A neglected literary giant whose works have fallen into near-oblivion, Landor was also one of the 19th century’s most quixotic figures – a genius to some, eccentric madman to others. He was dogged by ill-luck throughout his life, not only in the literary sphere, and spent many years as an exile in Italy after a disastrous stint as a landowner left him in debt. Landor probably composed more Latin verse than any British writer since the Renaissance, though little of it was either read or appreciated. Of his collected Poemata et inscriptiones, published in 1847, he is said to have sold just one copy. Landor lived into a weary old age, writing all the while – including more Latin verses – but was forced to spend his final years as an impoverished exile in Italy once again, after being hounded out of England by a malicious lawsuit.
Febricitans (‘Running a Fever’) opens with Landor paradoxically regretting that he has recovered from a fever – but the paradox is resolved when we learn he is pining for she who tended him during his illness (adfuit … cura). After ennumerating her gentle ministrations, the poem closes with an appeal for the fever to return (morbe! … redi), so that she might return too (sit reditura).
Si valeo, cuperem (fateor) caruisse medelis,
Et thalamum verno linquere mane piget.
Adfuit (heu nec adest!) cuius mihi cura salutem
Praebuerat: clausit non reditura forem!
At prius haud puduit nec strata obducere collo
Nec frontem tenero tangere flore manus,
Nec, quam praepropero salientem sanguine venam
Fecerat, imposita sistere velle gena:
Tum (quae debet adhuc) promittere praemia pacto
Hoc uno, patiens sim, bene iussa sequar.
Morbe! ferens febrem febrisque insomnia tecum,
Morbe! modo infirmo sit reditura, redi.[Poemata et inscriptiones, Minora varia XXXIII]
Running a fever: If I am well, I would have agreed (I confess) to have abstained from medicines, and it irks me to leave my bedroom on a spring morning. A cure was at hand (alas no longer!) whose salvation she had offered to me: she closed the door never to return! But first she was not ashamed either to draw the sheets up to my neck nor to touch my forehead with the soft bloom of her hand, nor to wish to staunch with her cheek placed upon what she had inflicted, the vein gushing with precipitate blood: then (which she owes still) to promise rewards with this one stipulation, may I be patient, may I follow her orders well. O sickness! bringing fever and the sleeplessness of fever with you, O sickness come back, let her come back to he who is just now an invalid.
Chosen and translated by Mark Walker (www.pineapplepubs.co.uk).