Corvey Project Database: Women's Writing 1790-1840; Author Web Page; Letitia Elizabeth Landon; Introduction
Author Links: Adopt an Author , Bibliography , Biography , Corvey Holdings , Corvey Project , Criticism and Context , E-Mail , Introduction , Related Sites , Sample Texts
From: 'Introduction,' The Comprehensive Index and Bibliography the the Collected Works of Letitia Elizabeth Landon by Glenn Dibert-Himes (dissertation) Ann Arbor, MI: UMI, 1997.
Editions of L.E.L.: The Current Need in ScholarshipControversy
Fugitive Poetry and Detractors
Editions of L.E.L.: The Current Need in Scholarship [RETURN]
Virginia Woolf foreshadows and sums up a century's worth of L.E.L. criticism in Orlando. That title character writes a bit of poetry and then denigrates it as "the most insipid verse she had ever read in her life" (215). L.E.L. is not mentioned as the poetry's real author (Orlando's work comes from "Lines of Life," actually), but we can guess at the genesis of Woolf's assessment.1 She was writing Orlando as Hogarth Press was publishing E.N. Enfield's biography, L.E.L.: A Mystery of the Thirties. Virginia Woolf read some of L.E.L.'s poetry then, we can assume, and we know that she was not impressed by it. Enfield herself, after briefly describing the high regard in which L.E.L. was held in her own day, is willing to eschew interpreting L.E.L.'s art in favor of discussing "the tragedy" of Landon's life. Enfield writes, "Yet the poems of L.E.L. are out of print--and are not likely to be reprinted. The cause lies, not so much in the decline of public taste...as in the poems themselves" (59). A few years later, another Landon biographer, Helen Ashton, wrote of L.E.L.'s "silly poems" on the very first page of her biography, and like Enfield's, Ashton's book focuses on what that author sees as Landon's unfulfilling life (1).
These two critical biographers share a willingness to privilege the history of Landon's life over her art, a pattern of criticism that began soon after her death, continued through the nineteenth century, and persists today. (2) But when we examine critical discussions of Landon during her lifetime and in the period immediately following her death, we see a very different pattern of response.
This pattern, when seen from the other end of the telescope, turning our perspective of Landon around to see the negative later nineteenth-century and twentieth-century criticism of her as out of touch, permits us to do two things. First, we recover an alternate aesthetic that was strong during the 1820s and 30s, and, as a part of reconsidering this aesthetic, we must review L.E.L.'s original publishing milieu compared to the posthumous presentations of her work. Second, when we dust off the popular literary aesthetic of her age, we reclaim L.E.L.'s artistic reputation. Then we see, when we combine our first and second achievements, that to call L.E.L.'s verse "insipid" is to shrug off a widely understood early nineteenth-century aesthetic, thereby crippling our own scholarship of the period, and consigning to a footnote the literary output of one of the most eagerly awaited authors of the day.
Indeed, Letitia Elizabeth Landon was one of the most widely read British poets of the early nineteenth century. What's more, she was one of the first women writers to achieve financial independence, consistent critical acclaim, and a huge public following from poetry. During the years of Landon's prodigious literary production (1820 to 1838), she published hundreds of poems in literary periodicals, created seven individual books of poetry, contributed to a number of literary annuals, wrote all the poetry for and edited Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap Book in the years 1832 to 1839, authored three novels and several children's stories, edited (and some believe wrote) two other novels, published translations, wrote literary reviews and criticism, penned several plays, saw many of her poems set to music, and published many short stories. Her work was reviewed in all the leading literary periodicals of the day and was widely distributed. The beginning of L.E.L.'s fiery writing career came in the pages of the Literary Gazette, a very popular English periodical of the early 1800s.
The Literary Gazette was established in 1817 by Henry Colburn, a publisher known for his aggressive marketing abilities. It emerged on the scene at a time of proliferation for British literary magazines. At the turn of the century, a number of them, such as The Edinburgh Review, Blackwood's Magazine, and Quarterly Review had found wide acceptance and readership. Most of the periodicals, including the above-listed, were politically oriented and evidence a particular political bias in their editorial policies. Alvin Sullivan suggests that Colburn "shrewdly perceived" that there was a general audience not served by the politically charged periodicals and so he conceived a weekly periodical that would cater mostly to the general readership (242). Such a forum would be useful to Colburn to promote his own publications through favorable book reviews--"puffing."
In July 1817 Henry Colburn appointed one of his contributors, William Jerdan, as editor. Jerdan's tenure at the Gazette lasted until his retirement in 1850 and he is responsible for much of the magazine's character. He progressed with the magazine from employee to shareholder to owner and wrote most of the articles. Alvin Sullivan notes that Jerdan's main interest was literature but because of a background in journalism he also had an eye for a scoop (242). Jerdan, like Colburn, tuned into the literary marketplace and did not hesitate to attempt to shape that market to his own advantage by promoting his literary friends as well as Colburn's stable of writers.
Throughout its life (1817 - 1863) the Gazette retained essentially the same format. The formal title of the magazine was The Literary Gazette, and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences. although a caption title, "London Literary Gazette," was sometimes used. The typical issue consisted of approximately sixteen pages, type-set in three columns. Its lead article was always a book review which usually took two or three pages and was followed by several other book reviews. The center part of the magazine was devoted to various feature sections, such as "Original Correspondence," a social column, a notice of theater productions, and "Original Poetry" sent to the magazine by the public. The contributors to this section consisted of amateur poets who were called "Correspondents" and some staff writers, who because of repeated appearances, were recognized as featured writers. The last two pages of the periodical were devoted to advertisements for hire, usually promoting various book publications. In addition to these standard features, the Gazette offered articles on recent archaeological discoveries, inventions, and notices of art exhibitions. Illustrations appeared occasionally, but were relatively rare.
Because of its wide circulation, focus on a general readership, and weekly format, the Gazette was considered to be one of the leading periodicals of its day. From the time of its inception the Literary Gazette had a wide circulation, which as early as 1823 reached 4,000-plus weekly copies. In 1830, near the middle of the Gazette's lifespan, an intense controversy grew surrounding the practice of puffing. The Athenaeum condemned the practice, declared its editorial independence, and drastically reduced its price, changes that pushed its circulation to over 14,000 weekly issues, painfully superseding the Literary Gazette's circulation. Many periodicals, including the Gazette, changed in response to the Athenaeum's policy, leading to a virtual overhaul of editorial policies for British literary periodicals.
However, the "Original Poetry" section of the Literary Gazette retained its popularity throughout the controversy, as it had since the magazine's inception. In those early years of the Gazette, "Original Poetry" took up a relatively small amount of space. In the 1820s, however, there was a marked change in the size and content of the feature. A sudden expansion of the feature occurred because of the inclusion of a new and immediately popular poet who emerged on the scene. Her first poetic attempts were included in the Gazette's "Original Poetry" section, and after the publication of her first book of poetry, The Fate of Adelaide and Other Poems, which was favorably reviewed by the Gazette, her poetry began to be enthusiastically received by her readers. In fact, very quickly, her signature became immediately recognizable to the readers who loved to see her magical initials: "L.E.L."
The appearance of Letitia Elizabeth Landon's poetry and her enchanted signature in the Literary Gazette caused an immediate stir. Her contributions became almost weekly occupants in the "Original Poetry" section of the Gazette during 1822. Edward Bulwer-Lytton later recalled the sensation created by L.E.L.'s poetry among his fellow Cambridge undergraduates:
There was always, in the reading room of the union, a rush every Saturday afternoon for the Literary Gazette; and an impatient anxiety to hasten at once to that corner of the sheet which contained the three magical letters 'L.E.L.' And all of us praised the verse, and all of us guessed at the author. We soon learned it was a female, and our admiration was doubled, and our conjectures tripled. Was she young? was she pretty? and--for there were some embryo fortune-hunters among us--was she rich? (546-7)
Jerdan and Colburn must have been so happy they could hardly count.
In 1818, the time of Jerdan's first meeting L.E.L., she was a young girl of sixteen who lived at Old Brompton, next door to the well-known editor. At a very young age Landon had displayed a precocious talent for storytelling and began writing imaginative verse. Some of her earliest work, at the prompting of her mother, was given to Jerdan for his perusal and advice. Jerdan was much impressed with what he saw, though as he put it, these early productions were "crude and inaccurate, as might be anticipated, in style" (175). He was impressed, however, with Landon's ideas which he found to be "original and powerful" (175). He not only offered the requested advice, but also saw that some of Landon's poetry found its way into the Literary Gazette.
Landon's first Gazette offering, "Rome," appeared in the magazine in 1820. It was followed by several others in the weekly issues. Landon initially signed her verse "L." (the practice of signing poetry with initials was long-established in the "Original Poetry" feature) and her poems appeared under the heading "By correspondents." The best-known form of Landon's signature came after the Gazette favorably reviewed her first book of poetry, The Fate of Adelaide and Other Poems, in issue No. 237 (Sat., Aug. 4, 1821). The reviewer identified Landon by her full name, thereafter making her three initials identifiable to the Gazette's readership. It was also after the review that Landon's inclusion under the heading "By correspondents" stopped and she became, in practice and fact, a "featured writer." There are not any promotional efforts, other than the review, evident in the Gazette during the short period of her artistic formation and signature change; the appeal of her poetry with the accompanying three magical letters enthralled the readers of the Gazette.
During this period of emerging popularity, reader responses to the persona of L.E.L. and to her poetry appear in the journal's pages, and on a number of occasions, these poetic responses were published beside her weekly offering(s). For example, the issue of February 15, 1823 contains the following editorial comment:
It is something like self-praise to admit into our columns anything complimentary to what has appeared in them; but the many tributes we receive to the genius addressed in these lines will escape this censure, when we acknowledge them as due to a young and a female minstrel, and expressive of feelings very generally elicited by her beautiful productions. (107)
The lines alluded to were called "To L.E.L." and began, "'Tis sweet, e'en to a wither'd heart, / To hear the sounds that once were dear; / When bliss and hope alike depart, / Their echo soothes the lonely ear." L.E.L.'s effusions apparently found an appreciative older audience to compliment her following among the young men at Cambridge and young people throughout Great Britain.
The "Original Poetry" section was a minor feature at best in the Literary Gazette when Landon's poetry began to appear. The feature was not included in every issue and contained a mixture of various compositions by a variety of writers. The "Original Poetry" feature was expanded during the period of L.E.L.'s involvement, often requiring five to six full columns, and was nearly exclusively her domain. Her poetry was such a recognized feature of the Gazette that in 1825 the editors began featuring her poetry in the year-end index. The entry for the "Original Poetry" section in the year-end index began to read "The poetry of L.E.L. can be found in . . .". Previous to this, the section only gave the page numbers on which her poetry appeared. Obviously, L.E.L.'s poetry came to be highly regarded and promoted by the Literary Gazette.
One can deduce that, indeed, Landon was puffed by the Gazette as her popularity blossomed. Leslie Marchand notes that The Literary Gazette was very much in the thick of the controversy that emerged in the 1820s and 1830s concerning the common practice of booksellers (Henry Colburn in particular), who often had controlling interests in or owned literary periodicals and promoted with high praise authors whose works they published. Marchand notes, however, that the case of L.E.L. was unusual: "Though she was as systematically puffed by her friends as any of the literary lights of her day, she struck a note which forestalled harsh criticism and vibrated a sympathetic chord in the breasts of the vast majority of her contemporaries and of all but the most daringly independent and unemotional of the critics" (146). Although she was occasionally bashed by the periodical press, L.E.L.'s work was for the most part favorably reviewed. She was able somehow to hold herself above the politics of publishing to the extent that through her career she maintained working relationships with many different and often competing editors and publishing firms. Jerdan offers her high praise in his Autobiography by remarking that L.E.L was for many years "an effective colleague" on the Literary Gazette (173).
In answer to the Gazette, The Literary Chronicle and Weekly Review emerged on the British literary periodical scene in 1819, just two years after its forerunners' (and nemesis's) appearance. The Chronicle was virtually a copy of Jerdan's journal. The Chronicle was printed in the same font as the Gazette, had the same essential layout, and maintained the same features, such as "Original Poetry." The Chronicle, though, was sardonically critical of the Gazette, especially of its editorial policy, and often lit on direct personal attacks against Jerdan.
During the 1820s, as Landon became a regular contributor to the Gazette's "Original Poetry" section, she was consistently promoted by Jerdan with favorable editorial comments and reviews. Consequently, Landon became the target of the Chronicle's derisive criticism, shown scathingly in a set of four poems gathered under the title "Mantua-Makers' Clippings;, or, Stray Remnants of Cockneyism" (236). The reader finds in a footnote an explanation of these satiric poems; they are in imitation of four "songs" by L.E.L. that had appeared "in Longuemanne's Cunnynge Advertizer of Saturday last."
However, a few months later, this same editorial staff backed away from their adversarial posture. In a review of L.E.L.'s The Improvisatrice and Other Poems, the reviewer writes:
It would be affectation to pretend ignorance that many productions from the pen of L.E.L. have appeared in a contemporary journal, and an act of illiberty towards the author, as well as the journal itself, not to acknowledge that many of those pieces possess great merit, though some of them have been overvalued; and we confess we trembled for the poetical reputation of L.E.L., who is a young and highly gifted female, when we found her so frequently before the public. Retaining, however, as we do, the opinion that, hebdomadally, she has written too much, we should be wronging the accomplished author and our own sentiments, did we not at once acknowledge that the Improvisatrice is a poem of singular beauty, originality, and genius; and that the author is one who must take a distinguished station among the poets of the present day. (435)
The reviewer ends with a plea to L.E.L. for future
Few young authors have, however, less occasion to plead such an apology than L.E.L., with whom we are determined to part on as good terms as we commenced...since we doubt not her giving us the opportunity of being critically better acquainted. (436) (3)
The level of praise offered here, in spite of the reviewer's grudging tone, is typical of the lauding reception often accorded L.E.L.'s work in its contemporary publishing environment. This kind of praise stands in stark contrast to the biographies of Landon that found their way to press after her death--even to the present day.
One reason that L.E.L.'s biographers might lean toward discussing "the tragedy" of her life and death is their confusing L.E.L.'s semantic authoring--which successfully creates a heartfelt subjective point of view--with her biographical self. If they have fallen into this mistake, they have disregarded the sound literary and theoretical advice of Emma Roberts, Landon's longtime friend and artistic collaborator. (4) She notes repeatedly in her Memoir of Landon that "L.E.L." was an assumed writing persona that in no way indicated Landon's personality. Roberts writes, "While dwelling with apparently earnest tenderness upon the sorrows of love, its disappointments and treacheries, L.E.L. identified herself with beings of her fancy, lamenting, frequently in the first person, over miseries which she had never felt, and to which she was by no means likely to be subjected" (10). Roberts implies throughout her memoir that it would be a mistake to associate Landon's semantic persona with the personality and experiences of Landon the biographical woman; indeed, Roberts asserts that the often melancholic tone of L.E.L.'s writing was "constructed more in accordance with the general taste" (28). Landon was writing poesy that was understood by her readers in a distinct way.
The special nature of L.E.L.'s work is not apparent to us, mostly because the readily available editions of her poetry, compiled and printed after her death, misrepresent her art. Even today, our editions of L.E.L.'s poetry contain works that are not like the originals.
After 1838--the year of Landon's death--her work became known primarily through various collections compiled quickly and immediately after news of her death passed the white cliffs of Dover. These collections were reissued almost yearly throughout much of the nineteenth century in both the United States and Great Britain. Yet when we analyze the editions compiled after her death and compare them to the corpus of her work, we find that these collections misrepresent both the forms and contexts of L.E.L.'s poetry. Enfield, in fact, was correct in suggesting that the reason L.E.L.'s poems were not in print in the twentieth century was some deficiency in them. She failed to realize, however, that the poems themselves had been changed by their "editors" who took control after Landon's death.
The post-1838 L.E.L. collections were the principal means by which her work became known to the audiences of later times. An analysis of these editions is significant in two ways. First, it shows in Landon's specific case that her collected works comprise a misrepresentation of her art, and second, it suggests a wider pattern of distortion of lesser-known and lesser-studied early nineteenth-century women writers. Clearly, if we wish to gain an historically accurate appreciation of these writers--and especially of women writers, who have suffered most at the professionalization of literary studies and its favoring philosophical poetry over subjective writing--we must use a form of literary archaeology to lay a foundation beneath our critical evaluation.
Landon's sudden and bizarre death at Cape Coast Castle on the coast of Africa shocked her friends, colleagues, and readers in Great Britain, France, and the United States. L.E.L. was a very well-known figure in England and the United States, especially, and her death and the subsequent speculation and sensational accounts elevated interest in her work. An expanded market was thereby created, and in England, the publishing firm of Fisher's & Son was the first to tap it.
Throughout the 1830s, Landon had worked closely with Fisher's as editor of Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap Book. During that same time, the Scrap Book dominated most of the other British annuals, and by decade's end, was one of the few annuals consistently reviewed in the periodicals.
In her early stages of contributing to the annuals, L.E.L. published in most of the leaders such as The Keepsake, Heath's Book of Beauty, The Literary Souvenir and The Amulet. Early in the 30s, though, her submissions to the annuals were confined almost exclusively to Fisher's. A number of her short prose pieces appeared in The Keepsake, and she continued to publish prose, poetry, and literary criticism in The New Monthly Magazine and The Literary Gazette. True, L.E.L. remained active in the press, but compared with her early years, the number of venues in which she appeared shrank. In a letter to Mr. Fisher in early 1838, during the preparation of the Scrap Book for 1839, Landon explains that she is pressed for time, presumably because of her eminent marriage to MacLean, and she remarks of the work she is doing for the annual, "I confess I do not like my poetry mixed up with others" (Landon, Manuscript). (5) We can surmise from this that Landon worked with Fisher's because the Scrap Book was her private venue for prose and verse and she was not afforded the same luxury by other publishers.
Because of this long and nearly exclusive affiliation between Fisher's and L.E.L., the publisher accumulated a considerable number of her works unpublished elsewhere. Consequently, soon after Landon's death, Fisher's published a collection of some of the works they possessed, most of which had appeared in various editions of the Scrap Book. The title of this first posthumous collection is The Zenana and Minor Poems of L.E.L. with a Memoir by Emma Roberts. This important collection was one of the primary sources for William B. Scott's 1873 edition, The Poetical Works of Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L.E.L.). Scott's work was republished as a facsimile edition by F.J. Sypher in 1990; it is for the moment the most readily accessible and best-known Landon collection.
Fisher's L.E.L. holdings formed the base many of the posthumous collections, but Fisher's elected not to reproduce the material in its original form or to mention the original publication dates. The title work of Fisher's major collection, "The Zenana," illustrates these deleterious modifications.
The poem "The Zenana" was originally published in Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap Book for 1834. Landon had a group of sixteen engravings from which she was to derive poetic responses. These engravings would be interspersed at relevant places in the poem's text, and the poem's pages contained in their right margins indications of how and where the engravings fit into the poem's narrative (today we might think of this structure as a kind of hypertext). In addition to the engravings, Landon included a number of footnotes that provided factual commentary on her story and acknowledged the sources of her information about India.
In the posthumous collection, the engravings are omitted from the poem. In Scott's 1873 Poetical Works, which includes the poetic text of the entire Zenana edition, both the engravings and footnotes are missing. The resulting text is a very different one than that originally published by Landon. Subsequently, because of the Indian subject matter, the omission of the footnotes renders the poem less than accessible to any reader who is not intimately familiar with Indian history, geography, and religious and folk cultures, upon all of which her poem draws. Also, much of the poem's subtlety and humor are lost without the engravings, which often provide an ironic, metaphoric, or parodic perspective of the narrative.
Moreover, the visual texts that accompanied others of L.E.L.'s works served the reader originally in a simple but important referential way. For example, unless a reader were familiar with the Lake region around Cumberland, a poem entitled "Airey Force" would seem strange and uninviting. When readers saw the work in its original form, however, they would immediately perceive that the title indicates a place where a rushing stream cascades through a deep chasm and becomes the setting for the poet's musings.
And then there is the curious case of the "Scenes in London" group. This group of four poems--"Piccadilly," "Oxford Street," "The Savoyard in Grosvenor Square," and "The City Churchyard"--appeared originally as separate works in Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap Book for 1836. Each title was prefaced by "Scenes in London," but the poems were scattered throughout the book. These poems appeared together as a collection in The Zenana and Minor Poems of L.E.L. under the general heading "Scenes in London." One of the poems, "The City Churchyard," was originally prefaced by a short prose introduction which provided a personal commentary by the narrative persona on the subject matter of the poem. When the group was reformatted for inclusion in the Zenana collection, this prose introduction was dropped from the poem and tacked to the end of the group, which gives the faulty impression that it provides commentary applicable to the entire set of four poems. Thus, this editorial adaptation changed the sense of all of the poems, and this distortion was carried forward by Scott in his 1873 Poetical Works collection.
Soon after The Zenana and Minor Poems of L.E.L. appeared, a second posthumous collection followed. This time the collection was in the form of a biography of Landon by Laman Blanchard. He added to his discussion of her life a collection of her poems, claiming that they represented a literary legacy. Both Blanchard and Landon worked on Colburn's New Monthly Magazine; Blanchard's "literary legacy" is largely comprised of information given to him by Landon, from which he composed a biographical sketch that appeared in Colburn's magazine in 1837. He used material that constituted the mottos for L.E.L.'s novel, Ethel Churchill, also. (6) Blanchard labeled these chapter mottos "Fragments," and although he acknowledges that they had been previously included in the novel, his invented labeling for them was retained in later L.E.L. collections (an especially important example is, again, Scott's 1873 edition). Because of Blanchard's misconstruing the mottos' context, some critics consider these "fragments" to be mere filler: unfinished poems that Landon published in an incomplete form in an attempt to meet deadlines. However, the Romantic fragment was a poetic subgenre that enjoyed widespread currency among writers of the time. Blanchard's arbitrary labelling of Landon's chapter mottos caused her own deliberate use of the term, which she employed in her periodical submissions, to become confused to the point that in order for us to understand Landon's use of the fragment, we must first distinguish the true fragments so designated by her from those labelled as such by others.
Furthermore, any sense of chronology is distorted in Blanchard's collection. Because he fails to acknowledge the original publication dates or sources of the works, the old and the new are lumped together. Since Blanchard's collection was promoted as literary remains, the reader might expect that the collection represents works Landon wrote in the latter part of her career. In fact, Blanchard includes works like "Ci-devant!," which had appeared in The New Monthly Magazine in 1826 and represents L.E.L.'s poetry as a very early developmental stage. The Scott edition again uncritically carries forward much of the material from the Blanchard collection, likewise failing to locate the works chronologically.
While these two posthumous collections served to establish a textual foundation from which other collectors drew for later editions, these works represent only one strain of source materials for later L.E.L. collections. Another began in England while Landon was still alive. In 1827 Longman's published The Poetical Works of L.E.L., which was a reissue of Landon's previously published long narrative poems, "The Improvisatrice," "The Troubadour," and "The Golden Violet." This edition was expanded over the years until it filled four volumes in 1839 (the edition was reissued by Longman's in 1850, 1853, 1855, 1858, and 1864). As in the Zenana collection and Blanchard's Life, the Longman collection omits all visual materials, many of the introductory materials and footnotes, and all indications of publishing chronology. As a result, the original composition and publishing contexts surrounding these works were obscured once again. The poems were merely gathered together and reissued.
The works contained in Longman's widely distributed edition consist mostly of the poems that were included in Landon's books of poetry. Omitted entirely are over five hundred poems that L.E.L. published in the literary annuals and in special books of poetry such as The Flowers of Loveliness, as well as those submitted to British periodicals, such as The Literary Gazette and The New Monthly Magazine. The Longman collection was hardly representative, but it became, along with Blanchard's Life and Fisher's Zenana, the basis for collections that were published repeatedly in England, France, and the United States after Landon's death. (7)
We have seen how the posthumous collections of Landon's poetry represent the product of a rather haphazard editorial process that altered Landon's poetry in significant ways. It is essential to recognize that these collections are unrepresentative of the corpus of Landon's poetic publication. The two strains of collections represented by the Longman collections and the later Scott collection consist of a combined total of three hundred and thirteen individual works. ( 8) The American Poetical Works of L.E. Landon and The Complete Works of L.E. Landon fail to include a significant number of additional poems. Therefore, as the posthumous collections are concerned, we find a corpus of L.E.L. poetry that consists of roughly three hundred separate works. In searching beyond these posthumous collections, I have collected and indexed over eleven hundred individual works published by Landon during her lifetime. Recovering these works from the various publications in which they appeared is a process truly archaeological in scope, involving thousands of pages in the literary periodicals, dozens of literary annuals, and various literary anthologies of the time. The comprehensive picture of her artistic production that emerges from surveying not only L.E.L.'s poetry, but also her prose fiction and literary reviews, plus contemporary reviews and comments on her work, not only underscores the gross distortion and misrepresentation of her poetry that is presented by the posthumous collections, but--more importantly--also reveals an artist who carefully crafted and contextualized her material.
Landon's early detractors lamented that she wrote too quickly and too much, and later critics have insinuated that she cranked out work based on a formula for the express purpose of feeding the demand for her work by profit-minded publishers and a popular readership hungry for more, more, more. It is true that Landon derived financial support for herself and her mother solely from her art and that she was one of the first women writers to gain financial independence from her work, but an analysis of the broad corpus of her publications reveals a remarkable deference by Landon to what she wrote and where it went.
An analysis of the entire body of Landon's literary production reveals consistency about where she submitted her work, and points to the negligible degree to which she recycled material among various publications. One might expect that someone so much in demand might publish material wherever she could. In fact, she composed new material throughout her career to submit to various publishers. (9) Analysis of all of L.E.L.'s works in the forms and places in which they were published in her lifetime reveals that the overwhelming bulk of Landon's poetry was written for specific publications. Landon carefully crafted the individual works with deference to the publishing environment in which the work was to appear. Several examples will indicate how individual works are related to the specific types of publications for which they were composed.
I have detailed the fact that L.E.L.'s work frequently integrated a visual source with her verbal response in order to create a particular poetic and intellectual effect on her readers. Landon attempted to create an analogous aesthetic effect through various literary and mythical allusions. In each case, her idea was to stimulate and direct an affective response in the audience.
When Landon prepared material for the various literary periodicals, she alluded often to the source material in the title or in a footnote attached to the work. She did this simply because when she was writing for the periodicals, she could not include visual materials, so she selected visual works that would likely be known by her audience. Consequently, she would write poems alluding to art works that were on exhibition at the time in London. An example is her series, "Poetical Catalogue of Pictures," which appeared in The Literary Gazette throughout 1823. In the March 22, 1823 edition of the magazine, Landon published a poem entitled "Different Thoughts; Suggested by a Picture by G.S. Newton, No. 16, in the British Gallery, and representing a Girl looking at her Lover's Miniature." Her audience was thus alerted to the stimulus for the poem. L.E.L. was not able to include visual materials in her poetry books, either, so in these works she included long poetic narratives which were interspersed with "imaginative tales" and "songs" performed by various characters. These poetic effusions provided the contrast to the narrative thread and would spark the synthesis for the audience. In addition to the long narrative poems, Landon very often included groupings of shorter works that were designed to produce effects consistent with her poetic aesthetic.
Landon called her work in the annuals her "best work." As I have shown, the material that she published in the annuals makes up the largest single block of poetry that she published. The reason that she considered this her best work and produced so much of it becomes clear once we understand that in the annuals, she was able to provide both the visual texts and her verbal responses to the visual stimuli. She recognized that this was the best venue for her interactive, interdisciplinary art.
Even this brief analysis of L.E.L.'s poetic production and its contemporary contexts unmistakably reveals that what we have available to us today in conventional printed editions of Landon's poetry is so varnished by time and tarnished by editorial misrepresentations that we must question whether or not we even know what her poetry is. Certainly, we must suspend critical judgment of L.E.L. until we have stripped away the falsifying layers that obscure her art.
With all this in mind, we may come full circle now to the critical evaluation represented by Enfield's and Woolf's dismissal of L.E.L.'s work. The edition of Landon's poetry cited in Enfield's bibliography is the four-volume collection of poems published by Longman in 1839. We have seen what the source materials for editions of this sort were, and it is clear that these materials are scarcely representative in any way of Landon's artistic aesthetic and production. It is little wonder that Enfield dismisses L.E.L.'s poetry quickly in favor of focusing on the lurid aspects of Landon's death in Africa and the gossip about her life and conduct in England. Enfield's dismissal, though unfortunate because of the influence it has had on her readers--and her biography has been quite influential--is completely understandable given the state of the material with which she worked.
Enfield's work shows us for certain that it is impossible to make any accurate assessment of L.E.L. without first carefully excavating and examining the entire corpus of her art and attempting to establish anew both the artistic milieu and the historical and cultural contexts in which it appeared. If Landon is in any way indicative of other women writers of the Victorian period, as she unquestionably is, we are poised on the threshold of an exciting period for scholarship and criticism of nineteenth-century British literature. Responsible scholarly inquiry into marginalized, obscured, and previously misrepresented artists of the Victorian period will re-map the Victorian literary landscape.
L.E.L. and her Critics: A Case of Feelings
"There is a kind of poetry which seems the result not of
thought but of feeling--the creation not of the head but of
The New Monthly Magazine, August 1, 1824
Beginning in the mid-1820s and extending through the 1830s a controversy settled over England. It was evidenced most glaringly in the periodicals, and it concerned "The Death of Poetry." The controversy's terms were that some critics perceived a decline in the literary merit of popular literature. These detractors claimed that somehow the immense popularity of poetry in recent years was now on the wane because of diminished public interest and the saturated poetry market that found itself sodden with works of dubious merit. The more hyperbolic of the critics bellowed that the poetry of the time was inferior, period.
From our perspective, the specific arguments in support of poetry give us an historical perspective of the aesthetic appreciated by the vast readership of poetry and periodical literature, especially the readers of poetry written by women in the late Romantic and early Victorian period.
One book title of the time, Hearts versus Heads, suggests the nature of the controversy. On one side of the argument, we hear from the "Pseudo-Utilitarians," who advocated an empirical view of life, emphasized the practical in all things, and favored art that was sober-minded, rational, and even philosophical. On the other side we find those who appreciated art that evoked a more subjective response, art that existed for the experience of the moment. In some ways this debate polarized the preoccupation of the Romantic poets between the concerns for the individual's search for self-knowledge and a poetry that explored the poet's consciousness, and the Victorian ideal of poetry that recognized the responsibilities of the social realm and an art that sought treatment of global concerns.
Fugitive Poetry and Detractors [RETURN]
L.E.L.'s day, though, was the golden age of British periodicals, and the magazines, newspapers, almanacks, and annuals (all considered to be periodicals) often contained poetry and short fictional works written especially for them. This periodical literature was often labeled "fugitive," and those who contributed to publications in this format were referred to as "The Initial School" because of the common practice of signing works with an initial or initials, an anagram, a symbol, or a pseudonym instead of the author's full name. Since periodicals come to the reader frequently, it was appropriate that work crafted for them be geared to the moment, often referencing contemporary events and prominent people. Because emotions are perennial, though, much of the writing was written from a viewpoint of subjectivity.
The periodical literature of the time became an especially important publishing venue for women writers. Women were so successful in the "fugitive" genre that the sober-minded Utilitarians often generalized their literature as "Young Ladies Verses."
L.E.L. was one of the most prominent and successful writers of The Initial School, the group which created much of the "Young Ladies Verse." Landon is declared as the School's leader in a review of her The Golden Violet, with its Tales of Romance and Chivalry, and Other Poems (1827); the review appeared in The New Monthly Magazine: "Of this accomplished head of the Initial School we have had frequent occasion to speak, and almost always in the language of warm approbation" (239). L.E.L. characterized a collection of her magazine poetry that appeared in The Vow of the Peacock and Other Poems (1835) as "Fugitive Pieces."
Further evidence from contemporary sources for her fugitive poetry as a recognized form can be had from the work of poet and editor Alaric Watts. Watts founded in 1824 the annual The Literary Souvenir (annuals were considered at the time to be periodical literature) which brought together visual materials in the form of engravings with verbal responses in both poetry and prose from well-known literary figures of the day. The annuals were very popular as Christmas gifts, and during this period there were as many as two hundred different annuals published each year. The annual became a very important venue for the Initial School, and in this form much of their art reached its finest stage of expression.
In 1829 Watts published a well-received and widely distributed anthology of poetry, the Poetical Album, which comprised verse previously published in various periodicals. A reviewer in Newcastle Magazine labels the contents of the anthology as "fugitive":
Those of our readers who have not had the happiness to see Mr. Watt's selection of fugitive poetry will be obliged to us for giving them some idea of that really splendid work...The volume before us is comprised of pieces taken, without one exception, from magazines, reviews, or newspapers--thrown off from the minds of their authors, and apparently from their care, upon the wide waters of periodical literature. (538)
In 1830 Watts published two similar anthologies, The Lyre: Fugitive Poetry of the Nineteenth Century and The Laurel: Fugitive Poetry of the Nineteenth Century. A review of these editions, this time from The Monthly Review, provides some additional sense of what the term "fugitive" meant. "These are two delightful pocket volumes, containing a judicious selection from periodical and other words, fleeting in their nature, of all the poetical gems by which they were adorned" (159). All three of Watts' collections contained a generous sample of L.E.L.'s poetry; she was a representative fugitive writer.
Over the years, L.E.L. contributed over three hundred poems to the Literary Gazette, as well as many additional poems and short prose works to other periodicals. In the 1830s the number of Landon's contributions to the periodicals gradually declined as she concentrated her efforts on her novels and on Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap Book as editor and chief contributor. She continued to publish both prose and poetry in Colburn's New Monthly Magazine until her death in 1838.
Over the course of her relatively short career, Landon published well over one thousand works, the overwhelming bulk of it in the periodicals. She was so successful in the form that she and the many writers of the time who copied her style were called "The Landon School." Landon, who always kept a steady eye on her audience and the form of publication for which she was composing, crafted her distinct artistic aesthetic that directly addressed the temporal nature of periodical literature and was specifically geared to that particular reading experience.
In spite of L.E.L.'s appeal among readers and editorial praise from the supporters of her craft, reviewers in the more conservative periodicals disparaged her work, often condemning the very characteristics of her art that were so admired by her readers. Landon was frequently chided by hostile critics for relating so much of her poetry to "love." In 1825 the Westminster Review reviewed L.E.L.'s second book of poetry, The Improvisatrice and Other Poems. After attacking the Literary Gazette for offering high praise of L.E.L.'s work and lamenting that "poets are as plenty as mushrooms, and start up, in the present day, as rapidly as they do after a shower...We cannot walk the streets of London without jostling a poet," the reviewer notes
But, to a person who is not a poet in thought, the English language is an evil, not a blessing; its richness in poetical terms conceals from him his own poverty in poetical thought; and because he has at command a string of poetical expressions he foolishly imagines himself a poet.
L.E.L. has, with multitudes of others at all times, and more especially in the present day, fallen into this mistake: and she has fallen into it more readily and deeply, because nearly all her poetry relates to love...and on which we would engage to manufacture a poet out of any young person, particularly a female, by supplying her with a dictionary of love phrases, similes, &c, with as little of intellect, as is employed in manufacturing a stocking in the loom. (538)
The reviewer goes on to admit that L.E.L. does have some limited merit even "amidst very much that is mere verbage, and pages filled with puny and sickly thoughts clothed in glittering language that draws the eye off from their real character and value" (539). For our sagacious Utilitarian reviewer, the nature of "real character and value" are associated somehow with the industrial analogy in the above-written long quotation. In the end he advises L.E.L. "to avoid the subject of love" (539).
Love laments continue in a review two years later in The Monthly Review of The Golden Violet, with its Tales of Romance and Chivalry; and Other Poems (1826). Again, after upbraiding her supporters among the periodicals for awarding Landon undue praise, the critic notes that her poetry seems to emanate from "vague feelings" that are put forward in unmeasured language made monotonous by persistent end-rhymes. The exasperated writer declares
It is no exaggeration to say, that the syllable love is to be met in every second page of her work -- in several pages it is found three or four times, and as if not satisfied with this, she has absolutely on one occasion (page 227) made love rhyme to love. Here are the lines:--
>Yet lingers that tale of sorrow and love,
Of the Christian maid and her Moslem love.'
We shall not, however, pursue these remarks farther. (60)
Love, to the staunch critic, involves emotion and is essentially irrational and subjective and therefore "unphilosophical." Whether or not L.E.L.'s work was philosophical represents something of a controversy within a controversy. The Utilitarian critics declared that her work was not philosophical, but her supporters claimed it was. In a scathing tirade against L.E.L.'s The Venetian Bracelet, The Lost Pleiad, A History of the Lyre, and Other Poems (1829) from The Monthly Review for February 1830, the reviewer can find little of philosophy in her work and simultaneously dismisses some of the claims that L.E.L.'s writing was philosophical:
Now a word or two with respect to the purpose of her labours. Whoever has taken the trouble, as we have done, to read the volumes of verse, under various sweetly sounding titles, which Miss Landon has published, will, perhaps, agree with us in thinking, that whatever their merit be in a poetical sense, there was in them, at all events, very little of philosophy. If any of her sweet verses were well moulded, musical to the ear, and picturesque to the fancy, they would seem to have accomplished the only end which the fair author had in view. But now the secret is disclosed. Miss Landon's objects were of a much more ambitious nature. She has been writing all this time, not merely for the purpose of unburthering her imagination of the worlds which it was constantly creating, but for a much more noble end, that of reforming society!...She observed, we learn from her preface, that society was fond of indulgence, and consequently selfish, and that refinement was attended by a heartlessness >which too often hardens while it polishes.' It was, therefore, from the commencement of her poetical labours, the guiding object of all her verses to discover a remedy for these imperfections of humanity. >Aware that to elevate I must first soften, and that if I wished to purify I must first touch, I have ever endeavoured to bring forward grief, disappointment, the fallen leaf, the faded flower, the broken heart, and the early grave'...The sweet sorceress -- she has cheated the world of its selfishness, simply by presenting to it a yellow leaf, or a decaying flower! (161-162)
This critic is completely baffled by the discovery of one of the essential appeals of L.E.L. to her contemporaries--the desire to lift up humanity to a state of fine empathy through the shared experience of sorrow. We get the impression that this critic suspects some sort of melancholic plot.
The often melancholic aspect of L.E.L.'s material was criticized negatively in the journals. We find an example of this strain of thought in a review of The Troubadour and Other Poems from the Westminster Review. The essay begins with some rather dire concerns:
The attention we shall bestow upon the poems of L.E.L. will not be commensurate with our opinion of their merits, but rather with the admiration universally bestowed on them by the class of readers to whom they are addressed; viz. the younger part of the fair sex, and those members of our's who deem it interesting to be sentimentally melancholy. As we feel a deep concern in the welfare of the former class of readers, and some pity for the situation of the latter, we shall consider our time well spent if we succeed in laying before them a correct estimate of these extravagantly applauded productions. (50)
The writer proceeds to a lengthy and in-depth analysis of L.E.L.'s prosody and finally arrives back at his discussion of what he calls "the tendency of her writings": "We shall not examine how great may be the influence these writings are likely to exercise over the feelings and opinions of her readers; but we fear that if they exercise any, that influence is more likely to be pernicious than useful" (62). What this critic sees as so potentially "pernicious" in L.E.L.'s writing is the tendency he sees there of creating dangerous stereotypes of both men and women. With respect to men, the writer claims that Landon praises the image of them as warriors and suggests that she encourages young women to admire men's warlike tendencies. The writer suggests that L.E.L. promotes the notion that a woman, in choosing a mate, should "weigh one man's merits against those of another; to keep her judgement in suspense, till she learn their comparative excellencies" (65). He accuses Landon of encouraging women to perpetuate the negative male-warrior stereotype:
We can see no very good reason why women should always be rendered an instrument to the destruction of all our best sympathies; why they should be induced to bestow their approbation upon men, just in proportion to the efficacy with which they produce, and the zest with which they enjoy bloodshed and misery. (63)
Though adroit at analyzing and criticizing some of the formal flaws in L.E.L.'s work, this critic has no sense of the biting irony with which Landon consistently undermines the image of these "heroes." She often presents stereotypical portraits of the hero and his adoring lady as a conventional trope, but usually their unions end in disaster for the players--especially for the women. Consistently in Landon's work, whenever one of her female characters becomes involved with one of these "heroic" men, she is emotionally and psychologically destroyed and usually ends up dead.
As for promoting a negative and potentially damaging image for women to emulate, this critic supposes that L.E.L. inclines women toward accepting the perceptions of them offered by men:
There floats in the imagination of most men a vague notion, that it is the peculiar excellence of a woman to possess a timid and retiring character; in other words, to be diffident of her own judgement, and rely implicitly on that of others. They therefore contrive that all rules for her conduct shall have a tendency to make and keep her this timid character. A love of dominion on the part of men has alone induced them to consider this timidity and helplessness as desirable qualifications. They almost universally believe it conducive to their interests to have women paraded before them, and exhibited like automata; to have them patiently submit to be criticized, to be admired, and to be chosen. (65)
Having admitted that this is the cherished perception of "most men," the critic then turns the problem back onto the women:
It unfortunately happens that the opinions of men in any society are invariably the opinions of women also; no matter inimical or not to the interests of women. In the case before us it consequently happens that none are more firm or warmer advocates for the utter helplessness of women than women themselves; none more ready to punish every attempt to escape thraldom, every indication of a desire to judge for themselves...L.E.L. takes every opportunity of preaching up this perfect subordination, and of bestowing admiration upon those qualifications which fit women for being useful and agreeable slaves. (66).
The same ironies of which I wrote above in Landon's portrayals of men apply to the subservient characteristics of her women characters. The relationships between "heroic" men and "slave-like" women almost always end badly. This critic fails to realize that if Landon were really presenting to her readers the kinds of role models he accuses her of presenting, she would work her poems toward happy endings and successful love relationships. And to circle back to this critic's initial observation that there is a distinct melancholy pervasive in many of L.E.L.'s portrayals, there is admittedly great melancholy about the situations she presents. However, there is also something important for the reader to experience and learn from these same situations, a fact not lost upon her readers, as we shall see below in Sarah Sheppard's answer to criticism of Landon's writing.
Another criticism that comes from the negative side of the ledger, though, concerns L.E.L.'s style and manner. In another review of her The Troubadour, and Other Poems, this time from Metropolitan Quarterly Magazine, we find a discussion of her style:
The natural bent of Miss Landon's imagination, or an exclusive fondness for the works of Moore, has led her to adopt a style in many respects similar to that of our greatest living poet in his more ornamental writings; and as this style is essentially unnatural, the choice must be confessed unfortunate. It is true, that there is great merit in giving interest to ordinary ideas by the aid of artificial ornament; that a copious and luxuriant diction, and a power of appropriate illustration, are most valuable possessions; but these cannot go far toward the composition of real poetry; they cannot give the same delight as ideas of essential excellence, simply and powerfully developed: the one is contemplation of Nature, under her most sublime and undisguised form; the other, an ordinary scene, viewed through a stained window, where the mediocrity of the spectacle is poorly compensated by the richness of the colouring...the fade and frivolous descriptions of Miss Landon recall the idea of a deserted ball-room, thinly strewed with withered garlands, roses of crape, and lilies of silver paper. (155)
And so we have seen the criticism against Landon's poetic effusions. There is a case based on aesthetics that supports her, however.
L.E.L.'s Audience and Supporters
L.E.L possessed the ability to assume a number of different literary personalities through the course of her very eminent career. She developed and customized her poetry to suit her publishing venues. For The Literary Gazette and other literary periodicals, she was the magical "L.E.L." who enthralled her readers with a variety of poetic styles. Here we find examples of her use of subgenres such as the Romantic fragment, short poems which she called "songs," narrative poems, a few sonnets, epigrams, a form she called "stanzas," various kinds of "poetic illustrations," and dramatic sketches in verse. The literary periodicals, especially the Gazette, became for L.E.L. a means of presenting and perhaps testing various forms of poetic expressions and voices. In her poetry books, she was the "Improvisatrice"--the poet who extemporized variations upon imaginative tales which were often set in the glorious past or in distant and exotic lands. As the editor of the British literary annual Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap Book and as a frequent contributor to many others annuals, Landon was the poetic illustrator for visual representation.
L.E.L.'s poetry has much to offer today's reader; her song is melodic, her imagery rich, and her poetic narratives are some of the finest in the language. She was credited with developing a distinct school of poetry that was influential in both England and America. L.E.L.'s poetry represents a unique form of British Romanticism--an applied Romanticism--yet in many ways marks the transition in British literature to Victorian artistic sensibilities. Unfortunately, readers today are much removed from the context that surrounds her poetic expression. A look at some of the positive contemporary discussion of L.E.L.'s poetic genius will provide access to her poetry and enable us to enjoy the richness of it by giving us some understanding of just what the contemporary reader found so appealing.
As early as 1829, L.E.L. was formally recognized by critics as the founder of a distinct school of poetry. The February 14, 1829 issue of The Literary Gazette published a review of The Token, which was a United States literary annual that was published in both England and the United States. The reviewer points out that the poetry in this annual is strongly influenced by L.E.L. The review reveals something of the nature of Landon's school as it was conceived by her contemporaries:
Their style is modelled on the school of which she is the founder: the same vein of metaphysical sentiment; the same wish to give inanimate nature our own feelings, making a sympathy between them, sometimes fanciful, but oftener touching; the same desire to exalt the humanity of love by the refinement of sorrow; the short sketches in blank verse. (100)
The specific reference here is to L.E.L.'s poetry that comprises a poetic response to a visual stimulus printed beside the poetry (as I mentioned above, in the Literary Gazette, illustrations were not included with L.E.L.'s poems; however, she often makes reference to the visual source to which she is responding). The reviewer describes the symbiotic relationship that is created between the visual stimulus, such as a painting or an engraving, and the poet's imagination. Energized by "genius," a synthesis occurs within the poet that produces a metaphysical overlay that is then projected via the poetry to the audience. Sarah Sheppard, a contemporary and friend of Landon's, called it a "rainbow hue" that projects from the poetry to the audience. A second stage of symbiosis is then created between the reader and the persona behind the poetry. This is not, however, an autobiographical presence, a stance which Emma Roberts takes, as we have seen. Landon often lamented the fact that critics, who she believed did not really understand her poetry, too often associated her personally with the personae of the poetry. Instead of autobiographical glimpses, a sympathy between the art and the audience, resulting in an emotional and intellectual response, is generated by the symbiotic relationship. Perhaps a better way to describe the relationship is in terms of a sympathetic discourse between the art and the audience with the poet's imagination as the conduit. We find this stage of discourse described in the review of The Improvisatrice and Other Poems that appeared in The New Monthly Magazine:
The quality which peculiarly distinguishes this style, must enter in a greater or less proportion into every species of poetry, but in this [specifically Landon's work] it seems to exist pure, unmixed and unalloyed. There is scarcely a line which does not glow with some ray of warm or bright feeling; scarcely an image which is not connected with the heart by some fine and secret association. The language, the doctrine, the thoughts, are all moulded and tinctured with the rich and powerful sentiment which governs the heart of the writer, and seldom fails to make itself in that of the reader. (365)
Love, sorrow, and death are common themes in Landon's poetry and, as the Gazette writer above points out, the motive behind the treatment of these themes is "the desire to exalt the humanity of love by the refinement of sorrow." The attitude of the poetic persona is often melancholic. By bringing the reader into a mental and emotional discourse within a melancholic atmosphere, a refinement occurs that exalts the "humanity of love." The poetic synthesis of metaphysical sentiment, accomplished by giving the inanimate our own feelings, creates exaltation and, by implication, empathy and understanding.
We can bring this poetic aesthetic into better focus by turning to Sarah Sheppard's 1841 detailed analysis of Landon's art, Characteristics and Genius of the Writings of L.E.L.. Sheppard's intricate analysis offers a much more in-depth discussion of the specific characteristics, outlined in brief in the review above, of L.E.L.'s art.
Sheppard's defense of L.E.L. is very unusual for its time. It is a one-hundred and seventy page critical analysis of L.E.L.'s artistic aesthetic, and it provides us with an extraordinary look at her art as it was perceived by her contemporary audience. What we find in Sheppard is important because it cuts through the curtain of time that has been thrown over Landon's writing, thus obscuring it from our view. Little is known of Sarah Sheppard herself, but it appears that she would have had no financial interest in Landon, and although she was writing her treatise while Landon was still in England, it did not appear until two years after her death at Cape Coast Castle in West Africa. Sheppard was obviously well acquainted with the critics' arguments we have surveyed above, and she addresses them specifically. She seems to be writing from a perspective of true admiration for and understanding of Landon's art.
Sheppard's stated purpose for her book is to answer hostile critics by demonstrating L.E.L.'s genius. The tone of Sheppard's criticism is defensive because L.E.L.'s work was being challenged by changing artistic philosophies--Sheppard names them when she writes "pseudo-utilitarian" (14). Looming behind Sheppard's defense is an emerging conflict between two very different theories of art. One theory, characteristic of Romanticism, stresses the capability of the artist to recast observation or reflection through the workings of the imagination combined with fancy into a finely tuned and amplified imaging. This is a metaphysical process that produces sublime effects. In modern terms the artist acts like a sophisticated amplifier that picks up the invisible signal from inanimate nature and recasts it to the audience. The competing theory, characteristic of some Victorian art, rejects such a notion as sentimental and favors a rational, analytical artist who practices accurate observation and faithful representation, usually designed to provide practical instruction. The specific complaints of the pseudo-utilitarians concerning L.E.L.'s "school" are recorded disparagingly in the Literary Gazette's October 24, 1835 review of L.E.L.'s recently published book of poetry, The Vow of the Peacock and Other Poems:
Pseudo-Utilitarians tell us that the love of poetry is over; and that, under their auspices, the human kind have become a mere shrewd, calculating, sordid, work-o'-day race. That to toil, and to spin, to draw water, and cleave wood, to gather and amass, to drudge and hoard, and never to enjoy, is the wisdom, the only wisdom, of life. We are ready to believe their doctrines when we shall be convinced that the love of gracefulness and beauty, the fine moral perception, the sense which gives a tear to sorrow, the noble enthusiasm awakened by illustrious deeds--when natural feeling, sympathy, generosity, and heroic aspiring, have all departed from among the children of men. And not till then.
In the mean time the appearance of the Vow of the Peacock will put the theory to the test. If its charms are generally despised, we shall hasten to enlist in the ranks of Utilitarianism, and try to forget that ever Imagination could impart a delight to the soul. If it fail to excite the same emotions and the same admiration, which have in all bygone ages rewarded the magic of song, we must become converts to the hypothesis that the world is changed, and that stocks and stones, in the automaton shape of human beings, have usurped the placed hitherto occupied by creatures endowed with apprehension and passions. (673)
Sheppard picks up the argument and advances it by stating that the trend is to impose upon art utilitarian properties that fall into rational and scientific forms of discourse--a sort of philosophical objectification. Sheppard insists that to do so is to completely lose the poetic genius of L.E.L, and specifically, to lose sight of the fact that her genius was "poetic" and metaphysical in nature, that it threw a "rainbow hue" over the subject matter, and that it was indeed a very different kind of discourse. She insists that those who criticize L.E.L.'s art are blinded by the "new" pseudo-utilitarian theory of art so that L.E.L.'s synthetic creations are incomprehensible and therefore meaningless to them.
"Poetical Genius" is the energizing agent that Sheppard associates with L.E.L. She writes, "In the universe of mind and the world of poetry, brilliant effects require for their productions the spontaneous impulses of genius, their first cause, together with the combined and often recondite workings of all the agencies which constitute the intellectual being" (14-15). Sheppard stresses the creative aspect of Landon's work. In her view, L.E.L. goes beyond the amplification of nature's signal to an act of creation. She relates that it is the poet's special province to create purely intellectual sources of enjoyment from the synthesis of sensual input in the poetic imagination (17).
Sheppard discusses L.E.L.'s appreciation of art to demonstrate her creative process:
How did pictures ever seem to speak to her soul! how would she seize on some interesting characteristic in the painting or engraving before her, and inspire it with new life, till that pictured scene spread before you in bright association with some touching history or spirit-stirring poem! L.E.L.'s appreciation of painting, like that of music, was intellectual rather than mechanical,--belonging to the combinations rather than to the details; she loved the poetical effects and suggestive influences of the Arts, although caring not for their mere technicalities. (18)
What L.E.L.'s readers appreciated in her creations was that "new life" that she brought to her subject. Her imaginative re-castings produced intellectual pleasure for her audience. The wonderful characteristic of L.E.L.'s writings, recognized by her readers, was her creative capacity to bring new meanings to her audience. Sheppard notes, "Very often her remarks, as she read or recited any passage, would throw a new light upon what previously might have been to her hearers a hidden meaning; or enhance the value of what had been even frequently read and admired" (18). L.E.L.'s imagination was bold and free and her expression unrestrained. Sheppard records an incident in which Landon wrote to a young author, "Criticism never yet benefited a really original mind; such a mind macadamizes its own road" (19). It is no wonder that L.E.L.'s free spirit raised the hackles of the sober Utilitarians.
Sheppard next discusses some of what she calls the "Peculiarities of L.E.L.'s Works." Again, she is responding to Utilitarian criticisms of Landon. She writes, "The first of these objections applies to the manner or rather style of her poetry. 'It is too flowery and frivolous, consisting in a heap of words prettily strung together with very little meaning, and entitled to no higher rank than is implied in the sarcastic phrase of "Young Ladies' Verses"'" (20). Sheppard responds to this censure, "To some minds the rainbow may seem no more than bright colours; they think not of its causes, its purpose, nor why its magnificent archway bridges the earth and sky with a glory caught from the fountain of life and light" (20). Sheppard is making a point--if one is not receptive to the effects of L.E.L.'s writing, they will be lost.
She further distills her argument by pointing out the difference between Philosophy and Poetry: "For while Philosophy piles its massive bridges of reasoning across the deep streams of thought, Poetry gracefully throws over the them its suspended chain-work, which combines equal safety with greater elegance" (21). Sheppard argues that poetry and philosophy might endeavor toward the same aims, but employ different means. She notes:
It does not follow, therefore, [referring to her previous distinctions between philosophy and poetry] that truth and right reason must be absent when the manner of their exposition differs from that employed in the abstract sciences, to which truth is supposed essentially to belong. A geometrical diagram itself may be equally correct in all its parts, though drawn in golden lines on tablets of silver as if sketched in the roughest manner with the rudest materials...So truths are not less true when decorated with the graces of poetry than when contemplated in the abstract. (21-22)
Indeed, truth may be beauty and beauty truth. In fact, these "Young Ladies' Verses" may communicate truths incomprehensible to the Utilitarian sage.
The second objection Sheppard counters concerns the subject matter of L.E.L.'s poetry--love. Sheppard readily admits that love is a frequent theme in L.E.L.'s work. She answers the "philosopher's" objections with philosophy, pointing out that philosophers admit that love is an essential component of human nature. She argues that since L.E.L. is a poet who explores aspects of the human condition, it is entirely consistent that she dwell on such an integral aspect of human concern. She quotes Landon on the subject: "Even into philosophy is carried the deeper truth of the heart" (23). Sheppard then cites several testimonies "from high authorities in the intellectual empire" that support the notion that indeed love is an important concern for everyone (24). She points out that "Philosophy will tell us that love is the excitement of one class of our susceptibilities,--one order of our moral emotions"; therefore, why shouldn't L.E.L. use love as a subject matter? The "philosopher's" criticisms of Landon's subject matter are self-contradictory. Sheppard then takes her argument a bit deeper, and what she writes is especially relevant to the statement from the review quoted above, concerning Landon's concern with the refinement of the "humanity of love." She writes:
It is an affection [love] whose right use is not more productive of virtue and happiness than its neglect and abuse tend to vice and misery. By the refining and humanizing--by the brightening and soothing--by the generous and expanding influences which affection diffuses over the world, it holds its place among the component elements of the happiness and good of the social system. 'It is affection,' observes the philosopher already quoted [Dr. T. Brown], 'which in some of its forms, if I may use so bold a phrase, animates even life itself, that without it would be scarcely worthy of the name.'
If then the wise and good thus turn reverentially and admiringly to contemplate the light of love and the ennobling blessings of that light; if its influences be almost universal as those of the sun, and in themselves as pure; however occasionally darkened and distorted by the media through which they may pass, is it reasonable to condemn a gifted writer for shedding over her pages, or even for there concentrating, as in a crystal focus, the unsullied rays of pure and exalted affection? (26)
Sheppard's statement not only constitutes a scathing rebuttal of Landon's critics but also helps us to advance our understanding of L.E.L.'s work, revealing some of the significant import attached to it by her readers. Love, in its "right use," is the element within society that humanizes humanity.
To further press her point, Sheppard addresses the falsity that there is nothing in L.E.L.'s poetry but love:
After all, we cannot agree with the assertion that there is nothing but 'love' in Miss Landon's poetry. How varied are the subjects which her versatile genius has delineated! Has it not fathomed the depths of the poet's soul, and laid bare to our gaze its glorious intellectual operations and their results,--its creations and aspirings,--its hopes and fears,--not only with poetic feeling, but with philosophic accuracy? Has not that genius led us into the interior of conventional life, and showed to us the vanity, the heartlessness, the petty strifes, the mean jealousies of the circles whose idols are outward appearances? Has it not borne us on its rainbow-coloured wings from scene to scene, from subject to subject, of nature and art, giving to each a grace and interest it knew not before; and, from apparently the most intractable sources, winning rich gems of historical association and permanent truth, being always and every where constant to the grand philosophical principle of generalization, and to the writer's favorite topic of human character? It needs only a reference to her works to prove that there is scarcely one production of her genius that might not be cited as an illustration of her extensive knowledge and diversified talents. (26-27)
Landon's readers found much to instruct and to delight them in her work.
The last criticism of Landon's work, that it produced melancholy, is addressed by Sheppard. What is very important to note in Sheppard's response to the criticism is the way in which melancholy is represented, not as a wholly negative state akin to depression, but, instead, as having potential productive and positive effects. Sheppard writes:
Her works may indeed be read almost as a commentary on the words of the wise man, 'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!' Intellect, with its lofty aspirations, but comparatively feeble effects; genius, with its burning energies, surrounded by antagonistic elements; emotion, pouring out its treasures on the unthankful and unreturning sands; earthly hope, ever ending in disappointment or satiety; worldly pleasure, wearing out its votary with unsatisfying dissipation; life, in short, affording no rest to the soul,--no aliment suited to the cravings of an immortal spirit. These are truths which ought to be familiarized to the mind, however the worldly or selfish may shrink from their declaration; and these are the truths which are so often eloquently exposed in the poems of L.E.L. If they induce melancholy, at all events that must be a wise melancholy whose tendency is thoughtfulness. (27-28)
There is a relationship between love and melancholy in L.E.L.'s work. In the passage above Sheppard refers to the "right use" of love--that it will produce happiness. Yet, in L.E.L.'s poetry, love usually does not produce happiness; on the contrary, usually somebody dies. The atmosphere around many of the poems is melancholic and its effect is melancholic. To L.E.L.'s readers, this was not a negative quality because a melancholic state was not a negative condition; instead, it constituted a state of painful but positive contemplation. It was an atmosphere for philosophic reflection that provided insight into the nature of love and life. If love relationships are selfish and superficial, no happiness will be gained. If love relationships are not selfish or material, happiness will result--this is what is meant by "the desire to exult the humanity of love by the refinement of sorrow." L.E.L.'s message is that a vain kind of love ends in anguish. The poetry produces a melancholic response in the reader which serves to drive the message home. Such an emotional matrix would be totally incomprehensible to the sober-minded "work-o'-day" Utilitarians. In contrast to her critics, L.E.L.'s appreciative readers recognized that she often presented negative models in order to produce positive effects. Sheppard writes:
Melancholy in sooth are such representations, in the sense in which most people use the term, as a synonyme for any sentiment or feeling which bears the impress of right reflection,--of serious, yet serene emotion. When such persons are compelled to moral introversion, to a turning from the glittering exterior of earthly things, to fast-fading impressions on their own minds, --from the gay dissonance of outward but hollow mirth to the still solemn voice of their own hearts, echoing "All is vanity!"--then do they accuse of needless melancholy the cause that has been instrumental in arresting for a moment their thoughtful attention. Well will it be if at length they acknowledge its salutary influence. (29)
Today's readers would probably not associate melancholy and sorrow with a feeling "which bears the impress of right reflection,--of serious, yet serene emotion" (29). But it is clear that L.E.L.'s readers did. Sheppard's analysis shows that L.E.L.'s poetry was received by an audience in tune with its sensibility, a sensibility that was very different from that of later English and American readers. This is a crucial distinction that we must keep in mind as we turn to the works of L.E.L.
(1) [RETURN] In a letter dated September 3, 1927 to Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf writes, "Do you know the story of L.E.L.?--the poetess who committed suicide, as some say; but others feel sure was murdered? Your blue stocking Hampstead friend Enfield, has written a life of her which we are to publish" (418).
(2) [RETURN] Examples of works that have appeared during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that focus on Landon's biography are Archibald Forbes's "A Gold Coast Tragedy," Percy Fitzgerald's "The Story of L.E.L.," R. Flowers's "Letitia E. Landon," Brenda Hart Renalds's Letitia Elizabeth Landon: A Literary Life, Anne K. Mellor's Romanticism and Gender, and Glennis Stephenson's "Poet Construction: Mrs. Hemans, L.E.L., and the Image of the Nineteenth-Century Woman Poet."
(3) [RETURN] I must note that throughout the existence of this magazine (its last issue appeared in 1828), L.E.L. never submitted a single work to it for publication, in spite of the Chronicle's series of very favorable reviews of her. In light of her consistent appearance in almost all the literary periodicals of the day, at least on an occasional basis, her absence from these pages is conspicuous.
(4) [RETURN] Emma Roberts, who published several works on her travels in India and eventually died there, was a long-time friend and former roommate of Landon. There is evidence of a fascinating artistic and scholarly collaboration among Roberts, Landon and other writers and artists through the common medium of Fisher's publishing house. For example, Roberts's prose commentary for R.N. Elliott's Views in India (1835) references many of the plates Landon included in the 1833, 1834, and 1835 Drawing Room Scrap Books. It seems that Fisher provided a pool of engravings from which at least Elliot, Roberts and Landon, in Fisher's stable of writers, drew for various publication projects. Roberts, in fact, provided Landon with the information base for many of Landon's poetic, verbal illustrations of scenes from India.
Roberts's memoir of Landon in The Zenana collection is a defense of Landon against her critics and detractors. Landon had long suffered at the hands of gossips, and Roberts attempts to rectify her colleague's professional and personal reputations.
(5) [RETURN] Quoted by permission of the University of Iowa Libraries (Iowa City). I gratefully acknowledge the University of Iowa's permission to publish their Landon holograph collection.
(6) [RETURN] We can reference a letter to Blanchard from Landon to see how he might have come to possess the Ethel Churchill material. She writes, "Pray receive the present volume as you have its predeci/ors /I hope/ being a slight mark of the very kindly remembrance of your obliged L.E. Landon" (Iowa MsL L259b2). I infer from this that Blanchard was involved in Colburn's novel publishing, also, and that the book to which Landon refers in this letter is actually the manuscript of Ethel Churchill, which would account for Blanchard's possession of the short poems he would later call "fragments."
(7) [RETURN] Landon's publishing history in the United States is complicated further by an intermediate step in which many of her works were picked up from the British periodicals by American literary periodicals, which resulted in another phase of contextual distortion. Also, a number of Landon's poems were gathered by American editors for inclusion in many of the American literary annuals. Most often, works by Landon that were included in these American productions did not include the visual materials. Sometimes an engraving was included with the poem; often, however, the engraving was by an American artist, not the original engraving that had first accompanied L.E.L.'s poetry.
(8) [RETURN] The 1864 Longman edition indexes 192 works, all of which are included in the 1873 Scott edition of Poetical Works. Both collections index as individual works what are actually component pieces, such as "Sappho's Song," which is part of the "Improvisatrice." Therefore, the total number of individual works indexed in these collections does not represent works that were published as free-standing poems. I have included these entries in my total count because both the Longman and Scott editions index them in this way.
(9) [RETURN] I submitted my collection to an analysis in which I determined which works appeared in various publications during Landon's lifetime. I have restricted my analysis to the period in which Landon herself was in control of who published what, because, as we have seen, once the work was out of her hands, publishers did not defer to the original decisions she made about how, in what form, and where her work appeared. I created ten separate categories of publications in which Landon's work is found, and based on my compiled publication history for each work, assigned each work an appropriate category (no work appears in more than one category). These are the categories and the number of individual works assigned to them: periodicals (262); books of poetry (169); annuals only (many of these works were originally published with visual materials) (388); books of poetry/periodicals/annuals (0); books of poetry/periodicals (36); poems for chapter mottos in novels (104); "trace works" (these are works that appear in various posthumous collections for which I have been unable to pinpoint the place of original publication) in annuals/periodicals (24); "trace works" in books of poetry/annuals (10); "American constructs" (these are works that I have indexed but have found subsequently are poems that were retitled for secondary publication, usually in American periodicals and annuals) (17); poems added to and related to prose compositions (12).
Ashton, Lucy. Letty Landon. New York, 1951.
Bulwer-Lytton, Edward. "Romance and Reality." New Monthly Magazine 32 (December 1831): 545-51.
Enfield, E.N. L.E.L.: Mystery of the Thirties. London: Hogarth Press, 1928.
Fitzgerald, Percy. "The Story of L.E.L." The Gentleman's Magazine 28 (1882): 708-719.
Flowers, R. "Letitia E. Landon." The British Museum Quarterly 2 (1936-37): 68-69.
Forbes, Archibald. "A Gold Coast Tragedy." The Saint Paul's Magazine 114 (1874): 158-165.
Hoole, Innes. Hearts versus Heads; or Diamond Cut Diamond. London: n.p., 1823.
Jerdan, William. The Autobiography of William Jerdan. 3 vols. London: Arthur Hall, Virtue & Co, 1852.
Landon, Letitia Elizabeth. MsL L259f. University of Iowa.
Literary Chronicle and Weekly Review, The 256 (10 April 1824): 236.
Literary Chronicle and Weekly Review, The 269 (10 July 1824): 435.
Literary Gazette, and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, The. (14 February 1829): 100.
-----. (24 October 1835): 673.
Marchand, Leslie A. The Athenaeum: A Mirror of Victorian Culture. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1941.
Mellor, Anne K. Romanticism and Gender. New York: Routledge, 1993.
Metroplitan Quarterly Magazine 6 (1826): 155.
Monthly Review, The (January 1831): 159.
New Monthly Magazine, The (March 1827): 239.
-----. (August 1, 1824): 365.
Renalds, Brenda Hart. Letitia Elizabeth Landon: A Literary Life. Dissertation. University of South Carolina, 1985.
Roberts, Emma. Memoir. The Zenana and Minor Poems of L.E.L.. London, 1840.
Sheppard, Sarah. Characteristics of the Genius and Writings of L.E.L.. London: Longman, Brown, and Longman, Paternoster Row, 1841.
Stephenson, Glennis. "Poet Construction: Mrs. Hemans, L.E.L., and the Image of the Nineteenth-Century Woman Poet." ReImagining Women: Representations of Women in Culture. Eds. Shirley Neuman and Glennis Stephenson. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1993. 61-73.
Sullivan, Alvin, ed. British Literary Magazines; The Romantic Age, 1789-1836. London: Greenwood Press, 1983.
"Tennyson's Poems." Blackwood's Magazine 31 (May 1832): 722.
"The Golden Violet, with its Tales of Romance and Chivalry; and Other Poems. By L.E.L., author of The Improvisatrice,' The Troubadour,' &c." The Monthly Review (January 1827): 60-62.
"The Improvisatrice and Other Poems. By L.E.L." The Westminster Review 3 (April 1825): 538-539.
"The Venetian Bracelet, The Lost Pleiad, A History of the Lyre, and Other Poems. By L.E.L., Author of The Improvisatrice,' The Troubadour,' and The Golden Violet'." The Monthly Review (February 1830): 161-162.
"The Vow of the Peacock and Other Poems. By L.E.L." The Literary Gazette (October 24, 1835): 673.
"Watts's Poetical Album." Newcastle Magazine 8 (December 1829): 538.
Westminster Review, The 7 (January 1827): 50-66.
Woolf, Virginia. Orlando: A Biography. London: Macmillan Press, 1964.
Woolf, Virginia. The Letters of Virginia Woolf. Vol. III.: 1923-1928. Eds. Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann. London: n.p., 1977.