidence of greater ease
and skill in the later poem. The verses are less abrupt
and more harmonious ; the narrative, though still con-
densed, is unfolded in a more connected and deliberate
manner. This may certainly be the result of the poet's
study of Milton, and the assumption is very much streng-
thened by the fact that a few passages and lines can be
found where the style approaches to that of Paradise
Lost. These occur mostly where the subject ia not
unlike that of Milton's epic ; as, for instance, in the
description of the under-world (III. 71-92), or in the
verses on Fire (Crump, VIII., p. 53), in the vision of the
islands and coasts of the Mediterranean (VI. 148-180), in
the invocations at the beginning of Books I. and III., and
in other shorter passages scattered through the poem.
As might be expected, where the style, as in the places
cited, shows a resemblance to that of Milton, the language
also is influenced in the same direction, and it is not easy
to decide whether the impression produced is due to the
thought or to the actual language. Some examples will
be given in the next section.

Language. — Landor had already at the time of writing
Gebir composed a considerable quantity of poetry, which
displays a rich and varied vocabulary. It is hardly to be
expected that the influence of Milton, still less of any
other English poet, should have left upon that work


maiiy clear traces in the form of borrowed words, epithets,
and phrases. The effect would be seen, if at all, in the
general style of language employed, and this, in the case
of Gebir, is not markedly different from the Phoccsans.
There is in certain parts a more lofty tone and a corre-
sponding tendency to select the less common words, to
prefer those of Latin origin ; to impart in fact, as Landor
himseli said, ' an air of antiquity.' It is clear that the
study of Milton would help in this tendency, but the actual
evidence in the poem itself, especially when compared
with its predecessors, cannot be called striking. Those
passages and phrases w^iere the verbal resemblance
becomes at all marked will now be cited. Some have
been previously quoted, and only the more important of
these will be repeated.

Book I. The opening lines from ' When old Silenus '
to ' influence my lay ' are in the style of Lycidas, both in
form and language.

Ye woody hills of Cambria ! and ye hills

That hide in heaven your summits and your fame

may be compared with

Yet once more, O ye Laurels, and once more
Ye myrtless brown . . .

There is something also of Miltonic splendour in the
description of ' those mountain caverns, which retain his
labours yet,' the ' vast halls and flowing wells ' of Gibraltar :

. here incenst
By meditating on primeval wrongs.
He blew his battle horn, at which uprose
Whole nations ; here, ten thousand of most might
He called aloud ; and soon Charoba saw
His dark helm hover o'er the land of Nile. (I. i-io.)

' Of most might ' suggests ' of matchless might ' {Samson
Agon. 178) and ' my substitutes . . . of matchless might '
(P. L. X 404), and other instances in Milton. ' Orbed


shield ' (verse 50) occurs in Paradise Lost (VI. 543), and
' wan suffusion ' (97) is not unlike ' dim suffusion * (P. L.,
III. 26).

There was a brightening paleness in his face
Such as Diana rising o'er the rocks
Shower'd on the lonely Latmian ;

(I- 57-59)

These lines are said to have suggested a passage in the
most Miltonic of Keats' poems, Hyperion (^). Landor's
descriptions generally recall Milton's manner, even when
he employs words not found in the latter. The following :

Her mantle show'd the yellow samphire-pod.

Her girdle the dove-colour 'd wave serene. (I. 145.)

and the famous shell passage (I. 159-163) may be com-
pared with the Mask, especially with verses 230-243 of
the latter :

Sweet Echo, sweetest Nymph that liv'st unseen
Within thy airy shell

And give resounding grace to all Heav'ns Harmonies.

It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that this may
have helped Landor to his much-quoted idea.

And the long moonbeam on the hard wet sand
Lay like a jasper column half up-rear 'd. (217.)

Cf. ' Pavement that like a sea of jasper shon ' (P. L.,
III. 363) ; ' sea of jasper ' (III. 519) ; ' sky of jasper '
(XI. 209). In the first book are also ' refulgent as the
stars ' (17) (cf. P. L., VI. 527), ' flaccid ears ' (55), ' turbid
vein' (156), and other words and expressions which,
though not to be found in Milton's poetry, are in his
verbal manner.

(') The Poems of John Kaats, E. de S^linco'urt : Hyperion, I. 35-37,

and note, p. 596.


Book II. The verses (52-62) on the Prayers are only
slightly reminiscent of those in Paradise Lost :

Swifter than light are they . . .
. . . at the throne
Of Mercy, when clouds shut it from mankind,
They fall bare-bosom'd, and indignant Jove
Drops at the soothing sweetness of their voice
The thunder from his hand. Let us arise
On these high places daily, beat our breast.
Prostrate ourselves and deprecate his wrath (55-62).

(Cf. p. L., X. 1060-1104, and XI. 1-8.)

. . . they forthwith to the place
Repairing where he judg'd them, prostrate fall.

Thus they in lowliest plight repentant stood
Praying, for from the Mercie seat above

. . . which the spirit of Prayer
Inspir'd and wing'd for Heav'n with speedier flight
Than loudest Oratorie :

In the descriptions of Nature we again find that parti-
ality for effects produced by the names of precious stones
and rare colours which Landoi and Milton both display.
Thus (II. 66-70),

And now the largest orbit of the Year
Leaning o'er black Mocattam's rubied brow.
Proceeded slow, majestic and serene.

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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 6 of 9)