Imaginary Conversations  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Imaginary Conversations is the best-known prose work of the English poet and author Walter Savage Landor. It comprises 6 volumes of imaginary conversations between personalities of classical Greece and Rome, poets and authors, statesmen and women, and fortunate and unfortunate individuals.



The Imaginary Conversations were begun when Landor, aged 46, had settled down with his family at Florence in 1821 where he had rooms in the Medici Palace and later rented the Villa Castigilione. The roots of the compositions lay in his childhood as he wrote later "When I was younger..[a]mong the chief pleasures of my life, and among the commonest of my occupations was the bringing before me such heroes and heroines of antiquity, such poets and sages, such of the prosperous and unfortunate as most interested me …[and e]ngaging them in conversations best suited to their characters".<ref> H Van Thal Landor:a biographical anthology (1973) </ref> The unenthusiastic reception of “Count Julian” demonstrated that Landor, while adept at dialogue, lacked the dramatic capability necessary to convert these to the stage and he destroyed another tragedy “Ferranti and Giulio” in frustration at his publishers. The Imaginary Conversations therefore provided a different vehicle for Landor’s art.

At Florence, Landor was corresponding with Southey who had planned to write a book of "Colloquies" and they considered collaborating on a project. Landor had finished fifteen dialogues by 9 March 1822, and sent them to Longmans. Longmans would not publish, so by the influence of his friend Julius Hare, he managed to get agreement with the firm of Taylor & Hessey to publish them. Some disputes with the publishers followed in which both Southey and Wordsworth became involved. Not without some embarrassment to Southey as one of the "Conversations" was between Southey and Porson on the merits of Wordsworth's poetry. In 1824, two volumes were published with eighteen conversations in each. The third volume of Imaginary Conversations was published by Henry Colburn in 1828 but Julius Hare was frustrated by Colburn’s delays and the fourth and fifth volumes were finally published by James Duncan in 1829. Over the succeeding years Landor published occasional Imaginary Conversations as one off pieces and collated a number of them in 1853.

Selected Conversations

Some of the most notable conversations are as follows.

Volume 1 (1824)

Volume II (1824)

Volume III (1828)

Volume IV (1829)

Volume V (1829)

Published in The Book of Beauty (1844) Aesop and Rhodope

Critique by Swinburne

"The very finest flower of his dialogues is probably to be found in the single volume Imaginary Conversations of Greeks and Romans; his command of passion and pathos may be tested by its success in the distilled and concentrated tragedy of Tiberius and Vipsania, where for once he shows a quality more proper to romantic than classical imagination: the subtle and sublime and terrible power to enter the dark vestibule of distraction, to throw the whole force of his fancy, the whole fire of his spirit, into the shadowing passion (as Shakespeare calls it) of gradually imminent insanity. Yet, if this and all other studies from ancient history or legend could be subtracted from the volume of his work, enough would be left whereon to rest the foundation of a fame which time could not sensibly impair.

Volumes in the 1882 edition

  1. Classical dialogues, Greek and Roman
  2. Dialogues of sovereigns and statesmen
  3. Dialogues of literary men
  4. Dialogues of literary men (continued)
  5. Dialogues of famous women, and miscellaneous dialogues
  6. Miscellaneous dialogues (concluded)

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