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This article is taken from PN Review 38, Volume 10 Number 6, May - June 1984.

Landor's Gebir John Heath-Stubbs

Walter Savage Landor's Gebir, first published in 1798, is an extraordinary poem, difficult to place in relation to the history of English poetry in general. Landor was to become the principal representative in English literature of that classicizing movement in art, architecture and literature, which, in Europe as a whole, accompanied the movement we call Romanticism. That such a classical movement existed is not generally recognized, I believe, by literary critics and historians, though its existence in the visual arts - in the paintings of David, the drawings of Flaxman and the architecture of the brothers Adam, to mention only a few instances - is acknowledged. In poetry this new classicism is not just a continuation of the Augustanism of the early eighteenth century, founded as that was on Roman models. The new classicism looked rather to Greece. In England its beginnings are perhaps to be found in the verse of Gray, Collins and (more especially) Mark Akenside. Landor does in fact mention Akenside in the preface to Gebir as providing a model for his blank verse, along with 'The poet of our Republic' (Milton). The third name that he cites, William Armstrong, author of that curious poem The Art of Preserving Health, possibly recommended himself to Landor by his Epicurean philosophy.

But in a European context, we should think of other names: notably André Chénier in France, some aspects at least of the work of Goethe and Schiller in Germany, and Leopardi in Italy. The poetry ...


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