Imaginary Conversations

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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 of great interest as a specimen of the poetic prose full of rich imagery & 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...".[1] 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. During 1824, two volumes were published with eighteen conversations in each. The third volume of Imaginary Conversations was published by Henry Colburn during 1828 but Julius Hare was frustrated by Colburn’s delays, and the fourth and fifth volumes were finally published by James Duncan during 1829. Over the succeeding years Landor published occasional Imaginary Conversations as individual publications and collated a number of them during 1853.

Selected conversations[edit]

Some of the most notable conversations are as follows.

Volume I (1824)

Volume II (1824)

Volume III (1828)

Volume IV (1829)

Volume V (1829)

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

Algernon Charles Swinburne's Appraisal[edit]

Interliterary mentions[edit]

Imaginary Conversations was a favorite book of the character Tibby in E.M. Forster's 1910 novel, Howards End.[3]

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[edit]

  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)


  1. ^ H Van Thal Landor:a biographical anthology (1973)
  2. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica 1882
  3. ^ Forster, E.M. Howards End. Alfred A. Knopf, 2011, p. 11, ISBN 978-0-679-40668-6 (US)