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The story of the purchase of Llanthony Abbey at the sacrifice of Tachbrooke, and its speedy abandonment-his hasty and illassorted marriage, of which he wrote
'The brightest stars are not the best
-his flight from his friends and country-his subsequent wanderings in France and Italy-and his ultimate settlement on the beautiful slopes of Fiesole, is told by Mr. Forster with a combination of affectionate interest and biographic tact such as has fallen to the lot of few men of letters to secure. It was during this time that the felicitous project of the Imaginary Conversations was conceived and matured-a form of composition cognate to both his intellectual and moral peculiarities, and the success of which was almost a compensation for all the mischances of his outward and inner life. With such a vehicle for thought and language, no wonder that poetry was abandoned, and all his energies devoted to this great and appropriate work. Not that the habit which he had acquired and cultivated of casting into verse any pleasant, picturesque, humorous, or tender thought that suggested itself as appropriate was discontinued. 'As I had never drunk wine,' he had written, 'I am forced every now and then to write half a dozen verses that I may forget what is passing round about.' Some of these exercises had appeared in the scattered 'opuscula,' but it was mainly in his letters that they were inserted, and his correspondence was frequent and large. After the completion of the main body of the Conversations, the practice grew upon him to such an extent that these lyric and epigrammatic forms of verse became his chief literary occupation, and are the substance of several volumes published under quaint designations, while there are no doubt many still in manuscript in the hands of his friends or their representatives. Of them the best are of the very best, perhaps unsurpassed in our language, and in foreign literature only equalled by Voltaire and Goethe. In his later years he was pained by the thought that he had wasted in such trivialities something of the genius which might have been concentrated on higher purposes, and gave expression to this feeling very characteristically in a passage of an Imaginary Conversation between himself and one of his truest friends :
It is objected that most of my poems are occasional.
Of your poems the smaller alone are occasional: now not only are the smaller, but the best of Catullus and Horace, and all of Pindar. Were not the speeches of Lysias, Aeschines, Demosthenes, occasional? Draw nearer home. What but occasional were the Letters of Junius? Materiem superabat opus.
True. The ministers and their king are now mould and worms; they were little better when aboveground; but the bag-wig and point-lace of Junius are suspended aloft upon a golden peg for curiosity and admiration.
Regarding the occasional in poetry; is there less merit in taking and treating what is before us, than in seeking and wandering through an open field as we would for mushrooms?
I stand out a rude rock in the middle of a river, with no exotic or parasitical plant on it, and few others. Eddies and dimples and froth and bubbles pass rapidly by, without shaking me. Here indeed is little room for picnic and polka.
Praise and censure are received by you with nearly the same indifference. WALTER LANDOR.
Not yours. Praise on poetry, said to be the most exhilarating of all, affects my brain but little. Certainly I never attempted to snatch 'the peculiar graces so generally delightful.' My rusticity has at least thus much of modesty in it.
It is interesting to observe how large a portion of these occasional poems are personal. Landor affected, or rather persuaded himself, that he felt not only an entire contempt for the opinions of others, but even a dislike to the general commerce of mankind, and yet there is hardly any one, even of his casual acquaintance, with whom he does not link himself on by some token of poetical sympathy. He had indeed written over the entrance of his Villa—
Hominum satis superque
Multi viderunt naturae nemo
Et in parvis eam ut in maximis mirabilem
and he poured out on the humblest objects of Nature an abundant tenderness that in a less vigorous temperament would have had the character of a morbid sentimentalism. The beautiful lines in which he deprecates the plucking of flowers will be found in the Faesulan Idyl, and the destruction of some sparrows elicited this solemn reprobation.
Ah me! what rumour do I hear?
This is not the place to enlarge on Landor's command of the Latin language, which enabled him to use it for every purpose, and to adapt it to every theme, from the fables of Greek mythology to the incidents and characters of his own day. His style,' wrote Bishop Thirlwall, 'is not that either of the golden or the silver or of any earlier or later age of Latinity. It is the style of Landor, and it is marked with the stamp not only of his intellect, but of his personal idiosyncrasy. This is the cause of that obscurity which must be felt, even by scholars, to mar to some extent the enjoy. ment of his Latin poetry!' The composition of two delightful reviews on Catullus and Theocritus about 1842, accompanied by the necessity of translating certain passages into English, produced a revival of that peculiar alternation of classic and English expressions of poetic thought of which Gebir was the early illustration.
1 Landor's Latin poems belong to English literature, and thus two of his most perfect epigrams may be here appropriately inserted.
'Non ut ames-ut amere, peto, da, dulcis Ianthe;
In Philological Museum, 1832.
VISIS IMAGINIBUS ROMANORUM VETERUM.
Vos nudo capite atque vos saluto,
Of these one of the first was the Hamadryad, a dramatic idyl of the time when to every man the shapes of Nature were but the reflections of his own, and in the Collection of all his writings during the next three years he not only added other similar pieces, such as the Cymodameia, but translated most of the Latin idyls already printed with a force and ingenuity that left no trace of their original form. These again were brought together in a volume under the title of Hellenics, and others later under that of Heroic Idyls, after he had returned to England in consequence of domestic discomforts and had established himself once more at Bath, the scene of his happiest youthful days. He returned once more to Italy, and died at Florence in his 90th year.
The consummate grace of many of Landor's smaller pieces will ever recommend them to the general reader, but the bulk of his poetry can only be appreciated by those who possess cognate tastes and something of similar acquisitions. There remains however a just interest in this signal example of the enduring dominion of the old classic forms of thought not only over the young imagination but over the matured and most cultivated intelligence. To Keats they assimilated themselves almost without learning by a certain natural affinity; to the industrious and scholarly Landor they became the lifelong vital forces not only of poetic generation but of moral sustenance. They gave to his character the heroic influences which alone subdued the wilfulness of his temperament, and amid all the confusions of life kept his heart high and his fancy pure. But they did not limit the powers they controlled in the Examination of Shakespeare he is the Englishman of the Elizabethan age, in the Pentameron the Italian of that of Petrarch and Boccaccio, as even when most Greek and most Latin he is ever Landor himself alone.
[The peculiar orthography has been preserved in these extracts: it was adopted by Julius Hare, and by Connop Thirlwall in his earlier writings.]
[From Gebir, Book I.]
I am not daunted, no; I will engage.
But first, said she, what wager will you lay?
Its polisht lips to your attentive ear
Ye men of Gades, armed with brazen shields,
For Earth contains no nation where abounds