The Florence Of Landor
( Originally Published 1906 )
" Nothing that is shall perish utterly,
FLORENCE, lying fair under the gleaming amethyst lights of the early spring days of 1821, with the old, gray tower of the Cathedral on the heights of Fiesole silhouetted against a brilliant sky, revealed herself like a dream of enchantment to the vision of Walter Savage Landor. For six years he had been living in Italy, sojourning in Como, Milan, Pisa ; and on his departure from the City of the Leaning Tower he wrote : —
" I leave with unreverted eye the towers
Entering Florence did he overtake that psychological moment that, somewhere and sometime, lies in wait for every one ? Did he then take the first step on that " open road " whose atmosphere is pervaded by the joy of achievement, the fruition of beautiful friendships, which are the only true realities of life ? For was not this the open air in which all heroic deeds might be conceived, all great poems written ? However unconsciously, Landor was opening the most richly illuminated chapters of his life. Before him stretched away years freighted with pro-found significance. Down the long vista waited beautiful figures, — the forms of poet, painter, and thinker, as yet undiscerned in the distance; signals flashed to him unrecognized by his vision ; subtle vibrations thrilled the air, that had still not aroused his answering perception; all the fascinating possibilities of the Unknown were ready to spring to life and light at the touch of " the electric chain wherewith we 're darkly bound." New interests, new sympathies, ready at a touch to materialize into undreamed-of combinations and forces, lay latent out in this undiscovered country of the unpenetrated future.
"The tapestries of Paradise
The tapestries of life, woven out of threads invisible to the eye after designs which have not pre-figured themselves, are made as notelessly as are those of the Paradise of which the poet dreams.
Into that wonderful Florence, still vital with the color, the romance, the tragedy ; the passionate exaltation and the passionate despair of the fifteenth century, was Landor entering. All this was a part of his unconscious inheritance. Florence thrills to-day with the tumult of the joys and the triumphs, the sorrows and the pathetic failures of her dead centuries, whose inner history is yet to be written. It awaits the seer who is the romancist, or the dramatic poet who can flash the Rôntgen ray, the radium light, through these ages of accumulated experience and unveil to the modern eye these mysterious conflicts between the forces of good and the forces of evil that have determined the present quality of Florentine life.
The long, unknown years lay before Landor as the veritable Salle des Illusions, like that which was wrought out of fire and magic in the exposition of 1900 in Paris.
There are really few things in life that one may so wisely cherish as his illusions. He may well be as willing to part with his delusions as was Hamlet to part with the society of Polonius ; but one's illusions are the annexation of fairyland and of all the infinite possibilities which it rests with himself to transmute into the great realities. One endures, one achieves, by seeing that which is invisible. It is the law and the prophets.
The Salle des Illusions of the Paris Exposition proved itself the most poetic attraction. It appealed to human nature. Its charm lay in its dramatizing the extension into fairyland. Outwardly the mechanism comprised only a small, octagonal salon, fitted up with a few pillars and arches and decorative electric-light designs in the ceiling, the walls lined with mirrors. In an ad-joining alcove was an electric keyboard on which an expert electrician played, and, presto ! at every touch of his fingers new successions of wonderful effects appeared. Every empanelled mirror became an endless vista reflecting and repeating indefinitely the pillars and arches and the bouquets of light whose colors changed with every breath in an " Arabian Nights " dream of enchantment. In the infinite distance stretched away pillared arch and stately tower, pillars that were all aflame in deep rose-red, with arches of alabaster and pearl ; innumerable bouquets of rare flowers floated in the air ; the arches were of emerald changing to gold, to turquoise, to silver gray, to amethyst ; and down those marvellous pillared halls, which had no existence save in Illusion, troops of dancers whirled and flights of tropical birds surprised the air. The land of faery, the scenes and the actors that never existed on sea or land, sprang into light and life and motion at the touch of the electrician on the keys. The Realm of Magic opened and beckoned one to enter. Never was there embodied a more vivid symbol of life than was presented in this triumph of French genius, — the Salle des Illusions. One could not but read into it the significance that invests the gaze into futurity. As the touch of the electrician on the keyboard called into being all that bewildering phantasmagoria that fascinated the imagination, so a man's own touch on the subtle potencies of personality ; on those attractions and repulsions that pervade the social atmosphere and dominate all its relations : his advances and retreats, his faiths and his doubts, — all that constitutes his impress on life, — summon before him those groups and attendant circumstances which he will encounter in his journey on into the unknown future.
"Allons ! after the great Companions, and to belong to them !
They, too, are on the road — they are the swift and majestic men — they are the greatest women."
For Landor, indeed, the " great Companions" were on their way. What a note of truth was touched by Dickens when he said that the people whom we are to meet, and who are to meet us, are all approaching ; and what they are to do for our lives, and we for theirs, will all be done. There are " the beings born under the same star ;" there are those who are to us as " merely the furniture of the world ; " but the relations in each case are as fixed and as unerring as those of the stars in their courses. " Any one watching keenly the stealthy convergence of human lots," says George Eliot, " sees a slow preparation of effects from one life on another, which tells like a calculated irony on the indifference or the frozen stare with which we look at our unintroduced neighbor. Destiny stands by sarcastic with our dramatis personae folded in her hand."
Destiny stood by as Walter Savage Landor entered Florence that April day and saw the Campanile, " a lily in stone," rising into the Italian sky, and the Veiled Figure, Destiny, held folded in her hand the dramatis personae of that wonderful Anglo-Florentine group who were destined, during the Landor period of 1821-1864, to leave a new impress upon the romantic atmosphere of this Flower of all Cities and City of all Flowers.
The Florence of Landor differed little, in outward aspect, from the Florence of to-day. No annual influx of thirty thousand spring tourists, it is true, then made vocal the Via Tornabuoni with their conversational raptures, expressed almost as invariably in English as are any fragments of conversational interchange one may chance to hear on Fifth Avenue, as the tide of Florentine tourists loiters before window displays of Italian art, or pauses by the grim and massive walls of the ancient Strozzi palace against which a flower vendor piles his masses of roses and lilies and deep-hearted purple pansies. The narrow fourteenth-century streets were lined then, as now, with lofty sculptured palaces. The picturesque Piazza Trinità, which forms the connecting link between the Lung' Arno and the Tornabuoni, is still unchanged, and the tourist of to-day crosses it now, as then, to enter the busy, modern street of Florence, where the rush of life is in strange contrast with the mediæval walls of the Palazzo Strozzi. In front of the Palazzo Buondelmonte is a granite column taken from the Thermes of Anthonin in Rome and given to Cosimo I by Pius IV. It was erected here in 1565, and in 1581 Francesco Ferrucci (il Tadda) added the capital to the shaft and the Statue of Justice, which crowns it, sculptured of porphyry. Just opposite this column is a very ancient embattled palace, which was erected in the thirteenth century by the Spini family, who date back to the very founding of Florence, and who were active participants in all its life until late in the seventeenth century, when their name and estates were seized upon by the Tagnalia, from which family they passed to the Pitti. The arms of the Spini were a red shield with designs in gold. At the junction of the Via delle Vigna Nuova and the Via Tornabuoni there stood in Landor's day, as in our own, the old palazzo which Sir Robert Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, bought in 1613 from the Rucellai and entirely rebuilt. Sir Robert was the son of Amy Robsart and the Earl of Leicester, as will be remembered, and as the Earl was the favorite of Queen Elizabeth, that sovereign did not allow his marriage to be recognized, and Sir Robert was not allowed to use his title in England. He was a brilliant man, rendering important services to navigation, but, being deprived of his title, he left England and in 1612 sought refuge in Florence, where he enjoyed the confidence and close friendship of Cosimo II, the son of Ferdinando I, and the grandson of the first Cosimo. The marriage of Cosimo II with the Duchessa Eleanora di Toledo was a brilliant event, and on the upper floors of the old Palazzo Vecchio they set up their household gods until, after the Duchessa purchased the Palazzo Pitti, their residence was transferred to that Cyclopean edifice. The rooms which they occupied in the Palazzo Vecchio, with their richly inlaid cabinets, with sofas and chairs in scarlet brocade and tarnished gold, and with their richly decorated ceilings, are still shown to the visitor, who, after loitering away a morning in this haunting-place, seeks the covered passage-way that connects the Uffizi galleries with the Pitti palace and walks through it still in a dream of reminiscence. After the death of the Duchessa Eleanora, Cosimo married again, and the celebrated Prince Giovanni, the architect of the Capello di Medici, was the son of this marriage. Prince Giovanni and Francesco I were therefore half brothers, and during Francesco's reign he commissioned Prince Giovanni as Ambassador to Venice to present the thanks of Florence for the acknowledgment of Bianca Capello, and also sent him to Spain on the coronation of Philip III. Francesco married Johana of Austria, a sister of the Emperor Maximilian, but the romance of his life, his love for Bianca Capello, proved to be its tragedy also. The eldest child of Francesco's marriage with Johana of Austria was Marie (born in 1573), who became the Queen of Henri IV of France.
After the death of his wife, Francesco inspired the murder of Pietro Buonaventuri, the husband of Bianca Capello, that he might marry his enchantress, and they lived together for seven years. Their deaths occurred within less than forty-eight hours of one another in their villa at Poggio a Caino, both the victims of poison, given them by Cardinal Ferdinando, to whom the throne then passed. In 1589 he renounced his cardinal's hat and married Christine of Lorraine, and it was his eldest son, Cosimo II, who was the sovereign to receive Sir Robert Dudley and invest him with the title of Duke of Northumberland. The reign of Francesco was characterized by great devotion to poetry and art, and by the enrichment of Florence with many beautiful works. Ferdinando died on February 7, 1608, and to his successor, Cosimo II, is due the perpetual gratitude of all who know and love the Tuscan capital. For he was a noble and generous prince, with great wisdom in statecraft, great interest in the welfare of his people, and the most generous patron of the arts. It was he who called Galileo to Florence. The great astronomer, the seer in the mysteries of the universe, born in Pisa in 1566, was, at the age of twenty-three, invited to a professorship in the university of his native city. He held this chair for twenty-eight years, until, in 1592, his advanced ideas precipitated upon him the usual fate of those who dare see and proclaim truth beyond that generally accepted. Galileo was forced to resign his chair and subjected to criticism as ignominious as it was ignorant.
"The hero is not fed on sweets."
Personal martyrdom is the price not unfrequently paid for devotion to truth. Yet progress is a law as irresistible as that of gravitation and always is it true that
. .. thro' the ages one increasing purpose runs, And the thoughts of men are widen'd with the process of the suns."
Galileo, resigning his chair at Pisa, proceeded to Padua where he taught for twenty years, and where he made many of his most remarkable discoveries. He was called to Florence by Cosimo II. It was here that he published his book explaining the Copernican system, stating the movement of the earth around the sun, which the tribunal of the inquisition in Rome denounced as failing in reverence to the Bible.
Galileo was condemned to the prisons of the inquisition, but the Pope finally commuted his sentence, establishing his residence in the gar-dens of Santa Trinità al Monte. The original letter written by the inquisitor of Florence to the archbishop informing him of Galileo's condemnation, is still preserved in the Torre del Gallo, the tower from which the great astronomer made his observations. Milton visited him in 1638. As is well known, Galileo died in 1642, and his tomb is in Santa Croce. His researches and inventions of the pendulum, of the hydro-static balance, the thermometer, the compass, and the telescope, together with his discovery of the law by which the velocity of falling bodies is accelerated, impressed the brilliant mind of Cosimo II, who did all in his power to protect the great scholar and diviner of the laws of the universe.
Sir Robert Dudley found in this wise sovereign a friend who appreciated his vast treasures of learning, and Sir Robert, on his part, gladly served Cosimo and the Florentines, whom he grew to love and to regard as his adopted countrymen. Cosimo II married Maria Maddalena, the daughter of the Archduke Carlo of Austria. They had eight children, of whom the second son became Cardinal Leopoldo (born in 1617 and died in 1675), the noted patron of art and the founder of the great galleries of the Uffizi. Cosimo II died in 1620. Sir Robert Dudley lived on in Florence, in this old palace, until 1649, when he died and was entombed in the old church of San Pancrazio in an adjoining street — a church whose origin is so remote that it was considered an old church in the eleventh century. So here at last rest the mortal remains of the son of the ill-starred Amy Robsart, and one reads " Kenilworth " again in Florence with renewed interest because of Sir Robert's life in this city.
The rooms in Sir Robert Dudley's old palace are eloquent of the past. Great mirrors in their carved frames of heavy gilt ; sofas and chairs in rich brocade, faded and dim, and massive old tables — all these adorn the spacious salons, in none of which is there the slightest possibility of any heat. There are no fireplaces, and, as there are no chimneys, there cannot, of course, be stoves ; and when, in the winter of 1900, the Theosophical Society of Florence held its meetings in these salons, the difference between the essentials of existence required three hundred years ago, and required to-day was keenly perceived. For Sir Robert's furniture of the seventeenth century left much to be desired in the way of ordinary comfort, and even the liberal opportunities of surveying oneself in half a dozen immense mirrors did not compensate for the lack of any heat on a cold day when the keen winds swept down from the snow-crowned Apennines, or for the lack of a comfortable chair on which to sit while listening to Mr. Chaterjii's eloquence. Sir Robert's richly decorated ceilings loomed above the heads of the faithful who gathered in pursuit of Yoga, and Sir Robert's icy cold marble floors were beneath their feet. Could any American with the national appreciation of the ludicrous have looked in, he would have keenly enjoyed the scene. In a vast and icy cold salon, with a marble floor and a lofty, deco-rated ceiling, its walls hung with red satin against which old Florentine mirrors and a few pictures of saints and madonnas gleamed, he would have discerned a little group of shivering men and women, their feet perched on very modern foot-stools and incased in fur overshoes while they drew their wrappings as closely as possible, and gazed upon the mobile, brilliant, responsive countenance of Mr. Chaterjii, on whose words they hung with breathless attention.
The coat of arms of the Rucellai are still to be seen on the palace, — a silver lion on a red ground with waves of gold running over it.
The story of the strange lives that have been lived in these old palaces, in the centuries gone from all save memory could be dramatized with little aid from the playwright's art. It is a story in perpetual sequence of the most impassioned human life that imagination can picture ; and to one who begins to turn backward the chapters of supreme emotions — of love and ambition ; of the revenge of man, and the retribution of fate ; of woman's infinite devotion and tenderness of love, and man's fierce, conquering, and daring deeds ; of midnight assassinations ; of lofty purposes and generous fostering of the arts, of learning, of statesmanship, and of the personal tyranny and the torture of persecution in the name of the church ; the record in which every aspiration, every ambition, every passion known to humanity has arisen and spent itself in utmost intensity of appeal — a history is read before which all the romance of all the world beside grows pale. Who can tread the streets of the Florence of to-day and not feel the throb and the thrill of all these past centuries when the men and women whose tombs and monuments and palaces the tourist visits were abroad in these same streets and made the life of their day ? In fact, one becomes so enthralled in the magnetic spell of this impassioned past that he is half oblivious to the panorama of the hour. Other cities have wonderful histories, but only Florence has her pages written in her streets. From the musical bells of Santa Maria Novella, awakening one at the heroic hour of five every morning, to the last serenade under the windows of some old palace at midnight, song and music are vibrating in the air. One sits down to write, but his thoughts are dancing to rhythmic melodies. The very atmosphere is entrancing, and he cannot hold himself to his task. All Florence beckons him out for saunterings. He climbs those wonderful terraced hillsides, where one winds upward, seeing on either hand a wealth of roses clambering over gray stone walls, while far below is discerned the Duomo swimming in a sea of blue and silver haze. Gazing upward, one sees old historic villas on the ascending curves, and ancient Fiesole crowns the height overlooking all Florence. Far away, in shadowy outline, are the deep forests covering the hillsides of Vallombrosa. "Every street and terrace and piazza is peopled with the past ; and although this past is closely around one, yet is the present not less beautiful. The throngs that pass are the same in likeness as those that b-rushed against Dante or Savonarola ; the populace is the same bold, eager people, with eyes full of dreams and lips braced close for war, which welcomed Vinci and Cimabue, and fought from Monte-Aperto to Solferino. And as you go through the streets you will surely see at every step some graciousness of the ancient time or some poetry of the present hour," writes a lover of Florence.
No one, however, can live for any length of time in this fairest land on earth, where the opalescent lights drift over the purple hills and linger on the silver gray of olive groves ; where the air is haunted by music and fragrant with the perfume of a thousand flowers ; where legends of the learning and the radiant energy of such figures as Cosimo di Medici and Lorenzo il Magnifico still enchant the mind, — no one, indeed, who sees the Italian nature as typically interpreted in Dante's startlingly vivid portrait of the human soul, can fail to deeply realize the potential nature of Italy. The large intelligence, the marvellously impressive and plastic nature of the people, their sensitive susceptibility, their keen, swift sympathies, and their noble enthusiasms all point to a resurrection of all that is most glorious in the dramatic past, conjoined with all that is most sublime and ennobling in twentieth-century ideals. The very atmosphere of Italy is so charged with intellectual and spiritual vitality that the slightest disturbance of this general energy precipitates it into individual achievement. It is the air of mental magnetism. This temperamental demand of the entire nation re-quires for its development and fulfilment larger and freer conditions than even the most ideal monarchy can offer. The reign of Humbert was one of the most unique and in many ways the most notable in the history of continental politics. His simplicity of life and integrity of purpose were not more marked than his unfailing kindness in every personal form. When a terrible pestilence ravaged Naples a few years ago it was the king who came among them, who ministered to the sick, who helped to bury the dead. Margherita was the warm patron of the arts and the friend of scholar and savant. Their court was distinguished for its refinement, its purity and simplicity, and for its recognition of all that makes for noble progress.
Still, Italy — in the pervading feeling of the general people, signally expressed in a recent session of the Parliament in Rome by the greatest political leaders and statesmen of the hour demands a larger freedom, a broader field of action for the inventor, the economist, the statesman than even the liberal monarchy by which the country is now controlled can offer. There was no revolution. King Victor Emmanuel II came to a peaceful throne. He justly holds the confidence and respect of the nation. Still the trovatore della transizione is stirring in the quickening pulse beats, and a future awaits Italy when as a democracy she shall rise to the full heights of the splendor of the dreams of Mazzini and Cavour ; when all her poetic and artistic and profoundly emotional susceptibilities shall be so reinforced by intellectual vigor, and by the magnetism of contemporary progress, that all that is greatest and noblest in the past shall meet and mingle and assimilate itself with all that is noblest and most enduring in the inspiring future.
Unchanged, too, from the days of Landor in Florence is the ancient Palazzo Vecchio, — unchanged since the early sixteenth-century days when the gonfalonier Capponi had the mono-gram of Christ, invested with a glory, carved in a marble decoration above the principal entrance, and, in a last effort to conquer the Medici, the Florentines declared Jesus Christ to be the King of Florence and had the inscription Rex Populi Florentini placed over the great doors, an inscription changed afterward to that of Rex regum et Dominus dominantium. The splendid court of Arnolfo, through which one passes to the massive stone staircases ascending to the Sala dei Cinquecento, the Camera di Cosimo I, the Salotto di Clement VII, and other historic rooms, charm the twentieth-century visitor with the same splendid colonnade that delighted the eye of Cosimo it Vecchio. The Cappella de' Priori, with its ceiling by Ghirlandajo and its crucifix over the altar attributed to Ghiambologna, is precisely as it was when Savonarola celebrated here his last communion before his execution on that tragic day of four hundred years ago. The magnificent Duomo of Brunelleschi ; Santa Croce, the Westminster Abbey, the Pantheon, of Florence ; San Marco with its cloistered cells forever immortalized by the glory of Fra Angelico ; the ancient Church of San Lorenzo, - these and other great landmarks of Florence presented to Landor the same aspect as to the tourist of to-day, save that the present façade of the Duomo had not then been placed.
Brilliant and remarkable were the group of people who were to leave their impress on the Florence of Landor during the forty years and more of his life in this city. Leigh Hunt, Lady Blessington, Francis and Julius Hare ; that quaint character, Mr. Kirkup ; the Trollopes, the Brownings, [sa Blagden, Lady Bulwer, Mrs. Anna Jameson, Emerson, Mrs. Somerville, the Hawthornes, John Kenyon, Nathaniel Parker Willis, Mrs. Stowe, Margaret Fuller (Countess d' Ossoli), Frances Power Cobbe, Theodore Parker, Linda White (now Mme. Pasquale Villari), Kate Field, Sir Frederick Leighton, the Thackerays, Frederic Tennyson, Hiram Powers, George Eliot and Mr. Lewes, Mr. and Mrs. William Wetmore Story, Swinburne, and others came and went—or came and stayed, during these years of Landor's life in Florence.
It was in 1815 that he left Tours in France (where he had passed a year after his departure from England) for Milan ; later he had sojourned in Como, Pisa, and Pistoia, and he had been in Florence more than twenty years when (in 1843) Thomas Adolphus Trollope came, the Trollopes being for some time the guests of Lady Bulwer Lytton in the Palazzo Passerini, and later taking up their abode in the old Palazzo Berti, in the ominously named Via dei Malcontenti. It was a few years afterwards that the Brownings set up their household gods in Casa Guidi, so that Landor remains fairly the pioneer of the Anglo-Florentines whose fame has enriched the Tuscan capital with even added glory and exquisite appreciation. Landor's first home in Florence was in the Palazzo Medici, but in 1829 he found himself the possessor of the Villa Gherardesca, on the Fiesolean heights, a villa in-vested with an atmosphere of poetry and romance from being in the scenes of Boccaccio, and also closely associated with the haunts of Lorenzo it Magnifico and Machiavelli. It is on a terraced plateau halfway up the height crowned by the ancient city of Fiesole, and is near the little ham-let of San Domenico. Leigh Hunt, writing of this beautiful region, says : --
I stuck to my Boccaccio haunts as to an old home. My almost daily walk was to Fiesole, through a path skirted with wild myrtle and cyclamen, and I stopped at the cloister of the Doccia and sat on the pretty, melancholy platform behind it, reading or looking through the pines down to Florence."
Near the Villa Landor is an old palace with wide marble terraces and mysterious gardens dark with cypress trees, which was the home of Cosimo it Vecchio and later of Lorenzo it Magnifico, who died in this villa. It dates back to 1658, and during the residence of Lorenzo it Magnifico it was the favorite meeting-place of the Platonic Academy of Florence. Fiesole, on the summit, is invested with traditions of Milton and Galileo ; and of this ancient city, whose name as Fæsula is even mentioned by Sallust and Polybius, Hallam wrote : —
" In a villa overhanging the towers of Florence on the slope of that lofty hill crowned by the mother city, the ancient Fiesole ; in gardens which Tully might have envied, with Ficino, Landino, and Politian at his side, Lorenzo delighted his hours of leisure with the beautiful visions of Platonic philosophy, for which the summer stillness of an Italian sky appears the most congenial accompaniment."
It was to his life in his new home, the villa so embowered in historic associations, that Landor refers in the lines : —
" From France to Italy my steps I bent,
At the age of forty-six Landor was still in the prime of youthful maturity. His life had lacked settled purpose, however, and his unquestionable genius was almost fatally at the mercy of his erratic temper and incalculable moods. His marriage to a woman whose personal beauty was not accompanied by any corresponding gifts of mind or grace of heart brought to bear upon him a perpetually depressing influence of friction and annoyance rather than any sustaining serenity and sweetness. Landor's grave defects of temperament were his own and in any case would probably have signally marred the full expression of his great genius ; but had his marriage been one to have given him sympathy and comprehension, there can be no question of the vivifying effect it would have exerted over his entire personal and artistic life. At this time Landor's " Gebir " and " Count Julian " had al-ready won him high rank in poetic art, and the damp walls of his lodgings in Pistoia had annoyed him as they might ordinary folk who held no countersign for Arcady. He had already written one series of the unique " Imaginary Conversations," in which the incident of his visit to the Odeschalchi palazzo in Como, and that of the children in a cart in the Campo Santo of Pisa, were depicted, and he had embalmed in a quatrain his fantastic emotion on seeing, at Pistoia, a lock of the hair of Lucrezia Borgia, of which he wrote : —
" Borgia, thou once wert almost too august
The friendship between Landor and Southey had already existed for many years at the time that Landor took up his abode in Florence, and their correspondence was fairly a conversational companionship in which literary matters and the events of the day were discussed. " I am reading the stupendous poetry of Wordsworth," wrote Landor to Southey. " In thoughts, feelings, images not one among the ancients equals him, and his language (a rare thing) is English." Toward Byron, Landor held an intense personal animosity ; but he considered Byron a great poet, — "the keenest and most imaginative of poets." It was Byron's furious assaults upon Southey that aroused his indignation, and of this Landor said :
" While Byron wrote or spoke against me alone, I said nothing of him in print or conversation ; but the taciturnity of pride gave way immediately to my zeal in defence of my friend. What I write is not written on slate ; and no finger, not of Time himself, who dips it in the clouds of years, can efface it. To condemn what is evil and to commend what is good is consistent. To soften an asperity, to speak all the good we can after worse than we wish, is that, and more. If I must understand the meaning of consistency as many do, I wish I may be inconsistent with all my enemies. There are many hearts which have risen higher and sunk lower at his tales, and yet have been shocked and sorrowed at his untimely death a great deal less than mine has been. Honor and glory to him for the extensive good he did ! peace and forgiveness for the partial evil ! "
Kate Field, writing of Landor, remarks that the friendship existing between Southey and Landor must have had much of the heroic element in it, for instances are rare where two writers have so thoroughly esteemed one another. Those who have witnessed the enthusiasm with which Landor spoke of Southey can readily imagine how unpardonable a sin he considered it in Byron to make his friend an object of satire. Landor's strong feelings necessarily caused him to be classed in the tout ou rien school. Seeing those whom he liked through the magnifying-glass of perfection, he painted others in less brilliant colors than perhaps they merited. Southey to Landor was the essence of all good things, and there was no subject upon which he dwelt with more unaffected pleasure. " Ah, Southey was the best man that ever lived. There never was a better, my dear, good friends, Francis and Julius Hare excepted. They were true Christians ; and it is an honor to me that two such pure men should have been my friends for so many years, up to the hour of death," Landor would say. It was to Julius Hare that Landor dedicated his greatest work in the series of " Imaginary Conversations " — the " Pericles and Aspasia."
Walter Savage Landor was born in Warwick-shire, England, on January 30, 1775, and died in Florence, Italy, on September 17, 1864, looking back on more than seventy years of active literary work, for he won his first recognition as a poet when a youth of twenty. He was the son of Dr. Walter and Elizabeth (Savage) Landor, and as a boy was a pupil at Rugby ; entering Oxford in his early youth, when, after one year of college life, he was suspended for some infringement of university laws. Instead of accepting an opportunity for reinstatement, he gave himself up to the writing of Gebir," which fairly mirrors the strong influence that Milton at that time had upon the youthful poet. The appearance of " Gebir " admitted him at once to at least a speaking acquaintance with the Immortals, and the autocratic " Quarterly Review " somewhat enigmatically pronounced it a poem which would do any reader credit to understand. " Gebir " was largely written in Latin at first, for, like Milton, Landor seems to have fairly thought and dreamed in Latin and absorbed into his own creative energy all its reinforced power and dignity. The reward of " Gebir " came to him, not merely in liberal measure of fair fortune and fame, but in a guise far more precious and enduring, — a friendship that entered as a golden strand into all his future, — that of Southey, who wrote of the poem a fine critique calling attention to its " miraculous beauties ;" and Shelley (born four years after its first appearance) was absorbed and fascinated by this poem during his undergraduate years at Oxford. Coleridge and De Quincey read " Gebir " with appreciation.
In one of the " Imaginary Conversations," that between Plato and Diogenes, Landor makes one of his characters say : " The great man must have that intellect which puts in motion the intellect of others," and his own is a striking instance of this power of communicating vital suggestion.
"Quickened are they who touch the prophet's bones ; " and while Landor was too defective in serenity and exaltation of vision to be accorded rank among humanity's prophets, he was yet capable of the loftiest magnanimity, the most generous nobleness. He was richly dowered with "the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn, the love of love."
He gave unswerving loyalty to high ideals of liberty ; his nature was one of intense devotion to civic and national progress. Erratic as he was by temperament ; liable to manifestations of irritability that had little reason to exist, yet the " kernel of nobleness," as Margaret Fuller called it, was always present. " Great and even fatal errors (so far as this life is concerned) could not destroy my friendship for one in whom I felt sure of the kernel of nobleness," wrote Margaret in a private letter ; and in Landor's character this germ of nobleness made itself felt throughout his somewhat volcanic career. He was a poet for poets, and the glory of his art in verse was fairly paralleled by the matchless splendor of his prose. Swinburne characterizes his " Count Julian " as " the sublimest poem published in our language between the last masterpiece of Milton and the first masterpiece of Shelley," and reiterates that between the date of " Samson Agonistes " and the
Prometheus Unbound " no work in English poetry can be compared to this lofty tragedy. His genius was of the majestic order. In structural beauty his work is almost flawless. As a critic he was fairly a diviner of the inner motive as well as of the degree of excellence in the performance ; as, for instance, when in a private letter he wrote of Wordsworth : " Common minds alone can be ignorant what breadth of philosophy, what energy and intensity of thought, what insight into the heart and what observation of nature are requisite for the production of such poetry."
The early literary experiences of Landor were not without their chapters of stress and storm.
A critic in the " Monthly Review " accused the young poet of borrowing phrases " from our in-comparable Milton," to which Landor replied that his critic disgraced himself in thus betraying his own ignorance of Milton, as, had he been familiar with the immortal bard, he could not possibly have made the accusation. " I challenge him to produce any expression borrowed from Milton," wrote Landor " .. . I devoutly offer up my incense at the shrine of Milton. Woe betide the intruder that would steal its jewels ! It requires no miracle to detect the sacrilege. The venerable saints and still more holy personages of Raphael or Michael Angelo might as consistently be placed among the Bacchanals and Satyrs, be-striding the goats and bearing the vases of Poussin, as the resemblance of ' Paradise Lost' could be introduced in ' Gebir.' "
In 1802 Landor first visited Paris, caring, he said, for but two things in France, — to see Paris and to see Bonaparte. His enthusiasm for the leader of the French Revolution, who should galvanize into a new life decaying nations, underwent a sea change which crystallized into his lifelong conviction regarding Bonaparte. Landor recognized that Napoleon had " changed the substance for the shadow of greatness," and his view accorded with that of Wordsworth, who wrote :
" I grieved for Buonaparté with a vain
And an unthinking grief. . . . What food Fed his last hopes ? "
To Kate Field, Landor, in his last years, spoke of Napoleon as one who " fought without aim, vanquished without glory, and perished without defeat ; " and Miss Field wrote : " I looked with wonder upon a person who remembered Napoleon Bonaparte as a slender young man, and listened with delight to a voice from so dim a past."
It was six years after Landor's return to England from his first visit to Paris that he and Southey met personally, and a letter from Southey dated April 9, 1808, thus refers to Landor : —
" At Bristol I met the man of all others I was most desirous to meet, — the only man living of whose praise I was ambitious, or whose censure would have troubled me. . . . I never saw any one more unlike myself in every prominent part of human character, nor any one who so cordially and instinctively agreed with me on so many of the most important subjects."
Later Landor visited Spain, and soon after his return events put him in possession of Llanthony Abbey in Wales, where he lived for some years, and where, in 1811, he met and married Julia Thuillier. Soon after their marriage Southey and his wife visited the Landors at Llanthony, " and he always had a satisfaction," records John Forster in his biography of Landor, "that Robert and Edith Southey were the first who shared his turret."
Unfortunately, family dissensions arose, and, as we have seen, Landor and his wife left England for France, when, after one year, they went to Milan ; and after their sojourns in that city, Como, Pisa, and Pistoia, they came to Florence, in which enchanted atmosphere the life of the poet was destined to be passed, and where, in the little English cemetery, was laid all that was mortal of him " who sang the charms of Rose."'
The life of Landor extended over three generations of poets among his own countrymen : the first contemporary group including Scott, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Lamb, De Quincey, Hazlitt, and Leigh Hunt ; the second, Byron, Keats, and Shelley ; while the third included Tennyson, the Brownings, and Swinburne. Within this extended panorama, how-ever, Landor seems to have had comparatively few close personal affiliations ; and " the Florence of Landor " is, to a good degree, simply that of the period of his residence in it, with some glimpses in the perspective of his time that describe certain phases of the Florence of today ; rather than that of a city of which he was in any sense a personal centre. Lady Blessing-ton, who visited Florence four years after Landor had there established himself, conceived for him a warm friendship, and in her home he met Rachel, who, at that time, had not achieved her great fame. " Mlle. Rachel took tea with Lady Blessington," said Landor to a friend afterward, " and was accompanied by a female attendant, her mother I think. Rachel had very little to say, and left early, as she had an engagement at the theatre. There was nothing particularly noticeable in her appearance, but she was very ladylike. I never met her again."
The beautiful Florentine life lay before him. Well might Landor have felt, with Whitman : —
" Be not discouraged — keep on, there are divine things well enveloped ;
From the Salle des Illusions of the future fascinating forms half revealed themselves, vanishing again only to reappear in the advancing years in unforeseen groups and undiscerned combinations, to lend a new charm to enchanting Florence.