11 JUNE 1937, Page 28


Landor's Poetical Works. Edited by Stephen Wheeler. Three Vols. (Oxford University Press. 6os.)

WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR is an example in English of the " pure " poet. Independent in character and in means, he

was able to shut himself off from the judgements of his con- temporaries at in early age. His wealth was backed up by a vitriolic temper ; although a brilliant scholar, he refused to 'compete in school or University examinations, and was in fact expelled from both institutions. He followed up this start by living for the greater part of his life physically abroad and mentally in a world of heroic thought.

He might have become as much a Latin as Lytton Strachey shows Beddoes to have been an Elizabethan. But his violent and generous personality does provide a link between the widely separated ages which he inhabited : even in his most

polished classical epigrams we are aware of someone warn' and angry. Occasionally too his poetry shoots off—by a process familiar enough in the romantic tradition—at a political tangent, if the subject is sufficiently, remote and generalised. Thus we can read poems in these volumes which seem remarkably relevant to the situation in Spain

today : "Resist the conqueror, spurn the slave And striking home for equal laws Pray fortune to sustain the cause. Not such is theirs as wafted o'er The crescent and the crafty Moor; No tears for virgin honour flow No father calls the avenging foe ; Napoleon leads no faithless host, Nor tears the heart that trusts him most, A rescued son, a prince restored, Against his country draws the sword, 'And wyly priests in vengeful mood Surround their fires with dykes of blood: Turn then, 0 fortune and sustain The cause of freedom and of Spain ! "

Purist as he is, no writer is so English as Landor, in his eccentricity, his desire to live abroad, his love of the classics,

his championing of pure aesthetic gam1a0s He belongs to a tradition in which Beddoes was perhaps the- most brilliant and dazzling failure, Beckford the most illustrious amateur, and which Browning managed to enrich with his potent but less aristocratic view of life. Today this tradition Of the writer whose inspiration is not experience but travel and art is adorned by Sacheverell Sitwell.

Landor's early poem " Gebir," with its remote philosophy its Miltonic technique, its distraught plot, is one of the most confusing epics ever attempted. Yet it contains some of the

most beautiful poetry in the language ; poetry of extra- ordinary purity yet penetrating observation. The sixth book, describing Tainar's nuptials, reveals it at its best and weakest.

It opens unpromisingly, in the classical im n ler :

"Now to Aurora, bome.hy dappled steeds, The sacred gate of orient pearl and gold,

Smitten with Lucifer's light silver wand," &c.

Bi only a few lines later we enter a world which is at unrl and natural :

"They, where they hear the echo, turn their eyes ; But nothing see they, save a purple mist Roll from the distant mountain down the shore. It rolls, it sails, it settles, it dissolves."

Then we are told of the Nymphs who strewed the bridal

bed that

"these tuned afresh the shells, Wiping the green that hoarsened them within : These wove the chaplets ; and at night resolved To drive the dolphins from the wreathed door."

Landor never attempted another poem so ambitious as " Gebir " : he probably recognised, as Keats did after "Hyperion," the mistake of writing in Miltonic blank verse.

Yet " Gebir " is not like " Hyperion " ; it is more like " Endymion " written in the language of "Hyperion." Per- sonally I prefer it to " Endymion " : for whereas the world of " Endymion " seems to me over-rich and cloying, and the rhymed couplets almost unreadable at any length, " Gehir " moves in a cold, clear, thin world of fantasy sharply imagined, and the poeticisms—of which there are certainly too many— do not weigh down the best passages, they merely fall apart, so that one is jerked suddenly from a neo-classical world into a world of the imagination which is really well defined.

‘- The Manias and Dramatic Scenes" are extremely interesting, though they _are not, nearly so effective as Browning's dramatic lyrics. They suffer from Landor's occasional poeticisms, the monotony of his blank verse and from passages of prosaic writing and flatness. The flatness in Landor is never quiet, conscious or deliberate, it is rather the failure of an epigrammatic writer, an amusing conversa- tionalist, to be always amusing, and therefore it is slightly embarrassing to the reader. However, some of the scenes are really dramatic. I like the "Coronation," in which, while Ferdinand of Naples is being crowned, 'a woman of the streets reflects on the bastard baby which, she his, murdered. The story has no moral, it is accidental, and it is effective in the way that some story in the newspaper can be -made effective by the literary artist who regards it as so much material from which he extracts dramatic possibility.

The, dialogue. between Don Guzman and his son is effective in another way ; it is artificially- heroic to the point of ridiculousness and it has the charm of a set piece.

Landor is most famous for his short poems and epigrams, which are to be found in every anthology of English poetry. The reader of these volumes will find that some of the less- known epigrams are as good or almost as good as the famous ones : but on the whole the anthologists seem to have chosen very well. The purity of Landor's style, which sometimes leads to thinness and a monotony in his blank verse, leads to pre- cision, bite and a beautiful music in his short poems. In later life he concentrated on writing these, filling letters to his friends .with them, and he showed excellent self-judgement in doing so. This edition, first made for the set of Landor's complete works published by Messrs. Chapman and Hall, and now included in the "Oxford English Texts" series, is meticulously edited by Mr. Stephen Wheeler. Personally, I would like to have read many more notes, as Landor's poems are full of personal references which excite my curiosity, which Mr. Wheeler often failed to satisfy. The volumes themselves, in the Chapman and Hall edition, are cumbrous and unattractive. They are printed on a thick, porous paper in a heavy type. In both editions the poems are sometimes, for reasons of economy I suppose, printed in two columns, where the lines are short enough, sometimes in one. Occa- sionally the print is so crushed into the line that the words run together into one long word. It is a pity that Landor, the most clear and graceful of poets, should not be published