Landor, Walter Savage. ANDREA OF HUNGARY AND GIOVANNA OF NAPLES. London, Richard Bentley, 1839. 1st edition. Bound in publisher's original paper boards, rebacked in new paper with a new paper spine label. Unopened. Worn at the extremities, otherwise very good condition. USD 227.30I've not got a first edition, mind; I have it as part of a multi-volume Landorian Collected Works, which I'm reading in train of writing something on his whole body of work. And I'll say this right at the start: though he's neglected now there's an enormous amount to love about Landor's poetry and his prose. Even some of his plays: Count Julian: a Tragedy (1812), say, though wayward, has powerful moments and a weird cumulative potency. And (this is the last of my mealymouthed caveats, I promise) the whole subgenre of 19th-century unacted pastiche-Elizabethan blank-verse, static-literary tragic dramas is a little literary phenomenon in its own right, with its own aesthetic parameters; and a reader prepared to suspend her usual criteria of judgement for a while can find numerous interesting and beautiful things therein.
But, that said, Andrea of Hungary is more than bad; it's so bad it's almost as if Landor were specifically trying to write a sort of Acorn Antiques of the c19th-dramatic-poetic world. Supposedly set in Naples in 1342, just after the young Hungarian prince of the title has married the teenage Neapolitan queen Giovanna and been crowned king, the play details the plotting of Andrea's diabolic confessor, Fra Rupert, straight from the anti-Catholic school of offensive caricature, who resents that his charge has escaped his influence and plans to assassinate him. A nice, tense little piece of historical theatre could have been written about this premise. Landor didn't do that. Never mind that his characters make reference to such early 14th-century essentials as drawing rooms [III.ii.17] and guitars [IV.ii.54] and say things like 'O the delight of floating in a bath' [IV.iii.48]; never mind that Landor leeches all the tension from the situation, such that nothing at all happens except prolix speechifying until the very end of Act V. Put all that on one side. The clincher is the sheer badness of the writing: either Stuffed Owl pentameters of this sort:
The smell of melon overpowers me quite. [IV.i.11]or
And dignity! O Zinga! Klapwrath! Psein!or
Becomes it me to praise such men as you! [IV.iii.2f.]
Anger is better, as pomengranates are. [IV.v.33]or
How the stars twinkle! how the light leaves titter! [IV.vi.9]Or else of a stylistic deadness and clumsiness that is quite remarkable. Here is Landor in cod-Shakespeare mode, with his version of 'tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow', or 'to be or not to be'. Evil Fra Rupert speaks:
Nay, rather let the bubble float alongBubbles, bubbles, bubbles. His interlocutor, Caraffa, actually replies: 'Thou art a soapy one!' and continues the meditation. 'If these were solid/As thou, most glorious bubble who reflect'st them,/Then ... the world and all within the world were bubbles.' Lots of soapy bubble blowing, was there, in Sicily in 1342?
Than break it: the rich colours are outside.
Everything in this world is but a bubble,
The world itself one mighty bubble, we
Mortals, small bubbles round it! [III.vi.46f]