Sunday Poetry – Letitia Elizabeth Landon

Letitia Elizabeth Landon, or L.E.L as she was known, was one of the most popular poets of the early 19th century. She was a controversial figure in her day. As a woman writer, & a single woman at that, she was sensitive to any rumour of scandal about her honour. Unfortunately there were many unproven rumours from gossips in Society which led to the end of her engagement to John Forster, later the friend & biographer of Dickens. Forster confronted her with the rumours that she had had affairs; she told him to investigate for himself. When he found they were unfounded, she broke off the engagement because she couldn’t marry a man who mistrusted her. She married George Maclean, Governor of the Colony of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) & they travelled to Africa after their marriage in 1838. Shortly after, she was found dead, poisoned by prussic acid. Whether she committed suicide or was murdered has never been decided.

This poem, Fountains Abbey (picture from here), is typical of the gently melancholic Romantic tradition the L.E.L was writing in. It harks back to medieval times when the Abbey was not a picturesque ruin but a part of the religious life of England.

Never more, when the day is o’er,
Will the lonely vespers sound;
No bells are ringing—no monks are singing,
When the moonlight falls around.

A few pale flowers, which in other hours
May have cheered the dreary mood;
When the votary turned to the world he had spurned,
And repined at the solitude.

Still do they blow ‘mid the ruins below,
For fallen are fane and shrine,
And the moss has grown o’er the sculptured stone
Of an altar no more divine.

Still on the walls where the sunshine falls,
The ancient fruit-tree grows;
And o’er tablet and tomb, extends the bloom
Of many a wilding rose.

Fair though they be, yet they seemed to me
To mock the wreck below;
For mighty the tower, where the fragile flower
May now as in triumph blow.

Oh, foolish the thought, that my fancy brought;
More true and more wise to say,
That still thus doth spring, some gentle thing,
With its beauty to cheer decay.

4 thoughts on “Sunday Poetry – Letitia Elizabeth Landon

  1. I liked the poem, Lyn. (I do like a good dose of romantic melancholy especially since I've just finished watching SENSE AND SENSIBILITY.) But I'm taken with the mystery of the poet's death. What could have happened? Surely there's a book there waiting to be written.

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  2. I definitely enjoy a little melancholy, Yvette & LEL's life seems to have been full of it. There have been a couple of books about her life, according to Wikipedia. Michael Gorman's LEL : the murder of Letitia E Landon (2008 no surprises about his theory!) & Poisoned Lives by Julie Watt (2010 A double biography of LEL & her husband. Published by Sussex Uni Press so very expensive.)I'm tempted to follow up on the Watt book though, it might be available for Inter Library Loan. I wonder if anyone's ever thought of writing a novel about her life?

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  3. Dear Lyn and Yvette
    Two novels written about LEL are:
    Letty Landon: Helen Ashton: Collins, London & Glasgow, 1951
    L.E.L.: a Mystery of the Thirties: D E Enfield: Hogarth Press, London, 1928.
    My own book, Poisoned Lives, has been described in one review “as much a page-turner as any novel”!
    You don't need to pay Sussex's prices. Try abebooks.co.uk Much cheaper!
    If you do manage to read it, I'd love to hear your comments. I don't believe for a single moment that she was murdered, or committed suicide.
    Julie Watt
    Julie Watt

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  4. Thanks for commenting Julie & for the information about the novels. I've read one of Helen Ashton's novels (Bricks & Mortar, reprinted by Persephone) but didn't know she'd written about LEL. I'll certainly follow up on your book. It wasn't available for ILL so I'll try to get hold of a copy through abebooks.

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