Walter Savage Landor was a man given to fierce passions; he could burst out in either anger or generosity almost without warning. He was egotistical and given to romantic notions about life; this combination caused him much unhappiness and yet underlies much of his best writing. He was born on January 30, 1775, in Warwick. In 1780, he began his schooling at Knowle; in 1783, he was sent to study at Rugby. After eight years of annoying his teachers and antagonizing others with his satirical sense of humor, he was sent home. Landor, however, remembered Rugby fondly; while there, he developed his taste for poetry and demonstrated a precocious skill in composing verse. The Reverend William Langley, of Ashbourne, Derbyshire, became Landor’s tutor in 1792. The next year, Landor entered Trinity College, Oxford. While at Oxford, he punctuated a political dispute by shooting at a neighbor’s shutters; suspended from college for two terms, he left Oxford in 1794, never to return. He moved to London and had his poetry published under a grand title for a mere twenty-year-old, The Poems of Walter Savage Landor (1795). The volume brought him a small but loyal following among other writers and readers who had a taste for fine literature.
When his father died, Landor inherited a large fortune. This he spent on a large estate in Wales and on outfitting his own regiment to fight in Spain against the French. After the French left Spain, Landor’s regiment disappeared, and he hastened home. In Wales, he tried to improve the lives of the peasants and to introduce enlightened methods of managing an estate. No one seemed to appreciate his efforts, and after losing much money, he abandoned the effort.
In 1811, in one of his grand gestures, he married an attractive woman who was beneath him in both wealth and social station. Far from being grateful, his bride, Julia Thuillier, repeatedly cuckolded Landor and made his life unpleasant. She did not appreciate her husband’s generous nature, his intellect, or his interests. Although she is often portrayed as a nasty and cruel woman, she and Landor seem to have had enough truces to produce a daughter and three sons. In 1814, Landor toured the Continent, where he was eventually joined by his wife. From 1816 to 1818, he stayed in Como, Italy, and in 1818, his first son was born. His daughter followed in 1820, while he was in Pisa. From 1821 to 1828, he lived in Florence, where his second and third sons were born in 1822 and 1825. By 1835, his family life was unbearable; his wife dedicated herself to embarrassing him publicly and committing adultery privately. Landor had doted on his children and spoiled them; nevertheless, when he left his wife and returned to England, they chose to remain with her, although in the 1840’s, his two eldest sons and his daughter visited him for months at a time. During the years of unhappy marriage, Landor continued to write, building a loyal following of admiring friends, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Forster.
Landor’s trenchant wit and attacks on the misdeeds of public officials frequently involved him in trouble. In 1857, old but still fiery, he published attacks on a Mrs. Yescombe, whom he saw as a villainess because of an injustice visited on a young woman. Convicted of libel in 1858, he left England in 1859 to seek refuge from litigation in Fiesole, where he had maintained his family since 1835. Rejected by his family, he wandered to nearby Florence, where Robert Browning offered him a home. He died on September 17, 1864. He had wanted to be buried near Bath in England but was interred instead at Florence. He had wanted an epitaph that mentioned his closest friends but instead received one that mentions his wife and children.
Seldom does a man of wealth, without a degree or a profession, become an outstanding poet, but this in brief is the life of Walter Savage Landor (LAHN-dawr), born at Warwick, England, on January 30, 1775. His education was irregular at...
(The entire section is 1,103 words.)