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Gebir   By: (1775-1864)

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GEBIR

INTRODUCTION.

Walter Savage Landor was born on the 30th of January, 1775, and died at the age of eighty nine in September, 1864. He was the eldest son of a physician at Warwick, and his second name, Savage, was the family name of his mother, who owned two estates in Warwickshire Ipsley Court and Tachbrook and had a reversionary interest in Hughenden Manor, Buckinghamshire. To this property, worth 80,000 pounds, her eldest son was heir. That eldest son was born a poet, had a generous nature, and an ardent impetuous temper. The temper, with its obstinate claim of independence, was too much for the head master of Rugby, who found in Landor the best writer of Latin verse among his boys, but one ready to fight him over difference of opinion about a Latin quantity. In 1793 Landor went to Trinity College, Oxford. He had been got rid of at Rugby as unmanageable. After two years at Oxford, he was rusticated; thereupon he gave up his chambers, and refused to return. Landor's father, who had been much tried by his unmanageable temper, then allowed him 150 pounds a year to live with as he pleased, away from home. He lived in South Wales at Swansea, Tenby, or elsewhere and he sometimes went home to Warwick for short visits. In South Wales he gave himself to full communion with the poets and with Nature, and he fastened with particular enthusiasm upon Milton. Lord Aylmer, who lived near Tenby, was among his friends. Rose Aylmer, whose name he has made through death imperishable, by linking it with a few lines of perfect music, {1} lent Landor "The Progress of Romance," a book published in 1785, by Clara Reeve, in which he found the description of an Arabian tale that suggested to him his poem of "Gebir."

Landor began "Gebir" in Latin, then turned it into English, and then vigorously condensed what he had written. The poem was first published at Warwick as a sixpenny pamphlet in the year 1798, when Landor's age was twenty three. Robert Southey was among the few who bought it, and he first made known its power. In the best sense of the phrase, "Gebir" was written in classical English, not with a search for pompous words of classical origin to give false dignity to style, but with strict endeavour to form terse English lines of apt words well compacted. Many passages appear to have been half thought out in Greek or Latin, some, as that on the sea shell (on page 19), were first written in Latin, and Landor re issued "Gebir" with a translation into Latin three or four years after its first appearance.

"Gebir" was written nine years after the outbreak of the French Revolution, and at a time when the victories of Napoleon were in many minds associated with the hopes of man. In the first edition of the poem there were, in the nuptial voyage of Tamar, prophetic visions of the triumph of his race, in march of the French Republic from the Garonne to the Rhine

"How grand a prospect opens! Alps o'er Alps Tower, to survey the triumphs that proceed. Here, while Garumna dances in the gloom Of larches, mid her naiads, or reclined Leans on a broom clad bank to watch the sports Of some far distant chamois silken haired, The chaste Pyrene, drying up her tears, Finds, with your children, refuge: yonder, Rhine Lays his imperial sceptre at your feet."

The hope of the purer spirits in the years of revolution, expressed by Wordsworth's

"War shall cease, Did ye not hear, that conquest is abjured?"

was in the first design of "Gebir," and in those early years of hope Landor joined to the vision of the future for the sons of Tamar that,

"Captivity led captive, war o'erthrown, They shall o'er Europe, shall o'er earth extend Empire that seas alone and skies confine, And glory that shall strike the crystal stars."

Landor was led by the failure of immediate expectation to revise his poem and omit from the third and the sixth books about one hundred and fifty lines, while adding fifty to heal over the wounds made by excision... Continue reading book >>




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