The collection contains forty-one letters written by Landor, mainly in Italy. These record in intimate detail his daily life, his appraisal of his own works, and his views on classical and contemporary writers. There is also a larger volume of correspondence concerning the publication of Imaginary conversations. This principally comprises sixty letters written between March 1823 and November 1828 by Julius Charles Hare, who was acting as Landor's agent, to the publisher John Taylor of Taylor and Hessey; two letters to Taylor's partner, James Augustus Hessey; and a single letter to Robert Southey, who assisted the publication. There are also drafts of letters from Taylor to Hare, Southey, and Landor's cousin, Walter Landor. The correspondence reveals the freedom which Landor allowed Hare and Southey to amend his text.
Walter Savage Landor Papers
Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
Although he wrote several volumes of lyric and epic poetry, today Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864) is best remembered for his Imaginary conversations of literary men and statesmen, published in five volumes between 1824 and 1829, which took the form of imagined dialogues between historical figures. An ardent classicist, he returned to the same genre many years later with his Imaginary conversations of Greeks and Romans (1853).
Landor was born at Rugeley, Staffordshire, the son of a retired doctor. At school and university (Trinity College, Oxford), he excelled at Latin verse. He was also an early enthusiast for the French Revolution and was forced to leave Oxford after an incident with a political opponent. He then lived in Wales at Tenby and Swansea, and began to publish poetry, which was critically but not commercially successful. He later set up residence in the Vale of Ewyas, Monmouthshire, where his attempt to lead the life of a country gentleman was thwarted by constant conflicts with his neighbours. He married Julia Thuillier in 1811, and moved to the Continent in 1814, residing firstly in France, later in Italy. For much of the rest of his life, he lived in Florence, where he wrote the Imaginary conversations of literary men and statesmen, whose publication was encouraged by Julius Charles Hare (it eventually ran to six volumes). After quarrelling with his wife in 1835, he returned to Britain, and wrote a number of plays and verses. He was a friend of Dickens, and was a model for Boythorne in Bleak house . Impecunious in later life due to an ill-judged libel action, Landor returned to Florence in 1858, where he was aided by Robert Browning. Landor died at Florence on 17 September 1864.
Judgments of Landor's life and work were inevitably affected by his irascible and contrary temperament. He managed to fall out with many of his friends in the course of his life, often for trivial reasons. His poetical tastes were more in sympathy with classical ideals than with romanticism, and this probably affected his popularity. His prose, however, was considered by many to be unrivalled in its elegance and precision.
Source: Geoffrey Carnall, 'Landor, Walter Savage (1775-1864)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/15980.
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.
Purchased by the John Rylands Library at auction at Sotheby's on 2 June 1959 (Lot 379).
Description compiled by Jo Klett, project archivist, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Walter Savage Landor.
Other Finding Aids
Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1952-1970 (English MSS 1237-1238).
Walter Savage Landor's papers have been widely dispersed. There are collections at:
- Bath Central Library: letters and verses, 1841-60;
- British Library, Manuscript Collections: autobiographical notes and family correspondence (ref.: Add MSS 35140, 35070; Ashley B 3551; Ashley 5742);
- Leeds University, Brotherton Collection: literary manuscripts;
- London Metropolitan Archives: The Cabinet and related papers;
- Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Archive Service, William Salt Library: literary manuscripts, c 1846-54 (ref.: D 1929/3/2, 4, 10); correspondence;
- Victoria & Albert Museum, National Art Library: correspondence, literary manuscripts and papers (Forster Collection);
- Warwickshire County Record Office: family papers, 1805-1929;
- Huntington Library, San Marino, California: letters, literary manuscripts, sister's letters, 1813-60;
- Princeton University Library: correspondence;
- Yale University Libraries, Beinecke Library: family correspondence;
- Yale University Libraries, Sterling Memorial Library: revision of Imaginary conversations and other papers, c 1824;
English MS 1238 has the bookplate of the Reverend Rashleigh Edward Hungerford Duke (whose mother Ellen, née Landor, was Walter Savage Landor's niece). The provenance of English MS 1237 is unknown.
The Landor Papers in the JRUL are discussed by A. LaVonne Prasher (later A. LaVonne Ruoff) in a series of articles in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol. 49, pp. 427-63; vol. 51, pp. 200-61; vol. 53, pp. 465-500; vol. 54, pp. 398-433; vol. 58, pp. 467-507.