« PreviousContinue »
this great object was uppermost in her mind. On her marriage, she proposed to herself to go on writing still, with the prospect of being thus enabled to devote the whole of her literary profits to the comfort of her mother and the promotion of the fortunes of her brother, In all social and domestic relations no one was ever more amiable or more beloved.
With occasional visits to different parts of the kingdom, and once to Paris, Miss Landon continued living in Hans-place till 1837. The Misses Lance had given up the school, I believe, about 1830, but she continued still to reside there with Mrs. Sheldon, their successor. In 1837 Mrs. Sheldon quitted Hans-place, for 28, Upper Berkelerstreet West, whither Niss Landon accompanied her. Here sho resided only a few months, when, at the request of some much attached friends, she took up her abode with them in Hyde Parkstreet. On the 7th of June, 1838, she was married to Mr. Maclean, Governor of Cape Coast Castle, and almost immediately left this country, never to return.
Of the abode where the greater part of Miss Landon's life was spent, and where almost every one of her works was written, the reader will naturally wish to have some description. The following particulars are given by Laman Blanchard, as from the pen of a female friend. "Genius,” says our accomplished informant, " hallows every place where it pours forth its inspirations. Yet how strongly contrasted, sometimes, is the outward reality around the poet with the visions of his inward being. Is it not D’Israeli, in his Curiosities of Literature, referring to this frequent incongruity, who mention among other facts, that Moore composed his Lalla Rookh in a large barn L. E. L. remarks on this subject, “A history of the hot and where works of imagination have been produced, would often be more extraordinary than the works themselves.' Her own case was in some degree, an illustration of independence of mind over all external circumstances. Perhaps to the L. E. L. of whom so many nonsensical things were said-as 'that she should write with : crystal pen, dipped in dew, upon silver paper, and use for poutca the dust of a butterfly's wing ;' a dilettante of literature would assiga, for the scene of her authorship, a fairy-like boudoir, with racecoloured and silver hangings, fitted with all the luxuries of a fastidious taste. How did the reality agree with this fairy sketch! Miss Landon's drawing-room, indeed, was prettily furnished, but it was her invariable habit to write in her bed-room. I seo it now, that homely-looking, almost uncomfortable room, fronting the street, and barely furnished ; with a simple white bed, at the foot of which was a small
, old, oblong-shaped sort of dressing-table, quite covered with a common, worn writing-desk, heaped with papers, while some strewed the ground, the table being too small for aught beside the desk; a high-backed cane chair, which gave you any idea rather than that of comfort. A few books scattered about completed the author's paraphernalia."
Certainly one would have imagined a girl's school in London just the last place that a poet would have fixed upon to live and work in. But as London was the city of cities to Miss Landon, so, no doubt, Hans-place, from early associations, was to her the place of places ; and, when she was shut in her little bedroom, was just as poetical as any other place in the world. I recollect there was a little garden behind the house, which, if I remember right, you saw into through a glass door from the hall. At all events, a person full of poetic admiration once calling upon her, saw a young girl skipping very actively in this court or garden, and was no little astonished to see the servant go up to her, and announce the caller, whereupon she left her skipping, and turned out to be no other than Miss Landon herself.
Of her person, Mr. Blanchard gives this description :-“ Nobody who might happen to see her for the first time, enjoying the little quiet dance, of which she was fond, or the snug corner of the room where the little lively discussion, which she liked still better, was going on, could possibly have traced in her one feature of the sentimentalist which popular error reported her to be. The listener might only hear her running on from subject to subject, and lighting up each with a wit never ill-natured, and often brilliant; scattering quotations as thick as hail, opinions as wild as the winds ; defying fair argument to keep pace with her, and fairly talking herself out of breath. He would most probably hear from her lips many a pointed and sparkling aphorism, the wittiest things of the night, let who might be around her,-he would be surprised, pleased ; but his heroine of song, as painted by anticipation, he would be unable to discover. He would see her looking younger than she really was ; and perhaps, struck by her animated air, her expressive face, her slight but elegant figure, his impression would at once find utterance in the exclamation which escaped from the lips of the Ettrick Shep. herd on being presented to her, whose romantic fancies had often charmed him in the wild mountains, 'Hey! but I did not think ye'd bin sae bonnie!'
"Without attempting an elaborate description of the person of L. E. L., we cite this expression of surprise as some indication that she was far prettier than report allowed her to be, at the period we are speaking of. Her easy carriage and careless movements would seem to imply an insensibility to the feminine passion for dress; yet she had a proper sense of it, and never disdained the foreign aid of ornament, always provided it was simple, quiet, and becoming. Her hair was darkly brown, very soft and beautiful, and always tastefully arranged ; her figure, as before remarked, slight, but well-formed and graceful ; her feet small
, but her hands especially so, and faultlessly white, and finely shaped ; her fingers were fairy fingers; her ears also were observably little. Her face, though not regular in any feature, became beautiful by expression ; every flash of thought, every change and colour of feeling, lightened over it as she spoke, when she spoke earnestly. The forehead was not high, but broad and full; the eyes had no overpowering brilliancy, but their clear intellectual light penetrated by its exquisite softness ; her mouth was not less marked by character ; and, besides the glorious faculty of uttering the pearls and diamonds of fancy and wit, knew how express scorn, or anger, or pride, as well as it knew how to so winningly, or to pour forth those short, quick, ringing laughs, whi: not even excepting her bon-mots and aphorisms, were the mi delightful things that issued from it.”
This may be considered a very fair portrait of Miss Land Your first impressions of her were, -what a little, light, sim merry-looking girl. If you had not been aware of her beio. popular poetess, you would have suspected her of being not more than an agreeable, bright, and joyous young lady. This imp sion in her own house, or amongst a few congenial people, was qui followed by a feeling of the kind-heartedness and goodness at her. You felt that you could not be long with her without los her. There was a frankness and a generosity in her nature that extremely upon you. On the other hand, in inixed companies, wi and conversant as she was, you had a feeling that she was playing assumed part. Her manner and conversation were not only the 1 reverse of the tone and sentiment of her poems, but she seemed to things for the sake of astonishing you with the very contrast. felt not only no confidence in the truth of what she was assert but a strong assurance that it was said merely for the sake of 89: what her hearers would least expect to hear her say. I recul once meeting her in company, at a time when there was a str report that she was actually though secretly married. Mrs. Hof. on her entering the room, went up to her in her plain, straight ward way, and said, “ Ah! my dear, what must I call you tLandon, or who ?” After a well-feigned surprise at the quest Miss Landon began to talk in a tone of merry ridicule of this reu and ended by declaring that, as to love or marriage, they were th that she never thought of.
“What, then, have you been doing with yourself this last mont
“Oh, I have been puzzling my brain to invent a new sleeve; how do you like it ?" showing her arm.
“You never think of such a thing as love !” exclaimed a y sentimental man, “you, who have written so many volumes of pa upon it ?”
“Oh! that's all professional, you know;" exclaimed she, wit air of merry scorn.
“Professional!” exclaimed a grave Quaker, who stood near-V dost thou make a difference between what is professional and is real ? Dost thou write one thing and think another ? Does that look very much like bypocrisy ?”.
To this the astonished poetess made no reply, but by a lo genuine amazement. It was a mode of putting the matter to w she had evidently never been accustomed.
And, in fact, there can be no question that much of her was professional. She had to win a golden harvest for the con of others as dear to her as herself; and she felt, like all authors have to cater for the public, that she must provide, not son what she would of her free-will choice, but what they expectos
her. Still, working for profit, and for the age, the peculiar idiosyncrasy of her mind showed itself through all. Before we advance to the last melancholy home of L. E. L., let us take a review of her literary career; rapid, yet sufficiently full to point out some particulars in her writings, which I think too peculiar not to interest strongly the reader.
The subject of L. E. L's first volume was love ; a subject which, we might have supposed, in one so young, would have been clothed in all the gay and radiant colours of hope and happiness; but, on the contrary, it was exhibited as the most fatal and melancholy of human passions. With the strange, wayward delight of the young heart, ere it has known actual sorrow, she seemed to riot and to revel amid death and woe; laying prostrate life, hope, and affection. Of all the episodical tales introduced into the general design of the principal poem, not one but terminated fatally or sorrowfully ; the heroine herself was the fading victim of crossed and wasted affections. The shorter poems which filled up the volume, and which were mostly of extreme beauty, were still based on the wrecks and agonies of humanity:
It might be imagined th this morbid indulgence of so strong an appetite for grief, was but the first dipping of the playful foot in the sunny shallows of that flood of mortal experience through which all have to pass ; and but the dallying, yet desperate pleasure afforded by the mingled chill and glittering eddies of the waters, which might hereafter swallow up the passer through ; and the first real pang of actual pain would scare her youthful fancy into the bosom of those hopes and fascinations with which the young mind is commonly only too much delighted to surround itself. But it is a singular fact, that, spite of her own really cheerful disposition, and spite of all the advice of her most intluential friends, she persisted in this tone from the first to the last of her works, from that time to the time of her death. Her poems, though laid in scenes and times capable of any course of events, and though filled to overflowing with the splendours and high-toned sentiments of chivalry; though enriched with all the colours and ornaments of a most fertile and sportive fancy,—were still but the heralds and delineations of melancholy, misfortune, and death. Let the reader turn to any, or all, of her poetical volumes, and say whether this be not so, with few, and in most of them, no exceptions. The very words of her first heroine might have literally been uttered as her own :
“ Sad were my shades; methinks they had
Almost a tone of prophecy
A feeling what my fate would be."--The Improrisatrice, p. 3. This is one singular peculiarity of the poetry of L. E. L., and her poetry must be confessed to be peculiar. It was entirely her own. It had one prominent and fixed character, and that character belonged wbolly to itself. The rhythm, the feeling, the style, and phraseology of L. E. L.'s poetry were such, that you could immediately recognise it, though the writer's name was not mentioned. Love was still the great theme, and misfortune the great doctrine. It was not the less remarkable, that, in almost all other respects, she retained to the last the poetical tastes of her very earliest years. The beroes of chivalry and romance, feudal pageants, and Eastern splendour, delighted her imagination as much in the full growth, as in the budding of her genius.
I should say, that it is the young and ardent who must always be the warmest admirers of the larger poems of L. E. L. They are tilla with the faith and the fancies of the young. The very scenery and ornaments are of that rich and showy kind which belongs to the youthful taste ;-the white rose, the jasmine, the summer garniture of deep grass and glades of greenest foliage ; festal gardens with lamps and bowers ; gay cavaliers, and jewelled dames, and all that glitters in young eyes and love-haunted fancies. But amongst these, numbers of her smaller poems from the first dealt with subjects and sympathies of a more general kind, and gave glimpses of a nobility of sentiment, and a bold expression of her feeling of the unequal lot of humanity, of a far higher character. Such, in the Improvisatrice, are The Guerilla Chief, St. George's Hospital, The Deserter, Gladesmure, The Covenanters, The Female Convict, The Soldier's Grave, &c. Such are many that might be pointed out in every succeeding volume. But it was in her few last years that her heart and mind seemed every day to develop more strength, and to gather a wider range of humanity into their embrace. In the latter volumes of the Drawing-room Scrap Book, many of the best poems of which have been reprinted with the Zenana, nothing was more striking than the steady development of growing intellectual power, and of deep, generous, and truly philosophical sentiments, tone of thought, and serious experience.
But when L. E. L. had fixed her character as a poet, and the public looked only for poetical productions from her, she suddenly came forth as a prose writer, and with still added proofs of intellectual vigour. Her prose stories have the leading characteristics of her poetry. Their theme is love, and their demonstration that all love is fraught with destruction and desolation. But there are other qualities manifested in the tales. The prose page was for her a wider tablet, on which she could, with more freedom and ampler display, record her views of society. Of these, Francesca Carrara, and Ethel Churchill, are unquestionably the best works, the latter preeminently
In these she has shown, under the characters of Guido and Walter Maynard, her admiration of genius, and her opinion of its fate; under those of Francesca and Ethel Churchill, the adverse destiny of pure and high-souled woman.
These volumes abound with proofs of a shrewd obserration of society, with masterly sketches of character, and the most beautiful snatches of scenery. But what surprise and delight more than all, are the sound and true estimates of humanity, and the honest boldness with which her opinions are expressed. The clear perception of the fearful social condition of this country, and the fervent alvocacy of the poor, scattered through these works, but especially the last