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A History of Nineteenth Century Literature (1780-1

Landor was but a half Pygmalion


the stubborn knack of confinement

to things suitable to him, which some natures much smaller than the great ones have enjoyed. But he had the faculty of elaborate style--of style elaborated by a careful education after the best models and vivified by a certain natural gift--as no one since the seventeenth century had had it, and as no one except Mr. Ruskin and the late Mr. Pater has had since. Also, he was as much wider in his range and more fertile in his production than Mr. Pater as he was more solidly grounded on the best models than Mr. Ruskin. Where Landor is quite unique is in the apparent indifference with which he was able to direct this gift of his into the channels of prose and poetry--a point on which he parts company from both the writers to whom he has been compared, and in which his only analogue, so far as I am able to judge, is Victor Hugo. The style of no Englishman is so alike in the two harmonies as is that of Landor. And it is perhaps not surprising that, this being the case, he shows at his best in prose when he tries long pieces, in verse when he tries short ones. Some of Landor's prose performances in _Pericles and Aspasia_, in the _Pentameron_ (where Boccaccio and Petrarch are the chief interlocutors), and in not a few of the separate conversations, are altogether unparalleled in any other language, and not easy to parallel in English. They are never entirely or perfectly natural; there is always a slight "smell of the lamp," but of a lamp perfumed and undying. The charm is so powerful,
the grace so stately, that it is impossible for any one to miss it who has the faculty of recognising charm and grace at all. In particular, Landor is remarkable--and, excellent as are many of the prose writers whom we have had since, he is perhaps the most remarkable--for the weight, the beauty, and the absolute finish of his phrase. Sometimes these splendid phrases do not mean very much; occasionally they mean nothing or nonsense. But their value as phrase survives, and the judge in such things is often inclined and entitled to say that there is none like them.

This will prepare the reader who has some familiarity with literature for what is to be said about Landor's verse. It always has a certain quality of exquisiteness, but this quality is and could not but be unequally displayed in the short poems and the long. The latter can hardly attain, with entirely competent and impartial judges, more than a success of esteem. _Gebir_ is couched in a Miltonic form of verse (very slightly shot and varied by Romantic admixture) which, as is natural to a young adventurer, caricatures the harder and more ossified style of the master. Sometimes it is great; more usually it intends greatness. The "Dialogues in Verse" (very honestly named, for they are in fact rather dialogues in verse than poems), though executed by the hand of a master both of verse and dialogue, differ in form rather than in fact from the Conversations in prose. The _Hellenics_ are mainly dialogues in verse with a Greek subject. All have a quality of nobility which may be sought in vain in almost any other poet; but all have a certain stiffness and frigidity, some a certain emptiness. They are never plaster, as some modern antiques have been; but they never make the marble of which they are composed wholly flesh. Landor was but a half-Pygmalion.


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