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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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are taken from the mythical accounts of ancient Iberia.
The preface states : ' Hardly anything remains that made

(') The name was so spelt in the first edition.


ancient Iberia classic land. We have little more than
the titles of fables — than portals, as it were, covered over
with gold and gorgeous figures, that show us what once
must have been the magnificence of the whole interior
edifice.' From this we must suppose that the name
' Chrysaor ' was suggested by that of the father of Geryon.
Landor had already in his school days read Hesiod, if we
may judge from the references to that writer in his early
poems (cf. ante, p. lo). He would, therefore, be acquainted
with the story of the slaying of the Medusa by Perseus,
as narrated in the Theogony (278 ff) ; and how from her
blood started forth the great Chrysaor and the \vinged
horse Pegasus. They were the offspring of the gorgon
by Poseidon. Mounting the winged steed, Chrysaor bore
the lightning, symbolised as the golden sword, to the
palace of Jove. It is further related of the hero that from
his union with Callirhoe arose Geryon and the Echidna
{Theog., 979 ff) . There is clearly nothing in this to suggest
Lander's poem, beyond the name and the association with
Iberia through the Geryon fable. Colvin has suggested
Diodorus as the source of the name and of the association
of Chrysaor with the giants. That historian, however,
has only given a more modern version of the fable,
narrating that Hercules killed the three sons of a wealthy
king of Spain whose name was Chrysaor (^). The three
sons are evidently the triple-headed Geryon rationahsed ;
as also in Justin (XLIV. 4), who does not mention Chry-
saor, but relates that the wealth of Geryon drew Hercules
from Asia. There was not, as the fable relates, a monster
of triple nature, but there had been apparently three
brothers, who Hved in such concord, ' ut uno animo
omnes regi viderentur.' Justin also writes ' Saltus vero
Tartessiorum, in quibus Titanas bellum adversus Deos
gessisse proditur, incoluere Cunetes ' ; which may
account for the association of the episode in Landor 's
poem with Gades. The name Chrysaor occurs not

(') Diodori Bibliotheca Historica, IX , 17, 18.


infrequently as a descriptive title of various gods and
heroes, among others of Phoebus Apollo in Homer (//., V,
509) and in Pindar {Pyth., V. 104) (^). There is nowhere
any association of the name with the rebellion of a Titan
or giant against the gods. The nearest approach to the
incident described by Landor is in the story of the defiance
of Ajax and his destruction by Neptune, as told by Homer
{Od., IV. 500 ff) (-). It is very probable that this may
have suggested the chief incident of the poem, but there
are indications that Milton's account of the rebellion of
Satan and the Fall of Man contributed most to its spirit
and form. Like its two predecessors, the Phocaans and
Gebir, Chrysaor is an attack upon kingship, which is here
represented as associated with the slave trade. In a note
on the lines,

Man for one moment hath engaged his lord,
Henceforth let merchants value him, not kings.

there is a discussion on some forms of slavery. The inner
meaning and application of the poem can hardly be
understood without its help. There is, for instance, a
comparison between ' the petty princes of Hesse and
Hanover,' and ' their brethren the petty princes of
Negroland ' in favour of the latter, since they sold their
subjects into a gentler and less degrading servitude. The
poem, according to the same note, describes a period when
tyranny was at its worst, which could only be when men
were the slaves and merchandise of their rulers. At such
a time their duty is to remove the common enemy — a
plea for tyrannicide — since by submission they incur the
enmity of the gods.

The contents of the poem, which contains only 209 lines,
may be briefly summarised thus : After the overthrow
of the Titans, one of them, Chrysaor, survives, and rules
over Spain. He hurls defiance at Jupiter, and, refusing

(1) See also Herodotus, VIII. 77.
n Crump, VIII. p. 370.
P.L. H


to adore, declares that henceforth the sacrifices of men
shall be for the Titans, not for the gods. He demands
that the curse upon him be removed, or he will wage war
on his oppressor. Jupiter is roused to indignation against
mankind for submitting to the tyranny of the Giant, and
calls upon Neptune to destroy him. At one blow Gades
is severed from the main, and the rebellious Titan perishes.
But the nations of fair Hesperia, who had for thrice
twelve years endured his yoke, must suffer the penalty.
One of the fallen giants has given birth to a daughter,
who, as Superstition, is permitted for ages to oppress

Brief as it is, the theme is presented in such a way as
to form a parallel to that of Paradise Lost. The powers
and persons in Landor's sketch play much the same part
as the chief of those in Milton's epic. This is seen from
the following comparison :

God the Father. Jupiter.

God the Son. Neptune.

Angels. Tritons and Nymphs.

Adam and Eve. Mankind.

Satan. Chrysaor.

Fallen Angels. Fallen Titans.

Sin (born of Satan). Superstition (bom of a Titan).

The resemblance in subject extends also to the lan-
guage, which has again, as in Gebir, taken on something
of the splendour of Milton in Paradise Lost. A few
extracts will now be made and compared with parts of
that poem, to bring out the relationship which seems to
exist between them. It is not of course suggested that
Landor has borrowed from, or consciously imitated.
Paradise Lost ; he was, however, so much under the
influence of Milton that his thoughts and style naturally
drew their inspiration from that source.

The invocations present a general similarity, that in


Chrysaor leading the reader to expect more than is
actually to be found in the poem.

Come, I beseech ye, Muses ! who, retired
Deep in the shady glens by HeHcon,
Yet know the realms of Ocean, . . .

Who from your sacred mountain see afar
O'er earth and heaven, and hear and memorise
The crimes of men and counsels of the Gods ;
Sing of those crimes and of those counsels, sing
Of Gades severed from the fruitful main.
And what befell, and from what mighty hand,
Chrysaor, wielder of the golden sword. (1-12.)

Of man's first disobedience . . .

Sing Heav'nly Muse, that on the secret top

Of Oreb or of Sinai didst inspire

That Shepherd . . .

And justifie the ways of God to men.

Say first, for Heav'n hides nothing from thy view

Who first seduc'd them to that foul revolt.

(P. L.. I. 1-33.)

In Chrysaor, (95) the fall of the Titans is called their
' foul disgrace.' Verses 13-18 refer to the rebelHon of
the Titans and to their defeat in three stages, which
correspond to the three-days' battle waged by Satan and
his followers in heaven. Verse 200 (Chrysaor) :

. . . he omnipotence defied
But thunderstruck fell headlong from the clouds ;

This is a near approach to Milton, Paradise Lost, 1. 44-49 :

. . Him the Almighty power

Hurld headlong flaming from the Ethereal Skie

Who durst defy th' Omnipotent to Arms.

The defiance of Chrysaor is not in so lofty a tone as

H 2


that of Satan, but has some of the same elements.
Verses 20-43 :

Chrysaor, still in Gades tarrying,

Hurl'd into ether, tingeing, as it flew.

With sudden fire the clouds round Saturn's throne.

Nor ash, nor poplar pale : {^) but swoln with pride
Stood towering from the citadel ;

His frowning visage, flusht with insolence,
Rais'd up oblique to heaven. ' O thou,' he cried,
" Whom nations kneel to, not whom nations know,

. why should I adore.
Adored myself by millions ? why invoke,
Invoked with all thy attributes ? Men wrong
By their prostrations, prayers, and sacrifice.
Either the Gods, their rulers, or themselves :

No ! lower thy sceptre, and hear Atrobal,
And judge aright to whom men sacrifice.'

The defiance of Satan may have been in Landor's mind
when he wrote the above ; especially some of the verses
753-799. in Book V., e.g. :

And Satan — . . .

High on a hill, far blazing, as a Mount

Rais'd on a Mount, with Pyramids and Towers

Affecting all equality with God

thus held their ears.
' Another now hath to himself ingross't
All Power and us eclipst .

to receive from us
Knee tribute yet unpaid, prostration vile.

Will ye submit your necks and chuse to bend
The supple knee ?

(') See p. 8r, ante. The passage is curious, since it vividly describes
the flight of a missile which, we arc finally told, was not thrown


' While they adore me on the throne of Hell '

(IV. 89.)

' Divided Empire with Heav'n's king I hold
By thee, and more than half perhaps will reign ;
As Man ere long and this new World shall know.'

(IV. 111-113.)

Thus Chrysaor, who has gained supreme power over
despised mankind, claims, like Satan, to be adored and
invoked with all the attributes of divinity. The priest
Atrobal proclaims that the fumes of sacrifice shall be for
the Titans not for the Gods.

This is clearly Landor's presentment of the teaching
that kingship, usually supported by priestcraft, is an
usurpation of the rights of God. Milton has said the
same ; for example {Paradise Lost, XII. 69), ' but Man
over men he made not Lord ; such title to himself

Verses 48-61 are somewhat difficult to understand.
Chrysaor laments that his shadow has almost disappeared
and that he himself has yielded to the piercing beams of
the Sun, The meaning apparently is that the shadow
of his tyranny becomes less as the Sun of Reason rises

' Time is changed, Nature changes, I am changed !
Fronting the furious lustre of the Sun
I yielded to his piercing swift-shot beams
Only when quite meridian, then abased
These orbits to the ground, and there survey'd
My shadow : strange and horrid to relate !
My very shadow almost disappear'd !
Restore it or by Earth and hell I swear
With blood enough will I refascinate
The cursed incantation : thou restore
And largely ; or my brethren, all combined.
Shall rouse thee from thy lethargies, and drive
Far from thy cloud-soft pillow, minion-prest.
Those leering lassitudes that follow Love.'
The smile of disappointment and disdain
Sat sallow on his pausing lip half-closed ;


So also Satan, fallen and changed, threatens war upon
the Almighty (P. L., I. 84-126).

' We may with more successful hope resolve
To wage by force or guile eternal Warr
Irreconcileable, to our grand Foe,
Who now triumphs, and in th' excess of joy
Sole reigning holds the Tyranny of Heav'n,'
So spoke th' apostate Angel, though in pain,
Vaunting aloud, but rackt with deep despare.

' Cloud-soft pillow ' resembles ' snow-soft chair ' in
Milton's lines On the Death of an Infant (19), but there
are few verbal similarities of the kind.

Verses 72-126. Jupiter calls upon Neptune to over-
throw the survivor of that race of earth-born giants,
Neptune responds consenting, and at his voice the Tritons
meet and warm with melody the azure concave of their
curling shells.

So also the Father Almighty in Paradise Lost calls
upon his Son to overthrow Satan, and Angels sing hymns
of praise.

Verses 127-135. The description of Neptune's attack
is quite in the style of Milton's poetry :

Swift as an arrow, as the wind, as hght,

He glided through the deep, and now arrived.

Leapt from his pearly beryl-studded car.

Earth trembled : the retreating tide, black-brow'd

Gather 'd new strength, and rushing on, assail'd

The promontory's base : but when the God

Himself, resistless Neptune, struck one blow.

Rent were the rocks asunder and the sky

Was darken 'd with their fragments ere they fell.

The battle in heaven and the victory of the Messiah
may be compared with the above, e.g., P. L.,YI. y^g-y^S :

. . . forth rushed with whirlwind sound
The Chariot of Paternal Deitie . . .

. . . the Wheels
Of Beryl, and careering Fires between

The steadfast Empyrean shook throughout (833)


and VI. 653-664 :

. . . and on their heads
Main Promontories flung which in the air
Came shadowing . .

So Hills amid the air encountered Hills.

The death of Chrysaor is then described in verses 150-
184, and the concluding hnes 185-209 tell the fate of
Hesperia and of all nations who bend to any other king
than the gods. They are destined, hke Spain, to crouch
for centuries at the feet of Superstition. She was born
of Sicanus, who defied Omnipotence and fell from heaven ;
assuming the helm of Religion, she is allowed to afflict
mankind. This concluding idea is very suggestive of
Milton's in Paradise Lost where Satan gives birth to a
daughter, Sin, who is permitted to wander over the earth
bringing misery to the human race.

Landor's Chrysaor may be fairly described as a poetic
treatment, in terms of Greek mythology, of a theme
parallel to that of Milton's epic. The crime of man
which brings about his fall is that of submitting to kings
who usurp the authority of the gods. His punishment
consists in the age-long reign of Superstition.



Before concluding this study of the early poetical
works of Landor a brief consideration must be given to
a volume published in 1800 entitled Poems from the Arabic
and Persian. If these were not really translations, they
seem to have some significance in the history of the poet's
development. They would indicate a less serious attitude
towards the art of making poetry than was Landor's
when he wrote Gebir, and would partly explain why he
attempted nothing more of importance after this time.
The preface is of some interest ; it is as follows :
' I am uncertain, and I am heedless, whether the public
at large wiU receive with favour a performance ill calcu-
lated to irritate or surprise. At a time when the total
slavery, or the total emancipation, of mankind, (^) are the
objects of cold indifference, or of mere conversational
curiosity, it is barely possible that supineness will be
awakened by the feeble echo of a foreign song. Some
poems have reached the continent, I believe in number not
exceeding nine, represented as translations from the
Arabic and Persian. Ignorant of both these languages I
shall not assert their authenticity. The few that I ever
have met with are chiefly the odes of Hafez. In these,
and in all the others I observed that the final stanza
contained invariably the poet's name. If this be peculiar
to the Persian, as I think I remember it is said to be,
then these must not be genuine or not be odes. In my

(') He had perhaps already written Chrysaor, which has this for theme.


opinion it is quite sufficient, if, without the fatigue of
travelhng over a dry uninteresting waste of perhaps some
hundred pages, the pubhc be presented, whether from
Egypt or from France, with a new and rich collection of
undistorted images. And as these translations have
afforded some pleasure to those who have read them,
though perhaps no language is less capable than the
French of transmitting with adequate spirit the charms
of original poetry, I shall hesitate no longer to send them
on, accompanied with my own observations.'

It would appear, therefore, that the nine poems in the
volume were versions or translations from certain French
prose (^) translations of Arabic and Persian originals.
The author himself doubts the authenticity of the material
he used, and, since he nowhere gives any clue to the name
of the French translator or other source, the reader is
naturally inclined at first sight to regard the whole as an
invention. The statement that ' some poems have
reached the continent, I believe in number not exceeding
nine,' is hardly of a kind to inspire confidence. It may be
said at once that no one has ever succeeded in finding
either the originals or their French versions, and the most
probable conclusion is that they never existed. The
poems were original compositions by Landor, who
removed all doubt on the subject when they were repub-
lished nearly sixty years later in ' Dry Sticks, fagoted by
Walter Savage Landor, 1858.' In a note which precedes
the poems from the Persian, he writes, ' The following
were presented as Poems from the Arabic and Persian. A
hundred copies were printed for friends. One of these
caused them to be written, by remarking to the author,
who perhaps undervalued the Orientals, that "he should
be glad to see how anyone would succeed in an attempt to
imitate them." ' This seems to be conclusive, and agrees
with the statement of Mrs. Browning, who records
Landor's assurance that he wrote these poems for the
(') As stated in note (B) attached to the first piece.


mystification of scholars C). Nevertheless, several writers
seem still to doubt the author's later explanation of their
origin, without suggesting a reason why he should any
longer have withheld the truth. Thus Wheeler says,
' whether written in imitation of Asiatic verse or trans-
lated from a translation is uncertain,' and ' the internal
evidence can hardly be regarded as convincing either way '
(pp. 131, 132). It seems, therefore, worth while to
mention some points which throw further light on the
question. In the Postscript to Gebir, which was written
shortly after the Persian poems, they are referred to in a
way which seems to prove their character. A note
on p. 83 of the volume {") containing the post-
script states, ' Those who in Poems from the Arabic and
Persian have found me so faithful a translator, wdll be
pleased, I hope, with a version of an ancient Greek
Dithyrambic ! ' Then foUows in prose a so-caUed ' Ode
on Power.'

The obviously satirical tone of the note shows that it
was merely another attempt to catch the unwary. It is
quite in accordance with his remark to Mrs. Browning that
the Persian Poems were written for the mystification of
scholars. The Dithyrambic is an invention of Landor's,
and so also must have been the Oriental imitations.
Their source is given by an autograph note added to the
author's own copy, in which he says, ' I vvTote these
poems after reading what had been translated from the
Arabic and Persian by Sir W. Jones and Dr. Nott.' The
latter of these especially seems "to have inspired Landor,
for though the nine poems themselves avoid any obvious
borrowing or imitation, yet the copious annotations deal
partly with just those questions which Nott had discussed
in his book. This was published by subscription in 1787
under the title ' Select Odes from the Persian Poet Hafez,
translated into Enghsh verse ; with Notes critical and

(1) Wheeler, pp. 130, 131.

(2) Forster Bequest, South Kensington Museum.


explanatory, by John Nott. London ; Printed for T.
Cadell, in the Strand.' Among the original subscribers,
of whom a list is given, was the father of Walter Savage
Landor. The name on the hst is ' Landor M.D. Warwick,'
and a reference to Baily's British Directory, 1784, and the
British Directory, 1793, shows that there was no other
person of that name among the residents of Warwick.

It is at least possible that the author was familiar
with these translations some years previously, and may
have derived something of the Eastern colouring and the
occasionally sensuous character of the descriptions in
Gehir from that source.

The preface to the Select Odes contains the following
assertion :

' And we lament whilst years are bestowed in acquiring
an insight into the Greek and Roman authors, that those
very writers should have been neglected, from whom the
Greeks evidently derived both the richness of their
mythology, and the pecuHar tenderness of their

After explaining the term ' Gazel,' Dr. Nott continues
that he will not venture to determine whether Anacreon
borrowed the gaiety of his Odes from the Persian Gazel,
or whether Hafez enriched his native language by an
imitation of the Teian bard. The comparison between the
two is made several times, Hafez being described as the
Anacreon of Persia. He is also hkened to Petrarch, whose
canzoni are, Nott maintains, an exact imitation of the
Persian Gazel. These are views which Landor combats in
his notes, saying, for example, ' It must surely result from
the weakest or from the most perverted understanding,
that the Gazel has been preferred to the pure and almost
perfect, though utterly dissimilar, pieces of Anacreon and
Tibullus.' And further, ' I should be ashamed to be
numbered with those enthusiasts, who diminish the merit
of the western poetry by deriving so much of it from the
East. Voyages had given Homer, and libraries had given


Theocritus access to these copious and undisputed springs :
but their waters were useless to Anacreon.'

In the same note he draws attention to a supposed
similarity between a verse of Hafez and one of Propertius.
which is interesting as an example of the distant approach
considered by Landor sufficient to be called resemblance.
The verses are these :

Should the sweet gales, as o'er thy tomb they play,
The fragrance of the nymph's loved tresses bring,
Then Hafez, shall new life inspire thy clay,
And ceaseless notes of rapture shalt thou sing.

{Selected Odes from Hafez, by John Nott.)

Jam licet et Stygia sedeat sub arundine remex
Cemat et infemae tristia vela ratis :
Si modo clamantes revocaverit aura puella
Concessum nulla lege redibit iter.

(Propertius, Eleg., 19, lib. 2.)

The long note, from which these extracts have been
made, is attached to Landor's first Ode from the Persian,
entitled ' Address to the Vine.' A few lines may be
quoted as an example of thie general style :

O Thou that delightest in the gardens of Shiraz,
And bathest with coyness in her canopied streams !
Daughter of Beauty, favorite of Nature !
Where she is beneficent thou art her handmaid.
Thy voice is transport, thy bosom peace.

The places named either in the verses or in the remarks
are for the most part to be found in Nott's book, and the
spelling is his.

Thus Ode XIII. of the latter opens with this stanza :

O pride of Sliiraz, nymph divine !
Accept my heart and yield me thine :
Then were its price all Samarcand,
The wealth Bokhara's walls command ;
That pretty mole of dusky dye.

Thy cheek displays, I'd gladly buy.

From Landor's fourth Ode :

O Dulcimer, art thou not the breeze of Samarcand ?
Thou art pleasanter than sweet Samarcand in her vallies
of jonquils ;

The names are common enough, but it is at least a
curious coincidence that in four Persian odes the only
geographical names should be those which occur in Nott's
Hafez. In the note which was quoted above, there is the
following : ' The country round Shiraz is fertile in vines,
and is watered by the river Mosella.' This looks hke an
assumption of ignorance on the part of Landor, since
there is no such river. Nott, from whom he quotes a few
lines later in the same note, refers to the opinion of Sir W.
Jones that Mosella was a chapel, and adds that he himself
thinks it was only the name of a pleasantly situated and
sacred spot of ground in the time of Hafez, after whose
death a chapel and monument were there erected.

Other inconsistencies might be mentioned, all tending
to the conclusion that Landor was merely perpetrating a
somewhat elaborate joke, but perhaps one further instance
will be sufficient. He writes (To libra, note (g) ) : 'I
must make an apology for having, in more than one
instance, rendered two or even three French words into
one.' This refers to the word * half -shaded ' in the hne

" The dimple of thy lips, half-shaded by ever-blooming

It would surely be a most unusual occurrence for a
translator to make an explanation of this kind, and
further to remark on the many faihngs of the French
language, without giving the words of the supposed
original. It may reasonably be concluded that there
was no original. Under the circumstances, no one will
be surprised to read (note (h) ) : 'I have not received
the sUghtest information concerning the author, or the
authors, of these Persian poems. It is certain that thj


two, and probably that the three preceding ones are the
production of the same pen.'

It is true that he attributes four of the Arabic poems
to ' the son of the unfortunate Sheik Daher.' Landor has

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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 8 of 9)