Imaginary Conversations is a publication consisting of five volumes of imaginary conversations, mainly between historical people of classical Greece and Rome, composed by the English author Walter Savage Landor. Landor's fame rests on this prose. The work is noted as a specimen of poetic prose full of rich imagery and ornate diction as seen in De Quincey.
The Imaginary Conversations were begun when Landor, aged 46, was living with his family in Florence during 1821 where he had rooms in the Medici Palace and later rented the Villa Castigilione. The idea of the compositions began during 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 ... Engaging them in conversations best suited to their characters..." The unenthusiastic reception of Landor's play Count Julian demonstrated that Landor, while adept at dialogue, lacked the dramatic capability necessary to convert it to stage performance, and he destroyed another tragedy Ferranti and Giulio in frustration at his publishers.
At Florence, Landor was corresponding with Robert 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 Longman's company. Longman would not publish, so by the influence of his friend Julius Hare, he managed to get an agreement with the company of Taylor & Hessey to publish them. Some disputes with the publishers followed in which both Southey and William 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 individual publications and collated a number of them in 1853.
Some of the most notable conversations are as follows.
Volume I (1824)
- Queen Elizabeth and Cecil (1st Earl of Salisbury).
- Southey and Porson.
- The Abbe Delille and Walter Landor.
Volume II (1824)
Volume III (1828)
Volume IV (1829)
- Diogenes and Plato (Online)
- John of Gaunt and Joanna of Kent.
- Lady Lisle and Elizabeth Gaunt.
- Leofric and Lady Godiva.
- Mr Pitt and Mr Canning.
Volume V (1829)
Algernon Charles Swinburne wrote of the dialogues:
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.
Mentioned in the book and film 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.
In "The Gay Science", Nietzsche praises Landor as a 'master of prose' for "Imaginary Conversations".
Volumes in the 1882 edition
- Classical dialogues, Greek and Roman
- Dialogues of sovereigns and statesmen
- Dialogues of literary men
- Dialogues of literary men (continued)
- Dialogues of famous women, and miscellaneous dialogues
- Miscellaneous dialogues (concluded)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Wood, James, ed. (1907). The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London and New York: Frederick Warne. Missing or empty