Talk given in
Walter Savage Landor's birthplace, Warwick,
2015. To be paired with
especially if you have two screens.
WARWICK SEEN IN AN ITALIAN FRAME
WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR AND JOHN ROBERT
*Alcmeon, Aristotle's Physican, said 'We die because we do not
join the end to the beginning'. This serpent devouring its tail,
called the ourobouros, symbolizes eternity. It is sculpted on one
of our tombs in Florence's Swiss-owned so-called 'English'
*I shall talk about two men, one, Walter Savage Landor, the writer
and poet, the other, my father, John Robert Glorney Bolton, also a
writer, both born here in Warwick, and who both ended their lives
in Italy. *Let me give you this talk as a keyhole in Rome, as an
Italian frame, for learning of these two Englishmen from
*Walter Savage Landor is buried in *Florence's 'English' Cemetery
of which I am Custodian, alongside *Elizabeth Barrett Browning,
*Arthur Hugh Clough, *Thomas Southwood Smith, *Frances Trollope,
mother of Anthony, *William Somerville, husband to Mary, while my
father, Glorney Bolton, and brother, Richard Rothwell Bolton, are
buried in Rome's Protestant Cemetery with John Keats and Percy
Bysshe Shelley, Joseph Severn and Richard Rothwell. Their lives
span in time from the Regency and Romantic period to the modern
day and their geography includes Warwick, Wales, Spain, Italy and
Walter Savage Landor, 1775-1864, was from before Byron, 1788-1824,
Shelley, 1792-1822, and Keats, 1795-1821, but he outlived them
all, being a Romantic amongst the Victorians. Born here in this
house on January 30th, he grew up in Warwick and in the
surrounding countryside, a brilliant and rebellious boy, writing
Latin poetry at Rugby, attending Trinity College at Oxford, being
expelled from both places. He wrote exquisite classical quatrains,
especially to women, all his life, to Ione, the Welsh Nancy Jones,
who bore him a child, to Rose Aylmer, an Earl's daughter, both of
whom he met in Wales, to Ianthe, the Irish Sophia Jane Swift, whom
he met at Bath and who married a cousin and later into French
nobility. He continued to write fine letters and poems to Rose
Aylmer's equally lovely niece and namesake, Rose Paynter to the
end of his life.
He published Gebir in 1798, a wonderful poem which plays
off a book he borrowed from Rose Aylmer, an exotic telling of a
Spanish prince who falls in love with an African Queen Charobar.
*I evoke its romantic atmosphere with this painting in Florence's
Archeological Museum of the Expedition to Egypt and Nubia by
Champollion and Rosellini. Here are some of its lines:
But I have sinuous shells, of pearly hue
Within, and they that lustre have imbibed
In the sun's palace porch, where when unyoked
His chariot-wheel stands midway in the wave;
Shake one and it awakens, then apply
Its polisht lips to your attentive ear,
And it remembers its august abodes,
And murmurs as the ocean there.
*In that same year of 1798 Rose Aylmer sailed to India with an
aunt, dying there two years later of fever, her tomb in Park
Street Cemetery, Calcutta, now having his lines.
what avails the sceptred race,
what the form divine!
every virtue, every grace!
Aylmer, all were thine.
Aylmer, whom these wakeful eyes
weep, but never see,
night of memories and of sighs
consecrate to thee.
*Coming into his inheritance Savage Landor decided to sell his
Warwickshire property and buy Llanthony Abbey in Wales, *planting
it with thousands of trees. But he got into difficulties feuding
with his workers and tenants and the project was largely a
In 1808 at 33 he decided to go to Spain, fighting privately
against Napoleon in the Peninsula wars. But soon rebelled against
Spanish politics and returned home to write the play, Count
Julian, set in Spain at the fall of the Visigoths. As a play the
work was unsuccessful. *We remember that Napoleon would be finally
defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Elizabeth Barrett
Browning as a child was taken by her parents to that battlefield
immediately following the Battle of Waterloo. She never told
Robert this because that would have given away her age, but she
wrote about it in her epic poem, Aurora Leigh:
there? Would you leave
That child to wander in a battle-field
And push his innocent smile against the guns?
Or even in the catacombs, . . his torch
Grown ragged in the fluttering air, and all
The dark a-mutter round him? not a child!
But Savage Landor needed
a wife, all his muses having either died or married others. He
proposed to a pretty but not very intelligent girl in Bath, the
daughter of a bankrupt Swiss banker, Julia Thuillier, and took her
to Llanthony Abbey, where they entertained the Coleridges. Debts
mounted. The young couple took off for Italy leaving the property
to be managed by his mother and brother. *After staying in various
palaces in Florence a friend acquired for them the *Villa
Gherardesca in San Domenico, where Fra Angelico had been Prior.
*After the Landor family vacated the premises they were acquired
by the American professor at Cornell University Daniel Willard
Fiske who carefully photographed the villa as it had been under
Walter Savage Landor's care for it and also *photographed his own
superb collection of Icelandic and *Italian materials housed in a
different place in Florence. I acquired these images from scholars
in Iceland and at Cornell University in New York State, America.
The Villa Landor is now the Scuola di Musica di Fiesole.
*Walter Savage Landor's marriage to Julia was a disaster. She bore
him children, Arnold, Julia, Walter, and Charles. But she deeply
sensed his greater love for Rose Aylmer, Rose Paynter, Iole and
Ianthe. And also for men. For Walter Savage Landor was bisexual.
She resented him deeply, having herself relations with other men,
such as Trajan Wallis, who painted her portrait with her children,
Arnold and Julia. She vented her rage against him publically, to
the point that he left his family, returning to England,
especially to Bath, for many years.
We learn of his visiting Warwick in 1845, dining at Guy's Cliff
with the great scientist and mathematician Mary Somerville being
present whom he admired greatly. Then again in 1853, at the age of
78, he spoke of the mulberry tree in the garden of Landor House,
remembering it from 75 years earlier and writing a poem about
mulberry! with all thy moss around,
arms are shatter'd, but thy heart is sound:
then remember one for whom of yore
tenderest boughs the crimson berry bore:
Remember one who, trusting in thy strength,
on the low and level branch full length.
strength had he, alas! to climb it now,
strength to bear him, if he had, hast thou.
This mulberry survived until 1940.
But Savage Landor, we remember, had a savage temper as well as a
heart of gold and loved to wage war with satiric poetry that got
him into deep trouble. In the end attacking a rather horrible
woman he was forced to flee abroad. He returned to the bosom of
his family in Florence - who rejected him again, his wife and his
oldest son Arnold particularly making him unwelcome. He became
homeless in the streets of Florence, with a white mane of hair and
beard like a mad King Lear, when the Brownings arranged lodgings
with him with their former servant, their maid Lily Wilson, who
had accompanied the two eloping poets and Elizabeth's pet spaniel
Flush thirteen years earlier. Remember that Virginia Woolf wrote
the biography of Flush. The first two summers the Brownings took
Walter with them to the countryside around Siena *where the young
and beautiful American, Kate Field, studied Greek from him, and
where he partly recovered from his senile dementia. But he was a
trial to poor Lily Wilson when he went back to Florence, forever
throwing his dinner out the window, table cloth and all, in his
rages. Kate described fifty-five year old Elizabeth Barrett
Browning's funeral in 1861, noting that everyone forgot to order a
carriage for Walter to attend it. *At the end the very gay poet
Algernon Charles Swinburne visited Walter, composing the lines now
on his tombstone. Savage Landor's own burial occurred in
1864, three years later than Elizabeth's, his younger two sons,
Walter and Charles, being present. His tombstone was so cheap it
had to be replaced by another slab in 1945. His cruel oldest son
Arnold died, probably of syphilis, in 1871, and Julia had him
buried as far away from his father as she could with a life-size
statue of herself , her back turned on her husband, on their son's
enormously expensive tomb. *We brought the bones of Walter and
Charles' son Arnold Henry Savage Landor, the artist, inventor,
writer and explorer, to lie at their feet, reconciling all the
branches of the family who came from America, Wales, and Italy to
honour Walter Savage Landor with poetry and music. We have a
ceremony in the cemetery of carrying the books of authors to their
tombs, reading aloud the title page of the book, the inscription
of the tomb, which we especially did on this occasion.
*This is the library in the cemetery to which Jean Field's
wonderful volumes of Walter Savage Landor's writings have come.
And also my father's books. The lilied crosses the Roma make copy
those in the Bodleian Library. *Every Sunday here we hold Alphabet
School for Roma families, gypsies from Romania who came to Europe
a thousand years ago from India, who were slaves from the Middle
Ages until the nineteenth century when they were freed by Harriet
Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin being translated into
Romanian but who still have not had Civil Rights and schooling. It
is they who restore the tombs and *garden the cemetery.
And now to speak of another writer born in Warwick who died in
Italy - my father, John Robert Glorney Bolton. His mother was from
the Quaker Cashes of Coventry, his father from the Quaker Glorneys
of Dublin. She was not allowed to marry him for many years, he
being a poor artist. *Then the Quakers let them have the laid-down
Meeting House to live in *opposite the Earl of Leycester's
Hospital, **shown also in my grandfather's watercolours.
***When my father was five he was the boy sacrificed by the Druids
in the Warwick Pageant my grandfather John Nunn Bolton produced
with Louis Napoleon Parker for the Countess of Warwick in 1906.
*My grandfather also made the head of the Dun Cow brought on to
the field breathing fire and smoke. *Other episodes included the
founding of the first school of Warwick, the oldest in England,
and **the story of the eight-year-old boy Shakespeare embracing
Queen Elizabeth. John Nunn Bolton died just three years later of
polio, which also lamed my father.
*My grandmother, who also died before I was born, was left a widow
with four children to raise, my father, whom they called 'Robin',
Eileen, Joyce and Derek. She would mend the tapestries in Warwick
Castle for her friend the Countess and embroider bishops' mitres
to support her children, while seeking scholarships for them.
Eileen and Joyce both were artists like their father. *These
are Eileen Mary Bolton's prints of Warwick. Derek, Frederick
Rothwell Bolton, went to Cambridge University, and became a Dean
of the Anglican Church of Ireland.
My father, the oldest child, like Walter Savage Landor, and like
him, became a writer, but not a poet. As a boy he sang solo in St
Mary's Church, then went away to Ardingly School where they could
hear the cannons booming from the battlefields during the Great
War. All the Cricket XI died at the Front. As did also the boy who
acted Shakespeare in the Pageant. *Restless, reading Charles
Lamb's essay on the Bodleian Library, a fourteen-year-old orphan,
my father wrote to its librarian, asking to work there. *And
arrived on the premises. He didn't finish his degree at Oxford,
went first to Yorkshire to work as a journalist, 1923-1927,
learning there of Sir James Roberts of Saltaire, *then to India
where he covered Gandhi's Salt March for the Times of India of
which he was an editor, 1927-1930. *His first book was The
Tragedy of Gandhi, published while Gandhi was in prison. *He
met my mother, Sir James Roberts' granddaughter, first in Canada,
she being also a journalist and writer. I was conceived in Geneva
at the League of Nations while Europe was preparing for World War
II. *My parents dedicated their dual autobiography, Two Lives
Converge, 'To Julia'.
Like the marriage of Walter Savage Landor, my parents' was also
unhappy. I was sent at 16 to live with an aunt in America. My
mother went to Canada, my father to Italy, where he worked for the
United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization and wrote
several more books, including one of Pope John XXIII, his friend,
then still alive. He died in Rome and was buried in the
*Protestant Cemetery with John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley,
Joseph Severn and Richard Rothwell, who painted the portrait of
Mary Shelley, my brother Richard Rothwell Bolton joining them
there ten years later. We buried my brother in Richard Rothwell's
tomb that had, like that of Keats, been designed by Joseph Severn.
Both Walter Savage Landor and my father loved gardens, Walter
saying a garden should not be too neat. Savage Landor also had his
great friend Ianthe plant with him four mimosa trees at San
Domenico where he had wished his tomb to be, later finding these
had been cut down. I have planted a mimosa tree by his tomb in
Florence. These are images of the cemetery through time and of its
garden which we have now restored with the help of our Roma
workers. Slides 51-69.
I particularly love this quatrain of Walter Savage Landor's.
Death stands above me, whispering low
I know not what into my ear:
Of his strange language all I know
Is there is not a word of fear.
*And now for our final slide. Here is the Italian frame, the
gatehouse of the 'English' Cemetery in Florence. And here is one
of the wooden rocking cradles our Roma make with us in the project
we call 'From Graves to Cradles'. And here is the ourobouros on an
English tomb in Florence with which I began this talk. If we write
books, or even just give books, inscribing them with our name, in
a way we do not die. We join ends to beginnings, we glimpse here
and now the past, bringing it into the present. And I am here now
with you, where Walter Savage Landor and John Robert Glorney
Bolton were born, joining their endings to their beginnings.