ollowing the birth of the daughter she could not acknowledge or care for, and the death of her beloved father, Landon had another sadness to contend with. Her sickly little sister Elizabeth died at the age of thirteen, apparently from consumption. These weighty matters, although doubtless felt deeply by Landon, were hidden behind her social mask. Through William Jerdan’s contacts and, as her popularity grew, on her own account, she was invited to literary salons, welcome and fêted everywhere. Her wit and gaiety were remarked upon.
However, even the adoring and sentimental Jerdan noted the “Memoir” in Romance and Reality that “In mixed society she was brilliant and witty, and perhaps it would have been safer and better for herself if she had not also been, with a strong sense of the ridiculous, also sarcastic. This turn, in fact, provoked some to become her enemies, whilst those who knew her were perfectly aware that the character of the satirist was only assumed, and that there was not one grain of ill-will or spitefulness in her disposition. It was, however, a fault, and she paid dearly for it” (xvii). Another friend of Landon’s commented that “the very unguardedness of her innocence served to arm even the feeblest malice with powerful stings; the openness of her nature, and the frankness of her manners, furnished the silly or the ill-natured with abundant materials for gossip. She was always careless as a child of set forms and rules for conduct” (Blanchard 52). When recalling her so fondly for his Autobiography, Jerdan put her in yet another, softer, light:
I found in L.E.L. a creature of another sphere, though with fascination which could render her most lovable in our every-day world. The exquisite simplicity of childhood, the fine form of womanhood, the sweetest of dispositions, the utmost charm of unaffected manners, and above all, an impassioned ideal and poetical temperament which absorbed her existence and held all else comparatively as nothing. [3.169]
There are other glimpses of Landon at this time showing her as playful and affectionate to her grandmother with whom she was still living in Sloane Street. According to Katherine Thomson’s Queens of Society, “L.E.L. was a social being and young as she then was – little more than twenty-three – had the gift, so perfect in France, so rare in England, of receiving well. Nothing could be more lively than these little social meetings, and nothing more unexceptionable” (280.) The author was the wife of Landon’s physician, Anthony Todd Thomson. She wrote Queens of Society with her son John Cockburn Thomson in 1860, (under the pen names of Grace and Philip Wharton) and included a chapter on Landon. It must be noted that Katherine Thomson’s account of L.E.L. in that book is somewhat of a hagiography, and has some factual errors, unsurprising given the lapse of time between the events and her memoir. She remembered her friend as several years younger than her actual age when her early works were published. Her affection for L.E.L. and her eagerness to insist on her friend’s adherence to the social mores demanded of a single woman, make her memories unreliable as a source of factual information. Her account is, however, a valuable documentation of how L.E.L. would have been regarded by her readership in general and certainly the female readers. They enjoyed the frisson and titillation of the passionate poetry, whilst believing strongly in the purity and innocence of the author. Landon’s other friend and early biographer was Anna Maria Hall, wife of Samuel Carter Hall, both writers. Samuel, at various times, was editor of New Monthly Magazine, The Amulet and, in the later part of his life, The Art Journal. The memoirs of both these women became the source of much that was known about Landon although they both had their own agendas to ensure that the Landon of their memories remained innocent and pure. Mrs. Hall claimed to have seen Landon almost every day and certainly every week for the next thirteen years, a claim which, with that of her other close friend the Doctor’s wife, leaves one to wonder how the plain fact of L.E.L.’s next two pregnancies escaped notice. If they were aware of them, both of these close friends were at pains to ignore the facts and to champion Landon’s innocence and vilify her victimisation in their memoirs of her.
The author William Howitt observed that one had the feeling Landon was playing an assumed part, and that “she seemed to say things for the sake of astonishing you with the very contrast. You felt not only no confidence in the truth of what she was asserting, but a strong assurance that it was said merely for the sake of saying what her hearers would least expect her to say” (438). Howitt had clearly noticed Landon’s habit of hiding behind a mask. His wife wrote about Landon in a letter of 28 October 1824, referring to her as “a ward of Jerdan’s”, that “She is…a most thoughtless girl in company, doing strange extravagant things; for instance making a wreath of flowers, then rushing with it into a grave and numerous party, and placing it on her patron’s head.” (Margaret Howitt, Autobiography).
Landon’s social circle now expanded to the ‘blue-stocking’ literary salon of the be-turbanned Miss Spence who, with her even more gloriously beturbanned co-hostess Miss Benger, attracted “litterateurs” to her gathering, despite living in two rooms in Quebec Street, “where tea was made in the bedroom, and where it was whispered the butter was kept cool in the wash-hand basin!” (Hall, 270). Only those who had published were allowed to attend these gatherings, so Anna Maria Hall, whose literary career had not yet begun, was excluded. Samuel was invited, however and met there, amongst others, Lady Caroline Lamb and the beautiful wilful Rosina Wheeler, whom Lamb befriended. Landon warned Rosina not to let Lady Caroline get too close to her, good advice which went unheeded (Sadleir 86). Landon and Rosina Wheeler became friends – although not, apparently, confidantes, as Wheeler wrote about Landon, “she never was in love in her life”. Wheeler had not yet published anything, but was prized for her wit and conversation, so was an exception to the rule. Rosina Wheeler later married Edward Bulwer, whom she met at the salon in April 1826, a union with disastrous results.
Left: Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton. G. Cook after Richard James Lane. 1848. Right: Rosina Anne Doyle Bulwer Lytton (née Wheeler), Lady Lytton (1802-1882). Engraving by John Jewell Penstone after Alfred Edward Chalon. 1852. Both courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Emma Roberts, an early memoirist of Landon’s was at the party, as was Jane Webb, later Loudon, a gentle author who subsequently wrote for Jerdan. On meeting Letitia Landon, Samuel Carter Hall liked her enough to arrange for his wife to call upon her the following day, when Anna Maria Hall recalled Landon as “a bright-eyed sparkling restless little girl in a pink gingham frock…” Landon was in fact twenty-three years old, and as “rapid as a squirrel”. Jerdan must have enjoyed the witty, skittish side of his secret lover, quite contrasted with the poetry she produced. Although the Misses Spence and Benger’s salon attracted mainly women writers, it was not exclusively sexist. (For a detailed account, see Lawford’s “Turbans, Tea and Talk of Book”). Bulwer was of aristocratic birth, so had access to far smarter gatherings, with better refreshments. However, the salon provided a sanctuary for him to meet his beloved Rosina Wheeler of whom his mother vastly disapproved. Jerdan would sometimes attend, always looking for a new writer and new material for the Literary Gazette. For him and Landon too, the salon would have been a sanctuary of sorts. Serving as a respectable place for unmarried women writers to socialise, the salon was also a kind of job market, where editors and compilers of annuals rubbed shoulders with writers seeking outlets for their work.
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Last modified 16 July 2020