Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864)
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 4, 323–325.
Landor was one of the first major literary figures whom EBB actually met, but he conducted far more correspondence with RB than with her. His bad temper eventually imposed a heavy burden on RB’s patience. Elvan Kintner, editor of RB-EBB, describes him as “a literary rebel admired by a small but discriminating audience” (p. 1095). Born at Warwick on 30 January 1775, he was the eldest son of Walter and Elizabeth (née Savage) Landor. His father was a physician who retired after receiving a large inheritance, and the son never had to worry about earning a living. Removed from Rugby school after various offenses, young Landor spent some time in private study, and then—in 1793—entered Trinity College, Oxford. Suspended for firing a gun in connection with a political dispute, he refused to return even when given a chance to do so. A quarrel with his father ensued, but matters were patched up sufficiently for him to receive an allowance of £150 per year, with freedom to travel as he pleased. He began publishing poems in 1795. At an early age he met the scholar Samuel Parr, whose name often crops up in EBB’s correspondence. Their friendship continued until Parr’s death in 1825. Becoming independently wealthy upon the death of his father in 1805, Landor settled in Bath. Three years later he went to Spain, raising and financing a volunteer force to fight against Napoleon. The adventure soon ended, and Landor returned to England. In 1811 he married Miss Julia Thuillier, a woman considerably younger than himself. The marriage was troubled, and the couple eventually separated. For about three years, starting in 1811, Landor lived on his Llanthony Abbey estate in Monmouthshire, and was constantly involved in disputes while trying to upgrade the land’s productivity and the local people’s living conditions. He next went to France and then to Italy, residing in Florence from 1821 until 1835, at which time he left his wife and returned to Britain. He went back to Italy in 1858 for the final, unhappy six years of his life. Landor produced a vast quantity of poetry and prose—in English, Latin, and Italian. His works included the long narrative poem Gebir (1798); the tragedy Count Julian (1812), prompted by his war experiences in Spain; Imaginary Conversations (1824–29); and various lyrics, including “Rose Aylmer” (1806). Last Fruit off an Old Tree, not actually his final work, appeared in 1853. He died in Florence on 17 September 1864 and was buried in the English Cemetery near the tomb of EBB.
Landor was among the literary people with whom RB became acquainted upon publication of his Paracelsus (1835), and was among those present at Thomas Noon Talfourd’s Ion supper (vol. 3, p. 324), likewise attended by RB. EBB saw Landor two nights later, on 28 May 1836, at the home of John Kenyon. On 7 December of that year she wrote to Julia Martin (letter 546) of this meeting with “Landor, the brilliant Landor!” On 24 May 1843 she wrote of him in a letter to Mary Russell Mitford: “Mr. Landor is a man of fine genius, & not far (if far at all) from being the noblest prose writer of the day.” The first known letter between one of the Brownings and Landor was no. 740, sent by RB on 7 March 1840 to accompany a gift copy of Sordello (Reconstruction, C566). Landor wrote to EBB about her Poems (1844), and in a letter of 5 July 1846 he complained of being unable to “decypher” her signature. He continued: “Do you write your name in such a manner, that nobody may attempt a forgery? There are higher and better things in which you ought to be contented to be inimitable.” Meanwhile, EBB had contributed substantially to the portion dealing with Landor in R.H. Horne’s A New Spirit of the Age (1844). (See Reconstruction, D1310–13.) In 1845, Landor was sufficiently impressed by RB’s Dramatic Romances and Lyrics to write a poem including the following passage (as quoted by EBB to Miss Mitford on 21 November of that year):
“Since Chaucer was alive & hale
No man hath walked along our roads with step
So active, so inquiring eye, or tongue
So varied in discourse.”
(See Reconstruction, D1446 and L159–160.) In 1846, RB published Luria and A Soul’s Tragedy together as No. VIII of his Bells and Pomegranates series, and dedicated the booklet to Landor, who thanked him on 15 April: “And now accept my thanks for the richest of Easter offerings made to anyone for many years.... Go on and pass us poor devils! If you do not go far ahead of me, I will crack my whip at you and make you spring forward.” Shortly afterward, on the night of 2 June, RB was with Landor at John Kenyon’s house. EBB, knowing of this and of a headache from which RB had been suffering, wrote to him that night: “But your head … is it ringing & aching even, under the crashing throat-peals of Mr. Landor’s laughter? He laughs, I remember, like an ogre—he laughs as if laughter could kill, & he knew it” (EBB to RB, 2 June 1846).
The Brownings, for some years after their marriage, apparently had little contact with Landor, though they did see him during their 1852 visit to London. In 1858, Landor’s quarrelsome nature made him the target of a libel suit, and he was persuaded to assign his property and leave England. In Italy for the final six years of his life, he was dependent on his family and on RB, who served as an unofficial guardian. For most of that period Landor was in Florence under the care of Elizabeth Wilson Romagnoli, EBB’s former maid. Around 10 October 1859, when the arrangement was being worked out, EBB wrote about it to RB’s sister Sarianna: “Robert must see Mr. Landor (his adopted son, Sarianna) settled in his new apartment, with Wilson for a Duenna.... Dear darling Robert amuses me by talking of his ‘gentleness & sweetness.’ A most courteous & refined gentleman he is of course, & very affectionate to Robert (as he ought to be)—but of self-restraint, he has not a grain, & of suspiciousness, many.... What do you say to dashing down a plate on the floor when you dont like what’s on it?” In London after EBB’s death, RB had to endure a continual bombardment of letters in which Landor complained of everything imaginable, but on 19 October 1864, about a month after Landor’s death, RB wrote to Isabella Blagden: “I have been more than rewarded for my poor pains by being of use for five years to the grand old ruin of a genius, such as I don’t expect to see again.”
Listed in Reconstruction are numerous items relating to Landor. RB and his son received many books from the older man. A good example is item A165, vol. 1 of Jean Jacques Barthélemy’s Voyage du Jeune Anacharsis en Grèce, published in 1796, and inscribed by RB: “Given by Walter Savage Landor to Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning, in 1863.” Listed as items A1388–1416 are many of Landor’s own works, some inscribed by him. A photograph of his birthplace in Warwick, with pencil notation by RB, is cited as item H222. Items L139–160 include numerous Landor manuscripts.