Columbia Library columns (v.39(1989Nov-1990May))

(New York :  Friends of the Columbia Libraries.  )



Jump to page:

Table of Contents

  v.39,no.3(1990:May): Page 3  

The Magical Letters L.E.L.


, uch, to her contemporary admirers, was the attraction ofthe
.poetry of Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802-1838) that the
initials L.E.L., which she customarily signed to her poems,
became known as "magical letters." Literary fashions fade, but,
although her initials are today recognized by few, and her works
read by still fewer, L.E.L. occupies among British writers of the
early nineteenth century a respectable rank that is both firmly
established and genuinely deserved. The Rare Book and
Manuscript Library is therefore fortunate to possess three of
L.E.L.'s manuscripts, each of them in its own way representative of
her life and work.

Reasons why L.E.L. is not today widely known are readily
apparent. To begin with, she wrote at a period of unparalleled
brilliance in English poetry. The names of Wordswonh and
Coleridge, of Byron, Shelley, and Keats, not only tower above those
of their British contemporaries, but also stand out boldly in the
panorama of English literature. Inevitably, therefore, these names
diminish the relative standing of their lesser contemporaries.
Furthermore, like many nineteenth-century authors, L.E.L. wrote
and published a great deal. Her collected poems run, in one edition,
to 560 pages. There are also countless other works, published and
unpublished, including poems, novels, stories, criticism, a tragedy,
prose sketches, translations from French and German, letters, and
journals. In the absence of a book of selected pieces (an omission I
intend to rectify), one must mine quantities of now charmless
versifying in order to uncover jewels of real poetry. The effort is well
worth the rewards, but few readers have inclination, time, or
patience for such excursions. Also, Uke her gifted contemporary
Felicia Dorothea Browne (Mrs. Hemans), Letitia Elizabeth Landon
was something of a literary prodigy, who began to compose poetry
as a child and started publishing while in her teens. Although her
  v.39,no.3(1990:May): Page 3