The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

IX. The Landors, Leigh Hunt, De Quincey

§ 4. Count Julian

Landor called the very large body of verse of dramatic form which he published—a body filling nearly four hundred pages of between forty and fifty lines each—Acts and Scenes, expressly noting that “none of them were offered to the stage, being no better than Imaginary Conversations in metre.” There is, however, a very marked difference between the first, the already mentioned Count Julian, and the rest of them. Count Julian is not easily distinguished from the dramas—of the closet kind, but very frequently offered to the stage in Landor’s time— which are noticed in other parts of this work, such dramas as those even of Coleridge and, still more, of Talfourd and Taylor, of Milman and Darley. Its acts are the regular five, its action is conducted in the usual stage manner and its style and diction conform to the somewhat artificial stateliness which, though discarding the worst eighteenth century “stage lingo,” remained, and, to some extent, still remains, the orthodox speech of tragedy. It is somewhat less artificial in style than Gebir; and the enforced, though minimised, action of a drama frees it, to a certain extent, from the deadly-liveliness of the epic. But, on the whole, it reminds one, as plays of its class often do, of Sainte-Beuve’s polite but fatal verdict on Don Garcie de Navarre, Molière’s one effort in alien kind. It is an essai pâle et noble; but little, if anything, more. Being Landor’s, it could not but contain some passages of fine blank verse. But here, with, perhaps, one exception, it is far below Gebir; while even the advantages of drama do not suffice to give it real liveliness of action. The points of the situations are not taken; the characters are not worked out and, by the strangest mistake of all, “the tragic frailties,” the great secret in which Aristotle’s principles and Shakespeare’s practice agree, Covilla’s disgrace and Julian’s treason are, as it were, “previous questions”—over and done before the play begins.

The fact simply is that the modern and romantic touch in Landor made him unequal either to formal epic or to formal drama. He wanted the loose movement, the more “accidented” situations, the full, and sometimes almost irrelevant, talk, the subsidiary interest of description and other things of the kind, to enable him to be something more than “pale and noble.” In the great bulk of Acts and Scenes, and especially in the long and important one which comes next (in his Works, though not in time) to Count Julian, Andrea of Hungary, as well as, though to a slightly less degree, in its sequels, which complete the trilogy on Giovanna of Naples, he has provided himself liberally with all these things. The three pieces, which together extend to a hundred and forty of the large pages above referred to, are much more than “imaginary conversations in metre”; they form, in fact, a historical novel, thrown into conversational dramatic form with all the redundances of the novel as they may seem from the dramatic point of view. Sometimes, the treatment approaches more nearly to the fashion of an actable play scene; sometimes, to that of a chapter of Scott or Dumas turned into verse and put in action instead of narration. And this hybrid character is maintained, almost continuously, in the pieces that follow: more than a dozen in number, though always shorter, and sometimes much shorter, than the Neapolitan set. The merits and defects of the form, and its instances, as well as a still more interesting subject, the relative merit of the prose and verse, will be better discussed when we come to the prose itself. It may be enough to say here that, in this new handling, Landor at last discovers the source of that interest which he had failed to attain in Gebir and Count Julian.