Review of Book Gebir, and Count Julian by Walter Savage Landor



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Book Title : Gebir, and Count Julian
Author : Walter Savage Landor
LoC Class : PR: Language and Literatures: English literature
Subject : English poetry — 18th century
Language English

 

Review of the book Gebir, and Count Julian by Walter Savage Landor

Walter Savage Landor was born on the 30th of January, 1775, and died at the age of eighty-nine in September, 1864. He was the eldest son of a physician at Warwick, and his second name, Savage, was the family name of his mother, who owned two estates in Warwickshire—Ipsley Court and Tachbrook—and had a reversionary interest in Hughenden Manor, Buckinghamshire. To this property, worth £80,000, her eldest son was heir. That eldest son was born a poet, had a generous nature, and an ardent impetuous temper. The temper, with its obstinate claim of independence, was too much for the head master of Rugby, who found in Landor the best writer of Latin verse among his boys, but one ready to fight him over difference of opinion about a Latin quantity. In 1793 Landor went to Trinity College, Oxford. He had been got rid of at Rugby as unmanageable.

After two years at Oxford, he was rusticated; thereupon he gave up his chambers, and refused to return. Landor’s father, who had been much tried by his unmanageable temper, then allowed him £150 a year to live with as he pleased, away from home. He lived in South Wales—at Swansea, Tenby, or elsewhere—and he sometimes went home to Warwick for short visits. In South Wales he gave himself to full communion with the poets and with Nature, and he fastened with particular enthusiasm upon Milton. Lord Aylmer, who lived near Tenby, was among his friends. Rose Aylmer, whose name he has made through death imperishable, by linking it with a few lines of perfect music, lent Landor “The Progress of Romance,” a book published in 1785, by Clara Reeve, in which he found the description of an Arabian tale that suggested to him his poem of “Gebir.”

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Landor began “Gebir” in Latin, then turned it into English, and then vigorously condensed what he had written. The poem was first published at Warwick as a sixpenny pamphlet in the year 1798, when Landor’s age was twenty-three. Robert Southey was among the few who bought it, and he first made known its power. In the best sense of the phrase, “Gebir” was written in classical English, not with a search for pompous words of classical origin to give false dignity to style, but with strict endeavour to form terse English lines of apt words well compacted. Many passages appear to have been half thought out in Greek or Latin, some, as that on the sea-shell (on page 19), were first written in Latin, and Landor re-issued “Gebir” with a translation into Latin three or four years after its first appearance.

“Gebir” was written nine years after the outbreak of the French Revolution, and at a time when the victories of Napoleon were in many minds associated with the hopes of man.

Recognition of the great beauty of Lander’s “Gebir” came first from Southey in “The Critical Review.” Southey found that the poem grew upon him, and became afterwards Landor’s lifelong friend. When Shelley was at Oxford in 1811, there were times when he would read nothing but “Gebir.” His friend Hogg says that when he went to Shelley’s rooms one morning to tell him something of importance, he could not draw his attention away from “Gebir.” Hogg impatiently threw the book out of window. It was brought back by a servant, and Shelley immediately fastened upon it again.

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