Corvey Project Database: Women's Writing 1790-1840; Author Web Page; Letitia Elizabeth Landon; Biography
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This biographical sketch is from: Elwood, [Anne, Catharine (Curteis)]. Memoirs of the Literary Ladies of England from the Commencement of the Last Century. 2 vols. London: Henry Colburn, 1843 -- prepared by Dr. Glenn Dibert-Himes, Sheffield Hallam University
Mrs. Maclean, far better known to the public as L.E.L., or Letitia Elizabeth Landon, was descended from an ancient and highly respectable family, settled at one time at Crednall, in Herefordshire; where, till the disastrous period of the South Sea Scheme, they were in possession of landed property. The whole of the patrimonial estates were then lost through the unfortunate speculations of Sir William Landon; in consequence of which his descendants were obliged to provide for themselves by their own exertions.
One of them, the great-grandfather of Miss Landon, was the rector of Nursted and Ilsted, in Kent, where he died in 1777. His son, Rev. John Landon, was also in the church, and held the rectory of Tedstone Delamere, near Bromyard, in Herefordshire, from 1749 to 1782.
Mr. Landon had a family of eight children, of whom Miss Landon's father was the eldest. He entered the navy in early life, but afterwards became an army agent. He married Miss Catherine Jane Bishop, a lady of Welsh extraction, and settled in the house which is now No. 25, Hans-place, Chelsa, where on the 14th of August, 1802, was born their celebrated daughter, Letitia Elizabeth Landon.
She was the eldest of three children, of whom one, a girl, died at the age of thirteen; the other was her brother, the Rev. Whittington Henry Landon, the attached and long the almost inseparable companion of her childhood and youth, and for whom she appears to have felt a peculiarly strong attachment; and to him is addressed a beautiful poem, descriptive of the feelings of their early days, when first perusing the voyages of Captain Cook.
Miss Landon received the first rudiments of education from an invalid friend and neighbor, who was wont to throw the letters of the alphabet over the carpet, and on the infant scholar bringing to her the right one, she received some trivial reward, which, on her return home, was displayed in the drawing room, and invariably shared with her brother, who consequently was wont to look very earnestly for the hour of her appearance. She was only in her sixth year when she was sent for some months to a school kept by Miss Rowden, subsequently Countess St. Quentin, at 22 Hans-place, in which house she in after years resided for several years with Misses Lance as a boarder.
Up to this period Miss Landon had never left London, excepting on short visits to a place called Coventry Farm, on the borders of Hertfordshire, where her father, confiding the superintendence of his projects to a brother, speculated deeply, and became in consequence, subsequently, greatly embarrassed in his circumstances. In the meantime his more prosperous brother, Whittington, under the patronage and favor of the Duke of Portland, rose to honours and distinction in the church, being provost for more than thirty years of Worcester College, Oxford, besides being appointed to the lucrative deanery of Exeter, which he held till his decease in 1839. Another brother had the livings of Aberford, in Yorkshire, and Amesbury.
Miss Landon seems to have been a frequent visitor at the house of her different relatives; and upon one occasion she thus playfully describes the dismay of her cousins at her deficiency in certain fashionable acquirements; for which, indeed L.E.L. seems never to have any taste.
"The younger ones were sadly distressed at my want of accomplishments. When I first arrived, Julie and Isobel began to cross-question me --'Can you play?'-- 'No' 'Can you sing?' -- 'No. 'Can you speak Italian?' -- 'No.' 'Can you draw?' -- 'No.' At least they came down to 'Can you read and write?' Here I was able to answer to their great relief, 'Yes, a little.' I believe Julie, in the warmth of cousinly affection, was going to offer to teach me the alphabet."
But though, as she elsewhere says of herself, "for music she had no ear, for drawing she had no eye, and dancing was positively terrible to her timid temper." Yet was she a very clever girl, with a mind far beyond her years, though lacking the knowledge which alone could teach her how to use her powers. Plain as a child, and deficient in showy and attractive accomplishments, she was so nervously shy, that she was often unable to repeat the lesson she had thoroughly mastered, from over-anxiety to say it well, and the words died on her lips. Which were thoroughly imprinted on her memory; whilst, as is often the case with timid dispositions, the tears which rose too readily in her eyes were imputed to sullenness, rather than to their real source, bashfulness.
When about seven years of age, Miss Landon's parents removed to Trevor Park, not far from East Barnet, where, amidst scenes vividly depicted in various passages in her later works, were passed many of the happiest days of her childhood. In the "Traits and Trials of Early Life," in "The History of a Child," she is supposed to have portrayed that of her own early years, but the account is part romance and part reality. She describes "a large, old, and somewhat dilapidated place," -- of which "only part of the grounds were kept in their original high order." Here she was wont "to wander in the almost deserted shrubbery's, where the flowers grew in all the luxuriance of neglect over the walls." According to the same fictitious picture, on a small island, in a deep pond, almost dark with the depth of shadow, and partly covered with water lilies, "with the large green leaves that support the loveliest of ivory boats, fit for the fairy queen and her summer court," grew one curiously shaped but huge yew-tree, and in the shadows of this gloomy tree the embryo poetess was wont to conceal herself for the whole of her play-time, "chewing the cud of sweet and bitter fancy," and brooding over the troubles and sorrows which necessarily await every shy and sensitive person, and which are perhaps never more acutely felt than in the days of early childhood. Her childhood, however, was cheerful, and often joyous.
Miss Landon appears to have been endowed with peculiarly sensitive feelings, which, though they caused her perhaps to magnify and exaggerate "the ills and woes that mortal man await;" yet, at the same time enabled her, like all other imaginative children, to create for herself a fairy land of her own, in which she would find consolation for her sorrows and troubles, whether real or imaginary. She read with avidity everything which came her way, giving preference, very naturally, to romance and poetry; and though the prudent and thoughtful cousin, who undertook the care of her education whilst at Trevor Park, "always made it her particular care never to allow of her reading novels, knowing it would only weaken her mind, and give it a distaste to more serious reading," yet, despite the prohibition, Cooke's novelists and poets were all read through, even in the early days of childhood.
The reading of a new book appears to have been an epoch in her existence, and indeed of Robinson Crusoe, as she observes, the first perusal thereof is an epoch in every child's life. She says of herself, "For weeks after reading that book, I lived as if in a dream; indeed I scarcely dreamt of anything else at night. I went to sleep with the cave, its parrots and goats, floating before my closed eyes. I awakened in some rapid flight from the savages landing in their canoes. The elms in our hedges were not more familiar than the prickly shrubs which formed his palisades, and the grapes whose drooping branches made fertile the wide savannahs."
Of the "Arabian Nights," she states, "the world thereof for a time became hers;" her little lonely island, dark with the mingled shade of the yew and the willow, whilst perusing them, was deserted for a gayer retreat, and she found a summer palace amid the beautiful boughs of a large acacia, where amid the odours of sweet smelling flowers, and the murmuring hum of bees, she made herself familiar with those splendid creations of oriental fancy. "The delight of reading these enchanted pages," she observes, "she ever ranked as the most delicious excitement of her life," and to a late friend, she fondly recalled "the delicious odour of the Russian leather in which they were bound, and the charming glance at he numerous pictures which glanced through the half opened leaves" when they were presented to her by her father.
Whilst still a child, she would pace for hours up and down a certain lime-walk, in the grounds of Trevor Park, deprecating interruption, "because she had such a beautiful thought in her head;" sometimes in silence, sometimes talking to herself, at others thinking aloud in verse; and at night she would inflict on her brother a long story, or an account of her intended travels; and singular to say, as a moth flits round the flame that is to be its destruction, so Africa, where she was eventually to find an untimely and mysterious death, was the country generally predominant in her mind, as that she most wished to visit. Her father's voyage thither as a young man might possibly have first turned her attention to that quarter of the globe, and this predilection was confirmed by a book which he gave her when a child, called "Silvester Tramper," which quite captivated her youthful fancy with its narratives of lions, bushman, and other wonderful things.
Her brother did not appear, at all times, to have lent a willing ear to the marvelous creations of his sister; as, to induce him to listen to them, she was forced to agree to the bargain, that one day he should hear her stories, and on the following, she was to adopt his amusements. And a fresh stipulation was afterwards made, "that she was not to repeat the same story oftener than twice or three times at the most." One of their pastimes was playing at "being Spartans," and their greatest reproach would be to call each other "Sybarite," aiming to carry the Spartan maxims, of which they read in Plutarch's Lives, into common life.
Vain were the attempts to teach Letitia the art of fine penmanship, but no sooner could she scrawl, than her slate became her constant companion, on which the thick-coming fancies of the infant poetess were jotted down, oftentimes in the dark, as she invariably took it with her when she retired to rest, in order that she might commemorate any thought which struck her in the night. One of her first attempts at literary composition which was exhibited for perusal, though not now in existence, was on her Captain Landon's return from America; another of her earliest pieces was a sketch of the character of Sir John Doyle, after reading an account of the Peninsular War.
Though the active mind of Miss Landon seems to have revolted against the drudgery and the mechanical part of education, generally so called, yet she appears rather to have acquired by intuition, than to have learnt everything in which she took an interest, and her French masters found the task of instruction a pleasure rather than a trouble, from the quickness with which she acquired the language. As for music, though vain were the attempts to force her into an artist, yet "it seemed to charm and inspire her, and for hours she would sit writing on her slate, whilst any one played or sung."
Though she emancipated herself as soon as possible from the trouble of practising, as many of the miseries of her early life had arisen from being obliged to learn to play upon the piano, few, perhaps, felt more deeply the mental enjoyment, if it may be so termed, which arises from music, when it appeals to the heart rather than to the ear, awakening a whole host of tender and practical associations. In her "Romance and Reality," she thus illustrates her own feelings on the subject.
"The love of music, like a continent, may be divided into two parts; first the scientific appreciation which depends on natural organization, and highly cultivated taste; and secondly, the love of sweet sounds for the sake of the associations linked with them, and the feelings they waken from the depth of memory; the latter is a higher tone than the former, and in the first only are we English deficient. The man who stands listening to a barrel organ, because he loves the tones 'he heard from the lips of his nurse,' or who follows a common ballad-singer, because her song is familiar in its sweetness, or linked with touching words, or hallowed by the remembrance of some other and dearer voice, surely that man has more a soul for music than he who raves about execution, chromatic runs, semi-tones &c. We liken music to Aladdin's lamp -- worthless in itself, not so for the spirits which obey its call. We love it for the buried hopes, the garnered memories, the tender feelings, it can summon with a touch."
Though she neither drew nor painted, yet with the pen she could bring the scene she described to the imagination, with a vividness that evinced she had viewed it in her mind's eye with an artist's vision, when merely perhaps the creation of her own brain. Although by no means partial to the country as a residence, yet she threw over everything she saw there the halo of her own poetic fancy; whilst she also duly appreciated the picturesque effect of various scenes in London, only unheeded because of frequent occurrence. On one occasion she observes, "I do own I have a most affectionate attachment to London; the deep voice of her multitudes 'haunt me like a passion;' I delight in observing the infinite variety of her crowded streets, the rich merchandize of the shops, the vast buildings, whether raised for pomp, commerce, or charity; down to the barrel-organ, whose music is only common because it is beautiful. * * Let any one ride down Highgate Hill on a summer's day, see the dark panorama, hear the ceaseless and peculiar sound, which has been likened to the hollow roar of the ocean, but has an utterly differing tone; watch the dense cloud that hangs over all -- one perpetual storm, which yet bursts not, -- and then say, if ever was witnessed hill or valley that so powerfully impressed the imagination with the sublime and awful feeling, which is of epic poetry."
In her "Scenes in London," she has imparted much poetical beauty to those she has described ; but with all love for the metropolis, she, like every one else, protests against being buried there, for as she observes, "If there be one object more material, more revolting, more than another, it is a crowded churchyard in a city. It has neither sympathy nor memory. The pressed down stones lie heavy upon the very heart. The sunshine cannot get at them for smoke. There is a crowd, and like most crowds, there is no companionship. * * * No one can love London better than I do; but never do I wish to be buried there. It is the best place in the world for a house, but the worst place for a grave. An Irish patriot once candidly observed to me, 'Give me London to live in, but let me die in green Ireland;' now this is precisely my opinion."
Considering Miss Landon's predilection for London, it was fortunate that it was her fate to spend the greater part of her life in or near the metropolis, and singular, that it should be her fate, after thus protesting against a tomb there, that she should have found an untimely and premature grave on the uncivilized and almost unknown shores of Africa; there, according to the poetical wish,
"Perhaps some kindly hand may bring
Its offering to the tomb;
And say, as fades the rose in spring
So fadeth human bloom."
In 1815, when Miss Landon was about thirteen years of age, the family quitted Trevor Park, and after a twelvemonth's residence at Lewis Place, Fulman, Mr. Landon moved to Brompton, where a considerable part of his daughter's youth was passed, excepting a year or two spent with her grandmother in Sloane-street, and some occasional visits to her relations. Here, no sooner was she emancipated from the school-room, and allowed to pursue the bent of her own mind, than her poetical reveries were committed to paper, and through the encouraging kindness of Mr. Jerdan the editor of the Literary Gazette, to those whose judgement they were submitted, while still in her teens, the youthful writer had the pleasure of seeing some of her verses first appear in print, in the pages of that periodical, and visions of fame, perhaps, in some degree comforted her for the reverses to which her family were then beginning to be subjected.
"The Fate of Adelaide," a Swiss romantic tale, dedicated to Mrs. Siddons, a story of love, war, and misery, with some minor poems, was published by Mr. Warren, of Bond-street, in a small volume in 1821, when she was about nineteen; and from that period till 1824, a series of "Poetical Sketches," to which were annexed L.E.L. only, appeared in the Literary Gazette, and speedily L.E.L. became a favourite with the public; whose curiosity to penetrate the mystery in which the youthful poetess seemed involved, was enhanced, perhaps, by the singularity of the signature.
The first of her principal poetical works, "The Improvisatrice," appeared in 1824, and in the summer of the succeeding year, followed "The Troubadour," with "Poetical Sketches of Modern Pictures and Historical Sketches," both of which volumes were published by Messrs. Hurst and Robinson.
To her father, whom she lost at this time, Miss Landon seems to have been most enthusiastically attached. He lived long enough to hail the dawn of his daughter's literary fame, and left her to struggle with all the difficulties which surround a young and fascinating female, admired and caressed by some, envied and slandered by others. She thus touchingly alludes to the discomforts of her situation in a letter addressed to her friend Mrs. Thompson in the following year.
"The more I think of my past life, and of my future prospects, the more dreary do they seem. I have known little else than privation, disappointment, unkindness, and harassment; from the time I was fifteen my life has been one continual struggle, in some shape or other, against absolute poverty, and I must say not a tithe of my profits have I ever expended on myself. And here I cannot but allude to the remarks on my dress. It is easy for those whose only trouble on that head is change, to find fault with one who never in her life knew what it was to have two dresses at a time. No one knows but myself what I have had to contend with."
Much to Miss Landon's honour, it must be stated, that the fruits of her literary exertions were almost invariably applied to the support and maintenance of her family, and to the assistance of her brother when he was sent to Oxford by his uncle, as he loved, indeed, affectionately to remember and to acknowledge; and, in after times, to her amiable exertion in his behalf, when he was canvassing for the secretaryship of the Literary Fund, was he mainly endebted for his success, many personages of rank and distinction avowedly paying their homage to the merits of the sister, by giving their vote to her brother.
The Christmas of 1825 was spent by Miss Landon at the house of her uncle, the Rev. John Landon, at Aberford, near Wetherby, in Yorkshire, and subsequently she boarded with the Misses Lance in Hans Place, excepting when on visits to her friends. She continued their inmate till they quitted their house, after which she resided there with Mrs. Sheldon, who removed in 1837, to No. 28, Upper Berkeley-street West, where L.E.L. remained till within a short period of her marriage.
Miss Landon soon formed many literary acquaintances and friendships, and her society appears to have been very generally sought, as her conversational powers were as brilliant as her poetical talents were great. She possessed a keen sense of the ludicrous, and frequently amused herself by putting grave things in a laughable light, but in her satire there was nothing ill-natured or severe; and sometimes, whimsically assuming a character totally foreign to her own, she would express sentiments and maintain opinions, which would have impressed those not well acquainted with her worth, with the idea that she was a trifling and unintellectual person.
The same friend who expressed the above opinion of her, observes the "the conversation of L.E.L. was as brilliant as her writings, showing upon all occasions which called it forth, not merely in society, where she was the idol, but as the solitary companion of the rural walk, or fireside, always ready to amuse and be amused, and avenging any little quarrel with the world by the utterance of some misanthropic sentiment, the only ebullition of temper she was known to indulge."
Mr. Laman Blanchard, her confidential friend and literary executor, to whom she entrusted materials for the biography with which he has favoured the world, and to the pages of which we are mainly indebted for this memoir, observes, "It would be no easy task to trace her studies in regular order, or to point out the sources of her extensive and varied knowledge. She often exhibited an acquaintance with books which could hardly by accident (it would appear) have been thrown in her way; and how she acquired, so early in her life as she did, an insight into those subjects of foreign lore which she afterwards evinced a through acquaintance with, was little short of a mystery. She was well read in French, and almost equally well in Italian literature. She had, in truth, been an indefatigable reader; and while triflers in society listened, expecting that her talk would be of moonlight and roses, they were often surprised to hear her -- unless mirth happened to be her subject, or satire or mystification her choice -- discussing the character of a distant age, or the rise of a great nation; the influence of a mighty genius upon his contemporaries; the value of a creed worn out; or some historical event, a judgement of which demanded -- what she would not fail to exhibit if she spoke at all -- an insight into the actions, the policy, and the manners of the time to which it related. Her studies, in short, put her in possession of great advantages, which her excellent memory enabled her to turn readily to account."
Miss Landon was not strictly handsome, her eyes being the only good feature in her face; but her countenance was intellectual and piquant, and her figure slight and beautifully proportioned. Altogether, however, her clear complexion, dark hair and eyes, the vivacious expression with which the latter were lighted up when animated and in good health, combined with her kind and fascinating manners to render her extremely attractive; so that the rustic expression of sentiment from Ettrick Shepherd, when he was first introduced to her, "I did nae think ye had been sae bonny," was perhaps the feeling experienced by many when they first beheld L.E.L.
Among the literary friends and associates of Miss Landon, with some of whom she was on terms of intimacy, may be enumerated Mrs. Thompson, the lady of Dr. Anthony Todd Thompson, the authoress of the "Memoirs of the Court of Henry VIII.," the historical romance of "Anne Boleyn," &c., Mrs. S.C. Hall, with whom she became acquainted in 1828, Miss Edgeworth, Mrs. Jameson, Mr. Procter, Allan Cunningham, Miss Jewsbury, afterwards Mrs. Fletcher, and Miss Emma Roberts.
In December, 1826, Messrs. Longman and Co. published "The Golden Violet, with Tales of Chivalry and Romance," in which a pleasing but fanciful account is given of the institution of the prize of the Golden Violet, for which compete minstrels of various countries, with ballads, tales, and romances, in different measures, "On the first-born of loveliest May," each striving for the beautiful flower of gold.
In October, 1829, by the same publishers, appeared the "Venetian Bracelet, The Lost Pleiad, The History of the Lyre, and other Poems:" and in the autumn of 1835, Messrs. Saunders and Otley published her "Vow of the Peacock," suggested by Mr. Maclise's splendid picture on the same subject, which had attracted her attention as a subject for poetical composition.
In addition to these works, she still continued a frequent contributor of poetical fragments to the Literary Gazette, in which her verses had made their first appearance. Several poems also appeared in the "Annuals" and New Monthly Magazine;" and in 1831, she undertook the management of "Fisher's Drawing-room Scrap Book," the eight and last volume of which was completed in 1838, immediately previous to her departure from England. In 1832, she produced twelve accompaniments to some engravings, by the same publishers, under the title of "The Easter Gift, a Religious Offering," in the illustration of which, she states she "had the opportunity of embodying many a sad and serious thought which had arisen in hours of solitude and despondency."
In the lighter departments of criticism, she was also a devoted labourer, and it is stated that "were her opinions upon books and authors impartially extracted and collected in volumes, there would be seen in them the result of great miscellaneous reading, research in more than one foreign language, acuteness and brilliancy of remark, without one ungenerous or vindictive sentiment, one trace of unkindly or interested feeling."
L.E.L. has herself remarked, that "a history of the how and where works of imagination have been produced, would often be more extraordinary than the works themselves." A friend of hers observes, that "through a dilettante of literature would assign for the scene of her authorship a fairy-like boudoir, with rose-coloured and silver hangings, filled with all the luxuries of a fastidious taste," yet the reality was of a very different nature; for though her drawing-room was prettily furnished, "it was her invariable habit to write in her bed-room, -- " a 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 besides the desk. A little high-backed cane chair, which gave you any idea but that of comfort, and a few books scattered about, completed the author's paraphernalia."
Love and chivalry were the favorite topics of Miss Landon's muse, and whilst she identified herself in idea with those whose sorrows she sang, lamenting, often in the first person, over disappointments and treacheries she never had then experienced, it may easily be supposed that those readers who were wholly unacquainted with the fair poetess, naturally concluded her to be the pining victim of unrequited affection. One of her friends, however asserts, that so far from this having been the case, she manifested an extraordinary want of susceptibility in affairs of the heart, which she imputes to her having formed, in her own imagination, a beau ideal, to which standard of perfection none of her admirers ever attained.
Her temper seems to have been naturally amiable and obliging, but from an extreme susceptibility of her nervous system, she was impatient under pain, and occasionally suffered from spasms or cramp, for which no adequate cause could be assigned. When highly excited, she experienced a sensation of atmospheric oppression, -- when her constitutional irritability of temperament would find relief only in rapid motion in the open air, and however inclement might be the weather, she would pace for hours in the garden, or if she found that too bounded for her feelings, she would seek a wider space.
Her delicacy of feeling and irritability of frame rendered her very unequal to stand up against the various ill-natured rumours and remarks which perhaps were put into circulation by those who were envious of the admiration she excited, and the success of her literary labours. So deeply did she feel the unkindness of the suspicions, that of herself she broke off a matrimonial engagement into which she was at one time about to enter, though she had, in addition to the mental sufferings which she endured upon occasion, a severe fit of illness in consequence.
In 1830, Miss Landon commenced her first novel, entitled "Romance and Reality," which was published in the following year. The plot of the novel is, perhaps, somewhat deficient in interest; a young lady, a beautiful, spoilt, and petted heiress, comes up from the country to be domiciled with a handsome and agreeable young man, with whom she falls in love, though his affections are placed elsewhere, and she eventually dies of a broken heart in consequence. We can all feel for a heroine who is deceived, betrayed, or ill-used, but not so easily do we sympathize with one how volunteers an attachment without any sufficient grounds for so doing. The story, moreover, is burdened with a number of scenes, that have no reference to the plot, and with conversations and descriptions of living characters apparently only introduced as vehicles for some piquant remark, witty allusion, or mournful and half-moral reflection.
In the following passage she probably describes her own bitter experience:
"Enthusiasm is the royal road to success. Now, call it fame, vanity -- what you will -- how strange and how strong is the feeling which urges on the painter or the author! We ought to marvel less at the works produced, than at the efforts made. Their youth given to hopes, or rather fears -- now brightening and now darkening, on equally slight grounds.
'A breath can mar them, as a breath has made,' --
hours of ceaseless exertion in solitude, of feverish solicitude or society: doomed to censure, which is always in earnest, and to praise, which is not. Alas! We talk of their vanity; we forget that in doling forth the careless sneer, we are bestowing but the passing thought of a moment to that which has been the work of an existence. Truly, genius, like virtue, ought to be its own reward, but it cannot. Bitter though the toil, and vain the hope, human exertion must still look to human approbation."
"Francesca Carrera," the next prose production of Miss Landon's pen, was published by Mr. Bentley in 1834. In this the story is considerably more interesting than of "Romance and Reality;" but it is too uniformly melancholy; for as if a presentiment of her own sad and untimely end, Miss Landon appears to have delighted in portraying death scenes, most of which are sudden and violent. In "Romance and Reality" there are four or five described, and in "Francesca Carrera" not less than eight, including the fatal catastrophe with which the work concludes.
That Miss Landon was aware of the melancholy strain of her own writings, is apparent from the following observations.
"I have been told that my writings are too melancholy. How can that be a reproach, if they are true? And that they are true, I attest the sympathy of others and my own experience. If I have painted a state of moral lassitude, when the heart is left like a ruined and deserted city, where the winged step of joy, and the seven-stringed lute of hope have ceased each to echo the other; where happiness lies cold and dead on its own threshold; where dust lies dry and arid over all, and there is no sign of vegetation or promise of change -- if I paint such a state, it is because I know it well. Alas! Over how many things now does my regret take its last and deepest tone -- despondency! I regret not the pleasures that have passed, but that I have no longer any relish for them. I remember so much, which, but a little while ago, would have made my heart beat with delight, and which I now think even tiresome. The society which once excited, is now wearisome. The book which would have been a fairy gift to my solitude, I can now scarcely read. So much for the moral world: and as for the imaginary world. I have overworked my golden vein. Some of the ore has been fashioned into fantastic, perhaps beautiful shapes, but now they are for others, and not for me! Once, a sweet face, a favourite flower, a thought of sorrow, touched every pulse with music. Now, half my time, my mind is too troubled, too worldly, and too sullen for song. Alas, for pleasure, and still more, for what made it pleasure!
"But still more I regret the energy of industry which I once knew. I no longer delight in employment for the mere exertion -- I am so easily fatigued and disheartened. I see too clearly the worthlessness of fulfilled hope. How vain seems so much that I once so passionately desired; and yet not always. The more disgusted I am with the present -- with its faithless friends, its petty vanities, and its degrading interests, the more intensely does my existence blend itself with the future -- the more do I look forward with an engrossing and enduring belief, that the creative feeling, the ardent thought, have not poured themselves forth wholly in vain. Good heaven! Even to myself how strange appears the faculty or rather the passion of composition, how the inmost soul develops its inmost nature on the written page!"
These somewhat querulous observations, however, perhaps only resolve themselves into the sensation of disappointment on the part of the young and inexperienced, that we cannot at the same time enjoy the blossoms of spring, the foliage of summer, and the fruits of autumn, and that the same individual cannot at the same period expect to possess the prize of hope, the pleasures of memory, and the benefits of experience.
The truth is, that Miss Landon's disposition was peculiarly lively and cheerful, her conversation was playful, and her letters were so characterized by easy gaiety, as to induce her friends to wish that she had no other employment than that of chronicling passing events, and painting the form and fashion of the time.
"Ethel Churchill, or the two brides," the last of Miss Landon's novels, which was published by Mr. Colburn, appeared in 1837. In elegance of expression and beauty of description, this perhaps far exceeds her preceding performances, but unfortunately the plot is an unpleasing one, and Lady Marchmont, one of the brides, becomes so disgustingly and revoltingly wicked, that the interest of the work is seriously injured thereby.
It appears, indeed, that in Lady Marchmont's dereliction's from virtue, Miss Landon had a moral object in view, as she states in the preface, "To show the necessity of a strong and guiding principle -- to put in the strongest light, that no vanity, no pleasure, can ever supply the place of affection; to soften and to elevate, has been the object of the following pages. I know too well that I cannot work my own ideal, but I deeply feel that it is beautiful and true."
It was in the summer of 1834 that an opportunity occurred for Miss Landon, through the medium of Sir A Farquhar and his daughter, to visit Paris, where her friend, Miss Turin, was then staying. She had, in fact, determined on laying the scene of a new novel in the period of the French revolution, and it was desirable for her to become acquainted with the locality of the places she was to describe.
Though expressing herself delighted with Paris, she seems to have had a horror of sight-seeing, for she says of herself, "I really do not, in my heart, care for all the article in marble, stone, or brick, that were ever ushered in with a paragraph in the Stranger's Guide. In my plan of Paradise, people will ride very little, and not walk at all. In revenge, they shall have the most comfortable chairs, and talk from morning till night."
A pleasing though somewhat melancholy little volume, entitled "Traits and Trials of Early Life," containing prose stories for children, by L.E.L., was published by Mr. Colburn in 1836. In the "History of a Child," she appears to have recorded the reminiscences of her own childhood, which render it particularly interesting, and perhaps in the picture of her own she has described the feelings and sensations of most timid and reserved, but at the same time clever and imaginative children.
It was in the autumn of 1836, that Miss Landon first met George Maclean, at the house of a mutual acquaintance at Hampstead. This gentleman was the eldest son of the Rev. James Maclean, of Urquhart, Elgin, and nephew to Lieut.-general sir John Maclean. When about eighteen, he had been appointed secretary to the governor of Sierra Leone, and was still very young when he was himself appointed to the responsible situation of governor of Cape Coast Castle. Africa, the object of Miss Landon's early interest, was a ready topic of delightful conversation, and, like Desdemona, she soon learnt to "love him for the dangers he had past;" and perhaps "he loved her that she did pity them."
A mutual attachment ensued, and their marriage took place on the 7th of June, 1838, at St. Mary's Bryanstone-square, the ceremony being performed by the bride's brother, and sir Edward Lytton Bulwer enacted the part of father upon the occasion, by giving the bride away. On the 5th of the following July, the ship Maclean, having the governor and his lady on board, sailed from Portsmouth for Cape Coast.
Up to the period of her embarkation, L.E.L. seems to have continued her literary avocations. On one occasion she poetically illustrated the "Flowers of Loveliness," for Mr. Ackerman, and edited a "Book of Beauty" for Mr. Heath. She likewise still contributed to the "Literary Gazette," "Court Journal," "New Monthly Magazine," and Mr. Schloss's "Bijou Almanac."
"Castruccio Castrucani," a tragedy, a posthumous publication, seems to have been only barely completed before she left England. "In this," she says, "her aim was to represent the first risings of the feudal system, and Castruccio is the attempted ideal of the hero and the patriot.
Though obliged to resign the editorship of the "Drawing-room Scrap-book," &c., in consequence of her leaving England, she, notwithstanding, entered into many literary engagements. Another novel was to be written, to be published by Mr. Colburn; the "New Monthly Magazine" was to receive contributions from her pen; and for a publication of Mr. Heath, she was to illustrate the female characters in Scott's novels, some of which were written from memory, but, through the kindness of Mr. Hutton, a gentleman at Cape coast Castle, she was enabled to re-peruse them there, "with a pleasure which only those who have been placed in similar circumstances can understand." Indeed, during her short abode in Africa, her pen appears, notwithstanding the climate, and other various calls upon her attention, to have been quite indefatigable.
The voyage to Cape Coast, where they landed on the 1st of August, seems to have been unattended by any incident of interest, beyond its having given rise to a beautiful "Address to the Polar Star," which derived particular interest from appearing in the same magazine which, on the 1st of January, 1839, gave an account of her melancholy and untimely end.
In her letters to her friends, she gives several pleasing accounts of her feelings in that distant part of the world, where she states she was enacting "a sort of female Robinson Crusoe." In one place she says, " I am very well, and very happy; my only regret -- the emerald ring that I fling into the dark sea of life to propitiate fate -- is the constant sorrow I feel whenever I think of those whose kindness is so deeply treasured." In another, written on the morning of her death, she describes the place as infinitely superior to all she ever dreamt of. "The castle is a fine building, with excellent rooms, on three sides surrounded by the sea. I like the perpetual dash on the rocks; one wave comes up after another, and is for ever dashed to pieces, like human hopes, that only swell to be disappointed. We advance -- up springs the shining path of love or hope -- 'a moment white, then gone forever.' The land view, with its cocoa and palm trees, is very striking, -- it is like a scene in the Arabian Nights. Of a night the beauty is very remarkable; the sea is of a silvery purple, and the moon deserves all that has been ever said in her favor."
In several places she playfully describes her troubles in housekeeping, to which she has never been accustomed previously. She tells her brother, "You would be surprised at the pains I have taken. I give out everything. I have made lists of everything, and I stand over the cleaning of everything. But I will give you the history of one day: I rise at seven, breakfast at eight -- give my orders -- give out everything; flour, sugar, &c. from the store -- see to which room I will have cleaned, and then sit down to write -- lunch at one on roasted yam, and then write -- much interrupted by having to see to different things till six -- dress -- walk in the verandah till dinner at seven." At that hour Mr. Maclean came in from the court, but till then she describes herself as never seeing a living creature but the servants. "The solitude (she writes to Mr. Blanchard) is absolute. I get up at seven o'clock, and till I see Mr. Maclean at our seven o'clock dinner, I rarely see a living creature except the servants. You may suppose what a resource writing is. * * * If my literary success does but continue, in two or three years I shall have independence from embarrassments it is long since I have known. It will enable me completely to provide for my mother. Mr. Maclean, besides what he did in England, leaves my literary pursuits quite in my own hands, and this will enable me to do all for my family I could wish."
Previous to her departure from England she had contemplated a republication of her minor poems, selected from her favorite work, "The Drawing-room Scrap Book;" and in one of her letters to Mr. Fisher, she states, that "some of her very best poems had made their appearance there." In the volume which appeared in 1939, she observes, "For the last few years the "Drawing-room Scrap Book" has been the cherished record of my poetical impressions, and my only poetical work; and I grew gradually to look forward to June and July, as recalling my first keen delight in composition." What she did not live to perform herself has devolved upon her friends, "The Zenana, and Minor Poems, by L.E.L., (with a Memoir, by Emma Roberts,") were republished after her decease by Mr. Fisher in 1840.
Shortly after their arrival at Cape coast Castle in August, Mr. Maclean was taken seriously ill, in consequence of being wet through in landing through the surf, during which period Mrs. Maclean appears to have been his attentive and indefatigable nurse. For four nights she never attempted to do more than for half an hour, when he was still with opiates, to lie down on the floor in her shawl. At one time, as he afterwards told her, he had felt sure of dying, and then his only thoughts has been what would become of her. On which occasion, looking up at his face, she touchingly answered, "And do you really think that I could survive you? Never believe it, nor take any thought about my fate, for I am sure I should not live a day after you."
Though subject to spasms, hysterical affections, and deep and instantaneous fainting fits, whilst in England, Mrs. Maclean describes herself in her letters to her friends, as enjoying excellent health and spirits at Cape Coast Castle, with the exception of excruciating headache, and an abscess forming and breaking continually in her ear, which, indeed, had rendered her lately deaf on that side.
Previously to the fatal morning of the 15th of October, she had been for three or four night in constant attendance on Mr. Maclean, who was indisposed, which, probably, impaired her physical strength. On the preceding day she had appeared in her usual health and spirits, though at night she was attacked with spasms, for which she took some drops. On the following morning she complained of weariness, and having risen at six o'clock, went to bed again for an hour and a half. She then rose and employed herself in writing letters to her friends, as her maid Emily Bailey, was to sail for England in the course of the day. She saw her mistress thus occupied at that time, and observing nothing particular in her appearance and manner. Half an hour afterwards, she had a note given her for Mrs. Maclean, and on going to deliver it, she found some difficulty in opening the door, and on entering the room, she discovered her mistress lying against it, quite senseless, on the floor, with an empty bottle in her hand, labeled with the name of the medicine she was in the habit of taking. The alarm was immediately given; but, notwithstanding surgical aid was almost instantly procured, life was extinct!
An inquest was held upon the body of this lamented lady, and the surgeon's evidence very clearly proved that, in his opinion, her death was caused by the improperuse of the medicine (Prussicacid) which Mrs. Maclean had been in the habit of taking for the spasmodic affections to which she was subject, and which she appears to have considered essential to the preservation of her life, though Mr. Maclean had occasionally threatened to take it from her. The spasms coming on, whilst in the act of taking it, Mrs. Maclean might, he stated, involuntarily have swallowed more than she intended, or the spasms themselves might have occasioned her death, before she had time to call for assistance. The body, strange to say, was not opened.
On the day following her unfortunate end, Mrs. Maclean was interred in a grave dug near the castle, and within the wall enclosing it, and a handsome marble tablet has since been sent to Cape Coast Castle, to be erected in the castle, with the following inscription in Latin: --
HERE LIES INTERRED
ALL THAT WAS MORTAL
OF LETITIA ELIZABETH MACLEAN.
ADORNED WITH A PURE MIND,
SINGULARLY FAVOURED BY THE MUSES,
AND DEARLY LOVED BY ALL;
SHE WAS PREMATURELY SNATCHED AWAY BY DEATH
IN THE FLOWER OF HER AGE,
ON THE 15TH OF OCTOBER, 1838,
AGED 36 YEARS.
THE MARBLE WHICH YOU BEHOLD, O TRAVELLER,
A SORROWING HUSBAND HAS ERECTED;
VAIN EMBLEM OF HIS GRIEF.