( Originally Published 1906 )
It came into him, life ; it went out from him, truth ; it came to him, short-lived actions ; it went out from him, immortal thoughts.
IN the entire range of English literature there is nothing, except Shakespeare, so remarkable in dramatic realization of a vast range of widely opposite and widely varying characters as are the " Imaginary Conversations" of Landor. It was his especial design not to allow one of these to contain a single sentence written by, or recorded of the persons who are supposed to hold them," and this aim was absolutely realized. His ideal was to so entirely grasp and absorb into him-self the personality of each character chosen as to be able to speak with the voice and think with the mind of the individuals therein presented. To divine, not what they said, but what they would have said, on a great variety of occasions and over a great range of topics, was the task Landor set himself to achieve. The power of dramatic sympathy to enter thus into the very penetralia of life, of the life of this numerous and varied assembly, is something almost beyond human conception. Landor's " Imaginary Conversations " are a colossal landmark in English literature. Lowell says that, with the single exception of Shakespeare, no poet has furnished so many delicate aphorisms of human nature, as has Landor. Their complete issue fills six large volumes which dramatize the thought, the personal attitude at a given moment, of dozens of the most marked individualities in the world, over a range of discussion that embraces art, philosophy, poetry, ethics, economics and history. Not only this, but the conversations hold every reader who approaches them under a spell of genius that can-not be analyzed or explained. The power that could successfully portray such a range of diverse characters as those that are presented in these " Dialogues," making each one take his conversational part in entire keeping with his own individuality and in true relation to the chronology, the environment, the circumstances of the time, is hardly less marvellous than that which created the dramas of Shakespeare. The characters in these Conversations " are representative of almost every country and every age, an immense and stately procession of the dominant individualities of the most diverse character and aims. Rousseau and Malesherbes discuss the question as to whether truth is the object of philosophy, Malesherbes asserting that, even if the object of philosophy, it is not of philosophers. " My opinion is," Landor makes him say, " that truth is not reasonably the main and ultimate object of philosophy ; but that philosophy should seek truth merely as the means of acquiring and of propagating happiness. Truths are simple ; wisdom, which is formed by their apposition and application, is concrete : out of this, in its vast varieties, open to our wants and wishes, comes happiness. But the knowledge of all the truths ever yet discovered does not lead immediately to it, nor indeed will ever reach it, unless you make the more important of them bear upon your heart and intellect, and form, as it were, the blood that moves and nurtures them."
Rousseau is still unconvinced. " I never entertained a doubt until now," he rejoins, " that truth is the ultimate aim and object of philosophy : no writer has denied it, I think."
Malesherbes concedes that none may : but when it is agreed," he continues, " that happiness is the chief good, it must also be agreed that the chief wisdom will pursue it ; and I have already said, what your own experience cannot but have pointed out to you, that no truth, or series of truths, hypothetically, can communicate or attain it. Come, M. Rousseau, tell me candidly, do you derive no pleasure from a sense of superiority in genius and independence ? "
" The highest," admits Rousseau, " from a consciousness of independence."
Gaining this admission Malesherbes proceeds : " Ingenuous is the epithet we affix to modesty, but modesty often makes men act otherwise than ingenuously : you, for example, now. You are angry at the servility of people, and disgusted at their obtuseness and indifference, on matters of most import to their welfare. If they were equal to you, this anger would cease ; but the fire would break out somewhere else, on ground which appears at present sound and level. Voltaire, for instance, is less eloquent than you : but Voltaire is wittier than any man living. This quality " " Is the quality of a buffoon and a courtier," Rousseau interrupts him by saying ; " but the buffoon should have most of it," characteristically adds Rousseau, " to support his higher dignity."
Malesherbes observes that Voltaire's dignity is Attic, and Rousseau rejoins : " If malignity is Attic. Petulance is not wit, although a few grains of wit may be found in petulance : quartz is not gold, although a few grains of gold may be found in quartz."
Between Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII what an entirely different world of thought and feeling is entered by Landor and portrayed in their conversation.
" I do not regret that I have been a queen and am no longer one," we find Anne saying ; " nor that my innocence is called in question by those who never knew me ; but I lament that the good people who loved me so cordially, hate and curse me ; that those who pointed me out to their daughters for imitation check them when they speak about me ; and that he whom next to God I have served with most devotion is my accuser.
One of the most charming of these " Conversations " is that between " Boccaccio and Petrarca," in which the author of the " Decameron " accosts the poet and assures him that there is no doubt but that, if he could remain in Italy, he would soon receive the same distinctions as in his native country. " For greatly are the Florentines ashamed," Boccaccio continues, " that the most elegant of their writers and the most independent of their citizens lives in exile, by the injustice he had suffered in the detriment done to his property, through the intemperate adminstration of their laws."
" Let them recall me soon and honorably," vehemently replies Petrarca ; " then perhaps I may assist them to remove their ignominy, which I carry about with me wherever I go, and which is pointed out by my exotic laurel."
Boccaccio rejoins that " there is, and ever will be, in all countries and under all governments, an ostracism for their greatest men."
Petrarca impatiently ignores this. " At present we will talk no more about it," he says ; " to-morrow I pursue my journey towards Padua, where I am expected ; where some few value and esteem me, honest and learned and ingenious men ; although neither those Transpadane regions, nor whatever extends beyond them, have yet produced an equal to Boccaccio."
Boccaccio begs him, in the name of friendship, not to go ; " form such friends rather from your fellow-citizens," he urges. " I love my equals heartily ; and shall love them the better when I see them raised up here, from our own mother earth, by you."
Boccaccio alludes to his house, and Petrarca rejoins :
" The house has nothing of either the rustic or the magnificent about it ; nothing quite regular, nothing much varied. If there is any-thing at all affecting, as I fear there is, in the story you are about to tell me, I could wish the edifice itself bore externally some little of the interesting that I might hereafter turn my mind toward it, looking out of the catastrophe, though not away from it. But I do not even find the peculiar and uncostly decoration of our Tuscan villas, the central turret, round which the kite perpetually circles in search of pigeons or smaller prey, borne onward, like the Flemish skater, by effortless will in motionless progression. The view of Fiesole must be lovely from that window ; but I fancy to myself it loses the cascade under the single high arch of the Mugnone."
THE FLORENCE OF LANDOR To which Boccaccio replies :
" I think so. In this villa come rather further off: the inhabitants of it may hear us, if they should happen to be in the arbour, as most people are at the present hour of day in this villa, Messer Francesco, lives Monna Tita Monalda, who tenderly loved Amadeo degi Oricellari."
In the famous " Conversation " between Sou-they and Porson in which occurred the criticism of Wordsworth, Southey is represented as saying:
" Hitherto our sentiments on poetry have been delivered down to us from authority ; and if it can be demonstrated, as I think it may be, that the authority is inadequate, and that the dictates are often inapplicable and often misinterpreted, you will allow me to remove the cause out of court. Every man can see what is very bad in a poem ; almost every one can see what is very good : but you, Mr. Porson, who have turned over all the volumes of all the commentators, will inform me whether I am right or wrong in asserting that no critic hath yet appeared who hath been able to fix or to discern the exact degrees ,of excellence above a certain point."
" The reason is," rejoined Southey, " because the eyes of no one have been upon a level with it. Supposing, for the sake of argument, the contest of Hesiod and Homer to have taken place : the judges who decided in favour of the worse, and he, indeed, in the poetry has little merit, may have been elegant, wise, and conscientious men. Their decision was in favour of that to the species of which they had been the most accustomed. Corinna was preferred to Pindar no fewer than five times, and the best judges in Greece gave her the preference ; yet whatever were her powers, and beyond a question they were extraordinary, we may assure ourselves that she stood many degrees below Pindar."
Petrarca and Boccaccio were highly esteemed by Landor, who did not sympathize with Lord Chesterfield in his opinion that the former de-served his Laura better than his lauro. The best evidence of this predilection is Landor's great work, " The Pentameron," second only to his greatest, " Pericles and Aspasia." Its couleur locale is marvellous. On every page there is a glimpse of cloudless blue sky, a breath of warm sunny air, a sketch of Italian manner. The masterly gusto with which the author enters into the spirit of Italy would make us believe him to be " the noblest Roman of them all," had he not proved himself a better Grecian. Margaret Fuller realized this when, after comparing the " Pentameron " and " Petrarca " together, she wrote : " I find the prose of the Englishman worthy of the verse of the Italian. It is a happiness to see such marble beauty in the halls of a contemporary."
In " Pericles and Aspasia " one finds the keenest epigrammatic expression of Landor, as in such lines as these :
" Like the ocean, love embraces the earth ; and by love, as by the ocean, whatever is sordid and unsound is borne away."
" It is a casket not precious in itself, but valuable in proportion to what fortune, or industry, or virtue, has placed within it."
Some tell us that there were twenty Homers, some deny that there was ever one. We are perpetually laboring to destroy our delight, our composure, our devotion to superior power. Of all the animals upon earth, we least know what is good for us. My opinion is, that what is best for us is our admiration of good. No man living venerates Homer more than I do."
The nobility of the counsel which Landor was able to offer is impressively revealed in the following paragraph from the Pericles and Aspasia : "
" If any young man would win to himself the hearts of the wise and brave, and is ambitious of being the guide and leader of them, let him be assured that his virtue will give him power and power will consolidate and maintain his virtue. Let him never then squander away the inestimable hours of youth in tangled and trifling disquisitions with such as perhaps have an interest in perverting or unsettling his opinions. But let him start from them with alacrity, and walk forth with firmness : let him early take an interest in the business and concerns of men ; and let him, as he goes along, look steadfastly at the images of those who have benefited his country and make with himself a solemn compact to stand hereafter among them." 231
THE FLORENCE OF LANDOR Again we find : -
But take care to offend no philosopher of any sect whatever. Indeed to offend any person is the next foolish thing to being offended. I never do it unless when it is requisite to discredit some-body who might otherwise have the influence to diminish my estimation. Politeness is not always a sign of wisdom, but the want of it always leaves room for suspicion of folly, if folly and imprudence are the same."
Regarding art, we find Landor saying :
" Sculpture and painting are moments of life : poetry is life itself, and everything around it and above it. '
And of poetry he also says :
" No writer of florid prose ever was more than a secondary poet. Poetry in her high estate is de-lighted with exuberant abundance, but imposes on her worshipper a severity of selection. She has not only her days of festival, but also her days of abstinence and, unless on some that are set apart, prefers the graces of sedateness to the revelry of enthusiasm. She rejects, as inharmonious and barbarous, the mimicry of her voice and manner by obstreperous sophists, and argute grammarians, and she scatters to the winds the loose fragments of the schools."
In an impassioned paragraph Landor writes :
" O Pericles ! how wrong are all who do not forever follow love, under one form or other ! There is no god but he, the framer, the preserver of the world, the pure intelligence ! All wisdom that is not enlightened and guided by him, is perturbed and perverted. . . . The happy never say, and never hear said, farewell."
The dialogue between Vittoria Colonna and Michael Angelo offers such paragraphs as these :
" The beautiful in itself is useful by awaking our finer sensibilities, which it must be our own fault if we do not often carry with us into action. A well-ordered mind touches no branch of intellectual pleasure so brittle and incompliant as never to be turned to profit."
And again :
" Homer left a highway, over-shadowed with lofty trees and perennial leafage, between the regions of Allegory and Olympus. The gloom of Dante is deeper, and the boundaries even more indiscernible. We know the one is censured for it ; perhaps the other was."
Regarding greatness, Vittoria is represented as saying :
" There are various kinds of greatness, as we all know ; however, the most part of those who profess one species is ready to acknowledge no other. The first and chief is intellectual. But surely those also are to be admitted into the number of the eminently great, who move large masses by action, by throwing their own ardent minds into the midst of popular assemblies or conflicting armies, compelling, directing, and subjecting. This greatness is indeed far from so desirable as that which shines serenely from above, to be our hope, comfort, and guidance : to lead us in spirit from a world of sad realities into one fresh from the poet's hand, and blooming with all the variety of his creation. Hence the most successful generals, and the most powerful kings will always be considered by the judicious and dispassionate as invested with less dignity, less extensive and enduring authority than great philosophers and great poets."
One of those keen aphorisms in which Landor abounds is thus expressed :
" Little men, like little birds, are always attracted and caught by false lights."
Landor's appreciation of Shakespeare was fine and profound. A great poet represents a great portion of the human race," he said. " Nature delegated to Shakespeare the interests and direction of the whole."
In the context Landor added that " to Milton was given a smaller part, but with plenary power over it, and such fervor and majesty of eloquence was bestowed on him as on no other mortal in any age."
The mental processes of Landor in poetic creation and also in the construction of the " Imaginary Conversations," invite attention. Sir Joshua Reynolds once scraped a painting by Titian in an endeavor to learn the secret of his coloring ; the critical reader of Landor cannot but long to find an equally intimate approach to the structural quality of his work. In a letter written to John Forster in October of 1838, Landor himself refers to his creative processes as follows :
"On Sunday I began a drama on Giovanna di Napoli (God defend us from the horrid sound, Joan of Naples ! ), and before I rose from my bed on Monday morning, 1 had written above a hundred and seventy verses, as good as any I ever wrote in my life, excepting my
Death of Clytemnestra.' Of course I slept little. In fact, I scarcely sleep at all by night, while the people of my brain are talking. While others are drinking I doze and dream. . . .
"It is odd enough that I had written a good many scraps of two ' Imaginary Conversations ' in which Giovanna is a speaker ; but I cannot remember a syllable of them, nor would they do. She and Vittoria Colonna are my favorites among the women of Italy, as Boccaccio and Petrarca are among the men. But, to have clear perceptions of women, to elicit their thoughts, and hear their voices to advantage, I must be in the open air, in the sun alas, in Italy, were it possible, my sprained ankle will not let me take my long and rapid strides. I am an artificial man. I want all these helps for poetry. Quiet and silent nights are the next things needful."
Of the creation of his tragedy, " Andrea of Hungary," Landor writes that it was " conceived, planned, and executed in thirteen days ; transcribed (the worst of the business) in six. Any man, I am now convinced," he continues, " may write a dozen such within the year. The worst of it is, in anything dramatic, such is the rapidity of passion the words escape before they can be taken down. If you lose one you lose the tone of the person and never can recover it. And the action is gone too. You have a dead man before you but galvanized."
The " Imaginary Conversation" between Southey and Porson first appeared (in 1823) in the " London Magazine." The Dialogue that has Elizabeth and Burleigh for its speakers, has been called " a masterpiece of humor and character." In all, Landor wrote one hundred and fifty of these " Conversations." John Forster, commenting on them, remarks that it is their " unity in the astonishing variety, the fire of an irrepressible genius running through the whole," that gives to them a place among books not likely to pass away. Mr. Forster adds :
" The intensity and the range of mental power sufficiently declare themselves. There is scarcely a form of the human mind, serious or sprightly, imaginative, historical, fanciful, or real, which has not been brought into play in this extraordinary series of writings. When Emerson had made the book his companion for more than twenty years, he publicly expressed to Landor his gratitude for having given him a resource that had never failed him in solitude. He had but to turn to its rich and ample page to find always free and sustained thought, a keen and precise understanding, an industrious observation in every department of life, an experience to which it might seem that nothing had occurred in vain, honor for every just and generous senti-ment, and a scourge like that of the Furies for every oppressor, whether public or private. Emerson pronounced Landor to be one of the foremost of that small class who make good in the nineteenth century the claims of pure literature."
Wordsworth gave high appreciation to the " Conversations " and wrote to Landor saying, " Your dialogues are worthy of you, and a great acquisition to literature."
A friend of Landor's expressed surprise one day on hearing him praise Alfieri, as he had seemed, in a note appended to the " Conversation between Galileo, Milton, and a Dominican," to entertain a very different opinion of this poet. Reading the note referred to, Landor seemed to be greatly annoyed, and replied : " This is a mistake. It was never my intention to condemn Alfieri so sweepingly ; " and a few days later he made the following correction : Keats, in whom the spirit of poetry was stronger than in any contemporary, at home or abroad, delighted in Hellenic imagery and mythology, displaying them admirably ; but no poet came nearer than Alfieri to the heroic, since Virgil. Disliking, as I do, prefaces and annotations, excrescences which hang loose like the deciduous bark on a plane-tree, I will here notice an omission of mine on Alfieri, in the ` Imaginary Conversations.' The words, ' There is not a glimpse of poetry in his Tragedies,' should be, as written, ' There is not an extraneous glimpse,' &c."
Later, Landor addressed these lines to Alfieri :
"Thou art present in my sight,
thus redeeming the former note that misrepresented his real attitude toward the Italian poet.
The " Imaginary Conversations " are often brilliant and scintillating, often profound, and almost invariably epigrammatic in expression. Even as late in his life as January of 1861, Landor is meditating on another " Conversation," -- one between Virgil and Horace ; and this he wrote in time for publication that spring when it appeared in the Athenum. So these wonderful creations range over all times and topics. Garibaldi and Mazzini discuss, with emphasis half sad, half cynical, French honor and French veracity ; Tasso and Leonora di Esti meet and she implores her unfortunate lover to forget her, and dies happy with his assurance that he never can ; Sophocles and Pericles wander in Athens and the loyal enthusiasm of Pericles for his friend is eloquently expressed ; Washington and Franklin meet and discuss the free spirit of American institutions ; Sir Philip Sidney and Greville dis-cuss poetry ; Dante and Beatrice meet, and Hannibal and Marcellus. Alfieri and Salomon discuss Galileo, and the great Italian poet says ; " Since the destruction of the republic, Florence has produced only one great man, Galileo, and abandoned him to every indignity that fanaticism and despotism could invent. Extraordinary men, like the stones that are formed in the higher regions of the air, fall upon the earth only to be broken and cast into the furnace. The precursor of Newton lived in the deserts of the moral world, drank water, and ate locusts and wild honey. It was fortunate that his head also was not lopped off : had a singer asked it, instead of a dancer, it would have been."
" In fact it was," replies Salomon : " for the fruits of it were shaken down and thrown away : he was forbidden to publish the most important of his discoveries, and the better part of his manuscripts was burned after his death."
" I would only persuade you," rejoins Alfieri, " that banter, pun, and quibble are the properties of light men and shallow capacities ; that genuine humour and true wit require a sound and capacious mind, which is always a grave one. Contemptuousness is not incompatible with them worthless is that man who feels no contempt for the worthless, and weak who treats their emptiness as a thing of weight. At first it may seem a paradox, but it is perfectly true, that the gravest nations have been the wittiest ; and in those nations some of the gravest men. In England, Swift and Addison, in Spain, Cervantes. Rabelais and La Fontaine are recorded by their countrymen to have been rκveurs. Few men have been graver than Pascal ; few have been wittier."
Landor represents one " Conversation" as taking place between himself and Delille, in which he expresses his own views on poetry in these words :
" In poetry, there is a greater difference between the good and the excellent than there is between the bad and the good. Poetry has no golden mean ; mediocrity here is of another metal, which Voltaire, however, had skill enough to en-crust and polish. In the least wretched of his tragedies, whatever is tolerable is Shakespeare's ; but, gracious Heaven ! how deteriorated ! When he pretends to extol a poet he chooses some defective part, and renders it more so whenever he translates it. I will repeat a few verses from Metastasio in support of my assertion. Metastasio was both a better critic and a better poet, although of the second order in each quality ; his tyrants are less philosophical, and his chamber-maids less dogmatic. Voltaire was, however, a man of abilities, and author of many passable epigrams, beside those which are contained in his tragedies and heroics ; yet it must be confessed that, like your Parisian lackeys, they are usually the smartest when out of place."
To which Delille says in reply :
" What you call epigram gives life and spirit to grave works, and seems principally wanted to relieve a long poem. I do not see why what pleases us in a star should not please us in a constellation."
These Conversations " offer the most remarkably wide range of intellectual interest ; they are often choice in quality ; they are of an order of literature which has impressed the critical mind profoundly, and the mind of the general reader very slightly. For one of the really great authors, Landor's work is curiously unfamiliar to a large proportion of even very cultivated readers, those whose impressions and opinions are on no account to be ruled out as having no value. While literature is by no means without its grave faults of cheap popularity that sometimes obscures high excellence, yet popularity, in the sense of a very wide and warm recognition, is not to be despised. The power to touch the popular mind is the first element of that universality which pre-determines greatness. It is the power to generate a living energy, the power to communicate vital truth in a manner so sympathetic, so swift in its recognition of the spiritual nature, as to be able to touch and arouse and inspire all that is noblest in humanity. Landor was a poet for poets. He was a classicist for classic scholars ; but an author's true greatness can only be measured by the degree in which he enters into sympathy with the force and the mass of human character. It can only be measured by the comprehensiveness of his grasp, the breadth of his sympathies, the capacity to love men that he may thereby help them. The author who is worthy to be classed among the immortals is he who touches life with spiritual power. The great fact in life is its divine destiny, and he is greatest of all who most significantly and sympathetically interprets and illuminates this destiny.
However ' superior in quality may be the saving remnant," it is yet more profoundly true that real greatness lies in the more universal appeal ; in the possession of that marvellous power of vital imagination which conceives of life in its wholeness. Far greater than literature is life.
" It may be glorious to write
" But better far it is to speak
It is not, therefore, the fact that Landor's audience was few though fit, that his appeal is to the more highly cultured rather than to all humanity, which is recorded to its credit. On the contrary, it is here that his defects and failures lie. No man, no author, is truly great until his entire intellectual life is fused with his moral life ; until every gift and grace is trans-figured into that spirituality that gives freely of love and sympathy to all ; that is filled with all high interests and is characterized by forgetfulness of self and remembrance of others. These are lessons that awaited Walter Savage Landor farther on in the processes of unfoldment after leaving this world for the life more abundant. Yet that great thoughts were his daily food, is true : and his undisciplined temper, violent and unreasonable as were often its manifestations, still never degenerated into any petty meanness, or any lasting malevolence. " Humanity at best is weak and can only be divine by flashes," said Kate Field of Landor, in writing of his last days, and she added : " The Pythia was a stupid old woman, saving when she sat upon the tripod. Seeing genius to the best advantage in its work, not always but most frequently, they are wisest who love the artist without demanding personal perfection. It is rational to conclude that the loftiest possible genius should be allied to the most perfect specimen of man, heart holding equal sway with head. A great man, how-ever, need not be a great artist, that is, of course, understood ; but time ought to prove that the highest form of art can only emanate from the noblest type of humanity. The most glorious inspirations must flow through. the purest channels. But this is the genius of the future, as far removed from what is best known as order is removed from chaos."
So swift has been the march of ethical ideals that what appeared in the latter quarter of the nineteenth century as the vision of the future is almost, in these early years of the twentieth century, the practical working ideal of today.
The early literary experience of Landor was steeped in no little stress and storm, although largely, it is true, these tumults were f his own creation. Landor's characteristic fault," writes Kate Field, " was that of a temper so undisciplined and impulsive as to be somewhat hurricanic in its consequences, though not unlike the Australian boomerang, it frequently returned whence it came, and injured no one but the possessor. Circumstances aggravated, rather than diminished, this Landorian idiosyncrasy. Born in prosperity, heir to a large landed estate, and educated in aristocratic traditions, Walter Savage Landor began life without a struggle, and throughout a long career remained master of the situation, independent of the world and its favors. Perhaps too much freedom is as unfortunate in its results upon character as too much dependence. A nature to be properly developed should receive as well as give."
It is true, however, that with all his vehemence, his impatience, and his impetuosity, Landor united great courtesy, great gentleness, and tenderness of heart. Edward Dowden says of him that the times " when other men would be incapacitated by tremulous hand or throbbing brow for pure and free imagining and delicate manipulation, were precisely the productive periods with Landor. Not that he transmuted his dross of life into gold of art, or taught in song what he had learnt in suffering ; rather, he would listen to no lessons of suffering, but escaped from them. into the arms of joy. Among these apparent inconsistencies of Landor's character that one is especially noteworthy which is indicated by the presence of so much disorder and disproportion in his conduct of life (if conduct it can be called), and in the opinions and sentiments expressed in not a little of what he wrote, and the presence of so much order, proportion, and harmony in the form of his artistic products - so much austere strength in some, so much beauty in others, which would be recognised as severe if it were not so absolutely beautiful." It was in such an hour as this that he wrote the stanza:
" I strove with none ; for none was worth my strife,
Although Landor's work appeals to the few rather than to the many, he was yet an ardent lover of liberty, an intense sympathizer with the larger life and greater opportunities for the people. In his admiration for Garibaldi, Mazzini, Cavour, and Kossuth, he was fairly a hero worshipper. His " Imaginary Conversation " between Savonarola and the Prior of Florence was written with the object of devoting its proceeds to the aid of Garibaldi's troops. Those who have cared for Landor, however, make up in zeal what they lack in numbers. Words-worth, Lamb, Southey, and Shelley spoke and wrote of him with the utmost enthusiasm. Mrs. Browning declared that if it were not for the necessity of getting through a book, some of the pages of the " Pentameron " were too delicious to turn over.
Swinburne pronounces on Landor an incomparable verdict. " In the course of his long life," writes the younger poet of the elder, " he had won for himself such a crown of glory in verse and in prose as has been won by no other Englishman but Milton." As a poet, Mr. Swinburne assigns to Landor a place between Byron and Shelley, " as far above the former as below the latter," and he adds : " If we except Catullus and Simonides, it might be hard to match, and it would be impossible to over-match, the flaw-less and blameless, yet living and breathing beauty of his most perfect elegies, epigrams, and epitaphs. . . . His passionate compassion, his bitter and burning pity for all wrongs endured in all the world found only their natural outlet in his lifelong defence of tyrannicide as the last resource of baffled justice, the last discharge of heroic duty. . . . He was surely the most gentle and generous, as the most headstrong and hot-headed of heroes or of men. Nor ever was any man's best work more thoroughly imbued and informed with evidence of his noblest qualities. His loyalty and liberality of heart were as inexhaustible as his bounty and beneficence of hand."
Turning from his personal character to his work, Mr. Swinburne finely says : " On either side, immediately or hardly below his mighty masterpiece of ' Pericles and Aspasia,' stand the two scarcely less beautiful_ and vivid studies of medieval Italy and Shakespearean England. The very finest flower of his immortal dialogues is probably to be found in the ` Imaginary Conversations of Greeks and Romans ; ' his utmost command of passion and pathos may be tested by their transcendent success in the distilled and concentrated tragedy of ' Tiberius and Virginia,' where for once he shows a quality more proper to romantic than classical imagination, the subtle and sublime and terrible power to enter the dark vestibule of distraction, to throw the whole force of his fancy, the whole fire of his spirit into the shadowing passion (as Shakespeare calls it) of gradually imminent insanity. "
Of the " Conversation " wherein Cicero is introduced, John Forster, Landor's biographer, finely says :
It would nevertheless be difficult, filled as it is with sayings Ciceronian, to exhibit their impressiveness by extracting even the best of them. The conversation is so infinitely better than any-thing that can be taken from it. It unfolds itself in such fine gradations as the brothers walk along the shore, their thoughts toned and tempered by skyey influences, and their spirits drawn nearer not more by conscious remembrance of the past than by that dim foreboding of some coming change, the forecast of a final quiet to which both are drawing near, which so often accompanies the approach of death. The very mildness of the winter evening, with a softness in its moist, still air allied to the gentleness of sorrow, plays its part in the dialogue. As they retrace their steps, the purple light that had invested the cliffs and shore has faded off, and the night quite suddenly closes in ; of the promontories, the long, irregular breakers under them, the little solitary Circζan hill, the neigh-boring whiter rocks of Anxur, the spot where the mother of the Gracchi lived, nothing further is discernible ; all the nobleness of the surrounding or the far-off landscape, recalling scenes of friendship and recollections of greatness, has passed away ; they see now but the darkness of the ignoble present, and as, on reaching home, they notice the servants lighting the lamps in the villa and making preparation for the birth-day on the morrow, the thought at length consciously arises to Marcus whether that coming birthday, least pleasurable to him as it must be, may not also be his last. "
Like Emerson, Landor was accustomed to compose in the open air. In one of his " Conversations " he represents Epicurus as saying :
" I assemble and arrange my thoughts, with freedom and with pleasure in the fresh air and open sky ; and they are more lively and vigorous and exuberant when I catch them as I walk about and commune with them in silence and seclusion."
And of himself Landor once said ; " It is my practice, and ever has been, to walk quite alone. In my walks I collect my arguments, arrange my sentences, and utter them aloud. Eloquence with me can do little else in the city than put on her bracelets, tighten her sandals, and show herself to the people. Her health and vigor and beauty, if she has any, are the fruits of the open fields."
Landor was especially felicitous in his atmosphere in those of his " Conversations" where Greek characters were introduced. His mind was essentially Grecian in its cast. Of the " Pericles and Aspasia," Elizabeth Barrett said, as early as in 1839, that it revealed Landor to be, of all living writers, " the most unconventional in thought and word, the most classical, because the freest from mere classicalism, the most Greek, because pre-eminently and purely English, and the fittest of all to achieve what Plato calls a triumph in eloquence, the successful commendation of Athens in the midst of the Peloponnesus."
Traditions have drifted down, even to the Florence of today, of the appearance of Landor wandering alone on the Fiesolan hills, composing his wonderful "Conversations " aloud. The picture is one to record itself in memory. The ancient Etruscan wall that still guards the southern side of the slope ; the old Palazzo Pretorio, filled with vases, lamps, coins, and marbles found in the excavations at Fiesole ; the Franciscan monastery occupying the site of the old Acropolis of Faesula , and the church of San Alessandro standing now as Landor knew them and as they have stood for centuries ; and the beautiful view of the valley of Florence spread out below, from the Carrara to the Casentino here the loiterer may still see in fancy the majestic form of the poet as he walked alone and rehearsed aloud to himself, in the freedom and solitude of the open air, these dialogues of his famous creation. Literally, he seemed to speak them into being. He may have wandered into the gardens of the Medici among the antique statues that the great Lorenzo loved. With his genius in harmony with itself, as it was in those hours of creation, the entire atmosphere was all wings and flowers, and a strangeness, like that which invests the blossoming of the aloe, still thrills the landscape in these pictures of fancy that pervade the haunts of Boccaccio and of Walter Savage Landor. In the conversation between Alfieri and Salomon, Landor makes Alfieri say :
Look from the window. That cottage on the declivity was Dante's. That square and large mansion, with a circular garden before it elevated artificially, was the first scene of Boccaccio's Decameron. A boy might stand at an equal distance between them, and break the windows of each with his sling. A town so little that the voice of a cabbage-girl in the midst f it may be heard at the extremities, reared within three centuries a greater number of citizens illustrious for their genius than all the remainder of the Continent (excepting her' sister Athens) in six thousand years. Smile as you will, Signor Conte, what must I think of a city where Michael Angelo, Frate Bartolommeo, Ghiberte (who formed them), Guicciardini, and Machiavelli were secondary men ? And certainly such were they, if we compare them with Galileo and Boccaccio and Dante."
It is one of those beautiful correspondences in life that in the very heart of the romantic valley where Boccaccio had placed his Lago delle Belle Donne, Landor came to possess the villa that was surrounded by the scenes forever associated with Lorenzo it Magnifico and the brilliant galaxy of scholars, including the great and good Pico della Mirandola, that Lorenzo drew about him. There was a radiant magnetic line of sequences running through Landor's entire life that reveal themselves impressively through the perspective of time.