William Wordsworth

Ernest De Selincourt and Alan G. Hill (eds), The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Vol. 4: The Later Years: Part I: 1821–1828 (Second Revised Edition)

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61. W. W. to WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR

  • Address: W. S. Landor Esqre, Florence, Italy.
  • Postmark: [     ] 1822.
  • MS. Victoria and Albert Museum.
  • K (—). LY.i 68.

[In M. W.'s hand]

Rydal Mount Ap. 20th [1822]

My dear Sir,

Could I have assured you that my eyes were decisively better I should have written instantly on the receipt of your last most pg 123friendly letter,1 but in fact they were rather worse at that time, and I thought you would infer from my silence that there was no improvement. I am truly sensible of the interest you take of this infirmity of mine, which makes me so dependent on others, abridges my enjoyments by cutting me off from the power of reading, and causes me to lose a great deal of time: and the worst of it is, that from the long standing of the complaint, I cannot encourage a hope of getting rid of it. The first attack was 18 years ago2 when I had an inflammation in my eyelids, which by frequent returns has weakened them so much that they enflame upon slight occasions, and are scarcely ever both well at the same time: this affects the eyes by sympathy, and latterly the eyes themselves have been much annoyed by heat, and suffusions, proceeding from a weakness in the stomach, mainly caused by feelings stronger than my frame can bear and ill regulated application.

I am happy to hear of any intended Publication3 of yours and shall be proud to receive any public testimony of your esteem. Mr Southey left me a few hours before I received your last, he had been so kind as to come over for two or three days; he was very well, and making regular progress in many works—his history of the Peninsular War,4 a Book on the Church in England,5 two Poems,6 with regular communications in the Quar1y Review7 into the bargain. Have you heard of the attacks of Byron upon him and his answer?8 his Ldsp has lost as much by this affair as S. has pg 124gained, whose letter was circulated in almost every newspaper in England. S. means to send you a parcel of books, and I have requested him to include in it two things which I have lately published, the one, Ecclesiastical Sketches, a sort of Poem in the sonnet stanza, or measure, and the other, Memories of a Tour on the Continent in the year 1820—the tour brought me to Como a place that, with the scenery of its Lake, had existed in my most lively recollection for upwards of 30 years. What an addition would it have been to my pleasure if I had found you there! Time did not allow me to get further into Italy than Milan, where I was much pleased with the Cathedral especially, as you will collect if you ever see these Poems, from one of them entitled 'The eclipse of the Sun'.

I am surprized, and rather sorry, when I hear you say you read little, because you are removed from the pressure of the trash which hourly issuing from the Press in England, tends to make the very name of writing and books disgusting. I am so situated as to see little of it, but one cannot stop one's ears, and I sometimes envy you that distance which separates you altogether from this intrusion. It is reported here that Byron, Shelley, Moore, Leigh Hunt (I do not know if you have heard of all these names) are to lay their heads together in some Town of Italy, for the purpose of conducting a Journal1 to be directed against everything in religion, in morals and probably in government and literature, which our Forefathers have been accustomed to reverence,—the notion seems very extravagant but perhaps the more likely to be realized on that account.

Mr Kenyon left us in Septr with the intention of proceeding directly to Italy, but omitted to forward my letter when he changed his purpose and took a wife instead—he talks of starting for the continent, with his Lady, but only for the summer, so I am afraid you will not see him. We have as a near neighbour another amiable Person, an old Acquaintance of yours, Mr Quillinan, who knew you pg 125at Bath. He was lately of the Third Dragoon Guards, but has retired on ½ pay. He married a daughter of Sir Egerton Brydges, and they live, with two nice children, at the foot of our hill. He begs to be kindly remembered to you.

In respect to Latin Poetry, I ought to tell you that I am no judge, except upon general principles. I never practised Latin verse, not having been educated at one of the Public Schools. My acquaintance with Virgil, Horace, Lucretius, and Catullus is intimate; but as I never read them with a critical view to composition great faults in language might be committed which would escape my notice; any opinion of mine, therefore, on points of classical nicety would be of no value, should I be so inconsiderate as to offer it. A few days ago, being something better in my sight, I read your Sponsalia;1 it is full of spirit and animation, and is probably of that style of versification which suits the subject; yet, if you thought proper, you could produce, I think, a richer harmony; and I met some serious inaccuracies in the punctuation which, from the state of my eyes encreasing the difficulty of catching the sense, took something from the pleasure of the perusal. The first book whic[h I read] unless it be one in large type, shall be these Poems. I must express a wish, however, that you would gratify us by writing in English—there are noble and stirring things in all that you have written in your native tongue, and that is enough for me. In your Simoneida,2 which I saw some years ago at Mr Southey's, I was pleased to find rather an out-of-the-way image, in which the present hour is compared to the shade on the dial. It is a singular coincidence, that in the year 1793, when I first became an author, I illustrated the sentiment precisely in the same manner.3 In the same work you commend the fine conclusion of Russel's sonnet upon Philoctetes,4 and depreciate that form of composition. I do not wonder at this; I used to think it egregiously absurd, though the greatest poets since the revival of literature have written in it. Many years ago my sister happened to read to me the sonnets of Milton, which I could at that time repeat; but somehow pg 126or other I was singularly struck with the style of harmony, and the gravity, and republican austerity of those compositions. In the course of the same afternoon I produced 3 sonnets, and soon after many others; and since that time, and from want of resolution to take up anything of length, I have filled up many a moment in writing Sonnets, which, if I had never fallen into the practice, might easily have been better employed. The Excursion is proud of your approbation. The Recluse has had a long sleep, save in my thoughts; my MSS. are so ill-penned and blurred that they are useless to all but myself; and at present I cannot face them. But if my stomach can be preserved in tolerable order, I hope you will hear of me again in the character chosen for the title of that Poem.

I am glad that you are a Father and wish for a peep at your boys, with yourself to complete the trio.1 Southey's Son2 continues to thrive and promises well, and his family is flourishing.

I expect your book with impatience and shall at all times be glad to hear from you. I remain faithfully yours,

[signed] Wm Wordsworth

Notes Settings

Notes

Editor’s Note
1 Dated Florence, 22 Feb.
Editor’s Note
2 i.e. on New Year's Day, 1805. W. W.'s first attack of trachoma occurred after a walk over the Kirkstone Pass to visit the Hutchinsons at Park House. See the I. F. note to 'A little onward lend thy guiding hand' (PW iv. 422), and EY, pp. 527–8.
Editor’s Note
3 The Imaginary Conversations, which Landor had been planning for some time. (See R. H. Super, Walter Savage Landor, 1957, pp. 158–9.) 'I have inscribed them to you, in few lines', he had written to W. W. But the proposed dedication has not survived.
Editor’s Note
4 3 vols., 1823, –27, –32. See Warter, iii. 259. It was entirely superseded by Sir William Napier's volumes, the first of which appeared in 1828. Unlike Southey, Napier had access to the Duke of Wellington's papers and showed a surer grasp of military policy.
Editor’s Note
5 The Book of the Church, 2 vols., 1824. It led to a controversy with Charles Butler, who published The Book of the Roman Catholic Church the following year. Southey answered him in Vindiciae Ecclesiae Anglicanae, 1826.
Editor’s Note
6 A Tale of Paraguay, 1825 (Works, vii. 11 ff.), in Spenserian stanzas, founded on an incident in Dobrizhoffer's Latin History, had been occupying Southey since about 1814 (the date of the dedication to Edith Southey): Oliver Newman, a New England Tale, 'an Anglo-American Iliad of King Philip's War', was begun about the same time, but published unfinished by Herbert Hill in 1845. See Southey, v. 195.
Editor’s Note
7 Recent contributions had included the 'Life of Cromwell', xxv (1821), 279–347.
Editor’s Note
8 See above, L. 51.
Editor’s Note
1 In 1821 Byron and Shelley proposed that Leigh Hunt should join them in establishing a quarterly liberal magazine. Soon after Hunt's arrival in Italy in June 1822 Shelley was drowned (8 July), and Moore declined an invitation to assist; but Hunt and Byron went ahead with the undertaking, in spite of their increasingly strained relationship, and the first number of The Liberal, Verse and Prose from the South, London, 1822, printed by and for John Hunt, appeared in the October. It opened with The Vision of Judgment, which had been written for almost a year, and held back by Murray the publisher; and Hazlitt contributed five papers, including 'My First Acquaintance with Poets' in the third number. As a friend of Southey, Landor himself did not escape criticism, but the whole project collapsed the following year, after only four numbers had appeared. See Leigh Hunt, Autobiography, chs. xix–xx, and William H. Marshall, Byron, Shelley, Hunt, and 'The Liberal', Philadelphia, 1960.
Editor’s Note
1 Sponsalia Polyxenae, the third of the Idyllia heroica: later translated by Landor and published in his Hellenics, 1847, as The Esposals of Polyxena.
Editor’s Note
2 i.e. Simonidea, English and Latin poems, Bath, [1806].
Editor’s Note
3 Evening Walk, 11. 37–42 (PW i. 6).
Editor’s Note
4 Thomas Russell (1762–88); his Sonnets and Miscellaneous Poems were published in 1789. In Southey's Vision of Judgment he is coupled with Chatterton; and Landor said of the Philoctetes sonnet that it 'would authorize him to join the shades of Sophocles and Euripides'. W. W. introduced the last four lines of his tenth sonnet into his own sonnet Iona (Upon Landing) in the Itinerary Poems of 1833 (PW iv. 43).
Editor’s Note
1 'I never wished for children,' Landor had written, 'having disciplined myself in early life to wish for nothing—but my two children and I are the three noisiest children in Florence … ' Arnold Savage Landor was just four at this time, Julia Elizabeth two.
Editor’s Note
2 Cuthbert.
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