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Imaginary Conversations of Literary Men and Statesmen. By WALTER
Savage LANDOR, Esq. Two Volumes. 8vo. Taylor and Hessey.
London. 1824. This is a wild man, lord of a wilderness, who has written wild poems, leads a wild life, and has now approached society again with two volumes of as undisguised and untamed wildness as ány that have invaded the world since the days of “Gebir" and the Goths. · Yet new oddity and vigorous extravagance have attractions that throw polished periods and graceful common-place to an immeasurable distance, and we have but few compilations of paradox half so amusing as the Imaginary Conversations of Walter Savage Landor. The author, unworldly as he is, makes the most of his two volumes, for he has a separate dedication for each. The first volume is laid at the feet of a Mr. Stopford, a patriot of unknown dimensions, but whose present site is that of Adjutant-General in the Columbian army. The other, before those of General Mina, who would, in the way of his principles and his profession, have of course fusilladed the galIant General as a rebel to the supreme dominion of the Mother Country. It is fortunate that they are 400 pages asunder. The dedication to the Englishman is happily a direct abuse of his country.
“ There never was a period when public spirit was so feeble in England, or political abilities so rare. Sordid selfishness and frivolous amusement, I will not say, are become the characteristic of our coun. try, but what is sufficiently calamitous and disgraceful, place it upon a dead level with others."
His sentiments of royalty are like those of the travelled Gentlemen, who after flourishing away at every levee, to which on the strength of their country's name they can get admittance, make up the account with their pride, by abusing the men who have but just given them their best civilities and coffee.
“ You will find in these conversations a great variety of subjects and style. I have admitted a few little men, such as Emperors and Ministers of modern cut, to shew better the just proportions of the great, as a painter would place a beggar under a triumphal arch, or a camel against a pyramid."
To Mina he addresses the soothing speculation, that the shocks and sufferings of Old Spain are providential, and for the express purpose of breaking the chains which tied Columbia to her authority.
"Columbia, without this invigorating shock, would have longer lain dormant or restless. Washington, to whom we are principally indebted for what little is left of freedom in the Universe, would have set before her the bright example, and Bolivar would have followed it in vain. Rising on the wreck of Spain, she will invite to her from Europe those whom wars have ruined, and those whom the ancient institutions of their country have blinded with unseasonable love, and the new ones have marked with reprobation.'
When we recollect the ferocity of the Cortés on the matter of colonial independence, we congratulate Walter Savage on his remoteness from Chalk Farm. We have not a doubt that his first dispatch from England will contain a regular invitation from the General to close the argument according to the laws of propriety and projectiles.
It is not our concern to teach the author of this book his duty, but pretension is at all times ludicrous, and the pretension of our English philosophers, patriots, and freemen living as habitual aliens to their country, is of the highest order of the ludicrous. Walter Savage is but one of a class, and when the sceptre shall be put into our hands, in that new and consummate revolution which is to give honour where honour is due, it shall be our very first ukase, that no man is to bear the style and title of an Englishman, who habitually shuns his country and insults her character; nor of a patriot, who prefers Florentine or Pisan concerts and conversaziones to the manly occupations and generous example of an English landlord; nor of a lover of liberty, who turns his back on the land of liberty to grimace and gambade through drawing-rooms of Austrian Auglemen and functionaries; nor of a philosopher, who has not the sense to see where his duty lies, nor the virtue to follow its direction. We shall further proclaim that none of these systematic ex-patriots shall be suffered to put on paper a single syllable about Teutonic bayonets, profligate Marchesas, swindling counts, superstitious ceremonies, or Italian impurity from Cardinals down to Contadini. They shall not assume a virtue which they have not ; if they dislike those things, why live among them. Hypocrisy must not write books, nor value itself for describing its companions of the dinner-table, the drawing room, the corso, and the opera box, in such tones of conscious superiority as these.
" In Tuscany the language proves the character of the people. Of all pursuits and occupations, for I am unwilling to call it knowledge, the most trifling is denominated virtù.
“ The Romans, detained from war and activity by a calm, termed it malacia : the Italians, whom it keeps out of danger, call it bonaccia. . “Love of their country is so feeble, that whatever is excellent they call pelegrino.
“So corrupt are they, that softness with them must partake of disease and impurity: it is morbidezza.
“ Such is their idea of contemplation, and of the subjects on which it should be fixed, that if a dinner is given to a person of rank, the gazettes announce that it was presented alla Contemplazione della sua Eccellenza.
“A lamb's fry is cosa stupenda.
“ Strength, which frightens, and finery, which attracts them, are honesty: hence valentuomo and galantuomo. A well dressed man is a man of honour, uomo di garbo.
“ Pride is offended at selling anything: the shopkeeper tells you that he gives you his yard of shoe-ribbon : dù, not vende.
“Misfortune is criminal : the captive is a wicked man, cattivo. “ Meschino, formerly poor, is now mischievous, or bad.
“A person is not rendered vile by any misconduct or criminality : but if he has the tooth-ache, he is avvilito.
“ Opera was among the Romans labour, as operae pretium, &c. It now signifies the most contemptible of performances, the vilest office of the feet and tongue, whenever it stands alone by excellence."
Some of these conversations have however a sort of stern yet picturesque pleasantry, perfectly characteristic. Take the following description of Italian building.
“LANDOR. I am pleased, as I observed, by the palace before us, not having seen in Italy until now, a house of any kind with a span of turf before it. Like yours and your neighbour's they generally encroach on some lane, following its windings and angles, lest a single inch of ground should be lost; and the roofs fight for the centre of the road. If an Italian spends a livre, he must be seen to spend it: his stables, his laundry, his domestics, his peasants, must strike the eye together : his pigstie must have witnesses like his will. Every tree is accursed, as that of which the holy cross was fabricated, and must be swept away. You are surely the most hospitable people in the world : even that edifice which derives its existence and its name from privacy, stands exposed and wide-open to the stranger.
“When I resided on the Lake of Como, I visited the palace of Marchese Odescalchi. Before it swelled in majesty that sovran of inland waters ; behind it was a pond surrounded with brickwork, in which about twenty young goldfish jostled and gaped for room. The Larius had sapped the foundations of his palace, and the marchese had exerted
all his genius to avenge himself: he composed this bitter parody.' I inquired of his cousin Don Pepino, who conducted me, when the roof would be put on. He looked at me, doubting if he understood me, and answered in a gentle tone, “ It was finished last summer." My error originated from observing red pantiles, kept in their places by heavy stones, loose, and laid upon them irregularly.....
" What a beautiful swell, Don Pepino, is this upon the right," exclaimed I. “The little hill seems sensible of pleasure as he dips his foot into the Larius."
“ There will be the offices."
“ What! and hide Grumello? Let me enjoy the sight while I can. He appears instinct with life. How he nods the network of vines upon his head beckoning and inviting us, while the figtrees and mulberries and chesnuts and walnuts, and those lofty and eternal cypresses, stand waiting and immoveable around. His playfellows beyond, all different in form and features, push forward; and, if there is not something in the motion of the air, or something in my eyesight, illusory, they are running a race along the borders... What a sweet odour is there! whence comes it? Sweeter it appears to me and stronger than the pine itself.” “I imagine," " said he, from the linden-tree; yes certainly."
“Is that a linden? It is the largest, and, I should imagine, the oldest upon earth, if I could perceive that it had lost any of its branches."
“ Pity, that it hides half the row of yon houses from the palace! It will be carried off with the two pines in the autumn."
One of these conversations we regret that we cannot give entire, as an evidence, and a fortunate one, of the pathetic power of the writer. In the old phrase, O si sic omnia. Slight as it is, there is a spirit and sweetness about it that point out the true way in which this writer should pursue distinction.
GENERAL KLEBER AND SOME FRENCH OFFICERS. « An English officer was sitting with his back against the base of the great Pyramid. He sometimes looked towards those of elder date and ruder materials before him, sometimes was absorbed in thought, and sometimes was observed to write in a pocket-book with great rapidity. ...“ Íf he were not writing," said a French naturalist to a young ensign, “ I should imagine him to have lost his eyesight by the ophthalmia. He does not see us : level your rifle : we cannot find a greater curiosity."
* The Arts prevailed: the officer slided with extended arms from his resting-place : the blood, running from his breast, was audible as a swarm of insects in the sand. No other sound was heard. Powder had exploded ; life had passed away; not a vestige remained of either.
" Let us examine his papers," said the naturalist.
“ Pardon me, sir," answered the ensign; “ my first enquiry on such occasions is what's o'clock ? and afterwards I pursue my mineralogical researches."
At these words he drew forth the dead man's watch, and stuck it into his sash, while with the other hand he snatched out a purse, containing some zecchins: every part of the dress was examined, and not quite fruitlessly..
" See! a locket with a miniature of a young woman!" Such it was ... a modest and lovely countenance.
“ Ha! ha!” said the ensign; "a few touches, a very few touches, I can give them, and Adéle will take this for me. Two inches higher, and the ball had split it ... what a'thoughtless man he was! There is gold in it too: it weighs heavy. Pest! an old woman at the back! grey as a cat."...
It was the officer's mother, in her old age, as he had left her. There was something of sweet piety, not unsaddened by presage, in the countenance. He severed it with his knife, and threw it into the bosom of her son. Two foren letters and two pages in pencil were the contents of the pocket-book. Two locks of hair had fallen out : one rested on his eyelashes, for the air was motionless, the other was drawn to the earth by his blood."
The letters are from his mother and sister. Kleber is struck with them, and orders the young Englishman an honourable grave.
“ Then turning to the file of soldiers,
“A body lies under the Great Pyramid : go bury it six feet deep. If there is any man among you capable of writing a good epitaph, and such as the brave owe to the brave, he shall have my authority to carve it with his knife upon the Great Pyramid, and his name may be brought back to me."
“ Allow me the honour,” said a lieutenant, “I fly to obey."
“ Perhaps,” replied the commander in chief, “it may not be amiss to know the character, the adventures, or at least the name".... '
“No matter, no matter, my general.”
“ Take them, however,” said Kleber, holding a copy, and all try your wits.”
“ General," said Menou, smiling, "you never gave a command more certain to be executed ... What a blockhead was that king, whoever he was, who built so enormous a monument for a wandering Englishman !"