A Critical History of English Poetry

By Herbert J. C. Grierson; J. C. Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter Thirty
LANDOR TO TENNYSON

IN the same year as the Lyrical Ballads ( 1798) there was issued in Warwick, as a sixpenny pamphlet, a poem Gebir, which attracted little general attention, but caught the eye of Southey, himself then meditating epic poems on heroic and religious subjects. He reviewed the poem enthusiastically in the Critical Review. Through Southey Lamb got wind of it, and writes to Southey: "I have seen Gebor! Gebor aptly named from Geborish quasi Gibberish. But Gebor hath some lucid intervals. I remember darkly one beautiful simile veiled in uncouth phrases about the youngest daughter of the Ark." The simile thus cited is not the best of its kind:

Never so eager when the world was waves
Stood the less daughter of the Ark, and tried
(Innocent this temptation) to recall
With folded vest, and casting arm, the dove.

But the chief beauty of Gebir, as of most of what Landor was to write, is just these occasional moments, picturesque, sculpturesque, at their best dramatic. The poem as a whole is somewhat of a puzzle. Professedly an heroic poem, dealing with some shadowy invasion of Egypt, and including a not very impressive descent to Hell, its central themes are two love stories of a sentimental kind. The whole professes even to have a moral, "the folly, the injustice, the punishment of invasion," and combined with this an encouragement of the colonisation of empty lands. There are satirical sketches of kings, as George III, for whom Landor, like his later disciple Swinburne, had a Whiggish, aristocratic, somewhat empty scorn. But the interest of the poem is in the style and verse.

The author of Gebir, Walter Savage Landor 1775- 1864), had already published, and withdrawn, a volume of Popean poems including an Apology for Satire, a Moral Epistle, and an Abelard to Eloisa, an imaginary reply to Pope's brilliant poem and in his style.

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