Landon, Letitia Elizabeth (1802–1838)

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Landon, Letitia Elizabeth (1802–1838)

English poet and novelist. Name variations: (pen name) better known by her initials L.E.L.; Letitia Elizabeth Maclean. Born Letitia Elizabeth Landon at 25 Hans Place, Chelsea, England, on August 14, 1802; died of poison on October 15, 1838; daughter of John Landon (an army agent) and Catharine Jane (Bishop) Landon; granddaughter of Reverend John Landon (famed for his cause against dissenters); attended a school in Chelsea where she studied under Miss Rowden (a poet and also the teacher of Mary Russell Mitford and Lady Caroline Lamb ); married George Maclean (governor of the Gold Coast, Africa), in June 1838.

Letitia Landon's father, an army agent, amassed a large property, which he lost by speculation shortly before his death. About 1815, the Landons moved to Old Brompton and made the acquaintance of William Jerdan, and Letitia began her contributions to the Literary Gazette and to various Christmas annuals under the initial "L," and finally "L.E.L." She then published some volumes of verse, which soon won her literary fame. Landon displayed a rich imagination and an aptitude for language, but her work suffered from haste and sentimentality. The gentle melancholy and romantic sentiment incorporated in her writings, however, suited the taste of the period and brought her a wide class of readers. Though she attended a literary salon and made a pleasure trip to Paris (1834), most of the large sums she earned were used to support her family.

For some time L.E.L. was joint editor of the Literary Gazette. Her first volume of poetry appeared under the title The Fate of Adelaide (1820) and was followed by other collections of verses, including The Improvisatrice (1824), The Troubadour (1825), The Golden Violet (1827), and The Venetian Bracelet (1829). She also wrote several novels, of which the best is said to be Ethel Churchill (1837), along with the tragedy Castruccio Castracani (1837). Various editions of her Poetical Works have been published since her death, one in 1880 with an introductory memoir by W.B. Scott. The Life and Literary Remains of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, by Laman Blanchard, appeared in 1841, followed by a second edition in 1855.

Romantically, Landon has been linked with a Dr. Maginn, as well as her friend Jerdan. An engagement to the biographer John Forster, it is said, was broken off through the intervention of scandalmongers. On June 7, 1838, she secretly married George Maclean, governor of the Gold Coast, and set sail for a three-year stay in Africa, arriving on August 16. Friends in England received cheerful letters posted on the first African steamer bound for England, but when the next ship arrived from the "dark continent" it bore the startling revelation that Letitia Landon had been found dead in her room with a bottle of prussic acid in her hand. Speculation, which has added a certain glamour and mystique to Landon's life, hypothesized suicide, foul play by her husband or a lurking mistress, or an accidental overdose for chronic spasms. The mystery has never been solved.