Walter Savage Landor, 1775–1864

Biographical note

Poet and author, son of a physician, was born at Ipsley Court, Warwick, the property of his mother, and educated at Rugby and Oxford, where he earned the nickname of “the mad Jacobin,” and whence he was rusticated. His whole long life thereafter was a series of quarrels, extravagances, and escapades of various kinds, the result of his violent prejudices, love of paradox, and ungovernable temper. He quarrelled with his father, his wife, most of his relations, and nearly all his friends, ran through a large fortune, and ended his days in Italy supported by a pension granted by his brothers. Yet he was not devoid of strong affections and generosity.

His earliest publication was Poems (1795); Gebir (1798), an epic, had little success, but won for him the friendship of Southey. In 1808 he went to Spain to take part in the war against Napoleon, and saw some service. His first work to attract attention was his powerful tragedy of Don Julian (1811).

About the same time he married Miss Julia Thuillier — mainly, as would appear, on account of her “wonderful golden hair” — and purchased the estate of Llantony Abbey, Monmouthshire, whence, after various quarrels with the local authorities, he went to France. After a residence of a year there, he went in 1815 to Italy, where he lived until 1818 at Como, which, having insulted the authorities in a Latin poem, he had to leave.

At Florence, which was his residence for some years, he commenced his famous Imaginary Conversations, of which the first two vols. appeared 1824, the third 1828, fourth and fifth 1829. Other works were The Examination of W. Shakespeare touching Deer-stealing (1834), Pericles and Aspasia (1836), Pentameron (1837), Hellenics (1847), and Poemata et Inscriptiones (1847). He quarrelled finally with his wife in 1835, and returned to England, which, however, he had to leave in 1858 on account of an action for libel arising out of a book, Dry Sticks Fagoted. He went to Italy, where he remained, chiefly at Florence, until his death.

Landor holds one of the highest places among the writers of English prose. His thoughts are striking and brilliant, and his style rich and dignified.

[From A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin, 1910]

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