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set forth in form of such sculptured dignity. Reading certain pages of Landor, says Mr. Leslie Stephen, is like gliding on ice over a chasm. All is smooth and polished to perfection, but there is no thought underlying the words. His style with all its vigour and finish is often somewhat cold and lacking in ease and charm. Again, he is apt, in his passion for concision, to vex his reader by his abrupt transitions. The sentences are not consecutive. They may be, they often are, of faultless mould, but they do not carry forward a narrative or an argument.
The drawbacks to his ever winning popularity are patent. But how vastly his merits outweigh his defects! When he is at his best, the grace, the vigour, the lucidity, the classical purity and stateliness of his style, the vividness, the precision, the delicate beauty of his imagery, are well-nigh matchless. He was a ripe scholar-a singularly accomplished Latinist-and much of his loveliest verse and noblest prose was devoted to the men and scenes of the classic world. His manner of dealing with these has been defined with faultless felicity by Mr. Swinburne :
“And through the trumpet of a child of Rome
Rang the pure music of the flutes of Greece.” In the long series of “Imaginary Conversations,” the bearers of the greatest names in the world's history are introduced with an audacity again and again justified by the splendour of the dialogue. You listen to Canning and Pitt, to Bossuet and Lucian and Plato and Diogenes, to Rhodope and Æsop and Epicurus and Leontium, to Lady Godiva and Joan of Arc, to Scipio and Marius and Lucullus,
and Cæsar and Hannibal—and to many another of the immortals. There are dialogues which are truly dramatic, full of character and the fire of passion; there are others in which the speakers are simply puppets, whose function is to serve as mouthpieces for the views of Walter Landor. Few books are more unequal. You pass from vapid and trite and pompous pages, to pages which are Attic in lucidity and grace and sweet sonority, or to others which may be justly described as Roman in their stern majesty of sentiment and monumental grandeur of diction. The best loved by Landor of all his “Conversations” was the exquisite dialogue in which Epicurus and Leontium and Ternissa take part. But the lovely Greek idyl, so instinct with the spirit of poetry, in which Thelymnia bears her with a witchery irresistible by man, is surely of a beauty as consummate,
“Pericles and Aspasia,” with all its eloquence and tenderness, is much too long; and there, it must be admitted, Landor drones. But it would be hard to name a more delightful mingling of lofty dialogue and idyllicism than the “Pentameron.” The sketches of Italian life are vivid and graceful and true; the talks between Petrarch and Boccaccio show Landor at his happiest as a master of dialogue; and there is deeper feeling in the book than in any other prose work by its author. Here there is no trace of the frigidity, the obscurity, the pompous nothings and the reckless dogmatism which deform a number of the “Imaginary Confessions.” The book seems full of sunshine and fragrance ; its pages are instinct with the charm of Italy. Its crowning beauty is the “Dream of Boccaccio.” Mr. Colvin has done well in
pointing out how far that masterpiece of imaginative prose surpasses the over-rated “Suspiria de Profundis,” of De Quincey. For chastity and melody of style, for delicate yet poignant sentiment, it stands alone in English prose literature. And the “Dream of Petrarch” is a hardly less perfect example of verbal art and moving sentiment.
In verse he ranged from the epigram to the idyl, from the lyric to the drama. As an epigrammatist he was frequently piquant and stinging-witness the lines upon Melville :
“God's laws declare
Thou shalt not swear By aught in heaven above or earth below. *Upon my honour !' Melville cries,
He swears and lies. Does Melville then break God's commandments ? No.”
Canning hardly penned lines more wittily caustic. He failed as a dramatist; he had no constructive power and his characters talk too much. “Count Julian,” his first tragedy, so extravagantly overpraised by De Quincey, contains several superb passages of poetry, but as a drama, even as a closet drama, it is naught. “The Siege of Ancona,” though it has not the lofty poetry of “Count Julian,” is much better built, and moves more pleasantly than any other of Landor's plays.
“Gebir” is jewelled with lines that are faultless, alike in rounded beauty of expression and majesty of rhythm. Nevertheless, “Gebir” is not exactly easy reading. The plot is at once dull and fantastic; the story drags; the breath of life is not in the characters. It is in the “Hellenics” that Landor's loveliest work in verse-setting aside one or two lyrics-is to be found. They have been compared to the idyls of André Chenier, but the comparison is hardly felicitous. There is far more abandonment, more variety of music and richness of colour in the work of the French poet than in Landor's verse. To some the English writer's idyls will always seem unduly cold and restrained, while others will ever recur to them, as to some cool and quiet resting-place where one may forget the fever and turmoil of the modern world. They bring across the years something of the charm of “old Ionia ;" to read them is, as it were, to walk in the clear, soft light of the morning, and breathe a breath from the hills and seas of the early world. Finest of them all are the “Hamadryad," and the still lovelier lines on the death of Artemidora.
As a poet Landor cannot rank with the greatest men of his time; he cannot, one need hardly say, stand beside Shelley and Keats and Wordsworth and Byron, But he did a kind of work unlike the work of any of these, and he did it almost perfectiy. From the writings of greater poets the finest spirits of their day, the deepest lovers of art, will again and again turn for change and refreshment to Landor's idyllic verse. He was himself aware that his greatest work was done in prose. And with all his defects, so towering is the excellence of his noblest passages, that it would be hard to name his superior as a master of style among the English prose writers of the century.
WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR.
TAMAR AND THE NYMPH.
(FROM BOOK I.)
"'Twas evening, though not sunset, and the tide